Our daughter is an exceptionally talented writer; she takes after her mother in that regard. She also loves art and history. On this particular assignment followed the reading of The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. Both stories used historical events or pictures to craft a “myth” (as in “true” but not historical) to provide deeper meaning to the simple objects (Things) or pictures (Miss Peregrine’s) as presented. The students were assigned to choose a current event article or a series of five photographs and to write a fictional account around them that would get at these “deeper truths.” Izzy began her assignment with the chose “to illustrate a truth in response to the movement in Oklahoma to ban AP US History because the state legislature believed that the teachings were not ‘patriotic’ enough and also did not express enough of ‘American exceptionalism.’”
I found her reflections (also part of the assignment) on how and why she wrote what she did fascinating and gave me greater appreciation for her composition. It is at the end, but if you want to read it first, you can jump there now.
AP English Language and Composition
Truth Story; Vignette Series
The general strode proudly down the corridor of the Executive Mansion, medals gleaming on his chest. There was a glint to his eye and his boots had been polished for the occasion. Newly promoted, the general was eager to deliver the good news to the president – the battle had been long fought and hard won.
Actually, it had been neither of those things, but, the general thought as he was let into the Oval Office, he didn’t think that was really necessary to bring up.
“Mr. President,” said the general, doffing his hat and bowing slightly to the man who was standing in front of his desk, back to the general, “am I honored to inform you that the Philippines have been surrendered by Spain – they are the rightful property of the United States of America.”
The president turned around and clapped his hands together.
“Amazing! Good work, general! This news I am more than happy to hear. Now,” he said, turning back around, “I have one more job for you.”
“Of course, Mr. President.”
“I have been staring at this map all day long, and for the love of God, where in the blazes are the Phillippines?”
Vilhelmina Solberg was an ugly woman and she was proud of it.
She was six feet tall exactly, taller than any man in her tiny Delaware town, skinny and gawky with pointy elbows, sharp cheekbones, and a sharper jaw. Her skin was pale – not the pale of soft gentle maidens, but the type that showed a blue latticework of her veins and an almost constant angry red flush. Her Swedish accent made her English ugly, her Swedish name was long and awkward, and her Swedish father let her roughhouse with the boys and plow the fields and ride the horses ‘til her hands were rough with calluses and Vilhelmina loved every minute of it.
“Vilhelmina,” her father would say, “you are beautiful. You’re Vilhelmina.”
But to the Finns and the English and the Dutch of Delaware (and the Pennsylvanians who ruled Delaware), Vilhelmina was ugly. And Vilhelmina loved it – she loved being ugly, because she was Vilhelmina and Vilhelmina was beautiful. And when other girls her age looked at her and whispered, she decked them right then and there, strong and proud and Vilhelmina.
Then, one day, Vilhelmina and her father traveled up to New Castle with her father’s wares ready for market. And as they came up the old dirt road towards New Castle, sharing a secret smile at the Delaware flag flying proudly alone above the town, neither the Pennsylvanian nor English next to it, but as they came up the road, suddenly, a few British regulars came down it.
Vilhelmina didn’t hear them yell to halt, because even if they did, she couldn’t hear it above the shots of muskets and sound of her father hitting the ground.
“Vilhelmina,” was all her father said.
And because Vilhelmina was Vilhelmina, she stood up strong and proud, stared down at the shocked young soldier, and decked him right then and there. She took his musket from him and the few others there let her and, as good and noble men, helped her bury her father in the green field next to the old dirt road as they said prayers, her in Swedish and they in English.
Vilhelmina saluted them and marched back down that dirt road to New Castle, where she rented a room and cut off her long blonde hair until it swung like a dagger at her throat, bound her chest, picked up the regular’s musket, and then left to join the Continental Army.
Three weeks later, Vilhelmina was assigned to the Delaware Blues.
Three months later, Vilhelmina was trudging into Valley Forge with no shoes to speak of and leaving red footprints in the snow. Half of her face was bandaged from a musket ball that had managed to take her eye but not her life and her entire body ached from the bruises that broke the blue latticework into purple stains and from hunger that made her look bonier than ever. But Vilhelmina was Vilhelmina, and marched on through the snow strong and proud and grinning with missing teeth.
Vilhelmina had never felt more beautiful.
Three years later, Vilhelmina was shot down with three muskets – one to the chest and two the arms – because Vilhelmina’s Vilhelmina and when the British see her decking their soldiers, they’re smart enough to take her out. The boys in her regiment are shocked when they go to bury her.
“Should we bury her as a lady?” asks one of the boys, because everybody knew the hot-blooded, one-eyed Vilhelm from Översidolandet, “We need to bury her with respect.”
“Vilhelm is Vilhelmina,” says the colonel. “And Vilhelmina is one of us.”
And so they bury Vilhelmina with her blond hair brushed out, her uniform clean and pressed, and her eye missing and her bullet wounds there for the world to see. When they bury Vilhelmina, it’s an ugly corpse.
But Vilhelmina is Vilhelmina.
“Why are closing the shutters, Ma?”
“Get down from there, Joseph. Now.”
“Ma, Papa’s out there. You said he’s coming back with – why are you locking the doors?”
“Get away from there, Joseph – go get your sister and get in the cellar!”
“Al – alright, Ma. But what’s that noise? And what’s that smell? Why are you shaking – are you cryin’, Ma? Why you cryin’?”
“Now, Joseph! Go!”
“Pa,” Emma called from the door of adobe house, “the goat’s eating the roof again and there’s a snake hanging from the ceiling.”
It was the least interesting thing to happen all day long.
Jacob sighed, abandoned his fruitless attempts at trying to plow the winter-hardened Nebraska soil, and, really, at least it wasn’t the cattle owner from five miles over, trying to cut through his barbed wire again, which was the only thing that keeps the cattle from eating his entire life’s work.
Not that it helped, really, because between the locusts and the cows and the blizzards and Emma’s mother’s death, Jacob wondered if living right next door to his mother-in-law had really been that bad.
As he cut off the head of the snake hanging from the ceiling, already half-dead, Jacob mused over what level of hell his mother-in-law had to have crawled out of for him to move out here.
He stared at his daughter, who was fifteen years old but looked like a fifty-year-old farm wife, what with her callused hands, browned face, and tired lines around her eyes from taking care of everything under the sun but making the plants grow.
“At least it wasn’t the locusts,” Jacob said with good humor, but father and daughter just stared at each other, both remembering a time when Jacob’s humor was all-encompassing and he wasn’t such a shell of his former self, just existing to plow at the hard ground and plant seeds and hope beyond hope they wouldn’t fail just like they did the last three years.
“No,” Emma said flatly and pointed out the window to the darkened sky. “Just another tornado.”
William Cledes considered himself a respectable sort of man. As he sipped on his coffee and munched on a beignet from where he was comfortably shaded from the vicious noon sun, survivable to only those born-and-raised Louisianans, William certainly thought he was much more respectable than whoever was causing such a ruckus on the other side of the French Quarter. Around the backside of Saint Louis Cathedral a crowd was gathering, angry young men with angrier hearts and tongues, and people from all over were rushing to join into the fray.
Sighing irritably to himself as he flipped through more pages of his very incomplete manuscript, he called to person about to jump the café’s fence to join in. He was never going to be able to finish with all this noise.
“What on earth is going on over there?” William nodded to the crowd.
“Oh, it’s one of them Italians,” said the man. His brown hair had been bleached by the sun and he swept it out of his eyes as rain started to trickle down. The black store owners around the Quarter were closing windows and locking shutters – that was odd. It only looked like a light rain to William. “This is New Orleans, sir. If they’s gonna be here, we gotta show ‘em proper Southern hospitality.”
“One type of hospitality, I suppose,” William mused as he took another sip of coffee. The mob had cleared a bit and William could now see that the mob had thrown a man on the ground. By the screams, he seemed to have several broken bones. “Do they usually set them on fire?” he asked, gesturing with his tea cup to where the mob was tossing down torches on the man. It wouldn’t be proper to point, after all.
“Oh, sometimes,” the man shrugged. The mob was roaring, now, gathering a crowd of photographers and the bishop, who had poked his head out of the cathedral window, but then simply closed it when he saw nothing amiss. “Now, if you don’t mind, sir, I must go. The wife doesn’t like it if these things run into dinnertime.”
“Oh, of course,” William said cordially. It always surprised William how congenial these Southerners were – nothing like the Rebs his father, the old Civil War vet, was always harping on about. He delicately waved his napkin as the stench of burning flesh wafted over. “Good day.”
“But before you go,” William called as the man turned to leave, “I think you might have missed one.”
The man turned where William had gestured to see a boy, maybe twelve years old, racing away from the mob, a gold crucifix pounding on his chest as he struggled to run across rain-slicked cobblestone streets.
“Thank ya, sir,” the man grinned, shouting for a couple compatriots to follow him, and the four men took off after the boy, their strides much faster than his own.
William gave a polite dip of his head and went back to his manuscript. The screaming of the Italians and the mob made it hard to concentrate, but William wouldn’t let that endanger his chances of finishing his manuscript before its deadline. After all, William Cledes was a respectable man.
“Mama, it’s nearly dark out. Why are you opening the windows? You’re letting the mosquitoes in!”
“Hush, Louise, and know a good thing when you see one!”
“Louise’s right, Darlene, what on God’s green earth are you hanging half out the window for?”
“Sometimes I think that your skull is thicker than steel, Harold, and I wonder why I married you. Who else could that be? That’s Reverend King! Right up ahead! He’s marching down the lane with a whole bunch of people, and – no crowding the window, now, I was here first!”
“Mama, are you crying?”
“Of course I’m crying, Louise, why aren’t you? Fetch a basket, fill it with my best preserves, and giddiup on out to them. Now, Louise, go!”
Mathew burst through the door of the tenement, sending two of his brothers scrambling backwards and his other glaring him, pointing at his sleeping sister. The tenement was filthy and cramped, with a hole in a wall that served as both a chimney and window but didn’t work nearly well enough for either purpose and meant that the walls and the sun were covered in a constant layer of soot. The few dirty blankets and rags pretending to be the bed he shared with all five of his siblings took up most of the floor and what was left was home to as nearly rusted through iron pot that they used for boiling water and, if they were lucky, baths.
“You got food?” Connor and Rowan demanded in two completely different tones.
“Yeah,” Mathew bolted the door as best he could with shaking hands – from hunger or nervousness he wasn’t sure. He’d stolen food many times before this, gotten away with it, too, but it wasn’t like the door would keep the police out – it was just a couple of planks of wood nailed together with an old horseshoe and string of rope serving as a latch. “Yeah.”
Nevan quickly snatched up the food and distributed it with Torin’s help, trying to coax his sickly, six-year-old sister to eat. Their room was dark, hungry, waiting, and Mathew would be damned if he let his sister be eaten by the room like his mother had been.
“Where?” Connor hissed as Rowan began trying to stoke up the fire with the few twigs and pebbles worth of coal Mathew had snatched from back gardens and trashcans.
“Does it matter?” Mathew gritted his teeth because his brother was too skinny and too moral for his own good, and no matter what Ma had said before she’d died, America hadn’t given them any more to offer than Ireland when it came to trying to stoke a fire or get water from a well (not that there were any in New York City) or trying to get an actual job to pay for things because, no, we don’t take Irish – why should we, they take our jobs, why should we take them in, it’s not like he’s sixteen with a dead mother and a dead father and a dead end and five siblings to feed. If he stole fish from the docks when sailors weren’t looking and begged off scraps from the church kitchens and rich ladies from Mrs. Astor’s parlor who thought he was darling and out of dumps of bakeries and groceries, Connor could go to the confession box for him, because as long as Rowan’s cheekbones stopped poking out of his face and Torin’s ribs stopped showing and Maeve could breathe without her chest rattling, Mathew’d go to hell for them all.
Because his brothers and sister were hungry and he couldn’t feed them, stop their hunger, and as his hands shook, Mathew knew that they’d never stop being hungry, they’d never have enough to eat, this filthy hole in the ground would never stop eating his family, Ireland could never rest easy with a full stomach, and America would never stop until it had stripped them to their bones.
“He’s still refusing to leave, colonel,” reported a lieutenant whose name Ingvar could never quite remember.
Of course, Ingvar mused, he probably should’ve, because the man was from a town just a couple miles down the road from where his own Minnesota town was.
Then again, Ingvar thought as he tried to resist tugging at his wool uniform that could quite frankly be classed as a torture when you were standing in a field slowly melting to death under a Maryland sun that had no right to be as hot as it was in September, he wasn’t in Minnesota anymore.
“We don’t have time for this,” the colonel gritted his teeth, mumbling a couple of curses under his breath, “I told you to put the fear of God into him, man, not the other way around! He’s just a civilian, what in the blazes do you think he can do to you?”
Almost as one, Ingvar and the rest of the 3rd Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment looked up from where they were encamped to the large, grand old house that sprawled across the hillock. At least, the house looked like it had once been grand – large parts had been blown apart by cannons and the regiment was technically camped right on the front lawn, so it had kind of lost its grandeur. But, sure enough, the regiment watched as one as the man took a scarily accurate shot at someone coming too close to his house from a second story window.
His pa was right, Ingvar thought, shaking his head. You see crazy things in war – the house, which had the rebels camped on one side of the house, the Union on the other, some crazy man in between who flat out refused to leave his house straight in the middle, and left both sides trying to convince the man to leave if not let them use the house as a hospital.
“At least he’s shooting the rebels, too,” another lieutenant tried hopefully.
The colonel glared at him before shaking his head.
“You,” he barked and Ingvar jumped a little. He’d been in the army six months and hadn’t yet had to do anything that’d send him
home in a coffin in a split second and he wanted to keep it that way. “Olsen.”
The colonel sized him up. “You’re big enough – you go put the fear of God in ‘im, and if not, knock him out and drag him back out.”
“Yes, sir,” Ingvar said, inwardly groaning. His ma had said he was Scandanavian big, just as he should be, a son of Denmark, yes ma’am, but his ma had never said anything about that getting him killed.
Ingvar felt the stares of the Minnesota Third on his back as he marched up the hillock. He’d only been shot at twice, and considering Ingvar had seen more than half of that crazy man’s shots fly true, Ingvar felt he could consider these shots as being kind of half-hearted.
The shots stopped as soon as he reached the porch. Ingvar knocked on the door. Might as well be polite.
As he knocked, the door swung open of its own accord. Ingvar was left standing in an entry hall that looked that it, like the rest of the mansion, had once been great – but now there was no light except what came in from the blown out windows and the white sheets that had been pulled over all the furniture were sprayed with glass and blood. There was only one thing not covered in a sheet – a large portrait of a smiling blonde woman.
“Hallo?” Ingvar called. His voice bounced back at him off of the tall ceiling and the stairs.
“So,” and Ingvar jumped at the sound of the voice behind him. He spun around to see a young man – his age – closing the door behind him. “How do you plan to convince me to leave?”
The young man before him was much shorter than Ingvar, but his glare more than made up for his height. His face was smeared with grime and gunpowder and the tips of blond hair were singed from where the curls had fallen out of its tie. He looked more battleworn than Ingvar – his feet were nearly sticking out of his boots and he seemed to be wearing bloodied bandages more than he was wearing threadbare breeches and a tunic.
Not to mention he had a very large rifle slung over one shoulder and a pistol in one hand.
“You know why we need you to leave,” Ingvar said, eyeing the rifle. “But there’s about to be a battle. You’re going to get yourself killed. So…leave. Come with me. Please.”
The man snorted. “Please. That’s a first.”
“There are already ten thousand men dead in those trenches,” Ingvar warned. “There’s room for one more.”
“Oh, I know. The war can’t wait to take me,” the man pointed to the portrait hanging above the staircase. “It took her. It took my son. But it can’t take all I have left.”
Ingvar stared at the man.
“You’ll die in here,” was all Ingvar could say. There wasn’t much else to say. The colonel would be getting what he wanted, that was for sure.
“I didn’t say it wouldn’t take me, too.”
“I think it already did.”
The man opened the door for him.
Antoon Yensen felt that, despite what his father had said, he couldn’t really be blamed for getting lost.
After all, Antoon rationalized as he hastily dodged around another Polish woman dumping things that made Antoon shudder straight out her window onto the street, he had only been in New York City for two weeks. And, well, it was very different from Albany – much larger, obviously, and his father, Antoon was starting to think, had not really done him a favor by not teaching him anything but Dutch and leaving Antoon to pick up any English he learned from house guests and servants. Of course, his father hadn’t lent him much that was of any use – he had both inherited and made a fortune through banking, but the man was only a couple inches under seven feet, scowled at everything in his line of sight and many things that weren’t, which insured that Antoon was an gawky, too-tall teenager for a really regrettable period of time. Not to mention his father’s status Albany’s resident rich madman, considering he still lamented the Dutch abandoning New Netherland (an event which Antoon repeatedly reminded his father happened over two hundred years ago, not that he could stand to hear of it – and, considering the man refused to Albany, which he considered the “last stronghold of his ancestors” was not the only thing he refused to acknowledge). Also, he was a completely paranoid thrifter to the boot who continually assured Antoon that the only good thing that came of his father’s marriage with his mother was Antoon and refused to let Antoon even know the name of the woman who his father had nicknamed “the glutinous, deceitful witch.”
Antoon pulled his coat tighter around himself and ducked his head.
What his father would think of this now, Antoon thought bitterly. Of course, he knew what his father would think – his father was the man who had stormed into his school when Antoon was twelve throwing open the doors and demanding in a far too loud voice which of these spoiled brats was calling his darling son a daddy’s boy, which really hadn’t helped matters at all. And while his father had been so very proud of his son, only twenty-two years old, going into business with J.P. Morgan’s finest protegee, Antoon very much doubted his father would be so proud to learn his son had gotten lost within the tenement districts of the city.
Antoon winced as something squelched underneath his boot as he made his way down the alley he ended up in. He’d heard his boss’s thoughts on the immigrants who were stuffed into these tall buildings like sardines in a can; they should all be packed away and sent back to Ireland and Italy and wherever else they had come from. But Antoon, who had very rarely been allowed to leave his father’s house in Albany, much less the city, had never even seen an immigrant (and doubted his boss had, either) and was finding it very hard to summon up and sort of feelings of disgust towards these people when he could understand the Dutch a mother was screaming in better than he could understand the English that his boss spoke to him in.
As he rounded the corner of the alley out onto a street, trying to shake off the feeling that the father who was screaming back at the Dutch woman sounded scarily like his father, Antoon stopped dead.
The unevenly paved cobblestone had suddenly stopped and turned into a muddy swamp of a road, breaking into unexpected troughs and turrets from deep wagon tracks pulled by exhausted, bony horses. The sky, too, had abruptly disappeared – the smog that painted New York a dark gray on every day of the year seemed even darker here, and between that and the rows upon rows of laundry pinned up on lines that criss crossed the street so many times Antoon felt dizzy, it seemed as if the sun had just…disappeared.
The buildings arced high above him, but unlike Antoon’s new office high up in a skyscraper’s penthouse, these buildings seemed to shudder like they would explode and crash down and burst into flames all at once. The walls were so thin that Antoon could hear every little thing that these people yelled and cried and laughed in between the crashing of bedpans and spoiled soup being dumped into the soggy street, seeping into Antoon’s boots and catching on the wares of peddlers and factory workers running back and forth like there was a noose tightening around their necks. Every person who rushed past Antoon, throwing him sneers and raised eyebrows, for while they each seemed to speak a different language, they all looked the same – girls as young as eight were hunched from working in cotton mills all day long, Antoon could see ribs through boys’ threadbare shirts and callused hands from working that would snap an older man’s spirit in half. Adults wore rags that passed for clothes and if they weren’t gambling away all they had for whiskey, they were doing it for their children.
And Antoon, in his tailored, blue woolen overcoat and enough money to last him five lifetimes, felt as though he was in a different world.
Antoon numbly stepped to the side and tipped his hat to a widow whose every bone stuck out of her pale skin, pressed into the side of the building by the crowd because there were no sidewalks to speak of.
Something brushed at his coat and in a blind moment of instinct, Antoon snatched the arm reaching into his coat pocket. In a second, he was met with a pair of terrified green eyes and the voice of a twelve year old stuttering excuses with such a heavy accent Antoon couldn’t understand a word he said, but he could understand his sunken eyes and waxy skin. Keeping one hand tight around the would-be thief’s thin wrist, Antoon dumped contents of his wallet into the pickpocket’s hands.
Antoon dropped the boy’s wrist and saw him squirrel away enough money to feed his family for a year before someone much more undesirable than Antoon caught him at it. Antoon watched the boy dart back into the nearest tenement with one hand on his wallet before he turned to navigate his way out of the place he had ended up in.
After he had managed to find his way back to his office, scaring the living daylights out of his boss’s assistant with his muddied boots and drenched coat, Antoon had made a quick trip to the bank, withdrew enough money that half of the people in the queue were spluttering, and then headed back out the same street, where he bought out three produce peddlers and passed out the food to every person walking down that street.
And, like clockwork, Antoon did the same thing every day after work for as long as he lived.
The looks he got from his boss and even the visit from his incredibly irate father paled in comparison to the fact that there was at least one boy who was gangly and awkward and who had a father who was even more hungry than him but was, at least for one day, a little less lost in New York City.
James is an eight-year-old boy out picking dandelions. Considering the fact that James is an eight-year-old boy out picking dandelions, James does not like it. Of course, that also doesn’t change the fact that his sister said to go pick flowers and since Mama’s gone, his sister’s kind of his mama, and he does what she says.
Even if he didn’t like it.
But, James thought as he plucked another dandelion from the bright green, wide open meadow with white puffy clouds arching high overhead, it was sure better than helping around the house all day.
The sudden clip-clopping of horses caused James to look up and grin. He went to shout at the men on the horses, because he loved horses and couldn’t wait to be one of those men on the horses, but he stopped and his grin slowly faded as he saw that the men on horses were leading a whole parade of people across the meadow, more people than James had ever seen in his entire life.
There were women and children and men and old people of all sorts – some of the people were in real fancy dress, or it looked like they had been, because their clothes were falling apart at the seams, splattered with mud, and bleached from the sun. Others looked like farmers in the breeches and tunic that his brothers wore and some were wearing clothing James had never seen before – what looked like bleached out skins and brightly patterned dresses with beads and feathers.
They were Indians, James realized with a tremor of fear, with dark skin and dark eyes and his dandelions dropped straight out of his hands, but that wasn’t why.
Because it was as James stared at them all the more did he realize that there were babes dying in their mothers’ bony arms and that the old people who sat down and didn’t get up were never getting up and that husbands and wives were struggling to pull each other along and that all of them had the same haggard looks on their faces, bones on show for the world to see. James could hear some of them praying and coughing and wheezing from a hundred feet away and when the men on horseback would turn around to gallop up and down the line, making sure they were all moving and then if, they weren’t, they shot them right then and there.
And then James could hear them scream.
But they all looked around with the same look in their eyes – dead, desolate, lost – and when a boy who looked almost exactly like his best friend, down to the freckles, stared at him from across the meadow with sunken eyes, James realized that none of them wearing crying.
James thought that maybe he should cry for them.
“Do you like that picture?” Anna looked up and blinked at her grandmother who was staring at her through thick bifocals from across the patio table where the hot Oklahoma sun beat down a tattoo.
“Oh, sure,” Anna said, turning back to it. It was black-and-white with a woman in a severe, dark dress that glared up at her with the same weirdly pale and unblemished skin all old-timey photographs seemed to have.
“That was my grandmother,” her grandmother smiled and folded her gnarled hands together. “You remind me a lot of her, you know. You can have the picture if you’d like.”
“I don’t know about that,” Anna said, unimpressed. “It’s weird to have old photographs around – it all just seems so fake.”
AP English Language and Composition
Truth Story; Vignette Series – Reflection
In my “Truth Story” I attempted to illustrate a truth in response to the movement in Oklahoma to ban AP US History because the state legislature believed that the teachings were not “patriotic” enough and also did not express enough of “American exceptionalism.” In short, my argument through these vignettes is to demonstrate that American history is not about the patriotic nature of American history or instances of American exceptionalism. It is to demonstrate that American history is full of people and that this “history” is real, not a mere propaganda tool, and that history exists just as life does – with humor, tragedy, love, pain, death, and romance, whether it be right or wrong or American or not. While this is my overarching argument, this is not my “truth” – I tried to imbue each vignette with a different truth, or series of them, each up for interpretation, through different storytelling techniques, a few of which I will mention here.
In the first vignette, I attempted to capture my listeners by retelling a true tale: President McKinley, upon annexing the Philippines, could not actually find them on the map. In it, I tried to make it seem as full of life as possible, attempting to dispel this idea of dusty old white men doing nothing – the president is human and makes a mistake and the general is equally nervous about meeting the president as a classmate of mine in his shoes would be.
In the second vignette, I played with a couple of techniques. Firstly, I described Vilhelmina in depth (as opposed to the trope of describing everything about the person but their looks) and instead never had her speak. People speak about her, but her actions speak much more loudly than her words. Secondly, I played with the description – while repeatedly describe Vilhelmina, the go to descriptive word for Vilhelmina is simply “Vilhelmina” and it was meant to convey an entire image, emotion, and feeling all at once. Thirdly, I tried to combine two tropes: the image of a beautiful, fair maiden, and of the knight in shining armor. Vilhelmina is neither of these and, yet, fulfills the image of an incredibly brave warrior. While I tried to provoke the question “truly, what is beauty?” and “what does beauty have to do with the self versus the body?” I also wanted bring it back to the American Revolution and the war therein – “what is the beauty of war?” and “what was the beauty of this ‘patriotic’ event?” I tried to convey a different image of the Revolution: the warrior is a woman, she is not invincible, she does not look pretty fighting, and, ultimately, dies. I tried to provoke both the image a glorious, undefeatable warrior and yet someone who is unmistakably human.
I attempted to tie both the third and sixth vignette together. Both are completely devoid of narration and contain the symbolism of opening and closing the shutters – one is an African American family shutting the windows as the lynching in number four happens concurrently and the second is an African American family opening the windows to see the Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King Junior on a march. The symbolism was an attempt to evoke the idea of the cloistered nature of segregation.
In the fourth vignette, which is quite frankly a horrifying concept, I created a character out of the idea that “the best villain is the bystander.” I drew inspiration from the historical events of the lynchings of seventeen Italian nationals in New Orleans and the particularly infamous Texas lynching of a mentally handicapped black man which was advertised for days in the newspapers and was attended by over ten thousand people who brought both their children and picnics. I tried to invoke this dichotomy of a society in the South that considers itself incredibly respectable and yet will commit murder, sometimes mass murder, on a regular basis as a form of entertainment for one race and fear-mongering for another.
In the seventh vignette, I wanted to evoke the idea of a person “who does what needs to be done.” In the vignette, that character is Mathew, who does whatever it takes to save his family, while his counterpoint Connor objects on moral grounds. I hoped to create provocative reactions for either side of the argument by placing them in a hopeless, perilous situation on all accounts.
In the end, I tried to create a direct distinction between the intense, highly emotional situations and the Oklahoma school girl dismissing them as “fake” to create both a sense of disbelief and a sense of understanding as to how real these people actually were.