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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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