Write an essay in which you try to convince a specific audience to try your own “stress reduction” activity, be it a physical activity or a mental one.
Write an essay in which you examine several possible causes of stress today, and settle on the one you think is predominant.
Students and stress: Interview a random group of students at your school to determine the extent of stress they deal with and the causes of their stress. Write up your findings in an objective report.
Death of the Right Fielder
Stuart Dybek (born in 1942 in Chicago) grew up in an immigrant neighborhood in Chicago. He was a social worker and a school teacher before he studied writing at the University of Iowa. Since 1974 he has taught English at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo. He had published two books of short stories, Childhood and Other Neighborhoods (1980) and The Coast of Chicago (1990), about young men growing up in working-class Slavic and Mexican neighborhoods of Chicago.
Suggestions for Prereading or Journal Writing 1.
In what ways are sports (professional or amateur) connected with the concept of achieving the American dream?
Why is baseball often described as a sport that is uniquely American? What accounts for the continuing popularity of baseball in the United States?
After too many balls went out and never came back we went out to check. It was a long walk—he always played deep. Finally we saw him, from the distance resembling the towel we sometimes threw down for second base.
It was hard to tell how long he’d been lying there, sprawled on his face. Had he been playing infield his presence, or lack of it, would, of course, have been noticed immediately. The infield demands communication—the constant, reassuring chatter of team play. But he was remote, clearly an outfielder (the temptation is to say outsider). The infield is for wisecrackers, pepperpots, gum-poppers: the outfield is for loners, onlookers, brooders who would rather study clover and swat gnats than holler. People could pretty much be divided between infielders and outfielders. Not that one always has a choice. He didn’t necessarily choose right field so much as accept it.
There were several theories as to what killed him. From the start the most popular was that he’d been shot. Perhaps from a passing car, possibly by that gang calling themselves the Jokers who played 16 inch softball on the concrete diamond with painted bases in the center of the housing project, or by the Latin Lords who didn’t play sports period. Or maybe some pervert with a telescopic sight from a bedroom window, or a mad sniper from a water tower, or a terrorist with a silencer from the expressway overpass, or maybe it was an accident, a stray slug from a robbery, or shoot-out, or assassination attempt miles away.
No matter who pulled the trigger it seemed more plausible to ascribe his death to a bullet than to natural causes like, say, a heart attack. Young deaths are never natural; they’re all violent. Not that kids don’t die of heart attacks. But he never seemed the type. Sure, he was quiet, but not the quiet of someone always listening to the heart murmur his family has repeatedly warned him about since he was old enough to play. Nor could it have been leukemia. He wasn’t a talented enough athlete to die of that. He’d have been playing center, not right, if leukemia was going to get him.
The shooting theory was better, even though there wasn’t a mark on him. Couldn’t it have been, as some argued, a high-powered bullet traveling with such velocity that its hole fuses behind it? Still, not everyone was satisfied. Other theories were formulated, rumors became legends over the years: he’d had an allergic reaction to a bee sting, been struck by a single bolt of lightning from a freak, instantaneous electric storm, ingested too strong a dose of insecticide from the grass blades he chewed on, sonic waves, radiation, pollution, etc. And a few of us liked to think it was simply that chasing a sinking liner, diving to make a shoestring catch, he broke his neck.
There was a ball in the webbing of his mitt when we turned him over. His mitt had been pinned under his body and was coated with an almost luminescent gray film. There was the same gray on his black, hightop gym shoes, as if he’d been running through lime, and along the bill of his baseball cap—the blue felt one with the red C which he always denied stood for the Chicago Cubs. He may have been a loner, but he didn’t want to be identified with a loser. He lacked the sense of humor for that, lacked the perverse pride that sticking up for losers season after season breeds, and the love. He was just an ordinary guy, .250 at the plate, and we stood above him not knowing what to do next. By then the guys from the other outfield positions had trotted over. Someone, the shortstop probably, suggested team prayer. But no one could think of a team prayer. So we all just stood there silently bowing our heads, pretending to pray while the shadows moved darkly across the outfield grass. After a while the entire diamond was swallowed and the field lights came on.
In the bluish squint of those lights he didn’t look like someone we’d once known—nothing looked quite right—and we hurriedly scratched a shallow grave, covered him over, and stamped it down as much as possible so that the next right fielder, whoever he’d be, wouldn’t trip. It could be just such a juvenile, seemingly trivial stumble that would ruin a great career before it had begun, or hamper it years later the way Mantle’s was hampered by bum knees. One can never be sure the kid beside him isn’t another Roberto Clemente; and who can ever know how many potential Great Ones have gone down in the obscurity of their neighborhoods? And so, in the catcher’s phrase, we “buried the grave” rather than contribute to any further tragedy. In all likelihood the next right fielder, whoever he’d be, would be clumsy too, and if there was a mound to trip over he’d find it and break his neck, and soon right field would get the reputation as haunted, a kind of sandlot Bermuda Triangle, inhabited by phantoms calling for ghostly fly balls, where no one but the most desperate outcasts, already on the verge of suicide, would be willing to play.
Still, despite our efforts, we couldn’t totally disguise it. A fresh grave is stubborn. Its outline remained visible—a scuffed bald spot that might have been confused for an aberrant pitcher’s mound except for the bat jammed in earth with the mitt and blue cap fit over it. Perhaps we didn’t want to eradicate it completely—a part of us was resting there. Perhaps we wanted the new right fielder, whoever he’d be, to notice and wonder about who played there before him, realizing he was now the only link between past and future that mattered. A monument, epitaph, flowers wouldn’t be necessary. As for us, we walked back, but by then it was too late—getting on to supper, getting on to the end of summer vacation, time for other things, college, careers, settling down and raising a family. Past thirty-five the talk starts about being over the hill, about a graying Phil Niekro in his forties still fanning them with the knuckler as if it’s some kind of miracle, about Pete Rose still going in head-first at forty-two, beating the odds. And maybe the talk is right. One remembers Mays, forty and a Met, dropping that can-of-corn fly in the ’71 Series, all that grace stripped away and with it the conviction, leaving a man confused and apologetic about the boy in him. It’s sad to admit it ends so soon, but everyone knows those are the lucky ones. Most guys are washed up by seventeen.
Suggestions for Writing and Discussion 1.
The speaker contends that “people could pretty much be divided between infielders and outfielders.” Referring to his definition of “infielders” and “outfielders” in paragraph 2, respond to this statement. Would you consider yourself to be an infielder, an outfielder, or something else? Explain your response.
Several paragraphs are devoted to ways the right fielder may have died. Most of these ways involve violence. In what ways do you see violence as related to the American Dream? Has violence ever been used to promote the American Dream? To oppose it? Explain.
What details in this story suggest that the narrator is describing an actual death? What details suggest that the death is meant to be seen as symbolic—and symbolic of what?
What do you see as the role of the next right fielder? Reread the final three paragraphs of the story to help focus your response.
The story ends with the players returning to other parts of their lives and with the statement “most guys are washed up by seventeen.” Do you agree? Explain.
Suggestions for Extended Thinking and Writing 1.
Research the life of any professional athlete, male or female, and compare what you discover to some of the details in Dybek’s story.
This story uses a baseball game to comment on the lives of the participants, all of whom seem to be male. Can sports themes and metaphors also be used to comment on the lives of women? If so, write a short story that does this. If not, consider themes and metaphors that might reflect the female American dream, and write a story using these themes and metaphors.
Research a conflict related to professional or amateur sports in the United States, and explain how this conflict relates to the American dream.
Joseph Bruchac (born in 1942 in Sarasota Springs, New York) is part Slovakian, part Native American (Abenaki), and part English. He has taught English in Ghana, creative writing and African and black literatures at Skidmore College, and creative writing in prison workshops. His poetry, fiction writing, and storytelling focus on northeastern Native American tales and songs.
Suggestions for Prereading or Journal Writing 1.
What dreams for themselves and their futures do you think any one of your grandparents might have had at your age? Write a letter, from the point of view of one grandparent, describing those dreams.
Think of a public building, memorial, or statue that you have seen. Write a brief description that includes both the physical appearance of this site and your response to it.
Beyond the red brick of Ellis Island
where the two Slovak children
who became my grandparents
waited the long days of quarantine,
after leaving the sickness,
the old Empires of Europe,
a Circle Line1
ship slips easily
on its way to the island
of the tall woman,2
as dreams of forests and meadows
waiting for those who’d worked
I too come to this island,
nine decades the answerer
Yet only one part of my blood loves that memory.
Another voice speaks
of native lands
within this nation.
when the earth became owned.
Lands of those who followed
the changing Moon,
knowledge of the seasons
in their veins.
Suggestions for Writing and Discussion 1.
Part of Joseph Bruchac’s heritage is Slovakian and part is Abenaki (Native American). How does the speaker in the poem reflect the differences in the American dreams of each of these peoples? Does the speaker seem to value one side more than the other, or does he present each dream as equally worthy?
Imagine that you are in New York City, viewing the Statue of Liberty. Write your response to the message carved at the base of this symbolic statue: “Give me your tired, your poor, your teeming masses, yearning to breathe free.”
Compare the view of immigration suggested by this poem to the view in Mary Antin’s “The Promised Land” (page 82).
Suggestions for Extended Thinking and Writing 1.
The title of the poem is “Ellis Island,” and the first lines of the poem describe the immigrants’ experiences there. Do research about Ellis Island, and write a paper using your findings to explain how the history of Ellis Island relates to the concept of the American dream.
Do research about the Native Americans who lived in the area that is now New York State. In what ways do their experiences and treatment relate to the theme of American dreams and conflicts?
TOPICS FOR MAKING CONNECTIONS: AMERICAN DREAMS AND CONFLICTS
1.Write an essay in which you analyze the factors that contribute to one’s success in reaching a dream. Rely on any three pieces in this chapter for your support in this essay, as well as your own experience and observations of others.
2.Write an essay in which you analyze the factors that deter one from reaching his or her dream in America. Rely on any three pieces in this chapter for your main support in this essay, as well as your own experiences and observations of others.
3.Analyze the effects of being caught between two identities or between two different cultures by using three different pieces in this chapter. Based on the pieces you have chosen, what conclusions can you draw about the conflicts in which the person often finds himself or herself?
4.From all of these readings, choose the person or character you most admired and the person or character you least admired. Write an essay in which you compare and contrast these two people, and come to a clear conclusion as to why you prefer one over the other.
5.By using three selections from this chapter, including “Working for a Dream,” analyze both the causes and the effects of stereotyping.
6.Write a dramatic dialogue in which any three characters or authors from this chapter discuss the American dream and how realistic that dream is in terms of their own American experiences. In conclusion, aim to have each character give an apt metaphor for the American dream that best reflects their experience.
2Statue of Liberty Both of these photos show the use of flags as symbols. Discuss the differences you see in the use of these symbols and in the relationship of the individuals in the photos to the symbols.