All posts by Semele Liu

Comparison of the Role of TV in The Babysitter and Drown

The reputation of television since its introduction to the American consumer in the 1940s has been far from stellar. Pejoratives such as “TV melts your brain” and “the boob tube” are indicative of the long-held view of TV being an anti-intellectual medium, especially in comparison to literature. TV makes an extensive appearance in Robert Coover’s The Babysitter and Junot Diaz’s Drown, but both authors do not condemn or show disdain for television. Rather, Robert Coover and Junot Diaz use TV in their stories to reflect on the way we think about things. In The Babysitter, the TV acts as a mirror to our everyday sexual and aggressive desires, while in Drown, TV demonstrates how we align our feelings onto what’s portrayed on the screen. By portraying TV as a medium of reflection, Coover and Diaz use TV to occasion major plot developments in both their stories. Through TV, Coover effectively allows anything and everything in the Babysitter to happen, while Diaz reveals the pain of loss and betrayal Yunior and his mother feel.

In The Babysitter, Coover uses the presence of the TV to remove the boundaries between reality and fantasy. This can be seen in the blending of the TV programs with the actions of the characters. The western on TV hints its presence during the tickling scene of the babysitter, where “on screen there’s a rattle of hooves, and he and Bitsy are rolling…in a crazy rodeo of long bucking legs” (213) and later more fully manifests itself when Jack imagines himself protecting the babysitter from Mark by slamming “a hard right to the guy’s gut, clips his chin with a rolling left” (212). Meanwhile, on TV the “dark beardy one” receives “a hard blow to the belly” and to “the face” from the “lean-jawed sheriff” (214). When the western fades into a spy show, the storyline: “the man…is following a woman, but she doesn’t know why. The woman passes another man, something seems to happen, but it’s not clear what” (221) likely intimates the sexual tension Mark and Jack feel towards the babysitter, but whether this results in violence (225) or something more consensual (222) is unclear. Indeed, throughout the story we have this idea of something happening, but we’re not sure exactly what happens. The events in The Babysitter couldn’t all have occurred due to logistical problems. For example, Coover provides two drastically different endings: 1) the babysitter wakes up and Mrs. Tucker is pleasantly surprised that the dishes are done and 2) the babysitter and Mrs. Tucker’s children are dead. We know both chain of events couldn’t have happened, but we are not told which one is the correct version. Ultimately, however, the distinction between reality and fantasy is unimportant because there is none. One storyline is not meant to be reality and the others a myriad of unrealities—we are meant to believe they all could have occurred. TV is important in this lack of distinction, for not only do the events in the TV bleed into the events in the story, the nature of TV itself is a fusion of reality and fantasy. In TV lies the difficulty of distinguishing the fictional from the documentary. For Coover, then, TV serves as a reflection—it holds a mirror up to reality, which is pervaded by fantasy to such an extent that the two can be considered integral and inseparable.

TV also blends into the style and structure of The Babysitter. The vignette-like events mimic TV’s form, while the discontinuous collage of narration resembles the collage created by channel switching. From the exclamation of “the dishes are all done!” to the final reply of “let’s see what’s on the late late movie” (239), there is no real closure—the end is akin to pressing the power button on the remote control. The possibility that the entire story takes place on television allows us to explore yet another level of how we view fantasy and its relation to reality. The common adage is that watching TV gives us ideas, and bad ideas at that. But Coover would argue that TV is actually a reflection of our own sexual and aggressive tendencies. If there’s sex and violence in TV, it’s because there is sex and violence in our minds. After all, TV programs aren’t ordained by the supernatural—they are written by humans, and surely reflect what is in our thoughts.

As the manifestation of television became more and more pervading, TV garnered a reputation of being not a medium of information and entertainment, but of manipulation and superficiality. While both Coover and Diaz do not view the TV in a negative light, the cultural presence of TV has changed over the years, and that evolution is clearly present in how the two authors incorporate television in their writings. Coover focuses so much on the TV because in his time, the TV was still considered a newfangled invader. As popular as the TV was in the 1960s, it was still easy to remember a time without the box in the living room. For Coover, there was a huge difference in how life was before TV and how life was after TV. By the time Junot Diaz wrote Drown in the 1990s, TV had become so commonplace that people no longer considered it to be a cultural phenomenon, but an indispensable part of everyday life. While TV dominates the storyline of The Babysitter, TV takes a much more background role in Drown as a culturally embraced setting for social interaction. “Families arranged on their porches, the glow from their TVs washing blue against brick” (1666). We see Yunior watching TV with his mom, after she told him Beto was home. “I put down a towel down on the sofa and we watch television together” (1668). Yunior then recounts how he and Beto watched a porno together at Beto’s apartment, which led to Beto touching him. “I kept my eyes on the television, too scared to watch” (1672). Coincidentally (or not), the TV was on both times when he and Beto were engaged in sexual acts. “We sat in front of his television, in our towels, his hands bracing against my abdomen and thighs…I had my eyes closed and the television was on” (1672-73). And finally, the TV once again unites Yunior with his mother as they watch what seems to be a dubbed version of Bonnie and Clyde. In all these scenes, the TV serves as a background medium for deeper companionship among the characters.

These moments of companionship are important in the overarching plot of Drown because Diaz uses TV to reveal the true feelings of the characters, who often hide behind a mask of coolness. Prime examples are when Yunior watches TV with his mom. “We settle on the Spanish-language news: drama for her, violence for me” (1668). His mother wants to see drama to match her yearning for her husband who has left her, despite knowing the relationship could bring her nothing but pain. Similarly, Yunior desires violence because allows him to displace some of the anger and resentment he harbors towards his former best friend Beto, as well as perhaps himself. “I was angry at him, wasn’t I?” (1668).While Beto is the college boy, the assimilated individual who has shed the heteronormative masculinity, Yunior is stuck hovering between action and inaction. Much of his narrative is composed of references to the present, in relation to the past: “Little has changed” at the pool (1667). “The circuit I make has not changed since my looting days. Bookstore, record store, comic-book shop, Macy’s. Me and Beto used to steal like mad from these places” (1669). For Yunior, his mother represents stagnation, while Beto represents mobility. Though he hates the image of his mother, unable to stop calling his pathetic father (1669-70), he cannot bring himself to leave his New Jersey hometown like Beto, who encourages him to do so. “You need to learn how to walk the world, he told me. There’s a lot out there” (1671). TV offers an avenue for action that Yunior cannot yet do in real life.

Watching Bonnie and Clyde is another attempt at solace for the pain of betrayal for Yunior and his mother. The scenes on the TV lure Yunior and his mother with memories of the true feeling that had existed between the two couples before betrayal separated them. The hail of bullets that are going to tear Bonnie and Clyde apart become a metaphor for the actions that separated Yunior from Beto and his mother from his father. For Yunior, his hail of bullets was when Beto touched him, and the fact that he let Beto touch him. For Yunior’s mother, it was when her husband left her for another woman. Just before Bonnie and Clyde are destroyed in the movie, his mother takes off her glasses. Though this is an act of weariness, it is also a symbolic gesture of not wanting to accept Bonnie and Clyde’s fate, because she is still not ready to let her husband go. Yunior knows that his mother is dreaming “of strolling with my father” (1673) because he too, is dreaming. By subconsciously pairing his mother’s fantasy with his own memories, Yunior indirectly reveals he misses his friendship with Beto. Watching TV allows Yunior to reflect upon these thoughts which he normally wouldn’t allow himself to do. The TV offers “background noise” for Yunior—the same way the TV was on both times when he and Beto were together, it is only when he is watching TV that he allows his mother to yearn freely for his father, and himself for Beto.

Both authors portray television as a medium of reflection. Coover breaks down the barrier between the external world and the internal space of the mind, showing how the programs on TV mirror our own tendencies, while Diaz conveys how we apply what’s on the screen to our own feelings. By using TV extensively in their stories, Robert Coover and Junot Diaz demonstrate the various ways we think about reality, our fantasies, and our emotions.

Works Cited

Baym, Nina, and Robert S. Levine. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. New York: Norton, 2013. Print.

Comparison between Pawn Shop and Crow Testament

“I wonder where all the Skins disappeared to”—when you read this line from “Pawn Shop,” it clearly implies that he’s wondering to what place all the Indians went, but if you read it aloud, it could sound like he’s wondering where the Indians went too. Which he also does, as in the next scene he’s “searching the streets” for them until he arrives at a pawn shop. Pawn shops are not generally viewed in a positive light—they are places where people sell things they no longer want, or when people down on their luck sell their valuables out of necessity. Thus it hurts the narrator to see something so precious, a “heart beating under glass,” remain unwanted, wasting away in such an undignified place.

If “Pawn Shop” is a mourning of sorts, then “Crow Testament” is a stand-up comedy. Stanza 3 has a particularly comedic line when Crow, on commenting that Crow God looks like him, says “Damn…this makes it so much easier to worship myself.” The repetition of “damn,” not used in the Christian sense of being condemned to suffer in hell, but rather used as slang for surprise, also adds humor throughout the poem. While the poem is funny, the actions portrayed in the poem (injustice, war, alcoholism) are not. It’s not the first time pain and comedy are juxtaposed, but I don’t think Alexie uses humor as a coping mechanism to hide pain. While “Pawn Shop” openly shows raw emotion, “Crow Testament” uses humor to help heal and portray pain in a different way.

On a side note, it’s also interesting to see Christianity and Native American culture juxtaposed in “Crow Testament” as well. Since crows are trickster figures in some Native American cultures, I thought the pale horse was another Native American symbol, but it seems to be a Christian reference. In the Revelations, there are four horsemen of the apocalypse riding different colored horses: white, red, black, and pale. The last horseman, Death, rides the pale horse. I took stanza 7 to mean when Crow arrives as a harbinger of death, none of the Indians panic because “they already live near the end of the world.” Perhaps Alexie is commenting on the nearing death of Native American culture, and how Native Americans have already accepted that fate.

Both “Pawn Shop” and “Crow Testament” approach different kinds of pain in different ways. The pain in “Pawn Shop” is no less in magnitude, and arguably greater, than the pain in “Crow Testament,” but the incident that the pain stems from in “Pawn Shop” is small. It’s not land theft or the imposition of Christianity or war, but the appearance of a Native American possession in a pawn shop. From experience, big things don’t always hurt us because they’re not necessarily personal. A lot of times it’s intimate events that end up breaking our hearts.

Introduction to Junot Diaz

Junot Diaz was born in 1968 in a poor section of the city of Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, and moved to New Jersey at age seven. He attended Kean College in Union before transferring to Rutgers University. Rutgers’ offerings in Latino and African-American history and literature opened new possibilities for creativity and political awareness, and Diaz came “to see himself as a Dominican, an American, and a writer.” After his graduation from Rutgers, Diaz enrolled in the graduate writing program at Cornell University, from which he received a master’s degree in Fine Arts. In 1996 he published a collection of short stores, Drown, which has made him one of the most promising members of contemporary authors.

His experiences as an immigrant serve as a vantage point for his own work, in which he powerfully explores the challenges and rich duality of the immigrant experience.  The young people in his New Jersey stories speak Spanglish, and still incorporate their Caribbean culture into their American lives. Yet Diaz’s narrative space, however, is not one dominated by nostalgic idealization. The narration of the characters struggle of asserting cultural identity is set against the gritty backdrop of petty humiliations and everyday deprivations of inner-city life.

Diaz garnered inspiration for his stories from his own troubled family life. His father left his mother for another woman when Diaz was an adolescent, and his mother could find only substandard employment afterwards due to her poor English. Thus at an early age, Diaz learned to escape his unpromising circumstances through writing. His short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker magazine, which listed him as one of the 20 top writers for the 21st century. He is best known for his two major works: the short story collection Drown (1996) and the novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007). Although reviews were generally strong for Drown upon its publication, the arrival of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao in 2007 (which won the 2008 Pulitzer prize) prompted a noticeable re-appraisal of Drown. Diaz himself has described his writing style as “…a disobedient child of New Jersey and the Dominican Republic if that can be possibly imagined with way too much education.” He is a MacArthur Fellow, and currently teaches creative writing at MIT.

Deconstructing “roundness” in No Name Woman (p 1513)

Original:

“The round moon cakes and round doorways, the round tables of graduated size that fit one roundness 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.”

Transformed:

“These talismans—the round moon cakes and round doorways, round windows and rice bowls—had lost their power to warn this family of the law. A family must be whole, like the round tables of graduated size that fit one roundness inside another. By faithfully keeping the descent line by having sons, the old and the dead are fed.  In turn, the family is looked after.”

The transformed passage lacks the idea of circularity, of completeness, that is very present in the original passage. Everyone has a clear duty in the family. Women bear sons. Sons feed the family. Dead ancestors watch over the family. Everything is neat and orderly, and anyone who steps out of their place and breaks the circle has betrayed family. In the original passage, Kingston organizes the ideas so that each has its own place, yet easily links to the next. First, examples of the physically-round talismans are listed. The talismans are symbolic by nature, and so she describes the law that they represent. The law ends up being circular in itself, and appropriately concludes the passage (the circularity refers back to the importance of roundness in the talismans).

On the other hand, the transformed passage goes back and forth between ideas. First the talismans and their purpose are introduced, but are juxtaposed by physical examples of such objects. Then the law starts to be described, but that too is interrupted with another example. And finally the description of the law is complete, but end result is that the theme of circularity isn’t as prominent. Instead of feeling the “roundness” of the language while we read, it seems like we are being dragged from one point to another, as if the passage was composed of jagged zig-zag lines. Supporting this idea is the structure of the original passage, which connects grammatically. By strategically placing a dash and a colon, Kingston literally connects 3 different phrases to form one flowing sentence. The transformed passage, however, with the phrases split into 4 sentences, sounds choppy and detached—almost lecture-like.

Through the transformed passage, we can more greatly appreciate how Kingston had the original passage link together, both through words and grammatical structure, to complete the vision of roundness in the family.

Revised Essay: Circularity of Time in Faulkner’s Was

At the core of “Was” by William Faulkner, is the sense that time is not an unbounded line composed of external moments, but rather a series of internal impressions which flow and infuse into one another. Faulkner believes that human experiences are not set against the backdrop of objective linear time, but are part of subjective circular time, as demonstrated by his use of parallel structure that causes the events in “Was” to move in overlapping circles, rather than chronological narration. For Faulkner, the pattern of history is cyclical—the past manifests itself into the present so that they are essentially the same, but with slight differences. The parallel structure in “Was” demonstrates the circularity of time, allowing us to sense the past, present, and future as one form.

Faulkner emphasizes the indivisibility of present and past by making part one of “Was” a fragment by itself, but an introduction to Ike’s listening of his cousin’s story from the “old time” (4). This is seen by the fact that Ike is not listening to McCaslin’s tale in the present, but remembering a memory of it:

“not something he had participated in or even remembered except from the hearing, the listening, come to him through from his cousin McCaslin” (4).

Ike, “past seventy and nearer eighty” (3), is our best glimpse of the present in “Was,” yet this present is largely dominated by past events. For Faulkner, the past is unavoidable—it’s something for the present to continuously redefine and contemplate, and in “Was,” this can be seen through the re-narration of the story by Cass to Ike, and through Ike to us. These characters reconstruct a past during the present, thus their past, present and future are all intertwined. Memories, then, are not really memories, but part of the present because they affect what a character does in the present. With the past constantly shaping the present, the two are the same, but with a difference—a testament to Faulkner’s circular time.

This subtle difference in parallel structure can be seen in the hunt motifs of Uncle Buck’s chase of Tomey’s Turl, Sophonsiba’s desire for Uncle Buck, and the fox races at the beginning and end of the story. The chase between Uncle Buck and his slave, Tomey’s Turl, is multi-layered not only because the slave is a “half-white McCaslin” (5), but because Buck too is the object of a hunt by Miss Sophonsiba, who hopes to trap him into marriage.  When Buck and Cass hear the fox horn blow, signifying that they are near Mr. Hubert’s house, they plan to catch Tomey’s Turl “before he can den” (17). The use of the word “den” indicates that Tomey’s Turl is being likened to a hunted animal, as “denning” is a hunting technique where an animal is driven and trapped inside its home. Although Buck does not manage to catch Tomey’s Turl, he does manage to enter the “den” of Sophonsiba, humorously referred to as a bear.

“All right; you were a grown man and you knew it was bear-country and you knew the way back out like you knew the way in and you had your chance to take it But no. You had to crawl into the den and lay down by the bear” (21).

While Sophonsiba is technically referred to as the animal, it is really Uncle Buck who is viewed as trapped game. Once Buck is caught in Sophonsiba’s room, he must gamble for his freedom and for the slaves, according to the bet made between him and Mr. Hubert. After having “won” Sophonsiba through losing the card game, Buck must send for his brother Uncle Buddy to help him escape from the threat of marriage. Meanwhile, Buck starts to act like a slave himself, telling Cass that “if they pushed him too close…he would climb down the gutter too and hide in the woods until Uncle Buddy arrived” (24). The same way Tomey’s Turl hid in the woods from Uncle Buck (14), Uncle Buck is threatening to hide from Sophonsiba. With slight differences, we see the events in “Was” circling and metamorphosizing into each other.

Continuing this idea of circularity is the foreshadowing at the end of “Was.” Although Uncle Buddy does win his brother’s freedom, the ending suggests that in the future, Buck will be caught by Sophonsiba. When they return home, the dog “Old Moses” is found with the fox’s crate around his neck (28)—perhaps a symbolic prediction of Sophonsiba eventually placing the yoke of marriage on the other old dog, “old Buck” (12), as Tomey’s Turl calls him. But if Faulkner’s view of circular time holds true, this also forecasts that once again Uncle Buddy will come to Uncle Buck’s rescue, as “old Moses was still wearing most of the crate…until Uncle Buddy kicked [the crate] off of him” (28). Even though “Was” is a story of the past, we can see bits of the future, which is all still in the past if we take the “past seventy” Uncle Ike to be in the present. Thus the past, present, and future can be seen as one entity.

To complete the circle of time, the story ends and begins with the same fox race (4, 28), albeit with a subtle difference. Faulkner cleverly uses the word “treed” (5) to demonstrate how the fox uses the mantle to escape.  “Treed” refers to a hunted animal being forced to take refuge in a tree, thus the mantle serves as a metaphorical tree. Later, Faulkner brings this metaphor back when he describes the fox as “scrabbling up the lean-pole, onto the roof.” This time the race refers to the fox and the pole, and the pole is referred to as a tree “…the tree was too quick” (28). In both descriptions of the fox race, Faulkner uses a tree metaphor to tie them together.  The use of parallel structure in the events of the various chases, as well as inside the narratives, demonstrates the circularity of time in “Was.”

Comparison of Hemingway and Coover

“And then instead of going on to Arusha they turned left, he evidently figured that they had the gas, and looking down he saw a pink sifting cloud…like the first snow in a blizzard” (Hemingway, 1036)

“Your children are murdered, your husband gone, a corpse in your bathtub, and your house is wrecked” (Coover, 239)

The stories in “The Babysitter” couldn’t all have happened due to logistical problems some events pose. For example, on page 218 Jimmy goes to the bathroom and soaps the babysitter’s back, but later it is Mr. Tucker who soaps her back and is interrupted by Jimmy saying “I have to go to the bathroom” (225). Similarly, when Mr. Tucker goes back to the house to supposedly get aspirin, in one case he and the babysitter immediately embrace (218), but in another scenario it goes awkwardly wrong. “If you want to check on the kids, why don’t you just call on the phone?” (224). In the last act on page 239-40, Coover provides two drastically different endings. In one, the babysitter wakes up and Mrs. Tucker is pleasantly surprised that the dishes are done. In the other, the babysitter and Mrs. Tucker’s children are dead. Instinctively, we know both chain of events couldn’t have happened. However, we are not told which one is the correct version and moreover, it’s not important. One storyline is not meant to be reality and the others a myriad of unrealities. Rather, there is no distinguishing between reality and fantasy. By having the narratives broken up and dispersed around each other, we are meant to think that they all could have happened; that reality and fantasy are integral and inseparable.

The idea of reality and fantasy being indistinguishable is in Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” to a lesser degree. We know Harry never physically wrote about his adventures and observations, yet internally we feel as if he has partly written them through the monologues in his head. Everything that happens in the present is in normal font, whereas Harry’s brooding about the past occurs in italics. We know his plane ride didn’t really happen, as Harry dies beforehand and inconsistencies such as the plane not needing to be refueled hint that these events did not occur in the physical world. However, this part of the narrative is not in italics, thus we are led to believe that in some way or form, whether it was a hallucination or spiritual redemption, Harry did see Kilimanjaro.

Both authors tackle relations between the external world and the internal space of the mind. For Hemingway, the line between reality and imagination is one to be delicately crossed, whereas for Coover, the line doesn’t exist at all.

On the Circularity of Time in Faulkner’s “Was”

At the core of “Was” by William Faulkner, is the sense that time is not an unbounded line composed of external moments, but rather a series of internal impressions which flow and infuse into one another. Faulkner believes that human experiences are not set against the backdrop of objective linear time, but are part of subjective circular time, as demonstrated by his use of parallel structure that causes the events in “Was” to move in overlapping circles, rather than chronological narration. For Faulkner, the pattern of history is cyclical—the past manifests itself into the present so that they are essentially the same, but with slight differences. The parallel structure in “Was” demonstrates the circularity of time, allowing us to sense the past, present, and future as one form.

Faulkner emphasizes the indivisibility of present and past by making part one of “Was” a fragment by itself, but an introduction to Ike’s listening of his cousin’s story from the “old time” (4). This is seen by the fact that Ike is not listening to McCaslin’s tale in the present, but remembering a memory of it:

“not something he had participated in or even remembered except from the hearing, the listening, come to him through from his cousin McCaslin” (4).

Ike, “past seventy and nearer eighty” (3), is our best glimpse of the present in “Was,” yet this present is largely dominated by past events. For Faulkner, the past is unavoidable—it’s something for the present to continuously redefine and contemplate, and in “Was,” this can be seen through the re-narration of the story by Cass to Ike, and through Ike to us. These characters reconstruct a past that they experience in the present, and their present and future are consequently shaped by this comingling. Memories, then, are not really memories, but part of the present because they affect what a character does in the present. With the past constantly shaping the present, the two are the same, but with a difference—a testament to Faulkner’s circular time.

This subtle difference in parallel structure can be seen in the hunt motifs of Uncle Buck’s chase of Tomey’s Turl, Sophonsiba’s desire for Uncle Buck, and the fox races at the beginning and end of the story. The chase between Uncle Buck and his slave, Tomey’s Turl, is multi-layered not only because the slave is a “half-white McCaslin” (5), but because Buck too is the object of a hunt by Miss Sophonsiba, who hopes to trap him into marriage.  When Buck and Cass hear the fox horn blow, signifying that they are near Mr. Hubert’s house, they plan to catch Tomey’s Turl “before he can den” (17). The use of the word “den” indicates that Tomey’s Turl is being likened to a hunted animal, as “denning” is a hunting technique where an animal is driven and trapped inside its home. Although Buck does not manage to catch Tomey’s Turl, he does manage to enter the “den” of Sophonsiba, humorously referred to as a bear.

“All right; you were a grown man and you knew it was bear-country and you knew the way back out like you knew the way in and you had your chance to take it But no. You had to crawl into the den and lay down by the bear” (21).

While Sophonsiba is technically referred to as the animal, it is really Uncle Buck who is viewed as trapped game. Once Buck is caught in Sophonsiba’s room, he must gamble for his freedom and for the slaves, according to the bet made between him and Mr. Hubert. After having “won” Sophonsiba through losing the card game, Buck must send for his brother Uncle Buddy to help him escape from the threat of marriage. Meanwhile, Buck starts to act like a slave himself, telling Cass that “if they pushed him too close…he would climb down the gutter too and hide in the woods until Uncle Buddy arrived” (24). The same way Tomey’s Turl hid in the woods from Uncle Buck (14), Uncle Buck is threatening to hide from Sophonsiba. With slight differences, we see the events in “Was” circling and metamorphosizing into each other.

Although his brother does win Uncle Buck’s freedom, the ending of “Was” suggests that in the future, Buck will be caught by Sophonsiba. When they return home, the dog “Old Moses” is found with the fox’s crate around his neck (28)—perhaps a symbolic foreshadowing of Sophonsiba eventually placing the yoke of marriage on the other old dog, “old Buck” (12), as Tomey’s Turl calls him. But if Faulkner’s view of circular time holds true, this also forecasts that once again Uncle Buddy will come to Uncle Buck’s rescue, as “old Moses was still wearing most of the crate…until Uncle Buddy kicked [the crate] off of him” (28). Even though “Was” is a story of the past, we can see bits of the future, which is all still in the past if we take the “past seventy” Uncle Ike to be in the present. Thus the past, present, and future can be seen as one entity.

To complete the circle of time, the story ends and begins with the same fox race (4, 28), albeit with a subtle difference. Faulkner cleverly uses the word “treed” (5) to demonstrate how the fox uses the mantle to escape.  “Treed” refers to a hunted animal being forced to take refuge in a tree, thus the mantle serves as a metaphorical tree. Later, Faulkner brings this metaphor back when he describes the fox as “scrabbling up the lean-pole, onto the roof.” This time the race refers to the fox and the pole, and the pole is referred to as a tree “…the tree was too quick” (28). In both descriptions of the fox race, Faulkner uses a tree metaphor to tie them together.  The use of parallel structure in the events of the various chases, as well as inside the narratives, demonstrates the circularity of time in “Was.”

“…they could hear the fox’s claws when he went scrabbling up the lean-pole, onto the roof–a fine race while it lasted, but the tree was too quick” p28

Reading “Was” reminds me of the memory of a lazy summer day—everything carefree and more importantly, suspended in time. Time suspension can be seen in “Was” through the use of parallel structure throughout the story, but especially in the fox scenes that serve as its beginning and ending.

Instead of viewing the events in “Was” as a time line, where the events in the past leads smoothly into the present, I find it more conducive to imagine them like a circle of time, where the “was” is neatly bundled up within itself and thus completely separated from the present. We can view the past as essentially a memory, which it is in the story, as Cass is retelling the story to Ike, whom was born after these events and has no knowledge of them. Our memories then are like circles, loops of film in which we can chronologically order the events that happen within the film, but can’t definitively say when the memory begins or ends, and how it links seamlessly with another memory. Likewise, Faulkner’s “Was” reads like a looped tape—we’re not sure how it transitions from the present to the past and vice versa.

The story ends and begins with the same fox chase, thus completing the circle of time (4, 28). Faulkner cleverly uses the word “treed” (p 5) to demonstrate how the fox uses the mantle to escape.  “Treed” usually refers to a hunted animal being forced to take refuge in a tree, thus the mantle serves as a metaphorical tree. Later, he brings this metaphor back when he describes the fox as “scrabbling up the lean-pole, onto the roof—a fine race…” This time the race refers to the fox and the pole, and the pole is referred to as a tree “…the tree was too quick” (28). In both descriptions of the fox race, Faulkner uses a tree metaphor.  This use of parallel structure in the narratives of the fox chase, and of the narratives, demonstrates the suspension of past time as well as its circulatory nature.

Helen (Hemingway 1036)

Helen, Harry’s loving, and exorbitantly wealthy wife. Helen, the “kindly caretaker and destroyer of his talent” (1026). Helen, the face that launched a thousand ships. I believe Ernest Hemingway deliberately used the name Helen as an homage to the woman whose abduction caused the Trojan War. But Helen, like how Spartan Helen was largely innocent in the fall of Troy, is innocent in Harry’s demise as a writer. For if not Helen, Harry would have sought another “rich bitch.” Rather, Harry openly admits that “he had destroyed his talent by not using it…by betrayals of himself…by drinking so much…by laziness” (1026). One of his fondest memories was his time in Paris, living in a cheap hotel, spending his time writing and observing the poor, yet colorful people of the city. He abandoned this impoverished yet fruitful lifestyle for one that held material wealth, consequently squandering his potential as a writer.

Thus Helen represents money, security, and comfort (1027), all things Harry traded for at the expense of his artistic pursuits.  “Your damned money was my armour” (1025). His bitterness towards Helen stems from his regret of this choice, which has caused his own Trojan war.  For with each day he put off his work due to laziness, his ability faded and his will weakened until “he did no work at all” (1026). Now near death, he realizes “he would never write the things that he had saved to write” (1022). Harry further realizes that the company of the Helens of the world, the super rich, have stunted his literary creativity, as “they were dull and they were repetitious” (1034), and certainly not fit to write about. Perhaps Harry’s most poignant moment is when he says “I don’t like to leave things behind” (1025). We see how much it pains him that in his pursuit of Helen and all the things she represents in his life, he has let what really matters to him, his writing, fall behind.