Book Reviews Essay
1. To what does the title of the book refer? Having a detailed and well-constructed setting in Packingtown, Chicago, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle can easily be mistaken as a story that has its central on the setting. Therefore, it is but natural to point out that the title is referring to Packingtown itself. Reading thoroughly into the book, though, one is led to realize that the jungle actually refers to something larger than just the city where the story happens.
Aside from a vivid description of the setting, which greatly resembles the darkness and gloominess of the jungle, a reader has to note what the characters in the story have to go through. The novel depicts scenes where characters do everything in their power to survive the cut-throat environment in which they live in. These scenes point to what the title actually refers to: the concept of survival of the fittest. Much as the most cunning animals in the jungle are those who survive, The Jungle reflects that those who are devious reign supreme.
2. What is the main point(s) of the book? Why did the author write it? Did the author achieve his objective? Upton Sinclair wanted to reveal the evils of the meat-packing industry during his time. But more than just wanting to abolish the barbarity of the meat industry, Upton Sinclair wanted to take a jab at the evils of capitalism and the meat industry was just a start for him. Being a socialist, the author wanted to show how capitalism is detrimental to the poor as it only makes the rich richer.
Though Sinclair was not totally successful in abandoning capitalism, he was, at the very least, successful in urging the government to take a look at the meat-packing industry and take steps in bettering the said industry. To date, The Jungle remains one of the most influential books in American history. 3. When was the book written? Is that relevant in this case? The novel was written in 1906, which holds significance as to why the story was written. The setting depicted in the novel is one that Upton Sinclair has experienced, urging him to write the book.
4. What do you know about the life of the author that would have led him to write The Jungle? Upton Sinclair was born to a family who once enjoyed aristocratic status but was thrown into the binge of poverty towards the end of the 1870’s. Growing up in a poor environment and hearing stories of the rich lifestyle from his once wealthy grandparents had its mark on young Sinclair. This contrast between the rich and the poor greatly affected his writings.
Aside from this, though, something that led him to write The Jungle was the introduction to the socialist philosophy during his college years. Not only did the philosophy instill the principles that were apparent in The Jungle, it literally pushed Upton Sinclair into the industry he represented in the novel. Being an avid fan of socialism, the author became a writer for a socialist paper that sent him to investigate the lives of stockyard workers – those working in the meatpacking industry included. 5.
How well does The Jungle reflect political, urban, business and immigrant life in America in the early twentieth century? Do you think it is an accurate reflection? Why or why not? Upton Sinclair is often criticized for his tendency to exaggerate; hence, it can be assumed that his portrayal of what was happening in the meat-packing industry is sort of larger-than-life. Assuming that this is true, one can still not deny that The Jungle still is a reflection of the political, urban, business and immigrant life in America during the early twentieth century.
Despite whatever embellishments were written in The Jungle, Upton Sinclair still truthfully revealed the atrocities regarding the capitalist society – how the immigrants have to fight for their lives in order to ensure survival in the city and how the authorities turn a blind eye to industries that have the capacity to “pay”. 6. What were the problems immigrants faced at the turn of the twentieth century? Are those problems still evident? How or how not is that the case? That is, what has changed or not changed in the last hundred years for immigrants?
The face of immigration in the United States has changed several times in the past decade. Towards the end of the 19th and during the earlier parts of the 20th centuries, immigrants faced numerous kinds of discrimination. Coming to America under circumstances where the country was riddled with poverty, crime, and disease, the immigrants in this period were feared and ridiculed. They were seen by the majority as the source of everything bad in American society during that period. Also, the growing number of immigrants has led the U. S. government to take some steps to curb the entrance of more people into U.
S. shores. Positive changes have occurred for immigrants as well. The quotas were eventually removed, welcoming more immigrants to fulfill their “American” dream. Also, the concept of white ethnicity shifted from scientific evidence to common knowledge – making race dependent on social boundaries rather than scientific definitions. 8. What did you like most and least about the book? I could have done without the overly vivid depictions of the meat-packing industry, though I also have to admit that it was those depictions that made the novel deliver an effective message.
The fact that the book spoke truthfully of the anomalies in the food industry and urged changes that up to now I am benefitting from is what I loved most about it. Rarely do we come across a literary piece that affects lives as much. 9. What was the most important and/or interesting thing(s) you learned from reading the book? The most important thing I learned from the book is the beauty of socialism and an appreciation for the kind of capitalism that America has at the moment. I also found it interesting how a literary fiction greatly affected one aspect of corruption in the country.
10. Are there any other comments you would like to make that were not addressed above? Whether or not socialism would have been a better system for the United States is something that we all have to just imagine. I guess despite the evils that capitalism may present, one cannot deny that capitalism is not such a bad thing, considering how much growth it has brought to this country. We all just have to be wary of possible corruptions and act upon these when spotted. QUESTIONS FOR GRAPES OF WRATH 1. Who was John Steinbeck?
Why did he write his book? What was there in the author’s background or the time period of the book’s writing that might have led him to write the book? Living in California most of his life (with just a brief stay in New York), John Steinbeck has been exposed to the events that went down in Californian history. Grapes of Wrath was a direct result of the happenings that transpired in America during the 1930’s. With the Great Depression dawning over the “Dust Bowl” states of Oklahoma and Texas, many of the farmers migrated to California.
Steinbeck was a witness as to how California became crowded, making job and food scarce for the migrant farmers who became known as ‘Okies’. 3. What is the time period of the book’s action? The book’s action occurs mostly in the 1930’s – mostly 1930’s when the migration of the ‘Okies’ to California and when the discrimination occurred. 4. What were the attractions of California? Are there any parallels today? California was seen as the ‘salvation’ of the Okies farmers. It was a land that promised fertile lands which equated to jobs.
Though California is no longer the agricultural land that it once was, it still is a refuge for people who want to get good employment. Instead of lands to till, California offers movie studios that equate to jobs for aspiring actors and actresses. 5. What was the opposition to the Okies? Was any of it valid? The ‘local’ Californians were greatly opposed to the Okies because they saw the migrants as threats wanting to take over the land as they once had over the Mexicans. Though total land domination was not what the Okies intended, 6. When was the book written? Why is that relevant?
First published in 1939, Grapes of Wrath was penned in 1938. The time period is relevant as it tells a lot as to why Steinbeck chose the subject matter for the novel. 7. To what does the title of the book refer? Grapes of Wrath refers to the fruits of wrath. John Steinbeck wants to communicate the good thing about maintaining a sense of anger towards people who intend to clip your wings or who attempt to trample your dignity. There’s this line in the novel that clearly depicts this: “as long as fear turn to wrath” – when fear turns to wrath, self-respect is maintained. 9.
How well did the book expose what some would call the social ills of the nation? Many have criticized the book to be merely a sentiment rather than a true exposure of the social ills of America during the time of its publication. However, its continuing popularity to date – not just with casual readers but with students as well – reflects just how effective Steinbeck was in exposing the ills of society. Even though the story was something central to the setting, the morals and themes exposed still rings true at present times, making Grapes of Wrath a truly classic story. 10.
Do you think the book is an accurate reflection of America at that time? Why or why not? I guess even with the contention from some Americans, Grapes of Wrath is an accurate reflection of 1930’s America. With the Great Depression dawning over America, one cannot blame the people for being selfish and doubtful of other people. And though Steinbeck’s novel is considered fiction, the stories depicted in it are those that have been painted in history books as well. 11. What have been some of the racial criticisms of Steinbeck? Why? In this novel, John Steinbeck focuses on “white” racism.
He mostly deals with a rich white to poor white discrimination. He wanted to paint the discrepancy between the rich and poor at that time. Though he also touched on discrimination of the black Americans in Chapter 19, “Why, Jesus, they’re as dangerous as niggers in the South! If they ever get together there ain’t nothin’ that’ll stop ’em. ” Steinbeck wanted to reiterate the fact that racism exists and that it is still an issue Americans have to address. 12. What does the book say about the state of socialism or communism in America at that time? What are the author’s greatest criticisms of capitalism?
Are they valid? Explain. John Steinbeck portrayed America in a state of unrestricted capitalism. His greatest critique of this kind of philosophy is that the “haves” continually drive the “have nots” into extreme poverty. Because of inconsideration and a desire to constantly acquire more wealth, the landowners and bank people deprive the small landowners and share-croppers of the basic needs of survival, such as the case with oranges being spilled with kerosene. Basing on accounts of the Great Depression, one can say that Steinbeck did paint a realistic picture.
Given that, one can say that his criticisms are valid in that they needed attention from the people and action towards change. 13. If the author’s points are valid regarding problems depicted in the book, then why weren’t there more violent uprisings? Violent uprisings were not possible given the fact that most of the poor people have survival as their primary concern. With families starving, small landowners and share-croppers worry more about where their next meal will come from rather than how they can better their lives through insurgency. 14. Do you think Steinbeck supported or rejected the New Deal? Explain.
Explain what the book has to say about the effects of technology, both negative and positive. Though the ending of Grapes of Wrath shadows Steinbeck’s belief that communism may be a better way of living (the breastfeeding scene tells that sharing of resources is a better option as compared to capitalism), I think Steinbeck may have accepted the New Deal in that it aimed to put a control over capitalism. 15. How did the philosophy of Jim Casey, who some critics say embodied the ideas of Steinbeck more than any other character, fit the philosophy of the New Deal? Jim Casey was the voice of reason in Grapes of Wrath.
His philosophy meshes well with the New Deal as it speaks of how Steinbeck wanted ‘structure’ in the capitalism ruling over America. New Deal streamlines programs that will attempt at balancing the scale that at that time favors the rich and tip it to favor the oppressed. 16. What did you like most and least about the book? Steinbeck’s novel had too many characters that one needs to keep track of. However, his point of view and manner of narration was effective, making one crave for the pages to come. 17. What was the most important and/or interesting thing(s) you learned from reading the book?
Much like Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, The Grapes of Wrath makes one see into commercialism as not entirely the evil that everyone may lead to believe. Proper control of the businesses and willingness in everyone to help each other out is just what we need to make capitalism work and to have it fair for all involved. 18. Why did some Americans not like the book? Some, if not most, Californians and Oklahomans at the time of publication did not appreciate Grapes of Wrath because of the thinking that they were poorly – if not wrongly – represented in the novel.
They argue that the books’ depiction of the events were not true to life. 20. Are there any points you would have liked to see developed more in the book? I would have liked to see more of what kind of steps Steinbeck wanted America to partake. It would have been a more effective read had there been more suggestions as to what the citizens or government needed to do to alleviate poverty. 21. Would you recommend this book to others? Why or why not? I would certainly recommend this book to others because I enjoyed reading it. It gave me a look into American history that I never would want to be repeated in present times.
Given this, it made me realize what I need to do to prevent history from repeating itself. 22. Are there any other points you would like to make that were not addressed above? I guess all points have been discussed in the above questions. QUESTIONS FOR IN RETROSPECT, The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam 1. Who was Robert McNamara? Why did he write his book? Robert McNamara was the United States’ 8th Secretary of Defense. The book IN RETROSPECT: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam was born out of his experiences as the Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War. 2.
What are topics covered in the book? What is the book’s time period? Why? After a brief autobiography of his life up to the point when he was appointed by President John F. Kennedy as Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara went on to discuss everything he knew about the Vietnam War. In each chapter, he outlined how America came to a point of deep involvement with South Vietnam’s fight against succumbing to communism. He detailed JFK’s decisions and on to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s plans on Vietnam. Since this is mostly about the Vietnam War, the book covers the 1960’s. 3.
What were the arguments for staying in Vietnam during the 1950s and ‘60s? JFK’s reason for involvement in Vietnam is containment, suppressing communism and ensuring American influence in Asia. When JFK started to withdraw U. S. troops in Vietnam, he was shortly assassinated. When LBJ took over, U. S. troops were still highly visible in Vietnam. On top of pressure for more military support, LBJ’s reason was that he wanted to retaliate for attacks on the American presence in Vietnam. 4. What does McNamara say are the false assumptions the U. S. had about the Vietnam War in the early and mid 1960s?
Being a strong to reckon with, America has falsely assumed that it can – single-handedly – prevent communism and help South Vietnam fight off the force of the North. What America failed to see was that it needed the support of other nations regarding the causes being fought in the Vietnam War. Also, America thought South Vietnam needed Americans to fight their war when in fact all they would have needed was mere aid. 5. Why did the U. S. escalate the war in the mid 1960s? The attacks on the U. S. troops at the Tonkin Gulf led to the escalation of the war in 1965.
6. What does McNamara say were some of the basic questions we failed to ask and answer before committing U. S. forces in Vietnam? McNamara listed the following basic questions that we failed to ask ourselves before involving ourselves deeper into the Vietnam War: (a) Was it true that the fall of South Vietnam would trigger the fall of all Southeast Asia? (b) Would that constitute a grave threat to the West’s security? (c) What kind of war — conventional or guerrilla — might develop? (d) Could we win it with US troops fighting alongside the South Vietnamese?
And (d) Should we not know the answers to these questions before deciding whether to commit troops? 7. Why does McNamara feel that a greater U. S. military effort in Vietnam would have been disastrous? McNamara felt that escalating war in Vietnam will have its grave effects mostly because the effort will not be something that the Congress has agreed upon, leading to unrest from the American people. Also, the fact that America has failed to answer the “five basic questions” prove that America really is yet unready to take things a step further in Vietnam. 8.
Are there any lessons from the Vietnam War that might have significance for America’s current policy in Iraq? Though unified agreement on a looming war is impossible, America should have learned from Vietnam the lesson that the nation needs to be unified in the causes of a war. Also, America should wholly ready in facing any impending war instead of making head-on collisions without any preparations. 10. What is the most important thing you learned from the book? The book taught me about a period in my country’s time that I was not able to bear witness to.
It made me understand as to why Americans had the sentiments about Vietnam and why the same sentiments are being applied to Iraq. 11. Did you like the book? Why or why not? Though the book was a historical account rather than a fictional stab at past events like the books above, I did enjoy reading it. It also made me look into events that have unfolded as of late. 12. What sources did the author use to make his points? McNamara pointed to his own experiences to drive his point. 13. Does the author achieve what he set out to do?
I think Robert McNamara was fairly effective in opening the eyes of the nation to the truths about the Vietnam War. The objective was achieved because for the first time, Americans were able to get a perspective from an insider. It was a relief to actually get an admission of the mistakes of the Vietnam War straight from the “author of the Vietnam War” himself. 14. Are there any points you would have liked to see developed in the book more? I guess the book pretty much covered all bases, especially since we were getting an “insider’s perspective”. 15.
What have you learned from reading this book? I have learned that by looking deep into the inner workings of the Vietnam War will prevent America from making the same mistakes over again. Also, I learned that a deliberation of the nation’s actions will yield better results than making hurried decisions. 16. Would you recommend this book to others? Why or why not? To any American who cares to have a glimpse of one of the most eventful periods of America, I will recommend this book because this is a really good insight to the Vietnam War. Also a lot of lessons can be learned from it. 17.
Are there any other comments you would like to make that were not addressed above? None, everything has been said above. QUESTIONS FOR THE KITE RUNNER 1. What is the time frame and location of the book? Kite Runner takes us to Afghanistan during the last days of monarchy (1973) into recent times. We also get glimpses of America but the story mostly occurs in Afghanistan. 2. What did you learn about the history of Afghanistan from reading the book? Afghanistan’s history is very much described by socioeconomic class, with the lower classes having little to almost no hope of moving up the ladder.
Discrimination was central to the poor and this discrimination led to uprisings and upheaval of monarchy. I have also learned how the history of Afghanistan was riddled with a lot of turmoil such as civil war and the Soviet invasion. I also got a glimpse of how the Talibans started to try and take control. 3. What did you learn about the Cold War? The Cold War left Afghan in a more turbulent state, having been in the center of two superpowers’ desire to take over. Having acquired help from Soviet Union, Afghanistan became sort of a target for the U.
S. , who saw an opportunity to bring down the communist country. 4. What did you learn about the immigrant experience from reading the book? Did it support or change your views about immigrants? The book supported my view about immigrants. Immigrants are not entirely a trouble to a country, as one may have been led to believe by previous media works. Immigrants, who have as much difficulty leaving their homelands as settling in a new place, can actually contribute something good to the country. Amir, in one hand, lived in America righteously. 5.
What part of the book was the most memorable or meaningful to you? For me, the part where Amir tells Sohrab about his father Hassan is the most memorable part of the book. Not only was it emotionally-laden but any child who has had a good relationship with his/her father can relate to it. It proves that bonds within families are the most important of all. 6. Farid (Amir’s driver) tells Amir that Amir has always been a tourist in Afghanistan – he just didn’t know it (page 323). Do you agree or not? Why? Do you think it’s true for you in your country? I do agree with what Farid told Amir.
Amir’s story is not a story that tells what a normal Afghan will go through during the time of the story’s writing. Amir was born of money, something that only a few Afghans have the privilege of having. I don’t think I am like Amir though, because my lifestyle and family stature are what one can describe as being in the middle spectrum of American society. 7. What did you learn about Afghanistan and the Middle East from reading this novel? I learned that the turbulences that we hear in the news of Afghanistan and the Middle East are something that has deep roots in the nations’ histories. 9.
Were you surprised to read about the racial tension between the Pashtuns and Hazaras? Why do you think the oppression existed? Does it have parallels in America? I guess I can say that I was surprised to read about the racial tension between Pashtuns and Hazaras. I think the oppression came from the fact that the majority group (Pashtuns) wanted to eliminate the minority (Hazaras). This was mainly because they had different beliefs and they wanted one belief to reign supreme. Though in present-day America, this kind of oppression no longer exists, one can recall the kind of racial tension during the American Civil War.
10. Did the end of the book express hope for the future? Why or why not? The ending, for me, presented a lot of hope as I think Sohrab’s little smile is a step towards achieving better things not only for Sohrab himself but for Afghanistan and the Afghanis. Amir allowing a link of the past and the present and a reversal of roles symbolizes the fact that if one is willing to give way, things will eventually be better. 11. How did the book get its title? Who was the kite runner? The original kite runner was Hassan.
The act of flying a kite expresses “controlled” freedom as flight is controlled by that string that binds it. 12. What did you like most and least about the book? The book was generally a sad one, painting stories that are almost heart-wrenching. But since it was a book that presents hope and is a book that has great potential to move people into action, I loved reading it. 13. Why did Baba like Ronald Reagan? Why do you think the neighbors disliked the president? Known for his acceptance of immigration, it was but natural that Baba liked Ronald Reagan.
The neighbors, though, disliked the president because he was known to have passed policies that sank America into greater poverty. Baba’s neighbors blamed the president for the oppressed state they were in. 14. Who are the Taliban and how are they portrayed in the book? Do you think the portrayal is accurate? The Talibans were portrayed as the “bad people”, being shown to do random killings and unjust executions. If one is to believe the things being aired in the news, one can say that the portrayal was accurate. Given that the story was written by an Afghan, one may also assume that the portrayal can only ring the truth.
15. The book talks a lot about courage. Cite some examples of how courage was displayed. Who do you think was the most courageous character? I think the most courageous character was Hassan. His acts of covering up for Amir and standing up against the Talibans are prime examples of courage. 16. With which character did you feel the greatest attachment? Why? I had the greatest attachment to Hassan. He was a real friend and a real admirable character, making him someone that people easily want to know. Please let me know if you have any further question.
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 23 September 2016
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