Isolation in Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio

Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio opens with “The Book of the Grotesque,” in which he describes a grotesque as one who has consumed a manmade truth and attempted to live by it, and by doing so, “the truth he embraced became a falsehood” (S. Anderson 5).  The work that follows this introduction examines the isolation of the grotesques residing in Winesburg, Ohio.  The grotesques are isolated because their inner selves contain a truth which they are incapable of expressing, and thus, they live with the continual struggle of having an inner self and outer self that cannot be reconciled.  They are not grotesque in the typical sense of the word in that their deformities are internal, only manifesting themselves in small physical characteristics for each of the grotesques.  Anderson demonstrates that each grotesque exists in a realm of dualities, in which repressed truths conceal themselves beneath falsehoods, by tracing the isolation within the grotesques’ external, interpersonal, intrapersonal relationships.

First, Anderson reveals the duality of the expressed and unexpressed portions of the grotesques through their relationships with the external and impersonal.  By connecting the characters with inanimate elements within the environments, Anderson is able to amplify the contrast between expression and isolation for the characters.  Anderson’s use of doors in the work provides the first example of this external form of relationship.  A door possesses only two states, open and closed, which correspond directly to the expression and isolation the characters experience.  “Mother” and “Loneliness” provide the two clearest examples of how the doors function throughout Winesburg, Ohio.  In “Mother,” Elizabeth Willard shares a “deep unexpressed bond of sympathy” with her son, George, but she cannot find a way to make her love explicit (S. Anderson 25).  She instead has formed a habit of pressing herself against the door to her son’s room, trying to form a connection, because she is closed, just as the door is.  Other characters who are not grotesques also interact with the doors in “Mother,” most notably, Tom Willard, Elizabeth’s husband.  Elizabeth watches Tom as “in the light that streamed out at the door he stood with the knob in his hand and talked” (S. Anderson 31).  Tom’s interaction with George demonstrates that expressing ones sentiments to George is entirely possible for others, but not for Elizabeth, who remains trapped within herself.

Further, the idea of doors as a symbol for the open or closed channels of expression reappears in the same relationship later in Winesburg, Ohio, in the story titled “Death.”  Elizabeth’s father left her a sum of money, which he intended to function as “a door, a great open door” for Elizabeth (S. Anderson 275).  She saves this money, and intends to one day give it to George as an expression of her desire for him to get out of Winesburg and follow his dreams.  She her illness restricts her, however, and she lies “still and speechless in her bed” for a month, unable to tell George about the money and where she has hidden it (S. Anderson 280).  This “great open door,” then, is reduced to yet another closed one, and George is left with the final image of his mother as a closed door when he leaves her room, then “turn[s] and stare[s] at the door through which he had just come” (S. Anderson 284).

The symbolism of the open and closed doors is not restricted to Elizabeth Willard’s longing for expression and connection with her son, however, but it permeates the work and becomes particularly evident again in “Loneliness.”  Enoch Robinson is the grotesque in this story, and as he drew into himself and into his room, abandoning the friends to whom he could never express himself, “he locked the door” (S. Anderson 205).  Within his shut room Enoch created an entire world for himself, complete with people he constructed within his own mind.  When one of his neighbors began visiting him, however, Enoch “didn’t want to let her come in when she knocked,” but he did, and eventually he tried to let her into his world (S. Anderson 210).  When the neighbor tried to leave, Enoch “ran and locked the door,” desperate to preserve a human connection.  The open and closed door in this story again reinforces the idea of the contrast between access and isolation within a person.  Enoch opens himself up to his neighbor, but the fear of separation causes him to close it again, attempting to keep her on the inside with him.  By closing the door, however, he is severing the relationship, and when she leaves, “all the life there had been in the room follow[s] her out” (S. Anderson 211).

In addition to the external representation of isolation through doors, Anderson demonstrates isolation through the contrast in expression during the night and isolation during the day.  Characters experience their great moments of epiphany during the night throughout the work.  In Winesburg, Ohio, “the deformities caused by day (public life) are intensified at night, and in their very extremity, become an entry to reality” (Howe 411).  In adventure, for example, it is night when Alice Hindman gives in to the “mad desire to run naked through the streets” in “Adventure” and seek the human connection she has not allowed herself for years (S. Anderson 133).  The stranger’s plea for the little girl to “be Tandy” and “[b]e brave enough to dare to be loved” occurs late at night (169).  In “The Strength of God,” Curtis Hartman’s experience of God in the form of Kate Swift takes place late at night.  At night, each of these grotesques has the opportunity to release the things he or she has not been able to in the light of day, “as if the most sustaining and fruitful human activities can no longer be performed in public communion but must be grasped in secret” (Howe 411).  These moments of epiphany, however, are brief, and they recede again with the sun.  Although the grotesques finally release their truths in powerful moments of expression, they are shrouded in darkness, where they are unseen by others, as they do so.  Their moments of triumph, then, only serve to reinforce their isolation, as they are able to find understanding in intense yet fleeting moments, and in these moments when they are most able to connect with others, they fail.  The epiphanies “merely serve to emphasize the intensity of their isolation” (D. Anderson 428).  Even when the grotesques open their closed doors momentarily, they realize that the darkness of their isolation surrounds them.

Next, Anderson employs interpersonal relationships to highlight how the contrast between expression and suppression relates to the isolation of the grotesques in Winesburg, Ohio.  He uses George Willard as the primary agent for this task.  George is not yet a grotesque in the story, and so when he communicates with the grotesques, they see in him “the key that will release them from their prisons and enable them to resume normal human forms” (D. Anderson 428).  Many of the grotesques project what they want for themselves onto George, and so he becomes the collection of the communication they wish they could access.  George as a specific character, then, is less important than George as an attempted representation of the truths within them.  In the opening story, “Hands,” for example, Wing Biddlebaum “hunger[s] for the presence of the boy, who was the medium through which he expressed his love of man” (S. Anderson 16).  Once Wing Biddlebaum begins his expressive act, George Willard is no longer named, but simply referred to as “the boy,” because for Wing, George simply represents the innocence of youth and the vitality of not having yet become a grotesque.  The schoolteacher, Kate Swift, offers another example of the grotesques trying to access humanity again through George Willard.  She experiences “a great eagerness to open the door of life to the boy, who had been her pupil and whom she thought might possess a talent for the understanding of life” (S. Anderson 194).  Although George’s identity is almost secondary in many of his interactions with the grotesques, the fact that he is a writer and reporter remains important.  George’s identity as a writer necessitates that he have the ability to express what he thinks, which establishes a clear distinction between him and the grotesques.  The most common interpersonal relationships within Winesburg, Ohio are those between George Willard and the grotesques, and the contrast between the natures of George and the grotesques emphasizes the isolation of the grotesques.

Finally, in addition to Anderson’s emphasis on the ways in which external elements of the environment and the relationships between George and the grotesques demonstrate how the contrast between what is expressed and what is reserved establishes isolation, the also uses the isolated intrapersonal relationships to the same end.  On a physical level, the grotesques often have a small deformity to reflect the deformities within them.  As Ray Lewis White suggests, “the unusually active hands of Wing Biddlebaum lead the reader to awareness that one of the few intellectuals in Winesburg, Ohio has an unusual mental and psychological constitution” (58).  Anderson provides a particularly grotesque description of Wash Williams in “Respectability,” stating that he resembled “a huge, grotesque kind of monkey creature with ugly, sagging, hairless skin below his eyes and a bright purple underbelly” (S. Anderson 135).  These physical deformities demonstrate the intensity of the strain of suppression.  Because the grotesques are incapable of releasing their own truths through verbal expression or action, the truths reveal themselves physically.

In conclusion, Sherwood Anderson demonstrates the intensity of the isolation created through the grotesques’ inability to express their thoughts and feelings in Winesburg, Ohio through the environments of the grotesques, their relationships with George Willard, and their own physical deformities.  Anderson’s work provides a comprehensive survey of the lives of the grotesques in Winesburg, Ohio, but he suggests that this phenomenon is applies to everyone, and that he has only offered an account from a handful of individuals in a single town.  In “The Book of the Grotesques,” Anderson claims that “all of the men and women the writer had ever known had become grotesques” (3).  He offers a solution to the outcome of isolation, however, in the form of George Willard who grasps that “the thing that makes the mature life in the modern world possible” is love (S. Anderson 298).

Works Cited

Anderson, David. “The Grotesques and George Willard”Winesburg, Ohio: Text and Criticism. New York: Viking, 1966. 421-430. Print.

Anderson, Sherwood. Winesburg, Ohio. New York: Viking, 1958. Print.

Howe, Irving. “The Book the the Grotesque” Winesburg, Ohio: Text and Criticism. New York: Viking, 1966. 405-420. Print.

White, Ray L. Winesburg, Ohio: An Exploration. Boston: Twayne, 1990. Print.

Human Perspective in Lydia Davis’s “The Cows”

Lydia Davis’s chapbook, The Cows, is an impressionistic and exploratory work in which she examines her neighbor’s cows with loving detail, humor and empathy. The three main subjects are, as Thornburg calls them, “stubbornly languid” and definitively “bovine” in terms of plot and physical action; almost indistinguishably similar is size, shape, color, and demeanor, the cows fuse with the rural upstate New York scenery as year round stark foliage (1). Davis admits in an interview with Eleanor Watchel that she has long been disheartened with the novel, “rarely” finishing those that interest her the most (12). Instead she pursues with The Cows a curious stylistic journey into a realm devoid of “lyricism or flowery language”, consisting instead of a “plain” and “narrow focus” (Watchel 12). With systematic and lovingly frequent observations, Davis attempts to create a work of “literary landscape art” as a lesson to herself in polishing the skills of simplicity and objectivity (Thornburg 3). Her attempt to observe without judgement to try to make sense of the enigmatic “lumps” across the road reveals less about the cows than it does about herself, the society in which she resides, and perception as it relates to consciousness. Her examinations of the cows presents a raw depiction of human nature, tinged with a gluttonous desire to categorize, understand and inject meaning into the natural world, all of which can be seen through her descriptions of the cows relative to physical motion, spatial landscape, mathematical and scientific reasoning, simile and metaphor and personification.

As Davis discusses the cows and their physical motion, the inherent for desire for action becomes present. Initially, she sees the cows as performers, each day is “the start of an entirely new play”, each moment “the next act” (Davis 7). The first line in the chapbook, it is evident that she expects great things from these animals, as if they exist not on their own, but rather to specifically facilitate and inspire her work. She uses repetitive language such as “next”, “start”, and “new”, amplified by the reader’s anticipation of opening to the first page to create an overwhelming tone of excitement (Davis 7). However, her excitement lasts only until the next page, where her disappointment dominates. They move in spontaneous and haphazard ways, “as though something is going to happen, and then nothing happens” (Davis 9). Here, rather than graceful dancers moving under “the instructions of a choreographer” (Davis 17), she grapples with the dismaying realization that their motion is aimless, simple and without direction, “motionless until they move again” (Davis 9). Their dance is free of human influence and of their own accord. In fact, after prolonged observation, Davis admits her oblivion to the majority of their motion, as they seem to appear and disappear in increments of time determined by her “ten minute” attention span (Davis 11). Her enthusiasm at the beginning of her observation is followed by nearly immediate dissatisfaction because she sees the cows as sources of entertainment before she sees them as cows, speaking to the human tendency of egocentrism, in which expectation generates conditioned judgement.

Dismayed by their astonishing lack of physical activity, Davis attempts to accept them as objects and shifts her perspective and begins to view the cows in terms of spatial distinctions in regard to the landscape. She describes their size in the field as if she were discussing the subjects of painting, forever frozen in the permanence of the “foreground” and the “middle ground” of the pasture (Davis 23). This categorization of their description suggests that ultimately she is unable to see them as they are, but instead must justify their positions as though they are a painting, an artistic rendering of how they are. Through her use of language, she finds herself even farther from realistic observation, stuck inside the boundaries of a representation of a representation of the truth. Her self-centered perspective again obscures the accuracy of her vision once she abandons her former idea. As she looks at them from the comfort of her home, she muses “the field of my vision in which they are grazing is only the length of half my finger” (Davis 12). Here, Davis describes cows as they are from her inescapably human perspective. The views she holds shrinks the image of the massive cow down to her fingertip, serving as an imposition of her human superiority.

As her observations wear on, Davis grows increasingly captivated by the seemingly unexplainable nature of the cows. Seeking to understand their nature, she vainly attempts to categorize their behavior in terms of logic, basic mathematics, and scientific reasoning. Many times when she peers over her hedge in observation, the cows are huddled together in the shape of an indistinguishable, “irregular mass” (Davis 11). This description emphasis her disdain of the enigmatic. The irregularity of uneven and lumpy cows when standing in this formation is a inconvenience because it lacks the ordered boundaries that she craves as a human; she finds comfort in the justification of “twelve legs” (Davis 11). As an explanation of their strange positions one day, she states that together” they face three of the four cardinal points of the compass” (21). An authoritative “the” marks the dominion of the logical above the whimsical. Superior reason dominates again on page 20 when she employs a colon and list to describe their “forms of play” in a way that is, in all intents and purposes, robotic (Davis 20). This strategy of description demands order and completely undermines the nature of the unconventional and free-spirited play that she is trying to describe, providing a strong instance in which her desire to understand the cows in ordered, human ways overpowers her venture in trying to understand them solely as cows. Furthermore, she compares her experience of observing to cows to that of a math problem: “1 cow lying down in the snow, plus 2 cows on their feet looking this way across the road, equals 3 cows” (Davis 28). It is evident that she feels a great deal of affection for these animals and knowing that all three are present in her observation is a certain kind of solace. Thus she arranges and sorts the cows in coherent and systematic ways as a source of her own contentment in another loss to her ever-present subjectivity.

Davis’s inability to shake her subjectivity as an observer becomes most prominent through her recurrent use of simile. Throughout her writing, she describes the shape, action and behaviors of the cows in relation to human objects which apply to her, her readers, and the modern society in which both reside. Standing together they form a “locomotive”, apart and from a distance they take the shape of “wide black strokes of a pen” (Davis 14, 27). Individually, they “look like black staples” with legs that form sharp angles with the earth like “prongs” of a fork (Davis 28). Rather than the subtler metaphor, her use of the word “like” pervades the various descriptions of the cows with a sense of synthetic imitation. Each object to which she compares the cows heightens her inability to separate herself from the heavily objectified and industrialized society that overwhelms her. Aware of this detriment to her perception, she shows significant insight with the solitary appreciation of the graceful nature of “the position, or form, itself” of the grazing cow (Davis 30). Only when she is able to step back and see the cow as a cow does she express genuine understanding of her surrounding natural environment.

Perhaps the most flagrant expression of Davis’s lack of objectivity is her frequent imposition of human emotions onto the cow’s behaviors. As Thornburg points out, Davis does indeed go to great lengths to allow the cows to stand on their own: physical human presence outside herself is “virtually absent” from the observations, allowing the cows “the chance to occupy our attention more fully” (5). However, she feels the need to see the cows as more than cows is evident through over twenty separate instances of personification throughout the chapbook. Davis is forced to inject her own emotions and drives as justifications and explanations of the cows’s inscrutable behavior. She supposes that a cow’s day spent standing perfectly still is motivated by a “philosophical attitude”, unable to accept the cows as foreign objects to her limited understanding of them (Davis 12). She goes on to imagine their various “wants” and “likes” as she depicts the cows in scenarios in which they feel “concentration” “jealousy” “discouragement” “embarrassment” and “shame”, even if their physical actions are the simple lowering of the head, the quiet stare, or an unmotivated meander to the far side of the field (Davis 16, 22). It is not to say the cows are incapable of these emotions, but instead, that as an onlooker, one has no way of knowing. Davis is very much aware of this and admits that her suggestions of bovine emotions are “false”, understanding that the cows exist in peaceful oblivion from the human world and “do not know the words ‘person’, ‘watch’ or even ‘cow’”, yet she is unable to cease their production as her descriptions continue, and therefore finds herself continuously farther away from an objective truth (Davis 22, 37). As Through these musings, she demonstrates her desire to give everything meaning, even a concepts as enigmatic and alien as the humble cow, strengthening the inexplicably human aversion to utterly simplistic blankness.

Much in the way that Stevens decided there are only thirteen ways to observe a blackbird, patterns emerge in Davis’s descriptions of the neighboring cows. In a search for order, logic, and sentience in the cow’s actions, she looks at them from varying perspectives including, physical motion and position, where she gets her bearings, mathematical reasoning, where she tries to find logical explanations for the unexplainable ‘cow-ness’, and finally through personification and comparison, where she applies the emotions and objects of a world undeniably human in an attempt to gain a relatable familiarity. Greater trends emerge in her writing with the progression of the work such as a tone of uncertainty captured by repetitive uses of words like “sometimes”, “probably” and “or” and a shift to descriptions characterized by adjectives as basic as “so” (Davis 25, 29). This shift is a result of her growing awareness that true objectivity is ultimately futile. After having carefully watched the cows for many seasons, she concludes her project with the observation that they disappear at dusk (Davis 37). Here, Davis highlights the critical flaw in her experiment in objectivity—that an encompassing and totally unvarnished perspective is ultimately impossible as a result of the decomposition of human omniscience during the night. All superiority and domain is lost in the realization of the inadequacy of the narrative and its inability to envision anything outside of the egocentric human perspective. The pixels and print of Davis’s The Cows do not come close to demonstrating an unbiased depiction of the natural world. This does not suggest that the narrative should be abandoned and that all hope is lost in the search for truth, but rather that we see more of ourselves in observations of the foreign world, and that the truths of this foreign world, embodied by the basic cow, will forever remain a mystery.

Works Cited

Thornburg, Ann Marie. “The Cows, by Lydia Davis.” MAKE Literary Productions. Make Literary Magazine, 9 Feb. 2012. Web. 03 May 2014. <http://makemag.com/eview-the-cows-by-lydia-davis_new/>.

Ulin, David L. “Lydia Davis Talks to Animals.” The Reading Life: Books and All Things Bookish. The Los Angeles Times, 30 June 2011. Web. 06 May 2014. <http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2011/06/the-reading-life-lydia-davis-talks-to-the-animals.html>.

Watchel, Eleanor. “An Interview with Lydia Davis.” BrickMag.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2014. <http://brickmag.com/interview-lydia-davis>.

 

The Power Dynamics of the Evolution of Language in The Dead Father

Donald Barthelme’s The Dead Father operates upon a series of amorphous spectrums across literary and social realms. Superficially, the text is driven by a voyage, throughout which nineteen sons and several other key progenies drag the massive, imposing Dead Father through an ambiguous landscape. The journey is allegedly motivated by their desire for the Golden Fleece, an object which would hypothetically restore the deteriorating health of the Dead Father; yet their true aim is to end his existence, as to gain the independence necessary to live in a self-satisfying manner. From the perspective of the children carrying out this powerful act of usurpation, the Dead Father signifies a complex amalgamation of oppressive hegemonic influences preventing them from attaining a sense of freedom. The patricide comments upon the modern societal rejection of antiquated, doctrine-propelled institutions; and as a work of metafiction, one of The Dead Father’s primary trepidations is with the evolution and nature of English language itself.

In order to even consider this interpretation, however, one must first examine the somewhat abstruse nature of the piece. Discussion of The Dead Father has toyed with various analyses. This has included strict emphasis upon thematic implications, such as the critique of Richard Walsh, who viewed “‘the idea of fatherhood [as] a more fundamental unifying principle in The Dead Father than any abstract allegorical formulation’” (Walsh qtd. in Asztalos 200). Others center their arguments around strictly technical stylistic elements. Indeed, the book, constructed as a work of post-modern metafiction, focuses largely upon ironic, mocking commentary, thus prompting many to examine the it by the terms of its self-referential literary form.  This perspective, as argued by Mára Asztalos, indicates that allegorical interpretation is almost entirely futile and must be virtually ignored, as “the critic or reader has to disengage the function of the brain that detects and decodes the possible allegorical and archetypal links ‘hidden’ in the text” (Asztalos 200). Truly, there may be no singular means by which to interpret the work, as it appears to exist in an nebulous state open to numerous subjective readings. This flexibility in interpretation further bolsters the argument for the book’s metafictional emphasis upon the practice and execution of language.

From the very beginning of the work, the strikingly mammoth size of the Dead Father is continually emphasized, as to give the reader a sense of the immensity and daunting nature of language relative those who depend upon it. The story’s exposition weaves together mysteriously dystopian imagery to form a concept of the Dead Father’s appearance. By one critic’s description, “the Dead Father is dead only ‘in a sense’: he is a human being, a granite monument, a gigantic ‘super-male with horns, tail, and a big penis snake’ … a strange, majestic, awe-inspiring object; a pathetic, dangerous, infantile, and paralytic old man; a figure who comes apart; a voice that takes up residence inside one’s head” (Zeitlin 199). The Dead Father’s inflated and strange appearance is not a natural construction; instead, it a fabrication resulting from the self-satisfaction that he gains from his manipulative practices, in the manner that language and its most lauded practitioners have swelled to legendary status. The Dead Father’s image of self is entirely inflated to the point where it has overwhelmed his sensibility; he remains swamped within his own perceptions, where he cannot distinguish reality from his distorted dream-like view, through which he remains seemingly omniscient.

Yet the Dead Father does not possess a truly infallible or indestructible existence. When he made a particularly critical insult aimed at Thomas, the latter is capable of felling him, while “Julie and Emma picked him up” (Barthelme 34). Though he is described as being 3,200 cubits long, these leaders of the group – whom the reader assumes measure at a standard size – are evidently capable of knocking him down and picking him up again with little struggle (4). This situation betrays how this subjectivity of perception affects the influence of the Father figure and how one interacts with him. To Thomas, Julie, and Emma, who are not intimidated by and are constantly defying his once-great power, he is of an ordinary size, perhaps even weaker or smaller than themselves. They stands in contrast to the nineteen members of the crew, who remain in awe of his magnitude as they drag him. Indeed, the crew is not in rebellion against the Dead Father but essentially work for him, later even becoming physically ill with sympathy and uncertainty as they question the ethical nature of the task at hand (91). Because they still hold him in a reverent light, their view represents an adherence to the norms of the English language, a hesitation to bring about (much less, accept) the death of an established institution.

By the very designation of his name, one may see that the Dead Father has already been condemned by those surrounding him. Though he remains mentally sentient throughout the journey and the process of his burial, his children have essentially marked him as an irrelevant entity unworthy of acknowledgement. He is “[d]ead, but still with us, still with us, but dead” (Barthelme 3). The children rebuff the Father’s once-lauded intellectual expressions and oratorical attempts, preferring to distract themselves from the tedious task at hand by their own forms of articulation, as are largely exemplified through sexual acts carried out between Thomas and Julie (159). Their vitality and shunning of the Dead Father suggests the rejection of the former tradition of language and social institutions which hinder their pleasure.

The highly metaphorical actions and imagery of Barthelme’s daunting father evoke those of a sacred figure made obsolete by his rapidly evolving surroundings, suggesting that the institutions once held in infallible regard are now being eschewed through the children’s actions. The Dead Father uses his accumulated might as an excuse to assume the characteristics of a deity-like figure who exploits his power in vengeful exhibitions of bitter hatred, which one may interpret as forms of highfalutin literary criticism disavowing the merits of innovative work in favor of works with classically-oriented composition. The Dead Father recounts, with great pride, his crude glory days, during which he would derive pleasure from formulating brutal punishments for those who disobeyed his strict edicts (Barthelme 9). He attempts to continue this tradition through brutal slayings: first of a series of musicians, then of animals, both of whom utilize forms of communication which undermine his linguistic power (11, 52). However, these attempts at assertion of his might only decrease his stature in the eyes of others even further.

His insecurity contributes to his obsessively possessive, domineering nature. Most significantly, it causes him to “[control] what Thomas is thinking, what Thomas has thought, what Thomas will ever think, with exceptions” (4). This manipulation extends beyond this son to all other members of his infinitely-numbered offspring; but “with exceptions” indicates the loophole in power that will allow Thomas to think independently, beyond the typical constructs of the language. With extraordinary hubris, the Dead Father asserts his might by saying, “All lines my lines. All figure and all ground mine, out of my head. All colors mine. You take my meaning” (19). By this statement, those trying to manipulate the language in new manners are automatically associated with the precedent, and their works are frequently viewed as a decline from classical values and knowledge. This attitude, and the desire for a new era, serves as the justification of the children’s quest to permanently silence the Dead Father.

In spite of his irrelevance in the eyes of his children, the Dead Father continually tries to affirm himself and his laws. In the context of the metafictional, one may see that the children’s rejection of the edicts – those strictures upon the usage of language – is blatantly manifested through Barthelme’s text itself. Most consistently prevalent is the lack of punctuation throughout the work; dialogue possesses no quotation marks and is distinguished only by line breaks. Furthermore, the author’s choice of language is effective but largely selected with a primarily functional intent, particularly in the fragmentary description of settings. Complexity arises in the conversations between Emma and Julie. In observing their discourse throughout the book, one immediately notices an incredible degree of abstraction. A small portion of just one of their interactions demonstrates its bizarre nature:

Very busy making the arrangements.

Appeals to idealism.

Grocers wearing pistol belts.

It’s perfectly obvious.

I was astonished to discover that his golden urine has a purple stripe in it.

It’s no mystery.

A few severed heads on stakes along the trail.

Polished tubes carried by some of the men.

Not sure I understand what the issues are.

String quartets don’t march very well. (150)

This ostensibly nonsensical, somewhat absurd series of lines compiles fragments reminiscent of sound bite-like snippets, pushed together into juxtaposition for aesthetic purposes. The individual lines are attention-getting and intriguing, but they merely stimulate the senses, failing to provide substantive content. This bastardization of the linguistic institution portends the future of the language in the hands of the purported new leaders, given the world which they envision. Yet despite their apparent technical flaws, the abstract collage of words leads to an unprecedented originality and creativity strived for by the children.

The vision of the mechanization of language is furthered by the mechanical left leg of the Dead Father, an accouterment evidently added with the intent of modernization. When Thomas inquires as to the reasoning behind the mechanical leg, the Dead Father says, “Machines are sober, uncomplaining, endlessly efficient, and work ceaselessly through all the hours for the good of all … They dream, when they dream, of stopping. Of last things” (Barthelme 13). The Dead Father consciously decided to don the mechanical leg in an attempt to adapt himself to the newer standards of the time, as a rare act of altruism. Indeed, the leg serves as a confessional, in which “people are noticeably freer in confessing to the Dead Father than to any priest, of course! he’s dead” (4). Even though the confessions are routinely taped and then altered and scrambled to create a feature film for public viewing, the anonymous yet overtly projected nature of the process evidently supplies individuals with a strange sense of satisfaction and comfort. A current reading of the 1975 book, when held in modern context of technological innovations, indicates a prophetic vision of the gathering and often distorted sharing of mass quantities of personal information, as frequently manifested through language and carried through the Internet. This warped development provokes ominous implications in regards to the execution of language. As Santiago Juan-Navarro describes, “The semi-mechanical nature of the Father suggests the semimechanical workings of linguistic structures, but also the mechanization of culture, a culture where private life is of public dominion. Privacy in post-modern societies vanishes as a consequence of the obscene traffic with the other’s self” (91). In spite of his attempts at adaption, the Dead Father remains outdated, superseded by the values of the younger generation, a group desperate for change.

The Dead Father makes other efforts to retain his power over the generation of his children and assert his resiliency. In several amusing but pathetic endeavors, he tries to participate in sexually charged activities with the women; yet he is frequently condemned by Julie as “an old fart” and reprimanded by Thomas with a rap upon the forehead (Barthelme 10, 55). The Dead Father protests such behavior, proclaiming, “You should not rap the Father. You must not rap the Father. You cannot rap the Father. Striking the sacred and holy Father is an offense of the gravest nature. …” (55). These statements harken back to the notion of the Dead Father as figure once held in sacred, infallible regard, one who could not be swayed by even the mightiest storm. Yet his children ignore his declarations as they sit around the dinner table, and Thomas inquires after the mustard; they are weary of his egotistical, cruel nature. Their indifference stems from their knowledge that the Dead Father, from their perspective, has already died; and though this dreary journey must be continued, they already control the nature of what happens. As the controllers – arguably, the authors – of the journey, they have the already have the ability to sedate the Dead Father’s old customs, in favor of composing their lives through their own means of expression.

It may seem that, by burying the cargo they have dragged behind them for so long, they have disposed of their worries; yet the inclinations of mankind indicate that this is not the last time that such a burden will exist. The interposed work A Manual for Sons, originally a Barthelme piece published in The New Yorker magazine, is interwoven into the story by appearance of a strange character named Peter Scatterpatter, who presents the volume to Julie and Thomas (Juan-Navarro 93). The work operates as a guide for sons to realize how to tolerate the oddities and power-hungry natures of their fathers. The fathers prevent their progeny from advancing, as their strictures are indissoluble. The Manual states, “Fathers are like blocks of marble, giant cubes, highly polished, with veins and seams, placed squarely in your path” (Barthelme 129). Yet in spite of the hindrances, the Manual condemns patricide as an unnatural and serious infraction, “first because it is contrary to law and custom and second because it proves, beyond a doubt, that the father’s every fluted accusation against you was correct: you are a thoroughly bad individual, a patricide! – member of a class of persons universally ill-regarded” (145). A son cannot escape his heritage; in spite of any efforts to distance himself from his father, he will inevitably remain a derivative, “a paler, weaker version of him” (145). While Julie discontentedly rejects the book for its “relativist” approach, its message is clear: all humans will continue to behave in a manner similar to that of their predecessors and draw upon their influence (146). One may claim to reject historical practices; but the existing habits of greed, jealousy, and megalomaniac tendency will continue as long as gain may be obtained. Though Thomas executes the Dead Father’s will as merely a witness – thereby not allowing him to derive benefit from it – he has already asserted a position of superiority (164). Thomas, in spite of the fact that he seeks to distance himself from the Dead Father, has not merely deprived, but actually obtained power from the Dead Father. Throughout the journey, Thomas stripped the Dead Father of his identity, taking for himself “‘phallic objects’” that had composed the Dead Father’s dignity – a silver belt buck and “his sword, his passport, and, finally, his keys” (Asztalos 205). This gradual conversion asserts the inevitable transformation of Thomas into the Father. Though by disposing of the Dead Father through burial the children had hoped to relieve themselves of the struggles he imposed, nature and fate collectively bind them to experience such difficulty again. In spite of any progress or change that may be experienced after the disposal, there is only temporary respite. In social cyclicality, Thomas too will exhibit the negative characteristics of the Dead Father. Their problems may have been temporarily assuaged by the patricide, but they are not – and will never be – truly solved.

By this reasoning, the “father” of language itself will never be disposed of; and any efforts at revitalizing it will merely be reconditioned versions, perhaps even travesties, of the once-prevalent tradition. By this cyclical state of things, nothing has been avoided or evolved. The Dead Father acknowledges the need for the revitalization of knowledge; but while it employs a dark humor in the upheaval of an antiquated system, it also recognizes the inevitable circumstances of repetition which will continue to arise from human nature. Creativity through the transgressive overthrow of the Dead Father and his antiquated ideals, may be the only means by which to achieve some semblance of innovation. One journal quotes Barthelme as asserting, upon the idea of the “ineffable”: “If there is any word I detest in the language, this would be it, but the fact that it exists, the word ineffable, is suspicious in that it suggests that there might be something that is ineffable. And I believe that’s the place artists are trying to get to, and I further believe that when they are successful, they reach it” (Giles 638). This task remains daunting. Language should continue to be manipulated and experimented with as long as humans exist; but ultimately, the restrictions that it presents to artists and laymen alike tragically dictate that no work, no matter how groundbreaking, will ever achieve the prized ideal of true originality.

Works Cited

Asztalos, Mára. “Barthelme’s Twisted Fathering: On Donald Barthelme, The Dead Father.” AnaChronisT 12 (2006): 198-219. EBSCOhost. Web. 3 May 2014.

Barthelme, Donald. The Dead Father. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1975. Print.

Giles, Paul. “Dead, but Still with Us.” Commonweal 118.19 (1991): 637-640. EBSCOhost. Web. 1 May 2014.

Juan-Navarro, Santiago. “About the Pointlessness of Patricide: A Lacanian Reading of Donald Barthelme’s The Dead Father.” Estudos Anglo-Americanos (1990-1991): 88-102. Academia.edu. Web. 3 May 2014.

Zeitlin, Michael. “Father-Murder and Father-Rescue: The Post-Freudian Allegories of Donald Barthelme.” Contemporary Literature 34.2 (1993): 182-203. EBSCOhost. Web. 1 May 2014.

Honor Code

On my honor, I pledge that I have neither given nor received help on this assignment.

 

Nature as a Godly Being in the Works of Hemingway

Many of Ernest Hemingway’s short stories and novels involve nature as a powerful influence in the lives of the characters, whether it is as the setting in Across the River and Into the Trees, in a more active role as the prey, such as in The Old Man and the Sea, or both, as depicted in The Snows of Kilimanjaro. The quintessential outdoorsman himself, Hemingway’s early exposure to nature has significantly shaped his perception of the relationship between man and nature. In particular, Hemingway acknowledges the dualism present in nature: it provides sustenance, life, and gifts man with its resources—yet it plagues cities with its illnesses, drowns men in its turbulent seas, and steals the life out of the living. The power of nature is unrivaled, and its ability to give and take life echoes the qualities of a godly being. A closer inspection of The Old Man and the Sea and The Snows of Kilimanjaro reveals that to Hemingway, nature giveth, and nature taketh.

The role of nature as a godly entity is most evident in Hemingway’s characters’ interactions with their environments. In The Old Man and the Sea, the elderly fisherman Santiago’s primary companion while on land is Manolin, his faithful apprentice who holds Santiago in the highest regard despite his ill fortune with fishing. Manolin praises Santiago with words such as, “There are many good fishermen and some great ones. But there is only you.” (The Old Man and the Sea, 25). However, as Santiago ventures out far into the ocean in search of a larger catch, his companion shifts to the ocean and wildlife around him. The relationship with his companion at sea is quite different from that which he experiences on land, and Santiago refers to the ocean as “something that gave or withheld great favours” (The Old Man and the Sea, 33). This thought hints at the godly role that nature plays, giving and taking.

Nature still acts as a godly entity in The Snows of Kilimanjaro to Henry, the protagonist dying from a gangrenous infection in the African wilderness, albeit with a relationship different from that found in The Old Man and the Sea. Henry has taken advantage of nature on an exotic hunting trip, killing wildlife for sport. In a seemingly punitive turn of events, Henry contracts gangrene from a cut, and death approaches him throughout the short story. Even in a literal sense, death approaches in the form of a hyena, as Henry perceived “vile-smelling emptiness and the odd thing was that the hyena slipped lightly along the edge of it” (Kilimanjaro 4). Henry ultimately dies from his infection, perhaps as punishment from nature for his wanton taking of nature’s resources. Nature appears to be more forgiving to Santiago, who fishes for a living, and lives a life of simplicity and gratitude. His respect for nature is obvious, as he speaks with great reverence and love for the ocean, as seen by his thought “…loved green turtles and hawk-bills with their elegance and speed and their great value and he had a friendly contempt for the huge, stupid logger-heads…” (The Old Man and the Sea, 40). In contrast to Henry’s gangrenous infection, Santiago receives the gift of the largest fish he has ever hooked for his long withstanding respect for nature. This form of reward and punishment delegated for devout followers and heretics by a larger entity is reminiscent of nature as a god-like entity.

The exploration of one’s own religion can increase the personal value of their belief system. As Leo Gurko astutely observes, the ocean similarly provides greater resources the further out one explores (Old Man and the Sea, 12). Santiago captures smaller tuna when he is closer to the shore, while he is quite far out at sea when he first hooks the swordfish—analogous to how one may find greater connection to their god(s) after further pursuing the depths of his/her religion, while a weaker relation to religion may yield fewer spiritual rewards. Santiago’s voyage may appear fruitless in terms of fish captured—yet his experience in sympathizing with the ocean and its creatures, and increased respect for nature is the significant spiritual reward.

Nature also consistently challenges man’s resolve in Hemingway’s works, quite similarly to God in biblical literature. In The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago finally manages to reel in the swordfish, when sharks attack his catch. It is possible to argue that the trials of the sea are merely due to the seemingly random, animalistic behavior that maintains the ecosystem. Santiago even mentions in passing that he perceives the sea to do “wild or wicked things” because “she could not help them”, and appears to regard the sea as an external variable that cannot be controlled or predicted, prone to random behavior (The Old Man and the Sea, 33). The old man fights valiantly against the onslaught of sharks, but is unable to protect his catch.  And yet, Santiago maintains his faith and trust for the sea, and discusses acquiring “a good killing lance” and plans for a future fishing expedition. Santiago’s resilience following this trial resonates with God challenging Abraham’s dedication by commanding him to sacrifice his son Isaac. Both Santiago and Abraham are challenged in their faith and perseverance respectively, and are able to rise above the trial. An alternate view could consider the herds of sharks as punishment from nature for hunting such a marvelous fish (Burhans, 2). However, it is more likely that the sharks were another test of Santiago’s resolve, as Santiago is rewarded with the ability to truly reflect on the spiritual value of his struggles and his relationship with the sea. He even bears the mast across his shoulders as he climbs back ashore from his expedition, suggesting Santiago to be a Christ-like figure, who has been tested for his faith and perseverance, and rewarded with enlightenment through trials (The Old Man and the Sea, 134). Though the essence of the challenges is quite different, one of determination and the other of faith, nature nonetheless challenges man in a godly manner.

It is also significant to note that Henry is also challenged by nature, as he is afflicted with gangrene on an African safari. Henry is unable to surmount this challenge, and witnesses the wildlife around him stirring to life as his dwindles away. Vultures orbit the campsite, and hyenas lurk in the perimeter—signs from nature foreshadowing his impending doom. Henry’s inability to survive raises the question: Why was Santiago able to withstand the challenge of nature, while Henry was not? The answer lies possibly in the difference in character between the two individuals. The appreciative, revering Santiago is cognizant of nature’s power and gifts, while Henry defiles nature by hunting rare animals for sport. Perhaps Harry is not worthy of nature’s challenge, and was accordingly punished by nature, while Santiago was rewarded for his reverence.

Santiago prays to God for luck on reeling in the enormous fish as he struggles, and is “feeling much better” regarding his circumstance after praying (The Old Man and the Sea, 72). Though Santiago may appear to be a religious individual, the explicit offhand mentions of religion in The Old Man and the Sea implicate nature as the central, overarching power rather than religion. Most notable is Santiago’s offer to “say ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys” in the event that he reels in this fish. (The Old Man and the Sea, 71). To Santiago, religion is more of a peripheral existence in life rather than a deep-seated way of life to be abided by strictly (Heroic Impulse, 377). Such prayers are generally said following confession to a priest in Catholicism and are most likely present due to Hemingway’s Catholic upbringing. Perhaps the sea is Santiago’s church, where he comes to confess and absolve his sins. This further implicates nature, specifically the sea, as a sacred religious entity. To Hemingway, nature is a more appropriate entity to confess and pray to, rather than the church. Santiago’s willingness to casually exchange his devotion to God through prayer for luck in reeling in a fish demonstrates the lack of gravity God’s existence holds to him. He even remarks, “Hail Marys are easier to say than Our Fathers” (The Old Man and the Sea, 72). Santiago’s greatest concern in saying prayer is the ease with which they are said—a testament to the minor role of the typical concept of religion.

Henry’s final vision before his death also suggests the greater significance of nature as a religious entity over God. The classic imagery of death is a white light or tunnel, ascending to what is presumably heaven or some sort of afterlife. Instead of ascending towards the light, Harry envisions a beautiful natural landscape, “all he could see, as wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun, was the square top of Kilimanjaro. And then he knew that there was where he was going.” (Kilimanjaro 7) To Henry, heaven was the peak of Kilimanjaro, which mirrors many qualities of heaven: brilliantly white, high, and encompassing. The concept of religion and God are surmounted by the brilliance and pervasiveness of nature in The Old Man and the Sea and The Snows of Kilimanjaro.

In these two works, nature resembles a god-like entity, and is a more focal existence than the typical concept of religion and God. Nature giveth, and nature taketh. Nature challenges the resolve of man, and yields greater depth when explored deeply. Santiago engages nature in conversation, in a one-sided dialogue resembling prayer to a higher power. It is clear that to the characters in Hemingway’s writings, nature is the driving force behind life and death. This in turn raises the question: Why is nature more powerful than God?

Hemingway’s exposure to nature and its sheer power and beauty are likely to have influenced his decision to implement nature as such a powerful force in his literature. Nature’s ability to influence the lives of individuals in drastic ways, and the aforementioned qualities nature possesses may have proved to be a more secular, concrete concept to believe in. Hemingway’s economic writing style suggests an underlying affinity for pragmatism and realism, making nature the more powerful and prevalent force in his works.

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Burhams, Charles. The Old Man and the Sea: Hemingway’s Tragic Vision of Man. American Literature. 31. (1960). 446-455. 5 May, 2014.

Gurko, Leo. The Old Man and the Sea. College English. 17. (1955) 11-15. 5 May, 2014.

Gurko, Leo. The Heroic Impulse in “The Old Man and the Sea”. The English Journal. 44 (1995). 377-382. 5 May, 2014.

Hemingway, Ernest. “The Old Man and the Sea”. New York: Charles Schuber’s Sons, 1952. Print.

Hemingway, Ernest. The Snows of Kilimanjaro. Xroards Virginia, 2 February, 1998. 5 May, 2014. <http://xroads.virginia.edu/~drbr/heming.html>

 

 

 

 

 

FINAL PAPER: Analysis Of Kingstons’ “No Name Woman” from “The Woman Warrior”

Question: In what ways does Kingston defend her aunt by denouncing the problem of Chinese culture while still attempting to be respectful of her ancestry?

The story, “No Name Woman” by Maxine Hong Kingston recounts the tale of a young woman who became pregnant while unmarried and is forced to suffer the consequences. This story blurs the lines between truth and falsehood, making it difficult to decipher accurate information about the no name woman. Kingston illustrates the struggle of Chinese American immigrants to assimilate and debates the difference between authenticity and personal experience. If one reads the work just as the story of the aunt, one misses the underlying message regarding Chinese society and its detrimental effect on women. This work is a story within a story; it describes the aunt’s journey, but it also serves as a diary for the author to help resolve her mixed emotions.

Confucian familial structure stemmed from the men down. The men were the heads of the house and the leaders of society. The children, more specifically the sons, were to do as they were told and model their behavior after their fathers. Having female children, especially if you did not have a son already, was shameful, and many baby girls were abandoned. If the family was behaving according to tradition, virtue would flow down the chain of command. A woman’s duties included bearing and raising children, footbinding (if wealthy), cooking, cleaning, and serving her husband. A woman could not own land or file for divorce; once she entered a marriage she was bound to her husband. Women were gentle beings, who were viewed as delicate and fragile, devoid of their own opinions and thoughts. Kingston views this disrespect of women as a weakness of Chinese culture.

The first line hints at the secretive nature of Chinese society, another cultural weaknesses that troubles the author. “You must not tell anyone” (Norton 1507). Kingston is illustrating the concept of the inner circle. Chinese citizens tend to close off communication and analyze their words before speaking for fear of negative repercussions. The talk-story Kingston is about to hear is shameful; negative history follows generation after generation. The family in Chinese society is the most important unit, and all actions of the family members affect the entire group. Ironically, Kingston works diligently throughout this story to uncover her aunt’s history, something that her mother and father have worked hard to keep hidden. She is differentiating herself from her culture by publishing the very secret that continues to perturb her.

The author describes America as the “Gold Mountain,” or the epitome of opportunity and success. Chinese citizens were fed up with their oppressive war-lord governmental system. Many made the decision to move to America, hoping to live the American dream and achieve success. This move exposed the Chinese to a new culture, giving them a reference point to compare their society to. Their illusion of what it meant to be American was shattered. This was the exact same for Kingston, living in America made her realize that no one shares a common experience; we may all be American but we all perceive America differently. This idea was the basis for her questioning the truthfulness of her aunt’s history. Her mother’s experience is unique and personal, just as Kingston presumes her aunt’s experience was. Kingston never would have written this novel if she had not immigrated to America. This move gave Kingston the freedom of expression and the comparative mindset she needed to observe her culture analytically.

Kingston introduces the villagers, who represent one source of stress to the family system. They’re the ones who suspected the aunt of being impregnated by another man and violently storm the house. “As the villagers closed in, we could see that some of them, probably men and women we knew well, wore white masks” (Norton 1508). Their friends and neighbors, feeling burdened by the weight of Chinese society and tradition, must destroy the house and livelihood of friends and comrades. They wear white masks not only to conceal their identity but also to hide their grief. The color white in ancient Chinese society is associated with mourning. These villagers are mourning the loss of a member of their community. Contradicting tradition, some may believe the aunt was raped or believe that the whole family should not suffer. However, if they betrayed tradition, they would be ostracized. One of the pillars of Chinese culture is networking and familial ties. If someone is banished, they’re an “other,” or someone with no ties or connections to Chinese culture. This instance begs the question of when to stand up for what is right even though the consequences may be severe. Sometimes traditions are rooted so tightly that change is frowned upon, even when it is correct. Kingston breaks away from this idea when she chooses to defend her aunt and view her story as oppression rather than direct betrayal.

Kingston’s mother threatens her, exclaiming, “You wouldn’t like to be forgotten as if you had never been born. The villagers are watchful” (Norton 1508). This stresses the importance of this secret being kept within the family. Kingston goes on to explain that her mother enjoys testing her. However, Kingston isn’t one to trust the story; she begins to question the validity of the tale by exclaiming, “What is Chinese tradition and what is the movies” (Norton 1509). As desperate as the Chinese Americans were to maintain their tradition and culture, they were also desperate to fit in and assimilate. This questioning of the validity of the story renders the reader incapable of distinguishing between what is authentic to Chinese culture and what is personal fiction. Kingston is rejecting the idea that Chinese culture is authentic and real, trying desperately to separate herself from that viewpoint. Kingston is claiming that Americans, when they ask Chinese citizens about their culture, take that one unique experience and apply it universally. These people serve as synecdoches for an entire culture.

Kingston’s imagination then begins to run wild, filling in the blanks of her aunt’s history with overdramatic storylines. Her aunt is one of the victims of Chinese culture, she serves as a symbol of the way the patriarchal system suppresses women. Kingston feels the responsibility to represent her aunt and speak for her. The aunt, according to Kingston’s version, was a victim of a man’s lust. This story shows the skewed nature of ancient Chinese society. It is even more unbearable for Kingston, especially because her own mother is supportive of the actions towards her aunt. It is clear that her aunt cared for the child because she carried the baby over to the well and held it tightly in her arms during their final moments together. The aunt chose to perform this act because she and her child were isolated from society and devoid of hope to regain status. Her baby would enter the world without network ties and anyone to care for it, and the thought of the horrible life her child would endure made her uneasy. This situation reinforces the idea that one person’s actions haunt an entire family.

The ghost imagery continues to resurface throughout the story. This imagery indicates the close ties the Chinese have to ancestors and their belief in the after-life. In this case, however, the aunt does not have anyone to provide for her in life after death, so she is constantly begging others for food, wandering hungry. She haunts Kingston as well, serving as a constant reminder of the consequences that can occur as a result of one’s actions. Kingston is torn; there is a presumption in speaking for her aunt even though she may have wanted to silence herself. Kingston is anxious about the use of her aunt as a political symbol for the impropriety of Chinese culture.

The elements of Chinese society merge together towards the end of the story. “The round moon cakes and round doorways, the round tables of graduated size that fit one roundess inside another, round windows and rice bowls-these talismans had lost their power to warn this family of the law: a family must be whole, faithfully keeping the descent line by having sons to feed the old and the dead, who in turn look after the family” (Norton 1513). Everyone has their place in the tight circle that is Chinese society. The roundness indicates that the family functions as a whole unit, with each generation dependent on the other. The grandparents depend on their kids to take care of them in old age and the cycle continues as the parent’s age. One of the biggest disgraces in Chinese society is neglecting the elderly. Chinese tradition is what fuels this circle; it establishes the cultural norms and practices that define what it means to be Chinese. Not only does this circle represent familial relations, it also represents the circle of life.

This story, although it is a story about an aunt whose life fell into disarray, is in fact a historical recollection of Chinese society and a questioning of Chinese identity. The story first lays the background of the Confucian system and the need for immigration to America. It illustrates the roles of women and men in Chinese society, with women being subservient to men. In addition to laying the foundational Chinese traditional principles, the story demonstrates what occurs if one steps out of line: banishment, disgrace, and loneliness. Kingston gives the reader insight into the history of Chinese culture, which serves as a rigid guideline for the problems encountered throughout this story. Kingston is trying to come to terms with her identity in Chinese society, while continuing to give her aunt a lost voice. By writing this novel, she’s shining light on the plight of her aunt, showing respect for Chinese culture, and illustrating the problems that led to her aunt’s suicide.

The Grotesque in Flannery O’Connor’s Literature

Should Flannery O’Connor’s work be called grotesque? Many people, including Flannery O’Connor herself, have explored this question. Grotesque fiction brings something extraordinary and often disturbing to life by distorting the ordinary. O’Connor rejects such a label, in part because she rejects labels of any kind, arguing that labeling a writer or their work, with such titles as Southern or grotesque, limits what readers and critics expect upon reading their works (Mystery 37). Furthermore, she rejects the label grotesque, arguing instead that her works are better categorized as realism (Mystery 40). O’Connor’s short story collection A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories is filled with violence, deceitful characters, horror, and death in the context of everyday life in the South. Even if the author is resistant to calling her work grotesque, many people claim otherwise. Many aspects of O’Connor’s fiction support this argument, some of which can be explored in the collection A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories.

One of the more common comments made on O’Connor’s work is that it can be analyzed as a “psychoanalytic narrative” because her stories often suggest Freudian psychological theories (Fowler 128). Freud argued that a fear of castration is necessary for acceptance into society. Many critics, such as Kats and Mellard, see figurative castrations of characters in the violence of O’Connor’s stories. They see this violence as “purposeful” and serving to “stabilize social hierarchy and positions of dominance” (Fowler 128). Although O’Connor herself rejects Freud and his ideas because she believed he stood in opposition to religion, some of her works can be interpreted as reflecting his ideas (Wehner 300). One of the most commonly used examples supporting this claim is in “Good Country People” when Manley Pointer stealing Hulga’s prosthetic leg. Many critics interpret this scene as a symbolic castration, congruent with Freud’s theories. His theories focus greatly on the Oedipus complex, which most would agree, is an extremely disturbing concept. It’s only logical to conclude that a work of literature that reflects such disturbing ideas would fall into the category of the grotesque.

The characters O’Connor creates in her stories are undeniably a combination of grotesque and utterly ordinary. Katie Oliver points out that all of O’Connor’s works depict characters that are flawed in some way or another and that those “bodily handicaps symbolize the greater handicaps of the intellect, the heart, or the soul” (233). Her characters’ dearth of morals and intelligence is manifested in some kind of outward abnormality. One example is Hulga’s leg in “Good Country People,” which can be interpreted as her lack of faith. Each one of O’Connor’s stories features at least one character that is riddled with problems, which come back to haunt them. Such unique and disturbing characters make for an interesting, often frustrating, and most certainly grotesque read.

Another aspect of O’Connor’s fiction that enhances its absurdity is her characters’ names. A big part of one’s identity is contained within a name, and O’Connor uses names, nicknames, and their connotations to reflect her characters’ natures. Her characters often change their names, like Harry/Bevel in “The River” and Joy/Hulga in “Good Country People.” These name changes also tend to increase the absurdity and grotesqueness of the story. When Joy changes her name to Hulga it is because she feels it more accurately reflects her personality and her unattractive prosthetic leg, but for the reader, simply reading the name Hulga instead of Joy changes the tone of O’Connor’s work. A name can accurately accentuate the role and importance of certain characters, especially in the context of literature, where the reader can only envision what the author chooses to include in their descriptions. The character of “the Misfit” in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” has quite an understatement of name in the context of his murderous escapades. The discrepancy between his name and actions makes his character even more grotesque, as if the feeling of not fitting in is a good enough reason for murdering people. O’Connor also cleverly utilizes character names to create an abstract struggle between God and the devil within the physical struggle of Harry/Bevel’s drowning in “The River.” Mr. Paradise, whose name conjures images of heaven, tries to save Harry/Bevel from drowning after he has returned to the river to seek salvation but finds only death, as Mr. Paradise cannot reach him. O’Connor contradicts characters’ names and connotations with their actions and personalities to create an off kilter balance and disturbing realities.

Just as grotesque literature takes the ordinary and distorts it, O’Connor’s descriptions are often a puzzling and powerful combination of seemingly conflicting ideas or objects. As a reader you expect certain ways of describing sunsets and people, but O’Connor defies expectations by presenting these things in a different, more grotesque light. In “A Stroke of Good Fortune” O’Connor describes Ruby as “a short woman, shaped like a funeral urn” (A Good Man 67). Of all the ways to describe a person’s shape, O’Connor chooses to compare her to a funeral urn. It is just an object, but carries the weight of death and grief and the question of life beyond, transforming a typical physical description into a thought-provoking image. Mr. Shortley, in “The Displaced Person,” is described as “[folding] his hands on his bony chest and [pretending] he was a corpse” (A Good Man 224). Another author could have described this same posture as sleep but O’Connor takes the image to a gruesome level by describing him as dead. In “A Temple of the Holy Ghost” the last image of the sun setting is described as “a huge red ball like an elevated Host drenched in blood” (A Good Man 102). Sunsets are generally depicted as beautiful sights, filled with magnificent colors. O’Connor’s choice of words to describe the sun as “drenched in blood” and earlier on in the story as “bruised violet” maintain the typical colors one would expect in a description of the sunset but distort them by reflecting violence instead of beauty (A Good Man 91). Descriptive images such as these are scattered throughout the various short stories in this book and serve to create an ominous tone and often foreshadow the horror that is to come.

O’Connor uses humor to engage readers in her gruesome stories and compel their participation. Talking about Flannery O’Connor, Robert Lowell said, “I find it hard to think of a funnier or more frightening writer” (A Good Man back cover). Readers can identify the capacity for such grotesque beliefs and acts in the characters of O’Connor’s stories and also within themselves by participating in the characters’ misery through humor. The humorous instances in her stories often create self-reflective moments for the reader, in which they can look into themselves, question why they found that to be funny, and discover where such violence, horror, and ugliness could come from.   In “A Circle in the Fire” after Sally Virginia eavesdrops on the three black vagrant boys’ discussion of what they would do with her mother’s precious woods and watches them set the woods on fire she runs to her mother and exclaims, “Mama, they’re going to build a parking lot here!” (A Good Man 158). It’s humorous because her mother’s paranoia of the woods catching fire has been emphasized throughout the story, but at the same time it’s terrible to laugh because her paranoia has become reality. By adding humor to her work O’Connor subtly downplays the grotesque on the page but enhances it in the readers’ experience.

O’Connor’s works often emphasize Christianity and religion. She herself is an enthusiastic Catholic woman, who, through her literature, hopes to depict “the action of grace in territories largely held by the devil” (Fowler 127). Wehner calls her the “defender of the faith in twentieth century American literature” (301). The level of success she achieves in accomplishing this goal is questionable. In many of her stories, her characters are completely let down by religion and by their faith. Religion is an important theme in all of O’Connor’s works but is quite obvious in “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” The grandmother’s insistence that the Misfit comes from “good people” and he just needs to pray to Jesus is obliterated as the Misfit and his minions murder each of her family members and finally her. Religion is a system of morals and virtues as well as sin and damnation. Its dual nature is both merciful and vengeful, and often advertises the appearance of good but undeniably also has a darker and more grotesque side as well. The hope that many of O’Connor’s characters find in religion and rely on makes their disappointment and disillusionment even harder to witness when it fails them.

The most significant way in which O’Connor’s stories in A Good Man is Hard to Find should be considered grotesque is by readers’ reactions. Most people would agree that her stories are bizarre and leave one captivated, revolted, and everything in between. She does this by presenting absurd plots in the context of ordinary places, often leaving the climax of her stories unresolved. A good example is the ending of “A Late Encounter with the Enemy,” which follows the graduation hopes of an older woman and the dementia and death of her grandfather. The story ends with the sentence: “That crafty scout had bumped him out the back way and rolled him at high speed down the flagstone path and was waiting now, with the corpse, in the long line at the Coca-Cola machine” (A Good Man 175). O’Connor’s combination of the boy’s fascination with the Coca-Cola machine and the grandfather’s corpse creates a disturbing image in which death is just an afterthought, a side note quickly mentioned and dwarfed by the excitement of a soda machine. O’Connor’s style of writing enhances the grotesqueness of her stories. She tells her stories in a very straightforward manner with short sentences, generally using simple grammatical structures and dominated by statements of action and dialogue. She gradually leads the reader on, hinting and foreshadowing what is to come, and then the big climax occurs. It’s often some horrible event or devastating epiphany which is told in an understated manner, as in “A Late Encounter with the Enemy,” leaving the reader in a state of shock.

In contrast to the argument made here, many still claim O’Connor’s work should not be considered grotesque, even that such a category of literature does not exist. Flannery O’Connor describes what she considers to be true grotesque writing as realistic, and what people label as grotesque is just how Northerners see Southern writing (Mystery 40). The South is a place of appearances; where people emit the illusion of sophistication with their manners, pride, faith, and hospitality, but underneath it is a place ravaged by violence and a haunting history of prejudice and oppression. All of the stories in A Good Man is Hard to Find are set in the South, which is an appropriate setting for grotesque fiction as the previous sentence shows, but they are grotesque in more than just the eyes of Northerners; they are grotesque to people from everywhere. O’Connor argues her work is realism, that “[v]iolence is strangely capable of returning [her] characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace” (Fowler 127). But it’s hard to reconcile the level of brutality and violence in her stories with her goal of illustrating grace. Her characters more often end up death or miserable than finding grace.

 

Works Cited

Fowler, Doreen. “Flannery O’Connor’s Productive Violence.” Arizona Quarterly: A Journal ofAmerican Literature, Culture, and Theory 67.2 (2011): 127-54. Project Muse. Web. 3 May 2014.

Kate Oliver (2004) O’Connor’s Good Country People, The Explicator, 62:4, 233-236, DOI: 10.1080/00144940409597232

O’Connor, Flannery. A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1955. Print.

O’Connor, Flannery, Sally Fitzgerald, and Robert Fitzgerald. Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1969. Google Books. Web.

Wehner, David Z. “Pulverizing The Idols: Flannery O’Connor’s Battle With Sigmund Freud And Carl Jung.” Mississippi Quarterly 65.2 (2012): 299-319. Academic Search Complete. Web. 3 May 2014.

Final Paper: On Politics in George Saunder’s “The Semplica-Girl Diaries”

A rather modern story published in 2012 in the New York Times, the conception for “The Semplica-Girl Diaries” came to George Saunders in a dream. The semplica girls or “SGs,” coming from different countries around the world, are strung up in some alternate universe by a microline through the head and used as lawn ornaments by affluent families. Voluntarily entering into this subordinate position in order to provide for their families back home, the SGs can be translated into immigrant workers, sweatshop laborers, or any other form of subjugated persons in today’s society. While the narrator’s first entry on September 3rd describes his intentions in keeping a diary, to provide information “for posterity” of his alternate universe, he speaks of things that are current in America today: “Will future people know, for example, about sound of airplanes going over at night, since airplanes by that time passé?” It’s almost as if “The Semplica-Girls Diaries” is actually offering political commentary on our world rather than this alternative universe, but Saunders ingeniously conceals this attempt in the same way that the woes of capitalism are concealed today. However, can it be said that Saunders’ story is simply a warning to the future about our present capitalist system? If so, why write in the context of literature or a diary instead of offering some political opinion, and what does he propose for our future?

While the narrator’s entry on September 3rd discussed subjects relevant to our present such as airplanes, demons, and windows, the first hint at Saunders’ political commentary is not discovered until his second entry on September 5th: “Who cares about stupid bumper, we’re going to get a new car soon anyway, when rich, right?” In this quote, the eldest daughter, Lilly, reveals to the reader the status of the narrator’s family. It’s true that they could just have a beat up car, but the use of the word rich here shows that his family is somewhere between poor and middle class. Similarly, on September 6th, the narrator discusses Lilly’s friend Leslie Torrini and her family’s riches after Leslie held a birthday at her family home: “House is mansion where Lafayette once stayed. Torrinis showed us Lafayette’s room: now their “Fun Den.” Plasma TV, pinball game, foot massager. Thirty acres, six garages (they call them “outbuildings”): one for Ferraris (three), one for Porsches (two, plus one he is rebuilding)…” It is made very clear the difference between the narrator’s wealth and that of the Torrinis. It’s almost mocking of the narrator in the fact that Leslie’s father has enough leisure time to rebuild a car, an operation that one could rightfully picture the patriarch of a rich family performing in a movie. As it is so focused on materialism, this passage depicts the undercurrent of class envy within Saunders’ story. Lilly is envious when she exaggerates the size of the Torrinis’ tree house. The narrator signals to his own class envy also on September 6th in saying “Do not really like rich people, as they make us poor people feel dopey and inadequate. Not that we are poor. I would say we are middle. We are very, very lucky. I know that. But still…” However, the tables turn on the 22nd when he finally has means to buy SGs and a pond. Leslie, the rich girl, calls her mother to complain about why she does not also have a pond. The narrator attempts to but does not deny that this role reversal of his daughter and Leslie makes him happy, which Farmer Rich of September 25th would probably label a “showoffy move.” On the 14th of September, the narrator’s explanation of his credit cards and deferment of payment in order to provide his kids with a sense of generosity instead depicts his materialism. “If not now, when?” Yet, the real reason for credit cards is not this developing sense of generosity, but security, a security that his kids will not be spat out by the world. It’s ironic that something so insecure and not a means of real money but rather of debt, comes to be a form of security to the narrator. Yet, all his credit cards are near the maximum limit in the story. This class envy and literal materialism (credit cards are made of plastic), in becoming worrisome to both the characters of the story and the reader, is the first warning of a capitalist future.

Despite the demonstration of class envy, the scene where the bumper falls of the narrator’s car and Leslie’s idea that her family will someday be rich is also the epitome of the American Dream. The narrator shares his American Dream when on September 22nd he calls his desire to move up the social ladder a “presentiment of special destiny” and a “feeling [he] would someday do something great.” Yet, there is a reason why it is called a dream. When the narrator wins money by chance from a Scratch-Off and hires an entire arrangement of SG’s for his youngest daughter, Eva’s birthday party, he develops the false hope that his destiny is finally coming into place. But the reader later discovers that this is not so. So long as one works hard, he or she will have the opportunity to succeed. This is what most citizens are commonly taught to believe growing up in America. However, America is not classless and social mobility, or the upward movement from a state of poverty to some degree of affluence, has been greatly misconstrued (Loewen 317-326). With this information readily available, why is no one willing to recognize that the American Dream is a myth? It seems both a question of acknowledgement and belief. No one wants to believe a person could be so disadvantaged as to be simply stuck in utter poverty, especially where social immobility is said to be impossible. Hence, everyone in our capitalist society ignores or refuses to acknowledge subjugation and oppression. The personal statements the narrator reads of the SGs he hired on September 21st are the perfect example of social immobility and poverty that cannot be overcome: “Laotian (Tami) applied due to two sisters already in brothels. Moldovan (Gwen) has cousin who thought she was becoming window-washer in Germany, but no: sex slave in Kuwait (!). Somali (Lisa) watched father + little sister die of AIDS, same tiny thatch hut, same year. Flipina (Betty) has little brother “very skilled for computer,” parents cannot afford high school…” The narrator and his wife believe that they are giving these women an opportunity to work that they would not have had in their homelands, and as their choices were voluntary, the SG system is justifiable. This mirrors in exactitude the justification of capitalism: because he or she made the choice to become an immigrant worker, a sweatshop laborer, a prostitute, all work is acceptable and legitimate. Thus, the mistreatment of those oppressed persons and the SGs is easily ignored because of our belief system.

In the same way that the narrator justifies both his class envy and the subjugation of the SGs without truly acknowledging the occurrence of either, Saunders purposely covers up much of the plot of “The Semplica-Girl Diaries.” The SGs are first mentioned in the narrator’s diary entry on September 6th, but their role as lawn ornaments is not explained to the reader in the context of the microline until September 23rd. The reason that the narrator blocks feeling any sympathy for the SGs is possibly because they remind him too much of himself and his own poverty. Going along with this theme of cover-ups, the abbreviation SGs is a cover-up of the name semplica girls. While at first this seems trivial, the cover-up of ordinary language has a more significant implication. It is often the case that those with any sort of political power are able to cover up what they choose because of the power that they hold. The Torrinis’ who have power through affluence, call the paper doll set the narrator’s family gives to Leslie “kitsch,” meaning of poor taste by ironically appreciated in some way. However, the narrator didn’t conceive of the gift as “kitsch” until the Torrinis said it was so. Similarly, coercive wage offers where the immigrant worker, the sweatshop laborer, or the prostitute is given the choice between working and starving are not defined as coercion because capitalists say these wage offers are voluntary. But is it actually reasonable to say that one is not forced to work, when he can choose to starve? (Cohen 280-281). Capitalists have come to define the word coercion overtime in a way that absolves them of any and all guilt. For example, a man named Karl tends the vegetable garden of the Torrinis, but the narrator states later on September 6th that the tender of the Torrinis’ flower garden is “weirdly also named Karl.” While hilarious, it is more plausible that the Torrinis simply choose to call both their (immigrant) workers by the name Karl rather than that being the name of both persons. Thus, the Torrinis are blocking the possible coercion of Karl and Karl through not using their true names or distinguishing one from the other and not calling coercion, coercion. This situation is repeated when the Torrinis’ patriarch asks about the narrator’s work: “He said, Well, huh, amazing the strange, arcane things our culture requires some of us to do, degrading things…” The narrator’s job is never revealed to the reader, but it is supposedly degrading. Therefore, the cover-up of the woes of capitalism resembles Saunders’ other cover-ups, but the theme continues even further with Saunders’ incredible sense of satiric humor.

When Lilly asks her father, the narrator, wouldn’t he love to live in a house like the Torrinis’, he begins to laugh while his wife, Pam asks him what Lilly is saying wrong. His opinion goes without saying; it is wrong that Lilly is not covering up her class envy. The narrator instead laughs off his misfortune, for example on September 15th with “Ha-ha! Must keep spirits up. Laughter best medicine, etc., etc.” On September 20th, he discusses his previous sadness before the Scratch-Off card winnings “due to worry vis-à-vis limitations.” Through what parallels the sentiments of a mid-life crisis, the narrator covers up and laughs off his loneliness, constant dissatisfaction, embarrassment, frustration, and disappointment simultaneously. While it is necessary to read the whole story to get the full effect of Saunders’ hilarious shorthand, equals signs, etc., his satire or dark humor are best depicted in this quote on September 22nd: “Note to self: Try to extend positive feelings associated with Scratch-Off win into all areas of life. Be bigger presence at work. Race up ladder (joyfully, w/ smile on face), get raise. Get in best shape of life, start dressing nicer. Learn guitar? Make point of noticing beauty of world?…” that extends all the way to a scene in the Alps where his kids sit with a crippled girl who later receives surgery which his family paid for and lands herself in the newspaper. Saunders parodies what happens when humans are inspired or happy and the entirety of our New Years’ resolutions all at one time. Because of the narrator’s bitter laughter and this dark humor, it becomes easy to ignore—again—the dark history and horrifying imagery of the SGs that lies beneath the satire.

However, despite Saunders’ hidden commentary on class envy, materialism, the capitalist system in general, and oppression, “The Semplica-Girl Diaries” is not simply a warning to the future about the current state of political America. Oddly, his political commentary is not so much about politics as it is about exposure to the problems of politics and moral complexity. Near the end of the story, Eva chooses to let the SGs down from their posts because of her innate moral compass, but because of her actions, she jeopardizes her family’s future. But the cost of the lost SGs is not the only resulting detriment; without money, food, water, or an ability to acquire jobs as illegal fugitives, the SGs while free of subjugation but still connected to the microline, will probably die off shortly. Eva’s impulsivity, in effect, represents the goodness of intentions in sending money or food to poor people overseas in impoverished countries, which more often than not ends up getting lost to the control of local warlords or false distributors. While this final dissolution in Saunders’ story could suggest his proposal to dismantle our current capitalist system, the narrator’s reaction to his daughter’s choice makes any notion of Saunders’ political direction or views unclear. September 26th: “Felt like waking Eva, giving Eva hug, telling Eva that, though we do not approve of what she did, she will always be our girl…” In that the narrator is both prideful and disapproving of Eva, the reader realizes that every character in the story believes they are making ethical decisions in the time that they make them despite where those decisions lead. No one is deliberately evil or knowingly coercive in Saunders’ story and in addition to definitions misconstrued by the powerful, that is the reason for which the narrator questions why the SGs were so desperate to run away after choosing that line of work. Therefore, Saunders wants us to sympathize with Eva and her choice. Despite his engaging dark humor, Saunders is deeply empathetic of the whole of humanity.

While Eva’s solution to the oppression of the semplica girls was not really a solution at all, Saunders also does not develop a political solution for capitalism. He writes diary entries because they are personal reflections rather than proposals for what we can fix about society. He offers critiques without need of proposing solutions unlike Marxian claims against historical materialism and the need to free ourselves of delusion in order to see where our true interests lie. Even if America’s citizens eventually acknowledge that social mobility of subjugated persons isn’t always conceivable, most do not see a viable way to fix the problem. Art and literature offer a context where the exploration of ethics and moral ambiguity do not require this reduction to empirical study or resolution, where Saunders does not have to argue morally debatable issues from a nonmoral point of view. Thus, literature can break rules and expose imperfection in a way that politics cannot, and Saunders’ exposure to political problems does precisely that, but not only that. The story of the semplica girls is originally covered up, for if the reader were cognizant the whole time, the story would be but a political proposal to rid of capitalism or oppression. Yet through the process of deciphering the plot, the reader discovers Saunders’ empathy and faith in humanity in spite of his dark humor and dark subject material.

Note: With a question for the thesis to be uncovered in the conclusion, this paper was written to emulate, decipher, and admire Saunders’ method of modern literature. I apologize for not using page numbers as Saunders’ story does not include them, but I used as many diary dates as possible for purposes of location.

 Works Cited:

Cohen, Gerald Allan. Self-ownership, Freedom, and Equality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 34-37, 53-61. Retrieved from FAPA.

Loewen, James W. “The Land of Opportunity,” in L. J. McIntyre, The Practical Skeptic: Readings in Sociology (5th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill, 2009.

Saunders, George. “The Semplica-Girl Diaries.” New York: The New Yorker, 2012.

On Grace in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find”

In a 1958 letter to an unnamed friend, “A,” found in the collection The Habit of Being, Flannery O’Connor once remarked, “All of my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it,” (275). The themes of grace and redemption are vital to any work by O’Connor. Oftentimes her characters are seen at the beginning of a story as being estranged from O’Connor’s perception of God’s grace and living in what could be considered a life of sin. Throughout the course of the work, though, a change is enacted upon the character in which he or she experiences grace by way of a greater understanding of humanity. To O’Connor, the action of grace implies an experience in which one’s pride is replaced with humility, in which one experiences the true intimacy of life through human interaction, or by which one is released from the bondages of sin and returns to a life with God. The characters of the grandmother in “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” and Harry Ashfield in “The River,” both experience the action of grace in some way throughout their respective short stories. In both cases, the bestowal of grace upon the character is violent and tragic, an indication of O’Connor’s thoughts on the nature of God’s grace. Through these characters, O’Connor presents that the action of God’s grace is not something that can be predicted, but rather an action that is surprising and life changing, as it brings the bestowed to a deeper, more intimate understanding of humanity, and requires a death of one’s old self.

In the titular short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” grace is bestowed upon the character of the grandmother in her fatal confrontation with the Misfit. Like the other characters mentioned above, the grandmother is presented at the beginning of the story as being distanced from God, as living in a life of sin. She is full of pride, arrogant, and judgmental. There are many instances in which these qualities are expressed at the beginning of the story. When the family is leaving for Florida, the grandmother is the first one ready to go, dressed in a navy blue dress and white cotton gloves. The narrator explains that she dresses in this way so that “in case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady” (118). In this way, the grandmother is presented at the onset of the story as being concerned with appearances and material possessions. She believes that the standards of womanhood are not aspects of one’s character, but rather aspects of one’s wardrobe. This translates into a method of living in which the real sustenance of life is neglected in favor of what one presents on the surface. The grandmother’s inclination to the ephemeral aspects of life is apparent again when she hurls judgment at other people whom she does not know. As the car passes a shack belonging to a sharecropper family, the grandmother reminds the children that, “little niggers in the country don’t have things like we do,” (119). While this may be interpreted as her attempt at teaching the children to appreciate what they have, she never truly instills any real message in the kids, as she doesn’t take the necessary extra step in reminding them to be thankful, but simply observes the poverty of the “little niggers.” This type of attitude continues throughout the trip until the accident, when the Misfit joins the family.

Some scholars, such as David Eggenschwiler in his book The Christian Humanism of Flannery O’Connor, have noted the grandmother’s “persistent and often irritating grandmotherliness,” (91) as a symbol of her capacity for affection even in her sinful state. The reader is given the sense that the grandmother tries to be a good woman, even if her actions appear to be hypocritical and superficial. It is this potential to show true affection that allows the grandmother to receive grace in her confrontation with the Misfit. Only when she is faced with the threat death does she exhibit the true Christian ideals and experience grace. André Bleikasten, in his essay titled “The Heresy of Flannery O’Connor,” notes that, for the grandmother, “the beginning is quite literally the end, and the price paid for spiritual rebirth is an immediate death,” (153). The grandmother acknowledges her own ignorance as to the validity of Jesus’s resurrection, and thus is reminded that her entire morality is based on “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” (Hebrews 11:1). The true action of grace is bestowed upon the grandmother in her recognition that the Misfit is not so much a misfit as simply another fallen human. He and she are united in their sins with rest of humanity, and although the grandmother believes herself to be a lady, she is truly no different from the rest of the world. In a moment of clarity, she sees the Misfit and murmurs, “Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children!” (132) and reaches out to touch him as an intimate sign of their shared humanity before the Misfit shoots her in the chest. The reader is left unsure of how to feel regarding the grandmother’s death. On the one hand, her death is a tragedy as she had finally understood the meaning of grace and made a change from her sinful ways, only to be robber of the opportunity to live out this change. On the other hand, her encounter with the Misfit is redeeming in that it gave her the chance, at the end of her life, to experience her profound change and thus die a free, righteous woman. As the Misfit remarks at the end of the story, the grandmother “would have been a good woman, if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life,” (133).

Harry Ashfield, of O’Connor’s short story “The River,” is another character that pays the fatal price of spiritual rebirth, being granted God’s grace through his death by means of escaping his young, sinful life. Harry Ashfield is introduced as a young boy, “four or five,” (158) who, like the grandmother in “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” is separated from God in the beginning of the story, not by any fault of his own, but simply through lack of introduction to religion. Harry is lives in the city (due to the prevalence of streetcar transportation one may assume New Orleans, a famously sinful city) with his neglectful, socialite parents. Harry’s parents show no regard for their boy’s well-being and are incredibly distant, caring more about nursing their hangovers than taking care of their son. Harry is not unaffected by his parents’ lifestyle; he shows iniquitous behavior in lying to Mrs. Connin about his name, attempting to jump on the tail of the dog at her house, and stealing her handkerchief and Bible. Harry’s first introduction to Jesus begins with a picture of Jesus the carpenter surrounded by little children he sees in Mrs. Connin’s house. She informs him that he was “made by a carpenter named Jesus Christ,” although he originally thought he had been made by “a doctor named Sladewell,” (163). This confusion emphasizes Harry’s inability to distinguish between the literal and the metaphorical or spiritual, a theme that reemerges with his two baptisms in the river.

The first baptism is a devastating experience for Harry, as he expects to be able to escape his apartment life with his parents and join Christ in the Kingdom of God, only to be shocked by the violence of the baptism. The preacher, Mr. Bevel, assures the crowd at the baptism that “there ain’t but one river and that’s the River of Life, made out of Jesus’s Blood,” (165) and promises Harry (who incidentally and jokingly calls himself Bevel), “if I baptize you, you’ll be able to go to the Kingdom of Christ,” (168). Enticed by the promise of entering God’s Kingdom, and not being able to distinguish between the muddy river he stands in and the spiritual River of Life advertised by the preacher, Harry responds that he would like to be baptized so that “[he] won’t go back to the apartment… [he’ll] go under the river,” (168). The shock and disappointment of this baptism is indicated by the violent words used to describe it. Harry is “swung upside down and plunged into the water,” before being “jerked” back up again and addressed “sternly” by Mr. Bevel (168). Unfortunately for Harry, after this devastating experience, he must return to his deplorable home and confront his parents in the midst of a party. Harry is still distanced from God in this state, as the next morning he deliberately spills ash trays onto the floor and rubs the ash into the carpet, causing a nuisance for the sake of nuisance, but it is from this state that he realizes how he can escape; “very slowly, his expression changed as if he were gradually seeing appear what he didn’t know he’d been looking for. Then all of a sudden he knew what he wanted to do,” (172). Harry no longer thinks of the religiosity of baptism as a joke, and decides to return to the river to baptize himself and finally escape to the promised Kingdom of Christ. The second baptism is as violent as the first, until he is finally caught by the current “like a long gentle hand” and “for an instant he was overcome with surprise… all his fury and fear left him,” (174). In this moment, his drowning, the action of grace is bestowed upon Harry, as he is finally freed from his world of sin and taken downstream. The apostle Paul acknowledges this aspect of baptism in his letter to the Romans, arguing that one is baptized in order that “[one] might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin,” (Romans 6:6-7). In an online analysis of this short story, user Dermot acknowledges that, “in his final moment, through striving for salvation, [Harry] has obtained grace through death. He has chosen God over a life living with his parents” (Dermot, The Sitting Bee). Although Harry’s acceptance into the Kingdom of Christ is paid for with his death, it is this faith that he can find the promised Kingdom that allows him to experience grace and escape the life riddled with sin.

To O’Connor, grace is the conversion of one’s self from a life of sin to a life of spiritual awakening in Christ. The characters of the grandmother and young Harry experience this conversion in the stories “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “The River,” but pay for it with their lives. For the grandmother, grace is given to her by her ultimate understanding of the equality of all humanity, her understanding that she is not any better or worse than the Misfit, that all humans are fallen and are in need of salvation. For Harry, grace is bestowed on him through his faith that he can truly find the metaphorical Kingdom of Christ beneath the murky waters of the literal river. Although his search ends in his death, the reader feels content that he has escaped the hell that is his life with neglectful parents and entered a new life in Christ. O’Connor utilizes these characters to make an important statement about her own perception of God’s grace; namely, that it is violent and tragic and requires a death of one’s old self. Both characters experience grace at the end of their lives in a violent conversion experience. According to Eggenschwiler, Harry’s fault was due his inability to “differentiate between the River of Life and the actual river, between faith and superstition,” (67) but the enlightened reader need not lose his literal life to experience grace. To O’Connor, one must simply lose their old life, their sinful life. Grace is not something easily earned, but its bestowal on a person brings one to a greater understanding of the intimacies of life, and allows him to be renewed and freed from a life of sin.

Works Cited

Fitzgerald, Sally. The Habit of Being: Flannery O’Connor. Toronto: McGraw-Hill, 1979. Print.

O’Connor, Flannery. The Complete Stories. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1971. Print.

Eggenschwiler, David. Christian Humanism of Flannery O’Connor. Toronto: Copp Clark Publishing Company, 1972. Print.

André Bleikasten. “The Heresy of Flannery O’Conor.” Critical Essays on Flannery O’Connor. By Friedman, Melvin J., and Beverly Clark. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1985. Print.

Dermot. “A Good Man Is Hard to Find (Collection) – Flannery O’Connor – The Sitting Bee.” The Sitting Bee. Web.

Harper Collins Study Bible NRSV. Fully rev. ed. Harold W. Attridge. New York: Harper Collins, 2006. Print

Roles of Race and Gender in Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God”

In “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” Zora Neale Hurston explores the effects of race and gender on developing one’s identity. There is often a discrepancy between personal identity and the identity formed exogenously by members of society, which makes it difficult to develop a true understanding of oneself. In Hurston’s novel, Janie is able to move past the opinions others have of her and become the woman she wants to be, but not before she is subjected to the limitations placed on her as a result of being a black woman. Hurston’s symbolic use of the mule, a pear tree in blossom, and Janie’s hair illustrate the development of Janie’s womanhood and independence, as well as her ultimate triumph over her domineering husbands and the constrained society in which she lives.

Normally, when one thinks of race and discrimination, the focus is on one race putting another down. However, in some cases, members of the same race can be just as discriminatory and unsupportive of one another. Hurston explores this idea of inner-race discrimination in her fictional depiction of Eatonville, Florida. Eatonville serves as a way for black people to escape from the racism present in the rest of the United States (Patterson 34). However, this enclave of racial separateness is not lacking in discrimination. Upon the arrival of Joe Starks and Janie to the town, several members of the all-black community question Joe’s aspirations. One such member, Amos Hicks, voices his doubts by saying that “us colored folks is too envious of one ‘nother,” and that’s why any sort of progress is unlikely (“Their Eyes” 48). Furthermore, he says that though the common belief is that the white man keeps the black race from progressing, it is really the entire black community that keeps any one of its members from moving forward (“Their Eyes” 48). It is either the belief that the proverbial white man would not allow the black man to progress or it is being stuck in their oppressive past that keeps the black race from accepting any attempts by one of their members to advance in society.

In actuality, white people are rarely present in the novel. Much of Janie’s tale takes place in Eatonville, which is by its nature an all-black community (“Their Eyes” 35). The white people who are present tend to fade into the background, such as the women who make up “the white part of the room” during Janie’s trial (“Their Eyes” 223). The minute role of white people in the story parallels the inferiority of blacks in the rest of society during a time when racial discrimination was prevalent in the United States. During the early 1900’s, which is when this story takes place, slavery was nonexistent, but racial discrimination was running rampant throughout the country. Jim Crow laws were instituted in the South to make life difficult for black people.

Though white people are uncommon in the story, it is not unusual for the black characters to imitate typical white behavior. For example, Nanny wishes for Janie to act out the role of the white woman by marrying a respectable man (“Their Eyes” 20). Nanny felt the effects of the constraining view toward black women – she took care of a white woman’s children, a job that was typical for a black woman – and hopes that Janie will have a life free from burden. Nanny believes the black woman to be the mule of the world (“Their Eyes” 20). The mule motif factors heavily into the entire story and is used to demonstrate the burden that society puts on members of the black minority.

Not only is Janie black, but she is also a woman. Going back to Nanny’s metaphor, the white man orders the black man around, but the black man transfers his burden to “his womenfolks” (“Their Eyes” 19). This first mention of the mule sets the tone for the rest of the story; Janie is a mule in the sense that she must carry the burden her husbands place on her, but she is also beat down by the expectations placed on her by society. Nanny expects her to live an unburdened life, but each of Janie’s husbands in not content with maintaining this ideal (Meisenhelder 63). This is not just a story about racial discrimination; it also describes the plight of femininity, particular that of the black woman. The mule comes to represent female identity, in the sense that both mules and women must be controlled by their owners and husbands (Dilbeck 103). Matt Bonner, a member of the Eatonville community, is criticized for not being able to control his mule and ends up selling it to Joe (“Their Eyes” 70). Janie empathizes with the mule, because both she and it were subjected to a controlling master. Once Joe dies and Janie is free from that control, the mule motif does not reappear in the story, because Janie has been freed from her burden (Dilbeck 103).

Because Eatonville is an all-black community, Janie’s gender plays a greater role in how she is viewed by society. She, and often women in general, has the misfortune of being known only in reference to her husband. Rather than “Janie Starks,” she is called “Mrs. Mayor” (“Their Eyes” 56). Joe Starks is another character who mimics typical white behavior due to the absence of white people within the story. After working for “white folks all [his] life,” he’s ready to “be a big voice” (“Their Eyes” 35). Hurston paints Joe as a “false model of black manhood” by emphasizing his unhappiness to stay within his predetermined role (Meisenhelder 65). Tired of being ordered about, Joe adopts the persona of a white man, subjecting the black members of the community to his command. With a “bow-down command in his face,” Joe fosters economic growth in Eatonville, but mostly for his own benefit (“Their Eyes” 57). Rather than strive to improve the lives of his fellow black men, Joe continues the tradition of seeing black men as inferior, though from an economic standpoint. Because of this sort of oppression, the people of Eatonville debate over whether or not Joe should be able to boss them around; after all, slavery has ended and they have as much of a right to power as he does (“Their Eyes” 58). Still, it’s hard to rise above Joe’s control. The people of Eatonville are offset from the rest of white-dominated America, but they still experience economic inferiority.

Though Joe is himself a black man, he instead exhibits the traits of a white man; everyone else in society is beneath him, especially Janie. When in his presence, Janie compartmentalizes herself to better suit Joe’s expectations of her. She is forced to wear her long hair in a head-rag, because Joe tells her that it isn’t “sensible” to let it hang loose, when really he is jealous of the way other people admire it (“Their Eyes” 66). Janie’s hair becomes a symbol of her womanhood and individuality; it’s what makes her “stand out as independent and powerful” (Dilbeck 103). Her hair is a popular conversation topic, as demonstrated by Janie’s return to Eatonville at the beginning of the novel; the townsfolk talk about “the great rope of black hair swinging to her waist and unraveling in the wind like a plume” (“Their Eyes” 4). Janie experiences a discrepancy between her public self and the woman blossoming within her. There is the carefree, independent Janie who lets her hair down, but there is also the Janie who ties her hair back in submission of her husband.

Hurston uses a blossoming pear tree to symbolize Janie’s transition from budding sexuality to womanhood. Before Janie became a wife to anybody, she was just a young girl who spent any moment she could lying beneath “a blossoming pear tree in the back-yard” (“Their Eyes” 15). As Janie explores her sexuality, such as by kissing Johnny Taylor and observing the pollination of pear blossoms, she develops a yearning for love and affection. Before Janie can hope to be loved by another person, however, she must learn to love herself. With Janie’s first husband, Logan Killicks, comes an image of “desecrating the pear tree,” so Janie knows that there is no love between them (“Their Eyes” 19). The pear tree metaphor is later used when Hurston describes Janie’s marriage to Joe Starks; Janie realizes that a husband must love and respect his wife, as a bee respects the blossom it pollinates (Dilbeck 102). It is only after Janie truly embraces her womanhood and individual spirit that she can let love – via Tea Cake, who appreciates every aspect of Janie’s character – into her life.

During Janie’s time with Joe, he puts her high up on a pedestal so that she is inaccessible to the other men who are pining after her (“Their Eyes” 66). When Janie is forced to conceal one of the greatest aspects of herself – her hair – she has no hope of flourishing under Joe’s domineering hand. After Joe dies, Janie goes to the mirror, sees the woman she has become, and tears the “kerchief from her head and [lets] down her plentiful hair” (“Their Eyes” 106). She takes in the image of her true self – wildly independent – but ultimately ties her hair back up again. This time, however, it is her decision to do so. With Joe’s death also comes the death of Janie’s submission to men. Janie “sent her face to Joe’s funeral, and herself went rollicking with the springtime across the world,” because the burden given to her by Joe has been lifted from her shoulders (“Their Eyes” 108). From this point on, Janie decides to live for herself and embrace the power that lies within.

Just as Janie struggles to establish her true identity in the face of societal expectations, Hurston also feels, in “How It Feels to Be Colored Me,” that she is in possession of two selves. Hurston describes the difference between her colored self, which is how other people define her, and how she views herself. Hurston grew up in the all-black community of Eatonville, but she ventured out in order to attend college (“Colored Me” 940). In the outside world, she feels defined by her outward appearance, specifically the color of her skin. There are times when Hurston feels that she has no race; rather, she is just herself and is comfortable in her own skin (“Colored Me” 942). It is that version of Zora which Hurston wishes the world could see, and not the one that is defined by the labels placed on her by white society. Skin color has come to be used more as an indication of identity than as a simply physical observation, and there are times when Hurston does “feel discriminated against” (“Colored Me” 943). She goes on to say, however, that she does not let herself get angry; rather, she feels sorry for the people who do not try to get to know her for who she really is.

Hurston’s writing outlines racial issues – such as discrimination, its effect on gender roles, and the duality of self – in a way that highlights the conflicts present within a single race. She does not simply pit whites against blacks, as would be customary of the time period in which the story takes place. Hurston’s stance on inner-race discrimination and its effect on developing personal identity is refreshing in that it dispels the idea that discrimination only originates from people of other racial backgrounds. Though Hurston herself has felt discriminated against, she, like Janie, rose above the constrained views of the people around her and embraced the woman she knew herself to truly be. As Hurston describes it, the black woman is the mule of the world, but she also contains the power to throw down the burden placed on her by society and gain control over her life.

 

Works Cited

Hurston, Zora N. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Philadelphia: Lippincott Company, 1937. Print.

Meisenhelder, Susan E. Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 1999. Print.

Patterson, Tiffany R. Zora Neale Hurston and a History of Southern Life. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2005. Print.

Hurston, Zora N. “How It Feels to Be Colored Me.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2013. 940-943. Print.

Dilbeck, Keiko. “Symbolic Representation of Identity in Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.” The Explicator 66.2 (2010): 102-104. Web. 29 April 2014.

Pricksongs, Fiction, Reality, Sexism & Descants

People often use fiction to escape the depression and monotony of real life. In Pricksongs & Decants, Robert Coover uses the style of metafiction to present stories through many different storylines and outcomes. His stories are keenly aware that fiction itself is a central theme and at times nearly a character advancing the action. The omnipresence of fiction leads to a very interesting role for the narrator. The position of the narrator is best described by the narrator of “The Magic Poker,” “At times, I forget that this arrangement is my own invention.” It often feels as though Coover is not the writer of these stories, but a unique person who is dreaming up each individual tale. The narrators are creating fictional realities for themselves or their characters. They have tendencies to choose the ease and mystery of dreams over reality. One theme that is present throughout this whole dream-like book is the objectification of female characters, whom the narrators give much bleaker realities to than the male characters. Pricksongs & Descants creates narrators whom force fiction within the fictional reality already present, whom also usurp the importance of characters as the instigators of action and the story. The male perspective dominates these tales and lead to the narrators often objectifying women.
A very prevalent form of fictional reality that Coover uses is the multiple plotline narrative of “The Magic Poker” and “The Elevator.” Both stories are broken up into paragraph-long to page-long anecdotes that follow different plotlines. The narrators are the central figures of these tales, but they are not direct actors or authors. As L.L. Lee says, “… this is the dream(er)’s point of view…” (65) They differ in that “The Elevator” is almost exclusively driven by the narrator’s scenarios for Martin and the decisions he makes when riding namesake elevator. Whereas, the scenarios of “The Magic Poker” based on the situations of multiple characters that the narrator creates. Also, in “The Elevator” there is an element of continuity in that the narrator presents the reader with scenarios that have a constant location and background. In “The Magic Poker” though, the narrator openly admits that he is the one controlling the action and changes aspects as he goes along and at times retracts his statements. This discontinuous narration structure allows the narrators to experiment with their characters.
“The Elevator” presents a tale of a man named Martin and the multiple different scenes about his trip to the fourteenth floor of his office building every day. The narrator presenting all the different stories of Martin is just as vital as the main character, for he is the one exploring all the different possibilities of Martin’s elevator experiences. In fact, in scenario five the narrator says, “Martin, as always and without so much as reflecting upon it, takes the self-service elevator to the fourteenth floor, where he works.” (129) The narrator is more interested in these monotonous rides than Martin is. He is creating his own versions of reality within fiction. The link between the fictions and reality is Coover’s choice to cut each narration off before it is finished and then coming back to it later. Through the fictional concept, Coover is acknowledging how reality actually is. There are many different scenarios and outcomes that can be determined within a split second.
The narrator’s omnipresence allows him great control over the other characters and their interactions with Martin. One interaction stands out among all of them: that of Martin and the female elevator operator. One storyline that the narrator presents deals with the elevator cable snapping and Martin offering to protect her which leads to the two physically expressing their love for one another through sex (134). She is the victim of the male point of view that dominates Coover’s work. She is nothing to the Martin or the narrator other than an object for Martin to act out his urges. The first explanation of the two embracing begins with Martin staring at her and then leads to her running over to him without any agency of her own. Another description of the girl lacking any personal agency comes when the narrator says, “She weeps in terror, presses her hot wet mouth against his.” (133) How does she cope with fear? By kissing and having sex with the only man available. The narrator’s attempt to create a fictitious reality leads him to take a sexist perspective on gender roles.
Unlike the broken up narrative of “The Elevator,” “The Magic Poker” has different storylines that are quite similar, in that all start with the same beginning and all stories have the premise of the question of the background of the island on which the story is set. Also the narrator is written in first person and as a semi-active participant in the story. While he is not interacting with the other characters he is the creator of the island and the people. He, like the narrator of “The Elevator,” has created multiple different outcomes for the trip of two girls to the island, but these are not observations based on people that exist without him. These girls are his creations. He has truly escaped reality and accepted fiction as his form of life. He asserts himself a god-like character when he says, “… perhaps tomorrow I will invent Chicago and Jesus Christ and the history of the moon.” (40) Fiction is more empowering than reality. The narrator has all the power of this circumstance. He can change events if he wants, which he acknowledges when he says, “Wait a minute, this is getting out of hand! What happened to that poker, I was doing much better with the poker…” (30) The fiction that becomes a sort of forced reality is easier for a narrator, because there is a form of control not present in reality. This lack of control is alluded to in the fact that there are many different plotlines: none wrong, none right.
The male perspective is present in many of these plotlines as well. Almost every scenario begins with one of the girls encountering the titular poker. “She… kisses its handle and its long rusted shaft.” (25) Once she successfully kisses it, and the man in the blue jacket appears, it is as though all their dreams have come true. These women are important in that they have come to this mysterious island to spend time with a man that the narrator has created to seduce them. He creates girls who need nothing else; all they need is a man. While they are his creations, he treats them without agency. “I have dressed them and may well choose to undress them.” (25) They are used as entertainment to both the narrator and the man in the blue jacket. Karen amuses the man when she takes the poker and acts out different scenes (36). They are dolls to the narrator and entertainment to the man in the blue jacket.
“The Gingerbread House” takes a different approach to the concept of forced reality within fiction that Coover creates throughout his stories. The characters of this story are tempted by sexuality just as those of the other stories, but unlike the previous stories they are not sexualized for the sake of the narrator in this case. They are representatives of the concept of coming of age, and Coover implies that the ultimate form of coming of age is sexualization. In this case, the person making an attempt to avoid reality is the father of the two children. He cannot deal with the fact that his children are coming of age, and wants to avert them from doing so (Evenson, 61). Throughout the story he is continually described as worn down. He does not want what has happened to him to be the future of his children, so he tries to condition them away from sex. Such as, when the boy lunges for the witch and the father slaps him, partially out of jealousy and partially out of protection from lust (72). The father tries to create a type of world that cannot be; one in which children do not grow up.
The mixture of metafiction at the different levels of this story is unique. First, the reader is very familiar with the story of Hansel and Gretel. So on the surface Coover is creating a literal fiction about a fiction, but he takes it one step further by challenging the reader to understand this fictitious version of a fairytale presented by the house with the red-heart door. Like the other stories, there is no concrete ending to the story. Instead, the narrator creates characters who are the” wanderers and explorers of unknown realities.” (Bacchilega, p25) “Yes, marvelous! delicious! insuperable! but beyond: what is that sound of black rags flipping?” The children make no definitive choice. They cannot accept the reality that is coming, that of adulthood.
Death is always a difficult event to accept and deal with. In Coover’s “The Marker,” Jason takes the concept of difficult recovery to an extreme. He chooses to completely recede from reality after the death of his wife, as he keeps his wife’s decaying body in their bed three weeks after her death. The narrator tells the story of how Jason has created an alternate reality by imagining a life where his wife is still alive. His fictional reality is much like that of the father in “The Gingerbread House,” in that it arises from denial. Unlike all the other stories though, his forced fictional reality is cut-off by the intrusion of the police officers. Despite the interruption, the story continues its hyperbolic trend with the police officer’s over exaggerated performance when beating Jason’s genitals to a pulp.
Some irony is derived from the title. The story starts with him putting his book marker in his book and ends with him being distraught over the police officer knocking it out. The bookmark can act as an explanation for where Jason’s life is. He has placed a marker in his fictional life and will not move on. His exclamation at the end, “The marker!” shows how the loss of the bookmark represents a break in his new reality.
One could argue that Coover’s presentation of female objectification is not an act of sexism, but a way for the narrator to express the dreams and urges of the characters he has created in these forced realities. To argue that is to say that women cannot be the characters in control. Even in “The Magic Poker” in which female characters are central, the narrator puts their actions in terms of male reactions and views. “‘But, tell me, how did you know to kiss it?’ ‘Call it woman’s intuition…’” (30) Despite using unique techniques in his writing and creating stories that intrigue with boundary pushing narratives, he has fallen down a hole. He is trapped in a hole of great writing that can only be respected to the point at which the reader is not distracted by this glaring literary discrimination.
Coover created unique stories through his use of narration as an actor rather than a tool for presentation. He took metafiction and transformed it to fit with his individual point of view. The narrator’s in Coover’s tales push the plots along within an already fictional tale with their ability to create forced realities for their characters. The narrator’s are not responsible for the entirety of the work though. Coover still wrote them, and in turn established the sexism that is present throughout the book. Despite this factor, Coover, and subsequently his narrators, told stories from a challenging point of view that forms a interesting relationship between reality and fiction within fictitious tales.
Bacchilega, Christina. “Folktales, Fictions, and Meta-Fictions: Their Interaction in Robert Coover’s Pricksongs & Descants.” New York Folklore 6.3-4 (1980): 171-184. Print.
Coover, Robert. Pricksongs & Descants. New York: E.P. Dutton &Co., Inc., 1969. Print.
Evenson, Brian. Understanding Robert Coover. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2003. Print.
Lee, L.L. “Robert Coover’s Moral Vision: Pricksongs & Descants.” Studies in Short Fiction 23.1 (1986): 63-69. Print.