American Literature: A Quilt of a Country

Time to discuss Annay Quindlen's "A Quilt of a Country." We're going to wrap ourselves up in a cozy quilt to do so, and we highly suggest you do the same. 

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Transcript

00:41

like F's right? nope we're actually going to leap ahead more than 200 years and

00:47

look at an article that was published in Time magazine in 2001...Bet you didn't [Time magazine 2001 edition appears]

00:51

see that coming eh and I still got some tricks up my patches all right next

00:56

question why why are we reading it what does this article have to do with [Person giving Uncle Sam bottle of milk]

01:00

America's formative years why not just leap all the way to Harry Potter the

01:04

Deathly Hallows and be done with it well because this particular article has a

01:08

lot to say about who we are as a nation where we come from, how we've grown over

01:12

the centuries and what we can learn from our past yeah it's almost like there's a

01:17

connection between the stuff people wrote and thought about hundreds of [Thomas Jefferson and modern man wearing helmets]

01:20

years ago and the stuff they write and think about today weird...

01:24

goes along with the whole why should we care thing that we keep harping on just

01:28

because people used to wear powdered wigs and breeches and sign checks with [Man from the past signing with a quill]

01:31

quill pens doesn't mean they weren't roughly the same folks we are...We had the same

01:35

worries, joy's, fears, doubts and passion and they grieve the same way we grieve

01:40

yeah we're about to get serious if you have any light-hearted puns you want to

01:44

put out into the universe now's a good time to get them off your chest..Ana [Man dressed as sailor on a boat]

01:47

Quinlan's article a quilt of a country was written two weeks after the New York

01:51

terrorist attack that devastated the twin towers and resulted in the deaths of

01:54

3,000 innocent people yeah this thing was opposite of a fluff piece

01:58

despite the subject matter though Quinlan's article was hopeful we'll get

02:03

to what it all meant in a sec but for now just ask yourself how would our

02:06

founding fathers have responded if 9/11 had happened on their watch what bound

02:10

people together as the United States was gaining its footing and what binds

02:14

people together today and finally have we grown have we gradually come together

02:18

as a united country over time or have we drifted further apart...

02:22

alright now before we jump into the article a quick note about reading [Time magazine on a duvet]

02:26

modern text as opposed to old yellowed ones you might be thrilled to death

02:29

we're about to read something that was written recently something that won't be [Man on rollercoaster with grim reaper]

02:33

riddled with strange looking words like quartering and brethren and all sorts of

02:36

oddly placed apostrophes but bad news modern texts have their own set of challenges

02:41

The words themselves may look more or less familiar but contemporary stuff

02:45

tends to experiment more with sentence and language structures like writers

02:49

used to have long flowing sentences that ran seamlessly together whereas today

02:53

they like to mix things up for short choppy sentences or expectations by

02:57

using unusual turns of phrase and so on you could still find out those classic

03:01

literary techniques at play, like inference where an idea is suggested or

03:05

hinted at but not said explicitly allusion where an expression makes the [Classic literary techniques examples]

03:09

reader think about something similar or related and pretty much any other

03:12

artistic device under the Sun that would be a cliche yeah you'll find those too...

03:16

as with old texts the job is still roughly the same read it a few times [USA quilt discussing old texts]

03:21

first to respond on a gut level then to summarize and finally to analyze so

03:25

before I run this thing through our mental shredder and then attempt to put [Time magazine goes through brain shredder[

03:29

it back together again keep one pass through just to read and

03:32

enjoy don't even worry about understanding every little concept let

03:35

the words and the author's emotions wash over you like you're on a beach and it's

03:39

high tide and all of your friends are screaming at you to get back to the car [Man laying on beach and friends shout to get back in the car]

03:43

well okay maybe it's still low tide whatever works for you....

04:13

done reading for pleasure great now go back and read it for a displeasure

04:18

okay you can still enjoy it but now focus on understanding what this great

04:22

piece of writing means....summary time let's start by trying to recap each [Clock ticks and article appears on desk]

04:29

paragraph in just a single line alright first paragraph Quinlan is talking

04:33

about America being a mongrel nation built of ever-changing disparate parts

04:36

well a mongrel is either a dog that's a mutt probably not what she's going for or

04:41

a person of mixed descent ah there we go so she's saying were a country made up

04:45

of people from all over the place in the same breath she says were held together

04:49

by the notion that all men are created equal so yeah she's driving home the

04:52

point that we might be different but we're all in this boat together and then [People of US standing on Noah's Ark]

04:56

we get our first and only quilt shout out ah there's where we figure out why

05:01

the author settled on this particular metaphor she's saying that America like

05:04

a quilt is built of bits and pieces that seem discordant so you got this whole

05:09

patchwork of random stuff but when you stitch them all together boom a quilt or [A quilt of the USA flag]

05:14

a country whatever so how would we sum up this paragraph? we'll want to

05:18

incorporate everything we just mentioned how about like a quilt, America is a

05:22

patchwork of unique individuals with different backgrounds all of whom

05:25

contribute equally to the nation's diversity cool moving on in the second

05:29

paragraph there's an immediate gear shift the reality is often quite [Second paragraph highlighted]

05:33

different Quinlan says and then harshes our buzz by bringing up slavery,

05:37

sweatshops, burning crosses you know all that fun stuff so while we have all this

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wonderful diversity we've proven throughout our history that we don't

05:46

always appreciate what we have but silver lining she goes on to say that

05:50

amid all the failures is something spectacularly successful she doesn't

05:55

explain herself yet except to say that in the wake of 9/11 the incredible

05:59

tragedy has caused people to reflect on their blessings so a recap sentence [Summary of second paragraph appears]

06:03

might be something like our nation's history has been rife with tragedy and

06:06

injustice but it is often in the face of such hardship that we become more

06:10

appreciative of the good third paragraph Kinlan says that our nation was founded

06:15

on a conundrum ie something that's at odds

06:18

with itself like a vegan who's trapped inside a meat locker [Vegan man inside a meat locker]

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what is that conundrum well that our nation has a strong focus on both

06:26

community and individualism and it's kind of hard to do both are we out for [Man celebrating]

06:30

ourselves are we out to serve our neighbors who come first and maybe most

06:34

importantly if the roles were reversed what our neighbors do the same for us [Neighbor appears at the door with a pizza]

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that we seek to do for them for the rest of the paragraph were treated to a

06:42

personal anecdote about the author's childhood where she was already well

06:45

aware of how splintered the community was dividing clearly along ethnic lines [Street with different ethnicities either side]

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to sum up we can say America's defining ideals of community and individualism

06:54

are frequently in conflict leading to a sharp and obvious division between

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ethnic groups next one here Quinlan's asking quite a lot of questions so she's

07:03

basically setting up the second half of her article which we hope will provide

07:08

some answers what is the point of this splintered whole.. she asks, she also asked

07:11

how can it be that we all live on the same bit of land interact with one [Man saying hello to woman walking by]

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another even help each other get around and survive and yet at the same time we

07:19

claim to hate one another, often coming to blows or worse but she says

07:24

other countries that become that divided actually divide in other words they

07:28

become two countries not the US though not yet anyway so for this paragraph we

07:34

can say it's hard to imagine the reason that despite all the words and acts of

07:38

hatred aimed at one another we remain united as countrymen paragraph number

07:43

five we get a bit of a history lesson here our disparate parts tend to be held

07:47

together by a common enemy by the fault lines of world wars and the electrified

07:51

fence of communism so yeah she's saying that for a long time we could kind of [Static on a TV screen]

07:55

set aside all our internal squabbles because we had wars to fight and obvious

07:59

enemies to defeat but once all that stuff was over well people were kind of [Person cooking burgers on a barbecue]

08:02

worried that our personal problems would come to light and tear us apart but they

08:07

didn't we retained our national identity how does Quinlan know that's true at the

08:11

end of the paragraph she references terrorism bringing it back to 9/11, it

08:15

was an awful day one of the worst in our history no doubt about it [Twin Tower aftermath rubble]

08:19

but the fact that we were able to pull through it together spoke volumes about

08:23

who we were as a country of Americans let's summarize by saying even when we

08:28

are not facing a common enemy Americans have proven that they can

08:32

overcome ethnic differences to stand together in times of tragedy all right

08:36

let's keep it rollin the next paragraph cites a survey in which nearly everyone

08:40

seemed able to get on board with the idea that the US is a unique country

08:44

that stands for something special in the world maybe it stands for unique and

08:48

[Russia flag appears] special but yea Quinlan goes on to suggest that there's the undercurrent of

08:52

a philosophy running through American culture which basically says hey

08:56

America's diverse always going to be that way you might be one country but

08:59

we're always going to be divided our national character takes a hit because [Boxer punches statue of liberty]

09:03

how can we ever have a single identity with so much disparity, Batman knows

09:07

what we're talking about he never could swing the single identity thing ever [Batman stood in his cave]

09:11

so in short this paragraph is saying Americans have learned to live together

09:15

but because of the lines drawn due to ethnic and cultural differences it is

09:19

difficult to define a single overarching national character okay we're getting

09:24

there paragraph number seven proposes two [Paragraph 7 highlighted]

09:26

reasons why we might actually be a united people able to accept immigrants

09:31

despite what she said in the previous paragraph first there's just something

09:35

about the American psyche that loves the the difficult, the demanding that sees

09:39

mastering the impossible as a test of character so rather than be bummed out

09:44

that we have to cohabitate with all these others we see it as a challenge [People sitting on a boat]

09:48

for us to meet head-on and to overcome and second there's a grudging fairness

09:52

how generous, that leads most to admit that the new immigrants are not so

09:56

different from our own parents or grandparents well yeah if our ancestors

10:00

never came over on a boat we wouldn't be here so how can you hate on somebody [Ancestors sailing a boat to the US]

10:04

who's doing the same thing recap despite their issues with immigrants other

10:08

Americans are able to feel a sense of unity with them because for one thing

10:12

they look at the challenge of accepting differences as a test of their character

10:16

and for another they recognize that they came from immigrants themselves okay

10:21

final paragraph - Quinlan takes issue with the word tolerance we're not tolerating

10:26

immigrants like they're an in-law who's staying at our house for three more days [Father-in-law walks in to room]

10:29

so she feels a more fitting word is patriotism in the sense that we take

10:33

pride in our unlikely ability to throw all of us together in a country that is

10:37

different as a dozen countries and still able to call

10:40

it by one name and of course she's got to bring it back around to the World

10:44

Trade Center and the attack and our mongrel nation the faces that looked upon [Man helping survivor of terrorist attack]

10:48

all that devastation and sadness of that day were all different colors but the

10:53

sadness and the determination written clearly on every one of those faces

10:57

formed a single spirit to sum up American patriotism allows us to do more

11:02

than just tolerate our immigrant countrymen but to truly unite thanks to

11:06

our shared experiences and common spirit interestingly no more mentions of the

11:11

quilt metaphor all she had to do was throw it out there once and the point

11:14

was made all right believe it or not we can go even deeper into this thing so [Quilt of US flag discussing article]

11:19

now that you understand what the article is saying, read it one last time and

11:23

give it a thorough analysis ask yourself some of these questions...

11:27

what is Quindlen's overall claim how does she support that claim

11:30

to what extent does the reality of American and Americans live up to the

11:35

ideals within declaration in the Constitution why does Quindlen think we

11:40

should even strive for out of many one how do you think Quindlen would feel about

11:44

our view and treatment of immigrants today compared to back in 2001 has it

11:50

gotten better, worse or stayed the same and these are just some starter

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questions I'm sure a bunch more will occur to you as you go if nothing comes

11:58

to you that's alright too I didn't mean to send you on a quilt

12:01

trip [Quilt of US flag telling a joke]