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“Sense of Place” Concept: Literature Views Essay

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Updated: Jun 25th, 2020


What is actually known about the factors which may determine a person’s identity? Such issues like family, a native country, a beloved city, a neighborhood, and personal home are considered to be integral parts of any person’s life, and if it happens that a person is deprived of some of these things, the life looses its sense and makes people reevaluate everything and understand how crucial the sense of place could be. “We just need some help and support” (When the Levees Broke).

This is a phrase of a little boy who lost everything in several minutes when Hurricane Katrina destroyed a lot of houses and ruined millions of lives. Such events like the hurricanes made people realize that there is no other better place then native home. However, there are also many other situations when a person starts appreciating his/her native land and suffers from inability to be at the beloved place. The works by Rem Koolhaas, Richard Rodriguez, and Spike Lee are the sources which help to understand better an idea of “sense of place” and realize how significant homes could be.

Life is a complicated issue to deal with, and not every person is able and ready to cope with challenges set. In fact, there are many definitions of sense of place, and each person is free to choose the meaning that is closer and more appropriate to a particular situation. Rodriguez, Koolhaas, and Lee made excellent attempts to contribute the sphere of art in their own ways, and the idea of sense of place was one of the most crucial in their works and influenced considerably the development of the events.

In this paper, several steps are taken to define the values of three works: the identification of the sense of place is obligatory first, and then Lee’s When the Levees Broke, Koolhaas’ Delirious New York, and Rodriguez’s Hunger of Memory will be evaluated separately to define the peculiarities of the meaning “sense of place”. Rodriguez, Lee, and Koolhaas are the cultural producers somehow affected by their own places, this is why their works are considered to be powerful sources to define a true meaning of the sense of place and understand the beauty of three different American place like New Orleans, Los Angeles, and New York with their past, present, and future that is hard to predict but interesting to consider.

Main Body

Sense of place” and its variety of meanings. A sense of place is one of the most significant fundamental aspects of human experience. In fact, it is hard to be confident that any person understands his/her sense of place, however, it is still observed that those people who live in separate regions or neighborhoods understand better the sense of place and appreciate all those ideas and aspects which are connected with native land, traditions, and habits inherent to their lives. It is known that “every place has a ‘sense of place’… lay-people often grieve for the lost of identity of places with which they are familiar after changes have been made (Lang 370-371).

So, it is clear that the sense of place is properly defined in case some change or challenge happens and influences the life of a person in some way. Of course, it is hard to appreciate the worth of what a person has and faces it day by day. However, in case this ordinary and daily routine is lost by some reasons, people cannot cope with anxiety, misunderstanding, and grief about such huge loss in their lives. “If you let yourself experience a place physically, bodily, take it in, let it have its effects on you, then it will.” (Shapiro 42).

Such experience is inherent to a great number of cultural producers, and Rem Koolhaas, Richard Rodriguez, and Spike Lee are some of them. Their works are influenced by the power of place they live in and developed in accordance with changes which took place in their lives. When the Levees Broke by Spike Lee is the movie based on the consequences and impact of Hurricane Katrina on many human lives. Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez is a book based on personal experience, emotions, and challenges of the author to help the reader grasp the main aspects of everyday life. And Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan by Rem Koolhaas is source where the specious details about the city of the Big Apple are properly discussed. Each of these stories has its own grounds and helps to comprehend how a place may influence a life and person’s understanding of his/her own place in this world.

Spike Lee and his documentary: human fears to loose everything. New Orleans, Louisiana, is the center of the movie directed by Spike Lee in 2006. One of the peculiar features chosen by Lee to demonstrate the attention to sense of place is connected with the interviews conducted: Lee pays much attention not only to the names of the interviewees but also to the places of the residence. The vast majority of people admit that they are the residents of New Orleans, Louisiana (When the Levees Broke); the aspect to pay more attention to is the mood inherent to each character of the story: some people smile and try to be as polite as possible to the viewer; some people like politicians and lawyers admit the fact of their birth with some kind of sorrow and fatigue; and some people do not find it necessary to focus on mood but do share information they are aware of.

The movie When the Levees Broke “provided an analysis of the aftermath and the stories of victims, those who stayed in New Orleans and those who were dispersed to other states” (Marable and Mullings 624). It is easier to define the reasons of why Spike Lee chooses the event that happened in 2005: Lee’s attention is usually paid to the events which changes human lives, and that hurricane did change but also did take so many lives that is hard to understand how such a huge catastrophe and its outcomes could not be forecasted. The sense of place is one of the first feelings that may bother people while watching the movie. However, the emotions inherent to people during the hurricane itself could not be expressed by those whom the hurricane did not touch upon.

One of the survivors admits “Hurricane Katrina is just beginning to flick her tongue at the city I have called home my entire life: New Orleans, Louisiana. In the early morning hours I can hear the swooshing sounds and fear runs down my back” (Montana-Leblanc and Lee 20). People could not realize that in several minutes they would be deprived of their houses, families, and native homes. In the movie, Phyllis Montana-Leblanc underlines the fact that everything people may ask for is some portion of “compassion, empathy, understanding” (When the Levees Broke). Lee proves that people could easily loose their identities in case they loose a sense of place. In fact, this movie is one of the most amazing attempts to prove how dependent a person may be on the land he/she lives.

Richard Rodriguez and vision of Los Angeles: unpredictable sides of bilingual education. Another powerful attempt to describe the sense of place was made by an American writer with Mexican roots, Richard Rodriguez. Though he did not base his story one some disasters and worldwide catastrophes, his personal experience and the necessity to be adapted to the place he was born attract much attention and makes the reader believe in another meaning of a sense of place. His childhood was not as happy as many other children could have in San Francisco.

His inabilities to comprehend the American language deprived him of the opportunities to develop proper relations with other children. His sense of place was of double nature: on the one hand, he realized that his roots were closely connected to Mexico; on the other hand, his native town was an American place. Rodriguez made numerous attempts to prove that he understands the sense of place he lives in, and the results are the following: “Los Angeles. Working. With money. Among people with money. And at leisure… at a cocktail party in Bel Air” (Rodriguez 2).

He succeeded in Los Angeles and used this place as the one to be recognized, respected, and heard. However, he failed to save the sense of place that is in his mind. His Mexican blood and the traditions to be followed are forgotten. He lost this sense of place because he has to follow current rules and live under the conditions set by society. “Bilingual education and affirmative action” (Lee, Robert 30) has a considerable impact on human life and the sense of place, and Rodriguez shows how tragic and, at the same time, successful human actions could be.

Rem Koolhaas with his understanding of New York and architectural standpoints. To understand better the idea of sense of place, it is also possible to read the book written by Rem Koolhaas, Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan. This book is regarded as one of the first successful works where various aspects of Manhattan and its urbanized issues are exposed (Koolhaas 32). Though the author was born as well as got the first part of his education in Rotterdam, he was lucky to continue his education and gain recognition in New York.

Koolhaas’ sense of place is one of the most powerful recognized spirits in the whole book. Some writers admit that this book is one of the most successful sources of information about New York and its parts. “Each block has the potential to become a self-contained and highly flexible world unto itself” (Evers and Thoenes 814). Taking into consideration that New York consists of several neighborhoods, the book under analysis may serve as evidence of how complicated the structure of the city is. The analysis of sense of place from this book seems to be an attractive assignment because the meaning of this sense is of double nature.

In comparison to the previous two works, this author focuses his attention on the geographic aspect. In this book, the author defines the sense of place as a concrete given land within the frames of which people are free to develop their skills and take the steps which make their dreams come true. On the one hand, Koolhaas represents a pure architectural point of view and enjoys the land of New York (Picture 1). On the other hand, he is able to underline the double nature of the City, its beauty, and the utopia that is inherent to New York citizens (Picture 2). This is why his attitude to the sense of place is a powerful example of how a prudent architecture may raise a deep issue and define its essence.


Sense of place is the issue that is hard to define in one simple phrase. Each person is able to introduce a powerful explanation of this feeling that is inherent to anyone. Rem Koolhaas, Richard Rodriguez, and Spike Lee are the producers of various perspectives which help to grasp the main ides of sense of place. Their works are amazing examples of how one place may influence the development of thoughts, actions, and ideas. People are free to define a sense of place they find the most influential for them and try to do everything to keep the chosen object as long as possible to have a place to rely on, to share emotions, to improve the life, and to understand that there is always something who may be waiting for and who is worth of being waited.

Works Cited

Evers, Bernd and Thoenes, Christof. Architectural Theory: From Renaissance to the Present: 89 Essays on 117 Treatises. Berlin: Taschen, 2003.

Koolhaas, Rem. Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan. New York, NY: Monacelli Press, 1994.

Lang, Jon. T. Urban Design: A Typology of Procedures and Products. Burlington, MA: Elsevier, 2005.

Lee, Robert. United States: Re-Viewing American Multicultural Literature. Valencia: University of Valencia Press, 2009.

Marable, Manning and Mullings, Leith. Let Nobody Turn Us Around: Voices of Resistance, Reform, and Renewal: An African American Anthology. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009.

Montana-Leblanc, Phyllis and Lee, Spike. Not Just the Levees Broke: My Story During and After Hurricane Katrina. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 2008.

Rodriguez, Richard. Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez. New York, NY: The Dial Press, 2004.

Shapiro, Michael. A Sense of Place: Great Travel Writers Talk about Their Craft, Lives, and Inspiration. San Francisco, CA: Travelers’ Tale, 2004.

When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Fours Acts. Dir. Spike Lee. HBO, 2006.


Reality of the RCA Slab.
Picture 1: Reality of the RCA Slab. In Delirious New York (p. 232).
The Double Life of Utopia: The Skyscraper
Picture 2: The Double Life of Utopia: The Skyscraper. In Delirious New York (p.72).
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