[The Big Smoke reading group]
In "Cooking Lessons," Adrian Matejka presents one of the incidents for which the heavyweight champ, Jack Johnson, was arrested. Johnson speaks to his lover Belle after striking her with his fist.
Strangely, Johnson tells Bell, in short, how grateful she should be. He even mentions that “Shakespeare had a man/play Desdemona, didn't he?” suggesting that men are somehow supposed to give women direction. In this poem, Matejka is revealing Johnson's deeply troubling treatment of women.
What did you think on most regarding "Cooking Lessons," and why? That is, what captured your attention most concerning the poem's main themes or the use of language in the poem, and why did that capture your attention?
Jack Johnson tells his woman Belle to listen to hem when he tells her to do something. He also tells her that she can have anything if she keeps her mouth shut. This reminds me of the Ray Rice incident and how domestic violence still to this day occurs.
The reference to Shakespeare play as the "Man played Desdemona" showing that women couldn't be trusted to do things. Which could be one thing that led to feminist movements.
What concerned me is the fact that he would lay his hand on his woman for not bowing to his every whim. That she should be grateful for all the things even though he abuses her. Jack Johnson's actions were extreme; either she was showered in riches or she was beat. A lot of relationships are similar to Jack and Belle today and this poem helps people understand (individuals that are in this type of relationship) that they are in a bad situation.
Jack Johnson is trying to clarify his reasons for abusing Belle. He than tells her that if she stays with him she can have life's pleasures.
What stood out to me the most about the poem was how honest the author made jack out to be with being abusive to his girlfriend at the time. When author writes " Belle I wouldnt put my hand on you if you'd just do what I say," this shocks me because most abusers would generally say they didnt mean it and it wont happen again. However, this shows the author is potraying Jack felt like he had the right to be abusive, and because he was lavishing her with money everything was ok.
Johnson says "you would already know shark fancies most any other fish. Only with a mean aftertaste-no matter how much butter or lemon the cook uses." I might be interpreting this wrong, but I think Johnson is referring to himself as a "shark" in that quote. He basically saying that he is "top dog" and no one else can compare.
"Cooking Lessons" opens with a strong statement regarding the disrespect that Jack shows toward Belle. "Belle, I wouldn't put my hand on you if you's do what I say" (Matejka 34). Jack Johnson is clearly a controlling and 'hands-on' type of person with his relationship, and also in the ring.
The constant reference to "do what I tell you" caught my attention in a sense that the relationship displayed between Jack and Belle is abusive. She didn't conform to how she should based on his standards, so he raised his hand. This situation shows how many men think that they must constantly in control when in a relationship; which is a weak argument that Jack most likely used as his reasoning.
I think Jack Johnson did not have respect for many women. In "Cooking Lessons", he mentions how Belle should do whatever he asks without question. Johnson really degrades women as a whole and make them seem like servants. He also infers that it is socially acceptable to hit a woman that doesn't obey your every command.
What I found interesting was the reference to Shakespeare and how a man played Desdemona. Well, I found the analogy to be a bit jarring. When plays were preformed during the Elizabethen Era, it was improper for women to play (and uncouth for high class women to even see one--but this is more of a class difference than anything else), and they used younger boys due to their more feminine voices for the lack of female actors.
I personally found it insulting of Shakespeare's work due to his multiple representations of women throughout all of his plays. This sadly does not support his suggestive claims that men are somehow supposed to give women direction. It was a product of the times to which nearly all human beings are at fault.
Personally, I don't like misrepresentations of history. Especially when used to give a "moot" point.
Lucas Reincke said...
I was very concerned for this Belle character and all the abuse that it describes her going through. It makes me think of a time where women had fewer rights than men did, even to the point where it was difficult for women to divorce her husband. But I believe Belle was the daughter of the narrator, so this is illustrating a case of child abuse, which is such a heinous, vial act that unfortunately still goes on today.
I feel its weird that jack would abuse his girlfriend just because she would not do everything he said. It seems abuse is always talked about no matter the times
While reading "Cooking Lessons", the line, "Belle, a woman is still a woman & the female mind is much slower than a man's". This caught my eye because I though that Jack was more intelligent than was was previously quoted. This is believable though because gender roles back in that time were very different.
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