Blog Question 10/20

Don L. Lee (qtd in Larry Neal’s “The Black Arts Movement”) writes “[w]e must destroy Faulkner, dick, jane and other perpetuators of evil…”(55). Dick and Jane, characters from a ubiquitous series of “readers,”  normalize and valorize cultural values: particularly those conceptions of childhood, family structure, gender relations, and race. Toni Morrison begins The Bluest Eye by representing a typical Dick and Jane story ( with all of the markers of a reader: repetition, simple sentence structure, easy vocabulary, normative figures).

Taking Morrison’s first representation as typical, how do Nikki Giovanni’s Nikki-Rosa and/or The Bluest Eye seek to “kill” Dick and Jane? How do the  question, qualify, and/or denaturalize these figures? For Morrison you might go beyond the particular rewriting of the story and its affects to its juxtaposition with the introduction of the narrator on the following page.

9 Responses to Blog Question 10/20

  1. Noah says:

    I think a deeper reading of the Dick and Jane juxtaposition finds that Morrison (and Nikki Giovanni in “Niki Rossa”) seek to demonstrate that the flat, fantasy world from the Dick and Jane primer really ever existed–or, at least represents a narrow version of the “American Dream” that has never really been an option for many Americans. As we read further into The Bluest Eye, the problems and attitudes of the young narrator feel very much distinct, especially after reading the Dick and Jane opening. Morrison is giving us the real, marginalized America, and Dick and Jane in contrast make that even more apparent.

  2. jkoslofsky says:

    I would say that the center of this question is what we define as happiness. There’s the narrow view of happiness that only Dick and Jane have, or really can, achieve, and then there’s the obviously equally legitimate happiness depicted in “Niki Rossa.” The forward of Bluest Eye touches on this as well, with Morrison telling us that this novel is going to focus on the most marginalized who are the least likely to reject any form of happiness by giving in to self hatred. Dick and Jane have had their time.

  3. Chris Calimlim says:

    The story of Dick and Jane is told in simple, short sentences. Everything is simple and to the point; we as readers are not given enough description or detail to build a bigger understanding of Dick and Jane. And arguably, we are not meant to. Dick and Jane are simple, happy and idyllic figures and we take them as such because that is the only interpretation we can make.
    In contrast, the narrator’s introduction is full of lively, vivid detail and metaphor that “kills” the perfect, simple picture of Dick and Jane. The seed metaphor itself takes a simple idea, planting seeds in the ground that will later sprout, and complicates it by disrupting what we expect will happen. Dick and Jane’s story is that of a picture perfect family; the narrator makes it clear that this story is a disruption of that idea.

  4. Ryan Spencer says:

    I think Morrison’s starting with the depiction of the typical Dick and Jane story is a reflection, really, of what she talks about in her foreword. She clearly questions the typical Dick and Jane story in the beginning pages of “The Bluest Eyes.” She writes the same story three times, each time she repeats the story she removes grammatical elements which should make it harder to read. However, since it is the same story, it does not really get any harder to read. It is the same story. Thus she seems to draw into question “normalized” and “valorized” values on which literature, specifically white people’s literature, has often built itself. She presents an argument that the complexities through which this literature depicts certain values, does not necessarily make these values correct. Complexity is easy to create. Thinking specifically Faulkner, I think of “The Sound and the Fury” which I read last year. Faulkner creates a complex world around seemingly simple values of family structure. He contorts different parts to make things appear complex and his language is not particularly simplistic but the value of the typical family structure shines through. Through his literature Faulkner seems to suggest, for example, Quentin’s problems derive largely from a lack of family structure. Thus Faulkner seems to depict a typical family structure as a virtue. Morris seems to suggest that there isn’t necessarily virtue in typical values such as the typical family structure they are as much a thing of creation as the story themselves. Simply because they are derived out of complexity doesn’t make them more true of human nature.

    Think of the three representations of her Dick and Jane story. The first: her creation. The second: her creation plus the added complexity of no punctuation. The last: her creation plus the added complexity of no punctuation and no spaces. Reversed there would be no extra meaning just extra complexity as the story wouldn’t have been previously laid out simply. All that would be there would be the her original creation just in a much harder to understand fashion. She seems to see white culture in such a way, something arbitrary which has compounded even more arbitrary complexity upon itself (in apparent attempt to validate itself). Why should she be subject to values assumed by white culture? Such values aren’t human values as the complexity of literature supposedly implies, but rather are only values to the culture which indulges and accepts them. White culture is a culture which has rejected black people, therefore why would she as a black woman and writer accept their values as her own, especially when, as she puts it, accepting these values would be an “internalization of assumptions of immutable inferiority” (xi).

  5. Siobhan McKenna says:

    From about the 1930s through the 1970s, the stories of Dick and Jame were used to teach kids throughout the United States how to read. Just like the New England Primer and the McGuffey Reader, which were used shortly after the founding of the country, and used religion and bible stories to teach children how to read, Dick and Jane attempted to instill a sense of morals and standards while simultaneously teaching kids how to read. Dick and Jane portrayed the life of the average white American family, teaching all its readers that this was the normal lifestyle, this is the kind of lifestyle they should strive for, and the key to a happy life was to live like Dick and Jane.

    Both Nikki-Rosa and The Bluest Eye attempt to kill the normalcy surrounding the Dick and Jane stories. In Nikki-Rosa, Nikki Giovanni points out that no one ever talks about how happy she, and other African Americans, was during her childhood, but only mention how unfortunate it must’ve been because she was poor. Dick and Jane taught us what a “normal”, “happy”, life looked like, so we assume that anyone that does not fit into their model must therefore have a very unhappy life, which Giovanni points out is not the case at all. Giovanni kills this idea that there is only one way to a happy life by suggesting that her own childhood was, in fact, a rather happy childhood, because she placed value, and found happiness, in other things besides her family’s wealth.

    We also see similar ideas being played out at the beginning of The Bluest Eye. Claudia hates Shirley Temple, and has urges to rip apart, and completely mangle, the dolls she is given because they fit into society’s standards of “beautiful”, whereas she does not. She is so desperately envious of their pale, fair skin, and their hair, and their eyes (particularly the dolls’ bright blue eyes) that she lashes out against them with violence and anger. The standards of beauty are so narrow that it doesn’t allow for any variation, just like the standards for happiness in Dick and Jane, and Claudia pushes against these standards by trying to make what is deemed “beautiful” by society ugly by attempting to destroy their beauty.

  6. Michaela Cabral says:

    In popular culture, Dick and Jane represent childhood “norms.” It is accepted that these are common experiences for all children, like Dick and Jane. In Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, she starts off with a rewriting of this story, which she derails by eliminating punctuation and capitalization and then spacing altogether. Even in this choice, and particularly with the “juxtaposition with the introduction of the narrator,” she is showing a story situated in childhood but one that cannot possibly adhere to all of the norms of a Dick and Jane story. She is in a sense “killing” Dick and Jane, in that she showing realities that exist outside of this limited framework (that is hailed as universal). In Nikki Giovanni’s Nikki-Rosa, he also references childhood and the part of childhood that were important to him that would never be in a “Dick and Jane” type story. He specifically says that he doesn’t want white people to write about him because they don’t understand black love. This relates to the way that the common structure for a Dick and Jane story is white and cannot and should not be applied to the varied experiences of people of color.

  7. Laura Katz says:

    Nikki Giovanni questions the perpetuation of Dick and Jane as the essential American happy story example by questioning what happiness means. She criticizes the view of happiness as based in economic stability which is often not guaranteed for black families because of racism. She contrasts this capitalistic view of wealth and prosperity with her own personal view of wealth as black love. By emphasizing the importance of familial love and togetherness she echoes the themes of If Beale Street Could Talk by showing that black familial structures are not the stereotypes portrayed in racist documents like the Moynahan report. Therefore, Giovanni shows how in a society bent on taking away their happiness through economic means, the black communities love for one another is their source of happiness.

  8. Sydney Exler says:

    I know this is slightly different from the question posed, but I want to just address the ‘Dick and Jane’ narrative at the beginning (because we ran out of time to finish talking about it in class today). I think that the repetition of these narrative, especially as it breaks down in terms of punctuation and spaces, is a really powerful thing. This passage seems to degrade with repetition, until it becomes a blurred representation of the stereotypical nuclear family. This is extremely important, because it shows that after much repetition things can become mind-numbing, blurry, and overwhelming (although the last word might be a bit of a stretch). This, in direct contrast the novel’s formal beginning, sets a context in which Morrison can feel justified in critiquing and breaking away from the stereotypical perception of a standard (arguably boring) family picture. It is an extremely powerful start to the novel.

  9. LaShawn Simmons says:

    The act of killing Dick and Jane is apart of a greater ideology in the formation of the Black Arts movement that attempts to eradicate any White influence from Black arts culture and aesthetic. Some artist would argue that this even includes interracial collaboration that would be detrimental to the mission of Black liberation and Black self-determination in this movement. (Rabaka, 2011), This was largely a critique of the Harlem Renaissance according to influencers such as poet Haki Madhubuti. As Neal asserts in “The Black Arts Movement” piece, to fully embrace Black Art is to escape the conventions of the grander Western conscious that very often disregards “the needs and aspirations” of Black Americans (55). Specifically Morrison’s repeating elimination of spaces and punctuation (all of which are tools formed by the conventional American grammar structure) are seen as a direct defiance that is aligned with the Black Arts Movement. As stated before in class, these similar methods are used in theatre and poetry since these mediums are often more receptive towards avant-garde techniques. Im addition, these art forms are performative as well seeing that it invokes voice/sound to the Black Arts Movement. I believe this aligns with Benedict Anderson’s idea of using song as an entry point to unity within communities in “Imagined Communities”. Thinking about the poem SOS by Amiri Baraka, the poem is a call for action, communal healing and empowerment. It’s meaning is direct and specific to “all Black people”. When he states “come on in”, it only induces solidarity using poetry as a medium to do so in a way that’s very similar to songs.

    Rabaka, Reiland. Hip Hop’s Inheritance : From the Harlem Renaissance to the Hip Hop Feminist Movement. Blue Ridge Summit, US: Lexington Books, 2011. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 20 October 2016.
    Copyright © 2011. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.

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