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Title: Annie Mae And The Cockroach /Juxtaposition Of A Photograph From The Book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men By James Agee And Walker Evans And A Picture Of Own Choice/

1534 words - 6 pages

Several weeks ago, after spending an afternoon in the library reading passages from Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans, vexed at myself for not having the slightest idea what I was going to write in my second essay for the AUB 102 course, I decided it would not be bad to stimulate my brain with some coffee. So I went to the vending machine on the second floor and on top of it I suddenly found what I had been looking for. A red, partly eaten apple was left on the machine, which by itself was not so extraordinary and thought-provoking a fact (perhaps someone just forgot it there, hurrying away with hot coffee), had I not noticed a small brown insect, which was later identified as a cockroach, gnawing on the fruit. In other circumstances I would have shrieked with disgust and moved back, but the images of the poor, downtrodden cotton workers from the period of the Great Depression made me see it in a different light. I realized that there were some points in common between the brown creature and the central Alabama tenants photographed by Evans and provided with a story by Agee, one of whom is the woman named Annie Mae Gudger, shown in the picture above.Perhaps at first glance there is nothing that suggests the similarity of the two images, but as John Berger put it in his essay Ways of Seeing, "the way we see things is affected by what we know or believe"(Bartholomae and Petrosky, Ways of Reading 106). Berger implies that the meaning of an image is influenced by its surroundings and the viewers' own ideas and convictions, and gives examples of how the message of a picture can be modified by isolating a detail from it or illustrating it with words and other images. I would have forgotten about the insect on the apple if I had not recognized in its big black eyes staring at me the look of the poor, overstrained tenant woman in a plain unironed dress, who has to struggle daily for her and her family's subsistence and whose future is likely to consist of the same day-for-day life of unrewarding labor, which has evoked in her "a particular automatism, a quiet, apathetic, and inarticulate yet deeply vindictive hatred, and at the same time utter hopelessness" (Agee and Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men 327). Her tired, worn out but yet grave and determined expression with her lower lip puckered, standing against the coarse wooden wall as though she is waiting to be shot, suggests to the viewer that her life is harsh but she will not give up, that she nevertheless has a deep, instinctive desire to live. The roach, aware of my presence and gazing at me, still not moving away from the apple in which it had driven its jaws, seemed to have the same attitude of resistance. Both photographs show images, which we avoid thinking about, which we don't like seeing, which we wish did not exist - the tormented, destitute cotton worker, whose family "lives on ten dollars a month rations money during four months of the year" (Agee and Evans,...

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