This was created to expose you all to the essential texts that we will be studying during our upcoming unit. We will be looking at common themes that novels written about families tend to contain, as well as some of the different customs and rituals that take place within families around the world.
We will read a short passage from Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel The Namesake. The story is about an immigrant Bengali family living in Boston, Massachusetts. Bengal is a region in India, and the children in the Ganguli family have difficulty forging identities that merge their Indian heritage with their American upbringing. Next to a picture of the book jacket, you can see a map of India. The red portion is the region known as Bengal from which the fictional Ganguli family hails.
Names are very important within the novel. In Bengali culture, children are supposed to have two names: a “pet” name that friends and family can call a person by, as well as a “good” name that is used in school, in writing, and in more formal circumstances. The section you’ll be reading describes an annaprasan, or First Rice ceremony. This is when an infant is ritualistically fed payesh, rice made with sugar and milk. This is the child’s first food other than milk.
The feeding ceremony is often followed with a game, in which the child is presented with a tray containing a number of objects. These will include a bangle or jewel (symbolising wealth), a book (symbolising learning), a pen (symbolising career) and a clay pot or container of earth/soil (symbolising property). The child's future direction and prospects in life are indicated by the object which it prefers to hold and play with.
After that, you will read a prose-poem entitled “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid. The poem is a monologue of an Antiguan mother giving her daughter advice on how to be a proper woman. The mother dominates the conversation, as you will find out when you read it, and her daughter hardly gets a word in edgewise. The street in the picture is in St. John’s, the capital of Antigua and Barbuda. There is also a map of Antigua and Barbuda on this slide.
In “Girl”, the mother gives her daughter advice about the impropriety of singing benna on Sundays. Benna is an uptempo folksong that is usually scandalous or bawdy in nature and was used to spread gossip. The poem also mentions growing dasheem, a plant that is used in cooking (and pictured above), and doukona, a kind of pudding made from starchy food which is sweetened, spiced, and traditionally wrapped in plantain or banana leaf.
You will also read a poem entitled “Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes. He was a very influential writer during the Harlem Renaissance – a movement in which black artists and writers developed their own distinct style. The mother in this poem is very different from the one in “Girl” and she’s telling her son about the hardships that she has overcome throughout her life – this is where the line “Life ain’t been no crystal stair” comes from.
You will also read “Why I Live at the P.O.”, a short story by Eudora Welty. Welty is a Southern writer who is famous for her eccentric characters, sly humor, and accurate reproduction of authentic Southern dialogue and colloquialisms. The main character of the story is never given a name other than “Sister”, and she lives in the shadow of her younger sister, Stella-Rondo. The sisters share an intense rivalry that starts up anew when Stella-Rondo shows up at the family home with a daughter whom she claims is “adopted”, although Sister believes she’s actually Stella-Rondo’s biological daughter.
You will also read The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. The book is made up of a series of “vignettes”, which are a cross between long poems and short stories. The main character’s name is Esperanza, and it is from her point of view that we learn about growing up female in a strictly patriarchal Hispanic barrio neighborhood.
During this unit, you’re also going to be learning and thinking about your own families as you read these books, poems, and stories. Families often play a huge role in the formation of our identities. We often read about families with sibling-rivalry and parent-child tension. That’s because these stories are often the most interesting. Another important aspect of our identities is our cultural heritage, and the extent to which we maintain ties to the countries that we’ve migrated from. Family trees, like the one pictured, can provide insight about a family’s history.
American families look much different than they did historically. The following facts are taken from the 2000 U.S. Census: Less than 7 percent of American families today are of the traditional nuclear type. In the 1950s the median age of first marriage for women was 20.3; by the end of the 1990s it was 25.1. Married couples with children comprise just 24 percent of all households.
Every family has its own particular customs or traditions. Often these traditions stem from their particular cultural or religious upbringing. Some secular traditions include family board game night, eating cake and giving presents on someone’s birthday, eating a big meal with a main dish of turkey on Thanksgiving Day, drinking champagne and counting down to the new year on New Year’s Eve, and setting off fireworks and grilling on the Fourth of July.
Food is often the link between parents and their children, as prized recipes are passed down from one generation to the next. As you saw with the Indian First Rice ceremony, food, its taste, and how its prepared are some of the first forms of knowledge that are passed down from parent to child. “Secret” recipes are valuable to the family and are often carefully guarded to prevent unwanted cooks preparing that coveted dish.
Most branches of Christianity initiate new members as infants through what is called christening. Christening, or baptism, is a ceremony in which a new member of the church is immersed or splattered with holy water. This is to demonstrate membership to the Christian faith. This is the New Testament’s take on the Jewish tradition of circumcision, in which the foreskin is removed from infant males in order to demonstrate belonging to Judaism.
Bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs are Jewish ceremonies that are celebrated when boys (bar) are 13 and girls are 12 years old. Contrary to popular belief, they do not signify becoming an adult. They signify that the individual is now bound by the Ten Commandments and responsible for his or her actions. Mexican girls have a special fifteenth birthday called a quincenera. The birthday girl wears a pink or white dress to symbolize her purity. The ceremony is a little like a debutante ball – most of the ceremony involves learning to and performing various waltzes and doing choreographed dancing. The girl undergoes the ritual of the shoe, where her father changes her flat shoes to high heels, which symbolize her maturity.
As you learned earlier, fewer and fewer couples choose to get married. For those that do, however, weddings are a time when two families join to recognize either a legal or religious union. Married couples have special legal rights. Some wedding traditions are very old. For example, carrying the bride over the threshold comes from a time when a man from one tribe would literally have to go “steal the bride” from another tribe; carrying her with one hand and fighting off her family with the other. Historically, marriages were often arranged by the bride and groom’s parents for political or financial gain.
Christian funerals usually include three parts: the wake or viewing, the memorial service, and the burial service. Funerals are meant to be a chance to remember and celebrate the life of the deceased. It is a chance for family and friends to say good-bye to a loved one. Jewish funerals are a bit different. The body is meant to be prepared for a speedy burial, since Jews do not believe in embalming the deceased and do not have a customary wake or viewing period. There is a seven-day mourning period following the interment of the coffin. There are certain customs to follow, like ripping or tearing clothing after hearing news of someone’s death. Mirrors in the house are often covered, as well.
“We all grow up with the weight of history on us. Our ancestors dwell in the attics of our brains as they do in the spiraling chains of knowledge hidden in every cell of our bodies.” This quotation refers to our DNA, the genetic material that is passed down through families. That’s why doctors will ask if your family has a history of certain illnesses or diseases. It’s not all bad. Families pass on good looks, as well…
Whether it’s traditional or not, everyone has a family. You come from somewhere. You’re first socialized by your family – you know that saying, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree? That’s because you not only possess similar genetic material to your family members, but you also grow up around family members who teach and practice certain traditions. This presentation is meant to expose you to the texts that you’ll be reading as well as some of the traditions commonly practiced by families so that you’ll start thinking about the ways that your family has influenced you. You can decide for yourself how unique or common your experiences with your family are.
So here you can see my photo credits. Let me know if you have any questions about the presentation. I hope you enjoyed my pecha kucha!
Family unit intro pecha kucha
Family Unit: An
Created by Miss Holland
“We all grow up with the
weight of history on us. Our
ancestors dwell in the attics of
our brains as they do in the
spiraling chains of knowledge
hidden in every cell of our
bodies.” ~Shirley Abbott