Novel Responses

On Beauty

March 14, 2019

In the novel On Beauty by Zadie Smith, there are a few instances of racial tension as the story progresses. The Besley family is mixed; the father is white, the mother is black and their kids are mixed. Just within this main family, there is a lot of racial tension, which one may think wouldn’t really happen as it is an interracial family. The textbook talks about how “Human biology does not divide people into different ‘races’” (pg. 187) and how racism is something that is taught/learned, one would think that two people in an interracial marriage wouldn’t have these thoughts that are as intense as found in the novel. The Besley’s in On Beauty have an uncomfortable amount of racial tension, especially from to the parents, that really makes the story make the reader realize what can happen even in families.

At the start of the novel, the mother, Kiki, tells the youngest child, Levi, that he needs to pull up his pants “just a little… they’re so low… they’re not even covering your ass” (Smith, 9). I personally saw this as tension within Levi as a character. Considering that he is mixed, he has been put into a situation where he needs to find the identity that he wants to use. I recently had to read “Cane” by Jean Toomer for class and we learned how Jean Toomer, a mixed man, had identified as black when writing his book yet later in his life strictly identified as white. Being mixed, as shown in the novel, seems to be difficult to understand who you really are and where you fit in and how you’re allowed to act in society. As shown in our textbook throughout chapter 9, one can see how there is was this prevalent mindset that “white people have power and privilege” (pg. 199) and that black people are “inferior intellectually to the European” (pg. 191). While this mindset isn’t as widespread today, remnants still linger in our society which can make it difficult for someone of both races to pick where they fit in. In Levi’s case, he needs to figure out his identity in the only true way young people know how: experimenting, as he did with his pants. Meanwhile, for Kiki to be the one to say it to Levi instead of Howard, it shows that maybe Kiki had felt that Levi needed to do that for her husbands’ sake rather than anyone else’s.

The father, Howard Besley, doesn’t help with Levi’s situation. Howard, despite being in an interracial marriage, seems to hold a lot of contempt for the fact that his children identify more with black culture than his white culture. In chapter 12 of part 1, Levi’s friend Carl shows up for a part but Howard immediately seems uncomfortable with him. Carl was tattooed and had a basketball with him, as he had just gotten done playing basketball and didn’t want to make the trip home. Howard desperately trying to make up excuses for why Carl couldn’t come in or join their party shows the racial tension within Howard, in my opinion. Howard “turning and pretending to seek his son in the hallway” and saying to Carl that his son “shouldn’t really have been inviting his . . . friends” (pg. 105) really shows that racial tension. While it doesn’t explicitly say that Carl is, in fact, black within this section, the reaction from Howard itself is a clear allusion to it.

In the second part of the book, after Kiki Besley finds out that Howard had been unfaithful to their marriage, Kiki seems to take a very obvious turn in her personality. While it’s pretty obvious that Kiki is a feminist, this wasn’t mentioned until chapter 6 of part two. Within the same chapter, Kiki starts to really analyze her husband for his external appearance, picking out his “thin, papery, Caucasian nortril” (pg. 203). For Kiki’s character to specifically focus on the aspect of his “whiteness”, to me, shows that there had always been a racial struggle within her but was out in full bloom due to the affair. During their argument, she even mentions how the woman Howard cheated on her with, Clair Malcom, was a “little white woman” (pg. 206), which is also proof of some racial tension. Originally, I had thought that maybe Kiki actually had some sort of anguish against her own race because of her husband, but after this argument, I realized that she was actually anguished about the fact that she wasn’t apparently good enough as she was when she knew she was, in fact, good enough.

In conclusion, Howard and Kiki had always held some type of racial tension between each other from the beginning. Howard’s affair didn’t start the tension, but it certainly fueled the fire that was already burning within them. The racial tension not only impacted their relationship as a married couple but also everyone around them, from friends to their own kids. It’s really difficult to imagine being near that situation with the two of them.


Long Essay Question

April 1, 2019

Instructions: Identify what you believe is the most serious problem or crisis facing students today.  Explain your reasons and then place the problem in historical context.  Base your response on engagement with a different student presentation.  Be sure to cite the presentation as needed.  Provide a word count and an MLA works cited.

One of the most serious issues that today’s students are faced with is the debt that comes with higher education. Knowledge is an incredibly important tool and being drowned in debt because of the quest of knowledge is becoming a huge issue. Higher education doesn’t just prepare you for a career field just as “education is not just academic skills” (Histories of American Colleges, 10). Despite the fact that high education teaches a lot of valuable things, loans continue to be the highest source of debt in Americans. In 2018, student loans were at 160% compared to auto loans as the next highest at only 60% (Histories of American Colleges, 27). This is a huge problem as there has been a “157 percent growth since the Great Recession” (Histories of American Colleges, 27). These loan debts can destroy a person’s quality of life, but there is also the issue of funding.

A reason why higher education requires students to take out loans is due to the fact that they need the funding in order to continue. In a 2015 study, funding in regards to higher education has been plummeting since 2008 (Histories of American Colleges, 55). Because of that, the tuition is raised and debt is larger. Not only that but the “funding for prisons and jails have increased by 141%” (Histories of American Colleges, 56). So in conclusion, student debt is an incredibly large crisis occurring in our modern day society and funding for higher education needs to be raised for the sake of our economy and students.

Word Count: 259

Works Cited

Tianran Cheng, Alona Holmes, & Emily Mimbs, “Histories of American College and Universities”, 2019.


Final Group Project

April 26, 2019

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