In Yi-Fu Tuan’s chapter “Visibility: the Creation of Space,” he makes a point to say that “A city does not become historic merely because it has occupied the same site for a long time. Past events make no impact on the present unless they are memorialized in history books, monuments, pageants and solemn and jovial festivities that are categorized to be an ongoing tradition” (Tuan 174). This statement by Tuan sums up a recurring theme in John McPhee’s short story “The search for Marvin Gardens.”
McPhee starts off the story by saying “the dogs are moving through ruins, rubble, fire damage, open garbage. Doorways are gone. Lath is visible in crumbling walls of the buildings. The streets are covered with shattered glass. I have never seen somewhere with so many broken windows” (McPhee 9). Though the place he is talking about seems run down and abandoned it is historic to him in that he has an obvious attachment to the place. It can be implied here that this place is made through previous events that McPhee has experienced here.
Giving the reader this type of imagery is what McPhee does throughout the story. He not only remembers certain places but compares them to places one can land on in a game of monopoly as well. Though the places he mentions range from a rundown neighborhood to a jail, he makes them seem beautiful in his comparisons to Park Place and other glamorous places set in the game of monopoly. McPhee proves that a place does not have to be physically beautiful to be considered beautiful. Tuan says it best when he states that “many places, profoundly significant to particular individuals and groups have little visual prominence. They are known viscerally and not through the discerning eye or mind” (162).
McPhee’s writing can best be described as literary art. By describing jails and rundown neighborhoods in a way that makes them interesting, McPhee “gives visibility to intimate experiences, including those of place” (Tuan 162). If we were to see these places in real life, we would not think anything of them. However, McPhee makes them something to think about by giving us vivid examples that are strengthened through his memories.
Through his writing of “The search for Marvin Gardens,” McPhee uses the idea of literary art beautifully. According to Tuan, literary art draws attention to areas of experience that we may otherwise, fail to notice” (162). I feel that McPhee, however, not only uses the concept of literary art but goes beyond it by not only bringing attention to these places but giving them meaning and beauty.
In the story “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” by Sherman Alexie we see Victor re-establish his ties to his community after the death of his father with the help of an old childhood friend, Thomas. After his father dies Victor is faced with the task of finding a way to get to phoenix Arizona, where his father died, to collect his dad’s ashes and inherited belongings. Since he is low on funds, Victor reluctantly accepts help from Thomas with whom he no longer considers a friend. By going on this trip together Victor allows himself to become familiar with where he came from once again by reminiscing about how he and Thomas were once very good friends. The story proves many of the views that Yi-Fu Tuan writes about in his chapter, “Attachment to Homeland.”
According to Tuan, “attachment to homeland is a common human emotion. Its strength varies among different cultures and historical periods. The more ties there are the stronger the emotional bond (159).” We see that Victor does not have a strong connection to his community through his relationship with Thomas because all Victor seems to view him as is “a storyteller that nobody wanted to listen to (Alexie 475).” We do, however, this bond strengthen between the two as well as victors connection to his community.
The first indication that the relationship between the two is improving is when Victor agrees to accept Thomas’ help despite being too proud to do so. The second happens after getting settled on the plane over to Phoenix when Victor remembers the fight that potentially signified the end of their friendship when they were 15 years old. However, it isn’t until they are at the place that Victor’s father died where we see Victor’s remorse over the situation when he tells Thomas, “I never told you I was sorry for beating you up that one time (Alexie 478).”
The fact that we can see Victor and Thomas getting along better also signifies Victor reconnecting to his community; which Thomas has obviously played a big role in. According to Tuan “a homeland has its landmarks, which may be features of high visibility and public significance, such as monuments, shrines, a hallowed battlefield or cemetery. These visible signs serve to enhance a people’s sense of identity (Tuan 159).” In Victor’s situation, however, enhancements within his identity don’t come from tangible objects but from his relationship with certain people like Thomas. There is not one childhood memory in which Victor cannot recall Thomas being in.
Victors improved relationship with Thomas and his stronger connection to his community can also be seen when we see him give half of his father’s ashes to Thomas. Thomas then goes on to say “I’m going to Spokane Falls one last time and toss these ashes into the water. And your father will rise like a salmon, leap over the bridge, over me, and find his way home (Alexie 482).” Victor agrees to do the same and before leaving agrees to listen to one of Thomas’ stories.
By choosing to re-open these ties to old friends and his home we do see that Victor’s attachment to his homeland grow. Originally his attachment is weary but by establishing his identity further through others within his community and re-familiarizing himself with places he once used to live Victor proves Tuan’s view that people do “consider their own homeland as the center of the world (149).”