Comparing Romeo and Juliet and Maxine Hong - Kingston's China Men

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In Maxine Hong - Kingston's China Men a teacher meets students who perceive Romeo and Juliet very differently than is commonly accepted. These students see it as a horror story rather than a tragic love story. What they witness in their real lives (war, death, murder, etc.) affects how they view everything they encounter. Although these students may have a "colored" view, everything that they see in Romeo and Juliet is actually there. They have not imagined anything. They have gone beyond the commonly accepted reading of the play, and have found what lies underneath the surface of all the romance and poetry. However, because they have not examined the romance and poetry in addition to seeing what lies beyond the commonly accepted reading, the story is disturbing to them. The students read Romeo and Juliet and do not see the love story that society would have them see. Instead they examine what lies beyond this. They see a story of secrecy, sex, murder, suicide, and disease. All of these things are found within the play, but are masked by poetry and romance. For example, these students see Romeo and Juliet as a story of "whispering, tiptoeing, making love, and (children) driven mad in the dark." To the "normal" reader this is romantic. It is viewed as a story about the most amazing kind of love imaginable - true love ending in tragedy. What happens around them certainly must affect how the students understand everything. In these students' real lives they are surrounded by war, torture, and death. Horror is a part of their every day lives, and so it becomes a part of them. It manifests itself in their thoughts and ideas. It has even affected their reading of Romeo and Juliet despite their teacher's efforts to show them the other side of the story. Another reason that this play is so disturbing to the students is that the characters in the play are approximately the same age as the students. Because of this, anything that the characters do has a greater meaning to the students. The characters are their peers. Because of the student's everyday experiences they miss the poetry in the play. They have ignored the motive, the tremendous force that drives the characters Romeo and Juliet to do the things found within the play. This force is love. It is the main reason for all actions in the play.

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