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Hoggart and the Bee

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Essay title: Hoggart and the Bee

Akeelah and the Bee is a story of a girl caught between two worlds, her home life and the academic world of school and spelling bees. The story contains diverse and interwoven issues for the heroine, many of which are reminiscent of the trials of the “scholarship boy” described by Richard Hoggart in “A Scholarship Boy,” and retold as the experiences of Richard Rodriguez in his “The Achievement of Desire.” Each deals with a young intellectual who comes from a modest background and who struggles to excel academically and also maintain familiar connections with family and friends.

One of the main themes characteristic of all three works is the alienation from family and friends as studies require more effort and allow less time for more pleasurable pursuits. The character of Akeelah is presented to us in the film with the sense that she may already be feeling alienated from segments of her peers, as the camera hovers over her teacher’s shoulder as she passes back a spelling test, showing Akeelah is the only one to receive a one-hundred percent. Later, a scene is shown depicting older girls calling Akeelah “freak” and attempting to coerce her into “taking care of their English homework” (Akeelah and the Bee). Her brother, catching her watching a tape of the national spelling bee, tells her, “you going up against a bunch of rich, white kids. They gonna tear your black ass up” (Akeelah and the Bee). These apparent feelings are both justified and intensified for her after winning the regional spelling bee and becoming something of a local celebrity. When she returns home from winning she finds her mom chastising her brother, who has just been dropped off by a police officer. The wind is taken out of her sails as her mother, attempting to impress a point on her son rather than appreciate the accomplishment of her daughter going to the state spelling bee, says, “while you doing that I’m gonna be identifying your brother here in the morgue” (Akeelah and the Bee). On the one hand, her accomplishment brings praise from her principal, the media, and some of her classmates. On the other, the divide begins to force distance between her and those to whom she had been close. She finds herself forced to lie to her mother in order to continue her education, forging a signature to a consent form to allow her to compete in the upcoming bee. Her mother finds she’s been sent to summer school “to make up for all these classes [she’s] skipped” and disallows her from further competition while her closest friend, Georgia, begins to pull away as she, herself, feels pushed out by Akeelah’s success, at one point telling her to hang out “with her friends from Woodland Hills” (Akeelah and the Bee). Hoggart describes this feeling of dichotomy as being “marked out”:

“I am thinking not so much of his teachers in the ‘elementary’ school as of fellow-members of his family. ‘’E’s got brains,’ or, ‘’E’s bright,’ he hears constantly; and in part the tone is one of pride and admiration. He is in a way cut off by his parents as much as by his talent which urges him to break away from his group. Yet on their side this is not all together from admiration: ‘’E’s got brains,’ yes, and he is expected to follow the trail that opens.” (843)

The accounts of Rodriguez and Akeelah, though expressive of this dichotomy, vary from Hoggart’s in the sense that while the scholarship boy is propelled into this dual existence by the expectations of his family, Rodriguez and Akeelah find themselves heading in this direction, at times in spite of their families, unable to avoid it even though on occasion they both appear to dearly wish they could. What seems almost forced upon the scholarship boy is self-inflicted by Rodriguez and Akeelah. When Javier offers Akeelah a ride home from his school in an upscale neighborhood, she lies and says, “My mom’s going to pick me up,” then catches the bus once he’s driven off in his parent’s luxury vehicle (Akeelah and the Bee). Later, Georgia, feeling her own sense of alienation when presented with the spectacle of a birthday party for Javier, the son of wealthy suburbanites, in the upscale neighborhood of Woodland Hills, decides to go to the mall rather than staying with Akeelah. Rodriguez describes his own feelings in this way quite dramatically, when he loans his mother a book but finds, after several weeks, that she’s barely touched it. He “was furious and suddenly wanted to cry” (Rodriguez 568). He also speaks of how, for his parents, reading was done “out of necessity and as quickly as possible” (Rodriguez 572), rather than for pleasure. This mirrors, in Hoggart, the description of books as “strange tools” (844) to which the scholarship boy’s family is unaccustomed. Likewise, Akeelah’s

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