Sunday, September 28, 2008

A good man is indeed hard to find, though not impossible

"A Good Man is Hard to Find" resonated with me.  I adored this story, as much as I enjoyed Bartleby, or, dare I say, more.  It was terribly depressing, it had a horrible ending, it left me feeling empty.  Because of all this, though, I count it as one of the best stories we have read this first half of the semester.  It is written simply, we are introduced to characters which, though only written about for a short period of time, are very human and real.  Anyone who has taken a long trip with their family will be able to relate to the first half of this story.  The arguments, the bitterness, and then, once separated from all of that, the hilarity of the petty arguments and unnecessary bitterness.  It is in the first half of the story that we get to know these people and understand them as being not too different from ourselves.  The story, though, takes a turn for something much darker.  This harmlessly bickering family becomes victims of a killer.  They all die, every single one of them do in a horrible fashion.  I read this story aghast, I foresaw some confrontation with "The Misfit" but nothing of the caliber we were subject to.  The Misfit is one of the most fascinating characters we have experienced thus far; the grandmother is as well.  The grandmother is a nag; she is annoying and petty, her actions get her family killed.  Throughout the story she is annoying; I hated reading her because she so effectively pissed me off.  This is all beside the point, though.  When the story approaches climax and her family is being dragged off and killed, we see her shine.  The climax of the story is very small and easy to oversee but it is vitally important to the various interpretations of the meaning of the story.  The climax comes when the misfit's eyes are welling up with tears and the grandmother sees in him a child of her's.  The misfit's face, after declaring how unfair it was that he wasn't able to prove for a fact that Christ died and then was resurrected, screwed up as if he were about to cry and at that time the grandmother recognized him as a child of hers'.  The grandmother then sought to embrace the misfit, but at that moment he shot her dead.  It is here that we see the true climax of the story and its symbolic significance.  The misfit laments at the fact that he cannot prove Christianity true, because of this he is a doubter, and because he doubts so much he assumes it can't be true and acts accordingly; he lies, steals and kills because there are, in his eyes, no consequences.  The grandmother, though, is a true follower of Christ, urging the misfit to pray over and over again near the end of the story.  The doubter, though, kills the true believer.  The true believer recognizes that the doubter isn't really a doubter, that he had a moment of revelation, and because of that she dies with a smile on her face looking towards heaven.   Shortly thereafter we are presented with evidence that the misfit, or, the doubter is not happy with the way his life is going because he blatantly says so.  He tells one of his partners in crime that there is no joy in the life they are living.  He says that the grandmother, when preaching the word of God, was happy and he states that if only there were a person always there threatening to kill her and make her appreciate God, would she be deemed a good person.  I feel as if this is a highly religious story, a very pro-christian one.  I feel as if it is suggesting that all people know, on a very basic level, that they are saved.  I feel, also, that it laments for those who reject this looking for proof, stating that their lives aren't fulfilled or happy in any way, and that those who DO accept religion will, even in death (remember the grandmother smiles towards heaven while dead) find happiness. 

Flashes From Childhood

       The story “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid offers a myriad of glimpses into the rearing of a little girl.  However, what makes this story interesting is that there is no chronology or pattern to the way the glimpses are presented.  The reader hears the words of a mother to her child in flashes of insight, common sense, and even derogatory remarks.  Reading this story is much like reminiscing about the past because pieces of the past come one by one in a continuous flood without a clear order.  The story covers a mothers words about things such as laundry, cooking, shopping, and sewing.  Sometimes the mother talks to her daughter about deeper things such as morality, modesty, and sexuality.  There are miscellaneous remarks because the mother has advice to give about everything there is to do or see in life.  “…don’t squat down to play marbles…don’t throw stones blackbirds…”  The daughter also makes remarks to her mother.  “But I don’t sing benna on Sundays at all and never in Sunday school…but what if the baker won’t let me touch the bread?”  The daughter’s last remark about the bread is important because it allows the mother to sum up the story with, “you mean to say that after all you are really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won’t let near the bread?”  This statement shows how everything we heard through the story was all about the mother’s desire to bring up a respectable and strongly moral child.  She sees her daughter in the future, as a woman who the baker would gladly let touch the bread.

Words and Timing

The grandmother in, "A Good Man is Hard To Find", seems to always have something to say.  Most of the time, this is when no one else wants to hear it.  From the beginning of the story, to the end a moment doesn't go by that the grandmother is not talking.  The irony in the story is that even though she talked SO much, not talking was the ultimate downfall for her and her family.
The grandmother always had something to talk about.  It could be stories from her childhood, things she saw on the news or heard on the radio, or it could've just been she liked the sound of her own voice.  The point of downfall for the grandmother is when she influences her son to take a detour to go see an old house she remembers.  As the family rides down the back road she suddenly realizes the house is Tennessee.  The family is in Georgia!  Her reaction to the realization of this started the entire ordeal that would become the fatal mistake made by her.  
The messed up thing of all is that the entire family is killed because the grandmother refused to talk and talked too much at the same time.  The family never knew why the cat reacted and jumped onto Bailey's shoulder.  The only reason that we know the family is killed is because the grandmother recognized the Misfit.  It seems that if the grandmother would have kept her mouth shut but speaking would have saved the family's life.

Why?

Alright, we've been and school for a few weeks and I have gotten into a sort of rhythm with my schedule. I get up way too early, go to a few classes, come back to my house, chill for a bit, go to football practice, do some pledge work, and then go study. I like reading, and we all know that Wabash is literary intensive. I've been reading 150-200 pages a night but don't really mind. That is until I come to my Intro to short fiction work. My major pain with these readings is that someone almost always dies--and if they don't die, they go insane. (see "The Yellow Wallpaper). Granted, the deaths vary. In "The Story of an Hour,'' it was a death from pure joy. Sometimes the death is slow and painful for the body and the mind like in "The Son's Veto." And yet again, other deaths are are sudden, violent, and unwarranted like with "A Good Man is Hard to Find." One can understand why I find myself asking "WHY?" At first I was asking why Dr. Benedicks would assign work so depressing to a class full of students, but then I got out of middle school and asked myself a better question. Why do so many authors use death as a tool to make a point?"

I've started to answer this question for myself. Here's a brief overview. I think that authors-- particularly those of short fiction-- use death as a way to show that their characters and the choices they make are solid and absolute. They do this to show us that once a character chooses a path they must follow it to the absolute end. Still, I'm very unclear on the whole matter and this is concerning. I would appreciate it if anyone would like to respond to this blog with their thoughts or ideas. Thanks

Bad Choices or Just Unfortunate?

Overall this short story seemed to be filled with horrible events; but the question is were these events just unfortunate or did they occur due to bad decisions. This first event comes straight from the beginning of the story as the family choose to go to florida despite the fact that a convict named "The Misfit" had escaped from prison and was heading to Florida. This automatically creates the feeling that they made a bad choice. However everyone but the grandmother wants to go and to them the chances of seeing the ex-con would be very slim. The next event can be seen as a bad choice as the grandma decides to smuggle a cat into their car without her sons permission. The smuggled cat then escapes from its cage and causes the car to crash by jumping on Baileys shoulder, the car proceeded to spin until it came to a complete stop. On the other hand it could be seen as unfortunate as the basket is opened by accident. The final event in the book can definitely be seen as a bad choice by the grandmother as she only shows interest in saving herself and in the end she is killed anyway. 

Overall it has to be said that all the bad decisions made seem to involve the grandmother and her selfish attitude, and it seems that the family are being punished for the bad choices the grandmother is making. Creating the feeling of sorrow for the family as they are being punished for the grandmothers mistakes.

The American Dream ?

After reading “Tits up in a Ditch” I feel like it was a social critique of the American dream. I think the author was trying to illustrate the plight of the lower class, and just how rigid the class structure in the US really can be for someone lacking and education. Although Dakota does not graduate from high school, she believes that through hard work everything will be fine. It is only after she can no longer support herself that she wishes that she would have finished high school. The Author shows us that the military becomes one of the only feasible options for someone without a high school diploma. The military is one of the few employers that can provide a livable paycheck without a high school diploma.
After Dakota becomes a single mother she is forced to leave the child with her grandparents to take care of it in order to go to boot camp and specialized training. This shows the vicious cycle created in single parent homes. As Dakota’s mother was unable to care for her she is not able to care for her own child. On top of that Dakota’s child like herself is put in a situation where it would grow up with the same lack of affection that she received, not to say that all single parent homes are bad but they just are not typically as nurturing as a two parent home. When we do see Dakota go to Iraq she is sent home without and arm is an extreme example of her “never gonna catch a break” situation. Her be crippled shows that even though the military gave her and opportunity to make more out of her life by providing her with skills. It also took that opportunity away by the fact that Dakota was placed in danger. Showing that the military is not always a good option and can leave a person worse than they started.

Tits Up In A Ditch

I thought the short story "Tits Up In A Ditch" was a very interesting read for a number of reasons. The first thing about the story that caught my attention was the tragic series of events that set the stage for the entire story. Dakotah clearly had some stroke of luck (as her grandpop would say) when she was abandoned by her mother and left to the care of her grandparents, who unwillingly "counted the grandchild as a difficulty that had to be met." Although Dakotah's grandparents raised her to the best of their ability, it was clear that she lacked the love that any child deserves. Dakotah mentions later in the story that her grandfather did not touch her in a loving way until she returned home after he had killed her son. This fact surprised me because only a few pages earlier we learned that Verl was very affectionate with his grandson. It was evident from Dakotah's reclusive demeanor that she had not been properly socialized as a child. This issue seemed to stay with her throughout most of her life, as she seemed to internalize most of her problems.
This point is connected with the next element of this story I found interesting: Dakotah's battle with her sense of self. When Dakotah dropped out of high school to marry a boy she only had teenage feelings for, she seemed to doom herself to a hopeless future. She ends up taking a job as a waitress at a truck stop because she did not know what else to do with herself. After months of a nagging relationship, her marriage is soon terminated when her husband departs for the Army, leaving behind a pregnant, wet-behind-the-ears, soon-to-be mother. When her boy is born, Dakotah turns the parental responsibilities over to her grandparents because she realizes she is unfit to raise her own child. She soon finds her calling as an Army medic, but eventually changes her profession to military police. All these alterations within her life can be seen as Dakotah's journey of finding her own identity in the world. She seemed to be lost in a world that always treated her as inferior, but through her self-searching, she was able to establish some sort of selfhood.

White elephants

white elephant
–noun
1. a possession unwanted by the owner but difficult to dispose of

One thing I like to do when I read these stories is I imagine if it would be any different if we were to transpose the characters into different genders, different classes, different times, etc. What if "Hills like White Elephants" was instead set in the current century? Some guys in class have said that it's also a critique of the old roaring 1920's way of life versus the grounded Depression generation. I don't think so; I think it's more of a critique of the hedonist vs the realist, the immature vs the mature. It made me think, "Jesus, if I were a kid who knocked up my girlfriend at 16, I'd freak out like this guy in the story! I'd want her to have the abortion, I'd be thinking about my future and how a baby would ruin it and ruin my current lifestyle, I'm too young for that, I still want to have fun!" And then I wrote my short story for Friday's quiz.

Jig, like many sensible young women, wants to settle down and start a family; she's sick of all the travelling and all the drinking. She doesn't want to add another hotel sticker to her luggage, she doesn't want to try new drinks. Their hedonistic lifestyle has become, ironically, routine. Once upon a time, they'd led exciting lives, eager to try out everything, but now everything tastes and feels the same. She wants more from life.

Unfortunately, her male companion is like most boys, still not eager to leave his partying days behind him. While Jig sees the baby as a white elephant, a rare and precious addition to her mundane life of drinking and traveling, the American sees the other side of the term "white elephant" - he sees the baby as an obstacle to his favored hedonistic lifestyle.

Props to him for sticking with her, though. If we'd transposed this couple to this century, he'd have ditched her and ran away as far and as fast as he can. So I guess he feels strongly enough about Jig...but is it strong enough to quit his way of life for her?



Bad Grandma

Hypocrisy is an all too common part of human behavior and beliefs. Flannery O’Connor criticizes the hypocritical tendencies of her fellow Christian followers. She does so, particularly through the narcissistic grandmother, who more or less cares only for herself and her needs. Although the rest of the family does not portray the goodness that O’Connor is hoping to highlight through their lack of it, they are in no sense on the same level of hypocrisy that the grandmother is. I completely agree with Gus that she is the catalyst for their ensuing demise. She is the only reason, they found themselves in the predicament that they did. To start, it was her petty desire to see her mansion, but her cat caused the wreck, but worst of all, she could not keep her mouth shut when she recognized “the Misfit.” She never once had any sort of regret or sorrow for the hole she put her family in; she only had fear for herself. She never begged for any life but her own, which to me is odd, when she has already lived a long life, but her family’s is just beginning , she puts so much value on her own life it is sickening. Her inevitable death is the only thing that persuades her to change. Which is critical of Christian reasons to be good, the persuasion of heaven or hell should not be the only reason that keeps people good. “The Misfit” is a contrast to the grandmother in the sense that he has no misconception of the punishment he will receive, whether it is in this life or the next. He could careless, but the grandmother has hope for both her life and the next.

"A Good Man is Hard to Find."

Just about all the stories we have read thus far have been either extremely sad, or contained individuals who were mad. The story, "A Good Man is Hard to Find," has been one of the saddest I've read. The characters in the story were killed, mainly, for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, due to the actions of the grandmother. She was an individual so use to the old way of life, and loved reminiscing about the things of the past. She wanted to visit an old plantation, but her vague memory forced them to make a detour in a direction that caused them to wreck. They then meet 'The Misfit,' who the grandmother recognizes and he kills each of them.
Right after he shot the grandmother, 'The Misfit' made a statement: "She would have been a good lady only if she had someone to shoot her every minute of her life." In my opinion, the interpretation of this line is stating that human beings are inherently bad, but only in extreme situations, such as a near death experience or a disaster, will the good in an individual be evident. The grandmother, up until the minute she died, tried to convince 'The Misfit' not to kill her and that he was a good man. He completely disagrees with what she says, thinking that there is no good in a person.
By the way 'The Misfit' talks of himself, it is safe to that he has had a rough life. Also there is some evidence that he is completely insane. In one passage he states that he has been to jail but do not remember the crime he has committed. He says that society proclaims he has killed his father, but he does not believe that is true for his father died of other causes. It is difficult to say whether he actually killed his father or not, or that he went mad before or after he went to jail; however, it is evident that the things that had partaken in his life altered his perception of society and how he thinks humans are constructed.

How Might This Girl Feel?

“Girl,” by Jamaica Kincaid, is a single sentence story in the shape of a monologue. The speaker is a mother addressing a daughter of roughly adolescent age. The mother seems to be dealing out tough love to her daughter in a manner that seems quite condescending and even mean-spirited. My reaction to this story was to wonder: if “Girl was written about the relationship between a real mother and daughter, how would the daughter feel about her mother—that is was “Girl” a work of thanks, or indictment?

The language in this short story is obviously quite harsh, especially when directed at a young woman; however, I prefer to think that her mothers nagging is her way of passing her years of wisdom down to her daughter, whom she loves. Although there is an angry tone, the content of the rant seems to be information that is necessary to make the transition from adolescence to adulthood as a woman in this particular culture. I doubt that the mother’s rant would be well taken by the daughter at the time as it is rather insulting, though I do feel that the daughter would be grateful to have a mother who cared enough to provide worthwhile guidance in any form.

In every healthy parent-child relationship, there are many life lessons passed from parent to child. The trick of “Girl” is that the monologue make the relationship seem unhealthy, even destructive, at first glance, but is actually evidence of a strong, albeit odd, relationship between mother and daughter. If the girl, at which the monologue was aimed, were ever to have a daughter, I am sure she would pass down the same lessons contained in this short story.

Good Man

Wow, can we please have a happy ending. Maybe someone falls in love or wins the lottery. Every time I am about to read another story for class I must prepare myself for a depressing time. This story was something else. The ending was unbelievable, everyone died. At first I thought the misfit was going to help fix the car and let them on their way. I thought/hoped Bailey was going to muscle the gun away and save the day. I should have known better.

This story definitely was an example of grotesque, constantly focusing in on the grandma’s characteristics. The old woman in this story has been of the same characteristics as my own grandma. Both mean well and wish nothing but great things for everyone, but seem to do the opposite at times. Forgetting places and people, trying to cheer up the family, and not keeping quit when need be.

In the end, the Grandma prayed for the misfit and told him he was a good guy. Throughout the story it never once described her spiritual beliefs. She seemed to only care about herself. In death she wanted other to know she was a lady. Also, when she first heard of the misfit she said only bad things about him. Only when faced with death she became a nice and spiritual person. At first I thought the misfit was starting to believe her and everything she was saying. I thought he was questioning his own past and what his plans for the family. It was when the old woman touched him that he jumped back and shot her in the chest. IS was if he could feel her insincere attitude and what nothing to do with it anymore. He was almost ashamed for even thinking he was nothing but a bad person.

Hemingway's Life in His Work

First off, I have to admit that I am a sucker for all things Hemingway. I really feel there is a lot to be said for the fact that he wrote so simply. I have heard others criticize him for this fact, but to do so shows a certain level of misunderstanding regarding writing as well as art in general. Anyone can get out their thesaurus and write long, sweeping sentences with complicated language and tell a reader everything they want the reader to know. The beauty of Hemingway lies within the readers' ability to read between the lines in his writing. Because he does not spell much of anything out for us in "Hills Like White Elephants" we are forced not only to pay more attention than we would in most stories, but to really analyze the dialogue between the two characters. It was also interesting to see that much of the class either didn’t understand that the story was about abortion when they got to class or knew because they researched the story. This speaks to the complexity of the piece, even with the simple language.
As a reader of Hemingway, I can not help but to compare the male and female characters to him and his archetypal lover seen in much of his work. The female lover is usually a little older than the male, and a little more worldly. This proves to be the case with this couple, as the woman is seen making comments about the man not seeing much of the world. This leads us to believe that she has seen some more things than him and is possibly more mature. The fact that the male character insists on the abortion is also what would be expected out of a young male in a work by Hemingway. It makes sense because the “Hemingway man” is usually a traveler of some sort, and a child would only serve to tie him down, which would be a fate worse than death for the kind of man I picture the male character to be.

Not your typical Grandmother

In this story the grandmother does her best to force her views on others and become quite annoying. The grandmother starts forcing her opinion when she wants to go to Tennesse. She tries to explain they will run into the Misfit, even though seemingly this is a very slight chance. The grandomther is like a fly on a wall , as June explain, "She wouldn't stay at home for a million bucks," "She has to go everywhere we go." The grandmother is portrayed as having to be everywhere to be a part of everything. She always wants to be included, probably to have a say in everything. The grandmother is also very paranoid, and needs everything to be in order for her benefit. For example when she thinks her dog will accidentally rub against a gas burner and asphyxiate himself, in the begining worrying about the Misfit, and when she explains what she wore in case she got in a car accident so people would know she was a lady. She even goes on the worn Bailey about patrolmen who hide behind billboards to pull people over. The grandmother always puts in her two cents not thinking its annoying, but necessary and helpful because she is such a lady. The grandmother's age is not a hinderance, but instead to her it is a booster because she thinks she is the wisest in the car. This is evident when June Star asks why a little boy dosen't have any britches on. The grandmother thinking she is knowledgable explains " Little niggers in the country don't have things like we do. If I could paint, I'd paint that picture." The grandmother dosen't take time to rationalize the little boy, but instead just goes by sterotype. She even goes on to say she wish she could paint the picture, which shows how much she truly believes just because of skin color someone shouldn't have britches. This contrasts the consensus of grandmothers today who would reply to the scene with " Awww... poor kid." The granmother's quote also about why the little boy dosent have britches, also shows she is still stuck in the past. When John Wesley asks "Where's the plantation." the grandmother replies with some humor that is evident in the past saying " Gone With the Wind," "Ha Ha." Later in the restraunt the grandmother enjoys talking to Red Sam about the past. She also asks June "Aren't you ashamed?" after june remarks about how dirty Sam's restraunt was. The grandmother had once again got involved while the parents said nothing. But the grandmother's true colors came out when she was faced with the Misfit. Her idea of being a lady and proper solves anything came out right away. She says "You wouldn't shoot a lady, would you?" bringing out her hankerchief to properly wipe her eyes. Then she tries forcing her idea of him being a good man, and he needs religon, leading to her ultimate demise. The Misfit says she would've been a good lady if she had been shot every minute of life. Thus meaning she wouldve been a good lady if put in line , and had shut her mouth. The grandmother may have lived if times were different, but she didn't understand that times change.

"Girl" ...Who Will Eventually Become a Slut

Without a doubt, "Girl" is the most interesting one-sentence short I have ever read. Come to think of it, it may be the only one-sentence short story I've ever read. At any rate, "Girl" is the dialogue between a mother and a daughter, in which the mother gives the daughter a list of instructions to follow in order to be considered a lady, and not the "slut she is so bent on becomming".
One peculiar thing about the story is the type of instructions the mother gives her daughter. I mean although the mother is concerned with her daughter becoming a slut, most of her instructions are directed towards how to get and keep a man. For example, "this is how to behave in the presence of men who don't know you very well; this is how to catch a fish; this is how to throw back a fish you don't like (a fish representing a man); this is how to bully a man; this is how a man bullies you; this is how to love a man, and if that doesn't work there are other ways, and if they don't work don't feel too bad about giving up." All of these instructions are geared toward getting and keeping a man.
I cannot help but wonder why the mother is convinced that her daughter will eventually become a slut. This is strikes me as odd because most mothers would never call their daughter a slut (at least without any evidence suggesting otherwise), however, in this story, the mother does not hesitate to do the contrary. Furthermore, it is hard for the reader to understand where such accusations are coming from because we are given no background information about the young girl, who appears to be innocent. This is an interesting contrast to "The Cask of Amontillado" which used dramatic irony, and therefore meant that the reader knew more about what was going on than the characters in the story. Ultimately, this tactic allows for there to be uncertainty about the true meaning of the story; however, I would argue that this (uncertainty) is the trademark of a great story.

Tits-up in a Ditch

Of the three pieces we were to read for next week, I found “Tits up in a Ditch” to be the most compelling. I loved the imagery of the west coupled with the sheer bleakness of the main character’s life. It was like nothing we’ve read before.

Understanding where the story was going was perhaps the most difficult part. With the mother abandonment and the repressive nature of her grandparents, I the story of Dakotah would be a story of an ‘inspired’ child – whether she would be bright or lucky, I automatically assumed her life would be difficult, yet rewarding at the end.

It wasn’t. She dropped out of high school; her marriage failed; her child was accidentally killed by her grandfather; she lost her arm and the only person she built an emotional connection to. She didn’t even have her mother’s beauty. In other short stories about a child in a rural area that child usually is an outcast that finds them at the end of the text; Dakotah’s life is just the propagation of a vicious circle of ineptitude. Her mother slept around, most likely because of her mother’s complete emotionless relationship she has with the women related to her. Although Dakotah does not have the sexual promiscuity of her mother, she was doomed to her life by living in the same life her mother did.

I like the realist nature of this story; although it certainly does not reflect the lifestyle of all ranchers, it is a snapshot of some of the problems modern ranches have developed. Their distance from modern society creates a large separation in culture; this void provides ample ground for fascist religious nutjobs like Ted Haggard, Pat Robertson, Jim Baker and Jerry Falwell to spread their seed of idiocracy. Dakotah’s grandmother is heavily influenced by these hypocrite’s teachings, and Dakotah’s life is greatly affected by this fact.

Vindication of Suffering

Suffering is an inherent, universal aspect of life to which we must all be subjected to in one degree or another. We might deny it, accept it, run away from it, flourish in it, or vindicate it, but it is pervasive whether we acknowledge its presence or do not. The path of vindication, taken by The Misfit in the short story of the same name by Flannery O'Connor, is such that in order not to suffer unjustly, he wreaks havoc on society. The Misfit feels as though he has been punished, that everyone is punished, in life whether they have committed a wrong or not. Following this perceived truth, he reasons, one may as well do something to validate the inevitable suffering. “...it's nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can—by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness” (O'Connor 180). Rather than work from the legalistic, socially accepted ideal in which one does wrong and is then punished, The Misfit views life as working in the opposite, and himself to be merely following its natural flow. He defines punishment as not only stemming from law, but also as being a basic component of life which own must react to.
The Misfit does not rebel from society and its ideals, but rather embraces life as he sees it. Though he defines himself as a bad man, he seems to feel no unwanted guilt for his actions and, in fact, one might point out that he seems to display an attitude of justification. He owes it to life to do something, such as murder, in order to better live up to the punishment which has been bestowed upon him. He harbors no bitterness for this punishment, but reacts as to it, he believes, as one naturally ought.

Of Good Men, or the Lack Thereof

Very much to do justice to the title "A Good Man is Hard to Find", O'Connor's portrayal of every character in this story seems to carry with them a negative connotation of some sort. Whether it be the grandmother's conceited narcissism and her tenancies to condemn her families and others actions based upon an honor code upheld in her younger days, the children's tendancies to be rebelious to their elders and be overall disrespectful, or the fathers generl disposition to what his family is doing most of the time each character carries with them some undesirable trait. To me, this story seems to ring with a theme of karma, in that a lot of what the grandmother says and does eventually leads to an alluded to worst case scenario.
In trying to convince the family to go to Tennesee instead of Florida she brings up the possibillity of running into an escaped convict dubbed "the Misfit" who is said to be roaming around near Florida. She goes on to say that she wouldn't know what she would do if they should be caught by him, said, as I take it, to be a means of swaying their decision to go on vacation to Tennesee. This hypathetical scenario soon becomes a reality and we come to find out that the grandmother is much less concerned with her family's well-being than she is with her own. This builds her up to be, as I see it, the character that O'Connor had in mind, the unintentional passive antagonist.
The grandmother is able to apeal to the Misfits southern up bringing, but she ends up digging her own grave by trying to sway him with religion, to which the Misfit has a vehement disposition. All of these instances lead the reader to belive that the grandmother in the story is very open about trying to manipulate people to get her way.
As I see it she is the catalyst for the entire resulting events in the story based upon her actions. For instance her cat, the cat she could stand to leave behind, because it would come to miss her too much and misbehave, is the reason the familys car crashes and they come into contact with the Misfit at all. Furthermore, by using a stroy promising hidden treasure to the children, she persuades the father to take them to a mansion she once lived in, but was actually in Tennesee when they were Georgia. This took the family down the side road where the cat cause the crash, and thereupon they meet the Misfit, who the grandmother can not help but point out is an escaped convict, thus resigning the family to their fate.
While the Misfit is definately intended to viewed as a villain, but I would like to argue that the grandmother is the proper antagonist for this short story.

On the Definition of Goodness according to O'Connor

What does it mean to be a good woman or a good man? The word good itself is rather generic tending towards triteness. It is such a broad qualifier that it could be applied to everything and nothing. Good people are therefore difficult to define. Although the grandmother who is narrating the story claims that good men are hard to find, her definition of what is good is decidedly different from the Misfit’s, who claimed that she would have been good if faced with constant death. Although they disagree on what a good person is, they are very much in agreement on the elusive nature of this goodness in people.
Flannery O’Connor probably had a very distinct idea of what a good person was, and it was probably strongly related to Christianity. She would probably say that neither the grandmother nor the Misfit were good, mainly because neither one was a proper Christian. The narrator believes that being well-dressed and proper makes a good person, an idea that as a Christian Flannery O’Connor would almost certainly reject. It is probably the Misfit’s view of good which O’Connor is more in line with. The grandmother becomes a good person when she is able to think about more people than herself. The moment she attempts to embrace the Misfit and treat him as her own son, recognizing the fact that he is a stray sheep who can still be saved. In realizing this the narrator probably saves herself, considering the author’s Christian views, and attains the Misfits type of goodness. In the end that good act, is the single solitary good thing that happens in the entire story. No one is worth the label according to O’Connor. Good people are hard to find in her story, and the interesting thing is that the best definition of good is found in the socio-path who rejects it.
In Flannery O'Connor's "A Goodman is Hard to Find," we meet the Misfit whose personality is revealed to us through his interaction with primarily one character: the grandma. Both the format and themes of this story are reminiscent of previous stories.
Here is an example: the grandma, a selfish lady obsessed with class rank, feels her mortality at the end of the gun and changes into a sweet, loving woman. Sound familar? Anyone remember Gabriel listening to the snow fall in Joyce's "The Dead" after dumbing down his speech for those of "not the same cut of class" as him?
Refocus from the grandma to the grandma and the Misfit, and we have two characters who foil each other because one, the grandma, is very basic and ordinary; whihle the Misfit is philisophical and enigmatic. How about that one? Any guess? The Sonny and his brother share the same qualities. Additionally, the format of "A Goodman is Hard to Find" and "Sonny's Blue", besides the jazzy synocopation, is similar--the characters personalities are communicated to us through the mutal interaction with another that foils them.
While calling it an obsession with death may be too strong, contemplation of one's finiteness seems only natural, and what better way to do it through conversations of two opposities (Plato did something like this, too, right?).
While the topics addressed are almost more stimulating than examining the character relationships and story structure, it is interesting that such diverse stories from different time periods (1914, 1955, 1957) all ask fundamental questions with similar methodology.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

"A Good Man is Hard to Find"

Our class discussion of “A Good Man is Hard to Find” centered around the moment of clarity experienced by the grandmother. Throughout the rest of the story, a related theme emerged. O’Connor, a religious author, seems to be rather critical of Christians who do not put their beliefs into action. The grandmother was a prime example of a Christian who did not live her beliefs. From what the reader experiences, the grandmother is rather selfish and values how she appears as a Christian more than how she acts as a Christian. This aspect of the grandma is evidenced by the way she dresses in the car. She wears a hat and a navy blue dress when they are riding in a car, which seems quite unnecessary. “In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady” (172).

Not only is the grandmother a prime example of a hypocritical Christian; the upcoming generations also are straying from O’Connor’s definition of a true Christian. Throughout the trip, the grandchildren show utter disrespect for the grandmother. In addition, Bailey treats his own mother with contempt. The Misfit himself is an example of the next generation’s struggles. “When he smiled he showed a row of strong white teeth. ‘God never made a finer woman than my mother and daddy’s heart was pure gold,’ he said” (177). A cold-blooded killer came from a seemingly picture-perfect family. I believe that O’Connor is expressing her concern over the future generations, as they seem to be straying from living actively as Christians. There were no characters in the story who exemplified a true Christian who lived what they believed. This is why a good man is hard to find, and will be hard to find in future generations.

"Girl"

Girl was a rather simple story that did not go to far to get its point across to the reader. As brief as it was it was also demeaning and very critical to young women today. As the mother speaks to her daughter, she is trying to teach her the lessons of a young women in early society. In my opinion she goes about it in a way to scare her daughter into not being a "slut." She repeatedly says to her, "... the slut i have warned you against becoming (255)." It is as if she is calling her daughter a slut through her actions now even though they are innocent. She is trying to scare her daughter into not behaving a certain way so that she will learn to make a young man happy some day. As much as she is demeaning her daughter she is also preparing her for the rest of her life. It is comparable to having the Army father for a boy. The lessons learned are more important that the way they are learned. The mother does not want her to have to learn these lessons on the fly, so she is trying to teach them to her early in her adolescent years.

Another interesting fact about the story is the fact that it is on sentence long, and that one sentence is a question. The use of semicolon's is very apparent and repetitive. This type of literary work is rarely seen, but when it is it makes for an interesting read. It makes for a shopping list type story, the mother is giving her daughter a list of things to do in order to be a good women in their society, and the author just went about writing all these things down as if she were going to the grocery for the week. This is unique and brings an interesting twist to the story. It keeps the reader guessing what is going to come next and when the sentence is going to end or a new idea is going to come about. Yet one never really does.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

"A Good Man is Hard to Find"

i found our class discussion on Wednsday very interesting. i thought it was great how many different ways that one question can be interpretted. i beleive that the Misfit meant when he said that she would have been a good woman had someone had a gun to her her entire life, that the fear of dying brought her true personality out. i think that he feels that in their last moments or under extreme pressure people show you who they really are. their true colors are forced out into the open. up to the point when the grandmother is held at gunpoint she is extremely critical and somewhat negative. when the Misfit holds a gun to her she immediatly becomes much less critical and compliments him and trys to convince him that he is not a bad person. the fact that she completely changes her character in her last moments shows her fear. she fears dying and will do anything to convince him to not kill her. Bailey and the other characters on the other hand do not change a whole lot throughout the story.

the Misfit appears to be a sociopath. his crimes are done out of what he beleives to be payback for the wrongs that society has done to him. he is so caught up in retribution that he completley forgets why he was in jail in the first place. he beleives that the first time he was put in jail he was wrongly punished for the crime that he committed. his punishments do not fit his crimes therefore he calls himself the Misfit. the audience never knows why the misfit stops anyway. i mean he ends up having no choice but to kill them because the grandma recognizes him but why he stops in the first place in unclear. he takes no money, or valubles of any kind that we are aware of. The Misfit is the kind of criminal that just wants to watch the world burn.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Good Man is Hard to Find

I enjoyed reading this story and I thought that all the characters in the family were very interesting. Bailey was a stubborn man that didn't say too much, but you could tell that he had the most control of everything. He was always the final decision maker in everything that the family did. The mom wasn't talked about too much, but she was a nice lady that knew her place and also didn't say much. Her kids were very ornery. They were always full of enthusiasm and liked to have fun. They are just like any other kid, but they were a little disrespectful to their grandma. The grandmother was the main character, and she was very unique. The grandma thought of herself as having good morals, and being a lady. She had a big mouth and had an opinion on everything. She loves to talk, and always thinks she's right.
When the family was on their way to Florida, the grandma decided to tell the kids about a house she remembered from when she was a kid and inspired them to go. On their way down the dirt road it was kind of weird that the grandma always had something to say, but kept her mouth quiet about being wrong on the location of the house. She was responsible for the wreck, and also for the whole family's death. If she wasn't such a loud mouth, then the misfit would have probably never have killed them. When she says she recognizes him, he says it would have been better for them if she didn't recognize him. I know that it was the spur of a moment thing and all of her anxiety might have forced her to say that she recognized the misfit, but all she had to do was keep quiet. It's not that hard, and I don't feel that her anxiety is justifiable for her speaking. I think she just likes to talk and be heard, so when she knew it was the misfit she wanted everyone to know what was on her mind. It's very unfortunate because they probably would have never got murdered if she kept quiet.
When the misfit killed the grandma, he said she would have been a good woman if someone was there to shoot her every minute of her life. I took this as the misfit only thought of the grandma as a good woman when her mouth was shut. She kept telling the misfit that he was a good man, and all he has to do is pray. I think he was tired of all her knowledge and thought she was annoying. He didn't want to keep hearing her voice or her selfish survival act, so I took it as he was being kind of sarcastic about the old lady when he said that at the end of the story.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Mother's Day... really?

Wow.  All I can say is wow.  I know that there is meaning behind the story, and reasoning behind the madness, but was it all completely necessary?  To be completely honest, I really disliked this story.  I thought that the gruesomeness of the act of killing the defenseless kitten was way over the top and out of line.  I am an animal lover, so I hated to read that part.  I was absolutely disgusted by that.  I also felt like the ending was quite abrupt.  She almost turned it into a history lesson, rather than concluding.  I found this story to be very confusing in the fact that it really had no flow.  It started with a story, but then kind of strayed to another part, then completely did a 180.  I am very organized and quite a bit of a perfectionist, so the quickly changing story line really bothered me.  

But, on the more meaningful side of the story, it did have a lot of underlying meaning.  It really showed how someone would begin to go into their puberty stage of life, and try to take on too many adult qualities too fast.  She was very womanly, and if you did not know that she was so young, you might think she was older, and motherly.  This also shows the stress of human nature.  She was doing everything she could to be a good "mother" to the kitten, but as the stress built up while she could not find a house for it, she could not handle her emotions anymore.  Everything caught up to her, and she lost it, and killed the cat.

Sonny's Blues

Sonny's Blues was easily my favorite book that we read so far. Some reasons for this was this book was realistic, interesting, and very smooth to read because of the narrator. When I read this short story, I felt like I was in the story the way the narrator describes the experiences he has, and his family has. This book has a lot of suffering in it. The big message of this book is that drugs are bad for you, but it does it in a unique way. It lets the readers sympathize with the characters in the story because it is so realistic. There are so many people that are either addicted to some kind of drug, or is very close to someone that has this problem. It's very sad and unfortunate, but this story tries to tell us that using drugs to escape reality and suffering will just bring more pain and suffering to your life. In this story, everyone is suffering in some way, but choose different ways to handle it. For instance, the narrator is suffering because of his brother's problem and the loss of his little girl. He lives life day by day having the strength to keep all this emotional hurt inside of him and not getting caught up with the bad things. His brother chose a different path by shooting up heroin all the time. I respect his brother though because he knew he had a problem, and he tried to end it by leaving to go to the military. When he came back, he got into the same things and had to get help. I respect him because even though we don't know if he will continue to do heroin, he's trying really hard not to, and his brother describes him as a good person. He just made some bad decisions in his life, but that doesn't make him a bad guy. Also, even though they didn't know it the whole time, their father was suffering because of the loss of his brother. He just didn't show it or tell them because he left all the tears and conversations for his wife. That's the way he dealt with the pain by sharing how he felt with his family, and leaving the anger inside.
Next, I just want to briefly talk about Sonny's interest in jazz and how it impacted the story. Jazz music is very soothing, peaceful, and soulful, but it is not for everyone. The narrator never understood Sonny's interest in jazz until the end of the story when he watched him play. He had a big connection with his brother when he got to live inside Sonny's world for a little while. I think when he watched Sonny watch the random revival sing on the street and when he went with Sonny to see him play helped their relationship out trememdously and was an amazing way to end the story. If someone read this story that was going through a problem similar to this, it would give them hope or at least something to live for. It's like Sonny kind of found his way a little bit, found his passion. It seems as if jazz was the new thing he could do to escape reality without having to hurt or dissapoint anyone including himself.

A Reproduction of the Real World

I find Faulkner’s ability to capture the nature of gossip in his short story “A Rose for Emily” amazing. The way the story is told perfectly replicates the way gossip is told every day by all kinds of people. Faulkner was certainly an excellent observer, which is part of what makes him a great writer.

The continuous use of “we” in the story lets the reader know that the whole town is fascinated with Emily. This method of narration also gives the story a very colloquial feel and gives hints about what kind of person the narrator must be. The narrator is certainly a busy body, and appears to have strong connections with the community.

The jumps in the narration from past to present also make the story seem more personal. The narrator, like any real person, forgets details of the story, which are later added. The fact that Emily dies is told before any of the details leading up to her death. This passage is a perfect illustration of the erratic storytelling, “ …Homer himself had remarked—he liked men, and it was known that he drank with the younger men in the Elk’s Club—that he was not a marrying man.”

It is rare people ever find a case for gossip as interesting as the story of “A Rose for Emily”, but the form Faulkner uses is one we hear used every day. I think it takes a brilliantly observant person to produce a story that feels and sounds so much like real life. Faulkner’s work is a magnificent achievement.

Who throws a cat?

after i read "Mothers Day" i was really confused and almost upset. i simply do not understand why she through the cat. i mean the story in general seemed sort of random to me. i get that mothers day is coming up and she gets sick so she cant go and buy her mother a present in time to give it to her on mothers day but what are we the audience supposed to take from this story? she is going through puberty and i know that is probably tough on her but that does not leave us with very much to reflect on. what i like about most of the stories that we have read in class thus far is that they take us places where most of us have never been before. "Mothers Day" takes us nowhere extraordinary and that is what i do not like very much about it. on top of all of what i dont like about this book already is the incident with the cat. now i do have a cat but that is not the reason i dont like what happened to it. i thought about how the cat fits into the story for quiet a while after reading this story and could not come up with a definate answer. today in class i even brought the subject up and im not sure we really defined the cat incident then so i remain confused. does anybody have a thought on this?

Confused?

Over the semester we have read stories that reflect upon soceital issues, faith related issues, as well as how to properly commit murder. But in the story we have just read, "Mothers Day", i am rather indifferent about it. The story's title is what has kinda of thrown me off. I do understand that the event happened on mothers day, but the actions committed by the narrator make this story extremely dark. And personally the mothers days i have been a part of aren't like this in any matter.

First i would like to analyze the narrator. She is clearly going through some issues, both physcially, as well as mentally. Norma seems that she is a happy young eleven almost twelve year old who is just under the weather. But in my mind she is killer. Yes, she is a cold blooded killer. Although what triggers this act of intense hatred. She spends most of her night trying to find a home for this lost kitten, but is unable. Everyone tells her to take it back to where she found it and leave it there. But she decides after having carried for a while that she hates the way the cat meows, have it looks and that no one wants be its owner. Instead of taking the cat back to where she found it decides that she hates the young cat enough that she is going to kill it. No a quick death, but a rather premeditated death. Similar in aspects to "The Cask of Amontillado". I would classify her in the same boat as the murderer in that story. The thing that is different is that she all of a sudden hates this cat and wants nothing to do with it, and in the other story he is doing his actions as revenge.

This little girl in frightening to me. She doesn't have any remorse for her actions until about two years later when she is writing in her diary. Her lack of remorse for killing something is undoubtedly a sign for mental derangement. I hope her father is okay, she had some issues with him.

Sonny's Blues

"Sonny's Blues" by William Baldwin is, in my opinion, one of the best readings we've been assigned so far this semester. While being one of the more comtemporary stories we've looked at thus far, it is also the most socially overt and one of the more challenging of the status quo of the time. I would group it together with "The Yellow Wallpaper" in terms of social commentary, but the two works obviously work in very different ways.
One of the most interesting things about this work is the tension that exists between the narrator and his brother Sonny. In the narrator, we see a man who has assimilated himself into the prevailing cultural structure of the day by becoming a teacher and living a normal life. As his foil, we meet his brother Sonny, who we learn has been in trouble with the police for his use and sale of heroin. From the beginning we can see that these brothers are two very different people. We see them differ even more when we learn of their childhood, when the narrator got good grades and did the right thing while trying to watch over Sonny. We learn that the narrator acted in vain as Sonny skipped school to play music after he decided to become a musician.
It's especially telling that the two brothers finally bond at the end of the story during their conversation about the nature of life and suffering. We then see the narrator begin to understand his brother and empathize with him when he hears the suffering and beauty of his music. This story, while showing the racial and class tensions of the time, also showcases the power of music.

Gossip: A Small Town Epidemic?

In A Rose For Emily the story is told from the eyes of the neighbors, and this is how you get all your information. I feel this makes the description of Emily very unreliable and biased. When you think about rumours and gossip the story rarely stays truthful and the same from person to person. Yet Gossip is something to do in a small town, where there may be nothing else entertaining to do, so the community makes up stories. Also in small towns everyone knows everyone else but if they don't then this is where the rumors start, to pretend like they know everything about the person. In a small town community it is a proud thing for a person to tell someone visiting the whole life story of a certain person in town. Yet Emily brings about difficulty to this because she does not open up in the small town, so in order to fill the void the townspeople create a story for her. Rumors and gossip remind me of a game called "Chinese Telephone" where one thing is said in the beginning and as the statement is passed from one person to another the statement starts to differ. This must also be true with Emily's story, as it is told more and more the story must change and Emily's story starts to become less and less reliable coming from the townspeople. The townspeople make it a point to reiterate "Poor Emily" but who knews if she was happy or not, shee never talked to anyone. The townspeople created their own emotions for Emily as they saw fit to tell. This is the small town epidemic, as one person talks about someone in the community it becomes the subject of the day, week, month etc. Miss. Emily being so mysterious and enclosed, the townspeople keep the subject of Miss. Emily for awhile because they could talk about each day of her life as they imagined it was happening.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

On disappointment

Having sat through friday's class where we mostly rehashed points which were brought up in earlier weeks, and having gotten back my paper, I couldn't help but be disappointed with the paper I wrote.  My favorite story this year, contrary to popular opinion, has been Bartleby.  I thoroughly enjoyed that story and wanted to write my paper on it but didn't think that I would be able to write a 5 page paper on the topic I wanted to discuss.  Sitting there, though, it came to me that I probably would have been able to do so fairly easily, if not easily then with a little more work than what I put into the paper I did actually write.  I am disappointed in myself for not doing so; I'm disappointed, also, in the boring topic I did choose.  Bartleby simply hit home for me really well.  I'm at a point in my life where I'm really beginning to question "why?"  Bartleby did that and his realization was not an apathetic, "why not?" but a really taking to heart of the purposelessness of what many of us do.  I want to be a teacher, absolutely want to be a teacher because it is a profession that DOES something.  A scrivener?  What more pointless could life be than to write down boring documents.  I realized over summer, working my job as a food-server in a cafeteria, that everything I did was done to earn other people money and served no other purpose whatsoever.  Furthermore, my specific store didn't turn a profit, it failed to do its one purpose.  My job as an unskilled laborer was meaningless, I soon stopped trying at my job, though, and about this I am not proud, I was unable to entirely forsake it as Bartleby did.  I envy Bartleby.  I know this is an absurd statement, one that would raise arguments and tempers I am sure, but it's true.  He, in my opinion, though there isn't much evidence of this, laments for the world and all the hopeless people in it.  The people who will never learn purpose.  He, though, was able to ACT on what he believed in.  The enormous personal will to be able to ACT on a thought like that is absurd to me, it is so far away from what most people really are that I feel it's something to strive toward.  Not strive to be a nothing, but strive to be able to act on your convictions no matter how astounding they may be.  And in this I am further disappointed.  Disappointed that I was unable to act on my convictions, not only this summer pertaining to my awful job, but about many of the things I feel, about the paper topic on which I wanted to write.  Bartleby, as a story, has affected me more than any of the others, it is something about which I think fairly often, I just wish I had chosen to further analyze it, to make it more a part of me.  I will do this, just now I won't be able to enjoyably write about something enjoyable to me and get a grade for it.  I think we need to all take more to heart what Bartleby did and strive to be more like him, if not in his individual convictions then instead in his willpower to act on them.

Sonny's Blues

Sonny's Blues was a great story written by James Baldwin. In the story, Sonny is thrown in jail for using drugs, which brings great shame to his brother. From then on, his brother has an internal conflict about how he feels toward the situation. Baldwin does a great job of using metaphors to help emphasize his points. One interesting thing about the story was the metaphorical use of "ice" throughout the story. The ice refers to the tension and conflict that both Sonny and his brother deal with internally. Baldwin uses the ice metaphor when referring to Sonny's brother, who is a high school teacher. While teaching in class one day, he was listening to his students laughter, which he called "mocking and derisive", and became uncontrollably frustrated. He felt all of these emotions at once, and hense a block of ice was forming inside of him. He did not express his feelings or emotions to anyone. As a matter of fact, the only form of expression was his profuse sweating which represented his internal ice block melting. Sonny was a struggling musician who wanted to use music as a voice and to express his feelings. Music was also suppose to help Sonny deal with the death of his mother. However, when that did not work out, he resorted to using drugs and getting high.

This story was written brilliantly and at a time where racism was still very prevalent, this story was embraced by the black community as they could relate to using music to help them deal with their hardships. I would even argue that "Sonny's Blues" is still relevant to the black community. Although racism may not be as prevalent as it was when the story was first written, the hardships experienced by Sonny and his brother in the book are experienced by many other African Americans around the world today. And as was the case with Sonny, music is still used as a form of self-expression and as a voice for people who feel oppressed, or simply s a coping mechanism for those experiencing hardships.

"Sonn'y Blues"

I really enjoyed the way this story played out. Baldwin really used excellent detail to develop different scenes which gave the reader an actual sense of what was happening. It also made the characters in the story more real. Baldwin made his characters come to life by giving them an actual history, true emotions, and placing them in situations that were believable.
I really enjoyed the story and the emotional rollercoaster Baldwin put me in. First, I was curious as to what the big issue was with the narrator in the beginning. As the story developed I found out that his brother Sonny has gone to a detox facility to recover from heroin and that he lost his mother. Those two point immediately made me sad and sympathetic with the narrator. We then get this history of the narrator and Sonny, and all of the struggles that they have endured throughout their lives. At that point, I become understanding as to why Sonny fell into the pressures of society and how music was his only outlet. I then became hopeful, for the question as to whether or not Sonny would live a sober life came to the surface. I so wanted Sonny to endure and stay clean for himself and for his brother.
Baldwin story allowed us to view life in Harlem an many of the hardships African American people endured. He uses the metaphor darkness as a symbol of the hard life many people and Harlem have. So many try to avoid this darkness; however, not many are fortunate enough to stay away from it. Reflecting and retelling is the only way these individuals deal with this darkness. Whether it is in a group meeting with close people after church, or the singing of the blues. The blues was Sonny outlet, and was the way he dealt with the darkness he endured.

New favorite

For the first time int his short semester, I can honestly say . . . I enjoyed the reading, and wasn't actually forced to continue reading on, staying up by writing notes on the side to entell me of where I was at. Sonny's Blues had both suspense and excitement, that kept me drawn, or maybe it was that I could sort of connect and feel where both the narrator and Sonny where coming from. He does a great job in 1st person view of actually leading us throughout the entire story, which ended up being a little snippet of his life. From when he was in jail for doing and selling drugs, from when he got out and went through his stages there, up until he took him into the club of where he performed at and actually saw what his true passion was.
I also want to bring up the fact that for the first time I think that James Baldwin, (author of the short story), actually gave us a "sane" narrator, who knew what was best for him and his little brother, (well . . . so he thought, until listening to his true passion). It almost paints the scene of a movie, and for the story to be rather short, (it is a short story), it draws out the life of a broken family from teenage years to adulthood. In the story i was going right along with everything that the narrator had to say. It was as if I were talking to my real older brother, (by just about 6 years . . . coincidence) and he were trying to lead me in the right direction that he thought, just as the narrator was trying to do for Sonny. Finally, when Sonny took him into an enviroment where he felt comfortable, excepted, apart, etc. he really saw the true Sonny and his true passion. He should have been the one that would've supported his brother, especially after getting word form his fiance, I beleive, on how much he was playing the piano when he stayed at her house for a few.
Great story.

Johnny's Blues

“Sonny’s Blues” was a different taste of short fiction compared to the stories we have been reading. The main difference was its ability to relate to everyone. For most of us, we can only imagine and enjoy the past stories for their fictional content. Although none of us grew up in the streets of Harlem during the 60’s, we can relate to the trials and tribulations that everyday life can place upon us. In one form or another, we all have a way of coping, of dissolving the buildup of stress, whether it is drugs and alcohol, running four miles, or making an outlet through music, it is a part of everyone.
It was oddly coincidental that we read this story when we did because Friday nights I work at the Iron Gate here in town. And on Friday nights they have live music performed by some artist. They start at seven and end at eleven, and on this particular night I happened to wait on the guitarist for the small duo that was going to play. He was a large man with long, obviously thinning hair that shined with oil. He seemed unkempt, almost trashy. He wore a large navy t-shirt with several dark stains acting as dotted designs. He was a little late in arriving, thus he had to hustle a little in order to set up time. So, when he came to me, glistening with sweat, to order a beer, I was convinced he was the typical figure we, as outsiders to the thriving metropolis of Crawfordsville, elevate ourselves above when we refer to people as “Townies.”
After I brought him his first of several beers throughout the night, we began a casual conversation about his music. The reason he had to hustle, as it turned out, is that he had just got of a twelve hour shift at Donnelly’s, the local factory in town. Seven o’clock ended our conversation a little short. From their first set it was immediately apparent that this was his outlet, he picked and twanged the guitar in ways that made my night of work abnormally enjoyable; because you could hear and see his troubles dissolve into melodic harmony. And it had such a striking resemblance to the story that I was in awe. Because this was a story, just not one about “Sonny’s Blues,” it was Johnny’s.

Sheer Wickedness or Compassionate killing?

After completing the story “Mothers Day” I found myself pondering the question, was the killing of the cat for compassionate reasons or just sheer wickedness? The wickedness was the most outstanding reason to begin with first of all due to the wording used by the writer in the moments leading up to the killing, “And I hated the cat. I hated its thin voice and its loose sickly body. I hated its sticky fur and thin bones under the fur” Sawai page 205. The use of the word “hated” and the sheer description used by the writer emphasizes her loathing for this cat. Also the idea of wickedness is shown by the way the girl kills the cat, “…I swung it faster in big circles. Then I let it go, and saw its body, tangled and crooked flip through the air and land in a ditch” following this terrible act the writer “found a big stone” and “hurled it down on the cat.”Sawai page 205. This idea of wickedness is emphasized by the writers regret and the length of time this regret has lasted, “I’ve thought about it for two years now” and “and how do you go on from there? What do you do next you’re a person of faith.” However on the other hand the killing of the cat could also be seen as compassionate.
This compassion is harder to comprehend however the writer does hint at it as first of all if she “hated” the cat then why would she have carried it around the whole town trying to find its owner/home? Also the readers description of the cat shows slight compassion as she states “But most of all, I hated it dangling there alone, under the stars, watching me, waiting.” The use of the words “alone’ and “watching me” show pity from the girl, also the scene description could evoke a sense of pity and suggest that she could be in denial in her hatred for the cat. The killing of the cat, although horrid, could be seen as a way of putting the cat out of its misery of being alone with no family and in particular the person that is emphasized the most in the story, a mother. This is reinforced by the writer’s final statement “There’s no nation in the whole world, not a single solitary one, without mothers.” Sawai page 206.

Suspension of Disbelief in A Rose for Emily

Edgar Allan Poe thought that the short story was a unique medium; he thought that its length lends itself to the most effective immersion of oneself into the story. Faulkner, in a Rose for Emily takes this notion to an entire new level. One of the hardest tasks for any literary work is to suspend disbelief. To create a world that is not necessarily realistic, but one that you feel a part of in a moment when your skepticism is neutralized and your imagination begins to work in overdrive. Suspension of Disbelief is at the core of enjoying fantasy novels, getting scared from gothic stories, and appreciating literature in general.
A Rose for Emily is uniquely tailored to suspend disbelief. It meets the requirements of length set out by Poe. The chronology’s non-linear progression organized in episodes makes the suspension of disbelief even greater because the novel is essentially divided into short episodes. One is not only reading a short story, but what seems to be a collection of short episodes that hold you for just enough time before moving on. The fact that is non-linear creates suspense and makes the reader an active participant in the story. One can’t merely read line after line. One must play the detective in Faulkner’s tale, in order to understand the motives behind the protagonist, the point of view of the narrator, and the episodes progression in a possible manner. The narrator plays an important part in immersing one in the novel. It is narrating using the pronoun “we”, including the reader on his side, inviting him to look at the facts from the town’s point of view. The resources used function so effectively one feels that one is sitting in a small town in the south sipping tea and gossiping about poor Emily.

Justifiable (?) Cynicism

The vicious cycle within which blacks in the United States are forced to contend is an avid breeding ground for adamant cynicism toward both society and humanity itself. Perhaps, it may be pointed out, justifiably so. When I use the phrase 'vicious cycle,' I'm referring partially (and this is just one example of many) to the idea that it is far more difficult for the black community to ascend both the social and fiscal ladder because of a lack of quality education, and it is nearly impossible, within the American system, to get a quality education without first being high on the social and fiscal ladder. More simply, where one lives affects the quality of education one receives, and the education one receives later affects where one lives. Such is the frustration, manifested in a cynical world view, felt by the narrator of James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues." "...they were growing up with a rush and ther heads bumped abruptly against the low ceiling of their actual possibilities" (Baldwin 148). Baldwin rails against society's failings through his short story, and particularly through the characterization of the narrator and of his brother Sonny. The narrator, who takes the moral high road in becoming a teacher, comes no closer to escaping the above mentioned vicious cycle of society as does his drug addicted brother.
Society creates the predicament in which the characters are placed, as the narrator quickly asserts on multiple occasions. "Some escaped the trap, most didn't. Those who got out always left something of themselves behind, as some animals amputate a leg and leave it in the trap...It's always at the hour of trouble and confrontation that the missing member aches" (Baldwin 153). This cynical outlook, as Chris Vachon points out, creates a community in which controversial, influential figures such as Malcolm X are able to thrive, feeding off oppression to increase unrest. Malcolm X represents a valid rebellion of societal ideals, a rejection of injustice and a provocation of action. The author frames a dangerous, all too real environment which society has allowed, even encouraged. It may prove, as it has proven to be in so many other societies, our downfall. Baldwin serves the function of a storyteller as defined by our class in this light, warning us before it is too late that social oppression promotes social unrest, which in turn catalyzes rebellion.

Mother's Day

I found Gloria Sawai’s short story Mother’s Day to be an insightful look into the changes and peculiarities that accompany many children’s transition into adolescence. As the story begins, we are introduced to Norma, an eleven year old girl who seems to be “developed”, both mentally and physically, beyond her years. Drawing from her description about the Saskatchewan weather that surrounded the Mother’s Day weekend, we can tell that she is clearly quite knowledgeable about her geography. We are also able to gather from Nora’s emphasis on the importance of religion that she is rather intelligent and solely in charge of “upholding [her] family in spiritual matters.” While these facts might not seem to be extraordinary, it is safe to say that most eleven year old girls do not know much about effects of seasonal changes or the importance of scripture.
We are first introduced to the awkwardness surrounding Nora’s bodily developments when her mother attempts to apply a healing ‘mustard plaster’ to her bare, developing chest. Nora informs us that as her mother unbuttoned her shirt she became exceedingly embarrassed; so much so she “wished like everything [she] hadn’t gotten sick.” Although her mother makes no mention of the “changes” Nora is experiencing, Nora leads us to believe something else might stem from their encounter. She does not disappoint her audience as she quickly moves into her account of the next mustard plaster treatment, which to her dismay, came at the hands of her father. She recalls crying while her father pressed the spicy compress onto her bare chest. This could clearly be a traumatic experience for a young girl going through the confusing maturation process.
While Nora guides us through her narrative, we quickly learn more and more about how a young girl might deal with the “developments” that come with their transition into adulthood. Although at times awkward, they are able to look past such events in hopes of gaining a better grasp on the development process as a whole. Nora seemed to lash out in a rather harsh manner in response to the awkwardness of her situation, but in the end she realized that without these changes, she would disrupt the natural order of things. At the end of the story she realizes that she fits into a larger scheme that involves the need and importance of women and mothers world wide.

A stiff stiffy

Obscene title, I know, but how could our entire class discussion not bring up the issue of necrophilia in a more extensive manner?! Sure, great, everyone loves a hot gossip, we know that, BUT SHE SLEPT WITH A DEAD GUY. What does she do with him? Why is she attracted to a dead man? Was it because her father prohibited her from social dating? Having been deprived of a man's love all her life by her controlling and aristocratic father, was she just yearning to be with a man, dead or alive, for the rest of her years? Why kill him, then? (This is the part when all feminists holler 'The only good man is a dead man!' and carry on burning their bras.) I guess he doesn't complain, he doesn't argue with her, he doesn't bug her all night for sex, he can't go out and hang with "the boys", he can be just the man she wants that her papa didn't want her to be with.

See what I just did there? I gossiped.

I guess we all just love to gossip, especially when it's about someone of a higher social standing. The tabloids went nuts when Britney Spears went nuts, and we lapped it all up. Bill Clinton's sex scandal was hot news too. We're jealous, we want to see the rich and famous crash and burn. It gives us mere mortals a thrill, because maybe we actually wish we were rich and famous and embroiled in our own scandals.

I don't know, I just don't think they gossip about us. Emily certainly didn't give off that vibe. Was she gossiping with her man-servant about the townies? I doubt so, they aren't nearly as interesting and entertaining as she is.

Gossip is in the realm of peasants like us. Necrophilia, however, is not. We should be gossiping more about corpse-shagging, rather than gossiping about gossip.

Innocent Gossip or Satire?

As the semester progesses through the "Intro to Short Fiction" course, the stories read become increasingly more complex and interesting. "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner is a classic tale of small town gossip with a culmination of seclusion, necrophilia, and class disruptions. The first person narration used by Faulkner effectively draws the reader into the story, making them one.
By using this narration technique, Faulkner creates an intimate relationship between narration and reader. The person reading the story begins to feel as if he or she is a part of the story, rather than a simple observer like when the third person narration is used. As the topics of discussion become increasingly more juicy, the thrill of gossip increases.
In the beginning of the story, the plot is mildy uninteresting as the narration discusses how Miss Emily refused to pay her taxes and how her house had a horrendously bad smell. The story jumps around from different instances where Miss Emily is the topic of discussion, giving a little more insight onto various incidents as each is discussed. However, the story becomes really interesting when the author talks about how she began to not only do odd things, but how she started dating a man of hard labor and causing controversy because of his lower class status.
Faulkner may have presented this story as a means of entertainment, but it could also be taken for satirical value as well. By showing the effects that gossip, whether the gossip is true or the reader receives the information from an unreliable narration, has on the community and how everybody becomes involved, Faulkner has presented one of the downfalls of mankind. It is human nature to be prone to talk about other people. That being said, it is highly likely that Faulkner wrote this story with the intention of getting people to recognize this problem and possibly progress from reading it.

Sonny's Blues

Finally, we have a reliable narrator. In Sonny's Blues, the narrator is the brother of Sonny, a recovering heroin addict on the path of setting his life straight. It is a great relief that we have a narrator that is not on a spiral downfall towards insanity or a person that is already completely crazy. This is the perfect story for the narrator that we have in the story. We are being given a first hand experience of a brother witnessing his younger brother hit the very bottom and work his way back to being a responsible person.

The way we are introduced to the narrator is that of a school teacher who recieves news of his brother Sonny, an addict at the time, who has been a victim of a raid and is incarcerated. As we go through the days we are involved with the narrator; as we are with him we see at times that he is ashamed of his brother as most would be if their brother was strung out of any kind of drugs. As the story progresses we also see the good memories that the narrator has of his brother and himself. This story is absolutely in need a narrator of the caliber of the one we have.
When we go back to The Yellow Wallpaper and A Rose for Emily the stories that are being told are shaped in the form as to where if the narrator had not been in the state of mind they were in the story would not have flowed in the sense the book was meant to be written.

Mustart Plaster, Kill a Kitten, Go to Chruch: A Full Weekend

I found Mother’s day to be one of the most interesting stories that we have read so far. The use of the first person narrative, the harsh realism, and the strange look at religion in the lives of different people make this a very interesting story. The use of the first person narrative makes the story more powerful for the reader. As if we are in the narrators head. Hearing her thoughts and feelings made the story more meaningful for me. The part where this comes in to play the most was in the scene in which her father comes in the room with the mustard plaster. Hearing her horrification “ I felt my eyes sting and I know I was going to cry. I felt the wetness press against my eyeballs and drip over the edges of my eyes and down the sides of my head into my hair. I couldn’t say anything. I just lay there and cried.”(202) I found the detail in the this passage to extremely descriptive and reflective of the feelings of the young girl who is paralyzed by the thought of her father seeing the she has “developed.” Another passage that I found extremely interesting was that of when the girl killed the cat. There is no clear reason for the girl to kill the cat other than she doesn’t want to walk to another house to see if they will take it. While reading the passage that describes the cat being killed made me physically wince. The Idea of this girl, for no reason, spinning the cat around her head by its tail and then throwing it into a ditch, then on top of that she takes a rock and throws the it on top of the cat. Then as quickly as the girl had decided to kill the cat she “turned around and headed back to town” Throughout the story the girl makes references to religion weather it was a persons religion or that just general thoughts on religion. I found it interesting the author would end the sorry with a girls thoughts on religion, and the fact that no matter our religion we are all human, or rather as she phrases it “ not a single solitary [person] without mothers” this ending throws the reader a interesting curve because the focus of the story has been on the girls individual experiences, she ends by reflecting on more global topic.

Sonny's Blues

“Sonny’s Blues” is by far the best short story we have read thus far in class. The author shows us a character that went through some rough times, but pulls forward to a brighter future. I was constantly pulling for Sonny, rooting for the underdog because he is suppose to fail and go back to his old ways with drugs. I feel sorry for Sunny because here is a great person who had no father figure or role model and went down the wrong path. This happens so much in our society, but luckily Sonny met his brother after getting out of jail.

Sonny expresses himself through his music; it is almost all he knows to do. I love how the author narrated the story during Sonny’s playing. The description of Sonny’s fellow player, Creole, having a dialogue through the music they were playing. Creole telling Sonny to let go and dig deep and give it more and play his heart out. Sonny’s brother saw this and really opened his eyes to his brother and understood him for the first time. Baldwin did a great job of making us know how his brother felt.

A Difficult Transition

Gloria Sawai’s “Mother’s Day” is written from the point of view of a thirteen year old girl reflecting on the events of a few days around Mother’s Day two years prior. The few days on which she reflects seem to define the transition from adolescence to adulthood. The narrator seems to be well on her way to becoming an adult at the beginning of the story; however, there are many contradictory moments in the story that show how unready for womanhood she really is. I believe this is from where the story draws its power.

When the narrator falls ill, she first turns to her mother. The need for one’s mother seems to be one of the defining characteristics of a child, a characteristic that is also displayed by the kitten, making the narrator, in a way, its mother. The importance of motherhood seems apparent to the narrator, which could explain her apprehension towards growing into an adult and becoming a mother herself, which is shown in both the scene in which her parents put the mustard plaster on her chest as well as the scene in which she kills the kitten.

It is only after Mrs. McDonald tells her how good of a mother she will be that she hurls the kitten into the snow and smashes it with rocks. She seems to kill the kitten because she isn’t ready for motherhood, for the responsibility. She seems to be lashing out against the construct of motherhood. The image of the little girl killing the kitten was very emotive and was very hard to ignore. Such a horrible image contrasts with the little girl’s scripture quotes and confidence in her preparedness for adulthood, the two images together help us see how confusing this transition would be. Two years after these happenings, when the story is written, the narrator understands why she was so embarrassed about her growing body in the instance of the mustard plaster but still did not understand why she killed the kitten. It makes the reader aware that, although she is more mature than when these events occurred, she is still not yet a woman when she writes about that Mother’s Day.

Re: The Unknown

In many ways, I agree with Sam Starbuck’s analysis of “A Rose for Emily” – one’s initial reaction to the level of gossip in Faulkner’s story is ‘this never happens where I’m from.’ After more careful introspection, however, one see’s ‘gossip’ all around, invading many facets of life – we just don’t call it ‘gossip.’ This weekend was a big party weekend on campus – today (Sunday) I heard many second hand ‘stories’ about the actions of other students. On first glance, we wouldn’t call this ‘gossip’ – this is just a recount of what went on the night before. As you reconstruct how the story was laid out for you by an individual who did not directly experience the story but saw it/heard it from another individual, you see portions of the story where embellishments and sensationalizing what actually happened most likely occurred. Adding to it the storytellers personal speculation as to what happened after the event, you have gossip.

Nevertheless I disagree with Sam’s analysis about the validity of the gossip in the story. I think the information about Miss Emily, which is by definition gossip, is true. Faulkner wrote this story as a snapshot of a small Southern town – replete with its old aristocracy, ambiguous governmental policies, a powerful religious leader and gossip. All parts of the information provided vindicated each of these small town stereotypes. The preacher (who isn’t even of the same Protestant denomination as Miss Emily) takes it upon himself to visit her in her home; his wife writes letters to Miss Emily’s family. The old mayor creatively creates a tax exemption for Miss Emily. With the truth of these stereotypes and the revelation of Miss Emily’s necrophilia, one can easily believe that the rest of the information in “A Rose for Emily” is true. As I have stated before, the strange drama that was Miss Emily’s life would be the greatest story that could happen to a small town.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Sonny in All of Us

I thought that “Sonny’s Blues” was an effective short story due to its application to the past and to anyone who has endured hardship in their life. These two characteristics of the story allow the reader to relate to Sonny on several levels.

I found the story quite interesting to begin with due to its setting in the 60’s in Harlem, where segregation influenced every-day life. The historical setting makes this story very believable and very authentic to the reader. The reader knows that numerous people who lived in Harlem in the 60’s had similar lifestyles to that of Sonny. Sonny’s lifestyle was strikingly similar to that of Malcolm X, who got caught up in the wrong crowd and took a plethora of drugs to ease his pain. Despite his past, Malcolm X eventually turned his pain into constructive expression. Similarly, Sonny was lost in society, not knowing where to turn. Initially, he turned to drugs to try to combat his pain. Eventually, he found the one thing that he could express his emotions through; playing jazz piano.

I feel that everyone who has experienced hardships in their life can relate to Sonny. Many times, it is difficult to know where to turn when so many negative things plague your everyday life. For Sonny, the pangs of segregation and isolation from society led him to use drugs as an outlet. By the end of the story, after the discourse with his brother, he was able to find solace in the keys of a piano. I think, just like everyone has their own yellow wall-paper, that everyone also has their own piano; something that allows them to outlet their emotions in a constructive way. Though the parallel might not be quite as serious as Sonny’s situation, everyone has something that they turn to in order to channel their emotions. Some “pianos” could simply be reading a book or shooting some hoops to outlet some emotional distress, or they could even be playing or listening to music, much like Sonny did.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Unknown

In "A Rose for Emily" it is the unknown that attracts the reader and the outside characters in the story attracted to her and her situation. It doesn't help that the setting is in a small southern town, where not much else goes on and people feed off of gossip. In the story everyone in the city is fascinated by what they don't know. It is what keeps bringing them back for more. They don't really know what is going on behind those doors, but the fact that they can speculate and fill in the blanks in their own mind with their own imagination is fascinating. It is entertainment in such a small town, and anywhere really. As i read this story, it seemed so unreal, of something that would never happen before in today's society. The more i thought, it happens everyday, and it so intertwined with our day to day life that we don't even notice it when it does happen. Gossip is everywhere around us. In out family, work place, living units, and on television/internet. It is everywhere, and it feeds us. We enjoy hearing what went wrong, or what is going on in other peoples lives. It is just like what was said in class, it gives us a sense of power or inferiority.

At the same time, how much of gossip is actually true? Gossip is normally some form of information that we hear, and yet we normally don't hear it all. We hear bits and pieces of it, and always seem to put our own twist on it. We sometimes shape it to how we want it to sound. In a sense this is the case in "A Rose for Emily." All of the people in her community love to sit and speculate as to what is going on inside her house. None have ever stepped foot inside, but they have heard stories. They base their information upon who they see walk inside the house, or from situations such as when the neighbor complains of a stench coming from the property. This causes the people to start guessing the reason for why the smell is occurring. Or when the priest goes in to talk Mrs. Emily, and leaves and goes straight to call her family. When something like this occurs, it causes the outsiders to just speculate and start to wonder what is going on inside. This is a catchy way to write a story, because as a reader you do the same. You don't know what is going on either, but in your mind you are filling in the blanks as well.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The army general & the philosopher

James Baldwin's Sonny's Blues demonstrates a perfect example of a character foil. Furthermore, this foil describes two very realistic mindsets. The eldest brother whose name is never mentioned attacks life's problem with order, or rather, he distracts himself from life's problems and intricacies by keeping order. In contrast, Sonny allows life to seep into him through every pore and often finds himself overwhelmed with its complexity and mystery.

This tension between opposites drives the story forward. From the start, we find Sonny in prison for heroin use, but unlike his friend who we first meet, Sonny is far from a dead beat loser. Surprisingly, though, Sonny's brother and his friend, whom the brother despises, are not that different--each numbs himself to life's hurt and mystery through daily distractions--either drug use or control.

We find ourselves absorbed with Sonny as he asks question concerning the essence of humanity. Why must humans suffer? Is there something beautiful in suffering? Yet, the most marked aspect of this short stories concerns Sonny's way to speak his frustrations. Sonny chooses music, specifically the blues (appropriately), to communicate his ails. I think Sonny's music comes from his soul, and music itself is above the constraints of language, so Sonny's blues are his way of connecting himself to the world. Sonny may never find answers to his woes, but if the woes were to sit inside him like a rock he would inevitably drown in life's problems.

Sonny's blues keep Sonny sane by allowing him to express himself to the world.

James Baldwin creates marvelously complex characters for stories that investigate interesting questions through unique mediums. For example, the questions: how does one survive and what does it mean for one to survive played out through the interaction of two brothers, the eldest a retired army office with a family and the second a loner musician just out of prison for heroin use.