Notes on “My Real Name”

Captions provided. Watch in high definition. Watch the companion poem at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIoAU-0IjaI.

Image description: Eric Epstein, a white young man with shaved hair, wearing a green T-shirt. The background is a whiteboard that lists the following: “(line 1) Title: My Real Name (line 2) Characters: Water, sun, scientist, Helen Keller (line 3) Setting: Iceberg in sea, Alabama plantation, April 15, 1887 (line 4) Topic: Water cycle, Helen Keller’s “first” word (line 5) Theme: Appearances can be deceiving (line 6) Tone: Impressionable.” He is signing “Rain.”

Transcript: [Eric, a white man, is standing in front of a whiteboard] The poem “My Real Name” features the topic of the water cycle, where the water starts out as ice, transitioning into the ocean, and then a cloud. The cycle in the poem ends once Helen Keller learns her first word, which will be expanded upon later on. In terms of characters, the narrator is water but is not aware that it is water. Thus, the water goes through an identity crisis during the cycle, starting out as an iceberg, when the sun, representing enlightenment, says no to the ice-based identity and melts it away into an ocean, yet the narrator is still not aware that it is water. When the scientist labels the water as the sea, the water naively accepts the identity. In doing so, the tone of the poem is impressionable, meaning the water is passive and easily influenced. Once again, the sun rejects the identity and evaporates the water, which condenses into a cloud. Having lost its identity, the water turns to the scientist again and finds solace in being labeled as a cloud. Once again, the sun responds by sending out wind and triggering rain. The water goes through the cycle until it finally understands that its nature is water. This is accomplished by going to an Alabama plantation on April 15, 1887 when Helen Keller went to a pump house with Anne Sullivan. The water from the pump splashed against Helen Keller’s hands, which Helen Keller could not see but feel. As the word W-A-T-E-R was fingerspelled on her hands, Helen Keller finally understood how it had a word. That experience was intense for Helen Keller as she wrote in her autobiography: “That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free!” That experience carried great impact and is depicted in contrast with the scientist, who is focused on the minute stages of the water cycle as opposed to the essence of water. The scientist clearly labels each component of the cycle: ice, sea, and cloud. But that is all. The poem explores the spiritual meaning of Helen Keller’s understanding.

Major disclaimer: This video is a work in progress.

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