On Being White, Female and Being Born in Bensonhurst


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The title of the essay is “On Being White, Female and Being Born in Bensonhurst” by Marianna de Marco Torgovnick.  The purpose of the article is to present a picture Bensonhurst, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York and their people, their value systems, attitudes and beliefs.  The thesis of the essay is the author’s views on Bensonhurst and how it affected her.  The main points communicated in the essay are the idiosyncrasies of the place such as the racial discrimination still being part of their community, the traditional and outdated values being practiced, the sexist views on women’s role in society and how all these factors affected the author.

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1) What feeling or impression about this place does the writer create for you?  What words or sentences from the text help create this impression?

I had the impression that this place is too “backward”.  It is as if it has been untouched by modern civilization.  This impression was created from statements such as “… Bensonhurst — a neighborhood where (I swear) you couldn’t get the New York Times at any of the local stores” (Torgovnick 495) and “The agency (a Mafia front?) has no one who knows how to ticket me for the exotic destination of North Carolina and no computer for doing so” (Torgovnick 498).

2) What feeling or impression about the people of this place does the writer create for you?  What words or sentences from the text help create this impression?

My impression on the people of Bensonhurst is that they are so attached to their values and beliefs.  They seem to refuse the ideas and practices of the modern world.  A statement in the essay that creates this impression is, “Bensonhurst is a neighborhood dedicated to believing that its values are the only values; it tends towards certain forms of inertia” (Torgovnick 402).  They are still into racial discrimination.  One particular sentence which helped create the impression that there is still racial discrimination in Bensonhurst is the statement expressed by the father of Marianna about the shooting incident, “…but what were they doing there?  They didn’t belong” (Torgovnick 493).

3) How do you think the writer has been affected by living in this place?  What in the text gives you this impression?

Living in Bensonhurst has made the author strive to become different from the other residents of the neighborhood, becoming almost like a “deviant”.  Instead of following the traditional route of pursuing the secretarial track as what most girls in their neighborhood did, she chose to go to college and get a degree and become a professor. The text that gave me this impression is, “I am allowed to insist on the change into the academic track” (Torgovnick 496).  Another effect of Bensonhurst on the writer is her being conservative and cautious in decisions that she has to make in her life.  This is illustrated in her statement, “Along the way, I make other choices, more fully marked by Bensonhurst cautiousness” (Torgovnick 497).  Another sentence that supports this impression is when she mentioned, “Years after, similar choices come up, and I show the same assertiveness I showed with my father, the same ability to deal for survival, but tinged with Bensonhurst caution” (Torgovnick 496).

4) Connections: What thoughts, ideas, or questions came up for you as a result of reading this piece?  Did it remind you of anything in your own experience?  If so, what?

I realized that there are still communities with people who until now discriminate against “colored” people.  It surprises me too that in this modern era, there are still individuals who view the role of women as simple “house makers” who do not need to have a career of their own and must rely only on the support of their husbands.

This piece reminded me of my grandparents who live in the rural areas who still have very traditional values and refuse to change their beliefs on certain family traditions.  They also abhor the way the youth of today dress up.  They have no interest in computers and other electronic gadgets.

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  1. Torgovnick, Marianna De Marco. “On being white, female and born in Bensonhurst.” n.d. 489-498.
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