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Home > Revision Assistant > Prompt Library > Higher Education > Sometimes, the Earth is Cruel

Sometimes, the Earth is Cruel

Analysis | Source-Based

Source Lexile®: 850L-1300L



Writing Situation: Two days after the Haiti earthquake on January 12, 2010, Leonard Pitts, an award-winning journalist, wrote an article for the Miami Herald in which he describes the Haitian people's response to the tragedy which struck their country.


Writing Directions: After reading "Sometimes, the Earth is Cruel," select one important theme to write an essay about. Create a theme statement which expresses the author's main point, lesson, or message in the article. Your theme statement will be the thesis of your essay-the claim you make about the writer's message or main idea.


As you develop your argument, pay specific attention to:

  • Pitts' description of the Haitian people's actions after the earthquake

  • The language Pitts uses to describe nature and the relationship between the Haitian people and nature (including similes, metaphors, symbols, personification, or other figurative language)

  • Pitts' response to the way the Haitian people deal with their tragedy


In your conclusion:

  • Discuss Pitts' purpose in writing "Sometimes, the Earth is Cruel."

  • Revisit the message he wants his readers to take away from reading his article and explain why it is especially significant.


Remember: There is no one theme and therefore no "right" answer to this prompt. What is important is to support your ideas with evidence from the text. Proofread your paper carefully to be sure that it follows the conventions of written English.


Source 1

"Sometimes, the Earth is Cruel" By Leonard Pitts


Sometimes, the earth is cruel. That is ultimately the fundamental lesson here, as children wail, families sleep out of doors, and the dead lie unclaimed in the rubble that once was Port-au-Prince.


Sometimes the rains fall and will not stop. Sometimes the skies turn barren and will not rain. Sometimes the seas rise and smack the shoreline like a fist. Sometimes the wind bullies the land. And sometimes, the land rattles and heaves and splits itself in two.

Sometimes, the earth is cruel.


And always, when it is, we do the same thing. We dig ourselves out. We weep and mourn, we recover and memorialize the dead, we rebuild our homes. And we go on. This is the price of being human. And also, arguably, the noblest expression.


Sometimes, the earth is cruel, and you have no choice but to accept that as part of the bargain called life. And when it is your turn to deal with it, you do.


But what if it's always your turn?


Surely some homeless, dust-streaked Haitian can be forgiven for thinking it is always Haiti's turn this morning, two days after the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere saw its capital city smashed by the strongest earthquake it has ever known, a 7.0-magnitude monster. Surely, the rest of us watching from afar, experiencing tragedy and devastation from the comfort of desk chairs and living room couches, are tempted to believe the same thing.


Bad enough, Haiti is wretchedly poor. Bad enough it has a history of political instability and colonialism, of being ignored by the major powers when it is not being exploited by them. Bad enough, all that, yet at the end of the day, those are disasters authored by human hands, by human greed, human corruption,  human economic predation.


Sometimes, though, you have to wonder if the planet itself is not conspiring against this humble little nation.


After 1994, when Tropical Storm Gordon killed several hundred people, after 1998, when Hurricane Georges swept away over 500 lives, after 2004, when the rains of Tropical Storm Jeanne claimed over 2,000 souls, after 2005, when Hurricane Dennis took 25 lives in July and Tropical Storm Alpha snatched 17 in October, followed by Hurricane Wilma which stole 11 more, after the double whammy of Hurricanes Fay and Gustav in 2008 killed over 130 people and destroyed over 3,100 homes, after all that, comes this latest insult -- and a death toll officials cannot begin to even imagine. Perhaps as many as 100,000, they were saying on Wednesday.


Sometimes, the earth is cruel. To crawl the planet's skin, scanning for tornadoes in Oklahoma, charting storm tracks in Florida, running from wildfires in California, is to understand this in a primal, personal way. It is to breathe a prayer that begins, "There, but for the grace of God . . . " It is to write relief checks, donate blood, volunteer material and time and to fear, even in the doing, that these gestures are small against the need, inconsequential against the ache of a people whose turn seems never to end.


But what else are you going to do? As the playwright put it, your arms are too short to box with God. Even less have we the ability to answer the question that burns the moment: Why are the most vulnerable repeatedly assessed the highest price?


We are hamstrung by our own limitations, so we can only do what we always do, only send prayers and help. And watch, staggered by the courage it takes, as Haitians do what human beings always do, the thing at which they have become so terribly practiced.

Dig out. Weep and mourn. Memorialize the dead. Rebuild. Go on. And show the world once again a stubborn insistence on living, despite all the cruelties of the earth.




Source 2



  • Ultimately adj. Finally
  • Fundamental adj. essential; of central importance
  • Port-au-Prince n. the capital city of Haiti
  • Barren adj. incapable of producing
  • Heaves v. to cause to lift upward
  • Memorial n. something that keeps the memory alive like a speech or a monument
  • Magnitude n. Great Size
  • Devastation n. Destruction; ruins
  • Wretchedly adv. Very poor; miserable
  • Colonialism n. control by power over a dependent area or people
  • Exploited v. to be taken advantage of
  • Predation n. the act of preying; to have an injurious effect; to victimize
  • Conspiring v. to plot against secretly
  • Double Whammy n. a twofold blow or setback
  • Inconsequential adj. of no significance
  • Vulnerable adj. capable of being wounded; open to attack
  • Hamstrung v. to be crippled; to be made powerless




Source 3

"What is a Theme?" Adapted from Great Source Reader's Handbook


The theme of a written text is the writer's message or main idea. The theme is what the writer wants you to remember most. Most stories, novels and plays, and sometimes poems have more than just one theme. A character might say something about life that is clearly important. For example, in E.B. White's Charlotte's Web, Wilbur says at the end, "Friendship is one of the most satisfying things in the world." That's a statement of one of the book's themes. But, often, you have to be a bit of a detective to discover the theme or themes. The author leaves clues, but it is up to you to put them together and decide what the important message or lesson is.


The article you just read was just nonfiction. Although some nonfiction texts are written solely to present facts and information, others are also intended to present the writer's message and influence readers' ideas about people, places, or events. Therefore, nonfiction texts can also contain themes.





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