All posts by Ross Neill

Final reflections

I have always felt most comfortable reading and writing about fiction and non-fiction, and that was true in my writing this term. Writing about different works by Sherman Alexie cae relatively easily, and writing “The Thirteenth Night” by Ichiyo Higuchi was also not so hard, even though the story was written a long time ago, in a very different culture.

I would say that my paper about Sherman Alexie’s “This is What it Means To Say Phoenix, Arizona.” shows me at my best. I was able to use his biography “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir,” which I had read previously and really liked. And because I looked at the story through psychoanalytic theory, I was able to use many things that I know about his life. I know that Alexie is a complicated person, but I can relate to the many medical problems he has had throughout his life.

I have more trouble with poetry and drama because they’re more abstract. I do like the poetry of  Jimmy Santiago Baca, though, so didn’t mind so much analyzing “So Mexicans Are Taking Jobs From Americans.” The erasure poetry assignment was really hard for me, though. I couldn’t really get that.

 And drama was hard to analyze, both Chekhov’s “The Proposal” and Alice Dunbar-Nelson’s “Mine Eyes Have Seen. I like seeing plays performed on stage, but reading them is different, and harder.


Lomov visits Chubukov at Chubukov’s country house. Chubukov asks why Lomov is dressed up. As an aside to the audience Chubukov wonders if Lomov has come to borrow money.

Lomov finally says he has come to ask for Natalya’s hand in marriage. Chubukov says he is overjoyed. He embraces Lomov and says he will call Natalya. Lomov asks if he can count on her consent. Chubukov says of course, she’s like “a love-sick cat.” He exits.

Lomov talks to the audience. He says he is very nervous. He’s not in love, but he is 35 and it’s time to get married. Natalya is a good housekeeper, not bad looking, well educated. He talks more to let the audience know that he is a neurotic type.

Natalya comes in, offers lunch and smokes, talks about cutting hay. She is surprised that Lomov is dressed up.

Lomov begins to talk about their two families and their lands—specifically, the Oxen Meadows Natalya interrupts and says the Oxen Meadows are theirs, not his.

An argument takes place that is comical. Both Natalya and Lomov insist that the land is theirs. They go back and forth with “Ours,” “Mine,” “Ours,” “Mine.”

Chubukov enters and asks about the shouting. Natalya asks who Oxen Meadows belongs to, and he says, “They’re ours.” There are more arguments, and Chubukov calls Lomov “a grabber.” Chubukov and Natalya say Lomov’s family has lunacy and drunkenness in the background. Lomov says Chubukov’s mother was hump-backed and his grandfather was tried for embezzlement.

Lomov leaves, saying he thinks he’s having a heart attack. Chubukov tells Natalya that Lomov came with the intention of proposing to her. Natalya falls back in hysterics, saying, “Bring him back. Fetch him.”

Lomov returns, complaining about his heart, his foot, etc. Natalya says Oxen Meadows are his. She says to change the subject. So they start talking about hunting dogs.

Once again, they argue. It’s the same as arguing about the land. Lomov says his heart is palpitating, and tells Natalya to shut up. Natalya says she shan’t shut up.

Chubukov enters and asks what’s the matter. Natalya asks whose dog is better—their Squeezer or his Guess. Chubukov gets involved in the argument.

Lomov complains about his heart and says his foot has gone to sleep. Natalya insults Lomov, says he’s not a hunter. Chubukov says Lomov should sit at home with his palpitations.

Lomov and Chubukov go back and forth. Lomov says, “Intriguer!” Chubukov says, “Boy! Pup!” Lomov sats, “Old rat! Jesuit!”

Lomov faints, says his heart has burst. Natalya screams, “He’s dead!”

Lomov comes around. Chubukov says, “Hurry up and get married—she’s willing!” Natalya says, “He’s alive—yes, I’m willing.”

Natalya and Lomov say they’re happy. They kiss.

Then they fight about the dogs some more.

They drink champagne.

Analyze the play using gender theory in literary criticism:

It’s hard to analyze a play from more than a century ago using gender theory. The play “The Proposal” is a satire about the upper -lass Russian custom of marrying couples off to bring together neighboring land holdings.

In this case, Lomov asks Chubukov for Natalya’s hand. Chubukov at least says he will ask Natalya, but tells Lomov that he is happy to be asked. When Lomov asks if Natalya will say yes, Chubukov says of course, that she is like “a love-sick cat.” This is not very feminist, to say the least.

But then, when Natalya enters and she and Lomov start their comedy routine, things become more equal. Natalya shows herself more than the equal of Lomov in their funny bickering.

Chubukov is the first one to say, “Hurry up and get married—she’s willing.” But then Natalya is the first one to say yes.

Apply the Elements of Drama to the play:

Audience: The audience would have a common experience at this play, which is so funny and fast-moving.

Dialogue: The dialogue is witty and humorous. It moves quickly. It deals with the business of the play, which is moving the characters toward (or away from) agreement with each other about whether or not to merge their households.

Plot: The plot in this one-act play is minimal. It takes place on a single day in a single place. Only one thing is supposedly happening, which is Lomov going to Chubukov’s country house to ask for Natalya’s hand in marriage. Of course, there is lots of funny dialogue that happens around this theme. There is plenty of irony, when the plan keeps getting derailed by arguments. And there certainly is open conflict.

Convention: This is a realistic drama, in keeping with the late 19th Century.

Genre: This is a comedy

Characterization: I wouldn’t say that any of these characters are protagonists or antagonists—they’re all just kind of silly.

Analysis of Audio Book Version:

For me, the Audio Book version of the play isn’t as funny as the written version. And I’m sure it isn’t as funny as the version performed on the stage.

That’s because it lacks stagecraft, of course, and an audience. But I also think the dialogue does not come across as being as witty as it seems on the page, and as comical as it would be on the stage. This is a farce, which is defined as using buffoonery and horseplay, and it’s hard to convey that in an audio version. But the lines are also read in a way that is sort of flat, and not a comedic as it could be. The characterization could be better. The characters are not played for their comic potential.

Analysis of the play in light of the Atlantic Montly article on contemporary proposals:

Really, when you think about it, contemporary proposals aren’t all that different from the one in the Chekhov play “The Proposal.” Though the article in the Atlantic didn’t mention it, it’s still quite common for a man to ask a woman’s father for permission before proposing to her. And then, just like in “The Proposal,” it’s the man who usually proposes.

Of course, contemporary proposals tend to be more between the two people involved, whatever their gender. But it’s not unusual to have family members hiding and watching, even if they’re not directly involved. And as the article points out, even if the person being proposed to has doubts, it’s can be hard to resist pressure and say anything but “yes.”

poetry analysis

“So Mexicans Are Taking Jobs From Americans” by Jimmy Santiago Baca is a free verse poem. This uses non-rhyming lines that follow the natural rhythms of speech. (Poetry Foundation) Likewise, another poem by Baca, “Main Character,” is also written in free verse, and its themes are similar.

Jimmy Santiago Baca was born in 1952 near Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is of Chicano and Apache descent. He was abandoned by his parents and put in an orphanage. He ran away from the orphanage when he was 13 and began selling drugs. He served five years in prison. He wrote “So Mexicans Are Taking Jobs From Americans” while in prison.

His writing is concerned with social justice and marginalized people. The free verse style reflects his own experience as an outsider to the American Dream.

“Main Character” is also a free verse poem, about the dispossession of Native Americans. During the showing of a Western film, a drunken Indian rose cursing and sobbing and the narrator is left looking for the main character.

In “So Mexicans are Taking jobs From Americans,” the tone goes from playful (“Oh yes? Do they come on horses? with rifles, and say, Ese gringo, gimme your job?”) to brutal (“The rifles I hear sound in the night are white farmers shooting blacks and browns”) to resigned (“What they really say is, let them die, and the children, too”) (

I responded strongly to this poem. To begin with, as the child of an immigrant and a friend to so many more, I believe that immigrants are a positive force for our country. Also, I have great admiration for Jimmy Santiago Baca and the way he was able to overcome his difficult upbringing and his time in prison, to become completely self-educated, and to reach out to those who are struggling.


There were times reading Alice Dunbar-Nelson’s play “Mine Eyes Have Seen” when I felt the play defied Moral Criticism. Ugly things are said, for example when Harvey says that children were crucified in the war, and Chris responds, “Well, what’s that to us? They’re little white children.” But then Dan says, “Hush, Chris, It is not for us to visit retribution. Nor to wish hatred on others…Love of humanity is above the small considerations of time or place or race or sect.”

And that teaches piety and virtue, as Plato envisioned. In fact, the whole play can be seen as uplifting, even though the subject is depressing. An African-American family is living in a tenement in the north because they were burned out of their house down south. Their father was shot and their mother died of disease. One brother, Dan, was crippled in a factory accident. Sister Lucy cares for Dan and the house. Brother Chris tries to support them all, but finds out he is drafted in WWI.

As sad as this is, the family is quite noble and uplifting. They love and care for each other. And Dan reminds the others that African-Americans have always fought in the country’s wars. “They went in 1776…Ours was the first blood shed on the altar of National liberty. We went in 1812 Our men were through the struggles of 1861..they were there in 1898.” Their pride, honor and sacrifice comes through.

Feminism in Ichiyo

In the story “The Thirteenth Night” by  Ichiyo Higuchi, Oseki is so unhappy with her upper-class husband, Harada, and is so happy to encounter her childhood friend Roku, who she always thought she would marry. Oseki and Roku both grew up in humble circumstances, and Oseki thought she would spend her life working behind the counter of Oseki’s family store. She was happy with that. But then Harada saw her and wanted her for his wife, but he mistreats her because of her lower-class origins. When Oseki and Roku meet in the rickshaw, Oseki has risen in social class, and Roku has fallen in social class, abandoning his wife and child. They are very different in their social class, but similar in their desire to abandon their families. They still have feelings for each other. Marxist theory might say that capitalism takes advantage of all workers, whether a rickshaw driver such as Roku or a wife like Oseki. They will never move beyond their humble class and they will never stop being exploited.

Oseki might represent Higuchi Ichiyo in some ways. The author grew up in the late 19th century. She was born to parents who were in a peasant community, but her father had managed to procure samurai status. He only had this status for a short time, though, before it was abolished. Higuchi attended a private school with students mostly from the upper classes and felt inferior. She kept diaries all about all aspects of her life, including the increasing poverty of her family as the years went on. In later years, she moved with her mother and sister to a neighborhood near Tokyo’s red-light district. She would have been very aware of the limited power of women, and of the need to use traditional feminine wiles to get her way—go home and make her husband happy, as her father told her, and be able to keep her son. Her husband chose her for her beauty, and she should play that up. Roku, too, is impressed by her beauty.

This is What It Means

In “This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona,” Sherman Alexie is writing about the loss of Native American culture and traditions. He is also writing about the loss of the communal spirit represented by tribes and their governing councils.

Thomas Builds-the-Fire is a storyteller. He represents the oral tradtion of their tribe. And though he talks a lot of nonsense, he says a lot of truth, like what he says about Victor’s father having a weak heart. But Victor doesn’t listen, and neither does anybody else. They beat up Thomas and isolate him so he goes crazy.

Thomas is a true friend to Victor. He gives him money and goes with him to Phoenix to get Victor’s father’s remains. It’s meaningful that they go to Phoenix. It’s a hot place in the desert where Victor’s father was turned to ashes. In mythology, the Phoenix is a bird that burned itself on a funeral pyre, then rose again

Victor has the chance to be reborn by reconnecting with Thomas and his tribal heritage. He decides not to, and lets it go. It’s as dead as the jackrabbit they run over in the road.

Where I’m From

I am from stethoscopes.

from Purell and Kimberly-Clark powder gloves.

I am from the constant beeping of heart rate monitors.

I am from a brick building

the artistic heart of a city.

I am from writing

and reading.

from Michael.

and Tracey.

I am from ADHD

and a General Anxiety Disorder.

From kindness

and creativity.

I am from evenings spent watching Yankees baseball

I’m from the West Village,

Hudson Street Bagels and arroz con pollo from the bodega .

From the poverty my father, Michael, grew up with,

and the worry from my mother.

I am from our home in New York City.