Best of: Analysis of a Text

"For the Freedom of Man" by Jubilee Chen, Cincinnati, OH

On Friday, January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy commences his presidency with his inaugural speech to America. While the nation still recovers in the wake of the Cold War over communism, young Kennedy foretells of a bright future for the United States of America and for the world. In his charismatic manner, this president establishes his listeners’ support from the very first words of his convincing inaugural discourse.

By nature, an inaugural speech falls under the category of epideictic in form of discourse partly due to the size of its audience. Recent presidents stand in front of thousands of expectant supporters, and their words broadcast across televisions and radios. In the case of Kennedy, he expands his audience even further by addressing not just Americans, but also his “fellow citizens of the world” (paragraph 26). The new president inspires his listeners with optimistic words foretelling of America’s future generations. Seeking to praise the nation, he describes its people as “a new generation of Americans – born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage -- unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed . . .” (3). John F. Kennedy embodies the essence of his discourse in his thesis of paragraph four. This generation, he implies, will stand firm and not yield to anything that would threaten its moral values. He says, “Let every nation know. Whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty” (4). From the start, the president establishes that he will continue governing a country founded on the idea of freedom.

In JFK’s first sentence on the podium, he contradicts the nature of an inaugural address. Initially, the audience might have expected that the speech would boast about the winning candidate, but Kennedy claims that his discourse is not for the purpose of a “victory of party, but a celebration of freedom” (1). He integrates characteristics of a paradoxical introduction by saying that his speech commemorates “an end, as well as a beginning – signifying renewal, as well change” (1). Despite his contradicting language, Kennedy goes on to explain his reasoning. The world, according to the speaker, while actively changing and progressing, needs a reminder of the old founding truths that America still defends. From paragraphs two to three, the president uses a preparatory style of introduction by stating that the “same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe – the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God” (2). Then, he goes forth to claim that America acts as a solution to this world-wide moral issue.

The young leader establishes his statement of facts with a transitional phrase in paragraph five. He begins an expository section listing the practical actions America will take in order to defend their own and their fellow nations’ liberty. Kennedy references America’s post-Cold War feelings, saying, “To those peoples in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves . . . not because the Communists may be doing it . . . but because it is right” (8). Also, the president notes that his country would not abandon the newly freed countries and let them fall to a “far more iron tyranny” (7). America, he states, will support the United Nations and remain on guard towards their recent enemy, communist Russia. Thus, he supports his thesis by asserting America’s immediate action to protect freedom within context of current issues. 

Transitioning out of his foundational facts, the speaker introduces his proposed solution to defending peace and freedom. Encouraging a sense of hope, he states, “So let us begin anew” (14). Paragraphs fourteen through twenty-four, the proof of case, contain Kennedy’s main section of persuasion. He proposes that the nation must begin with baby steps towards gradual peace and freedom. Starting with general arguments that address the whole world, the president states, “Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us” (15). However, by paragraph twenty-one, Kennedy narrows down to the particulars of his argument by exclusively speaking to his “fellow citizens.” Additionally, the speaker heeds to Aristotle’s advice by placing his strongest argument at the end of the proof of case. Pressuring his listeners, he states, “Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty” (21). Kennedy claims that Americans have a specific responsibility to defend liberty because of their foundational belief system.

JFK scatters numerous persuasive refutations throughout his convincing inaugural address. Concerning his topic on America’s sense of freedom, the speaker has opportunities to appeal to his listeners’ patriotism and pride. He challenges the citizens to preserve the trademark value of this country despite frightening odds. Due to the historical context, the call to defend liberty especially rings true for those who fought against the Soviet Union’s dogmas. In his quest to gain the loyalty and sympathy of the audience, Kennedy refers to the heroic deaths of truly loyal Americans as examples: “The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe” (21). Not only appealing to emotions of courage and patriotism, the discourser supports his statements by speaking on rights and morality. Based on his thesis of the right to liberty, he argues that all mankind deserve freedom because “it is right” (8). Kennedy asks his fellow men to support and fight for justice. Quoting from Scripture, he says, “Let both sides unite to heed in all corners of the earth the command of Isaiah – to “undo the heavy burdens . . . and to let the oppressed go free” (18). With ethical and emotional appeals, Kennedy draws the attention of his audience.

Despite the speaker’s persuasive skills, some of his techniques prove questionable as he seeks to convince his audience. For instance, paragraph twenty-one exemplifies Kennedy’s use of the Either/Or Fallacy. He says, “In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than in mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course” (21). By proclaiming such a serious ultimatum, he pressures Americans to take action protecting their country. The latter paragraphs in this discourse all attempt to invoke a reaction. Kennedy claims, “Now the trumpet summons us again . . . a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle . . . against the common enemies of man” (21). Later, he adds another provoking question: “Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance . . . Will you join in that historic effort?” (24). JFK’s words might simply make a call to action. Nevertheless, he subtly commits the “bandwagon” fallacy here by suggesting that citizens ought to bear the responsibility of fighting against “tyranny, poverty, disease, and war” because everyone else has pledged their loyalty (22). Even with these doubtful arguments in his speech, the president finalizes his presentation with a strong conclusion.

John F. Kennedy’s final words follow Aristotle’s methods on conclusion and succeed in rousing intense emotions from his listeners. He addresses his “fellow Americans” personally, and then expands by challenging them to consider what they could do for the country, world, and mankind (25-26). By using such language, Kennedy inspires the American people and appeals to their pride by convincing them to believe they can perform great things for global causes. One tactic he utilizes instills the emotion of hope: “The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it – and the glow from that fire can truly light the world” (24). Emphasizing and summarizing his overarching argument regarding liberty, the speaker declares, “My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man” (26). Here, he restates and affirms what he established in the introductory paragraphs: America will do anything possible to defend and gain liberty for itself and the world.

John F. Kennedy, assassinated on November 22, 1963, won the hearts of many American citizens. In the wake of dealings with oppression and communism, America found inspiration in this man’s first words as president to the nation. From the commencement of his short term, he established an idea for a future of progress, hope, and liberty that was approved by all in the great nation. 

Citation: Kennedy, John F. “Inaugural Address, 20 January 1961.” John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, n.d. Web. 23 Jun. 2016.

"Walt Whitman, The Devoted American Poet" by Molly Carroll, Greenwich, CT

In his essay “The Poet” (1841-1843), Ralph Waldo Emerson stresses the significance of the “American Poet” and his need to connect to and with others in a beautiful and expressive way, skills present in Walt Whitman’s poetry.  Emerson believes that the American poets are the “natural sayers, sent into the world, to the end of expression” (Emerson 1) who must connect with all people regardless of their job and or social status. Even though the American poet was meant to connect with all people, he was also supposed to be considered as someone wiser and, in a sense, on the same level as God. Furthermore, Emerson states, too, how poets have “no limits to their works, except the limits of their lifetime” (4), meaning that they are able to act as a prophet and speak through poetry as long as they live. Whitman, often called the “Father” of American poetry, also believed that poetry was needed to help the growing country and connect with each individual person.  With this in mind, Whitman writes, “I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear” (Whitman, “I Hear” 1) to convey his knowledge of the country and the state it is in. Such an opening line of his poem stresses the significance of patriotism and each American citizen. Whitman believed the country was falling apart and that he could contribute to the recovery of the country, hoping “his work could heal a fracturing America” (American).  The main idea that both Emerson and Whitman suggest is the priority of connecting with the individual. For example, the American poet is  “a persona who project[s] an equality” (Emerson 2), yet this is a major challenge for a poet to face. Whitman, like Emerson, had a particular audience to whom to relate, intending “to write a distinctly American epic” (“Walt Whitman” 87). Despite the ultimate challenge of connecting to every American in an epic way, Whitman flourishes through his poems in his attempts to reflect the nation. In “I Hear America Singing,” Whitman stresses the necessity of individualism and how all people have “their own melodious songs” (Whitman, “I Hear” 10). What is more, Whitman definitely flourishes in the sense of addressing more people. He does not leave many individuals out of his work, listing such people as “mechanics,” a “carpenter,” “mason,” “mother,” “young wife,” “young fellows,” and more (2, 3, 4, 8, 9). The poet thus does not discriminate against anyone based on age, sex, or social class. With this in mind, Whitman also writes about the soul in a god-like way by addressing it as something to which everyone can relate. Emerson states “God wills also that thou abdicate a manifold and duplex life” (Emerson 4), showing that God’s will is something that has more than one meaning and is open to interpretation. At one point in “A Noiseless Patient Spider,” Whitman writes how the soul needs ambition and must act“[t]ill the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul” (Whitman “A Noiseless” 10), meaning that it takes more than one weak attempt to reach a goal and progress individually or socially. Such is why people should turn to God or some belief to which they can internally connect in a meaningful manner. Likewise, Emerson describes the American poet as someone who can relate to others on a common level but also be a “beholder of ideas” (Emerson 2) and use his abilities to connect with everyone in an equally meaningful way. Whitman, in turn, is a strong example of the “American Poet” by connecting with many individuals yet being a divine example as well.

Like Whitman, Emily Dickinson is a strong example of an American poet who achieves much of the credentials Emerson requires for his ideal national writer. The Transcendentalist believed in a poet who was able to connect with the soul and the audience on a personal level. The poet is “the sayer, the namer and represents beauty” (Emerson 1), expressing universal thoughts others may not be able to put into words. Likewise, Dickinson writes about the soul in a way that resonates with people and makes them apply her works to their everyday lives. Dickinson writes in one work, “ [t]he Soul selects her own Society— /Then-shuts the Door—” (Dickinson, “The Soul” 1-2), meaning the soul is in control of a human life, deciding who is let into the inner circle of friendship and who is shut out. By employing a persona and speaking in the first person, Dickinson forms a familiarity with the reader in the sense that it is a conversation more than a formal lecture. For example, Dickinson writes, in another poem, “[b]ecause I could not stop for Death—/ He kindly stopped for me” (“Because” 1-2) demonstrating her familiarity by using the pronoun “I,” which makes it easier to communicate with the readers. Such a skill is an essential part of the “beholder of ideas” (Emerson 2), also known as the American Poet. Lastly, Emerson believes that such a figure should use metaphors and imagery to develop a deeper sense of reading, of which Dickinson offers a great amount. Emerson reveals, “we sympathize with the symbols, and, being infatuated with the economical uses of things” (2), describing the skill of symbolism that Dickinson often uses. For instance, she personifies Death as a suitor, picking up his date, the “soul,” in a “Carriage” that will bring the latter to “Immortality” (Dickinson, “Because” 3, 4). By taking an image traditionally considered in a gloomy or negative way, like death, and giving it “Civility” (8), Dickinson succeeds in transforming an old symbol and giving death new “power” through her “intellectual perception” (Emerson 2). All in all, Emily Dickinson makes a suitable candidate for Emerson’s poet in the being the “natural sayer” (1) for whom he seeks.

Although Dickinson may be the most universal poet, writing about large concepts like death and immortality that pertain to all people she fails in being the truly American poet, whom Emerson sought. The Transcendentalist looked for someone who not only would “represent all courtesy and worldly life” but also someone who would be the “American genius” (Emerson 3), which is where Dickinson struggles. She, truth be told, does a great job of connecting with all people, but such a skill is only half of what Emerson wants; instead, it is Whitman who succeeds most in this particular American area. Whitman writes many patriotic poems relating to the people but, also and most importantly, the country. Whitman took responsibility for America as seen in “O Captain! My Captain!,”  a poem in which he writes, “Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!” (Whitman, “O Captain!” 21), indicating the loss in the Civil War and the mixed feelings that were felt. His speaker then adds, “But I, with mournful tread,/Walk the deck my Captain lies,/ Fallen cold and dead” (22-24).The poetic persona, reflecting upon the death of Abraham Lincoln, does not want others to suffer, so he tells the people to celebrate the “fearful trip [that] is done” (1), or the end of the war, while he mourns. This is one example of Whitman taking seriousness of his country to heart. Not only does Whitman fulfill the role of reflecting his “countrymen” (Emerson 3) Emerson sought but he also connects with all American readers. Whitman speaks about the soul, which can be interpreted differently by each individual. While both Whitman and Dickinson reflect internal truths, it is Whitman alone who can also reflect the physical, “ample geography” of America (3). For instance, in “A Noiseless Patient Spider,” Whitman addresses the soul as “[s]urrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space” (Whitman, “A Noiseless” 7), displaying that the soul cannot be contained and will continue to explore and find new space and “spheres” (8). Over all, Whitman is the better candidate for the American Poet because of his devotion to writing about America and his consistency to relate to all of the readers by writing about the soul. By addressing both tangible and intangible –external and internal—realities of American and human life, Walt Whitman is Emerson’s “genius” (Emerson 3), able to “articulate” the “verb and noun” (2), or actions and concepts, that govern reality.

Works Cited

American Experience: Walt Whitman. PBS.org. Web. 20 Jan. 2012. < http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/whitman/more/e_race.html. >

Dickinson, Emily. “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.” American Literature Collection: Essential Short Works. Greenwich, CT: Convent of the Sacred Heart, 2010. 99. Print.

----------------------. “The Soul Selects Her Own Society.” American Literature Collection: Essential Short Works. Greenwich, CT: Convent of the Sacred Heart, 2010. 97. Print.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “The Poet” (1841-1843). Essays: Second Series (1844). Rpt. American Transcendentalism Web. 1999. Web. 15 April 2012. <http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/transcendentalism/authors/emerson/essays/poettext.html>.

“Walt Whitman” [biography]. American Literature Collection: Essential Short Works. Greenwich, CT: Convent of the Sacred Heart, 2010. 85-89. Print.

Whitman, Walt. “I Hear America Singing” (1860). American Literature Collection: Essential Short Works. Greenwich, CT: Convent of the Sacred Heart, 2010. 90. Print.

-------------------.  “A Noiseless Patient Spider” (1860).  American Literature Collection: Essential Short Works.  Greenwich, CT: Convent of the Sacred Heart, 2010.  92.  Print.

-------------------.  "O Captain! My Captain!." American Literature Collection: Essential Short Works. Greenwich, CT: Convent of the Sacred Heart, 2010. 91. Print

"Indigenous Woman of Heart of Darkness" by Alexandra Stahler, Highland Heights, OH

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness invites a large amount of analysis regarding the lack of female characters represented throughout the novel. This lack of female representation has led many to believe that Conrad himself is a product of his times. This idea is challenged slightly in Jeremy Hawthorn’s The Women of Heart of Darkness, Hawthorn believing that the females who are represented “each play an indispensable role in Heart of Darkness” (Hawthorn 405). His interpretation of the novel is that Conrad writes the women as an image of idealism, and what women of this time were expected to be. Hawthorn acknowledges this representation of women but believes that women’s “appearances in the novella suggest[s] that women may have a significant role to play in determining various fates in Heart of Darkness” (405). While Hawthorn does suggest a good point in saying that the women do play fundamental role throughout the novel, he continues in his argument to suggest that the women that are mentioned are completely cut off from the imperialism that takes place in Africa and are merely written in to prove how they are the ideal image. For the European women in the novel, specifically the Intended, this analysis is correct, but for the African woman, the idea that she too is cut off from the effects of imperialism is false. Unlike Hawthorn’s belief that the African woman is to show contrast between the European women’s disconnected lives, I believe that her purpose is to show the cultural difference between the two nations and the behavior that the men fear for their women back home to embrace.

Part of Hawthorn’s argument is that the European women are a representation of idealism, and what the middle-class woman should look like. Conrad gives vivid descriptions of the Intended being, “all in black, with a pale head, floating” (Conrad 73-74), making her appear ghost like and cut off from her surroundings. Hawthorn states that how “European women are portrayed in Heart of Darkness serves to strengthen the novella’s depiction of idealism as weak, unhealthy and corrupted” (Hawthorn 407). Using Kurtz as the native woman’s link to idealism, Hawthorn describes, “Both women are tragic, both have been betrayed by Kurtz. Putting both women on a pedestal, cutting them off from reality, and restricting them to a world of sterile ideals” (412). While I agree with Hawthorn that this lifestyle of the Intended serves as a purpose to show how corrupted idealism is, I disagree with his second argument of the Intended and Kurtz’s African mistress being similar. Because of the native woman’s affairs with Kurtz, her being cut off from reality is not true. When the crew arrives to Kurtz’s location the mistress “opened her bared arms and threw them rigid above her head as though in an uncontrollable desire to touch the sky” (Conrad 61) showing that she is fully aware of what imperialism has done to Kurtz and what toll it has taken on his health.

The European women are unaware of the changes that their men are going through and what Africa has done to them. Hawthorn feels that all women in this novel, aside from being idealistic; are also cut off from imperialism. The African woman is far from unaware of what is happening to her and her country. The native woman is shown as a strong and bold woman, who Marlow and the crew appear to be intimidated by at first glance. Earlier in the story Marlow believes that “It’s queer how out of touch with truth women are. They live in a world of their own…if they were to set it up it would to pieces before the first sunset” (Conrad 12-13). What scares the men when they first encounter the African woman is that she is not unaware or out of touch with the world, but on the contrary, very involved in her surroundings. The native woman does not represent the corruption of idealism for women or the failure of imperialism, but represents the African people, and the bold attitude which the colonists fear.

Marlow’s first encounter with the native woman is described as both mesmerizing and forceful: “She walked with measure steps, draped in striped and fringed cloths, treading the earth proudly, with a slight jingle and flash of barbarous ornaments” (Conrad 60). The African woman is described very differently from the dark and ghostly description of the Intended. She is represented as rather mystical and majestic, the way Marlow had felt throughout his whole trip and about the Congo itself. Hawthorn does make this connection between the two women which I do agree with, saying, “Where the Intended is static and passive, she is active and forceful; where the Intended has the odor of death about her, she is the personification of life” (Hawthorn 408). The women’s appearances do contradict each other which further shows how closed off the Intended’s life is versus the vibrant spirit of the African woman. Idealism and the effects of imperialism have corrupted the Intended into a ghostlike image, which society and Kurtz has created. But the effects of imperialism for the women are where Hawthorn fails to differentiate the two. Imperialism for the Intended is one of merely longing for someone she loves to come home, whereas the African woman both lost some she cared for and as well as her home altogether. Regardless, the mistress holds a powerful position, that while still emotionally attached to Kurtz, she manages to install fear in Marlow and the crew with her war like image.

The native woman is described with rather positive descriptions, but is also mixed with some unfavorable depictions. Hawthorn comments on this explaining that “Kurtz manages to destroy both women… So positive and forceful is the impression given off by the African woman that it is not hard to forget that she too has the word ‘tragic’ applied to her” (Hawthorn 411). I agree with the native woman having appalling descriptions, specifically in reference to her face that Marlow describes as “dumb” and “tragic,” but I do not feel that this is due to how Kurtz has “destroyed” her. Instead, I feel that the forceful words speak more on how intimidated Marlow feels by the African woman and how her appearance is as unusual and complicated as Africa itself, having him be lost for words. The crew exemplifies this intimidated attitude when pulling up to the land saying, “‘If she had offered to come aboard I really think I would have tried to shoot her,’ said the man of patches, nervously. ‘I have been risking my life every day for the last fortnight to keep her out from the house’” (Conrad 61). The crew demonstrated this type of sporadic defense behavior prior in the book when they began to aimlessly shoot into a bush because they believed people were watching them. The colonizers mistake defense for barbarity throughout their journey, and these men’s responses to the native woman shows how much they truly feared Africa altogether.

The argument that Hawthorn was trying to prove in his article was that the women in this novel represent idealism and what imperialism has done to them, but also that both the Intended and the African women are combined into this group because of their connection with Kurtz. Both women had a relationship with Kurtz and that does justify both of their responses to his death, but the African woman was not removed nor relinquished from the violence she lives in because of that relation. The world that the two women live in are drastically different from each other, making both two very different images of idealism. The image that Marlow creates with his first encounter of the woman shows just how intimidated these men were of not only the natives’ boldness as a woman but also the fear of the African people that they have had throughout the whole journey.

Works Cited

Conrad, Joseph, and Paul B. Armstrong. Heart of Darkness. New York: W.W. Norton, 2017.

Print.

Conrad, Joseph, Paul B. Armstrong, and Jeremy Hawthorn. "The Women of Heart of Darkness."

Heart of Darkness. New York: W.W. Norton, 2017. 405-15. Print.

"You Can Touch My Hair: Public Art Exhibit or Social Experiment?" by Nisa Muhammad, Cincinnati, OH

Black women’s hair has been an object of curiosity and wonder for years. From curls, coils, and cornrows, hair in the black community has defined and separated women of African descent from mainstream society. This is indicated by the aisles in retail stores dedicated to “ethnic hair”, countless blogs and websites devoted to caring for black hair, and documentaries such as Chris Rock’s Good Hair. Whether it be Don Imus being fired as a radio host by CBS for calling the women of Rutgers’ basketball team “nappy head hos” (Faber), Tiana Parker who was sent home from elementary school for having locs (Golgowski), Ashley Baker, associated editor of Jezebel magazine who declared that natural black hair styles were “political” and should be left as a thing of the past (Padgett), or Vanessa Vandyke who was asked to leave school because of her afro (McCormack), one thing remains clear: black hair is political, it is personal, and it is different. Evidently, the stigmas, notions, stereotypes, and struggles involving black hair have been intertwined into the so-called “black experience.”

With black hair constantly being stigmatized, scrutinized, and criticized, Antonia Opiah, founder of un-ruly.com, made it her mission to create a “public art exhibit” based on the fascination and exoticization of black women and their features (A Hair-Touching Exhibit). She had a number of women hold up signs saying “YOU CAN TOUCH MY HAIR.” Opiah aimed to understand the mindset behind random strangers who end up touching the hair of many black women in everyday life regardless of whether consent was given or not (A Hair-Touching Exhibit). She always wanted to understand the curiosity with black hair from the other side (Politics). The “You Can Touch My Hair” public art exhibit perpetuated the idea that black hair is exotic, not normal, and further divides them from women of other races. However, these same feelings are the feelings that spurred the creation of the exhibit (Opiah). This exhibit was based on personal situations that many of the women who were involved experienced regarding feeling objectified because of their hair. Though the “You Can  Touch My Hair Exhibit” effectively proves the point that hair is such a sensitive topic among people of African descent, it could have been done in a more effective way in order to enlighten the masses on the burdens that black women face regarding their hair. Antonia Opiah could have taken her idea one step further by creating an “exhibit” that not only showcases the variety of black hair, but also educates people about the society- inflicted burdens that black women face regarding their hair.

Demetria L. Lucas, author of “Touch My Hair? That Will Never Be Cool,” affirms that the You Can Touch My Hair exhibit does essentially improve hair-related race relations by sparing an uncomfortable conversation about black hair. However, it does not fully address why the entire circumstance of hair-touching is one of objectification. Lucas also asserts that the exhibit could create the wrong impression. It could further the hair-touching problem with the idea that because there was a hair- touching exhibit, it is somehow less offensive and less culturally insensitive to touch a black woman’s hair, regardless of consent.

The cultural insensitivity became apparent when protestors declared that the exhibit was similar to that of Sarah Baartman, a name that consistently came up in critiques of the exhibit. As planned, Opiah’s “exhibit” did not sit well with many women and caused many outbreaks of disapproval and protest. There were even women holding up signs saying, “I am not your Sarah Baartman!” Sarah Baartman was an African woman who, in the nineteenth century, found herself as the subject of curiosity to many Europeans because of her elongated genitalia and large behind. These were very common features of Khoisan women. However, the English and French found these features unusual and saw her as a freak of nature. Baartman showcased her abnormalities in freak shows and exhibits for the entertainment and curiosity of many Europeans. After having her genitalia dissected upon her death, they remained on view for tourist and natives in France until 1974. Baartman is a primary example of sexual objectification among black women. It was not until 1994 that Nelson Mandela called for her remains to be buried in Africa, and it was even later, in 2002, that her dissected genitalia were actually buried (Davie).

In “You Can Touch My Hair is a direct descendant of the Hottentot Venus”, Reni Eddo-Lodge, declares that You Can Touch My Hair is an example of racial objectification by comparing it to Baartman’s experience in Europe. This signifies that the exhibit displayed Opiah’s true intentions. Why else would a woman who owns a shirt that specifically states that you can’t touch her hair participate in the You Can Touch My Hair exhibit? A sense of power and reclaiming was instilled into the women. Malliha Jackson, like Opiah, wanted to understand the reasoning and curiosity in wanting to touch black hair (Wilson). Opiah was fully aware of the controversy that it would spur. She named her idea an “exhibit” to embody the feeling of being objectified and embarrassed (A Hair-Touching Exhibit). In this way, You Can Touch My Hair presents itself as a real life satire. However, instead of being an exhibit, it poses itself as a social experiment, examining if the same fascination and wonder of a black woman’s hair would actually be as prevalent if their consent to be objectified was given.

One must recall that Opiah’s intention was precisely to take an everyday situation and embellish the idea of objectification. Opiah got the response that she actually planned for (Opiah). The majority of the people who came to touch the women’s hair were of African descent (Opiah). According to Opiah, this demonstrates that black hair is not just a fascination to people of different races, but to people of the same race as well. Nevertheless, it established the idea that no black woman wants to be responsible for educating people about the weight that black hair carries (Lucas). This is what Opiah would call “other- ing,” and it implements the feeling of third-class citizenship.

You Can Touch My Hair has proven the idea that hair is such a personal and complex topic, especially when your hair is not necessarily accepted into mainstream society. What people do not understand is that comparing You Can Touch My Hair to a petting zoo actually proves its point. Every single woman personally experienced the feeling of objectification and separation because of their hair (Politics). Pride was shattered and personal space was invaded.

You Can Touch My Hair has proved itself to be a social experiment in disguise as a public art exhibit. Yes, You Can Touch My Hair has done exactly what it was intended to do—offend and promote social awareness of objectification caused by hair. Perhaps, it could have been done in a different way. Instead of just having women standing there allowing themselves to be pet by random strangers, You Can Touch My Hair could have taken initiative in educated people on black hair, its history, and its variety. The case could be made that it did just that through the discussions and protests. However, the experiment cannot be beneficial unless it not only poses a question and sparks discussion, but also reaches a much broader audience of people who are not aware of the burdens and stigmas they subconsciously implement and perpetuate.

Works Cited

Davie, Lucille. “Sarah Baartman, at Rest at Last.” SouthAfrica.info. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2014.

Faber, Judy. “CBS Fires Don Imus Over Racial Slur.” CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 12 Apr. 2007. Web. 17 Feb. 2014.

Golgowksi, Nina. “Oklahoma School Changes Dress Code after ‘no Dreadlocks’ Policy Sent Girl Home in Tears.” New York Daily News. Daily News, 11 Sept. 2013. Web. 24 Feb. 2014

Lucas, Demetria L. “Touch My Hair? That Will Never Be Cool.” The Root. N.p., 11 June 2013. Web. 7 Feb. 2014.

McCormack, Simon. “Vanessa VanDyke Could Be Expelled After Having Her Hair Mocked.” The Huffington Post. The Huffington Post, 26 Nov. 2013. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.

Opiah, Antonia. “A Hair-Touching Exhibit Touches off a Range of Reactions.” Interview by Celeste Headlee. NPR. NPR, 19 June 2013. Web. 7 Feb. 2014.

Opiah, Antonia. “You Can Touch My Hair: What Were You Thinking?!” Un’ruly. N.p., June 2013. Web. 07 Feb. 2014.

Padgett, Tania. “Ethnic Hairstyles Can Cause Uneasiness in the Workplace.” Chicago Tribune. Chicago Tribune, 12 Dec. 2007. Web. 18 Feb. 2014.

“Politics of Black Hair – Yctmh Panel Discussion (part 1 of 3)” YouTube. YouTube, 20 Oct. 2013. Web. 18 Feb. 2014.

Ramsey, Donovan X. “’You Can Touch My Hair’: NYC Black Hair Exhibit Draws Controversy, as Many Protest Spectacle.” The Grio. The Grio, 10 June 2013. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.

Wilson, Julee. “’You Can Touch My Hair’ Explores Fascination With Black Hair, Sparks Debate(VIDEO, PHOTOS).” The Huffington Post. The Huffington Post, 07 June 2013. Web. 07 Feb. 2014.


Notes from the Directors

Although the analysis of a text category might seem narrower in terms of what kinds of pieces the category will accommodate than the other portfolio categories, a quick glance at the category description serves as a reminder of the varieties of pieces that constitute an “analysis of a text.” Feel free to choose any kind of written, visual, aural, performative, or cultural artifact. An analysis of a text could take any number of forms, including an interpretation of the work, an evaluation of some of its elements, connecting the text to larger social or cultural contexts, analyzing the rhetorical construction of a text, or a comparison of multiple texts to explore their significance. Of particular importance to portfolio readers are analyses that interpret or evaluate historical, cultural, and/or rhetorical contexts as part of the analysis. The featured essays provide a variety of approaches and artifact options that you can use to construct your portfolio.

Jubilee Chen’s piece is a rhetorical analysis of President Kennedy’s famous inauguration speech. The analysis goes beyond simply summarizing key features of the speech; rather, Jubilee looks the various types of arguments and ways Kennedy attempts to connect with a wider, global audience. Jubilee’s close reading reveals Kennedy’s impact by breaking from the typical genre of an inauguration speech and the various ways Kennedy’s argument was structured.

In the second piece, Molly Carroll situates the work of Walt Whitman within the larger context of American poets and thinkers, such as Emerson and Dickinson. “Walt Whitman, The Devoted American Poet” argues that Whitman’s poetry connects with Americans as deeply as it does because it bridges between common, everyday experiences and the divine. Close textual reading, along with historical and cultural background, give this essay depth, clarity, and insight that exemplifies a literary analysis.

In the third piece, Alexandra Stahler analyzes the role of women in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, weaving together close readings and literary criticism. Although Stahler draws upon critics’ interpretations of the novel, she goes beyond repeating what others have said and makes a new point about how we understand the intersections of race and gender in a nineteenth-century text.

The fourth piece, originally submitted by Nisa Muhammad as a persuasive research essay, analyzes a very different type of text. “You Can Touch My Hair: Public Art Exhibit or Social Experiment?” explores an experiential art performance that involved touching the hair of black women in an attempt to highlight biases and assumptions based upon race. Through research and analysis, Nisa critiques the ramifications of this art installation, offering suggestions that would have improved the outcomes of this performative text.

In all four cases, students chose to conduct analyses that highlight how these texts are viewed in particular times and places, as well as the influence of culture upon them. A perspective that includes both the text and the context in which it arose make for analyses that examine the text itself as well as how, where, and when it arose, allowing for greater understanding of the text as well as the culture that produced and consumed it.