The letter of historical note that I read was from Benjamin Franklin in 1772. I found a lot of things very interesting about this letter especially for this time period. For example, Franklin used the pen name Silence Dogood in his letter and his alter ego wrote from the perspective of a woman. One reason this is interesting to me is because he wrote as if he was a woman during a time when it would’ve have been easier or better to get something published as a man. I’m wondering why he didn’t pick another male name or even make it anonymous. Yet at the same time he did have to use this fake name for a reason. It was because his brother wouldn’t publish Franklins work in his newspaper. I found this weird because they were brothers and that seems like something family would do for each other although I can see how there could be competition with this. From doing research I found out his brother, James Franklin, denied to publish his letters several times when he used his real name. I was also wondering why did he focus so much on this newspaper in particular when he could have probably gone somewhere else and gotten his work in under his own name. I’m wondering if he may have wanted to write from another perspective in the first place. He does a good job of covering up his real identity as he makes Silence Dogood’s background much different from his own. Another thing I found out was Benjamin Franklin was 16 and working as an apprentice to his brother when he wrote the letter. It seems hard to believe that a 16 year old could write so well from a perspective so unlike his own. I think it shows he was able to pay attention to details about other people which is what made the letters so good and believable. Another thing I’m thinking about is people didn’t live very long back then so maybe 16 was basically like being an adult. It’s interesting that people were able to do such amazing things then because now even with all the resources and technology we have, people aren’t always able to do work like that especially at that age. I think that in a way Franklin can be seen as an activist for women because even though it wasn’t his own life he was writing about he was able to communicate in a way what women were going through during that time.
Journal Entry #1:
She went missing out of nowhere. It’s been a week and nobody has been able to find her yet. This isn’t like her. She’s not the kind of person to just leave and not tell anyone where she’s going. No one could even find a note. Nothing seemed very wrong with her. For the most part, she was a happy girl with not many problems. At least not big problems that would cause her to leave like this. I’m hoping that is what happened and it wasn’t something like a kidnapping. I don’t even know where she would go. And why didn’t she tell me anything? I thought we were friends. We talked a lot about all the different things in our lives. This makes me think she didn’t leave willingly.
Everyone in the town is counting on me to solve the mystery as I seem to be the closest person to her here. She has no other family in town or in the area that I know of. Tomorrow morning I will go to her house to look for clues. The police have already been there but weren’t able to find anything. Knowing her well, I assume I’ll be able to help them or find something myself.
As I write in my journal I realize no one really seems to care about her disappearance as much as I do. The community in the town only looked for a few hours and then decided to give up. I tried to get them to go back out and help me but they all went back to whatever seemed more important to them. I would have helped them. And I know they would want people to help them if they were in the same situation.
I need to prepare myself for tomorrow. I’m not sure what could happen. It’s very dark outside and I should probably go to sleep soon. Once again I am very thankful for this journal which has helped me so much to remember and reflect on my life. As I flip through the pages I see so many entries about me and her. For a second I forget about what is going on but I quickly snap back to reality. It would be so upsetting if I never get to write about another fond memory with her.
Journal Entry #2:
I just got back from her house. It looks like how it always did. I will try to describe everything I did and saw to the best of my ability. She’s very organized and put together and that can be seen throughout her home. Plus she doesn’t live with anyone which definitely helps it to stay so tidy. I walked in, expecting her to greet me at the entrance. But there was just silence. She never locked her front door. That was normal for the area. Everyone felt safe and we barely had any problems. You could say that the police were often bored. Yet now there was a real problem and they weren’t doing anything. I couldn’t understand it. After entering the house, I went to the kitchen first. Nothing seemed different. Next, I went to her bedroom. All her clothes were still there. Or at least it looked like it. I opened the dresser drawers and containers she had around her room. Nothing seemed weird or suspicious. I went over to the window and pushed the curtains aside. Looking through the window I saw that her car was still there in the driveway. I could tell it hadn’t been used in a while. There were leaves and nature covering it. I looked down the street. It was very quiet outside. No one seemed to be out walking or in their backyard.
The last place I went to check was the basement. It was where her office was and where she kept a lot of things in storage. The office door was closed. I nervously and slowly opened it. I looked into the room. Everything seemed the same. I walked into the middle of the room and looked around trying to decide where I would start my search for clues. There were so many file cabinets and shelves to go through. Almost every part of every surface was covered. There was a cork board on the wall near the desk. It had pictures of a lot of the places she had traveled to. Or at least that’s what I thought. Maybe she was on her way to these places. I took the pushpins out of the photos and put the pictures in my pocket. This was where I was going to start. I shut the office door, left the house, and went home.
Journal Entry #3:
Two weeks later
It’s been a while since I’ve written in here. I have been so busy and have had no time for writing as much as I wanted to. But I feel the need to update this journal. I couldn’t identify the places by myself even after attempting various types of research. I ended up showing them to a friend I knew in another town who travels a lot. He was able to recognize some of the places and told me they weren’t too far away. I got directions off the internet and drove to what would be my first of many stops.
The drive seemed really long but maybe that was because I was so scared of what I was possibly going to find. From the picture, the first place seemed to be a small town. Pulling up in the car, that’s exactly what I saw. It was quiet and maybe even smaller than the town we lived in. I got out of the car and looked around. I remember feeling really cold yet the weather wasn’t much different from where I had come from. I had printed a picture of my friend to show people and ask if they had seen her. The first few people I asked had not seen her and proceeded to walk away quickly. No one offered to help me in my search even though they could tell I was from out of town. I just got strange glances and I felt very unwelcomed. I wondered if these people were hiding anything. Yet the town was so small I’m sure everyone knew everything that was going on. The people who talked basically all had the same story of the past few months. They said no new people had come to town or at least any that they noticed. I thanked the people who were willing to talk and eventually got back into my car to drive home.
I was so frustrated at everything. Every minute I was getting more and more worried. I couldn’t be the only person who cared yet it felt like I was. I didn’t want to stop looking so I ended up spending the next few days driving across the state feeling very determined. I had the list of all the addresses my friend could identify with me so I went from place to place. Each town had a similar answer. No one had seen her. I decided it would be best if I went back home and maybe she’d be there. I was losing all my hope and felt like I may just need to give up. I didn’t want to give up. Even with all the places I had been to, my investigation was going nowhere.
So I returned home, not realizing how far I had actually gone. I had been sleeping in the back row of my car and I was exhausted. I ended up sleeping for almost a whole day. I would’ve kept sleeping but there was a loud knock on my front door. I went downstairs and looked through the peephole. No one was there. I stepped outside and looked around. I didn’t see anyone. It was really strange. And then I wondered if it was her. It seemed very unlikely. Maybe I was going crazy from all the driving.
For the next few days, I went back to my normal routine, hoping she would appear without me having to do anything else. Nothing happened.
Journal Entry #4:
One month later
I stopped journaling. It was becoming too hard to write about anything and I didn’t feel like I had anything good or exciting to write about. But here I am starting it up again. I wanted to make sure I was keeping track of the story of my missing friend as painful as it is to write about.
After about two weeks I started to fear for the worst. I was eventually able to get in contact with her family from out of town and they came to help me. They agreed with me that this was very unlike her and told me they had no contact with her either. In a way, I was kind of happy because I finally had people who wanted to help me and also cared about her. I told them everything I had done so far and they thanked me many times. We all stayed in her house and I felt guilty about messing up how perfect it looked.
The first night staying at the house together was strange for many reasons. We all just sat there in silence, not knowing what to talk about and not wanting to talk about the current situation. Then it happened again. A knock on the door but no one was there. I told the family how I thought that had happened to me a few weeks ago. We ignored it and went to sleep. But maybe that wasn’t the best idea.
The next morning we made a plan. We would go through the house again in case we missed anything. I went through her personal belongings and felt bad about it even though I thought I was trying to help her. The whole day was spent basically tearing the house apart and making a mess. Later, I made sure I went to the office to put the pictures back up hopefully close to where they originally were. The day ended with us sharing the things we had found and wondering if it could have any connection to the disappearance. We had several ideas of what to do next but we weren’t sure if they really made sense. Some seemed hard to accomplish especially with such a little team and so few resources.
Journal Entry #5:
Last night ended with us making plans for our next move but now we don’t them. Although I’m less relieved than I thought I would be. She didn’t come back but we heard from her which is a great start. We can figure out how to find her location on the phone. She called her home phone and we all scrambled for it. No one had called the house in a while. She asked to talk to only me. I was so surprised. Before I could even say anything she told me not to tell anyone about our conversation. I tried to argue with her but she wouldn’t listen. So I think I’m being a good friend and listening to her request. I thought maybe it would make her come back. I didn’t ask questions even though I wanted to. I just listened to her speak and enjoyed hearing her voice again. Finally, she told me to tell her family that she was fine and there was no need to worry about her. I told them what she said and as much as it hurt it keep the truth from them I did it. I don’t truly know why I did. They became angry with me and ended up leaving. I was the only person who knew the truth.
Journal Entry #6:
Several years later
She never came back and I never told anyone no matter how much they pressured me. I knew what I was doing was wrong and it started to hurt keeping this secret. I thought about how I was probably doing more damage than good. She was my friend and I knew where she was but didn’t do anything about it. I can still remember how she sounded in the last conversation we had several years ago. She sounded normal to me. I was also mad at myself for being so quiet and not asking her any questions. I still keep going back and forth trying to figure out if that was the right thing to do. Maybe one day I will send her this journal. So she sees that someone did try to look for her and thought almost constantly about her. Although I think she told me the full story, her mystery is always in the back of my mind. She hasn’t called since.
For the research paper, I am interested in looking more into letters between people in relationships whether it is a romantic love letter, friends, or people who are pen pals. I think I want my main question to be about how letter-writing affects relationships between people for the better or worse. I think how much people are willing to share shows how strong a relationship is or how strong a person may want it to be. It would also be interesting to analyze the tone or theme in the letters over time to see if and how they change. I will use the resources I was already provided and look into finding more examples of letters that show strong or valuable relationships. For information on love letters, from class, I can use My Dear Bessie and the love letters to strangers. For pen pal relationships I can look at 84 Charing Cross Road and also find more examples. Another idea I have would be looking into more letters that are similar to the one Kurt Vonnegut wrote to a school board. I would want to see why certain letters are written and what is the impact for both the writer and the person receiving them. I also want to see if writing letters has been a persuasive technique for people who are trying to prove a point or get something done. I would look at who is receiving the letter and why they are receiving it, the audience it is shared with, and what actions happen after people read it. It would be interesting to look at letters from history during important events and see how letters played a role in them. One letter that comes to mind is Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. I could talk about why he wrote it to certain people, what was it in response to, and how it got out to the public. I could even be more specific in my overall topic and focus on a single time period such as letters from the civil rights movement in the 1960s. It would also be interesting though to see look at letters from different time periods and see if they were effective in those different time periods.
We read a letter from Kurt Vonnegut to a high schools head of the school board for demanding his book, Slaughterhouse-Five be burned. Before reading the letter based on what a classmate already knew about Vonnegut, we expected the letter to be harsher and less controlled as we learned that Vonnegut wasn’t afraid to voice his opinions. After reading the letter, we realized it was different in some ways from his normal approach to writing. For example, he made his point very clear but he did so in a mostly mature and calm way. Another important part of the letter was the fact that Vonnegut emphasized he is real. He did this by talking about his experience with his own family and that they turned out fine even though they were exposed to certain themes some people think children shouldn’t be exposed to. He argues that exposing children to certain themes or ideas won’t make them monsters or bad people and it’s important to show children all ideas instead of hiding them. Also when Vonnegut says, “I am writing this letter to let you know how real I am.” he does so as a way of saying he is a real person. He also says this because he thinks you wouldn’t burn someone’s work in front of them and the reason why the school did this is because they don’t really know or have the wrong idea of who Vonnegut is. This is why he almost has to prove he is real by giving examples of things real people do like raise a family. As mature as the letter is it also feels sort of threatening. In some parts of the letter, I think he is implying he could do things if he needed to. He does this by writing about how he is a big and tall man that knows how to use tools and has a Purple Heart. I don’t think he would think violence is the answer but it just adds to the idea of him being a real person. Class this week was also focused on reading epistolary fiction. One of the stories I read was A Wilderness Station by Alice Munro. One thing I found interesting about this story was all the characters had letters written to or from them except for Simon, who was killed. I’m wondering why the author chose not to add anything from him before he died. I think it would have been helpful to know more about the relationships between Simon and his brother and wife from his perspective. The story left me with a lot of questions like what did Annie and George talk about when they met up after all those years? I think it is supposed to be up to the reader’s interpretation but I’m still curious about what the author had in mind for this part and other mysterious parts of the story. I liked that there could be various ideas of who killed Simon and you have to use whatever evidence is in the letters to form your opinion. Plus we don’t know what if anything is being left out. It is also helpful to hear from most of the characters’ perspectives instead of just having one main character.
This week we focused on reading and discussing several different love letters. It was a really interesting experience. I felt very moved by letters even though they had nothing to do with me and were not written for me. I don’t usually think of myself as a very romantic person or someone who is into romance but listening to the My Dear Bessie letters being read aloud really captured my attention. It’s interesting how you can get so involved or interested in a story that you have no part in. As it was seen in the letters between Bessie and Chris, having a crush or loving someone can be sort of crazy. Through personal experience and friends I have realized it’s possible to become almost obsessed with a person or even the idea of them. Once you get someone in your head it can be hard to get them out or not think about them when you see or hear something. Everything seems to remind you of that person or makes you think of them. I enjoyed this love story because it was real and worked out in the end even with all the challenges which is not very common today. It shows that maybe space can be a good thing in relationships and not just in romantic ones. While listening to the letters being read I was taking notes on what each person was saying to the other. I noticed that towards the beginning the man, Chris, was very strong with his feelings and word choice which was interesting because he hadn’t seen or been with Bessie in a long time. At first, Bessie was a little more hesitant but you can see that over the course of the letters she starts to fall in love with him too. It was almost like he wanted to convince her or was pressuring her to like him because he was saying such big romantic things to her. This is understandable in a way because he was off at war and basically alone so he wanted to feel close to someone. Bessie says at one point she is overwhelmed which could be both a positive and negative thing. I think there is no such thing as perfect love which can be seen through this story and many other true love stories but the overwhelming feeling she had makes sense. They were both feeling so many different emotions about themselves and each other at once. It was also really nice to be able to sit there and listen to the letters and be able to think of someone you would want to say similar things to.
When do we lose hope if ever? Can we ever lose hope completely? These questions may never have answers but it has been shown that humans can be hopeful in dark times. This was especially true during the period of World War II. To a large extent throughout events in World War II such as the Holocaust and the internment of Japanese people and through the use of propaganda it has been seen that even in the most tragic or terrible situations people have been able to stay hopeful or positive even when they have no idea what could happen. Although there were many different forms of communication during the war it wasn’t always completely honest with the people it was going to. In both letters and propaganda, there could be information being left out to make people such as the reader or viewer feel better or secure. Although in most situations it is better to be honest, the writers of the letters and the makers of the propaganda were able to keep hope alive both for themselves and their audience by omitting certain information. The difference was the size of the audience. Letters were going to smaller audiences such as family and friends while propaganda was given to a broader audience of many different people.
One common theme that stood out from looking at several of the last letters from people in the Holocaust was hope. In her final letter to her sister, Ida Goldis goes back and forth from having hope to losing it. “I hoped that we would see each other again, but now I have lost all hope.” (Goldis, 1941). Goldis knew the situation she was in yet was able to still at least say she had hope. She could have been doing this both for herself and for her family, her audience, in this case. Even though she wrote about having hope she still could have decided not to share some details of what was going on in her letter because she didn’t want to worry her family more. She also might have been trying to reassure herself or realizing the situation she is in and trying not to be too hopeful. It raises the question that, especially in life or death situations, is thinking about the future a more positive or negative thing to do. The future she is hoping for is unlikely to be attainable and she seems to realize that. In this case, although she is still in a bad situation, it may be better to live in the moment than to think about what’s next and all the possibilities. At the end of the letter, Goldis switches her tone to be more positive and almost says to disregard what she wrote above. “p.s. Clara darling, for the second time within the last two days our departure has been postponed for twenty-four hours, so there is still hope that we will be saved. Do not be tormented by what I have written.” (Goldis, 1941). Again she is not only hoping for her safety but trying to protect her family from the things she wrote about.
The positive seeming tone throughout Fusa Tsumagari’s letter makes it a little hard to believe she was in an internment camp when she wrote it. Yet at the same time, she was also very aware of her situation. “We are all getting used to the weather and dust and beginning to think that it isn’t such a bad place after all.” (Tsumagari, 1942). The positivity can be due to many reasons. In this case, it’s either due to her trying to stay hopeful for herself and the people she is writing to or it’s because she’s young. It seems more like the first reason. It doesn’t seem possible that a person could truly feel happy in this situation. Tsumagari was writing letters to Clara Breed, a librarian that wrote to many Japanese children while they were in internment camps. She supported them during a time when they didn’t have many people who cared for their well-being. Tsumagari’s punctuation and word choice throughout her letter also add to the positive tone. Still, this doesn’t mean she is being truthful. “It seems as though my life is going through a thorough transformation!” (Tsumagari, 1942). There is no way of truly knowing if she seriously meant this or not because there wasn’t any face-to-face communication. This makes it hard to tell how she was really feeling. This is a difficult thing about this period because no one was reading their letter aloud so the person receiving it had to figure it out on their own. The letters written to Clara Breed were from kids and teenagers so it could be possible she doesn’t fully understand the situation. Yet if a person is saying they are doing well in a situation where the other person isn’t with them and can’t see what is happening then they are likely to be trying to make themself or the other person feel better.
Propaganda had many purposes during World War II and one of those was to make things seem better than they were, possibly creating a false sense of hope. Although it is important to be truthful, there could be both positive and negative consequences for doing this. It raises the question of whether protecting people or exposing people to the realities of war is better. It also raises the question that maybe in a time when people need to come together for the greater good should whatever is necessary be done. To what extent is it ok to lie to people if it’s protecting them? Some people must have thought things weren’t as bad as they were because they were not able to see the casualties. Plus the Office of War Information restricted certain information. A goal of propaganda is targeting people’s emotions and it was able to do so. If someone is trying hard to make something look a certain way you may start to believe them the more they can do. “Even those aware of the manipulation still felt propaganda’s pull.” (“Communication: Propaganda,” n.d.). It can be hard to have your own thoughts when everyone or everything around you is trying to get you to think a certain way. It can be seen in the definition that propaganda isn’t always truthful. “During the war that message often fell within the definition of propaganda: the deliberate spread of facts or ideas to aid one’s cause or hinder another’s.” (“Communication: Propaganda,” n.d.). Every country involved in the war used propaganda and one of the reasons was they wanted everyone behind them and to believe in them even if they were doing awful things. It shows how people can be persuaded and follow a message even though it may not be true. Although it could be helpful it isn’t right if the message people are receiving is different from what is happening.
Hope can be maintained in many ways. In this case, during World War II hope was maintained through letters and propaganda. Although the two are different forms of communication they are similar in that both can leave out details to make people or the audience feel a certain way. In propaganda, it’s done to make one group or situation seem better or worse while in letters it’s done to make the person receiving or writing it feel better about the terrible circumstances they are in. It goes back to the earlier question of to what extent is it ok to lie to people to protect them? How much was the truth and how many lies were told? In some situations, it may be better to lie and create a false sense of hope so it seems like there is less to worry about.
This period is a great example of the power of having hope and the importance it has in making people feel some form of safety in unknown or dangerous situations. Writing letters was also very important to this time and without it people now would not be able to gain so many perspectives and knowledge about the different groups being affected. The letters show us a first-hand account of what was happening or what people were thinking at that point at the time. It’s so important to remember and preserve our history so we can both learn from it and make sure certain events never get repeated. A letter can also be hard to decipher because it isn’t being said aloud. What the writer says in their letters especially during this time is so important. This is because the reader had to interpret their tone or words just based on words on paper since there was no possibility for in-person communication in many situations. Only the writer truly knows what is going on and can explain themself but unfortunately, people like Ida Goldis were unable to do so. Even now are we with ourselves and others?