Sunday, January 17, 2010

Copper Sun

I'm a bit torn on my reaction to Copper Sun. Personally, I found the book fairly easy to read and was certainly appreciative of the insight it delivered into the more gruesome aspects of the slave trade, but as a classroom novel I just don't feel comfortable with the book at all.

For some reason, I have an extremely difficult time accepting this book as an effective method for teaching an adolescent child about slavery. From the very beginning author's note to the afterward portion of the book something about Mrs. Draper's writing concerns me. Reading the article by Louie has only strengthened my opposition to using this book at any level below collegiate students.

Frankly, I thought Mrs. Draper was trying to "sell" herself from the very beginning. Something about the way she introduces herself, personally, is very off-putting. She touts herself as the "granddaughter" of a slave as if it gives her some sort of instant credibility. "My grandfather - not my great-great-grandfather or some long-distant relative- was born a slave.." When the fact is, her grandfather was only a slave until age 5. For all I can remember, so was I. She cannot realistically claim him as some sort of validation, and it seems like she is trying to. The man was 64 when her father was born, which means he would have been pushing 80 by the time she was conceived, never mind old enough to understand any hardships he had undergone. The fact that she even puts it in the book, to me, is a serious detraction from any of the actual hard studying and research she had done to write the novel.

Louie points out that questioning the validity of an author is extremely important. For such an emotional and important subject such as slavery, especially in an area such as this where its roots run deep and its impact is still felt today, I just feel like there must be something better to use as a tool to reach children. Again, I personally enjoyed the novel and I certainly learned some new things about the lives of slaves, but it almost felt like watching a TV series like House or ER. Do all of these medical mysteries and disasters exist? Sure, absolutely, I'm sure of it. Do they ALL happen in the same hospital day after day after day? No. And I find it hard to believe that using such a doomsday story of a slave girl is the best way to get multiculturalism across today. I personally feel like it is more likely to cause division than to celebrate differences and learn from history.

In the town I'm from there are two high schools and to this day if you drive by both of them during a lunch period or anytime students are crowded around you can notice a very distinct racial difference in the schools. One is very much predominately white, and the other has a much larger minority student body. I could not tell you why or how it still happens since segregation is illegal, but its certainly still very much noticeable. I just think that bringing this book into those two environments is not going to be a way of working towards eliminating that. This book is, to me, black versus white. There is not a single white "hero" figure who can be looked at as standing up for what is right, unafraid of consequences, unyielding to the horrible atrocities being committed. Yes, there are decent characters such as Nathan and the Doctor who do help Amari and Polly on their way, but it is a shame that all of them that come to mind are more willing to be beaten in the face with a shovel than just saying "No, this is wrong, and I will not stand for it, even if it is to cost me my life." There were certainly white men and women who did so. Who risked everything to change the way things were. Not putting a single character in the book like that I feel is leaving out a very huge part of the story. If there were no such people I feel like we would still have slavery to this day. And Mrs. Draper certainly wasn't afraid of blood and gore, as evidenced by the scene in which Mr. Davenport shoots an infant child, so where would the harm be in giving a white, middle class reader an empowered hero to connect with. Yes, Polly is certainly white, but she again represents an enslaved populace, something no student today can truly connect with.

Don't get me wrong, I have certainly learned and taken things by reading this novel, but I am also a college student and I feel like my maturity and ability to reach an understanding of the subject is at least slightly more advanced than a middle or lower aged high school student. I love the book, I think its perfect for a collegiate literature class guided by a good instructor, but I certainly would disagree with its use at any other level and strongly push for a more historical-fact based curriculum.