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Analyses of five more random short stories.

February 1, 2010 Leave a comment

1. “Winter Dreams” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

In “Winter Dreams,” the reader observes the American dream in action. Dexter, a young man from humble beginnings, moves up the ranks of the economic and social ladder under his own power due to his strong sense of motivation to better his life. Dexter began as a caddy in his young teen years. Dexter did not do this to make his living, rather to make pocket money.  This leads the reader to believe that Dexter was not poverty stricken, but he was definitely not born with the silver spoon in his mouth either. Although Dexter only caddied for spending money, he took his job very seriously. This shows a strong work ethic in the boy from the beginning. During his time spent caddying, Dexter has the opportunity to meet Judy Jones. Jones exemplifies the life of exuberance and extravagance. She was only eleven at the time of their initial meeting, but Dexter notes that “there was a general ungodliness in the way her lips twisted down at the corners when she smiled and in the−Heaven help us! −in the almost passionate quality of her eyes. Vitality is born early in such women” (2187). This was Dexter’s first glance into the fantasy world that Jones lived in. As he grew older, he decided to attend a prestigious college on the east coast. At the conclusion of his studies, he moved back home and opened a laundry that specialized in the cleaning of golf socks. Soon Dexter was moving in the same circles in which Judy Jones also circulated. They met and had a very dysfunctional relationship that spanned several years. Although Dexter was well-to-do at this point in his life, he never felt like he truly belonged to the social circles within which he moved. He was an outsider looking in. Judy Jones was Dexter’s gold ring. He knew that if he could gain her then he would not have to second guess himself any longer. Dexter invested years into chasing Jones only to be left in the end. Dexter did not love Judy Jones, but he did love the idea of high society and social grace and Judy Jones embodied these qualities. Therefore, Dexter deceived himself into believing that he loved the woman. If Judy Jones had not been the out-of-reach, golden ring, Dexter would not have pursued her as doggedly. The truth is that Dexter’s pursuit of Judy Jones is a reflection of the chase within his life to put his own feelings of inadequacy to rest. Jones was nothing more than a trophy that Dexter pursued to finally feel like part of the in-crowd. In the end, Dexter did not win Judy Jones’ affection and finally had his dreams shattered when he realized that the ideology of his own success and acceptance that he projected on the vivacious Judy Jones had passed away never to return.

2. “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

In the story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Gilman adeptly uses the concept of altered perception for the narration of the tale. The story is focused on a young housewife and her descent from post-partum depression into utter madness. The young woman is confined to an upper room that is decorated with yellow wallpaper. The use of altered perception is objectified within the wallpaper. As the story begins, the narrator is a “normal” housewife suffering from a bout of post-partum depression, which they call a “nervous disorder.” She takes her “treatment” regimen as prescribed by her physician husband, John, which basically consisted of doing nothing and being left alone to contemplate her current life situation. As the story continues, there is subtle change in the narrator’s point of view. At first, she absolutely detests the yellow wallpaper. She asks her caregiver and her husband if they could remove it, but both state that would be impractical since they are only renting the house for a short time. As time passes by, the narrator becomes fascinated by the wallpaper, watching its lines twist and turn and “commit suicide.” Then as the descent into utter madness begins, she notices a woman trapped behind the wallpaper trying to get out.  “At night in any kind of light, in twilight, candlelight, lamplight, and worst of all by moonlight, it becomes bars! The outside pattern, I mean, and the woman behind it is as plain as can be. I didn’t realize for a long time what the thing was that showed behind, that dim sub-pattern, but now I am quite sure it is a woman” (1961). Then the descent continues finally culminating into a confrontation between the narrator and John. As John tries to get into the room where the narrator is, he finds the door to be locked and the key thrown outside. When John finally retrieves the key, he enters the room to find his beautiful bride “creeping” around the edge of the room. John faints and that is where the story ends. The most beautiful thing about the way this story is written is the fact that the reader is able to follow the narrator’s change step by step from a prim and proper housewife into a creeping crazy person. If Gilman would have chosen another writing style, the story would not have effectively communicated what she was attempting to convey to the reader. When reading the first person altered perception, the reader is forced to put himself or herself directly into the shoes of the narrator. The reader is not reading a story about a descent into madness; rather, the reader is experiencing firsthand the change that the narrator is going through. It was extremely effective when the story was published and this story is seen as one of the first and most important examples of feminist literature.

3. “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” by Ernest Hemingway

In “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” Hemingway uses vivid imagery to define death. The whole story is based upon the main character, Henry, and his struggle to rediscover who he is and the happiness of his youth on a safari to Africa. During the trip, Henry had been scratched by a thorn and developed gangrene in his leg. During his last days of life, Henry wrestles with the regrets of his life and his unfulfilled ambitions. Within the story, Hemingway uses several different things to symbolize both physical and spiritual death. The journey had been planned to be a spiritual journey. One that was supposed to rekindle what Henry had lost. Hemingway begins the story telling a legend about a leopard frozen in place on his trip to “the house of God.” Henry envisions himself as the noble leopard, on a vision quest to redefine his life, but after he is stricken with the raging infection, Henry comes to a dastardly conclusion about himself. Catching the scent of his rotting flesh, the scavengers emerge. Hemingway specifically brings the hyena to the forefront. The imagery of the hyena represents the spiritual death that Henry had incurred when he sold out everything that he had been for the easy life. He literally became the scavenger. “And just then it occurred to him that he was going to die. It came with a rush; not as a rush of water nor of wind; but of a sudden evil-smelling emptiness and the odd thing was that the hyena slipped lightly along the edge of it” (2251). Upon the cot which became his death bed, Henry realized that he had departed the path of the noble leopard long ago and had embraced the very countenance of the hyena and he despised himself for it. This is the symbolism of his spiritual death; the death of the man that he once was and the unfulfilled potential of his life. The physical death in the story is personified as Henry lay on his cot.  “Because, just then, death had come and rested it’s head on the foot of the cot and he could smell its breath…It had moved up on him now, but it had no shape any more. It simply occupied space…It did not go away but moved a little closer…It moved up closer to him still and he could not speak to it, and when it saw he could not speak it came a little closer, and now he tired to send it away without speaking, but if moved in on him so its weight was all upon his chest and while it crouched there and he could not move, or speak, he heard the woman say, ‘Bwana is asleep now. Take the cot up very gently and carry it into the tent.’ He could not speak to tell her to make it go away and it crouched now, heavier, so he could not breathe. And then, while they lifted the cot, suddenly it was all right and the weight went from his chest” (2257-2258). Then Henry was dead. Hemingway uses symbolism and personification to describe both spiritual and physical death within this short story. However, the theme of spiritual death is the most salient and most likely the theme that Hemingway wanted to convey as a caution to the reader to always stay true to oneself so that when physical death comes, one would be able to rest in the assurance of the legacy that the person is leaving behind and to pass away in the comfort of a fulfilled life.

4. “After Apple-Picking” and “The Death of the Hired Man” by Robert Frost

In the poems Frost is speaking of death. In “After Apple-Picking,” the narrator is speaking of a life of hard work coming to an end. Within this poem he laments about missed opportunities within his life when he states, “Beside there may be two or three apples I didn’t pick upon some bough. But I am done with apple picking now” (1958). This is a way for the narrator to convey to the reader about missed opportunities, but it would seem that the narrator is not necessarily upset about the path that he has chosen or the decisions that he made with his life. Toward the end of the poem, the narrator speaks of apples that were bruised or spiked with stubble which went to the cider heap. This is also a metaphor for opportunities take that were either botched or not productive for his life. The poem concludes with the narrator pondering whether the sleep that he is about to undertake will be the long sleep of death, or just another human sleep. Contrasting the first person style of “After Apple-Picking,” “The Death of the Hired Man” is written in third person, however, the theme of the poem is similar. This particular poem is about the death of an old and trusted farmhand that had betrayed the plantation owner by leaving during haying season for another farm that promised him more money. Old Silas had come home to die. The narrator suggests through the story of the old farmhand that it is natural for those who are dying to want to go in a place that is familiar with people that they consider family. Mary and Warren discuss the life of Silas and the reader sees a man who was proud to do the task in his life at which he excelled which was tying up hay bales. As Silas is entering the time right before his death, he begins recount to Mary the things in life that for which he had regret. Silas had attempted to teach a younger man the finer points of haying, but their relationship ended abruptly and on uncertain terms when the young man left for school. This particular encounter seems to have plagued Silas. “He thinks young Wilson a likely lad; though daft on education−you know how they fought all through July under the blazing sun, Silas up on the cart to build the load, Harold along beside to pitch it on. Yes I took care to keep well out of earshot. Well, those days trouble Silas like a dream” (1956). The narrator is giving insight into the last moments before we pass on in this life, how regret and sorrow play out in our final moments. Perhaps it is a warning to live life without regret in order to enjoy our final moments of this life. In “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening,” the narrator expresses his longing for rest.  Whether this is the rest of death or sleep, the narrator stresses the desire to stay awhile in oblivion and solace to ponder the greater mysteries of his life. However, his horse brings him back to reality with a shake of his harness, questioning the duo’s sudden stop in the middle of the forest. As much as the narrator longs for rest, there is no rest to be had because he “has miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep” (1963).

5. “The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane

The term naturalism describes a type of literature that attempts to apply scientific principles of objectivity and detachment to its study of human beings. Naturalism implies a philosophical position that contrasts the realist writers who focus on the literary technique. “The Open Boat” is a strong example of naturalism. The story pits four men who survived a ship wreck against the impassive forces of nature, which in this case is the ocean. Another aspect that brings out the naturalism technique within the story is the fact that there is no way that the men inside the boat can exercise free will. They are at the extreme mercy of nature. During the story, the men make several attempts to run the surf as they are approaching land, but each time they were unable to make the beach due to the instability of the craft in which they were sailing. This exemplifies the futile struggle of men against nature and fate. The story ends when the four sailors take matters into their own hands. Deciding against spending another moment on the boat, with the strength of the oarsmen waning, the men make one final drastic attempt to best nature. As the ship presses into the surf, the craft capsizes and breaks up. The men jump clear of the boat to make their gallant attempt to best nature and reach the shore. One by one, the men make it to shore and it would seem that man had bested nature, but tragically, one of the four could not make the final swim emphasizing the naturalistic principle that it is futile for man to struggle against fate.

Works Cited

The Norton Anthology: American Literature. Shorter 7th Edition. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: Norton Company, 2008.

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Analyses of five random short stories.

January 28, 2010 Leave a comment

1. “The White Heron” by Sarah Orne Jewitt.

In “The White Heron,” Jewett contrasts the two main characters of Sylvia and the hunter regarding their relationship to their surroundings. For Sylvia, nature is a force to be respected and enjoyed. The text brings out how nature exhilarated her. “She waded on through the brook as the cow moved away, and listened to the thrushes with a heart that beat fast with pleasure” (1592). Not only did nature exhilarate the young lady, but she acted as if she was a natural extension of nature around her. The animals seemed at ease when she was near even to the point where she is able to observe the white heron from a few feet away while up in a tall pine tree.  The hunter, on the other hand, is portrayed as a destructive force to his surroundings. He shoots and traps game for sport and for food, even attempting to get Sylvia to betray her natural instinct to protect the forest for ten dollars. Sylvia, however, is true to herself and her love of nature in the end when she conceals the location of the hallowed white heron from the destructive force of the hunter.

 2. “An Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce. 

The use of fantasy in “The Occurrence at Owl Creek” is used not only to keep the reader involved in the story, but also to bolster the feeling of excitement as Farquhar escapes from his captors. The entire story is based in a fantastical experience that occurs as the main character, Peyton Farquhar, is being executed on Owl Creek Bridge for attempting to sabotage the union army. Bierce tells the story from Farquhar’s point of view. As Farquhar is falling to his assured death by hanging, the rope breaks and he plummets into the river below the bridge. The reader is then led to believe that Farquhar has escaped capture by an amazing stroke of luck. The story continues to chronicle his fanciful escape from the army. Although, the reader is deliberately led to believe that Farquhar has evaded capture, there are several clues that foreshadow Farquhar’s true fate. As he is in the water looking up at the sharpshooters who are attempting to shoot him from either end of the bridge, Farquhar develops super human eyesight being able to see down the barrel of one of the shooter’s rifle all the way to discern the color of the man’s eyes. This is simply not possible. He even has time to ponder how a man with grey eyes is supposed to be the truest marksman. Also, as Farquhar escapes down the river, a company of infantry joins in on the attempt to cut him down with gunfire. As the company fired, Farquhar dove under the water. While under water, Farquhar notices that the bullets seem to lose all speed when they hit the water and begin to lazily float to the bottom. One bullet even becomes lodged between Farquhar’s neck and collar, which he quickly brushes it out because it is “uncomfortably warm.”  The clues continue to roll in as Farquhar finally gets back to his home, recovering from a delirium caused by his long journey, he sees his home and his wife just as he had left them. As Farquhar enters the gate of his home, he sees his wife who does not seem disturbed by the physical state that Farquhar is in with a bruised neck, a tongue pushed out due to unrelieved thirst, and his eyes being unable to close due to swelling. Farquhar then reaches out for his wife and feels a sharp pain in the back of his neck. That is when the fantasy ends and Farquhar’s fate is finally, obviously revealed to the reader. “Peyton Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of Owl Creek Bridge” (1482).

 3. “The Storm” by Kate Chopin.

Kate Chopin was a daring author during her lifetime. She published local color stories that often times flirted with the society’s perceived edge of decency. In 1898, she wrote “The Storm,” which was a sequel to the short story “At the Cadian Ball.” In the prequel, Chopin hinted at scandal and flavored the story with an undercurrent of improper flirtation, but these concepts were still well within the limits of the perceived literary standards of the time. However, “The Storm” completely obliterated the line of decency that was established for literature at the time. Chopin valued her ability to publish, so she did not seek to have “The Storm” published as she would have been shunned from the contemporary literary society. The most startling thing about “The Storm” was not necessarily the steamy scene that Chopin adeptly painted in the reader’s mind. Rather, it was the unapologetic attitude of the adulterers that would have crossed the line. It was this displayed attitude that almost certainly kept Chopin from submitting this story for publication.

 4. “Desiree’s baby” by Kate Chopin.

In the story, “Desiree’s Baby,” a young woman is caught up in a destructive scheme organized by her self-serving husband. Desiree was a young woman with no name. Orphaned when she was just a toddler and taken in and cared for by a well to do woman, Madame Valmonde, and, although she was loved dearly by Valmonde, she was still a young lady with no defined past. This made her the perfect target for Armand Aubigny. Armand was a well to do planter with a secret so vile to him that he had never been able to admit this terrible revelation to anyone. Armand’s mother “belonged to the race that is cursed with the brand of slavery” (1619), but she had died in France when Armand was eight. Armand knew of his mother’s ethnicity, but he had never revealed this to anyone else in his life. Armand also knew that any respectable southern plantation owner was to marry and raise a strong family, but how could he reproduce with his terrible secret? When he saw Desiree as she was leaning up against a stone pillar, an idea struck him. Desiree was beautiful, but most importantly, she was of an unknown origin. “It was no wonder, when she stood one day against the stone pillar in whose shadow she had lain asleep, eighteen years before, that Armand Aubigny riding by and seeing here there, had fallen in love with her. That was the way all the Aubignys fell in love. As if struck by a pistol shot” (1615). This is the first evidence of foreshadowing in the story. To describe falling in love as being struck by a pistol shot has very violent connotations and prepares the reader for the violent gut wrenching ending of the story. This even gives some insight to the type of man who Armand is, violent, quick to judge, and conniving. At this point Desiree and Armand were married and Desiree moved to Armand’s plantation. Before long, Desiree was to have a child. After the birth of the child, Madame Valmonde visited Desiree’s new homestead. When she walked into the room to view the child, she exclaimed “This is not the baby!” (1616). Desiree mistook her shock to be related to the fact that the child had grown. However, the source of Valmonde’s shock had little to do with the size of the child and all to do with the color of the baby’s skin. This was another instance of foreshadowing within the story. Whether Desiree was blinded by love or just ignorant to the ways of the world, she had not noticed the child’s mulatto skin tone. Slowly as the child aged, a change came over Armand. Everything that he despised about himself and his own Negro heritage was exemplified in his child. Fortunately for his reputation, he had duped Desiree, the girl with no past and now with no future. Armand declared that Desiree was not white and she departed the plantation with her baby into the swamp. Armand had every last vestige that reminded him of the child burned. The foreshadowing in the story led to the heart wrenching ending as Desiree walks into the bayou without changing her thin white garment and her slippers never to be heard from again. The irony, though, is expressed at the end of the story when Armand reads a letter from his mother to his father, which tells the reader that it was not Desiree whom had Negro heritage. Rather, it was Armand.

 5. “Barn Burning” by William Faulkner.

In an effective drama, it is imperative for the author to introduce an antagonist and protagonist to the reader.  The protagonist must be someone who the reader can identify with and support as the story progresses, while the antagonist represents the opposite of societal and moral norm. In the story “Barn Burning,” Faulkner introduces both of these character types. The first that we are introduced to is the antagonist, Abner Snopes. From the beginning, Snopes is painted in a villainous light. He is on trial for burning his neighbor’s barn after the neighbor did Snopes a favor of penning his pig so the animal would not be lost. Snopes is found not guilty due to a lack of evidence, but the Justice of the Peace demanded that the Snopes family leave town immediately. Snopes then relocates his family to a new plantation to begin sharecropping. Upon his arrival, Snopes barges into his new landlord’s home and tracks horse manure onto an expensive rug within their house. The landlord’s name is Major DeSpain. DeSpain is the moral and social opposite of Snopes. Where Snopes is a poor sharecropper, DeSpain is a wealthy land owner. DeSpain rides a gallant steed while Snopes rides a donkey. DeSpain is honest and shows integrity and strength of character. Snopes is a lying, cheating, low life who destroys those around him. In the end, Snopes attempts to repeat his delinquent activity and burn DeSpain’s barn after a civil dispute over Snopes’ idea of “cleaning” DeSpain’s Persian rug. While Snopes goes to the barn, his son (the story’s true protagonist) runs to Major DeSpain and betrays his amoral father, in essence finally being able to choose good over evil. DeSpain the goes to the barn and handles Abner Snopes. “Barn Burning” is an allegorical tale of the constant struggle between right and wrong, good and evil, and the characters of Abner Snopes and Major DeSpain represent the qualities of these two opposing sides.

Works Cited

The Norton Anthology: American Literature. Shorter 7th Edition. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: Norton Company, 2008.