10th October 2017

Reading Responses INTERNAL

My Sisters Keeper

Title: My Sisters Keeper

Text Type: Novel (Extended Text)

Author: Jodi Picoult

The novel “My Sister’s Keeper” by Jodi Picoult begins as the reader learns of the decisions one has to make for another person and how they can trap someone unwillingly or not into decisions. The beginning of the novel starts with Sara and Brian’s two-year old daughter, Kate, who is diagnosed with “acute promyelocytic leukaemia” struggling to survive and in desperate need of donors. The family struggles to fight and overcome the rare and aggressive strain Kate has, until the option for an unorthodox solution is suggested. The idea is to select a specific embryo to create an “allogeneic donor – a perfect sibling match” to use as a donor for Kate. As a result of this idea, Anna is conceived and immediately becomes of benefit to the family. Anna becomes a vital part of survival both emotionally for the family and in particular physically for Kate as Anna unknowingly donates organs and blood for Kate’s procedures even in her first few years of life. However, Anna always knew that “…if Kate had been healthy. Chances are, I’d [Anna] still be floating up in Heaven…Certainly I would not be a part of this family.” Anna starts to question her rights as a human and the ethics of her family’s decisions, they make for her. The novel progresses in the span of a week through the struggles of the family as now 12-year-old Anna fights for the legal ownership of her body and the procedures taken to benefit only Kate, as “…the only reason [Anna] was born was as a harvest crop for Kate.”  Anna states “I want to sue them for the rights to my own body.” The story is narrated from each of the family member’s point of views as they try to navigate the unusual situation of medical emancipation of Anna from her parents.

A prevailing theme throughout the novel is Sara’s blindness to anyones needs other than Kate’s. Her whole maternal life has revolved around Kate’s needs and she has neglected to see anyone’s needs other than her sick daughter’s. Sara’s ambition to create a normal healthy life for Kate becomes so dire she chooses to have a third child that will genetically match her ill daughter.  Once this third child is conceived she continues to go to any lengths to fulfil her dreams for Kate. Sara’s constant, main concern is always Kate and if she ever has a slight worry there is something wrong with Kate “she doesn’t take [Anna’s] word for it, because when it comes to Kate she doesn’t take anybody’s word for it.” Anna views her sister’s diagnosis as “a black hole” because whenever anything happens to Kate “the world collapses again” and just like a black hole “so heavy they absorb even the light, right into the center… no matter what you cling to, you wind up being sucked in.” As the story is narrated from the whole family’s point of view it is easy to get a perspective on each character and relate to how they feel. For example, it is easy to see how Sara would want her severely ill daughter to get any chance of life that she can. I believe my mother would do the same for me considering any possible options to help save me if I were in the same situation. But by trying to put my own family in this situation I wonder how far anyone would really go to protect someone or something they love and care about, as purposely conceiving an allogeneic donor seems excessive. However, this is only the view I see, not being in the actual position myself. This makes me realise we may not really know how far anyone of us would go if we were put in such a difficult situation family related or not until we are put in the situation ourselves.

While reading “My Sisters Keeper” I found I could often relate to being in Anna’s position as I also have a family member who is diagnosed with an incurable cancer. While the book is a continual legal fight for Anna’s right to make her own medical decisions she never claims she does not want to donate her organs to Kate she just wants it to be accepted that difficult decisions such as Kate’s treatments and the donation of other organs to Kate must be made by those most directly affected. Anna claims “The fact that even now, a major decision about me is being made, and no one’s bothered to ask the one person who most deserves it to speak her opinion”. She had to struggle with the emotions “that in addition to the piece of me [Anna] that’s always wanted Kate to live, there’s another, horrible piece of me that sometimes wishes I were free.” When the two sisters talked, just before Anna decided to file a lawsuit, they came to the somber realisation that “Kate was feeling guilty about being a burden, I [Anna] was feeling twice as guilty for knowing she felt that way. For knowing I felt that way.” She wants to help her sister in anyway possible however, both Kate and Anna have realised that they have fought Kate’s battle with cancer relentlessly with no end and now the best way to help Kate would be to cease all treatment. This felt very relevant to me as I know I will have to go through a similar situation with my mother when there is no treatment options left to continue to fight the cancer with and we will be confronted with the same decision to stop all treatments. However, by seeing how the characters realise their own guilt for feeling a burden on one another it helped me to realise it is helpful to keep an outside perspective on all the issues that will come up and that it is important that both whoever is ill and their loved ones must know they are not a burden. I also learnt from this that when I find myself in the same situation it is important to understand the desires of those most immediately affected rather than the decisions being made by others who believe they have a grasp on what is going on but in reality can’t understand the situation entirely as Sara did for Anna and Kate.

By writing the novel from the perspective of Anna’s whole family it helps to create a perspective of the difficult situations the characters are confronted with throughout the story and allows the reader to make their own informed opinions of the difficult decisions made during Anna’s legal fight against her parents and the effects it has on Kate’s physical battle with cancer. “My Sisters Keeper”, although based around the families struggle with decisions to help fight Kate’s cancer can also be related to almost any situation in the wider world about having to make tough decisions. Many people would have come across moments when they were torn between what is the wrong and right decision in the same way Kate and Anna’s Father, Brian expressed when he said “‘Can you tell me what the right answer is here? Because I don’t know where to look for it. I know what’s right. I know what’s fair. But neither of those apply here.'” When Jodi Picoult wrote the book from the perspective of different characters she helped the reader learn that there is more than one side to every decision and each person will be affected by it differently. I thoroughly enjoyed this book from the start to end as I felt I could relate to a lot of the situations and it taught me to always try to see things from other people’s perspectives to get a better understanding when making decisions.

Lord of the Flies

Title: Lord of the Flies

Text Type: Novel (Extended Text)

Author: William Golding

William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” is a novel based upon a group of young boys who crash land on an island and have to learn to fend for themselves. The boys have to discover how to work as a team, distribute power and have faith in humanity and the civilisation they once knew. The story is set during the 1950’s presumably during an atomic war where a group of school aged boys ranging from approximately six to twelve crash land on a deserted island in the Pacific Ocean. Once the boys have all come to a meeting brung together by Ralph blowing a conch shell they are quick to elect a leader as it is apparent they will be on the island for a while. Ralph,the newly elected leader, also gives Jack the role of being in charge of the hunters. This may also be seen as a way to satisfy Jack’s crave for power at the time. The boys try to conform to the ways they believe civilisations are structured with rules and agreements. These rules are heavily influenced by what they considered normal in their society when they lived in the safety of their own homes with the reinforcement of adults. As the structure of their civilisation on the island begins to degenerate due to a power struggle between Jack and Ralph, who have very contrasting ideals, the savagery within each boy comes out. Jack’s priorities are hunting for both food and a believed beast to live on the island and it becomes clear his morals succumb to savagery; while Ralph is focused on simulating a civilisation as similar to what he knows as normal as possible. At first the boys believe Ralph’s convictions are right as they are similar to what they have all grown up knowing. However, as they begin to lose faith of survival and being rescued the savagery within each boy becomes more and more apparent.

William Golding has written the book “Lord of the Flies” specifically in mind for young boys during the 1950’s. A strong theme I noticed throughout the novel is the lack of female representation, this is most likely due to the era the book was written in, where only males had any significance in the world and this was reflected to a great extent within the text. Because of the lack women in the text, I often found I could not see myself reacting in the same ways to the characters on the island. The only mention of females in the text was when the boys had to make decisions on how to live their lives while stuck on the island. One boy suggested they might be better to tie their hair up and the boys exclaimed in shock “Like a girl!” before he quickly replied “No. ’Course not.” and it was agreed “Then we must go as we are,”. From reading “Lord of the Flies” I gained a better understanding of how girls were perceived, or lack thereof, at the time William Golding wrote this book. Although I believe it would be hard to picture how I would deal with the events if I was put in the same situation of the characters in the book I do not believe I, or collectively as girls, we would yield to the ideas of barbarity and be lead to a level of such severe savagery that the boys, particularly Jack, came down to. Covering their faces in “war-paint” was a symbolic point for the group where they began to believe in Jack’s ideals more than Ralph’s. “They understood only too well the liberation into savagery that the concealing paint brought.” The boys began to crave that feeling of ruthlessness and claimed “I’d like to put on war-paint and be a savage.” I struggled to relate to these parts of savagery in particular where the boys craved this feeling. I understand that as the boys lost hope in being rescued they also lost faith in civilisation as it was the very thing keeping them safe before being stranded on the island and they no longer had this. However, I don’t believe, even in these severe circumstances, I would be lead to or want to stoop down to the same amount of bloodthirstiness these boys did and I think many women and probably many men would feel similar to me in terms of this which is why it was hard to relate to the events of the text.

Although “Lord of the Flies” was a thoroughly entertaining text to read and the ideas William Golding presented in terms of how civilisations work were interesting I often found the text hard to relate to due to the predominantly male perspectives used to illustrate the events of the story. I found the power struggle between Ralph and Jack an interesting and prevailing topic through out the novel and may have been a factor to why Jack bowed down so low to his satisfactions of savagery.


Title: Invictus

Text Type: Poem

Author: William Henley

“Invictus” by William Henley is a poem about overcoming pain and fear and taking control of your own fate and soul. When the title “Invictus” is translated from Latin it means unconquerable which appropriately sums up the main theme of the poem. William Henley had to overcome extreme pain and suffering when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and had to undergo amputations and surgeries on his legs, becoming bedridden for months in hospital. During the time he was in hospital he wrote the poem “Invictus” and it is possible the author is referring to himself during his time of hardship throughout the text. In the first stanza he describes the night “Black as the pit from pole to pole,”  and how “I [he] thank whatever gods may be For my unconquerable soul” Henley is showing how even in a dark time possibly filled with anguish he is thankful for the fact he has been made capable to deal with it. He continues, in the following stanzas, to describe how he can cope with whatever he is given by saying “I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of chance My head is bloody, but unbowed.” Finally in his last and most famous stanza the poem ends with “It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

The reason the last lines of the poem are so famous is because no matter who it is, universally everyone can relate to the stanza in some way. It is claiming that it doesn’t matter what happens in the end, how you die or what your beliefs are of what occurs after death but the fact that we are the masters of our own souls, we are the ones in control of ourselves. I believe almost anyone can relate to these lines as when we are in a difficult situation whether it is physically or emotionally we must come to the realisation that we can choose to be in control of how the outcome affects us. This realisation that we come to in these situations and is also taught in the poem can give us a feeling of determination and self belief that we often need when we are in any distressing position. From the poem we learn we can overcome any obstacle ourselves and take charge of whether we view our fate as good or bad. The final lines “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” are captivating and enlightening to the reader and this is reinforced by the fact that people such as Nelson Mandela have quoted repeatedly as inspiration to themselves and others through times of hardship.

I found “Invictus” both pleasing and inspiring to read. The message the poem portrays about overcoming “the fell clutch of circumstance” I found personally motivating while the poem itself was delightful to read with the rhyme scheme of “abab cdcd efef ghgh”. The poem gave me a feeling of security knowing that I can know that in any circumstance I have control of how I perceive my fate which can be influenced negatively or positively depending on which way I choose to view things, in the same way William Henley did with his illness.

The Killer in the Pool

Title: The Killer in the Pool

Text Type: Article (Short Text)

Author: Tim Zimmerman (Outside Magazine)

“The Killer in the Pool” by Tim Zimmerman, documents the story of Killer Whales in the circus-animal industry and how this has led to the deaths of their trainers. The author records the tragic details of Dawn Brancheau’s death, then as the article progresses he explains the views of the founders of the unconventional business that is Killer Whale displays in aquariums. Don Goldsberry, the founder of the business, claims “‘We showed the world that killer whales were good animals and all of a sudden people said, ‘Hey, leave these animals alone,’…’I had to make a living.'” The opinions of the coroners throughout the USA is illustrated by Zimmerman in relation to the unceasing deaths of the trainers in the industry. With the guidance of marine biologist Ken Balcomb, Tim Zimmerman’s article goes into great depth about the quality of the orca’s lives when they are wild, even making the comparison “Sealand was like a McDonalds,” referring to the place Tilikum was first held captive and the connection between McDonalds and Sealand is the below standard way of operating. The article “Killer in the Pool” questions the reason Dawn Brancheau, Tilikum the killer whale’s trainer, was killed by the young bull. Some authorities have questioned if the trainer deaths by orcas were essentially murder. However, while reading this text it made me question whether the real murder was keeping these wild animals captive in a “wholly alien world for a wild orca.”

Although considerations have been made about the fact that “Seaworld’s close contact with killer whales over the course of decades has contributed to world’s knowledge to [the marine-science community].” The idea that Goldsberry had made “…the start of a billion-dollar franchise,” cannot hide the truth that is the “…brutal reality of the ‘orca gold rush.'” Zimmerman appropriately captures the views of every side to the complicated issue of killer whale entertainment. Those in favour of Seaworld have tried to justify their captivity of the whales by stating “‘Every year we spend $3 million to $4 million on research and conservation programs outside our park and another $1.5 million on rescuing stranded animals,'” However, how can even this large amount of money be justified when over all “The purchase price was reported to be $2.7 billion. From the facts presented in the text we understand that the hunger for money and profit at such extreme levels can overcome ethics and morality. These ideals to gain money in replacement for ethics are supported whether consciously made or not is made by the audience which go these aquariums for joy and entertainment by the general public. I believe many people would not visit these aquariums if they knew of the horrific treatment and stress placed upon these animals, however many people are unaware if the true details. “Killer in the Pool” informs the reader of the appalling treatment of the whales in a captivating way which I thoroughly enjoyed and could learn from.

While reading this article I became exposed to the horrific details of the lives of the orca whales in captivity and the ordeals the trainers dealt with while trying to tame wild animals. “Killer in the Pool” indicates the idea that these whales are dangerous to be trained and specifically highlights concern for the trainers. However, the concern I got when reading this text was for the below standard quality of life these whales are living. It made me arrive at the same belief many of the public have come to after being “disillusioned with the reality of keeping large, intelligent animals in captivity.” that entertainment or displays of these wild animals should not be accepted as a business. Due to the publicity from this article that is being made as a result of the trainer’s deaths, it has made me believe that there is no place these whales should have to call their home other than in the wild and away from human intervention. Through the information in this article I realise the major drive for this entire industry was the realisation that many founders of unethical businesses have also come to when starting their business, that although it is not morally right to make these companies the drive for money takes priority. The dire ambition of the owners of these companies has become so extreme they are willing to ignore all morals they may have had before, choosing to overlook this with the desire for a better life they believe will come with the money they make.

Personally I thoroughly enjoyed Tim Zimmerman’s article “Killer in the Pool”. I feel enlightened about the gruesome details of an Orcas life in captivity and believe the issues need to be more heavily publicised. The way Zimmerman presented the facts from a neutral position helped the reader gain their own personal perspective being uninfluenced while still gaining the knowledge of the events told in the text.

Hidden Figures

Title: Hidden Figures

Text Type: Movie

Director: Theodore Melfi

“Hidden Figures” directed by Theodore Melfi is a movie about three African-American mathematicians learning to push the boundaries and rules in terms of both mathematics for the space race and in terms of gender and race. The movie is based on the true story of Dorothy Vaughn’s, Mary Jackson’s and Katherine Johnson’s lives in the NASA workforce as “human computers” in the 1960’s. The first scene starts with child prodigy Katherine being moved into classes years above her age, we see the significant moment when Katherine’s teacher hands her the chalk to work out the maths which then occurs later in the movie when Mr Harrison, her boss, hands her the chalk. In these moments the chalk is symbolic when being handed to Katherine as it represents the opportunity and the belief they have in Katherine, being handed to her by her superiors.  All three women begin as human computers in the west computing group, a separate building from the rest of the Langley research centre, for the coloured women workers. Katherine Vaughn is quickly given assignment to the Space Task Group when America “…find [themselves] is second place in a two man race.” and they come around to the way of thinking that “Here at NASA we all pee the same colour.” War often forces revolutions and breakthroughs to occur at increasing speeds and when America realised they were losing the space race but were choosing to ignore half a population which may be the key to success they had to speculate that segregation may not be the answer they had believed it was. Mary is assigned to the engineer group, while Dorothy waits for an answer on earning the role of supervisor. Dorothy is denied the promotion to supervisor, although it is not openly admitted the reason she is not promoted is due to her colour. Rightfully Dorothy feels unfairly discriminated and admits to Mary and Katherine “Don’t get me wrong, any upward movement is movement for us all. It just isn’t movement for me.” When Katherine is introduced to the Space Task Group her supervisor warns “We’ve never had a coloured in here before, Katherine. Don’t embarrass me.” This implies the idea that while at the time it became acknowledged that coloured people were of equal capabilities to whites it did not mean it was accepted that they were equal as humans. The movie progresses as the space race continues and all three women work unanimously as a team, working their way up the race and gender ladder on the way to achieving their country’s goal of sending the first man into space.

As a female I found Hidden Figures inspiring and insightful towards the struggles like-minded women have had to go through to, to get us to where we are now. The fact that in many countries across the globe the idea of having women in the workplace can be overlooked, as it has become commonplace, I believe can be found as a result of women such as the main characters of this movie who demanded it. They knew that “Freedom is never granted to the oppressed. It’s got to be demanded. Taken.” and made every effort they could to be given the freedom of working in any industry, however, more predominantly in the academic work forces of mathematics and the sciences. Personally I can relate to this and appreciate the struggle of these extraordinary women as my main focuses in terms of future careers are mathematics and science which even in current times still have a lack of female representation in the industries. They demanded desegregation because “Separate and equal are not the same thing.” A climax in the text is when Mr Harrison literally breaks down the barriers between the coloured and white, a bathroom sign stating only for the coloured, then exclaiming “There you have it. No more coloured restrooms. No more white restrooms. Just plain old toilets. Here at NASA we all pee the same colour.” After Mr Harrison’s announcement we understand the women’s battles against injustices were not made in vain. I found the movie humbling to learn of the extremities the three main protagonists of the film went to for the rights of women and coloured people alike, such as having to walk half a mile to the nearest restroom appropriated to their colour and gender in order to relieve themselves. Katherine embraced the fact that “Yes, they let women work at NASA and it’s not because they wear skirts it’s because they wear glasses.” and I found this relatable to myself as I want my value to be measured in terms of my intellectual mentality rather than looks or gender. If there is one aspect of the film I have learnt and grown from it would be the previously stated quote as it sums up many of my values and beliefs I maintain for women’s rights.

“Hidden Figures” is a label for the oppressed women that were the foundations of America and NASA’s race to the moon. The title can be literally translated to define the women working at the Langley Research centre who were essentially “hidden figures” from the view of the rest of the world being segregated from the rest of the centre in a separate building named the West Are Computing Division.

“Hidden Figures” exposes the realities for women in the 1960’s and the movement started by women like them and the revolutions that come about due to war. The film presents empowering women role models in high intensity positions achieving the unimaginable. While the storyline “Hidden Figures” presents is groundbreaking the movie in itself is revolutionary casting three strong powerful lead acts as African American black women, the fact that the casting is a revolutionary act proves we still have a long way to go in terms of equality however, “…any upward movement is movement for us all.” I personally found the film relatable as a female striving for an academic life and could relate to the same views of the main characters of “Hidden Figures”. However, I believe any person no matter what gender, colour or beliefs they may have, could relate to this film in some way whether it be in terms of ambition, determination or empowerment to others.

Be Here Now

Title: Be Here Now

Text Type: Documentary (Biography)

Director: Lilibet Foster

“Be Here Now” directed by Lilibet Foster is the biography depicting Andy Whitfeild’s life after being diagnosed with stage four Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Andy had a “…quiet ambition for making things happen in his life,” having just taken on the lead role in the television hit series “Spartacus” and making it in the entertainment industry as a very successful model. After the first season of filming seemed to have ended on a high he received the news of his life threatening cancer. The documentary navigates through the struggles the young family is presented with as Andy and his wife, Vashti, keep a positive outlook on his diagnosis. The vivacious couple decide to throw everything and anything they can get, at his cancer opting for both the unconventional treatments and the typical options such as chemotherapy drugs. Andy struggles with acceptance through the early stages of diagnosis when he has to put his entire career on hold after he had gone “…to all that effort of trying to make it, [Andy] was set and I’ve kind of been mourning the loss of that victory if you like.” Before starting chemo Andy and his father make a spontaneous trip to India where he reconnects on a more spiritual with his body via the traditional Indian healing methods. While in India he gains a much more accepting way of thinking, coming to the realisation while on the River Ganges that problems like cancer are similar to rocks and that “…as it comes up you can see the danger and navigate around it. And so it was a really nice thing to just go ‘I’m gonna go with the flow.'” and “…accept the things you can’t change and do something about the things you can.” Once he had returned to his home in Australia and begun chemotherapy treatment he “…descended into the darkest most oblique depression. And I just could not see an end to it.” Together Andy and Vashti fought the cancer relentlessly embracing every second when he would return to a state of remission, while every time they had to face the uncompromising disease they pushed unrelenting through it without a single moment of hesitation or negativity. Whenever a tough decision about treatment paths occurred Andy always considered what he would like to be able to tell his small children about how hard he tried to fight his cancer. Ultimately his children were a major factor in his decisions, Andy claiming “You’d do anything to be there for your kids and that’s still what I want to do.”

A prevailing theme throughout this documentary was the courage and positivity the family maintained while they pushed through their never ending battle with cancer. I found the strength and perseverance shown throughout their ordeal inspiring and motivating while also slightly baffling. Both Andy and Vashti believe a lot of the fight happens mentally, they choose to never give in to the cancer or think negatively, constantly saying “I [Vashti] don’t believe it’s Andy’s or my destiny for him to leave this life this early through Lymphoma. I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that at all. I feel it in my gut and that’s how it is.” Personally I can relate to this way of thinking as my mum has also been diagnosed with the same cancer to Andy’s and when you’re in a position where you know that medical treatments will not be the end to the cancer, a lot of the battle must come from a more mental perspective and keeping positive throughout the journey. I found the way Andy’s cycles of relapses to the cancer played out in a very similar way to how my mother will have to react with her cancer. So while I see similarities between the two diagnosis’, from watching “Be Here Now” it also makes me want to take away a similar concepts and ways of thinking towards living and fighting cancer that “Right here, right now is today and enjoying today.” While the majority of the time I was watching this visual text I was relating to it in terms of being the person there to support the cancer sufferer I could also take away aspects from “Be Here Right” and apply them to my own life. Whitfield imparts the knowledge “You shouldn’t wait to get cancer before you start to think that way.” and I believe I too have come around to this way of thinking after being indirectly affected by  someone diagnosed with cancer and the new thought processes that occurs with this diagnosis. Methods such as meditation and living more in the moment are a few of the many habits Andy adopts during cancer, claiming he is “Just trynna find some serenity.” Despite being diagnosed with cancer and taking significant blows and changes to his body physically Andy also chooses to change his mentality and way of thinking about life. This mental change he made, embracing life to its fullest potential meant that although Andy was diagnosed with terminal cancer “[He] suspects this was the best year of my life. And for all the downsides of treatments there’s all the joy of being at home and being with my wife and being with my kids.”

The title “Be Here Now” appropriately sums up the way Andy Whitfield chooses to live his life. He chooses to live in the moment and take everything as it comes with an accepting manner to everything. This way of life Andy Whitfield chooses to live is a habit many people in this world could benefit from trying and in this sense for anyone even if they do not know someone with cancer they would find this documentary enlightening and relatable.

“Be Here Now” was an inspiring documentary about the humbling life Andy and his family lived embracing and loving every moment of their time on Earth together. The documentary was very real and honest which meant that any viewer could find the text believable and relatable in different aspects, particularly the way of embracing life. I enjoyed the raw detail the documentary showed where Andy would admit “I’m juggling pain and sanity.” as I believe often texts written about cancer can become to sappy and hide the real detail of the pain and suffering which I know is not the true reality of events, having experienced this within my own family.

Respond now!