Author's Introduction to "A Colorful Feast"

Alicia Young '06, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2005

In Either/Or: A Fragment of Life (1843), Søren Kierkegaard wrote, "Aren't people absurd! They never use the freedoms they do have but demand those they don't; they have freedom of thought, they demand freedom of speech." Such sentiment, combined with my own experiences at Brown University, inspired the following piece.

The subject matter of this piece has been on my mind since I came to Brown three years ago. I'm biracial and, as such, I have the advantage of a kind of Protean viewpoint that allows me to view the recurrent racial debates on campus from both sides. When I began writing about feelings drawn from the incidents described, I found that, though they came from across the board, they were related by the motivations and messages behind them. I drew directly from the works of Joan Didion and Annie Dillard for this piece, which employs both authors' episodic, personalized styles. Didion's The White Album uses incidents from her life in the 1960s in California to paint a picture of the chaotic nonsense that pervaded that era, and I bore that attitude in mind while composing "A Colorful Feast."

Annie Dillard's use of the symbolical grotesque in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek also fed into how I went about writing this piece. Dillard uses one defining experience (the frog devoured by the giant water bug) to help structure the rest of her narrative, just as I do with an incident in one of the dining halls. That incident — that occurred, amazingly, while I was reading Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray — also gave me a basis on which to employ intertextuality as a means to enhance my points. Dillard relies heavily on this method, peppering her work with references to the Bible, Emerson, Wilde, and several other authors.

Bruce Chatwin's sparse style influenced the narrative parts of this essay while Samuel Johnson's use of syntactical mirroring helped me to shape places where the tone shifts from casual to more distant and numinous. Tom Wolfe's "The Pump House Gang" also remained in my head while I wrote because Wolfe moves close to and then away from his subjects, which my speaker does also. I also applied sage writing devices such as anaphora, dialogue, metaphor, varied sentence length, and one-line paragraphs to punctuate my subject matter.

Although this essay is in a sense autobiographical and extremely personal, I hope that readers do not walk away from "A Colorful Feast" with a sense of residual bitterness or anger. I used racism and color lines as a springboard for the larger issue of free thought in this text because I am in a somewhat unique position with regard to that issue. Though those experiences have not always been rosy, I hope they highlight the importance of awareness — especially in a place as politically homogenous as Brown.


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Last modified 17 May 2005