Sunday, September 18, 2016

Writers at Work: Event Analysis

I attended the Writers at Work event featuring presentations by Terre Ryan and Ron Tanner.  The event focused on the theme of nuclear war and its relationship to childhood.  Both authors’ presentations provided background information for their respective novels and featured selected readings.  Terre Ryan's book This Ecstatic Nation details her experience of growing up in New Jersey during the height of the Cold War.  She emphasized how the overall attitudes at the time deeply impacted her experiences and memories as a child.  Nuclear annihilation was an ever present and real fear that permeated every aspect of life.  The novel changes focus and examines how nuclear experimentation has affected the people and landscape of the South Pacific and southwestern United States.      
Ron Tanner’s novel, Missile Paradise, is set during the Cold War and chronicles the experiences of a fictional nuclear scientist in the South Pacific.  He bases much of his novel off his experiences growing up on a military base in the Marshall Islands.  He explained how life on the base was like living in a resort while the native Marshallese lived in what is often described as the “Calcutta of the Pacific”.  The American influence continues to be detrimental to the Marshallese; they have one of the highest rates of diabetes in the world and their diet is solely based around junk food.  They went from being highly skilled navigators to a society crippled by poverty and illness.  Both Terre Ryan and Ron Tanner touch on themes that are present in The Whale Rider and the poetry selections.
In The Whale Rider, westernization has a profound impact on the lives of the villagers, similarly to the Marshallese.  The Marshallese culture was effectively destroyed as a result of western influence.  They went from highly skilled sailors who could navigate based on the stars to a people plagued by disease.  The people in The Whale Rider were similarly affected by outsiders.  The whales, which are the center of their highly religious society, were nearly decimated by westerners hoping to profit from hunting whales.  Additionally, the nuclear bomb plays a role in the novel.  As stated by Terre Ryan, the US government conducted nuclear tests in the South Pacific.  The radioactive water that killed numerous whales in the novel was the result of nuclear weapons testing.  Additionally, the old bus driver described by Terre Ryan shares similar attributes to Koro in The Whale Rider.  They both share similar attitudes in regards to change.  The bus driver is still stuck in the Cold War mentality of Russia being the ultimate enemy and Koro is stuck in the old mindset of women having no role in religion.

Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J. highlights the need to promote justice through deeds.  This is very relevant to the Loyola community especially given the everyday struggle that many Baltimore residents experience.  We have to remove the walls that Frost describes in his poem “Mending Wall”.  Even though we would all most likely agree that there shouldn’t be barriers separating us from our neighbors, we often mend these walls out of habit.  We have to consciously and actively remove the walls that separate us from others of different backgrounds and social circles in order to promote Ignatian Justice.

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