Friday, May 29, 2009

the indomitable human spirit

It's been a while since I've blogged about either books or movies. Usually, I'm comparing the book version of something to the film version. This edition will not follow that modus operandi. This one will be a little more like those silly essays we used to write in high school and college, comparing seemingly disparate works to one another. In college, I compared a Nathaniel Hawthorne short story to one by Edgar Allan Poe and then tied that symbolism to Biblical representations of water. It was deep, but quite a stretch. Maybe I'll hunt that down and share it with you this weekend.

Anyhow. On to the analysis. In this corner, wearing Crip blue and throwing up gang signs, we have Stanley Tookie Williams' Blue Rage, Black Redemption. And in the other corner, we have the brilliant Cool Hand Luke, starring Paul Newman.

The mere comparison of these two works must start with a description of the characters. The former, Tookie, is best-known for being a co-founder of the Crips. In his two-part memoir, he rails against his past and what eventually led him to death row. The missteps that led him to prison are many, though until he landed at San Quentin, he had never before been incarcerated. He was a larger than life figure in South Central LA during his lifetime, and that spirit carried over into his life in prison. He refused to submit to the prison culture, maintained his ethics, and turned over a new leaf. He wrote an 8-part children's book series to prevent youth from going down his same stretch of road. His turnaround was so drastic, there was a film made about his prison redemption, and he was repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Prize.

The latter was Luke, a fictitious character, but one with an antiestablishment persona just the same. His refusal to submit to the rules laid out by the sadistic warden at the work camp led to beatings, harder labor, nights spent "in the box"...and earning the respect of all his fellow inmates. He fought the system up until the very end, playing his part with that trademark Newman grin. He wasn't locked up for murder, but his long trial at the work camp tested his mettle just the same.

Tookie & Luke both refused to let their spirits be broken by an inhospitable imprisonment. Tookie stepped into the realm of peacemaker while in prison, refusing to participate as the gang hooligan that took him there. He brokered truces between Bloods & Crips, which few on the streets have even tried, much less succeeded with. All the while, he faced a prison bureaucracy that was out to get him, much like the sadistic warden in Cool Hand Luke. Both spirits of these men were indomitable, unable to be broken. Despite crueler than cruel circumstances, they managed to hold their heads high until the very end.

Queue this movie, check out this book. I don't think you'll be disappointed by either.

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