Completely Subjective: Denise Duhamel’s “Humanity 101”

Denise Duhamel is an American poet, creative writer, and professor. She was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1961 and currently teaches at the Florida International University in Miami. Her poem “Humanity 101” is about our perception of the world and her character’s path towards it. Duhamel’s storytelling style in this poem helps paint the picture of the character’s struggle to becoming “human.”

In Humanity 101 by Denise Duhamel, the narrator in the poem starts out as someone who means well and has high expectations for the world but has yet to achieve what she is setting out to do. In other words, she believes that she has failed so far. On her way to success in the world the narrator takes “Humanity 101”. The thing is this class is not a real course that people take to help get credits towards a major, it is a class people take in order to succeed as people.  After flunking the 101 course the narrator realizes her inability to understand the basics of “humanity”, in order to improve her knowledge on the subject the narrator takes a course that focuses on those basic necessities of being humane. The narrator faces more difficulties though as Basic humanity does not go how she believes it will.  Throughout her time in the course, the narrator is forced to see first hand, the experiences of those in terrible situations have to deal with.  After going through this the narrator now struggles to look at the world from her new perspective. She now believes she sees humanity everywhere and wants to drop out of the course. After telling her professor this, he showed her his scars and said “I (the narrator) had to assume everyone had such a wound, whether they could see it or not. Basically meaning that the narrator’s new perspective is the right way to look at things because everyone you must see humanity for the better of yourself and others.

This poem, while simple and narrated in 1st person, is complex in the fact that the narrator is talking about a made up class where she learned the basics of humanity and that even the basics were too hard for her to learn because it was too painful to be caring and it is not part of society’s values. The poem is special because if you only read it once you can still understand the poem but after reading it multiple times you understand the connections between taking the class and reflecting on humane/humanity, along with self awareness.

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