Collective Mentality: Bly

ImageThe loss of childhood innocence is explored in Robert Bly’s fairy tale story, The Loss of the Golden Ball. Bly’s unique and engaging voice takes the reader into a fantasy world to rediscover the simplicity and nondiscriminatory intelligence we once possessed as children. Bly appropriately chooses a fairytale setting and creates metaphors to represent youth and society. The “golden ball” is the youthfulness we lose as we grow up and become jaded by life and society. The hunters who search for this golden ball and the castle we are kept in represent society, which Bly believes is the cause of this loss of childhood simplicity and innocence.

Once we regain the golden ball, which Bly argues most people don’t ever do, we are then able to view the world as we did when we were children; a time when we didn’t see race, gender roles, or society’s notions of what is good, bad or normal. We are freed from societal expectations and influences, which caused us to lose the ball in the first place. Bly’s story allows readers to both question society’s influences in their life and remember what it was like to view the world as a child. Most people will return to their life without the golden ball, but for some “the Wild Man is then free at last, and it’s clear that he will go back to his own forest, far from “the castle” (Hart 65).

On Campus: Approach new ideas with the nondiscriminatory perspective of children.

Off Campus: Do something that reminds you of being a kid- go get ice cream, play sports outside, etc.

Above and Beyond: Get involved in a daycare center as a constant reminder of the beauty of childhood innocence. To find a daycare center here in Harrisonburg visit:

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Collective Mentality: Wilhelm and Califia

ImageThe dangers of collective mentality were explored in the works of Kate Wilhelm and Pat Califia. Wilhelm’s novel, Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, illustrates the difficult balance between individual freedom and expression and the needs of a collective group. She creates a world in which the only chance for human survival is made possible by cloning. As clones begin to outnumber the humans, a shift from an emphasis on the individual to the collective whole proves to be problematic for some characters.

One of these characters is Mark, who creates trouble for the scientists who are forced to keep or sacrifice him. Mark’s behavior exposes the true values of the characters in the story. He forces them to make difficult decisions, and the reader is quickly able to see which characters are willing to sacrifice one person for the safety of others and which characters are able to compromise the needs of the group in order to save one individual. Eventually, Mark leaves the society he was born into and starts a new life where humans procreate naturally, not artificially in a laboratory. The cloned society he leaves dies off while Mark’s society thrives. He takes comfort and pleasure in the fact that his society is composed of individuals who are free to live how they wish, unlike the highly controlled, collectivist society he left. He risked everything to create a community “where the recurring seasons and cycles of the heavens and of life, birth, and death marked their days…life became the goal, not the re-creation of the past” (Wilhelm 253).

Pat Califia addresses the dangers of collective mentality in “Vampire.” Califia utilizes a queer theory perspective to Imagechallenge society’s definition of “normal” sexual behavior. The story involves sexual encounters between sadomasochist lesbians. Califia uses vivid language and dramatic characters and events to force the readers to question their views of sexuality. While most people don’t participate in the sexual scenarios presented by Califia, those who do shouldn’t be alienated or discriminated against because of their seemingly unusual practices. Unfortunately, that isn’t usually the case. The debate in America over the legalization of gay marriage, which is a far less controversial practice than the ones described by Califia, proves that society as a whole doesn’t support activities which aren’t practiced by the majority. However, questioning what is “normal” and realizing that one’s cultural norms are often arbitrarily created can help to increase acceptance and prevent further alienation to certain groups of society who are generally considered to fall outside of the norm.

On Campus: Be accepting of the personal beliefs and practices of others. Stand out in classroom discussion and voice you opinion even if it may not be the popular one in an effort to challenge and question others.

Off Campus: Question your own actions; don’t blindly follow societal norms.

Above and Beyond: Create an event on the Commons or an organization in an effort to question and challenge what we as a society consider “normal.” To learn how to create a club at JMU visit:

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Discrimination: Rodriguez, Menendez and Tan

Various authors we have studied this past semester explore the challenges and triumphs involving the process of cultural assimilation. Richard Rodriguez writes of the obstacles he faced as a bilingual student in his memoir, Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood. His memoir proves that one’s private and public life may be very different and cause them to form separate identities in order to compensate for the conflicting aspects of one’s life. Rodriguez spoke Spanish at home and struggled when he was forced to speak English in school. However, his struggle to learn English and be accepted in school helped him to form his public identity. He enjoyed having a private, Spanish life at home because it allowed him to feel unique and special when in the comfort of his home. For those reasons, he strongly disagrees with bilingual education, which would allow a child to use English and Spanish while in school. Rodriguez explains the benefits of assimilation when he writes, “The bilingualists…do not seem to realize that a person is individualized in two ways. So they do not realize that, while one suffers a diminished sense of private individuality by being assimilated into public society, such assimilation makes possible the achievement of public individuality” (Hart 76).

Ana Menendez addresses cultural assimilation as well in her short story, In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd. She focuses on the conflicting feelings of pride and disappoint in one’s country. The characters in her story moved from Cuba to Miami. While they maintain their cultural pride, they are forced to form new cultural identities in America. Most of the story occurs in a Domino Park where they reminisce about Cuba and experience a sense of solidarity through their common struggles. Tourists often go through the park and take picture of them, capturing what appears to be simple men leisurely playing dominoes. However, they suffer from inner struggles, and their lives and experiences are far more complex than the tourists are led to believe. This proves that first impressions aren’t always accurate because we’re often unaware of the struggles and past experiences of those we pass on the street.

Amy Tan explores this theme as well in her story, Alien Relative. She writes of a family who moves from China to San Francisco, making an enormous sacrifice in order to do so. The family is forced to leave their son behind because they only had enough money for four tickets. Understandably, this decision haunts them for the rest of their lives, even after their son is able to join them in America. Tan illustrates the enormous sacrifices one may have to make in order to leave one’s country in an effort to build a better life and how those decisions can haunt someone forever.

We may never know all of what a person has sacrificed in order to be where they are today. It’s important to remember that and seek to understand someone’s actions before judging too quickly. Often times, we are unaware of many of the cultural practices and beliefs that immigrants struggle to maintain when moving to America. However, there are opportunities that enable one to become more familiar with other cultures, resulting in a better understanding of others’ actions.

On Campus: Respect and seek to understand the cultural differences of fellow JMU students and faculty.

Off Campus: Actively learn about other cultures through music, food, books, movies, etc.

Above and Beyond: Travel abroad in an effort to understand and be exposed to other cultures. There are many study abroad programs offered through JMU. To learn more visit:

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Discrimination: Blaski

Steven Blaski’s poems in “Keep the Killer Asleep” explore discrimination’s devastating and fatal consequences. ImageBlaski cites historical events, such as homosexual discrimination in the Holocaust in “Live sound that comes out dead” and Harvey Milk’s assassination in “After the blood.” His poems illustrate the ignorance that perpetuates and covers up discrimination. For example, many people are unaware of many of the atrocities gay Jews faced in the Holocaust. Reading these poems, however, inspires one to uncover and expose the many hidden forms of discrimination that occur on either large or small scales.

One issue America is facing today is gay marriage. The fact that this is a debate proves that equality has yet to be reached in this country, illustrating the relevance of Malcolm X’s speech to issues of today. Blaski’s poems and personal experiences highlight the prejudice that homosexuals have faced in the past and continue to face today. Blaski grew up in Iowa and experienced alienation and discrimination due to his homosexuality. Ignorance is often the cause of this discrimination and increasing one’s knowledge and awareness of these issues can result in less ignorance and, in turn, less discrimination and inequality. Although Blaski explores dark and complex issues, he leaves the reader with hope. “After…the losing of our voices in the long hibernation of grief- to awaken and sing like steeple bells at Easter” (Blaski 82).

On Campus: Join JMU’s LGBT and Ally Education program. To learn more visit:

Off Campus: Vote for candidates who support equality for all people.

Above and Beyond: Get involved in political campaigns that believe in equality for all people.

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Discrimination: Malcolm X

ImageIn Malcolm X’s arguably most powerful and controversial speech, “The Ballot or the Bullet,” he uses his knowledge and rhetorical skills to promote equal rights. This speech was given on April 3, 1964 during the height of the civil rights movement. While times have changed, mostly for the better, we still must recognize and address discrimination when we see it. Malcolm X refused to accept the inequalities that were present during his time. We can use Malcolm X’s same philosophy and argumentation to fight discrimination in any form. He argues that those Americans who are oppressed and robbed of their basic rights are not Americans at all but “the victims of democracy, nothing but disguised hypocrisy” (Hart 32).

His metaphor, the ballot or the bullet, presents the American people with two choices, leading to two very different outcomes. One is the bullet, which results in perpetuated ignorance and violence. Malcolm X warns of the lies made by corrupt politicians and argues that as long as people believe and trust them, the divide between those who support racism and those who don’t will only worsen, resulting in a violent outcome. Malcolm X says, “As they [the politicians] nourish these dissatisfactions, it can only lead to one thing, an explosion” (Hart 30). However, there is a more hopeful and peaceful path, and this is the one of the ballot. Malcolm X argues that African Americans must fight for and use voting rights to elect those politicians who support their rights, not the ones who make false promises in order to simply receive another vote. He urges people to become active in the civil rights movement in order to transform the political institutions that suppress others for their own good. This transformation is done through discussion and increasing awareness by exposing the true actions of politicians.

In many aspects of society,there is a false notion that equality exists in America, and the civil rights movement is no longer necessary. However, Malcolm X’s speech helps to illustrate both the ways in which society has grown since 1964 and the need to continue the fight for equal rights, which is far from over. There are any ways to get involved in the fight by choosing the path of the ballot. Some of them include:

On Campus: Intervene when you see discrimination in any form. It’s always around us but has many forms. Don’t be fooled by its many disguises, such as jokes or comments with underlying implications.

Off Campus: Vote for politicians who fight for equal rights. While the presidential election is approaching and important, don’t forget to become informed of local politicians as well. Often, these local politicians have more of an influence on your everyday life than the president. To learn more about Harrisonburg government officials visit:

Above and Beyond: Get involved in political campaigns. The presidential election is approaching and is an excellent opportunity to inform others of the candidates and their beliefs. To learn more visit:

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Mental Illness: Burroughs

ImageAugusten Burrough’s Running With Scissors explores mental illness in an entertaining and often humorous way. In his memoir, he describes his tumultuous childhood living between two equally bizarre and unstable homes. While Burroughs carries his own burdens and issues, and rightfully so, it is his mom, Deirdre, who suffers through mental illness in this memoir. Augusten illustrates how those with mental illness affect those around them. In his case, Deirdre’s illness and selfish nature resulted in Augusten being forced into independence at a very young age. His life was extremely unstructured; the only rules he followed were the ones he made for himself. This resulted in Augusten making many avoidable mistakes that most parents would have either prevented or helped to clean up. For example, Augusten rarely attends school beginning in elementary school. Aside from being illegal, most parents wouldn’t allow this behavior. If Augusten went to school, he may have discovered his passion and talent for writing much sooner. Augusten demonstrates the effects of his parents’ abandonment and unstructured life. He says, “freedom was what we had…so why did we feel so trapped?” (Burroughs 258). He demonstrates the importance of balance in one’s life. Too many rules or, in his case, too little rules can both result in a feelings of suffocation and confusion. His memoir exposes one to the various effects and issues a child may experience if given too much independence too soon. With this knowledge, one is able to relate more to those who were abandoned at a young age. While Augusten was technically adopted by the Finch family, one can see the many ways in which he was more of an orphan than someone’s child, bringing us into the next issue our newly gained knowledge and exposure can be applied to.

On Campus: Get to know those around you. You don’t know where they come from or what issues they may have. For those reasons, refuse to judge others too quickly based on artificial or unsupported claims.

Off Campus: Visit or volunteer at a local orphanage. As Augusten shows us, sometimes what someone needs is a fresh perspective or person to talk to.

Above and Beyond: Travel abroad and volunteer with Rescued Orphans International. To learn more about this organization and the different programs they offer visit:

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Mental Illness: Styron and Plath

ImageWilliam Styron’s Darkness Visible explores the raw and dark side of depression. He captures the pain and loss of control that often plagues those who suffer from this debilitating illness. He compares depression to a “veritable howling tempest in the brain,” (Styron 38)  illustrating the serious of the disease in an effort to alter society’s perception of it. By describing it in such vivid and real terms, he is able to shatter the nonchalant “get over it” attitude of those who either don’t suffer from depression or don’t know people who have.

However, instead of succumbing to the disease, Styron seeks to learn about the causes of his depression and overcome it once and for all. For him, various factors may have played in a role in worsening his illness, such as his mother’s death, low self-esteem, genetics (his father suffered from depression), and withdrawal from alcohol. By discovering the causes of his disease, he presents it as something that can be overcome and understood. Instead of committing suicide, which he seriously considered, he checked himself into the hospital, where the quiet and new environment allowed him to recover. His wife, Rose, made his recovery possible by supporting him and sticking by his side through what seemed like a hopeless situation. But Styron shows us that hope, while often hard to find, is never gone forever.

Like Styron, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar captures depression in a genuine and accurate way. The main character, ImageEsther Greenwood, begins to suffer from depression in her college years, making this novel that much more relatable to the JMU community. Plath uses metaphors and descriptive language to illustrate the seriousness of depression. She describes it as a sickness that “rolled through me in great waves. After each wave it would fade away and leave me limp as a wet leaf and shivering all over and then I would feel it rising up in me again” (Plath 44). In the novel, Esther attempts suicide and is committed to a mental hospital. However, unfortunately she doesn’t find as much hope there as Styron did, leaving the reader with the warning that the bell jar could, in fact, descend once again.

Plath’s life, unlike Styron’s, doesn’t leave the reader with much hope. Plath was overcome by her depression and eventually committed suicide. Through her life, though, we are able to understand the devastating outcomes that depression may have and the strong and stubborn grip it has on its victims. Her story allows us to recognize the signs of depression and intervene if we see someone who needs support. Through Styron and Plath, we are able to gain and promote awareness regarding the causes and effects of depression. We can easily incorporate this knowledge into our everyday lives by doing a few simple things to promote change and awareness.

On Campus: Write to The Breeze about the causes and signs of depression in order to increase awareness and alter the public’s often inaccurate understanding of it.

Off Campus: Apply this knowledge by actively searching for signs of depression in your friends and family.

Above and Beyond: Establish a Peer-to-Peer Depression Awareness Campaign here at JMU. To learn more visit:

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