All posts by bekism

Lydia Davis: Unconventional Yet Masterful Short Stories

Strip a piece of literature down so that it does not include any trace of traditional literary conventions – a plot, character explanation and development, a climax, an ending – and you’ve got a Lydia Davis short story. This complete refusal to stick to the conventional literary rules is one of the key characteristics of her writing. In place of these usual characteristics, Davis creates stories, often very brief stories, whose content centers around largely mundane topics. Her content is expressed through a methodical, sometimes referred to as “nearly autistic” (Marcus) style, whose technique largely revolves around an “affinity for how the mind articulates itself” (Power) and the “circling convoluted progressions and digressions of thought” (Power). As a result, the reading experience is indeed a bit “jarring” (Lydia Davis, The Art of the Flash). However, this does not equate to a reading experience void of value or profundity. Rather, it is her avoidance of traditional literary conventions coupled with her unique writing technique that yields the immensely thought-provoking and stimulating short stories found in her book, Varieties of Disturbance, and ultimately leave the reader with an immensely engaging, “exceedingly intimate” (Marcus), relatable, and refreshing reading experience.

Continue reading Lydia Davis: Unconventional Yet Masterful Short Stories

Stagnation and Routine in Junot Diaz’s “Drown”

Throughout this portion from Junot Diaz’s Drown, there is a pervading sense of stagnation. The characters within the story seem to be unmoving. Though the narrator “tries to explain, all wise-like, that everything changes” (1668) to his mother, the reality of the situation is that for him, nothing really actually does change. The narrator’s life is very much stagnant and routine in the way he describes his life and activities. For example, he states, “In the mornings I run” (1670). The way he describes the things he does are described as if he does them routinely, with frequency, every day. Additionally, in his life, nothing has really changed since his teenage years. The main illustration of this being in the way that he still frequents the pool where he used to hang out with Beto and his other rowdy friends. The narrator himself even comments on how “little has changed, not the stink of the chlorine, not the bottles exploding against the lifeguard station” (1667).

Yet, it seems that this sense of stagnation and all-consuming routine to come was foreshadowed in the narrator’s high school teacher’s statement that, “A few of you are going to make it. Those are the orbiters. But the majority of you are just going to burn out. Going nowhere…” (1672-1673). This statement obviously deeply affected the narrator as he “could already see [him]self losing altitude, fading, the earth spread out beneath [him], hard and bright” (1673). He felt he could already see his bleak, going-nowhere-fast future in this teacher’s statement. He would, he was certain, not be an orbiter.

Perhaps, then, in order to deal with this crushing sense that he has already “burnt out”, and that his dreams – whether they be that he could potentially leave this place and make something out of himself or even that he could find and make amends with Beto – are unattainable, the narrator attempts to get lost in routine. For example, though “with the air conditioner on” his mother and him “never open the windows” in the first place, when his mother asks him to make sure the windows are locked, he “goes through the routine anyway” (1668), just for the pure purpose of the mundane-ness of it. This attempt to get lost in routine is echoed further by the narrator’s mother who, when she falls asleep while watching the television, gets lost in dreams of her old life with her husband “strolling under the jacarandas” in her home of Boca Raton (1673). Yet, once she wakes up from the dream to return to her reality, she feels that she must gain a sense of purpose and control again in the routine, and so she demands the narrator, “you better check those windows” (1673).

The story serves the purpose of depicting how easy it is to fall into a routine in order to escape from the possibility of unattainable, seemingly ridiculous dreams, or in order to escape from a very real sense that one is destined to burn out and fail. This idea is perfectly summed up when the narrator thinks about stopping by Beto’s apartment but then simply doesn’t, stating, “I can go back to my dinner and two years will become three” (1667). This means to point to the absolute easiness with which one can completely undo any attempts to change the path they are currently on, and thus continue on that same path, keeping everything just the same.

Deformation of Rita Dove’s “Parsley”

Original: Entire original text

Deconstruction:

Someone

calls out his name in a voice

so like his mother’s, a startled tear

splashes the tip of his right boot.

 

The knot in his throat starts to twitch;

Mi madle, mi amol en muelte

My mother, my love in death

 

Ever since the morning

his mother collapsed in the kitchen

while baking skull-shaped candies

for the Day of the Dead, the general

has hated sweets.

 

The knot in his throat starts to twitch;

Mi madle, mi amol en muelte

My mother, my love in death

 

He sees his boots the first day in battle

splashed with mud and urine

as a soldier falls at his feet amazed

 

The knot in his throat starts to twitch;

Mi madle, mi amol en muelte

My mother, my love in death

 

The general

pulls on his boots, he stomps to

her room in the palace

As he paces he wonders

Who can I kill today.

 

For my deformation, I chose to focus on The General’s backstory, because I found this entire portion of the poem to be a very interesting addition. In the first portion of the story, The Cane Fields, The General is depicted as this capital G, strange, mysterious, and seemingly malicious character. He is abruptly brought into the story in the line, “El General/searches for a word/he is all the world there is” (Dove 4-6), leaving the reader questioning who is this mysterious, important figure? El General’s character is then further depicted as evil through the imagery in the line, “El General has found his word: perejil/Who says it, lives. He laughs, teeth shining/out of the swamp” (13-15). Here, he is illustrated as a monster, emerging from the swamp, sadistically laughing at the pain and horror he has caused. Thus throughout the entirety of the first portion of the poem, not much is known about The General besides the fact that he is mysterious and that he seems to be evil.

Yet, it is very interesting to take note of the backstory provided to the reader in the second portion of the poem, The Palace, and that is why I focused on it in my deformation. In this portion of the poem, the author in a way reaches into the psyche of El General, looking at his past and his relationship with his mother and in this way brings humanness to the general that was completely missed in the first portion of the poem. I thought it was interesting that in stringing various lines together from the second portion of the poem, I was able to create a backstory of The General’s that made him seem more human, that gave him a disturbed and sad past, and thus made him seem, perhaps even, deserving of sympathy. Yet I ended the deformation with the abrupt line “As he paces he wonders/Who can I kill today”, to bring back the reality of the evilness that El General bestows upon the people. This points to the aspect of the ambiguity of evil – one is easily able to mark something as being evil, but the reality is that things are not simply black and white. Obviously this general is sadistic and indeed brings suffering and death to many underserving of it, yet the backstory portion provides the reader with personal knowledge of The General, prompting them to view him in a different light, with a different perspective.

 

 

A Revised Close Reading of Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall”

Robert Frost’s poem, Mending Wall, is a relatable commentary on the human tendency to simultaneously fear and yearn for human connection. Told through the lens of the narrator’s personal experience with this, the poem centers on the point that this fear humans have of true connection is complicated by their simultaneous longing for said connection. Humans put up walls because they are scared to connect, get involved, and put themselves out there, yet there is this constant, nagging feeling of longing to question and break down these walls in pursuit of meaningful connection. The entirety of Mending Wall centers on questioning the notion that “Good fences make good neighbors” (Frost 27).

The poem begins with much imagery surrounding the wall. The assertion that “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” (1), immediately bringing to the reader’s attention the complexity of the situation – walls are put up, but they do not go without questioning and scrutiny. This line seems to suggest that there is something intrinsic in humans that does not approve of this natural tendency to block others out and isolate from one another. The “frozen-ground swell[ing]” (2) under the wall suggests a resistance from the ground, as it tries to swell up and push up against the wall from underneath, attempting to crumble the foundation of the wall so that it may collapse and “spill” the “upper boulders” that make up the wall “in the sun” (3). Here the wall imagery centers around nature which implies the fact that nature and the natural world – the frozen earth beneath the wall, the sun, etc. – all want the wall to be broken down, that perhaps the wall is something unnatural and solely created by humans but not truly meant to be there.

The poem then takes the story back in time to the “hunters” (5) that came in time before the author narrating the story. The “hunters” who came before the narrator “have left not one stone on a stone”, meaning that the “hunters” never built the walls so common to mankind now; that back in the age of “hunters”, there were no walls because the society was community-oriented, men were together, bonded closely and meaningfully attached to one another. Yet, as the narrator confesses in the line, “I have come after them and made repair/Where they have left not one stone on stone” (6), he came after these hunters and “made repair”, or built up these previously un-built walls. The word repair is interesting here because it usually indicates a positive image – repairing something is fixing it and making it better. Yet here the reader is left to question whether this “repairing” of the wall is actually doing any “repairing” at all. In a way, the “repairing” of the wall, in context of the isolation and separation that the wall represents, seems to contradict its own meaning – it is actually harmful and damaging for humans to build these walls. The next line “They would have the rabbit out of hiding,/To please the yelping dogs” (8) may seem like it is referring “they” to the hunters, but the narrator quickly corrects this idea stating directly after, “The gaps I mean” (9). These gaps are gaps found within the walls and are what “would have the rabbit out of hiding/To please the yelping dogs”. This means to display the fear humans have at having any gaps in their wall and points to why the walls are put up in the first place: fear. Humans hide and build these gapless, completely solid walls to keep away from the “yelping dogs” that are other humans. There is this fear that we are helpless, endangered rabbits just waiting to be teared apart– perhaps physically, but even more so emotionally – by the yelping dogs that are other humans, and for this reason, we resort to building walls to isolate ourselves and more significantly, to protect ourselves from others and the pain other humans are capable of inflicting on us.

These gaps referred to seem to be mysterious, as “No one has seen them made or heard them made” (10), however “at spring mending-time we find them there” (11). This “spring-mending time” is an interesting line to deconstruct as spring is a time in which people venture out of their houses or winter hiding places, and thus would seem like a wonderful time in which one is able to be with other people and join into the company and community of others. Yet the imagery of this beautiful time when people come together is sullied by the realization that spring time is also “mending time” and is a time when people come outside solely to fix the “gaps” in their walls, not to come outside to be together. Here, this beautiful springtime with so much potential for human connection is ruined by the fact that the mending occurring is for the walls, and thus is a perpetuation of human separation. The narrator “let [his] neighbor know” that the gaps were there, and they “meet to walk the line/And set the wall between us once again”. Even as they repair and refill the gaps in their walls, they “keep the wall between [themselves] as [they] go” (15). All of this description serves to illustrate the immense amount of reluctance there is to have any contact or connection at all – the wall is constantly present between the narrator and his neighbor, illustrating the constant safe distance kept from one another. As each person constantly keeps this safe distance, each person is also forced to individually accept the “boulders that have fallen to each” (16), allowing these boulders to “wear our fingers rough with handling them” (20). There is this absolute rejection of sharing ones “boulders”, or burdens with another – the only option seems to be carrying ones burdens entirely alone, silently suffering and wearing oneself down with their immense weight.

The next lines “Oh, just another kind of outdoor game/One on a side,” turn the poem to point to the fact that humans do not take this separation and isolation as having serious consequences. To them, it is just “another kind of outdoor game”, one stays on their side, the other stays on their side. There seems to be a failure to see the serious implications of this separation from one another. However, as the narrator realizes and voices, “It comes to a little more” (22) than just an outdoor game; the building of walls to separate from one another does carry harmful implications in separating us from one another, leaving us all devoid of any meaningful contact or relationships.

At this point in the poem, the reader sees the narrator begin to deny the walls. In the line, “There where it is we do not need the wall” (23), the narrator essentially out rightly states that where the wall is, it does not need to be. Put more simply, the wall does actually not need to exist at all. This seems to be a revelation of the narrator’s, and thus he attempts to share this revelation with his neighbor. “He is pine and I am apple orchard/My apples trees will never get across/And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him” (24-26). Here, the narrator acknowledges and accepts the differences between himself (the apple tree) and his neighbor (the pine tree), but assures the neighbor it is safe and okay to take down the wall. Yet the neighbor refuses to see the truth in what the narrator has to say, still scared to break down the wall, and replies to this revelation with the cliché saying, “Good fences make good neighbors” (27). The reluctance of the neighbor to accept what the narrator is telling him reflects how difficult it is for one human to take another human on their word – what if the apple tree does end up coming over to “eat the cones under his pines”. There is too much uncertainty there, and such a high risk of getting lied to, stolen from, betrayed and hurt. Thus it seems better and safer to close oneself up, keep the distance, and protect oneself from this hurt through keeping the wall up. However the reader, in this vague and evasive cliché saying, “Good fences make good neighbors”, is invited to question this notion that any of this building of barriers between one another is actually “good”, healthy, or constructive in any way.

The narrator takes the task of questioning this idea upon himself and this time around, spring is not a time for “mending” the wall, but rather is a time where the “mischief” (28) in him comes out. There is thus a shift it what spring means for the narrator, from a time of building up and “mending” the wall to a time of mischief, questioning, and attempting to break down the wall. With this realization, the narrator wonders if he can “put a notion” in his neighbor’s head and make him too question, “Why do they make good neighbors” (30). However, the narrator realizes that trying to use his own experience and questioning of his walls to get the neighbor to question his own walls will not work, in the line  “I could say ‘Elves’ to him/But it’s not elves exactly and I’d rather he said it for himself” (36-37). The physical difference between the same word, “Elves” and elves, in this line is a representation of how the narrator cannot give the neighbor his own reasoning for questioning and taking down his walls as an answer for the neighbor’s own struggles because his reasoning for putting up his walls are entirely individual and different from that of his neighbors. Thus he could say “Elves” to his neighbor, but for the neighbor the reasoning would come out as “not elves exactly”. In the physical change of the word one can see that the reasons for putting up ones walls ultimately come out as different for every individual. The neighbor must “[say] it for himself”, meaning that the neighbor needs to figure out for himself what is prompting his tendency to build barriers. This hints at the larger point being made here which is that each individual needs to realize for themselves the root of why they put up their wall in order to be able to question it and eventually be okay with taking it down.

Through the shift in the narrator’s perception of walls from necessary to hurtful, Frost is able to display profound and relatable insight into the human condition and tendency to both create and break down the barriers that separate us from one another. The acknowledgement of this human tendency ultimately successfully brings the reader to seriously question the poem’s final note that “Good fences make good neighbors” (44).

 

 

 

A Comparison Between Coover’s The Babysitter and Faulkner’s Was

“The babysitter sighs, lifts the girl out of the tub and onto the toilet, getting her skirt and blouse all wet in the process…Before she knows it the girl is off the seat and out of the bathroom. ‘Bitsy! Come back here!’…”

(next stanza)“Okay, that’s enough!” Her skirt is ripped and she’s flushed and crying. “Who says?” “I do, man”.

“Uncle Buck flung his arm out and back, reigning in, crouched on the big horse, his little round head and his gnarled neck thrust forward like a cooter’s. You stay back where he wont see you and flush. I’ll circle him through the woods and we will bay him at the creek ford.” He waited until Uncle Buck vanished into the woods. Then he went on. But Tomey’s Turl saw him. He closed in too fast; maybe he was afraid he wouldn’t be there in time to see him when he treed. It was the best race he had ever seen.

 

Ambiguity in the subject being referred is a fundamental characteristic of both Robert Coover’s The Babysitter and William Faulkner’s Was, and thus serves in creating ties of similarity between the two works. In both these works there is a large amount of confusion regarding who or what is being referred to due to the continuous switching of characters without utilization of clearly defining who or what that pronoun is referring to. The confusion in Faulkner’s work stems much from the continuous, rapid-fire use of “he” to refer to different characters in the stream of consciousness-based story. This use of the same “he” pronoun to refer to various different characters in very close succession serves to create ambiguity in terms of who the “he” being referred to is. There is confusion as to whether the different “he’[s]” are referring to Uncle Buck, Uncle Buddy, Tomey’s Turl, or Ike. This same confusion is created in The Babysitter through the illustration of parallel stories between different stanzas such as the one in the passage above. In the first stanza, the passage centers around Bitsy, the little girl. Bitsy is being difficult about taking her bath and demands that she get out of the bath, thus “getting her skirt and blouse all wet”. The babysitter gets frustrated and yells “Bitsy! Come back here!” The next stanza begins immediately with “‘Okay, that’s enough!’ Her skirt is ripped and she’s flushed and crying”. The reader assumes the “her” here is Bitsy, as she was the last character discussed, until reading further to find that the “her” here is the babysitter and situation being talked about is a completely different one from the previous. This is a perfect example of how in The Babysitter, there is rarely straightforward clarity regarding who is being referred to, which is much invoked by the use of ambiguous pronouns from stanza to stanza. The reader is left much to their own devices and must decipher on their own what is happening to whom.

Further, the confusion and ambiguity makes the reader question what the reality of the situation is. Is Uncle Buddy the one following Uncle Buck’s instructions here? Or is it Ike? Is Bitsy the one with “her skirt ripped”, “flushed” and “crying”, or is it the babysitter? The questioning of reality that comes about through the confusion created in the ambiguity is a central characteristic of both works.

A Close Reading of Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall”

Robert Frost’s poem, Mending Wall, is a relatable commentary on the human tendency to simultaneously fear and yearn for human connection. Told through the lens of the narrator’s personal experience with this, the poem centers on the point that this fear humans have of true connection is complicated by their simultaneous longing for said connection. Humans put up walls because they are scared to connect, get involved, and put themselves out there, yet there is this constant, nagging feeling of longing to question and break down these walls in pursuit of meaningful connection. The entirety of Mending Wall centers on questioning the notion that “Good fences make good neighbors” (Frost 27).

The poem begins with the assertion that “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” (1), immediately bringing to the reader’s attention the complexity of the situation – walls are put up, but they do not go without questioning and scrutiny. This line seems to suggest that there is something intrinsic in humans that does not approve of this natural tendency to block others out and isolate from one another. The “frozen-ground swell[ing]” (2) under the wall suggests a resistance from the ground, as it tries to swell up and push up against the wall from underneath, attempting to crumble the foundation of the wall so that it may collapse and “spill” the “upper boulders” that make up the wall “in the sun” (3). Here there is much imagery centering around nature which implies the fact that nature and the natural world – the frozen earth beneath the wall, the sun, etc. – all want the wall to be broken down, that perhaps the wall is something unnatural and solely created by humans but not truly meant to be there. The poem then takes the story back in time to the “hunters” (5) that came in time before the author narrating the story. The “hunters” who came before the narrator “have left not one stone on a stone”, meaning that the “hunters” never built the walls so common to mankind now; that back in the age of “hunters”, there were no walls because the society was community-oriented, men were together, bonded closely and meaningfully attached to one another. Yet, as the narrator confesses in the line, “I have come after them and made repair/Where they have left not one stone on stone” (6), he came after these hunters and “made repair”, or built up these previously un-built walls. The word repair is interesting here because it usually indicates a positive image – repairing something is fixing it and making it better. Yet here the reader is left to question whether this “repairing” of the wall is actually doing any “repairing” at all. In a way, the “repairing” of the wall, in context of the isolation and separation that the wall represents, seems to contradict its own meaning – it is actually harmful and damaging for humans to build these walls. The next line “They would have the rabbit out of hiding,/To please the yelping dogs” (8) may seem like it is referring “they” to the hunters, but the narrator quickly corrects this idea stating directly after, “The gaps I mean” (9). These gaps are gaps found within the walls and are what “would have the rabbit out of hiding/To please the yelping dogs”. This means to display the fear humans have at having any gaps in their wall and points to why the walls are put up in the first place: fear. Humans hide and build these gapless, completely solid walls to keep away from the “yelping dogs” that are other humans. There is this fear that we are helpless, endangered rabbits just waiting to be teared apart– perhaps physically, but even more so emotionally – by the yelping dogs that are other humans, and for this reason, we resort to building walls to isolate ourselves and more significantly, to protect ourselves from others and the pain other humans are capable of inflicting on us.

These gaps referred to seem to be mysterious, as “No one has seen them made or heard them made” (10), however “at spring mending-time we find them there” (11). This “spring-mending time” is an interesting line to deconstruct as spring is a time in which people venture out of their houses or winter hiding places, and thus would seem like a wonderful time in which one is able to be with other people and join into the company and community of others. Yet the imagery of this beautiful time when people come together is sullied by the realization that spring time is also “mending time” and is a time when people come outside solely to fix the “gaps” in their walls, not to come outside to be together. Here, this beautiful spring time with so much potential for human connection is ruined by the fact that the mending occurring is for the walls, and thus is a perpetuation of human separation. The narrator “let [his] neighbor know” that the gaps were there, and they “meet to walk the line/And set the wall between us once again”. Even as they repair and refill the gaps in their walls, they “keep the wall between [themselves] as [they] go” (15). All of this description serves to illustrate the immense amount of reluctance there is to have any contact or connection at all – the wall is constantly present between the narrator and his neighbor, illustrating the constant safe distance kept from one another. As each person constantly keeps this safe distance, each person is also forced to individually accept the “boulders that have fallen to each” (16), allowing these boulders to “wear our fingers rough with handling them” (20). There is this absolute rejection of sharing ones “boulders”, or burdens with another – the only option seems to be carrying ones burdens entirely alone, silently suffering and wearing oneself down with their immense weight. The next lines “Oh, just another kind of outdoor game/One on a side” point to the fact that humans do not take this separation and isolation as having serious consequences. To them, it is just “another kind of outdoor game”, one stays on their side, the other stays on their side. There seems to be a failure to see the serious implications of this separation from one another. However, as the narrator realizes and voices, “It comes to a little more” (22) than just an outdoor game; the building of walls to separate from one another does carry harmful implications in separating us from one another, leaving us all devoid of any meaningful contact or relationships.

Here, the reader sees the narrator begin to seriously question the walls by the narrator. “There where it is we do not need the wall” (23). The narrator essentially out rightly states that where the wall is, it does not need to be. Put more simply, the wall does actually not need to exist at all. This seems to be a revelation of the narrator’s, and thus he attempts to share this revelation with his neighbor. “He is pine and I am apple orchard/My apples trees will never get across/And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him” (24-26). Here, the narrator acknowledges and accepts the differences between himself (the apple tree) and his neighbor (the pine tree), but assures the neighbor it is safe and okay to take down the wall. Yet the neighbor refuses to see the truth in what the narrator has to say, still scared to break down the wall, and replies to this revelation with the cliché saying, “Good fences make good neighbors” (27). The reluctance of the neighbor to accept what the narrator is telling him reflects how difficult it is for one human to take another human on their word – what if the apple tree does end up coming over to “eat the cones under his pines”. There is too much uncertainty there, and such a high risk of getting lied to, stolen from, betrayed and hurt. Thus it seems better and safer to close oneself up, keep the distance, and protect oneself from this hurt through keeping the wall up. However the reader, in this vague and evasive cliché saying, “Good fences make good neighbors”, is invited to question this notion that any of this building of barriers between one another is actually “good”, healthy, or constructive in any way. The narrator takes the task of questioning this idea upon himself and this time around, spring is not a time for “mending” the wall, but rather is a time where the “mischief” (28) in him comes out. There is thus a shift it what spring means for the narrator, from a time of building up and “mending” the wall to a time of mischief, questioning, and attempting to break down the wall. With this realization, the narrator wonders if he can “put a notion” in his neighbor’s head and make him too question, “Why do they make good neighbors” (30). However, the narrator realizes that trying to use his own experience and questioning of his walls to get the neighbor to question his own walls will not work, in the line  “I could say ‘Elves’ to him/But it’s not elves exactly and I’d rather he said it for himself” (36-37). The physical difference between the same word, “Elves” and elves, in this line is a representation of how the narrator cannot give the neighbor his own reasoning for questioning and taking down his walls as an answer for the neighbor’s own struggles because his reasoning for putting up his walls are entirely individual and different from that of his neighbors. Thus he could say “Elves” to his neighbor, but for the neighbor the reasoning would come out as “not elves exactly”. In the physical change of the word one can see that the reasons for putting up ones walls ultimately come out as different for every individual. The neighbor must “[say] it for himself”, meaning that the neighbor needs to figure it out for himself. This hints at the larger point being made here which is that each individual needs to realize for themselves why they put up their wall in order to be able to question it and eventually be okay with taking it down. This is an individual experience every individual needs to go about and realize for his or herself. Thus, it is something the narrator cannot merely tell the neighbor but rather something the neighbor must find and understand out for himself.

It is evident that all together, Frost’s poem provides profound and relatable insight into the human condition and tendency to both create and break down the barriers that separate us from one another.

Flannery O’Connor Background Info

An eccentric, quirky, and immensely interesting character, Flannery O’Connor is one of the most renowned and celebrated authors of the 20th century. O’Connor was born into the Bible Belt South in Savannah, Georgia on March 25, 1925, to a devoutly Roman Catholic family. This Catholic religion, especially in the context of her Southern roots, would serve as the foundation for much of her writing. O’Connor was an only child and moved with her family to Millidgeville, for her father’s job. At age 15, O’Connor’s father died of lupus, the disease that would eventually end her own life.

O’Connor went on to attend Georgia State College for Women, where she was an avid satiric cartoonist and editor for the newspaper. In 1945, she continued to pursue journalism at the University of Iowa; she initially intended to be a political cartoonist. Yet, finding that journalism was not her place, she entered into Paul Engle’s well-known Writing Workshop to study creative writing. Many of the professors and writers she worked with in this program asserted the enormous amount of talent she possessed. It was also here that O’Connor realized her unique knack for writing and published her first short story, The Geranium. After receiving her M.F.A, O’Connor spent some time on writing her first novel, Wise Blood, at Yaddo, an artist’s retreat in Saratoga Springs, New York. In 1949, to continue working on her writing, she  moved into the Connecticut apartment of her close friends, Sally and Robert Fitzgerald. Yet, this peaceful time in her life was suddenly interrupted when O’Connor was diagnosed with lupus, the incurable autoimmune disease. She was thus forced to move back to Milledgeville, to live on the family dairy farm, Andalusia. It was at this farm that O’Connor carried out the majority of the rest of her life. Yet, despite the debilitating disease she was stricken with, O’Connor still found the strength to continue pursuing her writing. She led a fairly simple yet profound life at Andalusia, where she would devote at least three hours each day to writing, seven days a week, attend mass almost every morning, take occasional trips to lecture, and correspond with friends, family, and young writers through letters. It is really amazing to think that even though Flannery O’Connor died before her time at the extremely young age of 39, and though she did not produce a vast amount of writings (two novels, two collections of short stories, and a variety of essays and letters), she is still such a powerful literary figure.

O’Connor has been characterized as a “Southern grotesque writer”, though she did not necessarily enjoy this categorization.  Though she grew up in the heart area of the South, and was largely affected in her writing by the context of those times, her writing does not focus on race relations aspect of the times, but rather centers around the “Christ-haunted” South. Her writings include themes and ideas of theology such as sin, guilt, redemption, morality, and grace. Many mark her writing as pertaining a “Christian vision” and having a “dark humor” to them. She thus very much had a “conscious intent” in her writings, to get across a message, which was largely one centering around aspects of religion.

“Mercy!” said Mrs, Fletcher. “Where was he?” At some time Leota had washed her hair and now she yanked her up by the back locks and sat her up. “Know where he was?” “I certainly don’t,” Mrs. Fletcher said. Her scalp hurt all over. Leota flung a towel around the top of her customer’s head. (Welty 1101-1102)

In Petrified Man, Eudora Welty guides the reader through the gossipy, chatty, dialogue-heavy text by utilizing consistent and immensely descriptive interjections that revolve around the process of Leota doing Mrs. Fletcher’s hair. These continual interjections serve to make Mrs. Fletcher’s head the main focus of the text within the context of everything else, so that the reader realizes that there is some sort of significance surrounding Mrs. Fletcher’s head. This stylistic use of descriptive interjections to break up the dialogue and bring focus to Mrs. Fletcher’s hair is made even more interesting in how the descriptions are very much characterized by violent and forceful imagery. There are countless examples of this imagery surrounding the descriptions of Leota’s beautification process for Mrs. Fletcher’s hair. Leota “puff[s] and press[es] into Mrs. Fletcher’s scalp with strong red-nailed fingers” (1094), she “drenches Mrs. Fletcher’s hair with a thick fluid” (1095), she “stuff[s] cotton balls into [Mrs. Fletcher’s] ears” (1099), she “[digs] her hands into [Mrs. Fletcher’s scalp” (1100), she yank[s] her up by the back locks and sat her up” (1101-1102), and moving down from the head to the neck, Leota almost chokes Mrs. Fletcher “with the cloth, pinning it so tight” so that “she couldn’t speak clearly” (1100). The control over and abuse of Mrs. Fletcher’s head is very evident – especially in the yanking her up by the back locks of her hair, which is very reminiscent of a puppeteer pulling the strings of his puppet. The violent imagery that characterizes these stylistic interjections serve a profound purpose in relating to the reader the stupidity and ridiculousness that is the petty gossip these women chatter about. Throughout the story, Mrs. Fletcher’s head, as seen through the interjections, takes a large amount of abuse and is very much controlled by Leota, which serves as a subtle commentary on how petty, seemingly harmless gossip can actually be dangerous in the way that it can abuse and control the mind.

“Whirled” – “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”, line 7

The action, “whirled”, which the blackbird takes in the third stanza of Wallace Steven’s, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, is pivotal to understanding the blackbird’s role and significance within the poem. The blackbird “whirled in the autumn winds” (7). Though the blackbird has wings and is able to fly against the winds, it accepts the winds and lets them take him wherever they please. In letting the winds take him, it is evident that the blackbird realizes and accepts the fact that life and existence are essentially, at their core, beyond his control. The blackbird has acknowledged the fact that “it was a small part of the pantomime” (8), or rather a just a mere, tiny speck in the whole pantomime, or “dramatic theater” of life, existence, the universe, etc. This profound understanding of life that the blackbird has is far beyond human comprehension; humans fail to grasp this idea that they are just tiny, tiny specks in the whole of existence and rather, like to consider themselves somehow superior or larger than that. The reader is able to see that this self-knowledge that the blackbird has mastered is beyond human comprehension, in the ninth stanza. “When the blackbird flew out of sight/It marked the edge/Of one of many circles” (35-37). The blackbird’s acceptance of its small place in universe “marks the edge” of the comprehension that humans have of their own existence, thus its “flying out of sight” means its flying out of a human being’s zone or circle of comprehension; the blackbird’s comprehension of existence is far beyond where humans can see – it is entirely out of sight for humans.        Additionally, the reader is able to see the fear that humans have in coming to this realization that they are just tiny specks, in stanza eleven where a man is scared when “he mistook/The shadow of the his equipage/For blackbirds” (45-47). The man is scared because as he rides along in this coach, a symbol of man’s feeling of superiority and of their belief that they are larger than they really are (perhaps to go do some seemingly important, grand task), he sees the shadow of “blackbirds”. In seeing the “blackbirds” instead of seeing the shadow of this symbol of superiority, the man is really seeing the truth of man’s small existence, over which he truly has little control, and thus the man gets scared when forced to face this truth of life. Yet, I don’t think the point of the poem is to scare us; this fact that we are all tiny specks, intertwined and connected to make up something larger than life is something beautiful – “A man and a woman and a blackbird/Are all one” (11). This poem stands to say that we as humans shouldn’t be afraid of this fact, but instead we should embrace the oneness of everything woven together to make up something much larger and greater than ourselves.