All posts by LewisJones

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

An Examination of Style in “The Semplica-Girl Diaries”

George Saunders’s short story “The Semplica-Girl Diaries” presents a uniquely disturbing and creative dystopian world in the not-so-distant future in which the marginalized members of the world sell themselves as lawn decorations for the wealthy or, in this case, for the “middle.” The premise has loads of potential, an idea that can be expanded to examine the present discrepancies between the über-rich and the über-poor and to comment on the slippery slope down which we appear to be headed. Tragically, I believe, the style in which the story is written, while attempting to further the argument, detracts from Saunders’s overall message by turning readers away. The story is told through the diary entries of the narrator, a middle-class father of three trying to make ends meet. The story begins:

September 3rd: Having just turned forty, have resolved to embark on grand project of writing every day in this new black book just got at OfficeMax. Exciting to think how in one year, at rate of one page/day, will have written three hundred and sixty-five pages, and what a picture of life and times then available for kids & grandkids, even greatgrandkids, whoever, all are welcome (!) to see how life really was/is now.

The omission of articles, subjects, and pronouns persists throughout the story, sometimes causing a bit of frustration. The reader wishes the narrator would enter diary posts consistent with the way he thinks or speaks, not in an informal shorthand. Unfortunately, the diary entries continue. Dialogue is presented in a form consistent with a play

Lilly: Wouldn’t you love to live here?

Me: Lilly, ha-ha, don’t ah . . .

Pam (my wife, very sweet, love of life!): What, what is she saying wrong? Wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you love to live here? I know I would.

and articles and pronouns continue to be omitted in the narration. However, if the reader can look past his initial and prolonged annoyance at the style, he can perhaps glean a deeper commentary provided by the style. The primary argument in the story is the obvious dangers that accompany and widening wealth gap. Underprivileged workers are seriously exploited, children become spoiled and ungrateful, and adults measure their value by their material possessions. I believe the style of the story is indicative of this changing society. The omission of necessary connector words (pronouns, articles, subjects) corresponds with the loss of personal connection to humanity in a world that strings up third-world women by their brains. Furthermore, a lack of commitment to tasks is apparent in both the plot and style. Leslie Torinni, the spoiled rich friend of the narrator’s daughter, jumps from hobby to hobby (llamas to yoga to horses) without serious commitment to either one. Additionally, the narrator promises the reader a rate of “one page/day” for an entire year, yet promptly skips the second day’s entry and ends his narration only 23 days after he began. Not only can he not commit to the diary entries, but the ending of the story appears to show his lack of commitment to the SG arrangement to begin with. After the girls have been set free, he takes a brief moment to fully conceptualize the loss and the impending troubles to follow, but eventually he looks out his window and notes, “Empty rack in yard, looking strange in moonlight. Note to self: Call Greenway, have them take ugly thing away.”

Although the style of this genuinely creative short story may be unnerving to many (myself included) a more generous look at the author’s conscious decision to write it as a series of diary entries proves beneficial in further understanding the dystopian society in which it takes place. A lack of commitment and connection to humanity is present throughout, in everything the characters do; from stringing humans up as lawn decorations, to writing in a journal.

Deconstruction of Rita Dove’s “Adolescence-I”

Original text: 

In water-heavy nights behind grandmother’s porch

We knelt in the tickling grasses and whispered:

Linda’s face hung before us, pale as a pecan,

And it grew wise as she said: 

      “A boy’s lips are soft,

     As soft as a baby’s skin.”

The air closed over her words. 

A firefly whirred near my ear, and in the distance

I could hear streetlamps ping

Into miniature suns

Against a feathery sky.

Deconstruction:

Tickling, whispered,

“A boy’s lips are soft, 

As soft as baby’s skin.”

Whirred, feathery. 

I chose to do the deconstruction of this poem by selecting the words of the original poem that created the most sensual images and juxtaposing them before and after the statement on which the poem focuses. I left Linda’s description intact because I feel that it is the centerpiece of the poem. To me, the entire poem describes the innocent curiosity of young adolescent girls gossiping about what a boy’s lips taste and feel like. The original poem is neatly divided into three apparent sections; the first describing the scene, the second is Linda’s secret, and the third describing the narrator’s reaction to the secret. There is a sense of enchantment throughout the poem as the young girls lacking experience with boys listen intently to the one with knowledge of such things.  The “tickling grasses” and whispers of Linda (Line 2) provide an image of innocent sensuality and anticipation. Following her rather elementary description, (“soft, as soft as baby’s skin” (5-6)) the poem’s narrator is captivated by her imagination. Dove does not invite us into the narrator’s thoughts at this time, but we can understand what she is thinking based on her description of her surroundings. The air is suddenly lost and the fireflies begin to whir. The sky appears “feathery” (10) rather than “water-heavy” (1) after being entrusted with the description of a boy’s lips. Overall, I thought this poem gives a subtly intense look inside the mind of an adolescent girl, not by directly describing her thoughts, but by providing alluring descriptions of her surroundings before and after her first exposure to any kind of sexual interaction, no matter how innocent.

Revised Essay: “Insights from ‘Footnote to Howl'”

Insights from “Footnote to Howl”

Alan Ginsberg’s famous poem “Howl” is an ecstatic, emotional, drug-charged, and sensual description of the Beat generation and their opposition forces in the world. Ginsberg takes the reader on a world through the American underbelly, revealing the traits, dreams, and fears of those who identify with the Beat generation. The epic poem is gritty and wild, touching on various themes in the lives of the Beats including homosexuality, drug usage, vagrancy, and art. The appendix to “Howl” seems at once both perfectly in accordance with the original work and an anomaly straying from the established themes. Upon close reading, however, “Footnote to Howl” can offer the reader insight into the complexity of the original poem and additionally the complexity of Ginsberg’s view of humanity. The appendix acts as a microscope by which the reader can examine the true nature of Ginsberg’s message. Through “Footnote to Howl,” Ginsberg suggests that, while the world is plagued by the evil of Moloch, such a society is necessary to grasp the holiness of life, and that those who identify with the Beat generation are the only ones who can take advantage of this evil world to uncover its true beauty.

The style and rhythm of “Footnote to Howl” maintains the exclamatory, lively pace established in the original poem, causing one to question whether it is really a separate poem at all. In describing the rhythm of “Howl,” Ginsberg once stated that each line is to be read as “one physical-mental inspiration of thought contained in the elastic of one breath.” This meter is maintained in the footnote, as each additional line presents a new thought, and diverges from the line preceding it. The footnote, like the preceding poem, is full of repetition. It opens with fifteen proclamations on the holiness of everything: “Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!” (Norton 1363) This introduction is at once exhausting and intriguing, conjuring the image of a religious lunatic howling in the streets. Furthermore, through such repetition, Ginsberg seems to be desanctify the concept of holiness. The reverence of the word is lost when juxtaposed with such sacrosanct images as the “bum” and “cocks of the grandfathers.” In some ways this is the effect Ginsberg hopes to have, as he continues the poem with a declaration of all that is truly, yet gruesomely, holy. As with the word “who” in Part I of “Howl” and the phrase “I am with you in Rockland” in Part III, the word “holy” is used to hinge the rhythm of the poem and allow Ginsberg to experiment with the long verse style. Unlike in the original poem, this base word is not the beginning of every line, but is scattered throughout the poem. Such a distribution of the apparent base word implies that the speaker is bursting with anticipation to express his thoughts, whereas he seems more collected in the first three parts. In the rhythm and meter of “Footnote,” Ginsberg preserves what was established in “Howl,” and yet he provides a variation on what is expected in ways that make the footnote a poem all its own.

After the vivacious opening lines, “Footnote” becomes a list of things Ginsberg and the Beats dub holy, but at which the majority of the world would scoff. “The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy! / … the bum’s as holy as the seraphim!” (1363). In this way, Ginsberg continues with his religious association, but completely reverses the concept of sacredness. The body parts listed as holy are ones perceived as dirty and vile by the majority of the world. The sexuality of “Footnote” is apparent in these lines, as it is throughout the original poem. Here, however, Ginsberg intricately unites sexuality (specifically homosexuality; there are no female-specific body parts referenced) with religion when he compares a “bum” to be as holy as a “seraphim.” The homosexual images conjured by the so-called holy objects create a dissonance in the reader’s mind, as what is perceived as proper is incorporated with what is often deemed lewd and sinful. While this may be shocking out of context, when read after “Howl,” the homosexual images are not all that surprising, as there are several other references to such images in the original poem.

If the first half of “Footnote to Howl” is concordant with Ginsberg’s already established opinions, the second half of the footnote deviates strikingly from the norm. After spending nearly all of Part II of “Howl” condemning the industrial, militaristic society in which the Beats find themselves, Ginsberg retracts on this and claims, “Holy the solitudes of skyscrapers and pavements! /… Holy the lone juggernaut! / … holy the Angel in Moloch!” (1364) It is through these images that the ultimate message of Ginsberg comes to light. While he does accuse the devilish Moloch figure in Part II of “Howl” of being the destroyer of “the best minds of [his] generation,” (1356) he clarifies his position by insisting that these destructive forces are in fact holy. For Ginsberg, it is only through these forces that the true nature of the world can be seen by those destroyed minds. In this light, the destroyed minds no longer carry a negative, tragic connotation, but rather a joyous one, because only once the mind is destroyed can it truly appreciate all that is holy. Evidence for this is provided in the middle of “Footnote to Howl” when Ginsberg lists the holiest minds he knows, the leaders of the Beat generation: “Holy Peter holy Allen holy Solomon holy Lucien holy Kerouac…/ holy the hideous human angels!” (1363) These are the destroyed minds, and yet these are also the insightful and intense minds. Additionally, the Beat generation only came about because of these destructive forces. The destroyed minds met amongst the skyscrapers and factories of Moloch and gave birth to the philosophies of the Beats. For Ginsberg, without Moloch there is no Beat generation, and because of this, there is still an angelic force about the ugliness of Moloch.

While there is not much information on Ginsberg’s motivation for writing a separate poem as an appendix to his epic description of humanity, it is fair to assume that “Footnote to Howl” was composed to provide clarification for Ginsberg’s original poem. “Footnote” was written upon Ginsberg’s learning that “Howl” was going to be published. Part summary and part resolution, “Footnote” gives the reader an opportunity to understand “Howl” in a completely different context. Stylistic and thematic similarities between the two distinct poems ensure the reader that they are to be understood in the context of one another, while the differences between the two provide clarity on Ginsberg’s ultimate message in “Howl.” Without “Footnote to Howl,” Ginsberg’s message in “Howl” is one of despair and insanity, but when the two are taken in context, the message is altered so that the reader understands the necessity of the destruction and the redemption such insanity provides.

Insights from “Footnote to Howl”

Alan Ginsberg’s famous poem “Howl” is an ecstatic, emotional, drug-charged, and sensual description of the Beat generation and their opposition forces in the world. Ginsberg takes the reader on a world through the American underbelly, revealing the traits, dreams, and fears of those who identify with the Beat generation. The epic poem is gritty and wild, touching on various themes in the lives of the Beats including homosexuality, drug usage, vagrancy, and art. The appendix to “Howl” seems at once both perfectly in accordance with the original work and an anomaly straying from the established themes. Upon close reading, however, “Footnote to Howl” can offer the reader insight into the complexity of the original poem and additionally the complexity of Ginsberg’s view of humanity. The appendix acts as a microscope by which the reader can examine the true nature of Ginsberg’s message. Through “Footnote to Howl,” Ginsberg suggests that, while the world is plagued by the evil of Moloch, such a society is necessary to grasp the holiness of life, and that those who identify with the Beat generation are the only ones who can take advantage of this evil world to uncover its true beauty.

The style and rhythm of “Footnote to Howl” maintains the exclamatory, lively pace established in the original poem, causing one to question whether it is really a separate poem at all. In describing the rhythm of “Howl,” Ginsberg once stated that each line is to be read as “one physical-mental inspiration of thought contained in the elastic of one breath.” This meter is maintained in the footnote, as each additional line presents a new thought, and diverges from the line preceding it. The footnote, like the preceding poem, is full of repetition. It opens with fifteen proclamations on the holiness of everything: “Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!” (Norton 1363) This introduction is at once exhausting and intriguing, conjuring the image of a religious lunatic howling in the streets. In some ways this is the image Ginsberg hopes to portray, as he continues the poem with a declaration of all that truly is holy. Like the word “who” in Part I of “Howl” and the phrase “I am with you in Rockland” in Part 3, the word “holy” is used to hinge the rhythm of the poem and allow Ginsberg to experiment with the long verse style. Unlike in the original poem, this base word is not the beginning of every line, but is scattered throughout the poem. Such a distribution of the apparent base word implies that the speaker is bursting with anticipation to express his thoughts, whereas he seems more collected in the first three parts. In the rhythm and meter of “Footnote,” Ginsberg preserves what was established in “Howl,” and yet he provides a variation on what is expected in ways that make the footnote a poem all its own.

After the vivacious opening lines, “Footnote” becomes a list of things Ginsberg and the Beats dub holy, but at which the majority of the world would scoff. “The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy! / … the bum’s as holy as the seraphim!” (1363). In this way, Ginsberg continues with his religious association, but completely reverses the concept of sacredness. The body parts listed as holy are ones perceived as dirty and vile by the majority of the world. The sexuality of “Footnote” is apparent in these lines, as it is throughout the original poem. Here, however, Ginsberg intricately unites sexuality (specifically homosexuality; there are no female-specific body parts referenced) with religion when he compares a “bum” to be as holy as a “seraphim.” The homosexual images conjured by the so-called holy objects create a dissonance in the reader’s mind, as what is perceived as proper is incorporated with what is often deemed lewd and sinful. While this may be shocking out of context, when read after “Howl,” the homosexual images are not all that surprising, as there are several other references to such images in the original poem.

If the first half of “Footnote to Howl” is concordant with Ginsberg’s already established opinions, the second half of the footnote deviates strikingly from the norm. After spending nearly all of Part II of “Howl” condemning the industrial, militaristic society in which the Beats find themselves, Ginsberg retracts on this and claims, “Holy the solitudes of skyscrapers and pavements! /… Holy the lone juggernaut! / … holy the Angel in Moloch!” (1364) It is through these images that the ultimate message of Ginsberg comes to light. While he does accuse the devilish Moloch figure in Part II of “Howl” of being the destroyer of “the best minds of [his] generation,” (1356) he clarifies his position by insisting that these destructive forces are in fact holy. For Ginsberg, it is only through these forces that the true nature of the world can be seen by those destroyed minds. In this light, the destroyed minds no longer carry a negative, tragic connotation, but rather a joyous one, because only once the mind is destroyed can it truly appreciate all that is holy. Evidence for this is provided in the middle of “Footnote to Howl” when Ginsberg lists the holiest minds he knows, the leaders of the Beat generation: “Holy Peter holy Allen holy Solomon holy Lucien holy Kerouac…/ holy the hideous human angels!” (1363) These are the destroyed minds, and yet these are also the insightful and intense minds. Additionally, the Beat generation only came about because of these destructive forces. The destroyed minds met amongst the skyscrapers and factories of Moloch and gave birth to the philosophies of the Beats. For Ginsberg, without Moloch there is no Beat generation, and because of this, there is still an angelic force about the ugliness of Moloch.

While there is not much information on Ginsberg’s motivation for writing a separate poem as an appendix to his epic description of humanity, it is fair to assume that “Footnote to Howl” was composed to provide clarification for Ginsberg’s original poem. “Footnote” was written upon Ginsberg’s learning that “Howl” was going to be published. Part summary and part resolution, “Footnote” gives the reader an opportunity to understand “Howl” in a completely different context. Stylistic and thematic similarities between the two distinct poems ensure the reader that they are to be understood in the context of one another, while the differences between the two provide clarity on Ginsberg’s ultimate message in “Howl.” Without “Footnote to Howl,” Ginsberg’s message in “Howl” is one of despair and insanity, but when the two are taken in context, the message is altered so that the reader understands the necessity of the destruction and the redemption such insanity provides.

Comparison of Donald Barthelme’s “The Balloon” and William Carlos Williams’s “The Red Wheelbarrow”

“But the purpose of the balloon was not to amuse children.” (Barthelme, 605)

“So much depends

upon

a red wheel

barrow” (Williams)

Upon reading Donald Barthelme’s short story “The Balloon,” I immediately was reminded of the sensation of reading William Carlos Williams’s famous poem “The Red Wheelbarrow.” Stylistically, the two are rather different, in that Williams writes using short, simple words to describe the innocent object, while Barthelme composes and entire story, complete with generally ordinary sentence structure and grammar, describing an equally innocent, yet more absurd object.  Williams’s expression of the state of a red wheelbarrow is completed in one sentence, one thought, yet Barthelme details the balloon’s presence through the opinions and actions of various people. The more important part of the comparison comes from examining the reactions of the reader to the two descriptions. First, the authors both employ a degree of absurdity in their writing. Williams writes that “so much depends” on such an ordinary object as a red wheelbarrow. The addition of the word “so” gives the poem its absurdity through it’s implication that the wheelbarrow is of significant importance to the reader, the author, and to the world. How much can we honestly expect to depend on a child’s playtoy? The absurdity in Barthelme’s story comes from the idea that one could actually blow up a balloon large enough to cover the entire Manhattan skyline without any significant consequence. In this sense, both stories assume some degree of fantasy. The imagery associated with the wheelbarrow “glazed with rain / water / beside the white / chickens” creates a mystical scene. Additionally, the image of a giant balloon on which people stroll and jump tells us that we are not to take the story literally.

This poses a problem, however, as we are never offered a satisfactory explanation for the balloon’s existence or its enormity. The reader wastes much cognition on pondering the hidden meaning of the balloon, questioning the symbolic nature of the balloon. Like the citizens of New York, who develop various interpretations to the reason behind balloon’s existence, the reader also convinces himself of a deeper significance. In this way, I think both Williams and Barthelme succeed in their writing. We will never know exactly what depends on the red wheelbarrow, but we are afforded the opportunity to decide for ourselves exactly what it means to us. In the same way, we will never know the narrator’s purpose for installing the massive balloon, but we are given the ability to interpret it how we please. Our predictions regarding the symbolism of the balloon and the wheelbarrow are never confirmed nor denied.

“Five hundred dollars,” Mr. Hubert said. “Done.” “Done,” Uncle Buck said. “Done,” Mr. Hubert said. “Done,” Uncle Buck said. (Faulkner, belated Blog Post 3)

Throughout his short story “Was,” William Faulkner captures the dialogue of the American South in a way that reveals to the reader several points about the characters and some of the story’s central themes. This exchange between Mr. Hubert and Uncle Buck provides a perfect example of Faulkner’s talent. The two men are discussing a bet that they have just made, and Mr. Hubert begins by summing up what is at stake and declaring that he will participate. Uncle Buck, however, determined to have the last word, reiterates, “Done,” in a stubborn and definitive way. Mr. Hubert follows suit and Uncle Buck does so again. The style of this passage was uniquely created to fit the personalities of the characters. The word, “Done” has a certain authoritative, precise sound. With one syllable and beginning with a hard consonant, “done” suits the passage better than a more submissive “okay.” The repetition of this word shows the assertive nature of the two men, each trying to have the final say in the settling of the bet. Furthermore, the repetition of the men’s names suggests the importance of their identification. “Mr. Hubert” contrasts with “Uncle Buck” in that the former is a proper title for a plantation owner, identified by his last name, whereas the latter is much more familiar. The exchange seems to follow a cyclical pattern, with power shifting from Mr. Hubert to Uncle Buck and back again. This mimics the cyclical nature of several aspects of the story itself: the chase for Tomey’s Turl, the ownership of Sibby, the mixing of the past and present. In this sense, the shifting of power of the conversation highlighted by the repetition of the word “Done,” follows suit with the style and content of the story in general. This exchange is indicative of Faulkner’s grasp of conversational Southern dialogue, and his ability to represent a stylistic aspect of the entire story in one simple conversation.

“Comfortably” Hemingway, 1022

The concept of comfort, both physical and psychological, pervades Hemingway’s short story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” in various ways. To begin, the central characters of the story, Harry and Helen, are used to lives of comfort and luxury, but find themselves on an ill-fated African safari during which Harry is suffering from an infected leg injury. These are “Old Westbury, Saratoga, Palm Beach people” (1023) who have become blasé to the über-rich lifestyle and have embarked on a semi-rustic adventure, although the supply of alcohol and the presence of an abiding servant prove that attempts have been made to provide the same level of comfort that they are used to.

The physical discomfort that the injury provides is almost unimaginable, and yet as the story continues, the infection appears to spread from the physical injury to a greater, psychological infection that Harry must face. The relationship between the two characters is a source of discomfort for the reader, as Harry and Helen are constantly bickering and the relationship proves to be completely one-sided. Harry slips into “the familiar lie” of telling Hellen that he truly loves her before callously exclaiming, “You bitch. You rich bitch” (1025). Looking back on his life, Harry is full of regret from the choices he made to live in the moment, marrying rich and enjoying Helen’s lavish lifestyle, rather than remaining true to the woman he actually loved. Additionally, his flashbacks expose more psychological discomfort as Harry feels he has wasted his life by not writing about the things “he cared about” (1033). Harry feels the discomfort of a writer leaving stories untold. The ultimate discomfort comes during Harry’s death scene, as the force moves closer and closer to his cot, before finally crushing him under its weight “so he could not move, or speak” (1035). The image of death slowly encroaching upon a powerless Harry before suffocating him as he lies on his cot is hauntingly uncomfortable.  In both the physical and psychological realms, Harry’s discomfort pervades the story, and by the end the reader knows that his wish to “die as comfortably as he can” (1022) will go unfulfilled.

“Don’t imagine that the art of poetry is any simpler than the art of music, or that you can please the expert before you have spent at least as much effort on the art of verse as an average piano teacher spends on the art of music.”

Ezra Pound’s “A Retrospect” attempts to expound the new school of poetry dubbed Imagism. This “brief recapitulation and retrospect” advises the aspiring writer to avoid constriction from the old-world styles of literature and poetry and embrace the modernistic approach. The manifesto constitutes the actualization of modernism as we know it, explicitly defining how and why writers should create their art. Writers in this modern style will, per Pound’s advice, focus their efforts on representing an Image (or the essence of a subject), economically choosing their words, and “composing in the sequence of the musical phrase, not sequence of a metronome.”

Aside from the practical advice for composition, Pound’s more  significant lesson to writers deals with the attitude towards their works. All writing, and poetry especially, should be treated as an art form, and writers should expect to earn in fame and glory proportionate to the amount of effort given to their art. In this we are reminded of James’s artist character, sacrificing his love of portrait painting in exchange for the creation of cheap illustrations. There is no glory for the artist in this scene because there is no dedication to the true art of his work. Pound, the Imagists, and myself feel that “it is better to present one Image in a lifetime than to produce voluminous works.” To capture the essence of an image and to adequately and efficiently liberate it from its ineffable state into one of comprehensibility is the highest of accomplishments for any artist, including the writer. This success, however, will come only when one dedicates himself to his writing with passion and devotion.