Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Crucible

“If we are going to take advantage of the assumption that all people want peace, then the problem is for people to get together and leap governments...to work out not one method but thousands of methods by which people can gradually learn a little bit more of each other.” Eisenhower (1956)

Ayumi is reading The Crucible for her English Class. To refresh people’s memories... It’s a play written by Arthur Miller http://www.neh.gov/whoweare/miller/biography.html (1953) that fictionalized the Salem witch trials. The play is his allegory to the McCarthy trials that were going on in Washington during ‘50s. In both trials, the public is driven into a fear based obsession to find everyone that is different and who didn’t conform to the majority’s beliefs and values. Once, these people were found they were forced to admit their guilt and join the majority or else be eliminated or thrown into prison.

Yes, I know there are other elements driving some of Miller’s characters like greed for a piece of property, coveting another’s husband and maintaining authoritative power; but what I want to write about is the oppressive nature humans have and is illustrated in this play. Specifically how this play showing how society continues to shove misfits out into the cold because we are made to feel uncomfortable. I believe these are the ideas my English teacher at North Olmsted, Ohio pointed out when I read The Crucible and it’s what I always associate this play with. (Yes, I was a normal teenager and at the time admit to the practice of studying it for the test, writing an essay and doing a brain dump. But somehow this was one of the books I remember along with Mr. Denmen's social justice discussion on Picasso's "Guarnica")

The way I see it, there’s no utopian Kumbaya city in the US. My city is no different than any other city and it’s made up with: 1) people who want to box people into inescapable categories and 2) people who are trying to unlearn this idea. So when I attended Ayumi’s ‘meet the teachers’ night’ at our local high school; these two types of people greeted me. (Note: I’ve had the similar experiences for Jakob, Stina and Jan.) I need to warn you; sometimes you need a good pair of glasses to spot this behavior in adults, at least in my city. No one’s behavior that night was overt like the heretic accusing characters’ found in the Crucible or like we’ve seen this summer in Arizona or New York about undocumented citizens or Muslims’ building mosques. It was very subtle.

If you are thinking about being a YFU parent then you need to know and admit this hateful behavior is present in your city and in our country. You must be able to confront it if needed. Finally, you need to be willing to examine how this exists within yourself and figure out how to unlearn it. I admit I’m not a saint and haven’t been cured of this disease; I’m forever struggling to unlearn it- I often ask myself: "Where did I come up with that idea?" This is one of my crucibles.

Why is this so hard?
The way I see it; every civilization including the United States has been built on the backs of the dehumanized; and no race, creed, age or fill in the blank has escaped from being the scapegoat or slave. Re-examining Miller's The Crucible who was accused of being a devil's instrument: a slave woman, a poor homeless woman, a woman who read, a woman who said it like it was and an old man who didn't have anyone to stand up for him.... The weak and the poor.

This idea is hard to get away from. It’s in our media and jokes, caricatures that poke fun at people that are different. And, in some cases it instills fear and hate about a group of people by indoctrinating our minds to believe that dehumanizing actions are acceptable behavior in certain circumstances. It’s like Honeysuckle which is hard to get rid of. Cut down, it still manages to come back. I keep working at it.

People have asked me is it different being a surrogate Mom to foreign children? Though there are some differences in being a YFU Mom vs. being Z’s Mom; when it comes to any of my children feeling oppressed, feeling left out or being made fun of – these mother bear-like qualities seem to rise up out of nowhere. I admit. I’m the first to raise the flag of injustice for my children. Sometimes, I think I come across like the Field of Dreams’ Mom when she passionately stands up and speaks her mind at the PTA meeting. I ask you - why would I ignore these bullying or racist actions that may happen against my YFU children and not tolerate them if it is happening to Z?

I think the real difference is how these harassments are resolved.

My YFU children are teens and Z isn’t. Parenting a teen is an art. In this case, you must continually ask if they want you to step in. And, then know when it’s time for adult intervention. Warning: Teens are often more creative in resolving conflict then us adults – we could learn from them. I think of Stina's (2008-2009) courage standing up to several young men in her class who made fun of her accent.

Lately, the teens I’ve interacted with in my city seem more accepting, than some of the adults. Perhaps it’s because they’re a teen and are more willing to step in another’s shoes. Maybe it’s what drives adults crazy about teens - their unwillingness to conform to cultural norms and act a little more like John Proctor? Maybe there's else something going on.

At parent’s night I was standing in the hallway during Ayumi’s study hall period waiting. Two boys asked if I was lost. I said no. My daughter has study hall this period. The one boy asked who my daughter was. I said ‘Ayumi.’ ‘The foreign exchange student?’ one asked. I said yes and told them I was Jan’s Mom last year. The young man remarked: “We need his web-designer ability.” The other signed: “Janold. The football team misses him.” I asked the first if he was on the football team. “No, I play drums in the band.” I told him Ayumi plays traditional Okinawa drums. I told him he should ask her about the drum corps she’s in back home. (With these teens I see a future conversation. A future cross-cultural understanding – unofficial diplomats meeting and not the ugly mob)

What No Recipe?
No, I don’t have any period recipes. Sorry. My Irish ancestor Col. Halferty hasn’t been born yet and doesn’t arrive to America for another 80 some years. If you are interested in what dinner would be like in the 17th Century America – here’s a link. http://plimoth.org/kids/homeworkHelp/dinner.php And, the Salem, Massachusetts city guide will give you more information about the witch trials http://www.salemweb.com/

If you would like to know more about Miller PBS Great Masters has several essays http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes/arthur-miller/none-without-sin/56/

If you want a copy of Miller’s play: First, please support your local public library and try to get there; 2) buy a copy from your local Independent Bookstore - one of my favorites is http://www.bookloft.com/ in Columbus, Ohio. 3) you can also find it on Amazon:

The picture: November 1, 1954 The Bristol Old Vic Company in a scene from Arthur Miller's play The Crucible Picture Post - 7840 - Crucible - unpub. (Photo by Thurston Hopkins/Picture Post/Getty Images)

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