“Shame” Write Up by Olivia Lopez-Parsons

Amy Monticello’s “Shame” tells the story of Amy, the narrator, and her struggles through college-life and adulthood. She describes all the “shameful” things she’s done: having sex with her roommate’s boyfriend, eventually moving in with said boyfriend, doing cocaine, etc. As all this is going on, the one constant thing that remains with her is her ex-roommate’s kitchen table. The kitchen table follows her through her difficulties as well as her marriage and her soon-to-be born child’s life.

I personally found the piece very compelling, in that we, the readers, are able to read through her struggles without all the BS. The author did a wonderful job not “sugarcoating” anything. She was straight to the point (“this happened then this then that)”, which I rather enjoyed. I feel that because she was so blunt, I was able to capture the purpose of the piece more clearly. The purpose was, as she stated, “what do we do with the things we know of ourselves, but cannot change?”; meaning, in her case, what would she do with all the shame she felt, knowing there was nothing she could do to change it? More literally, what would she do would the table, a symbol that further amplified her shame?

I found the irony in the piece absolutely fascinating and unfortunate. The fact that she would have to use the table, that had witnessed so many awful things, as an essential everyday item. Furthermore, this table would be around her child–a sweet, innocent human–and could even be given to her as a hand-me-down. This parallelled her experience with her father in which she still kept the paperwork from a court case he was in. She also brought up twice the idea of choking. Her anxiety caused her to “choke up,” both literally and figuratively. Figuratively as in not being able to move past certain memories, whether that be of her ex-boyfriend or her shameful experiences. These two cases of parallelism added the anxious feeling the author continually felt, and feels, throughout this time.

I also tracked the symbolism of the table. As I’ve mentioned, the table has gone around with her everywhere, witnessing all the trouble she’s gotten into. The table represents her shame, and the shame she feels she may one day pass down to her daughter. Although it wasn’t brought up heavily, the table is significant and makes the reader (or at least me) think about the objects they themselves feel connected to.

I hope that from her writing I can take away the need for brevity (how ironic). The short, straightforwardness of the piece made it that much more thought provoking. She summed up maybe a decade or so into a single page pulling in symbols, rhetoric, and a personal experience along the way. I can only hope I can move the reader as much as she did me.

“Woman Hollering Creek” Write Up by Izabella Sifuentes


For my annotations on Sandra Cisneros’ story “Woman Hollering Creek,” I tracked four items–setting, physical objects/image, metaphors/similes, and point of view. However, I will only focus on two of them, those being “point of view” and the literary devices (primarily metaphors and similes). I chose to focus on these because of their impact on the story.

In the story, while mainly fixated on Cleófilas and her ‘new’ life, the point of view changes a couple of times. I found this to be an intriguing way to continue the story while providing another insight on the events that are unfolding. Aside from the view that describes Cleófilas in the regular third person, there are the ones that address a ‘you’ as if talking to the reader and one that goes to a completely different person. Despite the varying perspectives, it still focuses on Cleófilas and her story, moving the plot forward.

I found this to be interesting because it gave a look on how others saw Cleófilas and her circumstances. The point where the view changed the most dramatically was when the narrator became “Graciela.” This person is speaking to an acquaintance (referred to as “Felice”) and trying to convince them to help Cleófilas return home. From the phone call Graciela makes, we learn more of Cleófilas and her life, “Another one of those brides from across the border. And her family’s all in Mexico.” This POV ends with the friend ‘Felice’ agreeing to take Cleófilas to San Antonio. From there, it changes back to being more in Cleófilas’ mind.

Throughout the short story, the literary devices give further depth and emotion into the story. The men are labeled as being ‘dogs’ (“chasing their own tails before lying down to sleep, trying to find a way, a route, and out, and-finally-get some peace”) which includes her husband. She also describes him as “this rival, this keeper, this lord, this master, this husband till kingdom come” which shows how he is seen by her. He has a dominance over her, which is a major factor in why she does not leave even though she is miserable.

Cleófilas is shown to have been joyful after first getting married and heading off into what seemed to be a life that was just like in her novelas, “the first time as a newlywed…she had laughed.” Even though her relationship is souring and her husband is shown to act like an-pardon my language-extreme jerk to her, she “has to remind herself why she loves him when she changes the baby’s Pampers or when she mops the bathroom floor.” Cleófilas continues to try and look on the bright side, tries to keep imagining of the life she wishes she had. However, the situation gets worse, as he starts to harm her (and her baby) and others advise her that it would be best to leave.

Another important comparison is between Cleófilas and the creek. The interest (“how could  Cleófilas explain to a woman like this why the name Woman Hollering fascinated her”) she has of ‘La Gritona’ could be because of how she feels-her growing desperation, sorrow, and longing to go back home and escape the life she is living. She relates the creek to the legend of ‘La Llorona’ (the weeping woman) and how it has “a voice all its own, all day and all night calling in its high, silver voice.”  Even at the very end, she is compared to the creek, “it was gurgling out of her own throat, a long ribbon of laughter, like water.”

Like in this short story, we could experiment with alternating point of view, especially the one that seemed to be someone else’s commentary on the main character’s situation. I admired many other things in the story, but most particularly the way the creek and Cleófilas were connected and the importance of that creek in the story (hence the title). Also, how her yearning is portrayed through her primarily through her thoughts (like her interest in the creek and novelas). Sandra Cisneros utilized these methods well and created a story that evokes strong emotions and gives us an insight into a life that could very well exist.

“Ten Days in a Mad-House” Write Up by Olivia Elmers

Much of the impact of Nellie Bly’s Ten Days In a Mad-House has been negated by time, since in the century and a quarter since the article’s publication the conditions Bly reported on have been drastically improved upon and are no longer as extreme of a problem.  But while the contents have become archaic, the shock and anger Bly felt when writing the piece are just as obvious to modern readers as they would have been to people in 1887.  It’s survived as well as it has not for the news it was originally published to spread, but rather for how much of herself and her era Bly poured into it: in other words, it’s become a character-driven work despite beginning as plot-driven.

In the first chapter alone, it’s possible to pick up Bly’s opinion of herself, the public view and curiosity towards asylums, the prevalence of religion in daily life, common customs, and Bly’s social circle.  I don’t generally read much nonfiction outside of schoolwork, so clearly I’m not the most accurate judge of this, but out of the stories (and even articles and reviews and rants specifically written to share information about their authors’ opinions) I have read, nothing comes even close to the amount of information Bly casually hands out about herself.  Most of the time it seems like you have to dig through boatloads of symbolism and imagery and apparently random sidenotes that on the seventh read-through turn out to actually be the piece’s keystones to get an idea of what the author felt about the topical issue at the time of the story’s setting, but from just the first few paragraphs in Mad-House one can piece together Bly’s social status, general personality, etc.  It’s honestly a little uncomfortable to read.

Tying into that is the way she dumps in information about events from later on in the article without even considering holding back.  In fact, the last two paragraphs are nothing more or less than a full, complete summary of the entire point of the article; this in the first chapter, before she even begins recounting anything of what actually happened.

The main lesson I took away from her article is that good writing does not have to be deep or subtle or lyrical; and that the content of a story, if fascinating enough, can carry just as much of the weight as manipulation of grammatical mechanics and other such traditional elements of literary style.  

“Landscape with Flatiron” Write Up by Audrey Deigaard


In the short story “Landscape with Flatiron” by Haruki Murakami, we begin with the main character, Junko, recieving a call from her acquaintance, Miyake, inviting her and her friend Keisuke to come do a bonfire on the beach. The collection this short story is from is set just after the Kobe earthquake in 1995, which inevitably creates the clearly somber and hopeless tone of the story.

Another way the Kobe earthquake makes its way into the story was through each of the characters’ personalities. Starting with Junko, who is perhaps the most obvious of the three, Junko’s feeling of emptiness and her want to give up is especially clear when she described reading “To Build a Fire.” Miyake’s personality shows a similar feeling, especially when he describes how he knows that he’s going to die a slow death of suffocation while trapped inside a refridgerator. Lastly, another example is when Keisuke says

“The trouble is, I don’t have a damn thing to do with anything fifty thousand years ago—or fifty thousand years from now, either. Nothing. Zip. What’s important is now. Who knows when the world is going end? Who can think about the future? The only thing that matters is whether I can get my stomach full right now and get it up right now. Right?”

All of these feelings were common after the disaster in Kobe, as many people felt hopeless and skeptical of whether life would ever return to how it used to be.

One of the objects that is referenced and repeated the most often in Murakami’s short story is fire, which I believe is intended to represent community and family. This is shown clearly when Murakami says

Junko never said much in the presence of the fire. She hardly moved. The flames accepted all things in silence, drank them in, understood, and forgave. A family, a real family, was probably like this, she thought.

Also, in the story, the bonfire is what brings together the three characters, as both Miyake and Junko confess that they each felt some form of connection while watching the fire; Junko thinks of it as what a family might feel like while Miyake experiences “this deep, quiet kind of feeling.” Also, both characters agreed to die at the end, but decided to wait until the fire went out,  so that they could “keep it company.”

One part of this story that I would really love to include in my own writing is the incorporation of a real-life event and somehow using the feeling and emotions induced by that event to influence the tone of my writing. Also, another thing I really liked from this piece was the use of one single reoccuring symbolic object throughout the story.

“Mother’s Helper” Write Up by Bailey Ashworth

I came across Catherine Lacey’s “Mother’s Helper: A Shocking Thing I Learned After Giving Up My Eggs” while looking for information on how to sell my chickens’ eggs. Obviously this article was not what I was looking for, and it was strange to know that Google had automatically assumed that by “eggs” I meant the ones that I was producing myself, but the title was so obviously click bait that I couldn’t resist.

Catherine Lacey structures her piece very chronologically so that when you pull open your browser she’s right there with you, hitting you with the juicy opening paragraph to ensure that you actually want to figure out how and why her hook came into being. Her choice to go chronologically and take a straightforward approach was a smart one for such an involved and broad topic. When she discovers new information, we discover new information. When we start wondering if she’ll say yes or no, she makes a decision. When we remember the boyfriend, she tells us he’s gone. She allows us to follow along on her journey so that we don’t get lost in her attempts to tackle big questions in a short time.

Unlike many of the pieces we’ve read on websites such as Brevity, Lacey uses literary devices sparingly, opting to instead rely on her own writing style and story to be enough to keep readers interested. She does, however, use imagery and snarky metaphors at very effective moments. She compares the way the doctor asking her questions reacts to her the way one might to

…a sunroof on a car you might buy or a washer-dryer in a potential apartment. Grad school is a leather interior, a pool in the backyard.

Her humor almost always comes at the end of a paragraph or idea as a version of relief for the readers, but many times those reliefs are merely superficial. For instance, that same quote has an underlying tone of parried insult; to be regarded as only a grouping of optimal genes is an uncomfortable but necessary evil for the narrator. This decision to leave a subject just introduced and not analyzed fully is very intriguing. Lacey presented us with a concept that could have easily taken up a full page of her inner struggle to comprehend, and yet she chooses to instead thinly disguise it in a simile to give the reader the chance to decide whether or not they want to dive further into that conflict.

Another interesting tactic she makes use of is small diction related cues. Through tracking the recurrence of possessive adjectives, references to money, and family, you see how she slowly bleeds her topics together so family makes frequent appearances and then slowly fades out while money begins to emerge so you as a reader don’t question her shift from questioning the role of herself as a parent to struggling with trying to justify the people who would pay the amount of money they are for a kid. Because both are such large and controversial topics, it would have been easy for Lacey to go on long tangents, but instead she demonstrates a conscious and clever control over how much of her own opinions she allows into the piece and the length at which she speaks of it.

Overall, despite the daunting length of this article and the seemingly shallow topic it covers, Lacey proves herself to be adept at brilliant brevity. With precise and measured information, she manages to relate exactly what she experienced and how she felt without forcing the reader to feel exactly what she was. Her piece stands to be a wonderful example of leaving the audience room to question their stances and her decisions for themselves.

“The Eye of Argon” Write Up by Olivia Elmers

Summary: In Jim Theis’ “The Eye of Argon,” two soldiers (or mercenaries) confront a barbarian in a barren sward.  It becomes quickly apparent from there that the barbarian, Grignr, is a faux-eloquent psychopath possessed of anger issues and probably necrophilia: he enthusiastically cuts down the soldiers (or mercenaries), taunts them while gazing lustfully at their writhing forms, and rides off on one’s horse, leaving the one not immediately killed to die slowly and painfully on his own.

Grignr heads to the city of Gorzom.  He finds the seediest establishment in the city and starts to get cozy with a prostitute there, but he’s interrupted by a soldier who claims to have paid for her first; outraged by this offense, Grignr kills him and promptly gets arrested by the soldier’s buddies.  He’s taken to the prince, tries to kill the prince, fails to kill the prince, and is sentenced to a stay in the dungeons and then life labor in the mines.  He mopes around in the dungeons for somewhere between ten minutes and ten years, gets into the most epic fight scene in the story against a man-eating rat the size of a labrador, and immediately returns to moping.

Meanwhile, a group of shamans are preparing to sacrifice the prostitute from earlier to a statue of their god, Argon.  The god has one eye, represented by a scarlet emerald with interesting plumbing.  At first the prostitute is too terrified to fight back, but suddenly in vicious detail she kicks one of the shamans in the groin hard enough to rupture his testicle.  The other shamans beat her up for this.

Back on Grignr’s side, the hero is hauled out of the dungeons by another two soldiers.  He kills one with the rat’s sharpened pelvic bone, kills the other one also, loots their corpses, wanders off aimlessly, stumbles over a meticulously described trap in a tomb, stumbles across the shamans’ ritual, kills or maims all the shamans who don’t inexplicably suffer epileptic fits first, and rescues the woman.  Also he takes the jewel out of Argon’s statue, since the statue itself is too big to steal.  The epileptic shaman recovers, tries to kill them, and is caught in the trap from earlier.  Grignr and Carthena, the prostitute, continue on, but stumble across the prince and his advisor (who Grignr killed earlier) having a pleasant stroll through the slimy underground passages.  Grignr kills the advisor again while Carthena burns the prince to death with a torch.

Grignr and Carthena make it aboveground, whereupon the scarlet emerald turns into some kind of leech monster that latches itself onto Grignr’s leg.  He burns it to death with a torch, and it becomes just a red blotch upon the earth, “blotching things up.”

Rather than beating a zombie horse and going after everything bad about Argon, I’m going to talk about what it does right.

Namely, that it’s one of the best writing guides ever published.  Every error it’s possible to commit in fiction can be found somewhere in its pages—cliches, unsympathetic protagonists, unrepentant thesaurus abuse, awful pacing, lack of closure (regardless of which ending you’re going by), idiotic and non-menacing villains, anticlimactic climaxes, poor attempts at edginess, descriptions in all the wrong places, and anything else it’s possible to do wrong.

Also, for all the rest of Argon‘s unoriginality, it does happen to be probably the only story in existence where a minor villain survives an encounter with the protagonist by going through an epileptic seizure beforehand, and where the one character to succeed in putting up an actual fight against the protagonist is a giant rat presumably capable of teleporting through walls.

“La Mayonette” Write Up by Catherine Anderson

Behind Lily Tuck’s simple, direct fiction style in “La Mayonette” is an interesting method to show character development using a static object. To describe this I coined the phrase “acute bloody potato.”

All throughout the story we are shown the strange, poorly hung wallpaper of a woman’s profile with red hair. From the get-go the character is unnerved, describing it as inappropriate and disturbing. As the story progresses we are shown that the woman on the wall makes her way into the narrator’s dreams, causing her to become a little more self-aware as the piece progresses. She starts worrying and wondering about her two sons and Francine’s girls getting along, her youngest son’s happiness after he breaks his arm.  Nearing the end of the piece, she is pushed over the edge after dealing with her son’s injury, and snaps. She reacts by throwing her shoes one at a time at the walls. She also tells us that her husband and her have been intimate less frequently, and that when they do, she thinks of Didier, and blames the one hundred and seventy two faces on the walls. At the very end, as she is leaving La Mayonette, there is an anticlimactic resolution to this conflict the narrator has created with herself; she kisses one of the faces on the wall. The change in her is difficult to see, and you have to really read between the lines and impose a lot on the character, which I think makes the story “interactive” if you will.

A good lesson to use and learn from this story is to let your character be shaped by the surrounding objects. Whether it be a particular sofa, or a trinket from a vacation, each object can hold influence on your character. The fun part is deciding whether it really shows up in their thought process (like in La Mayonette, we see her become a little more neurotic, self-aware, self-analytical) or in their behavior. Or both, those things frequently go hand in hand.

“Harrison Bergeron” Write Up by Emily Switek


The story “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. is compelling to me because it is set in the future, and Vonnegut has made a world that is similar to ours except for one major difference. In this world, nobody is allowed to have any special talents. If anyone is more than average, they are given a handicap. I like how Vonnegut uses these handicaps for characterization. The main characters are George and Hazel. Hazel has no handicaps but George has a mental handicap, a loud noise in his ear to stop his thoughts, and a physical handicap, weights around his neck. We know right away that George is more than average both mentally and physically. They are watching ballerinas dancing on TV, and the reader knows that two of the eight dancers are smarter than average because they wince when George winces from the noise in their heads.

I chose to highlight characterization and imagery in the story. I highlighted characterization because Vonnegut tells the reader more about everyone by what their handicaps are. Hazel has no handicaps so we know that she’s average at everything. Harrison comes in, and we see that he has every handicap there is, “Instead of a little ear radio for a mental handicap, he wore a tremendous pair of earphones, and spectacles with thick wavy lenses,” “Scrap metal was hung all over him,” “he wear at all times a red rubber ball for a nose, keep his eyebrows shaved off, and cover his even white teeth with black caps at snaggle-tooth random.” This shows us he is more graceful, strong, and handsome than anyone.

This imagery that describes Harrison also tells us about the world Vonnegut created. In this world the H-G men are desperate for everyone to be the same. Vonnegut describes all of the characters handicaps in detail so we know how far they go. When Harrison removes the handicaps on him and the ballerina, they dance like no one has ever seen before because no one has ever been without their handicaps before. The couple is so perfect and graceful, “They leaped like deer on the moon.” This imagery shows us how absurdly perfect their dancing is because no one has ever seen unhandicapped people dance before. This imagery is also beautiful while the handicap imagery is bleak and weird. It is an interesting contrast.

There are several things about this story that I would like to use in my own writing. First of all, I like how Vonnegut describes the characters by what handicaps they have. I want to develop characters in an unusual way. I also like how Vonnegut uses the TV to show the reader what was happening in another setting. I want to try to use a setting within a setting.

(Image credit: apriloneill.)

The Power of Objects


Yesterday my partner and I were walking our dog around the block when we passed a house we’ve passed many times. This time there was something different about it. Knee-high chicken wire had been zip-tied to the iron rails of the fence surrounding the empty yard.

“I wonder if that means the inevitable happened,” my partner said.

“Probably,” I agreed. “People only ever learn things the hard way.”

We were referring to the fact that the family in the house had long kept a chihuahua in their yard that could easily slip through the fence rails, and usually did when we passed with our dog, often following us so far down the sidewalk we’d wonder if we needed to take the dog back and knock on their door. But we couldn’t, because of the fence. Eventually the dog would get bored and turn around and wander back, but we were basically waiting for the day it would get hit by a car. With so many squirrels around these parts, even well-trained dogs might dart unexpectedly. My partner had to drive our neighbor to the pet ER after her dog chased one out into rush-hour West Gray traffic. The dog died in the car on the way. Not two weeks later, she had another dog, identical to the first one. And she still lets it roam around without a leash, in the exact same area the other dog darted from.

I guess some people never learn.

The point is, everything I’ve just described flashed through my psyche in the space of a second, simply at the sight of zip-tied chicken wire. You’ve probably seen chicken wire in your life at some point, and odds are you didn’t think twice about it. It didn’t mean anything to you. But this chicken wire meant something very specific to me.

T.S. Eliot is the one credited with coining the term “objective correlative,” circa 1840, lecturing on, of all things, the subject of art:

No possible modification in the degrees or proportion of these elements can change the specific form of a plant, — for instance, a cabbage into a cauliflower; it must ever remain a cabbage, small or large, good or bad. So, too, is the external world to the mind; which needs, also, as the condition of its manifestation, its objective correlative. Hence the presence of some outward object, predetermined to correspond to the preexisting idea in its living power, is essential to the evolution of its proper end, — the pleasurable emotion.

And, clarifying a bit:

The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an “objective correlative“; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.

In other words, a concrete object that evokes an emotion. An object that correlates to an emotion. Simply put, a symbol. Though, notably, Eliot doesn’t restrict it to objects. He includes “a chain of events”: plot itself. The conception of a story as the intersection of acute and chronic tension is itself a form of the objective correlative.

Nor is this far off from the Proust’s narrator eating a madeleine that sparks a memory chain that then unfurls over the course of seven novels. We have an emotional attachment to objects because they are attached to our memories.

Perhaps nobody understood that objects are a conduit for human emotion better than (or at least exploited it as much as) Apple cofounder Steve Jobs, who designed his products according to the principle of eliciting maximum emotional appeal. (Could anyone named “Steven Jobs” better reflect this country’s anxieties and values?) Biographer Walter Isaacson describes the process of Jobs, in the 80s, designing one of the first personal computers, which he named, not incidentally, after his daughter:

Jobs kept insisting that the machine should look friendly. As a result, it evolved to resemble a human face. With the disk drive built in below the screen, the unit was taller and narrower than most computers, suggesting a head. The recess near the base evoked a gentle chin, and Jobs narrowed the strip of plastic at the top so that it avoided the Neanderthal forehead that made the Lisa subtly unattractive. The patent for the design of the Apple case was issued in the name of Steve Jobs as well as Manock and Oyama. “Even though Steve didn’t draw any of the lines, his ideas and inspiration made the design what it is,” Oyama later said. “To be honest, we didn’t know what it meant for a computer to be ‘friendly’ until Steve told us.”

A couple of decades later, Jobs’ aesthetic flourished in a partnership with designer Jony Ives. Part of what helped him get the job?

One of [Jony Ive’s] creations was a pen with a little ball on top that was fun to fiddle with. It helped give the owner a playful emotional connection to the pen.

And, designing the iMac in the early 00s, we see how the team worked for a design that assuaged the anxieties users associated with technology:

Topping off the design was the handle nestled into the iMac. It was more playful and semiotic than it was functional. This was a desktop computer; not many people were really going to carry it around. But as Ive later explained:

Back then, people weren’t comfortable with technology. If you’re scared of something, then you won’t touch it. I could see my mum being scared to touch it. So I thought, if there’s this handle on it, it makes a relationship possible. It’s approachable. It’s intuitive. It gives you permission to touch. It gives a sense of its deference to you. Unfortunately, manufacturing a recessed handle costs a lot of money. At the old Apple, I would have lost the argument. What was really great about Steve is that he saw it and said, “That’s cool!” I didn’t explain all the thinking, but he intuitively got it. He just knew that it was part of the iMac’s friendliness and playfulness.

The company’s logo, that Edenic apple with a bite taken out of it, is itself another objective correlative. The emotions originally correlated with it surround the myth of original sin, with the whole implication that woman is the downfall of man, and the basic human inability to resist the temptation to become better than we are: we lust after the knowledge that will destroy us. Now that this object has been appropriated by capital-A apple, a whole new set of meanings is attached. There is the irony, for one thing, of a company trying to sell as many products as possible by pushing the idea that their products will make you unique, individualize you, emphasize the “I” while at the same time obfuscating that’s what they’re doing by making it lowercase: iMac, iPod, iPad, but iWatch got too creepy so they had to make that “Apple Watch.” (Who could resist the cleverness of the catch phrase “It’s time!”?) The fact is their products do exactly the opposite of what their creators claim they will. How is buying an iPod supposed to differentiate you from the hundreds of millions of others who have them? Via seven different colors and five sizes? But we buy, or bite, right into it. A more appropriate strategy might have been to highlight the sameness their products induced by spinning those products as common points of connection. But Steve Jobs knew better than anyone else that we are self-interested at heart. He knew that really, no one thinks different, and that’s exactly what his “Think Different” campaign played on.

My first fiction teacher Justin Cronin taught the concept of the objective correlative through the “bloody potato,” an object that figures significantly in the climax of Anton Chekhov’s story “The Murder.” Yakov gets in an altercation with his cousin Matvey while Matvey is eating some potatoes, and Yakov’s wife, intervening, smashes Matvey on the head with the bottle of oil Matvey was using on his potatoes, killing him. What disturbs Yakov the most is how Matvey’s blood pools around a potato on the ground. This shows both Yakov’s avoidance of looking directly at what he’s done, but the bloody potato isn’t just looking away from the gore of Matvey’s smashed skull, it’s representative of how trivial the cause of his death was. That potato is the reason he died. Extrapolating the larger reason he died, how the potato is the reason he died, we get that Yakov was upset Matvey was using oil on his potatoes during what was supposed to be a period of fasting. The two have had an ongoing clash of religious ideals, and Matvey’s oiling his potatoes was the straw that pushed Yakov over the edge. The bloody potato, then, represents the ridiculousness of murdering someone in cold blood for supposedly religious reasons.

Sandra Cisneros replaces the Edenic apple with a new objective correlative in her poem “Original Sin,” in which she describes shaving her armpits with a disposable razor as she’s flying home to visit relatives in Mexico. This, like Apple’s marketing strategy, begins with the implications of the original original sin. Instead of a bitten apple, hairy armpits now represent the modern woman’s shame.

Other bloody potatoes? The cathedral in Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral.” A glove on the snow in Marcie Hershmann’s “The Guillotine.” Once you start looking, you’ll find them everywhere…


“Cathedral” Write Up by Magdalena Hill


The story “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver is, to me, extremely compelling because of the narrator’s personality, and he is a character who is not named. This narrator carries the plot of the story because his skeptical attitude towards Robert, the blind man, and this makes his motives in the story, though they seem small, very significant. The narrator has, if you will, a “single story” of blind people. He believes that blind people should look and act a certain way, but meeting Robert contradicts that. His dialogue throughout the story is very piteous towards Robert, and can, at times seem very sarcastic. His character is of course dynamic, because by the end of the story he has a whole new outlook on exactly what it means to see. This story defines both seeing and looking. According to Carver’s writing, you can simply look at something, but it takes a much deeper understanding to be able to see it. This is evident with the relationship between Robert and the narrator’s wife. Even though he cannot see her, he understands her more deeply than the narrator does.

I don’t know how many people notice it, but before every action in the story there is a mention of a drink. At the beginning of the story, when the narrator is telling the story of his wife he notes that before she passed out in the tub she had flushed down the pills with gin. The narrator drinks as his wife brings Robert home, and the three characters drink throughout the story. This, added with the marijuana use, creates a very dreamy tone of the piece. I also think the alcohol is a safety blanket for the narrator since he is the one drinking during the majority of the story. He drinks whenever he is stressed, and at times his drinking affects his behavior.

Even though I find the character of the narrator interesting, I do not feel very sympathetic for him. In plain terms, he’s a bad husband. Whenever he is listening to the tapes, he calls the conversation he hears at the beginning, “harmless chitchat.” This “chitchat” is actually conversation that he lacks in his marriage. Throughout the story he seems to not really respect his wife, but sees her as more of an object. He says that he has read her poetry but doesn’t like it, or at least doesn’t understand it. It’s kind of ironic, but the narrator pities Robert since he has never physically seen his wife, Beulah, but in reality, the narrator has never seen his own wife. And I think that once he draws the cathedral with his eyes closed he finally realizes what it actually means to “see.” A part of the story that made me very angry at the character was the part when he is talking to Robert and he notices his wife’s thigh exposed. He covers it with her robe, but after realizing that Robert is blind, flips the robe open again. I find this extremely disrespectful because he is kind of saying [through his actions] that he does not feel like Robert is actually there.

Bear with me, but it is obvious that the narrator has a lot of “single stories” on a variety of different subjects. The most evident one is of course, blindness. He thinks that since Robert cannot see, he is above him. Throughout the story he remarks on certain things Robert says and does with pity. Since he doesn’t know what it is like in a world with no sight, he judges Robert, also probably because Robert was very good friends with his wife. The narrator probably feels subconsciously that Robert presents a threat, but he is also engulfed in the idea that since he can see and Robert cannot, that he has the upper hand with his wife and in life in general. By the end of the story he learns that he has taken his sight for granted.

What I love about Carver’s writing style and this piece specifically is that he writes with such a realistic feel. Now I know a lot of writers do that, but with this piece of writing, the setting and plot is just so simple, but all together it makes an incredibly entertaining story. It’s just the story about meeting a blind man and drawing a cathedral, but the details and message behind it and in between all are just so fascinating. My stories tend to be very elaborate and beyond the realm of reality, and so in my writing I would like to mimic the concept of simple storylines, but with a bigger idea behind it.

I think one of the biggest questions in this piece is what the cathedral represents. I did some research because this topic was kind of bothering me a lot, and what I found was actually very surprising. According to Carver, he never intended for the cathedral to mean anything. It is just a hard thing to describe and a good thing to have someone fail at describing. The whole purpose of the object, whatever it might be, is it make the narrator realize that he can’t “see.” A cathedral is perfect for this role, because they are incredibly complicated. But if you want to think in metaphorical terms, the cathedral can be seen as life itself. The narrator is having a hard time to describe life, even though he can see it. This shows how that character lacks the “seeing” ability that Robert has.

The two topics I highlighted were characterization/character tone or voice and images. I also highlighted actions of drinking in the story, because I see it as a constant action throughout the piece. For characterization, I highlighted things that described the narrator’s personality. Since this is a narrative piece, I also highlighted a lot of his thoughts, and the tone they gave off. By this I mean little sentences that lack detail that, in my eyes, came off as either sarcastic or pitiful. I also paid attention to images, and while a lot of things in this story are images, I highlighted specific things that appeal to the eye. For example, drawing the cathedral or the narrator’s wife making dinner. I think both topics really contribute to making the story memorable.