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Society's Child - Janis Ian

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Submitted By Aelling
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Society’s Child - My Autobiography
In the extract, we get to know about an incident at a concert in Encino, California, where Janis Ian, the singer and writer of the infamous song “Society’s Child”, receives hate and negativity for her humane view on the blacks. She runs off stage in despair, fearing for her life. Eventually the concert promoter talks her into going back on stage. The remaining concertgoers eventually shut up the people threatening her, and she ends up getting a standing ovation.
If there is one thing we have learned, from history, it is that no radical changes have been brought about peacefully. Most revolutionary thoughts or thinkers are disliked or looked down upon in the beginning. There are many examples of this throughout history. Janis Ian’s recollection of the events in Encino, California, is another example of how revolutionising thoughts were often frowned upon in the beginning. In the 1960’s black people were not considered people. The situation had much improved already, but racial discrimination was still a big problem in the 60’s. Janis Ian has revolutionising thoughts in the sense that she does not see an issue in an interracial relationship, her song even mildly criticises people who does see a problem with this. Ian’s point of view is obviously a product of where she was raised.
“It was a very mixed neighbourhood – well, actually, it wasn’t that mixed. It was almost all negro; I was one of seven white girls in my whole school. So I’d seen the problem from both sides. My black friends’ parents didn’t want them dating whites. My white friends’ parents didn’t want them dating blacks.” (Lines 80-87)
It just goes to show how must racism is the product ignorance and fear. If you have grown up in a racial diverse society, you are less likely to be racist. On the other hand, if you have grown up in a homogenous society, you will hold back when meeting someone different and you might even experience aggression or fear. Ian’s message is quite clear. Obviously, she wants a more open and tolerant society without this racial discrimination, both her song and this extract bears the impression of this. Another important message Ian brings out with this story, is believing in yourself. During this concert, she is terrified and just wants to go home and hide, because of the people disagreeing so aggressively with her. Despite this urge she has, she chooses to go back up on stage and finish her show, and in the end, she is rewarded for it. In the end she feels stronger for not letting the naysayers win, and she is remembered for being brave and inspirational. Something the readers will learn from her experience is to have faith in their own instinct and to stand firm on their beliefs and principles.
“My eyes were wide open and my head was high as I watched them go. I wanted to let them know I was no longer afraid. When the theatre doors closed behind the last of them, I began the final verse.” (Lines 336-341)
Through most of the extract, she makes it clear that she feels alone in her opinion. It is a common fact that you feel wrong or scared when your opinion is different from the majorities. Ian had the chance to change just one word from her song and avoid all the hate, but she didn’t, she decided to stand her ground and stick with what she believed in. Even though she may have regretted her decision when she was driven off stage.
The text is an autobiography, which means that it is a biography written by Janis Ian herself or at leats partly by herself. The text is set up like an article. The text is organised into columns, as if this was published not as a biography but as an article meant to inform people. This might indirectly give her some ethos, she will become more trustworthy when her text is set up nicely and the language flows well, it feels natural and sincere. The story is set up as a conversation or a train of thoughts. She is telling a story about a specific time and place, and along the way, she brings in past information and memories where it is relevant. This gives the story a very flowing feeling, as if the story is a recollection, and she is trying to explain why she reacted the way she did at the time. She even describes the setting into very small detail; this creates a setting and atmosphere. It gets the reader to thinking that, this moment is a clear and pivotal moment in her life and she remembers it clearly, so it most have made a big impression on her in the moment in order for her to recall the events the way she does.
She uses several rhetorical devises most notably is the use of anaphora in the beginning
“Nigger lover! Nigger lover! Nigger lover! ” (Line 1)
“I was having a hit record. I was singing for people who wanted me dead. I was fifteen years old” (lines 30-33)
“Yes, I was going to stand for that. Of Course I was going to stand for it” (lines 246-248).
The use of anaphora makes the text more interesting, especially when the text opens like that; it means that you will catch your audience’s attention, they will be curious, and read on. It also has a magnifying quality; the message in the last quote is more powerful because she added the last sentence.
Overall, the text makes for a good and interesting read, due to the message and the content. Unfortunately, racial discrimination is still a big problem today, and so it is a relevant story. It is also interesting in the sense that, why did she not see the black people in a negative way? Maybe because she grew up around them so she is more aware of the world around her and more open-minded, instead of all the parents who didn’t want their kids to socialise too much across races.

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