Archive for November, 2013

covertheblackcat

Edgar Allan Poe – with all due respect – is one of the creepiest (if not the creepiest) writers I have ever encountered in my literary studies. With that being said, he is one of my favourite writers for that very reason, also for the fact that I am unlike many of his characters. For instance, I am unlike the narrator in The Tell-Tale Heart who opts to kill an old man due to his eye; I am unlike Montresor (The Cask of Amontillado) who decides to gruesomely take revenge upon another by chaining him behind a wall; and unlike many others who take awkward and often grotesque steps to cure their personal ills.

I use Poe’s The Black Cat for my grade 10 course – it just so happens to not only connect with the theme of my course, but harbours one of the more intriguing topics we discuss (perversity)…but I digress. The story, itself, revolves around a self-described drunk narrator who cuts his cat’s eye out after it bites him on the hand – the next day he decides to kill the cat by hanging it from a tree. His house burns to the ground and he eventually finds a new cat that follows him home to his new place of residence that he and his wife are now forced to inhabit. When he opts to kill the new cat, his wife stops him from doing so. Angered by her interference, he takes an axe and buries it into her head. He sums up this horrific act by walling her body up behind a fake wall in their cellar.

I go to great lengths to connect the literature we read to our own lives. By admission, this is a very difficult story (plot-wise) to connect to real life because of how unlikely the story is to be true. However, a colleague of mine sent me a recent news article that seems to mirror the latter half of Poe’s short story:

When JoAnn Nichols disappeared in 1985, a detective immediately zeroed in on one man: her husband. James Nichols [her husband] was a loner and anti-social…In December [2012], he died of natural causes at the age of 82. When a contractor was hired to clean out the debris-choked house…workers found JoAnn Nichols’ skeletal remains in a container behind a false wall. Officials said she died from a blow to the head. (USA Today. July 3, 2013)

Spooky, right?

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Blind Obedience to Authority

Posted: November 8, 2013 in Education, Humanity

Milgram-Experiment

Milgram’s Experiment (pictured above)

I apologize for my consistent references to Golding’s Lord of the Flies, but it happens to be the cornerstone novel used in my grade 10 English literature course. In my opinion, without the novel there is no course.

Eventually, I draw in some theory work to help explain portions of the novel and put some character actions into perspective. For instance, I show my class the video of Stanley Milgram’s experiment from the early 1960’s on Blind Obedience to Authority. In his experiment, three individuals are involved at one time: The experimenter (Milgram), the “teacher” (a volunteer), and the “student” (another ‘volunteer’ who is working with Milgram). Essentially, Milgram asked a number of volunteers (ranging in age and occupation) to be part of an experiment testing the effects of shock therapy (a lie!) – these volunteers would be made the “teacher.” In this fake experiment (unbeknownst to the “teacher” volunteer), the teacher is given a list of word pairs to read aloud to the “student” volunteer who is behind a partition. If the student gets the word correct, the teacher moves on, but if the student answers incorrectly, the teacher is to administer a shock, which grow in intensity each time.

What the teacher doesn’t know is that the shocks are fake and that the student behind the partition is in on the experiment working with Milgram. Moreover, the student is getting the word pairs incorrect on purpose. Therefore, the fake experiment tests to see of the shock (punishment) will help the student learn the word pairs faster. The REAL experiment is on the teacher. Despite the fact that the student is yelling to stop (fake recorded yells from behind the partition), how much longer will the teacher continue on with the experiment and continue shocking?

Shockingly (no pun intended), 65% of participants continue on and finish the experiment despite the yells to cease. I should mention that many of the participants wished to stop, but Milgram uses four phrases to entice them to continue. (1) Please continue (2) The experiment requires that you continue (3) It is absolutely essential that you continue (4) You have no other choice, you must go on.

Teachers showed a great deal of nervousness by sweating, biting their nails, laughing (in some cases), and fidgeting.

The connection to Lord of the Flies is that eventually some of the stranded boys end up following through on orders from Jack without truly understanding why they are doing it. For instance, they tie up a young boy, Wilfred, on Jack’s orders. Robert tells Roger that Jack wishes to torture Wilfred later and when Roger asks why, Robert responds: “I don’t know. He [Jack] didn’t say.” (Golding, 176). So, the question remains, how far will we go to injure someone simply because we are told to? Does it matter the type of threat we’re under OR how big the person is giving the order OR if the person giving the order is male or female?

It makes me think: If I were watching Jesus’ crucifixion at Golgotha, would I have the courage to step forward to the Romans and stop it despite putting my own life in danger? If I were Albert Speer watching the exterminations in World War II, would I have the courage to stand up to Hitler at the risk of my own life? To be honest, probably not. Where do our morals go in the face of great intimidation and fear? I would certainly be fidgeting, biting my nails, and sweating watching the crucifixion or extermination, yet continuing to watch and not wanting to put my own life in jeopardy. What does that say about me, and most likely, you?