Ghost

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Melissa, Brianna, Cody, Taylor P

Ghost

Noun:

  1. An apparition of a dead person which is believed to show themselves to the living, typically as a nebulous image.

The building is haunted by a ghost of a girl who died here.

 

Verb:

  1. Act as a ghostwriter of (a work)

His memoirs were smoothly ghosted by a journalist.

    1.  Glide smoothly and effortlessly

They ghosted up the river.

  1. End a personal relationship by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication

I told him I wanted to go slow and he started to ghost me.

 

Etymology

Even though the word ghost is only known in the Germanic Languages of the West, it seems to be in a pre-Germanic formation. The word ghost has German and Latin background. In the past ghost has been related to words like angel, spirit, immaterial part of man and incorporeal being. The spelling of ghost with the “gh-” was infrequently used until the middle of the 16th century and was not entirely established before 1590.

Explanations of how the word ‘ghost’ is used in books:

Mean by Myriam Gurba

Mean by Myriam Gurba is a book about a woman describing her life through other people’s stories and her own experiences. Myriam Gurba details her many ghosts throughout the chapters. These ghosts represent a variety of things, from her own trauma to the appropriated trauma of others. Sometimes these ghosts possess her, other times, they run along beside her. Her ghosts take a wide variety of forms. They vary from intrusive thoughts to unrelenting memories. She personifies these symptoms through the example of Sophia. Sophia is always with Gurba—she is ever-present in Mean, much like Gurba’s trauma.

The three most notable ghosts in Mean are Sophia, The Black Dahlia, and Gurba’s trauma. Sophia is the first ghost to be mentioned in the book. In chapter one, we witness her death the same way a bird might’ve witnessed it. Gurba writes, “She lurches, her purse tips, and two receipts sail. A nail file spills. Her toothbrush hits the ground bristles first” (2). The way she describes the receipts falling shows that she was viewing this situation from the outside as a bystander. Gurba brings life to this ghost by showing us the final moments of her passing. She also creates a connection to this ghost that the reader only discovers later in the book. Gurba and Sophia share the same attacker. Gurba and Sophia share a similar trauma. Gurba and Sophia share a ghost. Their ghost is the experience of the assault they both went through. Gurba writes, “We share this thing. . . She and I share a fear of him. We share what it’s like to have him touching us and watching us. . .” (112). This quote shows the mutual feelings they had during both their experiences.

In many ways, Sophia literally haunts Gurba. Gurba says, “Some ghosts listen to the radio through the bodies of the living. They use us to conduct pain, pleasure, music, and meaning. They burden us with feelings that are both ours and theirs” (3). This quote shows how ghosts can still feel emotions and have feelings even though they passed on. Gurba saying ‘burden’ shows that she doesn’t want the presence of Sophia upon her. At one point in the book, Gurba brings in another ghost, The Black Dahlia, to help her cope with Sophia’s presence. The physical manifestation of the Black Dahlia’s ghost in “The Collector” leads me to believe that the ghost’s presence in Mean is more than symbolic. Gurba writes, “I didn’t realize that I was staring at my Sophia surrogate” (159). This quote shows the idea that Gurba has viewed this other grave as a possible peace-offering to Sophia. Gurba going out of her way to see this grave could be her wanting to reconcile with the fact she lived and Sophia didn’t.

In the chapter, “The Post-traumatic Bitch and the Sea”, Gurba attempts to free herself of both The Black Dahlia and Sophia.  Gruba describes, “At the edge of the dry earth, I pulled the bag out of my pocket. I untwisted it, turned it over, and let sand sprinkle into the sea. The sea took it” (161). In this excerpt, Gurba tries to rid herself of the ghost of The Black Dahlia. She releases The Black Dahlia by throwing her memento into the sea.  She does not succeed in freeing herself from Sophia, just as she does not succeed in freeing herself from the trauma. Instead, she learns to live with her ghosts. She lives with her past, she lives with her trauma, she lives with guilt, and she lives with ghosts. Gurba writes, “I wasn’t only trying to get rid of Dahlia. I was trying to free myself from the other ghosts, too” (161). This quote shows how she wants to erase Dahlia from her life which makes her feel like the guilt has been lifted.

Ghosts play a significant role throughout Gurba’s life. Each ghost in this novel was accompanied by a struggle Myriam faced. Sophia represented the assault both the girls went through and beginning of her struggles in life. Gurba thinks, “The privilege of surviving doesn’t feel good. It makes me feel guilty. It makes me not want to enjoy strawberries” (112). This quote shows the type of struggles she felt daily. The negative thoughts towards the strawberries are ironic because they’re seen as sweet and good but now this assault and murder gave them the bad connotation. Dahlia represented the want for escaping the past and the need for growing from the pain she endured. Gurba writes, “I wanted all of it to go back to the sea even though I hadn’t stolen it from the sea” (161). This quote shows the desperate state she was in to get the curse of The Black Dahlia off her chest. The need to have one less ghost and one less weight on her shoulder was immense. Both ghosts affected her life and how she expresses herself and her emotions throughout the book.

 

The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston:

 

The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts was written by Maxine Hong Kingston in an attempt to give the reader insight into her life growing up as a young Chinese girl in America. Being that ghosts are one of the main themes in The Woman Warrior, we already see it in the subtitle of the book. The subtitle is important because it emphasizes the consistent use of ghosts throughout the book. The subtitle also makes the reader uneasy because it suggests that the narrator is surrounded by many ghosts at a young age. Kingston was the first generation in her family to be born in America so her family had many traditional beliefs, particularly ghosts, that made it difficult for her to fit into American society. Kingston often uses ghosts to describe a variety of scenarios where she doesn’t understand something. Her mother also uses ghosts in stories to describe the unknown or actual spirits that come up during a story. In both cases, ghosts seem to embody fear and obstacles that the narrator or storyteller faced.

The narrator grew up in a very traditional Chinese family, and, in the midst of this, never developed a real understanding of American culture. She uses ghosts to describe moments in her life when she was young and easily scared or confused by what is going on around her. One of the more prominent examples of her using ghosts to show her fear is when she says, “But America has been full of ghosts, Taxi Ghosts, Bus Ghosts, Police Ghosts, Fire Ghosts, Reader Ghosts, Tree Trimming Ghosts, Five-and-Dime Ghosts. Once upon a time the world was so thick with ghosts, I could hardly breathe; I could hardly walk, limping my way around the white ghosts and their cars” (Kingston 97). The ghosts are actually different people in an American community, yet she calls them all ghosts because she doesn’t truly know who they are or what they are doing. You can tell that she is afraid by the wording she uses in the last sentence. The narrator states that when the world was thick with ghosts, she could hardly breathe or walk, and that she was limping around the white ghosts and their cars. She makes it seem like the ghosts were suffocating her and like she was injured. At the time she was not suffocating or injured, but the negative terminology indicates that she was very scared of her surroundings.

The narrator’s mother is a very traditional Chinese woman and likes to tell many stories involving ghosts. The narrator describes her mother’s experience with a ghost in medical school in the quote, “It rolled over her and landed bodily on her chest. There it sat. It breathed airlessly, pressing her, sapping her. ‘Oh, no. A sitting ghost,’.” “I’ve heard of you sitting ghosts before. Yes, people have lived to tell about you. You kill babies, you cowards. You have no power over a strong woman” (Kingston 69). In this story, the mother wakes up, trapped in her bed by a “sitting ghost”. It is described as something big and heavy with a thick coat of hair, like an animal. The mother is in a frightening position, and she does everything she can to get out of the situation—  but no matter what she does, she fails, and has to wait until the sitting ghost eventually leaves. She convinces herself over and over that it isn’t that bad of a situation. She uses lessons from her professor about spirits to explain why it was there. When she says, “After life, the rational soul ascends the dragon; the sentient soul descends the dragon. So in the world there can be no ghosts. This thing must have been a fox spirit” (Kingston 71), she is reciting what her professor taught her in order to make the sitting ghost seem less scary and ominous. When the ghost finally leaves and she sees the children in the morning she admits to being scared and she asks the children to “call her back” in case her fear had caused her soul to leave her body.  The children grab her earlobes and chant repeatedly that she won against the ghost and that she has to come home. They are trying to comfort her after a traumatic experience.

Ghosts played a significant role in Kingston’s journey throughout her childhood. The Woman Warrior is ultimately about the power of stories and the ability to overcome hardships. Each ghost in this novel was accompanied by a challenge in which the narrator or her mother had to overcome. One of the final instances of ghosts being used is when the mother refers to the narrator as a “Ho Chi Kuei” (Kingston 204). The literal translation for this term is “good foundation ghost”. The term is an insult that refers specifically to people born in America that have it too easy. The term itself is very serious. This is the last straw, and the narrator is kicked out of her own house. Throughout the entire book, Kingston writes about how life was among ghosts and around her mother’s stories. Yet, now she is referred to as a ghost herself. This indicates that she has become her own obstacle and fear, because soon after, she experiences immediate regret. She repeats her mother’s actions of coping with her fear when she says, “I learned to think that mysteries are for explanation. I enjoy the simplicity. Concrete pours out of my mouth to cover the forests with freeways and sidewalks” (Kingston 204). She eventually grows into an adult using logic to explain phenomena instead of stories and ghosts because it is far less frightening and much less colorful.

Works Cited

“Discover the Story of English More than 600,000 Words, over a Thousand Years.” Home : Oxford English Dictionary, oed.com/.

Gurba, Myriam. Mean. Coffee House Press, 2017.

Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts. Picador Classic, 2015.

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