Michelle's blog

October 6th, 2010

journey motif

Posted by michellemartins in Uncategorized

While reading Colon Whitehead’s essay “Brooklyn Bridge” I found myself finding many similarities between this essay and the novel The Grapes of Wrath. I guess the main reason why I kept relating this essay to the Grapes of Wrath was because of the idea of a journey taking place throughout the essay. In the Grapes of Wrath, the Joads leave everything and journey off to California in search of jobs and the novel explains the struggles that they face along the way. The motif of journey is seen throughout The Grapes of Wrath and similarly the journey motif is seen in “Brooklyn Bridge” by Colon Whitehead.

The piece is written so that Whitehead is telling us a story. This story is about the journey that a women is taking across the Brooklyn Bridge. That’s all right? Is this whole essay just about a girl going over a bridge, crossing over from one side and going to the other? At first you may think so, but as you continue to read on you realize that there is more to this story than someone crossing over a bridge; we discover that this journey over the bridge is so much more.

The piece begins with a women getting onto the bridge. She knows where this bridge leads to. We know this right away from the first lines of the essay, “It’s over there, that striated island, cut up carved out and waiting” (99). When the women gets onto the bridge there is a clear destination, which is Manhattan. She gets onto the bridge with a purpose, which is to get to the other side, and get away from the crowd of immigrants which she is a part of. “Her whole history hordes behind her with its unfashionable are code and immigrant spices”(99) “She steps on the bridge to exit” (100).

Throughout her journey she encounters challenges. These challenges include dealing with the unknown and whether or not she should continue on in her journey, “Up here everything is hazy” (102). She is faced with making decisions as to whether or not she will continue going. “Refugees pass her going the other way and she wonders what they know that she doesn’t. Forsaking what she seeks, concrete walkway becomes wooden slats and less assured” (100). In the end the overall journey isn’t about making it to the other side of the bridge, but rather it is about the knowledge obtained during the course of the journey.

The real reason for the journey is to escape reality and think about the future. It’s about looking forward to what’s to come and realizing that there’s going to be changes. In essence it becomes really a journey through time. Being up on that bridge to this women really becomes an opportunity for her to decide what she wants in life. “Years ago, she picked a window and told herself one day she would live behind that window and watch them walk on the bridge like she walks now” (103). The future is unclear to her and this journey provides her with the opportunity of discovering the changes that are to come. “Closer you get to the other side, the slower you walk. On the other side there is no more dreaming. Just solid ground” (108).

Whitehead also includes other smaller journeys within the story of the journey of this one women. “A couple of years ago he stopped in this very spot, shook his fist at the skyline and declared, You can’t break me. Now he has two kids and a corner office” (103). This provides us with an example of a journey where the person has been successful in changing. However Whitehead also provides us with an example of someone who is unable to change and is paused in their journey. “A man pitched a tent here once and was hauled away. He told the police, I renounce all boroughs. You have the right to remain. You have the right to shout to the gods. If you have no philosophy one will be appointed to you” (105).

Through the journey motif, Whitehead is making a statement about making choices and dealing with the future. The future is unclear and mysterious. People are afraid to approach it since it’s so unknown, they’d rather stay where it’s safe, remain where everything is known. However this is not what life is about, we can try to escape reality and avoid change, but in the end as much as we may try to escape our future, we are brought back to reality.

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