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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.