Using SOAPSTone on Barbara Lazear Ascher’s ‘The Box Man’ essay

So today in English we read a story called ‘The Box Man’ by Barbara Lazear Ascher, a piece in which she shared her thoughts and observations of the  homeless man in her neighborhood who sits around all day and collects boxes which he creates furniture and a shelter from, with the reader. ‘The Box Man,’ whom she comes to call him, prefers solitude instead of social interaction, and shows no signs of vacillation, even when  the New York City mayor approached him, he backed away, “keeping a car and paranoia between them.”

So for this piece, we were required to use SOAP STone, which is Subject, Occasion, Audience, Purpose, Speaker, and Tone. I haven’t finished Tone yet, but I will soon! Feel free to view my analyzation! 🙂

SOAP STone for “The Box Man” Essay By Barbara Lazear Ascher

Subject:  Many may perceive the Box Man to be the center of this essay, yet it is not solely his activities that Ascher alludes to; It is his stark contrast to the millions around him, who are reliant on their connection with others to achieve contentment.  One cannot not fully comprehend the darkness of the night without seeing the stars, and in retrospect, one cannot fully understand the faults in our own behaviors without presenting one that is its polar opposite. So Ascher presents the Box Man, a secluded individual who scrounges the streets and alleyways of New York City for boxes to construct his cardboard furniture and shelter. He prefers solitude to the complicated, stressful relationships that exist between the millions around him, one of these being  the woman who visits Ascher’s local coffee shop every evening. According to the author, “You can tell by the vacancy of expression that no memories linger there….When she opens her black purse to pay, there is only a crumpled Kleenex and a wallet inside, no photographs spill onto her lap.” This woman, unlike the Box Man, resembles more of an incomplete puzzle than a single unit; Her manner conveys an air of vacancy, as if her de-attachment from social interaction has grounded any hope for  her to regain her footing into dust.

Occasion: The majority of us, who are apparently qualified to deem the limits of human comfort, when presented with the idea of being homeless, consider only what has been taught to them at a local standpoint; That it is a completely undesirable, wearisome prospect, that leaves its participants longing for the luxuries enjoyed by the higher classes on the social pyramid. However, according to Ascher, this is not always the case. From what she has observed, the Box Man being her example, there is always a completely different approach to circumstance; The circumstance being the Box Man’s homelessness and his approach to it being his self-reliant, secluded attitude. This  behavior may be puzzling for some, who might wonder: “Doesn’t he ever get lonely?” Ascher responds to precedented question, stating that “The Box Man knows that loneliness chosen loses its sting and claims no victims. He declares what we all know in the secret passages of our own nights, that although we long for perfect harmony, communion, and blending with another soul, that this is a solo voyage.” Let’s face it- our drive for our one true match, our dependence on families and friends, and the constant outpoar of headlines and advertisements from the media promoting the seemingly endless ways on how to adjust oneself in order to meet social criteria goes largely unrecognized, yet when fully comprehended, it is truly daunting of our obsession in achieving this one particular goal. The examples are truly unimaginable in scale. Take Romeo and Juliet for instance;  A Shakespearean classic, the heartbreaking tale of two lovers who would rather die then imagine a life without their beloved. Their acts of suicide are meant to powerfully convey elements of passionate love, which the audience, unawares, gobbles it up in great gasping sobs and heart-wrenching soliloquies for the tragedy. So eager are we to be swept up by their circumstances and extremely intense feelings for one another, that we fail to consider it to be a mere act of unfathomable lust, an outpoaring of obsession. The fact that their dependence (Survival really) relies solely on the well-being of the other is more worrisome than romantic. And God knows their namesakes live on in the millions today who consider solitude (Or loneliness they would rather call it) to be an infliction.

Audience- The group of readers to whom this piece is directed to are to those unaware of there being an alternative outlook towards social seclusion. This may include a family outcast, religious minorities, self-proclaimed rebels, and of course the heart-broke, rejected lover. All of these examples include a separation of ties with another person or group, and Ascher wants to address those who shared in these experiences. However,  at some point in our lives, we are all involved in this dilemma. She states “The first half of our lives is spent stubbornly denying it. As children we acquire language to make ourselves understood and soon learn from the blank stares in response to our babbling that even these, our saviours, our parents, are strangers. In adolescence, when we replay earlier dramas with peers in the place of parents, we begin the quest for the best friend, that person who will receive all thoughts as if they were her own. Later we assert that true love will find the way.” It is an interesting notion; As we transcend from childhood years to adulthood, one would typically expect to see a far  greater display of self-reliance. On the contrary, the more adapted to civilization one becomes, the greater the difficulty in contriving to extract one’s self from it altogether.

Purpose- The Greek philosopher Aristotle had quoted in Politics:

“Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god. ”

By Ascher’s claim, this assumption has already been proven false by the Box Man, who is neither beast nor god, but a simple mortal. In addition, she says that “by judging from the bandages and the chill of night, if is of his choosing.” Thus, we began to look at the reason for his circumstances not from cruel dettachment from his peers, but by his own choosing. And why may he choose to live in such a fashion? Because the Box Man is self-sufficient, and prefers solitude and harmony within himself rather than the commotion that arises from relying solely on others’ support. We are so keen on finding the other half, yet forget to look within ourselves, and  realise that “this is a solo voyage.”  By drawing references to Ophelia, Juliet, and other classical lovers who faced tragic ends, she decesively concludes upon this that in comparison to the Box Man, their strong social attachments had caused their downfall. In short, Ascher wants her readers to understand that solitude should not always be confused with devastation.

Speaker- Ascher, who draws the line between the lonely and the self-reliant in her essay The Box Man, holds herself with noticeable nostalgia when referring to the adventurous, self-concious pastimes of the protagonists from The Boxcar Children,her favorite book as a child. For example, she says: “…I long to live like a Boxcar Child, to have enough open space and freedom of movement to arrange my surroundings according to what I find. To turn streams into iceboxes. To be ingenious with simple things. To let the imagination hold sway.”  Ascher presents herself as an individual who has not lost the longing to retain self-efficiency; She wishes to live in solitude and discover the voice within herself rather than live off of the status quo.


One thought on “Using SOAPSTone on Barbara Lazear Ascher’s ‘The Box Man’ essay

  1. Ali Rios says:

    Every essay just amazes me, I cannot comprehend how you come up with this, I have similar thoughts but to put it into a format like you have it truly astounds me and makes me think that one day I could possibly do this; if not, than I’m glad to have seen it instead of it being non-existent to me.

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