Two Cities; One United Nation

Two Cities; One United Nation

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Two Cities; One United Nation: James Nachtwey's "Ground Zero"
And John Updike's "Talk of the Town: September 11th, 2001"

September 11th, 2001 unknowingly changed the nation. That very morning, several members of Al Qaeda hijacked four commercial airplanes. As a result of this evil act, thousands of innocent lives were taken. Two prominent writers, James Nachtwey and John Updike, were able to capture the story and its identical feelings of that day, from two separate boroughs. James Nachtwey wrote “Ground Zero,” and John Updike published a similar essay called “Talk of the Town: September 11th, 2001.”
James Nachtwey was born in Massachusetts and attended Dartmouth College for Political Science and Art History. His first day of work was as a newspaper photographer in New Mexico in 1976. When James Nachtwey takes pictures, he just follows the words of his inner soul. Nachtwey dedicates “himself to documenting wars, conflicts, and critical social issues (jamesnachtwey.com).” Altogether, James Nachtwey has worked in over twenty two countries. Since 1984, he has held a signed contract working for Time Magazine. James is a very prestigious artist and has received many honors for his work.
James Nachtwey’s story “Ground Zero” is a reflection about September 11th. He was in his apartment on South Street, Seaport in Manhattan when he heard a striking sound. After noticing the burning towers, his first instinct was to grab the camera and go on his rooftop. When he arrived, the buildings were being evacuated and most of the people leaving were unharmed. The first tower collapsed and the city filled with smoke and remains. The area was so empty it almost seemed unreal, similar to a fiction movie. While working, the second tower fell. Nachtwey realized if he didn’t relocate he would be killed. He decided to search for safety. He found an empty elevator and went inside. Everything was pitch-black and it became hard to breathe. Having previous experience in combat and real life threats helped him survive and carry on to take pictures of the courageous firemen. Although willing, he realized he was not needed to take the role of a fireman or police officer so he continued taking pictures. The pictures he had taken were so demolished; it looked as if they had been run over.

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He worked day to night and became somewhat ill from all the ash and debris. Nachtwey states that compared to the other wars he has worked with, the troops were very different. This was because they were there only to save and not to kill. Because there was so much chaos, Nachtwey found it was easy to go unnoticed by the firemen, and a bit by the police. He remembers the worst part of that day. He was under the second tower and was about to be covered in a blanket of debris. Nachtwey remembers being in shock, thinking how so much damage was taking place in his city. Time.com published his essay on the internet. 600,000 people viewed it (jamesnachtwey.com). Nachtwey found this to be a complete honor.
World-renowned writer John Updike is known for his creative writing. He was raised in Shillington, Pennsylvania. He graduated as the co-valedictorian and the president of his class. His mother was a writer and his father was a teacher. He attended Harvard University where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree. He also studied drawing for a year at Oxford. On April 1st, 1955, his daughter Elizabeth was born. After returning from England, Updike got a job working for The New Yorker magazine as a reporter for the “Talk of the Town” articles. Soon after, he started creating essays, fiction and poetry that led to the prominent artist he is today.
John Updike’s “essay on the destruction of the World Trade Center, was published in the New Yorker about a week after the attack.” It was called “Talk of the Town: September 11th, 2001.” He was in his tenth-floor apartment in Brooklyn Heights. A babysitter, while in the library, noticed the smoking of the north tower and called 911. Updike and his wife watched the south tower crash. “It fell straight down like an elevator, with a tinkling shiver and a groan of concussion distinct across the mile of air.” At that moment, thousands of people were dying, left and right. A cloud of smoke covered the south part of Manhattan. The images of that day were reenacted on the television over and over again. He talks about the phone calls that must have been made to loved ones; the sound of an airplane playing in his head, and the destruction that mankind is capable of. Updike went back to that very same window the next morning. The city was covered in debris, but the sun was shining. And, “New York looked glorious (Updikehandout).”
Both “Ground Zero” and “Talk of the Town: September 11th” are equally significant. Each piece portrays the mood of sadness and terror that everyone had to experience that day. The main difference between the two is that Nachtwey is a photographer and a writer, but Updike is solely a writer. In both pieces, the writers are located in their apartments. Nachtwey is in Manhattan, and Updike is in Brooklyn. Updike watched the tragic incident from his apartment with his wife, while Nachtwey was on the scene capturing pictures. Nachtwey was most likely affected more by September 11th than Updike. This is because Nachtwey was on the street underneath the burning towers while Updike watched from his apartment window. Being on the scene probably caused him a lot more stress and fear. In both works, the artists experience all of the same emotions. Nachtwey states “It seemed like a movie set from a science-fiction film,” and Updike writes “The nightmare is still on.” This reveals that both writers thought the incident felt completely unreal. Both also witnessed the flaming of the towers, the courageous workers, but most of all the thousands of innocent people dying.
“Ground Zero” is an autobiography. The essay is more of reminiscence piece. He mostly talks about what he was doing and what he saw that day: “When the first tower fell, people ran in panic.” When reading his piece, the reader is able to see what is happening through his eyes and in his perspective. He makes the reader feel as if he/she was actually there. The tone of the story is calm. He demonstrates that it is possible to reminisce about a tragic incident in a peaceful manner. “Talk of the Town” is a short-view essay. The tone of his voice is informative. Updike ponders the actual freedom we have here in the United States: is it an opened door for danger? Enough freedom that allows kamikaze pilots to attend a flying school in Florida? In the essay, the writer describes what is happening as if it could be anyone describing it.
September 11th, 2001, I remember that day clearly. I feel as if it was only a year ago. I was in seventh grade. I was in my Spanish class. An announcement came across our loud speaker. It was not a very precise description of the event, because it was unclear what had really happened at that time. The whole school stopped what they were doing that day. No teacher dared to carry on with their lesson. Everyone was in shock. I went home, and finally got the chance to put on the television for myself. I saw the burning towers. I saw people jumping from the highest floors. But mainly, I felt nothing but complete horror.
All in all, September 11th had an effect on every person in the United States. Our Nation nowadays has more awareness, and particularly more pride than ever before. As the reader can observe, James Nachtwey and John Updike have related views on September 11th. Although one watched from an apartment, and one on the grounds, both writers were able to converse about the story that changed their lives forever.


Works Cited
Nachtwey, James. "Ground Zero." Seeing & Writing 3. Boston: Bedford/St.
Martin's, 2006. 304-307.
Nachtwey, James. James Nachtwey. 9 Nov. 2007.
Updike, John. Class Handout. 12 Oct. 2007.
Yerkes, James. A brief Updike biographical and literary chronology. 12 Feb. 2007.
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