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Annie C.
Yale Student and Tutor for Two Years
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Literature
TutorMe
Question:

Using colonial texts and later analyses, discuss the 17th-18th century cultural and political hierarchies of an early Latin American or Southern American society to understand broader social implications.

Annie C.
Answer:

Identity, Ritual, and Power in Colonial Puebla In Identity, Frances Ramos argues a tightly interwoven relationship between ritual, ceremony, and colonial power in early Mexican society. There is a strong emphasis on the inherent hierarchy present in Spanish colonial relations, involving the dynamics of the monarchy, the local indigenous and Spanish settlers, and the church. Pueblas were operated under cabildos, a town council system that devoted a significant amount of expenditure to rituals. Appearance was exceedingly important in cabildan society. In addition, rituals were meant to express supremacy to the natives and settlers, and legitimacy to the crown. The book goes on to discuss the role of the church in supporting the king in association with the Hapsburg origin myth. The transition between dynasties from the Spanish to the French Hapsburgs also altered the rapport between colony and state. Rituals meant to alleviate contention of civilians and nobles aided fluidity of transition. Close affiliation with the church through financial and political sponsorship by regidores and alférezes also served to intensify the idea that the king was a godly figure. The author effectively highlights the intimate relationship between ritual and power dynamics in colonial Mexico. He uses a combination of historical fact, descriptive narrative, and various perspectives to sustain the thesis. The introduction focuses mostly on the class system, and analyzes the relationships between the various councilmen and local leaders through their tools of persuasion. In this section, the propaganda of ritual is revealed. The value placed on ceremony is meant to increase public perception in a way that is analogous to tribal African and dynastic Chinese cultures. Public coronations validated the legitimacy of the current ruling power. Ramos explains “councilmen envisioned themselves as spiritual leaders…sought to raise collective Catholic consciousness”. The author compiles information through access of historical archives, primary sources, and rare books. The usage of material written by not only the Spanish themselves, but also the indigenous and modern-day historians offer a diversity in perspective and conclusive research. Ramos also seeks to untangle the religious connotation of ceremonies. The attitude towards religious authentication of the Crown is reminiscent of that of the legalistic dynasties of China (Marks). Ancient Chinese political theory was deeply entrenched in legalist thought, declaring a good emperor was one approved by the gods. Proper adherence in faith translated to proper governance of the people, and vice versa. The Spanish crown had a similar philosophy, and Catholic celebrations and funerals authenticated the ruling class. Rituals were also crucial in amassing a stronger national identity and loyalty. By becoming an indispensable public supporter of Roman Catholicism, the cornerstone of moral high ground in New Spain, cabildos were able to appeal to the ordinary poblano and earn trust. Walking as part of the procession on Good Friday cemented devotion. The creation of effigies [“painting of the king” put kings on the same pedestal as the pope. Demonstrating respect towards the Church through official recognition and protection allowed authorities to gain political influence. Ramos also accentuates the concentric circles of Catholicism and delineates the unique aspects of barrio-based worship, city worship, and universal Roman liturgy. In some cases, “people arguably identified more with their barrio than their city” (Ramos 69). This brings into question the relationship between church and state, whether the two spheres of influence ever overlapped or contradicted in thought. If so, an issue arises of whether delicacy of positive relations outweighs progressive politics. The puebla’s religious hierarchy was consonant with the political hierarchy of New Spain as a whole. While there was a supreme power in the form of the Spanish crown, regional differentiation occurs from puebla to puebla under different cabildos, town councils, and geographic environments that fostered distinctive sociopolitical and economic systems. A rather important and recurring commentary sheds light on the strict segregation within the pueblas, which in turn generated animosity amongst not only class but also race divisions. In the consideration of hierarchy, race also played into colonial dynamics. Although Ramos focused on class based relations, other readings such as Genealogical Fictions focus on how race becomes another factor of puebla culture. Those with pure African descent were automatically relegated as lower class citizens (or not even citizens) and had slim to no chance of achieving political leadership under the Spanish Crown. Just a step above, mulattos and mestizos held scant political rights as well, unless indigenous nobility was accounted for The Spanish held great power and privilege, derived from their whiteness and wealth. The early 1700s in New Spain were the birthplace of an extreme racial classification system that equated whiteness with moral and legal superiority. This colonial racist thought eventually led to the colossal tragedy that is the Atlantic Slave Trade. The importance of identity, ritual, and power was apparent once more in the Caribbean islands where sugar plantation owners wielded their power through ritualistic abuse of enslaved Africans who are subjugated for their identity. The interconnected web between the three facets of colonialism is indubitable, and Ramos’ description of the interaction of New Spain is comparable to the colonial hierarchies of race, gender, and class of many other Latin American regions. A prime example is the Spanish occupation in the Andes, where corregidores operated alongside caciques to amass material and political wealth. This pattern materializes over time, as Europeans sliced up and occupy the African and American continents. Along the way, dominance was asserted through strong political rhetoric and conduct, assisted by religious justification and sacraments. Supremacy was constructed, evolved, and maintained by practices of the royalty, nobility, and church leaders; all were methods meant to control the lower class, whether through economic, political, and/or cultural means. While Ramos stresses the rituals of appearance and propagandist notions, one can classify colonization itself as a significant ritual in which European countries formulaically arrived upon new lands, thoroughly eradicated the pre-existing system, robbed natives of dignity and equality, and reaped the profits of a resource-rich land.

US History
TutorMe
Question:

Describe an underrated American historical figure who have changed the world as we know it.

Annie C.
Answer:

She was (is?) the first human to achieve theoretical immortality, unbeknownst to her. They say history is a story written by victors, but this heroine remained anonymous until biographer Rebecca Skloots stepped forward and revealed her to the world. Her name was Henrietta Lacks, a beautiful African-American woman born into humble roots in Maryland. The human race owes bountiful gratitude to Henrietta whose cells have generated cancer cures, cell culture research, genetic advances, and continuous medical progress. Rebecca Skloot began a years long journey towards uncovering the woman behind the HeLa cell who was otherwise widely known as Helen Lane to the medical community. She learned about HeLa cells in a biology class during a discussion on cell culture development. This introduction by her professor at the time spurred on further research; when she was disappointed to find that there was little, if any information on Henrietta. This strangely undocumented and cryptic woman enticed Skloot’s interest, and the author began to dig deep into Henrietta’s past. She visited key locations to Henrietta’s life such as her home and the ex-mental asylum where Elsie Lacks (daughter of Henrietta) was sent to. She gathered as much research and documentation of Henrietta’s medical and personal history and interviewed the rotating but ever present people in Henrietta’s life including family members and doctors involved in the obtaining of HeLa cells. Through The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, readers are exposed to the fascinating and sometimes tragic history of a woman who unknowingly changed the science world forever through the eyes of a dedicated analyst and enthusiast. Henrietta’s story begins under a different name. Born Loretta Pleasant in Roanoke, Virginia, she later became Henrietta Lacks of Clover, Virginia. Her father Johnny Pleasant was incapable of parenting his children and her mother died when she was four. As a result she grew up with her grandfather Tommy Lacks alongside her cousin Day Lacks, later her husband. Henrietta was a woman loved by her community, always known to be incredibly generous and humble toward the numerous family members that stayed at her home-house. She was also known for her delicate beauty and penchant for flawlessly painted red nail polish. It all began at Johns Hopkins' Medical Center in 1951. She felt an aching in her stomach, a knot that she ignored for over a year until that fateful day. Blacks were often impoverished and uneducated and could not afford regular check ups. Henrietta visited Hopkins, a charity clinic, when the pains failed to relent. After waiting in the segregated colored area, Henrietta was seen by the gynecologist on duty and soon diagnosed by surgeon and renowned cervical expert Richard Telinde with “epidermoid carcinoma of the cervix, Stage I.” Telinde had been working on a theory that surface cancerous carcinomas (carcinoma in situ) led to penetrating invasive carcinomas. In 1941, the Pap smear was invented to help prevent cervical cancer development. However, results from these tests were often misinterpreted and doctors needlessly performed extensive surgeries on women who needed only antibiotics and vice versa. To curb this trend and further progress cancer treatment, Telinde aimed to study the links between carcinoma in situ and invasive carcinoma and document/standardize Pap smear results. Telinde needed culturist George Gey to grow some cells and began cutting samples from all female patients at Hopkins with cervical cancer. Gey had spent years attempting to create an immortal cell, all of which died until he came upon Henrietta’s cancer cells. This discovery swept through the scientific community like a blizzard, gathering traction as Gey began to give away samples of the eternally generating cells. The cell samples were sent to researchers all over the world and grew exponentially contributing to several incredible advances including the development of vaccines and discovery that tobacco was linked with lung cancer. HeLa cells were commercialized by companies such as Microbiological Associates who were called “an absolute revolution in the field” by famed cell culturist Leonard Hayflick. Meanwhile, Henrietta’s medical condition gradually worsened. She underwent several rounds of radiation and x-ray therapy reacting poorly to the treatment. Although initially the tumor vanished, her menstruation became wildly irregular and urination became an excruciating process. Her doctors repeatedly assured her that there was no sign of recurrence. Having no other option as a black patient she simply deferred to their diagnoses (or lack thereof). In September of 1951, the cancer reemerged and was in full force. Tumors formed throughout her body, including on her diaphragm, bladder, intestines, and lungs. Henrietta spent her days in unrelenting pain as she received transfusion after transfusion of blood and suffered through many a painful seizure. Her body was effectively shutting down and rejecting all forms of treatment. Later that month, the doctors would discontinue treatment and keep her on only pain relieving analgesics. A little over a week later on October 4th, 1951, Henrietta died. Thus began the whirlwind of the mid 1950s of reporters, doctors, and journalists knocking on the Lackses’ family doors to gain access to her body, her cells. While Henrietta Lacks died anonymous to the world, the HeLa cells would become an integral part of the science world. The Lackses reaped none of the profits of their beloved Henrietta’s contribution. Her now impoverished children were subjected to abusive and neglectful parenting and were constantly underfed and overworked by domineering family members. Deborah Lacks, who was one when Henrietta passed away, suffered through sexual abuse by her uncle Galen for several years and Joe, the baby of the family, was beaten by Henrietta’s cousin Ethel. While the Lacks children lived in fear of oppressive guardians, the debate over medical ethics of experimentation came to an all time high. The pervasiveness of HeLa cells had kickstarted the idea of consent by human subjects. In the 50s, human subjects such as prisoners and poor blacks were often exploited for medical research. Blacks were scared of hospitals such as ‘John Hopkin’ “snatchin people” off the streets and using them for research. Doctors capitalized off of their lack of education and desperation. The Nuremberg Code derived from Nazi experimentation on nonconsenting Jews became another subject of debate in the American science community. Finally, a few brave souls came forward and set the compass towards change. The National Center for Cancer Research helped to spearhead standardized practices of informed consent and clear communication between doctor and patient prior to research. Currently, law has outlined clearly the requirements of consent from human test subjects but in terms of tissues removed from the body, it belongs to the entity removing it and maintaining it.

English
TutorMe
Question:

In The Plague, how does Albert Camus demonstrated literary themes of solitude and confinement through plot and rhetoric?

Annie C.
Answer:

The Albert Camus novel opened with an ordinary town—the inhabitants lived in a carefree way and the established setting mirrored many other neighborhoods in Camus novels such as The Stranger or A Happy Death. The townspeople, for the most part, were nameless excepting a few key characters. Through themes of religious doubt, mortality, indifference, and separation, Camus analyzed the effects of massive imprisonment and the contagious nature of authoritarianism. Contextualized by its release date two years after the end of World War II, The Plague reads as a criticism of Nazi Germany’s occupation of France. In consideration of the current wave of right-wing authoritarian governments sweeping across western societies, Camus’ thinly-veiled investigation of fascism rings especially relevant today. Even decades after the release, The Plague’s dichotomous discussions of righteousness and oppressiveness are relevant to modern international affairs. Camus emphasized the moral and political cruelties of forced exile and the ways in which aggressive government can critically change the fabric of its culture and its people. The book began with an introduction of Dr. Bernard Rieux, the ultimate pragmatist, contrarian, and narrator. Rieux was objectively a hero for his sacrifices in plague times, but is introduced as a humble character with a strong sense of obligation to his town. His lack of self congratulation is mentioned several times throughout the book, and he preferred viewing his actions through an “abstracted” rather than concrete lens (pg. 83). His approach to treating his patients was exceptionally clinical and straightforward, much like Camus’ other anti-heroes such as Meursault. He strived to be nothing more than an ordinary man and a healer in the best way he could, just how other everyday Joes like Grand and Tarrou stepped up to the plate. Rieux’s interactions with other characters lead readers through the various emotional stages of exile. The strongest initial reaction of the townspeople was that of denial—while they were all suited to their daily roles like cogs of a well-oiled machine, they failed to take the plague seriously. “They forgot to be modest, that was all. They fancied themselves free.” (pg. 35) In this way, Camus referenced the widespread French denial of the Holocaust during German occupation in World War II. Camus illustrated a clear moral problem: the apathy of the French furthered the Nazi agenda in this time. At the same time, Camus acknowledged the spirit-breaking nature of exile following exile, a time of ultimate despair. “At such moments, the collapse of their courage, will-power, and endurance was so abrupt that they felt they could never drag themselves out of the pit of despond into which they had fallen.” (pg. 67) In many senses, Camus’ own experiences with exile informed the attitudes of The Plague Oranians, especially Rambert. Like Rambert, Camus was separated from his wife in 1942 after the Allies freed Algiers from occupation. His wife Francine was living in Algiers at the time while he received medical treatment in France, the latter still under occupation. The heartfelt correspondence between the two emphasized the personal consequences of war, reflected in Rambert, a journalist passing through in a city of not his own. Camus successfully achieved the allegory of German occupation to the plague, both being inherently detrimental phenomenons that embed into the fabric of society, eating away at the foundations of basic humanity. The once bustling markets of Oran emptied out and the people gradually moved out of the denial and despondency stages and into that of desperation. Those religious and otherwise showed up to church in droves, as a last-ditch attempt to save themselves and their loved ones. Before the plague became an all-encompassing challenge, the townspeople were “wrapped up” in their own affairs, chasing money and success. “On Sunday mornings, sea-bathing competes seriously with church-going.” (pg. 85) Suddenly, they overflowed the church to hear the sermons of Father Paneloux on the organized Week of Prayer. This impassioned delivery by Paneloux is a major turning point in revealing the hypocritical nature of human beings in exile. At times of grave concern, it is natural of people to seek solitude and stability through religion. Confinement forces self-reflection, and this often comes in the form of personal religious interrogation. Simultaneously, many of the nameless faces seemed to have a selfish relationship with God—the churches were empty before the townspeople were desperate enough to need God. Understanding Camus’ personal lack of religious affiliation, this was possibly his way of criticizing shallow practices of religion. Paneloux said, “too long this world of ours has connived of evil, too long has it counted on divine mercy, on God’s forgiveness.” The father also deemed Oran to be a place of darkness where God walks no more. In this passage, the Week of Prayer becomes temporal and situational pacifier, a clearly politicized way of managing public panic. Although Camus oft disagreed with Marxists, Marx’s famed statement deeming religion as an “opiate of the masses” is especially relevant, as the Oran residents continued to do little collectively to stop the plague. The collective denial proceeded by hopelessness is, however, effective in equalizing the population. Political dilemmas of class and gender are abolished in the crisis, as none are safe from the sometimes fatal consequences of the plague, from the son of the magistrate to the struggling writer Joseph Grand. All had to stay within the sentry walls, despite relentless pleading and bribing. Mail was halted with no exception, visits were absolutely prohibited, and the once thriving commerce that supported the town’s wealthiest had dried up. The exile established in part II demonstrates roots of both immediate and long-term consequences for Oran. While the town’s emotional well-being languished into part III, the most alarming change was the physical retaliation. The frustration of confinement drove some of the occupants mad to the point of violence—trapped and scared, primal tendencies and attempts to break down the gates occurred regularly. In one bizarre situation, a man “[dashed] into a blazing house” beneath the gaze of the frozen and indifferent owner. After the imposition of martial law, Oran fell into total figurative and literal darkness. The endless funeral processions depressed the population, the dedication to efficiency over sentiment engulfing the state. Their exile and inability to rely on others reduced life into a systematic machine, reflective of Camus absurdist philosophies. “Happily, this ultimate indignity [of being flung into death-pits indiscriminately] synchronized with the plague’s last ravages.” (pg. 159) Reckoning with the monotony and monstrosity of the plague took its toll, the people became walking shells of who they once were. “Habit of despair is worse than despair itself.” (pg. 164) The population lost their fight, like a wounded animal drawing its last breaths without protest. In fact, Camus even denied them of their individuality as they become a nameless “they”, a conglomerate of featureless motions. The absolute brutality of the plague climaxed in pages 195-199, where the son of M. and Mme. Othon received the first injection of serum created by Dr. Castel, only to conclude in an even longer and more painful death. Camus’ description of the aggregate symphony of wailing in the auxiliary hospital was provocative, reminiscent of the cries preceding the death of those in Nazi concentration camps. Just as the son was innocent, as were the millions of children sentenced to hard labor and gas chambers in the Holocaust. The exile compounded over time, but surprisingly enough, those with opportunities to flee chose to stay, including Rambert, the stranded journalist. This point is further illustrated by Father Paneloux’s partnership with Dr. Rieux and eventual sermon wherein he declared it vital that all people stay. “My brothers, each one of us must be the one who stays!” (pg. 205) He evoked the obligation of helping one another as Rieux did at the start and committing oneself to togetherness in times of strife. There was nothing heroic or splendid about it—it was just what one must do. Exile from the outside world beleaguered the relationships between the townspeople, causing death to become another daily event and conversations to lose meaning as everybody focused on only the plague. Later in Part IV, Tarrou told Rieux about his experience with his lawyer father and why he believes he has been personally struggling with a metaphorical plague for years. He denounced bystanderism as a crucial cause of innocent deaths, connecting back to the disconnect and denial. “Each of us has plague within him.” (pg. 229) In the din of everyday happy-go-lucky life, he suggested that people fail to hold one another accountable for injustice imposed upon others. Exile bred on humanity’s innate selfishness. The stringent policies placed upon the town of Oran wreaked havoc; although the plague was eventually curbed, many characters suffered irrevocably due to actions directly caused by the government. Camus’ strongest argument was rooted in the selfishness and indifference in exile of the townspeople, both factors that contributed heavily into the spread of the plague and the slow remission. Restrictions from the outside world as well as paranoia within became a breeding ground for distrust, discontent, and ultimately disillusionment. The quarantines were microcosms of the entire town inflated to an even stronger degree, maximizing the sense of otherness pervasive in many Camus novels. The Nazis descended into France and thrived off the complacency of high officials, insidiously eating away at the very fabric of European unity. Camus’ response to occupation through The Plague is deeply elucidating of the extent of irreparable changes in human nature under tyrannical rule.

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