In "Gods Go Begging," how does poverty create aberrant conditions from which little can survive and grow? Also, make sure to quote the text and closely analyze the metaphors and symbols, the tone...

In "Gods Go Begging," how does poverty create aberrant conditions from which little can survive and grow?

Also, make sure to quote the text and closely analyze the metaphors and symbols, the tone and/or feeling of each scene demonstrating their connection to each claim/argument.



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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the novel, the author demonstrates the debilitating effect of poverty through the character of Calvin Thibault (whose streetname is Biscuit Boy). As the story progresses, we discover that Calvin has been accused of being an accessory to the murder of two lesbians, Penelope Flyer (a black woman) and Mai Adrong (a Vietnamese woman).

What is particularly heart-wrenching about Calvin's situation is that he lives in the projects and has little access to good education. Essentially, Calvin's illiteracy puts him at the mercy of Inspector Normandie, who browbeats him into signing a confession of his guilt. Calvin doesn't realize that admitting his knowledge of Reggie's intentions implicates him as a murder accomplice. Calvin's lawyer, Jesse Pasadoble, is furious at what Calvin has done; he blames Calvin's lack of discernment on the forces that have engulfed him in deprivation and degradation since his childhood years on Potrero Hill. 

One of Jesse's first acts upon being assigned as Calvin's lawyer is to hand him a book, A Gathering of Old Men, by Ernest J. Gaines. Jesse instructs Calvin to copy a paragraph out of the book to mail to him each week. When they meet, Calvin must discuss why the paragraph resonates with him. Essentially, Jesse wants to teach Calvin the importance of words and how the wrong words can destroy his future. He notes that poverty has crippled Calvin's motivation to better himself.

His was a world without clocks, without books, without schedules, without a reason to wake up, or a good reason to go home at night. It was a world without the need for specificity. In his world, adverbs and similes had been allowed to wither and die and drop from the vine. Past tenses were all but extinct. Like the larger world around his projects, metaphor and symbol had already perished along with literary allusion.

In the passage above, the author uses the metaphor of neglected crops in a bleak environment to explain Calvin's apathy. The "adverbs" and "similes" are like fruits that have been left untended, under-nourished, and abused. In the end, the fruits die, and the field is left barren ("extinct"). Essentially, the fruit of knowledge, intellectual acuity or discernment, cannot flourish in such an unfertilized environment.

"Metaphor" and "symbol" perish along with "literary allusion" because the field of knowledge has been neglected. The author uses agricultural metaphors to make the point that knowledge must be cultivated by a master gardener. He puts Jesse Pasadoble in the role of cultivator, one who will "fertilize" Calvin's mind with the elements that will save him from a hopeless future. Jesse will teach Calvin the meaning of words so that he can navigate his trial with courage and confidence.

Later in the novel, we are given another example of how poverty creates aberrant conditions from which little can grow and survive. The author describes the ghetto as a place where "every gesture, every motive, every word, and every response to a word was an expression or an application of personal force—a gesture of violence, possession, control, or aggression." Poverty creates aberrant conditions because it supports little contemplation or self-examination.

The inhabitants of the ghetto are focused on survival on a physical level, not analysis on an intellectual level. Everyone in Calvin's neighborhood knows that he lives in a "free-fire zone... a place of oral communication only." To survive, one must be street-wise, not book-smart. This "functional illiteracy" fuels the viability of a degenerate mass culture that enslaves the inhabitants of the ghetto in continued poverty. This is why Jesse is so adamant about Calvin getting a good education. He wants Calvin to learn the importance of words so that he can begin to overcome the mental processes that deprive him of success.