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Vargas, Rosalba
English 101
Professor Payte
18 November 2015
Dig for a Theme
Have you ever finished reading something and you had no idea what you just read? At
times, you have to go back and reread the passage in order to understand what it meant. This
interesting style of writing usually occurs in poetry, songs, or in this case, lyric essays.
Grounding the Lyric Essay, by Judith Kitchen, says, “The word “lyric” suggests music, and thus
awareness of the cadences and sounds of the language itself. In recent history some of the most
eloquent writers in this vein were those whose work came into vogue even before the term
“creative nonfiction” was coined.” This style of writing is the kind of style one has to dig
beneath the surface in order to come up with what the theme of the reading is. Digging for that
theme after reading Claudia Rankine’s American lyric essay, Don’t let me be Lonely, the
message understood was we do not know what being dead is because we do not understand what
being alive meant. The writer shows that she is rebellious by including various creative
structures in her writing that helps the reader dig up this centralized message about the story.
How does a writer act rebellious in their writing? In a way lyric essays include a sense of
rebellion. In writing, rebellion includes refusing to use linear structure and refuses to tell the
reader what the main idea is. The writer’s goal is for the reader to use open text and come up
with their own conclusion about the reading. Editor Deborah Tall and associate editor for lyric
essays say, “As Helen Vendler says of the lyric poem, "It depends on gaps. . . . It is suggestive
rather than exhaustive." It might move by association, leaping from one path of thought to
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another by way of imagery or connotation, advancing by juxtaposition or sidewinding poetic
logic. Generally it is short, concise and punchy like a prose poem.”
One of the first things that stands out about how the speaker structured the book, Don’t
let me be Lonely, was that it contained a lot of white space. This made the reading more
appealing and easier to read. Not only may the speaker wanted that white space for it to stand
out, but maybe also for the reader to know that there is a pause in between the reading. Not to
mention, this also helped with annotating the paragraphs about the questions and thoughts the
reader had about what he or she just read. Along with the white space, the speaker included
pictures. These pictures gave the reader a better sense of perspective of how the speaker views
the world for this situation.
After each passage, there was a picture that included either the image related to that
passage or the image that was about to relate to the next passage. These pictures included
television sets with either writings or media portrayals. A lot of the story pictures of the
televisions were about a death that occurred. Not only were the television sets with pictures on
them, but there were also television sets with a fuzzy screen. This structure reminded me of
Sherman Alexie’s, Indian Education, and how he would use chronological order in order for the
reader to get a better understanding of what stood out for him during those periods of time. He
included a header before each of those times. For example, he used “First Grade” as a title and
ended with “Postscript: Class reunion”. Don’t let me be Lonely used the television sets often and
made it seem as if the speaker was flipping through the channels and watched those stories that
stood out to her.
Another way the speaker used the structure to gather clues about what the theme is, was
that she used repetition. For example, as mentioned earlier, the speaker included the repetitive
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picture of the television set. This leaves the reader with the notion that the television represents
her watching it. There was also a certain part of the book where she puts the same picture that
says “This is the most miserable in my life” for a total of 4 times on pages 17 and 18. Repetitions
like these make the reading dramatic. The speaker also emphasizes the word “death” many times
throughout the book. Using repetitive words like “death” means the reader will see it a lot, it
must be important, therefore it must be a part of the theme. Usually, death is dark and it creates
the reader to have a sense of sadness. This is also a way that the speaker can connect to you
through emotion. Not only does repetition make the idea stand out but it also makes it easier for
the reader to remember it better.
Juxtaposition is used throughout the writing about the different stories that related to
death. For example, there is a picture of the TV with a dialogue between a man and a boy. “Man:
He is deceased? Boy: He is dead to me. Man: So he is not deceased? Boy: I don’t know. He
could be dead. Man: Is he or is he not dead? Boy: He’s been dead to my life. Man: Someone
wrote in your file that he is dead. Did you tell someone he is dead? Boy: All right, he is dead.”
Here the speaker is basically saying it never mattered if the guy was dead to the boy. This was
because he never knew him or cared for him. Another part of the book that uses juxtaposition to
this quote is “The third question is: Were you terribly upset and did you find yourself weeping
when Princess Diana died? I told the truth and stepped on the NO tile… I couldn’t help but think
the question should have been, Was Princess Diana ever really alive? I mean, alive to anyone
outside of her friends and family---truly?” This is similar to the boy and the man’s conversation.
The speaker was not upset about the death of the princess because she did not ever know her, so
she was never really alive to her, just like the guy was never really alive to the boy.
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The book demonstrated different forms of style so that the reader could connect and
gather clues to why the theme was portrayed the way it was. She used rebellion in her writing by
using a different form of structure that was not linear that included white space and pictures. She
also used repetition, pictures, juxtaposition. Many people ask “why do the authors write like
this?” Some readers hate it, while others love it. At times it can be very confusing, but it is very
interesting to read in between the lines. Authors do this so reading will not be dull. They want
the readers to interpret the piece, make reading out of the ordinary, and maybe even connect to
them. This way the reader can look beyond what they see by using their creative side of the
brain.
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Works Cited Page
Kitchen, Judith. Grounding the Lyric Essay. Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction. Vol. 13.
Number 2, Fall 2011.
Tall, Deborah and John D’ Agata. The Lyric Essay. Web.
Rankine, Claudia. Don’t let me be Lonely. Minneapolis, Minnesota. 2004.
Alexie, Sherman. Indian Education. 1993.
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Vargas Vargas, Rosalba English 101 Professor Payte 18 November