Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Student's Take on the Book

This is from Andi, a student at Jamestown Community College, where John, the book's co-author, works:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Shade it Black

For my autobiography/memoir I'm reading Shade it Black by Jess Goodell. I learned about this book last year in my sociology class with John Hearn. We were discussing the effects on war on people, specifically the soldiers, and the subject of suicide. He brought up the website in class and played the song on the site which was depressing. I don't think everyone caught on, but his name was on the website too... he helped Goodell write this book. She was one of his former students.

Goodell writes about what it was like to be a Marine in the Mortuary Affairs. The MA troops had volunteered to go on this mission to collect the bodies of fellow American soldiers. Sometimes in the case of explosions, body parts would be missing. This is where the title Shade it Black comes from. The MA Marines had a piece of paper with an outline of a person's front perspective and the outline of a person's back perspective. The areas of the body that were missing were shaded black. It was a gruesome task and took it's toll on all of the Marines that were involved with this job. They'd smell like the bodies they collected. Whenever it was time to eat the "chow" smelled like the bodies... burnt meat... so meals were either skipped or thrown back up. During high body count periods of time the MA Marines lost weight and during lower body count times the MA Marines would gain a little bit back. Other Marines of different platoons didn't want anything to do with them either. They didn't like the smell and thought that the MA platoon was bad luck.

The author also writes how being a female effects how you're viewed in the Corps, as well. If you can't do something, it isn't because you're weak or out of shape like some of the male troops are. It's because you're female and you just aren't able to do it because you don't have the right "parts" or so to speak. You also can't hang out with any of the male troops alone or agree to workout with any of them or go to lunch with them on base. If you are, everyone starts talking about how you're sleeping with them. Whether you really are or not doesn't matter. You're just automatically labelled a slut. The female Marine lives a lonely, lonely life at camp.

Goodell's tone and style are easy to read. It's not your typical history book explaining life on the war front or anything like that. She's laidback for the most part but serious through out the whole thing. Sometimes she doesn't agree with certain "rituals" or routines the Marines do to fellow Marines but her thoughts are always passionate about issues and her feelings are heartfelt on what it means to be a Marine.

Here are a couple passages that I thought showed her style well:

"The women were assigned nicknames by the men who reminded them of how they were perceived, what they were seen as, names like Legs and Dolly, names that were unshakable and became what the women were called, at least behind their backs. Gender impacted how we referred to one another in a second way: if several of us were discussing a fellow Marine with whom one of us may not be familiar, we'd refer to him by his last name or by his nickname or by his job or unit. But if that person was a woman, we'd identify her as the 'female' this or that. He's, 'Benson, the mechanic.' She's, 'Anderson, the female mechanic.' She's always a female first and a Marine second. That's just the way it was" (25).

"Pineda and I pulled a burnt upper torso from the truck and then removed a leg. Pineda climbed into the cab to collect the rest. He picked up or peeled off every single on of several pieces covering the vehicle's interior... Some of the remains had to be scooped up by putting our hands together as though were were cupping water... When we finished, the contents --the clumps and chunks and pieces and parts -- didn't resemble a human body" (52).

"I believe that every Marine thinks that they are going to die, that it will be a heroic death, one that saves the lives of others. That, however, is a glorified notion, an abstract idea, a vague picture in the mind, a blurry image from a half-remembered movie. We want to save lives, but we haven't grasped what that will entail, and we don't want to grasp it because it may keep us from doing what we have to do. Knowing exactly what our dream involves will make doing it even harder. Well, we, the Marines of the Mortuary Affairs platoon, are the reality to that collective hallucination. While other Marines continue to carry around the dream, we clean up its reality" (60).

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