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September 19, 2011 “The Mountaintop” in The New Yorker Disappointing

September 27, 2011
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 19:  (L-R) Director K...

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While I credit The New Yorker for giving more voice to female writers than it has in the past, I am rather perpetually disgusted by the females chosen to “grace” its pages.  It’s true that if you want to read about the most depressing aspects of human nature, you might read The New Yorker for inspiration.  Long heralded as the white male bastion of human despondency and depravity, in print and illustrated with cartoons, The New Yorker has, in the last few years, given voice to female despair as well.  It’s just that amidst this despair there seems to be preponderance of character studies that lack any real in-depth character analyses.

Take, for example, Michael Schulman’s article, King’s Speech, about Katori Hall, daughter of a former teenaged mother who missed Martin Luther King’s last famous speech because her mother wouldn’t let her go–ostensibly:  ” You know they gonna bomb that church…”  Of course the author, being male, neglects to investigate the interplay of the Carrie Mae Golden, mother to the writer Katori Hall, and Emma, Katori’s grandmother.  Carrie Mae Golden, who is a 15-year old mother of two babies herself, asks her mother if she may go to what ultimately was King’s last speech.  Carrie Mae’s mother refused, and this forgotten interplay between the teenaged mother, with two babies at the tender age of 15, meaning she had to have been a pregnant 13-year old, stops to ask her mother before going out.  Her mother deems going out on this rainy night too dangerous.  But what dichotomy:  a teenaged mother asking her mother if she might go out at night, when it seems that permission for other acts, such as motherhood have already passed by.  And the crux is that Carrie Mae Golden supposedly still regrets not disobeying her mother in this.

There is such uninvestigated social commentary in this little interplay that haunts Carrie Mae for the rest of her life that her daughter, Katori Hall, writes about it and wins multiple awards for her playwright talents.  Michael Schulman neglects to examine this troubled interplay between mother and daughter, or grandmother and daughter, which shrouds Carrie Mae’s adult life in remorse.

“The Mountaintop,” written by Katori Hall, focuses on what she imagines her mother might have said to MLK the night before he is assassinated.  In her musings, Hall writes as though she is still a little girl:  MLK, the great, notices how pretty her mother is, not the teenaged pregnancies or perhaps aura of sexual promiscuity.  Hall imagines MLK as flawed, not her mother, which has garnered her plenty of criticism in conjunction with rave reviews.

There is nothing wrong with portraying the humanity of people who have been worshipped as heroes.  There is nothing more dangerous than imagining humans as gods.

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