Nicole Thomas is the Associate Nonfiction Editor of The Broken Plate 2021. She is a senior magazine media journalism major with minors in French and creative writing. In this post, Nicole provides commentary on Hannah Gage’s hybrid work “Marlboro,” which was previously published in our most recent 2020 issue of The Broken Plate.
Opening The Broken Plate’s 2020 issue to page 26, readers are first met with teal graphics of a Marlboro cigarette box. Each element of the graphic is assigned a footnote, and author Hannah Gage pairs her experience with purchasing cigarettes to the warnings listed on the Marlboro cigarette box. Each numbered footnote brings readers back to this cigarette box, serving as a constant reminder of cigarettes’ dangers as Gage leads up to the reason behind her purchase of her teal Marlboro Smooths.
Even without Gage explicitly stating it’s her first time buying cigarettes, readers experience Gage’s uncertainty throughout “Marlboro,” as she works strong, concrete examples into her writing, such as how her pseudo-confidence falters when she enters to gas station and she butchers saying the brand Marlboro to the cashier. In footnote 5, Gage does well in purposefully breaking grammar rules as her run-on sentence adds to her experience with smoking a cigarette the first time. The numerous commas portray on paper Gage’s whirlwind of an experience, as smoking for the first time made her limbs too heavy to stand and caused her to throw up her spaghetti dinner. In footnote 7, readers also experience Gage’s inner turmoil alongside her as she repeats the simple phrase, “I know that cigarettes are not safe.” This repetition in particular shows how Gage takes careful consideration of her words, as she is convincing both herself and her readers that she knows cigarettes are dangerous, yet there’s a significant reason behind her actions for purchasing them. Gage’s final sentence is impactful and one that left a lasting impression on me the first time I read her work. Despites its dangers to her health, cigarettes make Gage feel safe. It’s as simple as the declarative sentence Gage leaves her readers with. With a cigarette in hand, Gage feels strong and untouchable on the outside, even though a cigarette has the power to kill her on the inside.
Gage didn’t go into depth writing her experience of befriending a young woman in South Africa, and she didn’t need to. Women reading Gage’s work can relate to Gage’s experience in that we’ve been told what not to wear and how not to act when we’re out in public so we don’t receive unwanted attention. Like Gage’s experience befriending the young woman in South Africa, experiences we have with the people in our lives offering advice on how to feel safer in public as a woman are ones we don’t forget.
By sharing her uncomfortable experience with purchasing cigarettes for the first time, Gage is allowing herself to be vulnerable with her readers, which we at The Broken Plate applaud our writers for doing. Sharing her vulnerable experiences allows Gage to bring to light what many women experience: a need to feel safe when they’re outside on the streets. As a woman myself, I understand how holding an object like a cigarette in one’s hand may seem frivolous to others, but it can have a huge influence on one’s perceived safety. Gage’s hybrid work “Marlboro” does well in relating a personal experience to an overarching issue many women face in the world today. “Marlboro” offers another story for readers to find themselves in and realize they are not alone in wanting to find a way to feel safe in the world.