Ocean Vuong’s – Night Sky With Exit Wounds
Having read Ocean Vuong’s – Night Sky With Exit Wounds – and the first 4 (Try to read more) chapters of Zora Neale Hurston’s – Their Eyes Were Watching God – please write an in-depth (3 double-spaced pages) Reader Response where you comment on how both writers illustrate to their readers what it means to be human. In particular, please discuss how Vuong and Hurston use imagery, sound, and language to convey the idea that we are all flawed, yet … we all beautiful, too.
What Does It Mean To Be Human?
In an attempt to answer the question, “What does it mean to be human?” it is crucial to know what is meant by the term “humanity.” According to Mignolo, humanity refers to the quality of having a sense of sensitivity and compassion, benevolence, or being humane (107). Morris adds that human beings have a emotions, minds, and the ability to perceive, communicate, empathize, have a creative capacity, and are unique creations (17). In an attempt to understand what it is to be human, this paper borrows concepts in Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong and Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.
Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds depicts a young man’s journey that discovers every facet of humanity where he gathers his memory regarding romance, war, love, and family. Vuong, in the first two poems, describes the connection between the young man and his father, one who had the ability of being anyone’s father (Vuong 7) but equally the one who possess the face that he will someday wear. The separation between the two distorts the association between son and father and makes Vuong wonders concerning his father.
The “Threshold,” Vuong’s opening poem is a door entering Vuong’s world. Like a beggar, then poet kneels down before the door to the bedroom and watches his father via the key hole showering. The father showers while singing, and the rain is down pouring his shoulders like the “guitar strings snapping over his globed shoulders” (Vuong 3). By his father’s voice, the poet is feels alive, yet he does not know why. His father, one day, stops since he notices the poet’s heavy breath, and the poet fails to understand why he will eventually lose everything when entering the sound world. In “Threshold,” music is widespread, connecting the emotion to the body – the voice of the father like a current watering the soul of his son, while the begging son pleads for extra. “Even my name knelt down inside me, asking to be spared… For the body, where everything has price, I was alive” (Vuong 3). Nonetheless, the young man does not know the cost implication of listening to his father’s music, which is “a dark colt paused in downpour” (Vuong 3), losing all his way to the person he refers to as “Ba”.
Further, Telemachus connotes an old myth of a son who gains knowledge about his father who left for war while the son was yet an infant. Telemachus is a tragic story. The son pulls the body of the dead father out of water and turning the body over in the seawater to see the bullet holes in the father’s body’s back. As a result of the father’s engagement in the battle, the young man grows up away from the father, making him wonder whether the body could be his father’s because they did not have proper bonding that could help him identify the father properly and easily. “He is so still I think he could be anyone’s father,…” and “Do you know who I am, Ba?” (Vuong 7). While he continues to seek the answer about the veracity of the fact that the body is his father’s, the young mam fails, with the silence within his environment making him sink unknowingly in the world of misery and loss. The young man then turns the body over and faces his “sea-blacked eyes” (Vuong 7). A look at the dead body’s face convinces him that the body is not his father’s, yet he feels familiar and persuaded that he will wear the face someday. The body eventually turns out to be his father’s and the young man is moved by emotions to kiss the body with “his own and begins the faithful work of drowning” (Vuong 7).
On the other hand, Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is a profoundly soulful novel that understands cruelty and love, and distances the small of the heart individuals from big people without necessarily losing sympathy for the less fortunate who do not know how to live aptly. In the novel, the long and fair-legged, articulate and independent Janie Crawford sets out to be her own self – no mean accomplishment for a woman of colour in the ‘30s. The quest for identity by Janie takes her via three marriages as well as a journey back to her own roots. Hurston’s work, therefore, demonstrates how no human pursuits, for self-worth, money, and love, can stand against natural forces or against God. For a good proportion of the novel, players operate under the presupposition that they have control over their individual destinies: Tea Cake fails to believe the looming storm is sufficient reason to leave a full day’s salary; Jody does play God after he is appointed as the mayor; Janie hastily marries in her pursuit of gratifying her childhood dream of a flawless marriage/union. The hurricane that devastates Cake and Janie – ultimately causing the death of Cake, is a force of pure devastation that is restrained and controlled by no man, and certainly not by Cake and Janie.
Hurston’s powerful employment of imager and various language aspects intensifies and clarifies the telling of Janie’s story. The novel opens with the theme of dreaming and wishing. “Now women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly” (Hurston 1). Throughout the novel, the story shows a progression of Janie’s dreams of freedom and love. Similarly, Janie herself depicts the dreams of many of the characters in the book. The porch sitters exult her when she acts “common” and Mrs. Turner almost worships her since she sees a solid example of their unmanageable dreams, implying that some characters in the book perceive Janie as a socially superior being to them, not as a result of her manners or education, but because of her Caucasian traits (Morris 22). In appearance and texture, Janie’s hair gives the impression of possession or power and closely associated with this motif is sexual attractions or relationships since the description of Janie’s hair illustrates her associations with each of her spouses (Mignolo 117).
Language, sound, and imagery employment is equally displayed through the use of the pear tree, which is charged with sexuality. While lying under the tree, Janie watches a bee collecting pollen, an experience that symbolizes Janie’s ideal relationship wherein passion does not yield domination or possession, but instead in an effortless marriage of people. After two failed unions, Janie meets cake, the fulfillment of hear dream, stating that Cake “Looked like the love thoughts of women. He could be a bee to a blossom–a pear tree blossom in the spring. He seemed to be crushing scent out of the world with his footsteps” (Hurston 106).
The horizon is also employed to represent better things – the likelihood of change and possibly improvement. Hurston depicts Janie’s dream as remaining on the horizon for a good percentage of her life, stating that Janie “pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder” (p 193).
To conclude, to be human connotes having the freedom of whoever one desires to be but behind the humanity’s bars, living life to its fullest, discovering oneself via a life journey, and fulfilling the obligations one is given. A passion or dream that pushes individuals via difficulties or hurdles in life keeps them founded upon being a human, and that emotions are a clear attribute to being a human.
Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel., 2006.
Mignolo, Walter D. “CHAPTER 4. Sylvia Wynter: What Does It Mean to Be Human?”. Sylvia Wynter, edited by Katherine McKittrick, New York, USA: Duke University Press, 2015, pp. 106-123. https://doi.org/10.1515/9780822375852-005
Morris, R.. “What does it mean to be human?: Racing Monsters, Clones and Replicants.” (2004).
Vuong, Ocean. Night Sky with Exit Wounds. , 2016. Print.