Leave Well Enough Alone[A1]
Tanisha Danise Ware
ENG / 125
Saturday, October 13, 2012
Ozichi Alimole, Ph.D[A2] .
Langston Hughes and José Armas are skillful writers. They are able to illustrate how the main characters, in their short stories “Salvation” and “El Tonto del Barrio”,[A3] are better off without the tampering of others[A4] . Both characters have familial support, but it appears to be from a distance. Hughes attempts to find his personal salvation at the encouragement of his aunt’s congregation and peer pressure.[A5] What he receives, instead, is a falsely justified reason to be anything but saved. In a more subtle light, Armas’s protagonist, Romero, is a simple man of simple means until a bright college student distorts his view money and of the community bringing both resentment and intolerance. If the main characters were allowed to maintain their previous status – if they were allowed to just maintain, void of expectation, they most likely would have been better off. [A6]
Langston Hughes’s short story, about himself, titled “Salvation” provides the reader with a quick glimpse into his childhood understanding of the meaning of salvation. He is invited to be saved. At this time, Hughes is just a child of twelve. His understanding is that “you could see and hear and feel Jesus in your soul” (Hughes, p351). Hughes is taunted by his peer, Westley, who simply gets tired of sitting, gets up to “be saved” (p351) [A7] and leaves Hughes alone. In his heart, Hughes knows that he did not, see, hear, or feel Jesus, but at the risk of shaming himself, he relents to the prayers, the guilt and the heat. He gets up and the church erupts “into a sea of shouting” (p352). Once the church settles, Hughes and the rest of the children were[A8] blessed. Hughes is obviously upset as demonstrated by this reaction. He cries “in bed, alone, and couldn’t stop” (p352). His aunt misinterprets his grief as tearful joy. Hughes is distraught; he can’t bear to let his aunt know that not only did he not receive Jesus, but he had also lied. Not seeing and feeling Jesus the way he had anticipated left him wanton[A9] . He felt deserted by Jesus;[A10] forsaken. When he felt and saw [A11] nothing he left disappointed and dejected. It is not clearly stated, but one can discern that this is not Hughes’s first time to church. He most likely had a respectable relationship with Jesus prior to his supposed salvation, but once the weight of this relationship was questioned publicly, he sought stronger validation only to find himself completely disenchanted. He should have been allowed to explore his religious affirmations on his own.[A12]
José Armas expresses much the same sentiment in his short story “El Tonto del Barrio”. The main character Romero is ‘touched’ (p170). He has a routine, a ritual he follows when cleaning his and is recognized as a respected citizen. He is pleasant, helpful and entertaining. Armas describes the careful work of Romero as he tended to his citizens. In return for his dedication and cleaning up “the barrio looked after him” (p170). Each business provided for Romero in some way. Summertime brought the barber’s college-bound son, Seferino. He was unable to recognize the subtle unspoken relationship between Romero and his community. He, instead, felt sorry for Romero and insisted on turning him “a businessman” (p171). The barber, Barelas, tried to dissuade this train of thought; that Romero wanted for something, but still his son was convinced that Romero was being taken advantage of. Barelas pleads with his son, making a point of the fact that “[Romero] sweeps the sidewalks because he wants something to do not because he wants money” (p171). His son is relentless and Romero is soon receiving menial wages for his work. This concept spirals out of control, resulting with Romero having a feeling of duty and obligation followed by resentment for all the work done in the past. He soon requests a raise saying he deserves it, then asks for credit and soon quits. “Romero’s behavior continued to get erratic and some people started talking about having Romero committed” (p173). Barelas convinces the community to wait it out, hoping that a full moon would change Romero’s disposition. No one seems to notices that Romero returns to his old ways once Seferino leaves for school. Romero’s needs are as simple as he. The outside interference could have resulted in Romero losing all freedom of choice by being committed.[A13]
The nature of the familial relationships of both characters is not explained in either story. Neither of them lives with their parents or in traditional family settings. In fact, the parents are not mentioned. What we do see is that both characters are supported by their communities. Hughes’s spiritual well-being is encouraged and prayed for by “old women with jet-black faces and braided hair, old men with work-gnarled hands” (p351). Hughes recreates the feeling he felt when he was left alone on the bench. His aunt came to him, knelt and cried “while prayers and songs swirled all around” (p351). I feel it is this action alone that convinces Hughes to, even against his own intuition, “save further trouble” (p352) and “lie, too, and say that Jesus had come” (p352). Hughes did not move at the encouragement of the congregation or the taunting of his Westley. He holds still and states that he waited “serenely for Jesus” (p352). Hughes took his aunt’s explanation literally and in the end his spirit suffers true heartache as he does not get the salvation he had truly hoped for[A14] .
In “El Tonto del Barrio”, Armas shows us that Romero belongs to his community. The community is his family. They are used to him. They expect him. “If [Romero] didn’t show up one day someone assumed the responsibility to go to his house to see if he was ill” (p169). The children did not mock Romero and criticism of his work is not necessary. The community accepted and respected Romero just as he was. He “[fit] very well into the community” (p170). This peaceful and mutually beneficial relationship is questioned and scrutinized by the barber’s son, Seferino. Why did he feel the need to meddle? Why did he not listen to his father? His questions and valid points confuse his father. Barelas understood the logic behind Seferino’s suggestion — to pay Romero for his work, “but it still went against his ‘instinct’” (p171). Knowing that his son was bound for Harvard silently squelched any argument and while he knew better, Barelas chose not to continue the debate with his son. Romero would have benefitted more from the argument between father and son than the silent succession by a man with no desire to interfere.[A15]
Hughes uses irony to bring the reader into his perspective[A16] . He opens the story by stating that he was saved, “but not really saved” (p351). The reader is engaged from the second sentence. The writing is concise with beautiful descriptions and a lovely choice of adjectives. He plays back-and-forth between the excitement and commotion within the church, in comparison to the silence and stillness inside him. The reader can imagine the look upon his face as he sat trying to decide whether to lie — in order to be saved[A17] .
Armas uses Barelas dialogue with Seferino to foreshadow the negative outcome of his tampering. He expresses himself clearly, when he tells Seferino “you don’t know about these things mi’jo” (p171). He goes on to explain that “right now everyone likes [Romero] and takes care of him” (p171). Barelas wants to tell his son to leave the situation alone but he says nothing instead. He allows the situation to play out knowing that everything was just fine, the way it was.[A18]
We have all seen an[A19] experienced a situation that should have been left to play itself out instead of being controlled by the thoughts, feelings and experiences of others. Our family is our first reference for this grey area. We turn to our family in times of confusion or uncertainty. We look to them for guidance, advice and support. For some, this is not possible and they have to trust that what is being brought to them is not only true but beneficial. Hughes, as himself and Armas as Romero show us that not all suggestions should be taken to heart. Hughes was a child of twelve. At the request of his aunt Hughes attempts to look for a deeper stronger salvation that he must not have been ready for. Not only did he misunderstand what he was looking for, he was presented to the congregation and pressured to call on and accept Jesus, right then and there. [A20] Likewise, Romero is convinced that he should be paid for doing something that he’d gladly done for years, without question. Romero was perfectly happy living sweeping his streets, singing his songs and sharing camaraderie with his version of family. One person glanced at this relationship and interpreted everything incorrectly. His suggestions turned the community upside down. This was one such occasion where it may have been wise to leave well enough alone[A21] [A22] .
Barnet, S., Burto, W., & Cain, W. E. (2011). Literature for Composition (9th ed.). New York, New York: Longman.
[A1]This is an interesting expression that’s best suited for an informal or conversational usage. To maintain the academic tone of your paper, you may want to rephrase the expression in a formal language.
[A2]Hi Tanisha, the title page meets the APA standards. Good job.
[A3]How may you explain the use of this story as a nonfiction? It is difficult to evaluate this paper because your choice of stories does not meet the expectations of the assignment. For example, the stories you’ve selected belong to two different genres. Do you agree?
[A4]Rephrase, ‘interfering in the affairs of others.’
[A5]This is an important point. How may you restructure the phrase to make it a complete sentence?
[A6]This is a fiction short story. It does not meet the standards of the nonfiction genre.
[A7]The use of quotations to support your main points enriches the essay. Try to review the in-text citation format consistent with the APA guidelines. You may want to refer to the Sample Paper in the Center for Writing Excellence for examples of in-text citations formatting.
[A8]Try to maintain consistency with your tenses. Consider ‘are’ instead of ‘were’
[A9]How may you clarify the use of this word in this context?
[A10]Reconsider the punctuation.
[A11]Rephrase for clarity.
[A12]This is a thoughtful interpretation of Hughes’ experience to support your essay topic. How may this thought help to define the theme of this story and the author’s purpose?
[A13]This section is inconsistent with the expectations of the assignment.
[A14]This is an excellent analysis of Hughes experience. The view of family pressure is thoughtful in this context. Good job.
[A15]This section is inconsistent with the expectations of the assignment.
[A16]This is a good point. The author’s use of specific literary strategies to convey his thoughts is an important aspect of the assignment.
[A17]You demonstrate an excellent analytical skill. What techniques do you think Hughes may have used to evoke the powerful imagery in the reader’s mind in this scene?
[A18]This section is inconsistent with the expectations of this assignment.
[A20]This is an important point that restates your interpretation of Hughes’ experience.
[A21]How may you clarify this important thought?
[A22]Tanisha, your essay is a good effort. It demonstrates an understanding of Langston Hughes’ narrative in “Salvation” and your view of family pressure as a possible theme of this story is credible. The use of quotations from the story to support your views is commendable.
Your paper is organized in a manner that is clear and logical and your discussion on the author’s use of irony as a strategy to express his thoughts is quite satisfactory.
Consider how you may increase the content of your essay by a more comprehensive and in-depth analysis of the author’s description of his ‘salvation’ experience.
Consider also how you may structure your essay to address other key aspects of the assignment including the nonfiction value of “Salvation” and the role of imagination in writing and reading of nonfiction.
Try to proofread your paper to address minor cases of incomplete sentences, word choice and spelling.
Note that “El Tonto del Barrio” by Jose Armas is not a nonfiction story and therefore not considered valid for this assignment.
[A23]Please check the Reference and Citation Examples document in the Tutorials & Guides section of the Center for Writing Excellence for examples of correct formatting. Then carefully check your reference page to be sure that it is formatted correctly.