“The Yellow Wallpaper” Write Up by Reagan Blewer

The story begins with the narrator writing in secret about her fancies and suspicions on her newly purchased estate before relenting that John, her husband and physician described as “practical to the extreme”, would laugh at her for such fancies. . She then notes that her hands are tied, that due to her husband’s credibility as a physician her own opinions on her condition are rendered invalid and concedes to her treatments, including being banned from writing among others. In order to avoid dwelling on her condition as John ordered her, she then begins to expand on the house, her description falling upon the yellow wallpaper in her bedroom that disturbs and repulses her wits sheer wrongness. She then ends her entry as John hates her writing .Two weeks pass and John refuses to “indulge” his wife by moving rooms as the wallpaper gives her distress, patronizing her. She goes on to describe the gardens but her attention is captured by the wall paper despite herself, irritating her with it’s disorderly bodily imagery and makes out a “sister” in the wallpaper. The entry picks up post-4th of July after a visit from family, the narrator notes that she is tired even though everything was handle by Jennie. in response to his wife’s worsening condition, john plans to send her to Weir Mitchell in the fall, something she sees as detrimental as the doctor is exactly like John. She notes her increased lethargy, uncontrollable crying as well as her compulsion to isolate herself. Once again she drifts to the subject of the wallpaper, finding a strange fondness for its intricacy and decoding its patterns, uncovering a world of her own which tires her. The next entry begins with her writing that she doesn’t know why she wants to write and that John loves her dearly. She recounts her encounter with John in which she futilely attempted to convince him to allow her to visit her cousins and ended up crying. John attempted to ‘comfort’ her calling her his darling and telling her that she must look after herself for his sake. She takes comfort in the fact that her child is not in bedroom with the wallpaper, finding a brighter side in that she doesn’t have to deal with the child in her current abode. SHe sees a woman in the wallpaper and retracts her prior statement, wishing John would take her away. Later, she communicates this to John who ultimately refuses her, dismissing her concerns. She begins to lose her temper but is immediately quelled by a lecture from John. Once again she finds herself lost in the wallpaper patterns, Her fixation has grown to the point of which she is bothered by John or Jennie even looking at the wallpaper, frightening Jennie and inwardly accusing her p studying the pattern, determined to decode the mysteries first. It takes over her life, smelling it, seeing it in her hair, and watching the wall woman move behind the pattern, eventually finding the woman outside every window, creeping along in daylight. This spirals to the point of which she ends up tearing away the wallpaper to “free” the woman, locking the door in her madness and immerses herself into the woman’s identity becoming her while John calls for her to open the door. Once he finally enters the room he is horrified by the scene before him, his wife declaring that she “got out at last” and he faints. She creeps over him.

The acute tension in this piece was the worsening condition of the narrator, her obsession with the wallpaper, her confinement to the manor and the dismissals of her husband.

 

The chronic tension was the control john exerted over his wife, the speaker’s depression, her disconnect from her child, and her overall feelings of being trapped

 

In the Yellow Wallpaper, we are given a chilling insight a woman’s descent into madness in the form of journal entries, a literary decision that frames the narrative in an introspective format that allows for a deeper exploration into the protagonist’s psyche.

In the first entry, the protagonist is smothered by the judgements of her husband and physician, John, and expresses her opinion in a swift admission with careful wording all around, reflecting how she takes care not to toe the line and neutral language.

 

“and perhaps -(I would not say it to a living soul, of course, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind -) perhaps that is one reason I do not get well faster.

In contrast, the descriptions of the wallpaper are dripping with mobid imagery and bold language, displaying the full extent of her revulsion and fascination burrowing past the quiet exterior from the start, and increasingly stands out against the simpler language as the story progresses. Another point of interest in this perspective is illustrated in each entry as she writes what affects her most, particular attention being paid to her conversations with John and his sometimes patronizing words of endearment. Her entries begin to decrease in size and awareness of the events regarding the yellow wallpaper begins to skew to the point of which she confronts jennie for simply touching the wall, accusing her of attempting to scry its secrets, secrets the speaker claims for herself with building ferocity until finally the she becomes the yellow wall paper itself, and her reality meshes with fantasy.

 

Another literary device the story integrated was the unstable power dynamic between the speaker and John. First, he has authority over her in the both the medical and domestic sense, which smothers the speaker as he continues to make decisions that determine her well-being like not allowing her to change rooms when the wallpaper unsettled her and placing her in a position of isolation with his dismissal of her requests to visit her cousins time and time again, these shows of power ironically serve as a catalyst of the power shift that takes place through the story as her obsession with the wallpaper grows with her abandoning her prior reservations along with her emotional restraint to the point of which she begins to rebel against his recommendations for her, snapping at him,locking doors daring to request more, and more with each refusal serving to increase her aggression until John is the one left banging at the door in the climax, horrified and her loss of control of herself leads to her freeing herself from any remnant of control he had left over her.

 

I would like to copy the surrealism of the imagery displayed in this piece, the author did an amazing job making the speaker seem completely convinced of her delusion along with the believable

 

Why do you think she really began to visualize the woman in the wall paper?

 

What do you think happened next? Did she run away?

 

“The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds” Write Up by Jackson Wagner

In Neil Gaiman’s “The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds,” Horner is a private investigator looking into the murder of a renowned blackmailer named Humpty Dumpty. He’s paid to do this by Humpty’s beautiful sister. The Kings Men tried to put Humpty back together but he died. The police chief warns Horner that he’s punching above his weight class and that he should abandon the case. Humpty’s fall was marked as an accident by most. Horner continues to look for clues on Humpty’s murder and is continuously told to drop the case. Eventually he figures out that Humpty’s sister is actually the killer, because she didn’t want anyone to find out she had her nose fixed by a now deceased surgeon whom Humpty had recommended.

It’s very interesting to see how Gaiman adapted a nursery rhyme into a gritty down to earth murder mystery. We kind of rooted for this investigator, while the author also kept us glued to the story because the reader wants to see how closely the story lines up with the nursery rhyme. The brutal ending also focuses on how gritty the world is and highlights how nursery rhymes and fairy tales used to have endings that were darker than the ones children are told today.

I would definitely want to steal Gaiman’s ability to take such a surreal world and ground it thoroughly in a reality of his own making. This is a silly story told to children, urging them to not climb too high. Gaiman twists it in to a tale filled with murder and intrigue. A bumbling simpleton in the original story becomes a cunning blackmailer with animal allies.

“Apollo” Write Up by Ella Bernstein

In “Apollo,” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a man named Okenwa visits his elderly parents. Age has “shrunk” them; they tell fantastical stories, the opposite of previously being curt, intelligent professors. Okenwa worries if his parents will die soon, but would not be as concerned if he had a family, feeling guilty since his parents want grandchildren. One day, Okenwa’s parents tell him about robbers in another city. Their leader was Raphael, a former houseboy. Okenwa flashes back to when he was a young teen and Raphael was houseboy, after several others left since Okenwa’s mother was so harsh. His parents’ former haughty and scholarly attitudes worried Okenwa that he disappointed them by not being intellectual enough. However, Okenwa secretly loved kung fu. One day Raphael caught him practicing Bruce Lee moves, but to his surprise, Raphael joined in. The two bonded, and Raphael mentored Okenwa in kung fu. He even made Okenwa nunchaku (or nunchucks) out of an old mop. Gradually, Okenwa developed feelings for Raphael. However, Raphael got Apollo (a minor eye infection common in West Africa), and was quarantined in his room. The parents gave him eye drops and left him alone, but Okenwa snuck into his room. When Raphael admitted that he couldn’t put drops in his own eye, Okenwa did it for him, sneaking in three times a day to put in his eye drops. Their gestures suggested that they were falling in love. Raphael soon healed, and Okenwa was disappointed because he no longer had an excuse to visit him. But soon Okenwa got Apollo. To direct the blame away from Raphael, he lied to his parents that he got it from a classmate. They were so concerned that they called a doctor, stayed home, and put in his eye drops for him. To Okenwa’s disappointment, Raphael never visited. Finally, his parents left, and Okenwa looked for Raphael. He was outside, flirting with the neighbor’s house-help, Josephine. Shocked, jealous, and not thinking straight, Okenwa demanded that Raphael provide him food. Josephine held back laughter, and Raphael muttered something with “the sound of betrayal.” Then Okenwa’s parents drove up, and Josephine left. Okenwa asked Raphael why he never visited, and Raphael casually said that he wasn’t allowed. Panicked at the growing rift between them, Okenwa backed away from Raphael, but tripped and fell. When Okenwa’s parents saw, he lied that Raphael pushed him. Raphael is fired and Okenwa feels guilty forever.

There are many conflicts worth exploring in this story. As far as chronic tension goes, there’s a lot:

  • the anxiety and discomfort Okenwa feels towards his parents
  • his parents’ changed personalities
  • their desire for Okenwa to have a family
  • Okenwa’s guilt about lying about Raphael
  • inferior treatment of house-help, especially the mother’s harshness
  • house-help’s resulting resentment of well-off people like Okenwa

And for acute tension, there is, more obviously:

  • the budding relationship between Okenwa and Raphael
  • the Apollo infections
  • Raphael’s betrayal of Okenwa

For this presentation, I tracked two elements listed as chronic tensions: Okenwa’s worries about his parents, and the inferior treatment of house-help. Let’s start with Okenwa’s worries, in the story’s very first line.

Twice a month, like a dutiful son, I visited my parents in Enugu, in their small overfurnished flat that grew dark in the afternoon.

What’s worth noting here is the phrase “like a dutiful son.” From the very beginning, we are clued in that the narrator doesn’t visit his elderly parents because he wants to, or because he loves them, or because he enjoys seeing them, but because he feels it is his job. A few paragraphs later, Okenwa wonders when his parents will die, and although the thought makes him sad, he narrates:

And yet I knew that if I had a family, if I could complain about rising school fees as the children of their friends did, then I would not visit them so regularly. I would have nothing for which to make amends.

This again suggests that he does not visit his parents or worry about them because of an emotional connection he has with them, but because he feels like he owes them something, specifically grandchildren.

Later, in Okenwa’s flashback, he recounts his childhood anxiety about being a disappointment to his parents. Several paragraphs are dedicated to characterization of the parents: they were intelligent, philosophical, competitive, pretentious, and brusque. On the other hand, Okenwa had little interest or knack for academia, and it made him feel uncomfortable, nervous, and like a loner in his own house:

I read books only enough to satisfy them, and to answer the kinds of unexpected questions that might come in the middle of a meal— What did I think of Pip? Had Ezeulu done the right thing? I sometimes felt like an interloper in our house. My bedroom had bookshelves, stacked with the overflow books that did not fit in the study and the corridor, and they made my stay feel transient, as though I were not quite where I was supposed to be. I sensed my parents’ disappointment in the way they glanced at each other when I spoke about a book, and I knew that what I had said was not incorrect but merely ordinary, uncharged with their brand of originality.

Sometimes, this tension between Okenwa and his parents overlaps with the second element I tracked: unfair treatment of house-help. For context, house-helpers are basically live-in domestic servants, and they are common for wealthy Nigerian families. However, they are often treated as inferior. This inequality is highlighted in “Apollo”; not only are Raphael and the other houseboys treated as secondary, but the especially harsh personality of Okenwa’s mother makes life much worse for the houseboys. This is made clear right at the start of Okenwa’s flashback:

The houseboy before him, Hyginus, had been sent home for insulting my mother. Before Hyginus was John… he had broken a plate while washing it and, fearing my mother’s anger, had packed his things and fled before she came home from work. All the houseboys treated me with the contemptuous care of people who disliked my mother. Please come and eat your food, they would say—I don’t want trouble from Madam. My mother regularly shouted at them, for being slow, stupid, hard of hearing; even her bell-ringing, her thumb resting on the red knob, the shrillness searing through the house, sounded like shouting.

This initial situation is worrisome that Okenwa’s mother could be so harsh, but it gets even worse when Raphael and Okenwa develop their covert bond: suddenly when his mother is mean to Raphael, it is difficult on Okenwa, too. When Okenwa gets Apollo from Raphael, his parents immediately blame him:

My mother shouted at Raphael, ‘Why did you bring this thing to my house? Why?’ It was as though by catching Apollo he had conspired to infect her son. Raphael did not respond. He never did when she shouted at him. She was standing at the top of the stairs, and Raphael was below her.

Okenwa ends up lying to his parents about how he got infected just to divert their wrath away from Raphael. The inequality between children and house-help is further shown in the differences in Raphael’s and Okenwa’s experiences while infected with Apollo. When Okenwa catches it, his parents call a doctor, set up medicine and fruit by his bed, stay home, and put in his eye drops three times a day. They didn’t make half the effort for Raphael. Instead, they merely gave him his eye drops and left him to treat himself, and they never knew that he couldn’t do it. If Okenwa hadn’t snuck into his room, Raphael would have never gotten treatment, suffered for much longer, and probably would have taken far longer to recover from Apollo.

Raphael’s room itself is also worth talking about. As if Raphael wasn’t treated differently enough, his room is even separate from the house. When Okenwa walks in, he describes the scene:

I looked around his room and was struck by how bare it was—the bed pushed against the wall, a spindly table, a gray metal box in the corner, which I assumed contained all that he owned.

Raphael’s room is cramped and threadbare—earlier it is said that instead of lights, he gets a single exposed lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. When Okenwa walks in, Raphael moves to get up and says “What is it?” suggesting that he cannot imagine that someone he works for would visit him just to be with him, but that they need him to work even while he is sick.

I liked reading “Apollo” because it was so personal, chock-full of emotion and significance, and I felt like I could really connect with Okenwa. The progression of the plot was also really engaging, and being a super sentimental person myself, I was really excited for Okenwa and Raphael to fall in love, and I also felt for Okenwa when Raphael abandoned him for Josephine. I love stories like this one that deal with emotional subjects like unrequited love, betrayal, guilt, anxiety, and loneliness. I think we can all relate to that, at least a little. I also loved the deep exploration of characters in this story, and how important every person’s behavior and feelings were to the plot, but how at the same time they manage to be mysterious and surprise us.

And some things that I think, as a writer, I could learn from this story: I love the characterization, and I think it provides a valuable lesson. I think of it as a perfect blend between showing and telling, rich and given both through action, description, and through straight-up telling. The characterization is also inextricably tied up with the tensions, and I would like to more directly engage personalities with conflict in my stories, to enhance the intimacy and tension. I also think that Adichie is acutely aware of where she places this characterization, subtext, and tension, and every jump cut (there are many) begins with a direct progression of plot that is almost always engaged with a description of character, an elaboration of conflict, or both. I think it is important to be this aware of placement, which could make my writing more engaging and move more smoothly. Also, I would like to start making use of jump cuts like Adichie does, as valuable pauses to divide a story and to mark progressions in a story.

Alright, so questions!

  1. Why did Adichie choose to start off the story with Okenwa visiting his elderly and radically different parents, instead of just going straight into the story with Raphael?
  2. Is there any figurative relation to the infection Apollo and the Greek god Apollo, or is it just a coincidence?
  3. Why did Raphael betray Okenwa? Did he ever really love him?

“Julie and the Warlord” Write Up by Kyra McNally Albers

“Julie and the Warlord,” by B.J. Novak, follows a couple on their first date after meeting through an online dating website. Julie has had a bit too much to drink, and the man, whose name never appears, seems to be just being polite until Julie asks about his career. He explains to her that he is a warlord. As a warlord, he and his team control the Congo. He does not enforce laws or govern, but rather attack the people when the country becomes abundant with natural resources but lacks enough government protection. They bribe, kidnap, indoctrinate, torture, recruit, and kill until the country reaches satisfactory protection and resources. Julie is rather taken aback and does not especially like this warlord business, and only partially listens to him continue to explain. They eventually tone the conversation back down and discuss inane topics such Twitter, clothing brands, menus, and chocolate cake. They order a flourless chocolate cake to split, and the waitress comes back a little later with it. She asks if they want anything else, and after the warlord says he has a driver, Julie orders a fourth cocktail.

There is so much that goes on in this story beneath the action and dialogue… through action and dialogue. For example:

“Ooh! Okay, this is fun. Are you a … landlord? Because I do not have the best history getting along with landlords. My first apartment—”

“I’m not a landlord.”

The way Julie strays from the subject so quickly and easily onto a personal story, especially after she’s just stopped talking about herself, tells us a little something about her character (she’s conceited and unthoughtful). Meanwhile, the Warlord’s interjection shows how he is not one to accept such impertinence (which makes sense considering what he does for a living).

“Are you … a … drug lord?” Julie said, stroke-poking the side of his face with her finger.

If it was not already made clear how drunk Julie is, here’s another clue. Disregarding the intoxication, this also shows how cheeky Julie is in general. I’m not entirely sure what a stroke-poke is, but it certainly is not something you do over dinner to the face of some guy you just met as you ask if he’s a drug lord. From this action we can tell her lack of boundaries and manners may get in the way of this relationship, what with him being so impassive.

Character quirks such as these are what shapes the story. Imagine the same story without any gestures, the same conversation between two ordinary folks. Say their names are Sam and Pam:

“Okay, enough about me,” said Pam. “What do you do?”

“You mean like what’s my job?”

“Yes, like what’s your job.”

Sam answered, but Pam didn’t hear him clearly.

“Sorry, could you repeat that? All I heard was ‘lord’.”

“Yes, I’m a warlord.”

“I do not know what that is. Could you explain it to me?”

Sam nodded. “Certainly. As a warlord, I…”

See? The same thing happens, but without Julie’s playful ill manner or the warlord’s curtness, the story is bland and hardly entertaining or meaningful.

I admire the seamlessness of the characterization through showing instead of telling and hope to incorporate this into my own writing. I believe that can contribute to the entertainment, sophistication, captivation of the reader, or all three, depending on the circumstance and the piece itself.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think the warlord’s name was never mentioned?
  2. Will these two stay together after this date?
  3. Did Julie grow on the warlord over the course of the story?

“Seven Floors” Write Up by Evan Sherer

Summary

In Dino Buzzati’s “Seven Floors,” a man named Giuseppe Corte checks in at a highly reputable, beautiful hospital. The hospital has a unique system of management: patients are placed on the floors according to the severity of their illness, with the least severe at the top, the seventh floor, and the dying, the “condemned,” on the first floor. Giuseppe is placed on the seventh floor, as he appears to only have a mild fever. Looking out of the window, at the beautiful trees and the city, Giuseppe has a view of the windows of the lower floors. He strikes up a conversation with a fellow patient on the balcony next to him, who elaborates on how the shades on the bottom floor closed once a patient died.

With this information, Giuseppe is extra fearful of moving down to lower floors. To his delight, he is forced to move down to the sixth floor, so the hospital can accommodate a family in his room. Before he could protest, he was assured it was a temporary placement. The sixth floor is where it gets serious; the seventh is really just a joke, patients were just there for “fancy.” To try to get back to the seventh floor, Giuseppe bothers the nurses by exhorting that his time on the sixth floor was just TEMPORARY, that his illness was MINOR. While on the sixth floor, we learn about Giuseppe’s unnamed illness. It is “obstinate,” ineffectual, but when it does strike, it hits the entire body.

So the rest of Giuseppe’s stay at the hospital is him moving down the floors of the hospital, for reasons that mostly don’t have to do with his actual sickness. He goes down to fifth because the hospital just wants to split up the floors; then to the fourth to take care of some eczema that has nothing to do with his illness; to the third because the doctor advises him that the treatment is better on the third floor; to the second because the ward employees are going on vacation; and finally to the first, because the chief doctor, Professor Dati, makes an order that he be moved there, which seems like a mistake even to the other doctors. On the first floor, Giuseppe sees his shades mysteriously closing, leading us to believe that he dies.

Every time Giuseppe moves down, the doctors assure him that he is only temporarily on that floor, he gets more angry and disheartened as he moves farther away from the “real world,” the seventh floor, and the doctors are more concerned about his sickness.

The chronic tension is Giuseppe’s sickness, or his impending death, and the acute is his passage down the hospital.

What makes the story compelling?

One thing that made me fall in love with this story on the first read is how Buzzati plays with our expectations. The doctors continuously reassure Giuseppe that he will return to the top of the hospital, that his illness is a minor case, that these transfers are just simple errors on the hospital’s part, that Giuseppe will be out of there in no time, that he will live. But, contrasting with this is how Giuseppe gets closer and closer to death. Dino sets up our expectations that he will live, but no matter how much he complains, he gets closer and closer to death. Giuseppe’s fate is unfathomable, but Dino successfully makes it a reality with the allegorical nature of the story, and, more specifically, fairly believable, various reasons for Giuseppe to be moved down the floors despite his good health. It makes us think: was Giuseppe’s health ever all that good in the first place? Was the hospital playing some sort of sick trick in the end? Why is this called a state-of-the-art hospital if this happens? The questions that Buzzati raises in the reader are good questions to have, as they all, while questioning the story, question ourselves. In the end, Buzzati leaves plenty of room for the reader to have his own interpretation.

Another thing that makes “Seven Floors” compelling is just the concept of the piece, of the idea that one side represents life, the other death, and the character involuntarily traveling to the death side (this plays into what I say about symbolism later). The story is not driven by the characterization, nor imagery and honestly, not much the setting. The only thing the setting does is facilitate the plot, really. Buzzati somehow makes this story interesting with an unchanging plot; the same thing keeps happening over and over again. But we are getting closer, and closer, and closer. We don’t want to accept it, but it’s still happening. The reader is just waiting for Giuseppe to return to the seventh floor, but it doesn’t happen, and it was never going to happen. Does Giuseppe change? Not really. Does he learn his lesson, to shut your mouth, be positive, and maybe you’ll feel better? He dies in the end, so no. That tells that this story is more just a picture of human nature, a tale where the protagonist doesn’t learn his lesson, but the reader does. 

What can we use in our own writing?

One craft element that we can learn from “Seven Floors” is the close third person point-of-view. This particular perspective magnifies the story by aligning the reader with Giuseppe’s emotions, and keeping the reader in the dark, for the most part, about what kind of things are happening elsewhere in the ward or in the world. Although we don’t learn anything about Giuseppe’s life outside of the hospital, we feel his disbelief. As I read this for the first time, I kept saying to myself “there is no way he actually makes it to the first floor,” but guess what. We also get to watch how Giuseppe’s reactions to moving down the hospital, one floor at a time, escalate and fall. In the beginning, Giuseppe intentionally keeps his composure when he expresses his eagerness to stay in his room on the seventh floor. Moving down to the fourth floor, Giuseppe is in outrage, but still has hope. But once Giuseppe is moved down to the first floor, he is in an obvious state of depression, something that we could only feel the full effect of if we were in close third person. The POV, by only centering around Giuseppe, makes us ignorant of what else is going on in the ward, and how the doctors are personally dealing with this rogue patient. We feel the same disconnection Giuseppe has with the room outside his hospital room. I was perplexed as his gray shade closed on the first floor as well. And here’s another thing. Because the hospital made so many errors, I started to question if Professor Dati is out to get poor Giuseppe. The doctors seem to be on his side, but are they really? It’s just strange, kind of unfathomable how this state-of-the-art hospital can let an almost perfectly healthy patient die. We can talk about this later.

Another thing that we should take away from this story is Dino Buzzati’s great use of symbolism. On the second read, it struck me how allegorical this story was. Giuseppe is barely characterized; as I said, we don’t know a thing about his life outside the hospital. We also don’t know what exactly Giuseppe’s particular disease is called. What this does is easily let us fill the spot of the main character, and suddenly this story becomes a comment on human nature. The trees outside Giuseppe’s window is a symbol for his diminishing connection with the outside world. Perhaps, as the leaves shake in the wind even from the bottom floor, Buzzati is saying that the world still goes on after we die. Similarly, the seventh floor is an obvious symbol for life, for good health. Where the real world is all there when you look out the window. And, of course, the first floor is a symbol for death. Giuseppe is obviously not dead as he watches the shades close, or is he? Giuseppe’s behavior as he descends the hospital is Dino pointing out the faults of human nature. Dissatisfaction drives us toward an unhappy death that we feel is unjustified. I noticed how Giuseppe’s fever always strengthened as he moved down the hospital. This could definitely be for other reasons (which we can talk about) but I think it is because of his terrible temperament. The doctors also often link Giuseppe’s deteriorating condition with his emotions, saying that he will be healthier with a happier spirit.

Questions

What kills Giuseppe? Was it his passage to the first floor? Was it his temperament? Was his illness much more severe than everyone thought? He dies, right?

What is the climax of the story?

What was your relationship with Giuseppe?

 

 

 

 

 

“To Build a Fire” Write Up by Anaya Bonds

A man and his dog, a wolf-dog, are travelling through the Yukon, making their way towards a camp he will meet his friends at. His dog is aware of the danger of travelling in the conditions, and longs for the man to stop a build a fire instead of continuing on. The man flinches back from a frozen creek as he hears it crunch under his weight, knowing it would be dangerous to get wet in this temperature. He carefully crosses it, and continues this for several other possible traps. At one crossing, he shoved his dog onto the ice to check to see if it was stable. The dog fell through the ice and its legs became wet, the water immediately froze onto its legs. The dog began to chew at the ice to get it off and the man took off his mittens to help remove the ice, but stopped and pulled his mitten back on as his hand began to numb quickly. When they arrive at the forks of Henderson Creek, the man sits down to eat his lunch. He starts a fire and eats his lunch and smokes his pipe. The man gets up and prepares to set off again, but the dog doesn’t want to, once again not happy with travelling in the cold, but complies out of fear. The man misjudges a patch of snow in front of him, and falls through, becoming wet down halfway to his knees. He pulls himself out and starts to make a fire. He manages to get the fire going, and begins to take off his wet footgear. He had made his fire under a tree, against his better judgement, and snow falls on top of him and his fire. He moves to a clearing where there are no trees to drop snow on him, and begins to make a fire again, though at this point he is freezing and struggling to control his fingers. He attempts to grab a piece of birch bark out of his pocket, and his hands are so numb he can’t grab it. He begins to beat his hand against himself until some feeling returns to his hand, and he grabs the bark. He began to struggle with the matches then managed to press the pack of matches between his two hands and struck them against his leg, lighting the entire pack at once. He held the matches to the bark and kept doing so despite knowingly burning his hands. He manages to start a small flame, but ends up poking the center of the flame, causing it to fizzle out. He looks to his dog and thinks of cutting it open and warming his hands inside of the dog so he could use them again and make another fire. He manages to grab the dog but then realizes he isn’t physically able to hold his knife and cut the dog open so he lets it go. He begins running, hoping to manage to run to the camp his friends should already be at, and then begins to feel better from the movement. He grew tired and had to stop, unable to continue running for the moment. He realized running would not unthaw his nose, cheeks, hands or feet, but continues anyways and starts to run. He falls down again shortly after starting, and looks to his dog, once again envying its warmth. He feels himself beginning to slip off to sleep, and thinks about how his friends will find his body in the morning. He drifts into a comfortable sleep, his dog waiting by him for the rest of the day. The dog wonders why the man had sat down and not made a fire, and approached the man, the scent of death scaring the dog back a bit. The dog howled for a few moments, and then headed off in the direction of the camp.

Throughout his trip in the Yukon, the man only seems to be thinking about reaching the boys’ camp. Even as he’s dying, he doesn’t seem to be able to think about anything else. “He pictured the boys finding his body next day. Suddenly he found himself with them, coming along the trail and looking for himself. And, still with them, he came around a turn in the trail and found himself lying in the snow. He did not belong with himself any more, for even then he was out of himself, standing with the boys and looking at himself in the snow. It certainly was cold, was his thought.” When he isn’t thinking about reaching the camp, he’s thinking about how cold it is, or about the lunch he has tucked in his shirt. The man is almost developed to be this disconnected from an actual life and feelings just so when he is killed in the end, the reader isn’t too attached. The narrator in the beginning even mentions how unimaginative he is. “The trouble with him was that he was without imagination. He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the significances. Fifty degrees below zero meant eighty odd degrees of frost. Such fact impressed him as being cold and uncomfortable, and that was all. It did not lead him to meditate upon his frailty as a creature of temperature, and upon man’s frailty in general, able only to live within certain narrow limits of heat and cold; and from there on it did not lead him to the conjectural field of immortality and man’s place in the universe. Fifty degrees below zero stood for a bite of frost that hurt and that must be guarded against by the use of mittens, ear-flaps, warm moccasins, and thick socks. Fifty degrees below zero was to him just precisely fifty degrees below zero.” Adding to his lack of imagination, he tends to be very ignorant of his surroundings. He brings up an experienced man from Sulphur Creek and how he said never to travel alone when it’s fifty below, and then he goes on to think of the advice as false. “He remembered the advice of the old-timer on Sulphur Creek, and smiled. The old-timer had been very serious in laying down the law that no man must travel alone in the Klondike after fifty below. Well, here he was; he had had the accident; he was alone; and he had saved himself. Those old-timers were rather womanish, some of them, he thought. All a man had to do was to keep his head, and he was all right. Any man who was a man could travel alone.” The man also seems quite ignorant of the temperature he is travelling in. “In reality, it was not merely colder than fifty below zero; it was colder than sixty below, than seventy below. It was seventy-five below zero.” Even his dog seems to know better than him in this case. “The animal was depressed by the tremendous cold. It knew that it was no time for travelling. Its instinct told it a truer tale than was told to the man by the man’s judgment.” It really seems like London is trying to make the man seem very careless and foreshadows his death.

Many times throughout the short story, we hear from the dog’s point of view how much the dog wants the man to make a fire and stop travelling, yet the dog continues to follow he man anyways. Even after the man attempts to cut the dog open to warm his hands inside of the dog, the dog follows the man as he runs in a blind panic. “On the other hand, there was keen intimacy between the dog and the man. The one was the toil-slave of the other, and the only caresses it had ever received were the caresses of the whip- lash and of harsh and menacing throat-sounds that threatened the whip-lash. So the dog made no effort to communicate its apprehension to the man. It was not concerned in the welfare of the man; it was for its own sake that it yearned back toward the fire. But the man whistled, and spoke to it with the sound of whip-lashes, and the dog swung in at the man’s heels and followed after.”

The way London managed to make you disconnected enough from the character to not be devastated or upset with his death, but invested enough to keep reading. It also made me realize I am really too nice to my characters and I could definitely //abuse// them more.

Discussion questions:

Why do you think London chose to make the man’s companion a wolf-dog?

Does the man admitting the “old-timer of Sulphur Creek” represent a change of character?

Enough with the Old Dead White Men: A Cheat-Sheet to Surviving Melissa Alter’s Presentation on “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin

Well, I was completely and totally going to read the story in its entirety, but I had other homework and the Oscars were on and Sparknotes crashed, so…

Scold, scold, scold. I considered writing this section in Comic Sans just to punish you appropriately, but that seems cruel, even for me. Alright, then. Here you go, disgusting human who didn’t read the story.

In “The Story of an Hour”, Richards receives a telegram notifying him of his friend Mr. Mallard’s death due to a railroad accident. Richards goes to the Mallards’ house along with Mrs. Mallard’s sister, Josephine, to break the news to Mrs. Mallard, who has heart problems.

Upon learning of her husband’s death, Mrs. Mallard weeps uncontrollably and shuts herself in her room away from Richards and Josephine. As Mrs. Mallard stares out the window, she sees signs of the oncoming spring and realizes that she finally feels free. At first, Mrs. Mallard tries to ignore this thought, but then she realizes that whatever love she had felt for Mr. Mallard is trivial in comparison to the autonomy she feels now that he is gone. Josephine calls through the door, worried for her sister’s health, but Mrs. Mallard dismisses this notion and steps out of her room, feeling stronger than ever.

Suddenly, the door to the house opens, revealing Mr. Mallard, who is perfectly hale and hearty and was far away from the accident. The occupants of the house are (understandably) shocked, and Mrs. Mallard dies from “the joy that kills”.

And I would’ve analyzed it, too, but I was studying for a Physics test…

Let’s kill two birds with one stone, shall we? Here’s how:

The chronic is the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Mallard, especially in relation to Mrs. Mallard’s conflicting feelings of love and confinement as a result of their marriage.

The acute is when the characters learn of Mr. Mallard’s “death”.

And that’s how you solve for tension. Mr. Landry would be so proud.

(This is all in Newtons, of course; remember to include units and draw those Free Body Diagrams.)

Dude, this story was worse than Twilight. Why the heck did you choose it?

First of all, ouch. That was just uncalled for.

Personally, I was kind of impressed by Chopin’s ability to pack so much into such a short story. The setting doesn’t change, and the entire tale is encompassed in such a short time span. I thought Chopin did a good job taking us into Mrs. Mallard’s mind and showing us her internal change. I loved that the reflection was after her husband’s death, as opposed to during their marriage, and just when we think that she’s free to be free (so to speak), her husband comes home. This is the first time we’re seeing the husband, but already we’re kind of disappointed by his arrival because we’re rooting for Mrs. Mallard. The last line just cinched the deal for me.

Lord of the Rings was on last night and I’ve decided to embrace my inner Hobbit-Thief. What can I steal from the story?

Well, I would recommend taking the “pro/con” format of the story. Mrs. Mallard goes back and forth between loving her husband and welcoming her newfound freedom. She feels guilty about feeling so relieved, but at the same time embraces the new direction her life seems to be taking. She continues this balancing act until she realizes that, even if she loved him, her freedom is more important. This internal conflict does an excellent job of characterizing Mrs. Mallard and makes the story more believable; if she felt no remorse, the story wouldn’t have had half the appeal. Additionally, it makes Mrs. Mallard’s realization that love is inferior to freedom ever the more impactful. The foreshadowing was also done really well. The first sentence of the story characterizes her as having heart troubles; and lo and behold, come the end of page three-ish, she “dies from a heart disease”. Coincidence? Me thinkith not.

Bringing back a character is tricky business, which is why Game of Thrones just leaves most of them dead (with a couple of exceptions, of course). However, I think that this story provides a nice format just ripe for the stealing. Mrs. Mallard’s clear relief at finally being able to take charge of her own life makes Mr. Mallard’s return ever the more stunning because 1) well, I don’t think any of us were expecting it, and 2) let’s face it, we’re rooting for Mrs. Mallard. We want her to be free and take charge of her own life, so we’re kind of against Mr. Mallard even though this is the first time we’re seeing him in the story. His return, though unexpected, is not completely unbelievable, and does a nice job of throwing us for a loop. Furthermore, we suspect that Mrs. Mallard will lose her freedom if Mr. Mallard returns, so if you’re trying to bias your readers against one of your characters before even meeting him, this is a nice way to do so. The point of view, which is extremely close to Mrs. Mallard, also automatically puts the reader on her side, while having a more distant perspective could change how we view Mrs. Mallard’s transformation. If we weren’t so close to her, we would most likely not be invested, and would probably sympathize more with Mr. Mallard than his wife.

Oh, uh, and while you’re testing your thieving powers, be a doll and pick me up the Mona Lisa, would you?

Alright, lovely discussions, so are we done he—

No. Sit down. It’s your turn to answer some questions.

I told you, I was busy reviewing Physics, I didn’t have time to study for this!

Consider it a pop quiz, then.

Please tell me it’s multiple choice.

  1. What is the actual cause of Mrs. Mallard’s death? Would she still have died if Mr. Mallard hadn’t come back?
  2. Were Mrs. Mallard’s thoughts about freedom just covering up her grief, or were they genuine? Consider: did she actually love him?
  3. What does Chopin say about the compatibility of freedom and love? Do you agree with her message? Let’s also think about the role of feminism in this piece, people.

…Umm, C?

 

Bonus:

Q: Why does Melissa keep presenting on stories where love is inferior to another force?

A: Love is not all you need.