Michelle's blog

September 27th, 2010

“Brooklyn Bridge”, Mumford and Whitehead

Posted by michellemartins in Uncategorized

Considering I’ve never had the experience of getting to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, these experiences about the bridge that I’ve read  have made me really want to go and experience it for myself, although I am a little nervous that my experience won’t be as eventful as these experiences. Now when I think about it, normally when I cross a bridge I don’t focus on the scenery, but rather I focus on the destination ahead of me. I actually ran across the 59th street bridge and instead of taking a moment to look around me and even just to the side and see the scenery, I couldn’t seem to take my eyes off the edge of the bridge and just focus on making it over so I could get a bottle of water. Now I realize that I missed out on a great opportunity to really appreciate the moment and everything around me. I’m glad now that I’ve had the opportunity to read these pieces before having ever gone to the Brooklyn Bridge because now when I do end up going to the Bridge, instead of just focusing on getting over, I can take my time going over and really just enjoy the moment and get the full experience. So when I make my way across the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time I can thank Whitehead and Mumford for opening my eyes up to so many things that I would have neglected otherwise.

Why were Mumford and Whitehead able to express experiences on the Brooklyn Bridge in such a passionate and profound manner? Well it’s because both of these authors present a unique voice within their piece, and their voices are strengthened by their use of motifs. The motifs allowed me to really be able to picture these experiences crossing over the bridge. It made me feel almost as though I was actually in the bodies of the people crossing and I was the one who was crossing over the bridge.

Mumford and Whitehead present different experiences of going over the same bridge. Obviously since it’s the same bridge they’re going to encounter the same scenery, but the way the two authors describe the impact of the journey over the bridge is completely different.

Mumford’s voice seems to change throughout his piece. He describes how he feels about something and then a little bit later his opinion about that same thing has changed. For example, his piece begins by praising ferry rides and putting down any other form of transportation. He believes that all other forms of transportation are taking away from such a wonderful experience. “Everywhere the wholesale commitment to bridges and tunnels across and under the rivers and bays, for the sake of speed alone, is depriving us of this primal source of recreation causing us to go farther in search of enlivening change” (840) Here Mumford is putting down that fact that we are in search of bigger, better, faster. His voice here is angry and critical. Are we giving up something so valuable to us just to make life faster? Shouldn’t we just slow down and enjoy the experience? All of these questions arise, and yet Mumford later goes on to praise the bridges and describes how walking over a bridge can provide you with a similar experience as riding the ferry. “Here was my city, immense, overpowering, flooded with energy and light; there below lay the river and the harbor, catching the last flakes of gold on their waters, with the black tugs, free from their barges, plodding clockward, the ferryboats lumbering from pier to pier” (844). Here Mumford’s voice has clearly shifted. The bridges that he was before describing as something so negative towards the city has now provided him with an experience that has filled him with so many emotions. His voice here seems to echo Walt Whitman with the way he describes the nature and all of the scenery around him. Mumford’s voice is joyful and becomes personal in a more enchanted way. There has been a transition from a negative voice to a rekindled positive voice.

Mumford’s motifs that he presents in his piece reflect his many voices. A motif that is brought up is that of uncertainty and the transition from childhood to manhood. This motif adds to Mumford’s voice because his voice is very unclear throughout the piece, it switches a lot, which reflects the transition from being a child and becoming an adult. “The world; at that moment, opened before me, challenging me, beckoning me, demanding something of me that it would take more than a lifetime to give, but raising all energies by its own vivid promise to a higher patch” (844) At the end of his piece we get a description of how at a moment on the bridge the energy of the whole city transmitted through him and it was an epiphany to him and he was able to drop all of his confusion and finally achieved adulthood.

Whitehead’s piece is presented very differently. Whitehead begins his piece with his voice being conversational. This was successful in catching my attention and drawing me into the text, I felt as though Whitehead was talking to me. “You can always tell the hungry ones by how they move. Case in point, this one approaching the bridge. Her steps give her away: she has appetites” (99) The way Whitehead uses short sentences made me read the paragraph as if there were pauses between each phrase, almost as if Whitehead was expecting an answer in between the thoughts. This to me added to the way the piece felt as if it was a discussion. As the piece continues it becomes more just telling the story of this girl.

Motifs that are brought up throughout this piece include elevation or height. Being off of the ground is an important aspect in this story of crossing over the bridge. Being elevated off of the ground is described as a “spectacular leap of faith” (100). Being off the ground becomes a place where you can just think about everything and slow down your life. “Hardly noticing the gentle lift, but then she looks to the side and she’s waist level to buildings. Up in the air before she knew it.” (100). The transition from being on the ground to being elevated at first is not noticed, but once it is the effects it has upon you makes you not want to leave and just take your time getting across. “Closer you get to the other side, the slower you walk. On the other side there is no more dreaming. Just solid ground.”(108). The idea of not having your feet touching the ground, and being suspended in the air allows for you to escape from the world for a while, so this journey over the bridge provides you with the opportunity to just dream and escape reality, which is why when you begin to approach the end of the bridge you just want to take the longest amount of time possible to get to the end.

So when I do end up walking across the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time I will take my time getting across the bridge. I’ll focus not on where the bridge is going to take me, but rather the beauty around me and enjoy the moments of being elevated off the ground. By doing so who knows maybe I too will have an epiphany and if not even just be able for those moments to just be able to escape reality for a little bit.

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