Exploratory Essay: Summary/Analysis/Synthesis

Posted: September 3rd, 2013





Exploratory Essay: Summary/Analysis/Synthesis

Speaking in Tongues

Speaking in Tongues is an essay by Zadie Smith, who is primarily speaking in a posh British accent. The daughter of a black Jamaican woman and a white Englishman, she discusses how she grew up speaking in a different accent than she is now. At a given time, she could converse both accents depending on the situation and her choosing (Smith, 13). As she progressed, her childhood accent would diminish progressively to the point where it completely vanished, and all she was left with was her posh British accent. Smith discusses how she continued to speak in her posh accent; not because that she loathed her background, but because people at Cambridge University spoke in a lettered manner, prompting her to do the same as she also wanted to behave in a similar way. However, when she looks back, she can only feel it more as a loss. Many people speak in only one voice despite sit changing in due time. The remaining few can converse in more than one voice; and according to her, two people come to her mind, Barrack Obama and Shakespeare.

A brilliant author will need to speak in more voices than one, all the while making their stories and works more believable (Smith, 18). Shakespeare was a master in this art. He was so brilliant at it that even four hundred years later people still wonder why he was a catholic in secret despite the fact that he was a protestant publicly. This could also be the reason why some people have a notion that Barrack Obama is a Muslim in secret. Her essay mainly highlights on scenarios where many people find themselves in a conflict “.between voices” just as she did when she was at Cambridge University. Shakespeare, on the other hand, did not find himself in this kind of situation. He grew up in an environment bombarded by both protestant and catholic worlds. Obama also did not experience the same difficulty despite growing up in black and white American customs. For these two men, instead of being engulfed by their situations, they managed to move in between, like tragic mulattos, as she would say.

Many people would view this as a case of being underhanded, but Miss Smith sees this in a different manner. She discusses it as a way of having a broader picture of the world, viewing it as more than it actually is. The environments that come with multiple voices, such as those in the cases of Shakespeare and Obama, as Smith states, make potential shifts in which people experience to a particular degree, into something they would experience as a community on a day-to-day basis.

Everything Has a Name

Everything has a name is a chapter of the book The Story of My life by Helen Keller. Helen talks about how she started incorporating words into her vague world, through the help of her teacher, Anne Sullivan. This was in March 3 the year 1887. Helen Keller had to cope with a predicament of growing up in a world of ‘darkness’. At a tender age of less than two years, she unfortunately came down with a fever that eventually left her with blind and soon after, she was deaf (Behrens 8). In this chapter, she talks about one of one of the days she considers best in her life as she was introduced to Ann Sullivan, who would play a crucial role in unraveling the world to her, but above all, love her.

She talks about how she woke up one morning in her usual routine and stood on the porch, dumb and hazed, uncaring about what the future held for her, as she was too bitter and angry about her fate. She describes her state as a ship in the sea engulfed in a dense fog attempting to find the shore without a compass. Hers is a state of hopelessness, a moving ship with neither any focus nor direction. The flurry of activities in the house on that particular day however gave her the notion that something special was going to happen. As she was standing in the porch contemplating her fate, she felt steps of someone advancing towards her and she stretched out her hand thinking it was her mother. She felt a warm embrace by someone else other than her mother, who she later found out, was Anne. This was the beginning of a journey that would eventually blossom into a successful venture. Nevertheless, it was one filled with its barriers, as she describes it (Behrens 42).

In the next morning, Ann would go on to hand Helen a doll that she later learned was a present from children in an institution with a similar condition as hers. As she was having fun playing with the doll, Miss Sullivan proceeded on to spell the word “d-o-l-l” on her hand. She at first was very interested with this little game as she describes it. She had a very hard time trying to imitate what Miss Sullivan was doing but eventually got the idea, but missed the whole concept. Her teacher was nevertheless patient with her student. They continued in this endeavor as she learned to spell numerous words like, pin, cup and hat. Her progression was remarkable. However, as she notes, she had a lot of trouble attempting to spell water and mug. She became so frustrated that she broke her doll as a means of cooling down her temper. She notes how she did not feel any emotional sorrow or regret, as she says her world was one filled with darkness lacking any emotional sentiment or tenderness.

Miss Sullivan thought of a different approach that proved to be the breakthrough in Helen’s progress. She took her outside to a nearby stream. She directed Helens hand on the running stream, and attempted to spell the word w-a-t-e-r on the other. It was this way that the mystery of language was revealed to Helen. It was at this moment that she realized that ‘everything had a name’ (Behrens 58).

Public and Private Language             

Public and Private language is a story by Richard Rodriguez about a little lad hailing from the Spanish community. This little boy as we later learn is Richard himself. This boy attended a private school where he was tutored on how to converse in the English language. Similar to his siblings, Richard was experiencing a tough time learning to converse in a completely new language. It seemed very strange. While in class, Richard held his restrictions on engaging in the normal daily activities with the rest of the students. He felt out place with the rest of the students who seemingly had mastered the subject more than him.

This feeling took its toll on his performance that it prompted his teachers to pay a visit to his parents in order to discuss their son’s struggling form in learning the language (Rodriguez, 24). They both concluded that the family should attempt to converse in English for most of the time in order to ease their son’s burden in school. Richard’s parents attempted to implement the move despite it being out of their comfort zone, they however did it for their children’s sake. Witnessing other children walking down the street conversing in English made Richard even more frustrated but determined to learn the language. The main hindrance hampering Richards’s progress was the fact that he was shy to speak publicly (Rodriguez, 32). One day in class however, Richard overcame his fear and attempted to answer a question that everybody audibly heard and understood. A great confident feeling overcame Richard as he realized he had overcome his own milestone. He finally realized that he had the ability to learn just like the others and to succeed. Richard knew from that very moment he was an American citizen and was very proud of himself (Rodriguez, 45).


All these three scenarios have real life characters that had to overcome personal barriers in most notably issues to do with language. They are all similar to some extent. Zadie Smith had to contemplate her predicament of dealing in a situation where she regretfully lost a desired ability to converse in two different accents. She uses a historical aplomb to give us an overview of her current state, using adequate examples of Shakespeare and Barrack Obama. Helen Keller on one hand was born with a disability that would seemingly deter her from achieve her goals, but she against all odds managed to succeed in learning language in the most unfortunate of conditions. She uses an imagery strategy to enables us to have a vision of the state that she is in. This is evident in the part where she describes her situation as a ship in a thick fog without bearing. On other hand, Richard Rodriguez had to learn a different language among natives who were accustomed to it. He however managed to learn the language through personal motivation. My thoughts on all these life stories have a bearing on the fact language can prove to be an obstacle in ones progress. However, any one can overcome this obstacle if in the right frame of mind.


Works Cited

Behrens, Katja. Hellen Keller. Augsburg: Weltbild, 2004. Print.

Smith, Zadie. “Speaking in Tongues.” The New York Review of Books. 56.3 (2009): 41. Print.

Rodriguez, Randy A. Richard Rodriguez and the Aesthetics of Transgression. New York: Lang, 2002. Print.

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