**spoiler alert** Is this book a biography, autobiography, or novel? It reads like a biography, but is a fictionalized account of author’s life, so in**spoiler alert** Is this book a biography, autobiography, or novel? It reads like a biography, but is a fictionalized account of author’s life, so in a sense it is all three. This is the story of a young man, Ernest, who studies to be a clergyman but ends up leaving the faith. His life is set in context of the generations who came before him, so we learn about his father and grandfather for several chapters before we meet the main character. The whole novel is essentially a commentary on family life and parent-child relationship, as well as religion and religious upbringing.
It is hard for me to decide what to make of this book. I find myself thinking about it a lot, even now, a few weeks after I finished it. But its theme is so cynical that I can’t feel very fond of the book. It makes me think, and for that alone I will rate a book highly, but the more I think about the philosophies undergirding the story, the more I dislike the author’s stance.
Butler seems to be implying that some people just aren’t cut out to be parents and it would be better for their children to be raised elsewhere by those few who are. The parents in this story don’t like children and are impatient and lack understanding. They care more about their money and see their children as a drain on their resources, but feel duty-bound to support them anyway. They use their children only to gratify their vanity; they imagine the supposed glory their children will bring to them and feel let down when children don’t live up to their idealized notions. The father is unhappy in his own life and uses his son as a scapegoat. He blames and teases and abuses his son in order to displace responsibility for their own unhappiness. Every mother, father, and father-figure in this story is controlling and manipulative. There is something of Jane Austin’s keen eye and ironic wit here; identifying the foibles of these parents makes us examine ourselves to see if we share any of their flaws. But Jane Austin’s parent characters are somewhat lovable in spite of their foibles. These parents are so unsympathetic that they are unlikable.
The author several times makes the point that the abuse and injustice a young person suffers at the hands of parents and schoolmasters (father figures) actually help to shape him in ironic ways by exposing the foolishness of the parents’ positions and traditions. Parents end up pushing children away from whatever they try most desperately to push their children into, in this case religion. The author implies that religious upbringing creates naive children who do not understand themselves or the world and so end up getting into more mischief than they would have if they were raised with more street sense. Their ignorance of sin is a hindrance and a liability. In this sense, he implies that the poorer classes who live in baser conditions and are exposed to more worldly ways are smarter, in spite of or maybe because of their lack of formal education. Yet the character the narrator admires more than any other is actually of the upper class: Ernest’s friend Towneley is rich, sophisticated, practical, worldly, discreet about his vices, educated, friendly, charming, and helpful. This seems to be the ideal persona to the author’s way of thinking.
As Ernest faces the realities of the world, he eventually comes to a crisis of faith. His missionary efforts bring him into contact with an agnostic or perhaps atheistic man who causes him to question the viability of the New Testament. His further studies lead him to the conclusion that the Bible is inconsistent in its details and that the miracles are unbelievable, especially the resurrection. Christ was a historical figure, not a god. The implication is that any thinking young person will ultimately come to see this as well. And beyond the crisis of faith, on the other side of it, lies maturity. Here rationality is king and the goal is to avoid extremes and polarity. A mature man does not take religion too seriously, but neither does he oppose it too vocally. He does not invest himself in family life, although he does recognize its duties. He keeps himself unattached and unbiased, so that he can examine everything from a rational standpoint. To my way of thinking, Butler’s ideal is a man without loyalty.
Basically, The Way of All Flesh repudiates what I hold most dear: faith and family. However, I think it was a valuable read because it helps me understand the mindset of those who think differently from me. It is especially interesting in historical context, since the book is set in a time period when many people began to question the faith of their fathers. It was the advent of Darwinism. It was the beginning of the modern era. This book chronicles the first steps down a path our society has traversed a long ways by now.
No matter how modestly this man tries to tell his story, the facts of his life shine with the luster of greatness. Booker T. Washington spent his earlNo matter how modestly this man tries to tell his story, the facts of his life shine with the luster of greatness. Booker T. Washington spent his early childhood as a slave on a plantation in the south. After the Emancipation Proclamation was read from the porch steps of the “Big House,” Booker’s ambitions to gain an education and make something of himself propelled him through every obstacle to his goal. Booker T. Washington was a tireless promoter of education for his race and of Tuskegee, the school for blacks which he founded in Alabama. He spent his entire adult life in these two causes and made great strides in elevating the sights and prospects of his people.
I had never really considered what it must have taken to raise the mindset of an enslaved people once they had freedom. While the human soul craves liberty, it does not automatically know how to use that liberty to the highest ends. Booker T. Washington’s approach to education of ex-slaves was comprehensive. He wanted to teach them everything about how to live civilized, useful lives of service and industry. Along with book learning, he taught them use a toothbrush, to sleep between the sheets of a bed, to bathe daily, to keep their clothing clean and mended, to love labor and avoid indolence, to learn marketable life-skills such as carpentry and brick-making, to acquire property, to vote sensibly, to worship and pray to God, and to live moral lives.
I found my admiration for Booker T. Washington growing with the turn of every page. He was practical, thrifty, energetic, articulate, earnest, hard-working, selfless, diplomatic, always hopeful and optimistic. He was also a sought-after public speaker with an ability to sway many to his cause and bring an audience into complete accord with him. I wish I could have heard him speak in person, but I’m grateful that I had a chance to hear his voice through this well-told story of his own inspiring life. ...more
This is a personal narrative about the author’s experiences growing up in American after emigrating from Iran. I read it this summer at the poolside,This is a personal narrative about the author’s experiences growing up in American after emigrating from Iran. I read it this summer at the poolside, a few essays at a time, and sometimes found myself laughing aloud, sometimes pausing to reread a clever phrase, and occasionally being moved by a heightened sense of appreciation for American freedoms, educational opportunities, and prosperity. What touched me most was the young Firoozeh’s conclusion, reached as an elementary school girl on her first day in a new school, that Americans were very kind people. The teacher tried not to embarrass her and her mother, even though her mother could nor read or even find her own home country on a map. A stranger led the disoriented mother and daughter home when they got lost on their way home from school. And kind neighbors welcomed the new family on the block. That is America at its best.
The clash of cultures was fascinating, especially as seen through a child’s eyes. The author’s tone was affectionate toward both her homeland culture and her adopted American culture, but she has a keen eye for the ironic and absurd in both. She pokes gentle fun at everything from American dieting rituals to Iranian relatives who come for a visit and stay for months. At times I wished Dumas would show more respect toward her parents, but their fine qualities shine through anyway, so I suppose that is tribute enough. I was especially impressed by the parents’ willingness to give up familiarity in exchange for opportunity—for themselves but even more so for their daughter. That is what American immigrants have always done. And their sacrifices have been repaid by the successes of their posterity—in this case a popular book, well written and worth recommending. ...more
A person who is dying suddenly has a moral authority he didn’t have when he was one of the rest of us. When professor, husband, father, and computer tA person who is dying suddenly has a moral authority he didn’t have when he was one of the rest of us. When professor, husband, father, and computer techie Randy Pausch receives a terminal diagnosis for his pancreatic cancer, his whole world changes. He accepts an invitation that came to him earlier, to give a “last lecture.” In academia, this is apparently a traditional lecture series, professors being asked to share the most important lessons they have learned in life and their careers. For Randy, the lecture title was no rhetorical device, but reality. The lecture later grew into a small book of advice, for his children, for the friends and family he would be leaving behind, and for the world.
As he pondered what made him unique he realized that he had fulfilled all (well, most) of his childhood dreams. This book got me thinking about my own childhood dreams and how many of them have been realized. I still have a few to fulfill. ...more
Louise Plummer is one of my mentors and former writing teachers. I admire her as a woman and a writer. This is a collection of her personal essays. YoLouise Plummer is one of my mentors and former writing teachers. I admire her as a woman and a writer. This is a collection of her personal essays. You will laugh. You will think. And you will laugh some more.