Isaiah Broomfield, a junior at South Effingham High School, won the Class AAA state title for boys essay at the recent Georgia High School Association Literary Meet held at Houston County High School. Broomfield was the only Effingham County student to advance to the state competition.
Literary coordinator Ray Ellis took 10 SEHS students to the region competition at Cross Creek High School in Augusta. In addition to Broomfield placing first at region in boys’ essay, Brittany Brown placed second in girls’ dramatic interpretation, Nick Wright placed third in boys’ dramatic interpretation and Harley Rousch placed fourth in extemporaneous speaking.
Although he has always enjoyed reading and writing, Broomfield, who eventually wants to attend Emory University and become a political science teacher, said he had never entered an essay contest prior to the region meet. He did, however, score a perfect 100 on the Georgia High School Writing Test that he took recently. Broomfield said he was surprised when he won first place at region and “really surprised” when he won first place at state.
“While we were waiting (three hours) at state for the judges to score our essays,” explained Broomfield, “I overheard someone who left comment on how eloquent another student’s essay sounded. This intimidated me a little bit, but I ended up beating that guy by one point!”
The boys’ essay competition consists of choosing one of the three topics provided and writing a response within a two-hour time period. Isaiah chose to write an essay on the following literary topic as presented by the GHSA:
In Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening” (1899), protagonist Edna Pontellier is said to possess “that outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions.” In a novel or play that you have studied, identify a character that conforms outwardly while questioning inwardly. Then write an essay in which you analyze how this tension between outward conformity and inward questioning contributes to the meaning of the work.
The essay could not exceed 600 words and had to be written by hand in ink. Isaiah’s essay was 577 words long and he received a near perfect score of 99.
The human spirit burns like a ferocious fire – it is nearly impossible to quench. When faced with hardship, some people conform to the situation, choosing rather to adapt then to fight. However, conformity is often skin-deep, as people refuse to relinquish their true hopes and dreams so easily. In situations like these, people live a splintered life; externally they conform, but internally their fire still burns strong. This duality is rather common and can be found both in the lives of real individuals and in the lives of fictional characters, such as Edna in Chopin’s “The Awakening “or Janie from Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” Like Edna, Janie is met with hardship, and although she is externally compliant, her spirit is strong and resilient, burning like a pyre.
In Hurston’s novel, Janie begins her life in the face of conflict. Forsaken by her mother and father, she is raised by her grandmother, a freed slave. Although she lives in the south, race is but a minor challenge when compared to Janie’s other struggles. Janie’s troubles truly begin at the age of 16 when she is married off to an older “respectable” farmer by the name of Logan. Because of her age, Janie is understandably shocked, but the fact that the decision was made by her grandmother without her consent is what truly hurts Janie. Although she consents to the marriage, which she believes will not be fulfilling, she does not relinquish her idealistic dreams of love, she merely safeguards them within her mind. As it turns out, she was right about the marriage. Logan is entirely unlovable, and Janie is very upset. Logan creates even more hardship for Janie as their marriage progresses, which serves to accentuate the growing difference between the internal and external Janie. However, Janie stays strong, holding dearly to her dreams to pull her through. Logan truly separates Janie’s dual existence when he forces her to work on the farm with him. To Janie, this is the exact opposite of how love should be; Janie’s external persona is drawn even further from the desires of her true internal being. For over a year, Janie submits to her husband, and although many things change during this time, her spiritual fire never falters.
Janie’s constant struggle with her husband exemplifies the duality felt by many people in similar situations. This struggle also plays a key role in the novel by making Janie even more realistic and conveying Hurston’s true message. Written during the Harlem Renaissance, Janie’s tale of strength and perseverance rang true for many African Americans who still faced unequal conditions in their lives. By telling of Janie’s strength, willpower and unquenchable internal fire, Hurston empowered people who struggled everywhere, particularly African Americans, but also people of all races. Because all members of the human race face hardship and can lead splintered lives, Janie’s struggle and refusal to surrender represents Hurston’s true message: that no one should give up their hopes and dreams.
Although unfortunate, people everywhere are forced into situations like Chopin’s Edna or Hurston’s Janie. Both characters are faced with challenges that force them to conform outwardly, but neither of them relinquishes their true desires and ambitions, relying on their internal strength to survive.
By telling tales of the unquenchable human flame, Chopin and Hurston empower their readers, encouraging all those whom lead splintered lives to hold on to their hope, and not let their fire burn out.