“Miriam” Write Up by Connor Butler

In the short story, “Miriam,” by Truman Capote, Mrs. H.T Miller is a widow living alone in her apartment. She lives by a strict daily schedule and one day she decides she wants to see a picture at a movie theater. While she is standing in line, she encounters a little girl, who immediately draws her curiosity. The little girl sees Mrs. Miller and asks her to buy tickets for her so she can see a movie. Mrs. Miller feels obligated to buy her a ticket, even though she knows that it is probably not the right thing to do. Later on, Mrs. Miller is visited by the girl, even though she has no idea where Mrs. Miller lives. Mrs. Miller is disturbed by Miriam, and how invasive she is. Miriam goes on to essentially steal Mrs. Miller’s cameo, and insists on staying in Mrs. Miller’s home until she makes her something to eat. As she is leaving, she takes a vase of paper roses, and throws it to the ground, shattering it. The next day, Mrs. Miller goes out because it is a nice spring day. She notices how separate she is from the other passersby, but brushes this off. She encounters an old, presumably poor, deformed man, who takes notice of her too, and begins to follow her. He does this for several blocks until Mrs. Miller enters a florist and subsequently begins her shopping spree. While shopping, she coincidentally buys everything Miriam asked her for when she visited the other day. On her return home, the day has gotten dark and it has started snowing. She enters her home and is immediately greeted by knocking, it’s pretty obvious who is knocking, and she tells her to go away. She sits several minutes through her buzzer, and believes Miriam to be gone. She opens the door to check, and encounters Miriam with a large box holding a doll. Out of curiosity, she lets her in, and is immediately stricken by panic when Miriam mentions how she is going to move in with her, and how she used to live with the disfigured old man. She runs to her downstairs neighbors, one of which comforts her, and another who takes a look upstairs to tell Miriam to get out of her apartment. Upon her neighbor’s return from her apartment, she is informed that there was nobody in there, and that there was no box and no doll. She is awe-stricken, and heads back upstairs to her apartment. She closes her eyes and has some sort of breakdown, where she hears the bureau doors opening and closing, the ruffle of a silk dress, and whispers. She finally opens her eyes to Miriam, who stares at her and says hello.

When I read Miriam for the first time, I was struck by how compelling the story was, and how it drew me in as a reader. I think the primary reason that the story was so riveting, had to do with Capote’s use of both characterization and ambiguity.

Capote does a stellar job of creating characters in “Miriam.” He begins the story by describing the character of Mrs. Miller. We can immediately picture this woman as someone very structured and predictable in her habits.

Mrs. H. T. Miller lived alone in a pleasant apartment…

Her interests were narrow, she had no friends to speak of, and she rarely journeyed farther than the corner grocery.

Her activities were seldom spontaneous; she kept the two rooms immaculate, smoked an occasional cigarette, prepared her own meals, and tended a canary.

With this description, the reader associates Mr. Miller with a sense of normality and sanity. We know that she does the same things each day, and it is when she deviates from her ordinary routine that she meets Miriam and the events occur that cause her to unravel and descend into madness.

Capote juxtaposes the normalness of Mrs. Miller with the strangeness of Miriam.

Her hair was the longest and strangest Mrs. Miller had ever seen: absolutely silver-white, like an albino’s.

…..the truly distinctive feature was not her hair, but her eyes; they were hazel, steady, lacking any childlike quality whatsoever and because of their size, seemed to consume her small face.

Capote’s description of Miriam lets the reader know she is creepy, and the creepiness is compelling: as readers we are drawn to her and want to read more to find out what she will do next, just like Ms. Miller is drawn to Miriam in the beginning of the story and feels excited and changed by her presence.

Each time Miriam appears in the story her words and actions become bolder and also more mysterious. The description of Miriam appearing in the late night outside of Mrs. Miller’s apartment and keeping her finger on the button until Mrs. Miller answers the door, paints her as an intrusive character that is intended to disrupt Mr. Miller’s life. The more demands that Miriam makes, the weaker and more frazzled Mrs. Miller becomes.

Consider this exchange between Mrs. Miller and Miriam on p. 4 of the story:

Miriam glanced up and in her eyes was a look that was not ordinary.   She was standing by the bureau, a jewel case opened before her. For a minute she studied Mrs. Miller, forcing their eyes to meet, and she smiled. “There’s nothing good here”, she said. “But I like this.” Her hand held a cameo brooch. “It’s charming”.

“Suppose—perhaps you better put it back”, said Mrs. Miller, feeling suddenly the need of some support.”

“But it’s beautiful and I want it,” said Miriam. “Give it to me.”

As she stood, striving to shape a sentence that would somehow save the brooch, it came to Mrs. Miller there was no one to whom she might turn; she was alone; a fact that had not been among her thoughts for a long time. Its sheer emphasis was stunning. But here in her own room in the hushed show city were evidences she could not ignore, or she knew with startling clarity, resist.

By reading the dialogue between the characters and the descriptions Capote gives of Mrs. Miller’s thoughts, the reader can tell that Mrs. Miller is unravelling and wants to keep reading to find out where the story will go.

With each encounter between Mrs. Miller and Miriam Capote’s characterization of Mrs. Miller becomes weaker and more desperate, while Miriam becomes stronger and more willful. The reader is then able to realize that Ms. Miller is sinking into madness, driven there by Miriam, and this is what drives the plot line of the story and makes it so interesting.

Intertwined with Capote’s use of characterization is his good use of ambiguity.

There are many things that are ambiguous in this story. Miriam herself is an ambiguous character. Who is she? She has the same name as Mrs. Miller, yet she has no last name and seems to come out of nowhere. This indicates that she could be Mrs. Miller’s Doppelganger—perhaps Mrs. Miller herself as a child. The reader could infer that this might be the case from the old-fashioned clothes that Miriam wears and the fact that she has never been to a movie. She also could be a delusion of Mrs. Miller’s, indicating that Mrs. Miller, in spite of her normalcy, is descending into schizophrenia. Her appearance changes Mrs. Miller’s personality and leads her to do things she would not normally do, such as going on a shopping spree and buying things that Miriam wants, such as white roses and sweets. No one else can see Miriam, so it is ambiguous whether she is a figment of Mrs. Miller’s imagination. Miriam demands entrance into Mrs. Miller’s life (incessantly ringing the doorbell, demanding her cameo, trying to move in with her), much like a delusion would move into a person’s mind and threaten to take over sane thought.

It is also ambiguous whether Miriam actually symbolizes death. Capote says in the first paragraph of the story that, “on her last birthday she was sixty-one.” Does Capote mean this in the past tense, and that Mrs. Miller had passed her last birthday of her life, or does he simply mean that she was sixty one years old at the time of the story? It is ambiguous. More indication that Miriam could be death, is the mysterious, shabby old man that Mrs. Miller sees on the street. As readers we are uncertain of his identity. Only that he appears, and at one point tip his cap to her in some form of recognition. Later on Miriam tells her that she used to live with an old man, who was terribly poor. Was the old man the same one that Mrs. Miller sees on the street? Could it be that Miriam is death and she was with the old man until he died and then moved on to Mrs. Miller? The tip of the hat could be recognition that she would be the next to die. Miriam being death would also explain why the neighbors cannot see her, because we do not actually witness death until it is our time to die. Miriam’s persistence in intruding on Mrs. Miller’s life also indicates that she might represent death because when death comes, it cannot be resisted, and it often does come in the night, just as Miriam did. The end of the story is ambiguous because it says:

The room was losing shape; it was dark and getting darker and there was nothing to be done about it; she could not lift her hand to light a lamp.

Do these words indicate that Mrs. Miller has died? When she feels an upward surge, “like a diver emerging from some deeper, greener depth,” does this mean that she has died and her soul is moving on? At the very end of the story, Capote says that Mrs. Miller lost only her identity to Miriam, and even though it seems that she finds herself again briefly, the last lines in the story tell that Mrs. Miller opens her eyes to see Miriam staring at her. The ambiguity of the ending leaves the reader to draw their own conclusion at the end, and is what makes the story memorable.

There are several things I can take away from Capote’s technique and use in my own writing. The first would be to carefully build the characters through both description and actions. I like the way Capote juxtaposed the very normal character of Mrs. Miller with the peculiar character of Miriam to create a story with subtle suspense. I also learned that the use of ambiguity can be very effective in drawing the interest of the reader and making them want to keep reading. Lastly, the use of ambiguity makes an impression on the reader and makes the story one that the reader will want to read and re-read to come up with different interpretations of its meaning.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is Mrs. Miller delusional? Who is Miriam? What does she represent?
  2. What happens after the story ends?
  3. What is the significance of them sharing names?

 

 

 

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“Orientation” Write Up by Evan Sherer

“Orientation” by Daniel Orozco is a monologue of the speaker introducing the office environment to a new employee. It begins with the speaker briefly explaining to the the new employee how he should handle his work. The rest of the monologue consists of the speaker taking the newbie on a tour of the office, elaborating on the company’s policies, informing the speaker of office protocol, and giving extremely detailed backgrounds of the new employee’s fellow co-workers.

The personal struggles of the co-workers become increasingly bizarre as the tour goes on. First, we are introduced to John LaFountaine, who gets his kicks by harmlessly marauding into the women’s restroom. The speaker also gives a complex overview of the overlapping love triangles that seem to engross most of the employees. There is not a single pairing of employees that have feelings for each other.

So far, the employees have pretty ordinary struggles and desires. With the introduction of Anika Bloom, things get darker. Anika has supernatural episodes in which she prophesied the death of Barry Hacker’s wife, as well as the once-innocent newbie Colin Heavey; consequently, her social life is nonexistent in the office.

The employees’ backgrounds become even more absurd. Barry Hacker steals from the refrigerator to cope with his grief of his late wife, who passed in an incredibly tragic, drawn-out, painful manner. In fact, the entire office is haunted by the spirit of Barry Hacker’s wife. Finally, Kevin Howard, arguably the most ridiculous character to be working in a normal office. He’s a serial killer, and all the employees know it. Nobody cares though. He’s the fastest typist, after all.

The speaker interjects descriptions about office procedures and employee benefits.The tour ends with the speaker and new employee marvelling at the magnificent view they have on the seventeenth floor. The chronic tension is the tragic fate of the newbie, and the acute is the cementing of the fate the cubicle job subjects the new employee to.

Two of the elements of “Orientation” that I think make the story compelling are the apathy that the speaker shows towards the employees and the futility of the characters, the absence of happiness or purpose from their lives.

First, apathy. The indifference the speaker shows towards the employees makes the story both hilarious and disturbing. It parodies the lack of camaraderie among the employee and employer in the modern workplace. Orozco exemplifies that the workforce is driven solely by the necessity of money, and in no way are personal relationships relevant to an employer. A boss’s primary job is to keep things going. The people that he oversees are like the gears in a machine that crank out his paycheck. In “Orientation,” the speaker is blind to the many tragedies of his employees. His in-depth descriptions of the employees are only to warn the new employee of entanglements that may interfere with his work, to ensure the efficiency of the workplace. Otherwise, he may have to be let go. Satire! The absurdity of the descriptions take the comedy to a darker level, to a point where the characters’ lives are so messed up it’s difficult to relate to them.

Next, the futility of the employees. I touched on this while going over apathy, but Orozco does an amazing job of producing false senses of hope. Just about every character has his quirks, but once the speaker finishes describing them, you realize that the employees have zero hope, no direction in life, nothing worth pursuing in the time they have left on Earth. Each character’s lack of purpose is because of different reasons, but they all share the same pointlessness. If a character loves someone, the person they love either hates them or barely acknowledges their existence. If someone appears happy externally, they are a mess internally. Others simply have had their lives ruined by a particular event. In the end of the piece, the newbie is presented with what the joy and hope in life they will lose forever, by gazing out the office’s window.

Two of the many things you could possibly take away from “Orientation” and use in your own writing are the structure and tone.

Nothing happens in “Orientation” besides some supervisor dude talking about the employees, explaining how to pay for coffee, and looking out the window with the newbie. Nevertheless, the story still has a beginning, middle and end, increases in tension and has some sort of climax. Orozco doesn’t flesh out a sequence of events, he paints a picture. With every bit of information the speaker reveals, the tension increases, the tension being the tragedy that awaits the newbie. The beginning, middle and end are made up of stages, each sequential stage with progressively messed up characters juxtaposed with progressively vanilla office protocol. And the climax of looking out the window. The coming to terms with the future. So, in our own writing, we just need to realize that as long as a character is getting into a troubling and more troubling situation in the understanding of the reader, and we take a step back somehow to comprehend the scope of the situation, we can have a story.

The way tone functions in the story is another thing we can learn from. It sort of reads like a how-to story. The tone is prescriptive regarding how to interact with the employees and the utilities of the office, but descriptive in presenting the backgrounds of the employees. The tone also serves to characterize the speaker, showing his flippancy, knowledge, and detachment. What we need to know is that tone should have at least function, but it can make a story better on multiple levels, such as characterization, making the message more powerful, and efficiency of words.

  1. How does the juxtaposition of ordinary office orientation and the absurdity of the characters give the story more punch?
  2. Why does Orozco repeat the phrase “or you may be let go”?
  3. How does Orozco tie in supernatural aspects? Do these work for you?

 

 

“The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” Write Up by Joanna Zhou

“The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” by Ursula Le Guin is about a mystical town called Omelas, functioning as an almost Utopia. Like a fairytale kingdom, there are seasonal festivals, parades with streamer-strung horses and boys and girls that march in happy processions. Omelas is free of a clergy, free of an army, and most of all, free of hate. Omelas has craftsmen, yet it also has grand schools and grand libraries, a thriving appreciation for the arts, and a sense of camaraderie amongst its citizens. Like the inhabitants of Omelas, the weather is fair and hospitable. Sunny days with the sky peeking through wisps of clouds shaped like cotton candy. Omelas is paradise except for one dire aspect: in a small, dark, and decrepit closet, there lives a small child. He has been malnourished and mistreated since birth. All he knows is loneliness and misery, for there is no one who can truly relate to the weak child–the dumb one. His best memories are mild discomfort, and his worst a constant suffering.

No one in Omelas has suffered more than this child.

For some inexplicable reason, his existence is necessary, tied intrinsically with his misery. The good of Omelas cannot exist without his suffering, and this is the seeming paradox of Omelas. When the citizens of Omelas are young, they are taken to see the boy. Many are repulsed. They experience emotional conflict, confused as to how they can live in such luxury and happiness whilst the boy lives in filth and his own excrement. A vast majority eventually grow to accept this boy’s existence, how the stability of their society rests on the knowledge of this one child in the closet who must live unhappy. However, there are some that cannot bear it. They are the ones who walk away from Omelas.

The structure of this story flickers between two types: vivid depictions of scenes in the town with dense yet easy to read imagery; and an almost moralistic description of the nature of happiness and sorrow in writing, told from the point of view of the speaker. The two intertwine occasionally when Le Guin connects the Utopian setting to the state of how happiness is stigmatized in literature. At times she addresses the audience directly, such as in “Joyous! How is one to tell about joy? How describe the citizens of Omelas?”

Similarly, the story also varies in its scope, first focusing on the big picture description of the town then closing in on individual scenes as such: the tableau of the boy with the flute, which can be compared to the boy in the closet. Le Guin pans from place to place then goes from macro to micro–the macro of the town and its festivities, the microcosm of the boy in his den of filth.

Regarding characterization, Le Guin characterizes the people of Omelas as cheerful folk. They love music and good food. They are prone to spirituality (though of no denomination and clerical hierarchy) and revel in the joy of life. Each man and woman treats the next like his or her own neighbor. Neighbor and family member become blurred in Omelas, for everyone is happy and shares in his happiness with the others.

At least, this is how it first seems. Le Guin then transitions to the narrative of the child. Here, she never directly criticizes Omelas’s people, but she still intends for them to be judged by the audience for their lack of action. Where the people of the festival (and even the orgy) are happy and described in association with bright colors, every word relating to the boy is negative in connotation. Through no fault of his own, the boy must live with words such as “fear, malnutrition, and neglect,” with “frightened” and “disgusted,” with “grease,” “naked,” and “festered sores.” Even the audience cannot help but be disgusted by the boy in his forced filth.

The setting of Omelas is absolutely central to the plot. Omelas the town drives Omelas the story. Like one reads the tale of one main character, the entire city is the protagonist. As we walk along its streets the plot unravels. The descriptions of the town is open, unlike the boy’s closet, which is closed, both physically and closed off to the rest of the society. Having the boy in such a small space yet still in a building representative of humanity shows how the boy lives in the society yet exists outside of it (much like the ones who have walked away).

The heart of my presentation rests in the discussion questions and what others have to say and how this piece resonates in their own writing. Without further ado:

  1. The author defends happiness to be as poignant as sorrow. Do you agree with this? How does this apply to your own writing?
  2. Why is tragedy so much more prevalent than happiness and laughter in literature? Why are people drawn to stories of conflict when reading is seen as an escape?
  3. In the end, are the ones who have walked away from Omelas justified? A question, do you agree with their actions? A second question, are they really doing right despite their actions having no effect on the boy? Rather, is the boy’s suffering wasted on those who have walked away and who do not partake of the society’s happiness?

Gaiman’s Anthropomorphized Gods

…[Mr. Ibis] was an artist and [] his tales should not be seen as literal constructs but as imaginative recreations, truer than the truth…

Michael Chabon’s blurb on the cover ought to let readers know that popular fantasy writer Neil Gaiman has got literary cred. Gaiman himself says of American Gods, published in 2001 with its television series adaptation dropping next year, that it “feels an awful lot like a first novel” since it was “the first long work I’ve done without any collaborative input from anyone, and that wasn’t first somethinsg else.” The novel begins with its protagonist Shadow near the end of a three-year stint in prison, which he largely endured by having “taught himself coin tricks, and thought a lot about how much he loved his wife,” and by having read a lot of Herodotus thanks to his cellmate, Low Key. Just before Shadow is released, he learns his beloved wife has died in a car wreck (she was so beloved that, plot-wise, she was slated for quick execution). On his way home, Shadow has a dream (dreams will figure heavily throughout):

“Changes are coming,” said the buffalo without moving its lips. “There are certain decisions that will have to be made.”

Firelight flickered from wet cave walls.

“Where am I?” Shadow asked.

“In the earth and under the earth,” said the buffalo man. “You are where the forgotten wait.” His eyes were liquid black marbles, and his voice was a rumble from beneath the world. He smelled like wet cow. “Believe,” said the rumbling voice. “If you are to survive, you must believe.”

“Believe what?” asked Shadow. “What should I believe?” …

“Everything,” roared the buffalo man.

On the plane home, Shadow meets a man who introduces himself as Mr. Wednesday and asks Shadow to work for him; Shadow declines, thinking he has a job lined up with his friend at home. Then Wednesday turns up again at a bar Shadow goes to, repeating the job offer.

In chapter 2, in the same bar, Shadow learns from the newspaper that the friend who was supposed to hire him died in the car wreck with Laura. Shadow flips a coin for show as to whether to take Wednesday’s job offer, but when he tries to beat the flip with a coin trick, he loses (Wednesday: “Rigged games are the easiest ones to beat”). Then Wednesday’s friend Mad Sweeney shows up and tries to teach Shadow a new coin trick, giving him a coin. They all get drunk on “mead” to seal the deal of Shadow’s working for Wednesday, and Shadow and Sweeney get into a drunken fistfight. Shadow wakes up the next morning in a car Wednesday’s driving and watches him trick a gas-station checkout girl.

“What are you, a two-bit con artist?”

Wednesday nodded. “Yes,” he said. “I suppose I am. Among other things.”

Shadow goes to Laura’s funeral, where her best friend comes in and spits on her corpse, then tells him that “[y]our wife died with my husband’s cock in her mouth, Shadow.” At the cemetery, he flips the coin Mad Sweeney gave him down into Laura’s gravesite to be buried with her. On his way back to his motel, he’s abducted by some guys, including “a fat kid,” who want to know what Wednesday’s up to, but Shadow can’t tell them much, so they drop him at his motel.

Back at the motel in chapter 3, Shadow has a dream of “gods who have been forgotten.” A voice tells him:

“Gods die. And when they truly die they are unmourned and unremembered. Ideas are more difficult to kill than people, but they can be killed, in the end.”

When he wakes up his wife Laura is there. She concedes she’s dead and tells him what happened the night she died, but says she still loves him and that she will watch out for him. She also thanks him for the coin, which she’s wearing around her neck. Her kiss confirms to him that she’s really dead.

In chapter 4, Wednesday and Shadow head toward what Wednesday deems “one of the most important places in the entire country,” to “wine and dine” some people he needs to “enlist” in his “current enterprise.” In Chicago, they stay with a family of Russians headed by a man named Czernobog, who tells them how he used to be a “knocker,” sledgehammering cows to death on the slaughterhouse floor, and who seems to want nothing to do with Wednesday’s plans, whatever they are. They play checkers, and Shadow offers a wager that if he wins, Czernobog help Wednesday, and Czernobog agrees on the condition that if he wins, he gets to sledgehammer Shadow in the head like a cow. Shadow loses the first game, but goads him into another, which Shadow wins, so after Czernobog helps Wednesday, he’ll get to sledgehammer Shadow. On the couch that night, Shadow dreams he’s been shot:

I think I just died. He remembered hearing and believing, as a child, that if you died in your dreams, you would die in real life. He did not feel dead. He opened his eyes, experimentally.

One of the Russian sisters, Zorya Polunochnaya, gives him a silver liberty dollar she tells him is the moon.

In chapter 5, the next day, in order to finance his wining and dining, Shadow helps Wednesday rob a bank (which it turns out is the same crime Shadow was doing jail time for in the first place). A snowstorm appears after Wednesday instructs Shadow to create one. Wednesday pretends to be a bank employee taking money from people trying to deposit it in an outdoor slot he’s put an out-of-order sign on, and sets Shadow up at a payphone that he then directs inquiring policemen to call to confirm his story.

“That Sweeney guy said you were a hustler.”

“He was right. But that is the least of what I am. And the least of what I need you for, Shadow.”

They drive to the House on the Rock, a tourist attraction, such attractions being, according to Wednesday, places people erected when “they feel themselves being called to from the transcendent void.” (Wandering around the House Shadow receives a fortune, part of which reads “Like Father, Like Son.”) They meet up with Czernobog, and wander around what increasingly seems like a funhouse, and Shadow is introduced to an old man named Mr. Nancy. They all get on a carousel.

Then the lights went out, and Shadow saw the gods.

In chapter 6, Shadow finds out Wednesday is the god Odin, and they ride their now-mobile carousel mounts to Odin’s Hall, where other gods that Wednesday has convened have met to hear Wednesday’s pitch. He warns them that “[t]here’s a storm coming, and it’s not a storm of our making.” Further,

“When the people came to America they brought us with them. They brought me, and Loki and Thor, Anansi and the Lion-God, Leprechauns and Kobolds and Banshees, Kubera and Frau Holle and Ashtaroth, and they brought you. We rode here in their minds, and we took root. We traveled with the settlers to the new lands across the ocean.”…

“Now, as all of you will have had reason aplenty to discover for yourselves, there are new gods growing in America, clinging to growing knots of belief: gods of credit card and freeway, of Internet and telephone, of radio and hospital and television, gods of plastic and of beeper and of neon. Proud gods, fat and foolish creatures, puffed up with their own newness and importance.

“They are aware of us, and they fear us, and they hate us,” said Odin. “You are fooling yourselves if you believe otherwise. They will destroy us, if they can. It is time for us to band together. It is time for us to act.”

Shadow is then driving some of the gods to a restaurant when he’s knocked out with a gun butt. He’s interrogated by two “spooks” in dark suits who identify themselves as Mister Stone and Mister Wood; they beat him up when they’re not pleased with his answers to their questions about Wednesday. He wakes to Laura shaking him after she’s killed Wood and Stone; per Zorya Polunochnaya’s advice, he asks her what she wants, and she says to be able to live again.

In chapter 7, Shadow flees the boxcar he was being held in through the woods, led to the road by a talking raven who instructs him to go to Kay-Ro. On his drive down to Cairo, Illinois, he picks up a girl named Sam who’s hitchhiking to El Paso, Illinois and who tells him a story about human sacrifice to Odin she heard in her religion class. (“White people have some fucked-up gods, Mister Shadow.”) At his motel that night, Lucille Ball talks to him from the television:

“I’m the idiot box. I’m the TV. I’m the all-seeing eye and the world of the cathode ray. I’m the boob tube. I’m the little shrine the family gathers to adore.”

She wants him to work for her but he decides he prefers Wednesday’s sensibilities. He arrives in Cairo and meets Ibis and Jaquel.

In chapter 8 (which Gaiman has declared his personal favorite), Shadow helps out at Jaquel and Ibis’s funeral parlor, learning they are Egyptian gods. Mr. Ibis tells him he’s been writing stories about “coming to America.” Shadow has a dream of having intensely pleasurable sex with a woman who won’t tell him who she is; when he wakes his bruises from his earlier beatings have vanished. He meets Mad Sweeney under a bridge, who tells him the coin he gave him earlier was the wrong coin, and he needs it back, but Shadow says he can’t get it. Sweeney tells him not to trust Wednesday and asks for money; a while later he turns up frozen to death with a bottle of Jameson. That night they toast him and Mr. Ibis tells the story of how Sweeney came to America thanks to a woman’s belief in him as a leprechaun. Wednesday turns up at the funeral parlor and he and Shadow head north. END PART 1.

In chapter 9, at a Wisconsin diner, Wednesday describes to Shadow two two-man cons, the Fiddle Game and the Bishop Game, before he (Wednesday) picks up the waitress with his indefatigable charm. Shadow intuits that Wednesday used to have a partner. Wednesday gives Shadow ID papers for Mike Ainsel and packs him off on a bus to the small town of Lakeside. On the way, Shadow eavesdrops on two girls’ inane conversation, and when he arrives gets a ride to his apartment from a nice old man named Hinzelmann who tells crazy stories.

In Interlude 1, we see a conversation between the hitchhiker Samantha, whom Shadow gave a ride to earlier, and some authorities interrogating her about him.

In chapter 10, the next day, Shadow tries to walk to town in minus-thirty-degree weather and almost freezes before he’s given a ride by police chief Mulligan, who gets him set up with provisions. At home later, Hinzelmann visits Shadow and gets him to buy tickets for a raffle about when an old klunker will fall through the ice of the frozen lake, then Shadow introduces himself to his neighbor, Marguerite Olson. Wednesday picks him up for a trip to Las Vegas to see someone whose name Shadow cannot retain. Wednesday meets whoever it is and gets them to join the plan. Shadow asks if he can bring Laura back to life, and Wednesday tells Shadow all the charms he knows, among other things:

“Those were the first nine charms I learned. Nine nights I hung on the bare tree, my side pierced with a spear’s point. I swayed and blew in the cold winds and the hot winds, without food, without water, a sacrifice of myself to myself, and the worlds opened to me.”

He tells Shadow he can’t bring Laura back but intimates that if Shadow were to find thunderbirds, they could.

In chapter 11, Shadow officially buys his raffle tickets from Hinzelmann. He goes to the library to look up thunderbirds and winds up buying a book of old town letters with a picture of Hinzelmann’s grandfather in it. Chad Mulligan tells him the story of how Marguerite Olson’s son vanished. He dreams of thunderbirds. They go to San Francisco to meet with a woman who turns out to be the goddess Easter. Wednesday tries and eventually succeeds in convincing her she should help them because she’s as forgotten as the rest of the gods, proving his point by asking their coffee waitress, whom he later tries to stiff but whom Shadow pays, causing Wednesday to go off on a litany of all the bad things she’d ever done. Back in Lakeside, Shadow learns that Alison McGovern, one of the girls from his bus trip in, is missing, and he helps look for her. He runs into the other girl from the bus, who mentions that several other teenagers have disappeared from Lakeside in the past.

In chapter 12, Shadow and Wednesday are driving to South Dakota when they’re diverted by a road block that causes Wednesday to perform a charm that transfers them “backstage,” enabling them to escape. While backstage, Shadow touches some bones that momentarily transfer him into the mind of Mister Town, one of their pursuers from the road block. They visit a guy named Whiskey Jack who lives on an Indian reservation and trade his nephew their Winnebago for his car. Back in Lakeside, police chief Mulligan asks for love advice and Shadow advises him to go for it. He makes more trips with Wednesday to meet with gods and Wednesday seems generally pleased with the progress of his plans. On a walk around Lakeside, Shadow runs into Laura in a graveyard, and she tells him he’s not dead but he doesn’t really seem alive.

In Interlude 2, we see Samantha the hitchhiker further questioned, and in Interlude 3 we see Laura trying to get a job. In chapter 13, Marguerite Olson invites Shadow to a dinner party where he meets her sister, who turns out to be the hitchhiker Samantha. Sam talks him into going to a bar with him to talk about why she’s been questioned, and he tells her the truth about everything that’s been going on:

“Just tell me you’re one of the good guys.”

“I can’t,” said Shadow. “I wish I could. But I’m doing my best.”

They run into Chief Mulligan with his date from out of town–Laura’s former friend Audrey, who freaks when she sees Shadow, forcing Mulligan to take him down to the station. Shadow calls Mr. Ibis at the funeral parlor to try to get ahold of Wednesday. Reading the book of old town record’s while he waits to be officially arrested, Shadow notices that there are old records of several kids going missing. Mulligan arrests him for violating his parole. While he’s waiting for some other jurisdiction to pick him up, his guard falls asleep and on the TV Shadow sees Mister Town and Mister World shoot Wednesday in the head. Shadow’s picked up by a suspicious car that turns out to be Mr. Nancy and Czernobog. END PART 2.    

In chapter 14, Czernobog, Nancy, and Shadow drive South in a VW van procured for them by the King of the Dwarves. At a restaurant they get a call from the opposition offering for them to come get Wednesday’s body, and they meet in a supposedly neutral space, the centermost point of the country, which is an abandoned tourist attraction. They meet Mister Town and a woman who introduces herself as Media:

“Media. I think I have heard of her. Isn’t she the one who killed her children?”

“Different woman,” said Mr. Nancy. “Same deal.”

Shadow sees Wednesday in his dream that night. They have to wait until midnight the next day to collect the body, according to “the rules.” Media tries and fails to seduce Shadow to their side. Shadow meets the opposition’s driver, his old cellmate Low Key, and figure out he’s the god Loki. Shadow says he must have known Wednesday because they’re both Norse pantheon gods, but Loki claims they were never friends. They get the body and Wednesday’s glass eye, and Shadow remembers Wednesday telling him that if he died, Shadow should hold his vigil. To do so, they go to a “world tree” in Virginia, where some women help tie Shadow to it.

In chapter 15, Shadow hangs on the tree, enduring much pain, and is visited by an elephant man who tells him it’s “in the trunk.” After some days a squirrel gives him some water. Laura comes to him and wants to cut him down, but he says he has to do this. Later, his heart stops beating.

In chapter 16, Shadow, dressed now, walks down stone steps and meets Zorya Polunochnaya guarding the gate to the underworld. He gives her the liberty dollar she gave him and has to choose a path–“hard truths” or “fine lies”; he chooses truths, and revisits key points in his life–learning of Laura’s death, the original bank robbery, his mother dying, interrogating his mother about who his father is, his mother dancing at a tavern with a man who turns out to be Wednesday (the night Shadow is conceived). He meets a feline-like woman named Bast (the one he slept with in a dream earlier) and she takes his heart. He gets into a boat piloted by Mr. Ibis. Then Shadow is judged in the Hall of the Dead by Mr. Jacquel, who recounts his crimes (summarized), but they don’t outweigh the feather on the scales they use to judge your crimes against. Shadow accepts the nothingness of death.

In chapter 17, the gods all gather at Rock City, on the top of Lookout Mountain. Laura follows Shadow’s instructions to drink water at a farmhouse near the tree. “The water of time, which comes from the spring of fate, Urd’s Well, is not the water of life”–but it revives her temporarily. Back at Rock City, the newer gods of the opposition gather, including the fat kid. Town drives to the world tree Shadow is hanging from, which Mr. World has instructed him to cut a stick from. After doing so he pokes Shadow with it so Shadow bleeds. A hawk tries to convince Easter, in Rock City, to go help Shadow at the tree. Town keeps getting lost trying to find his way away from the tree, and picks up a hitchhiker–Laura. In Rock City, Mister World explains his plans to the fat kid:

“I’m going to take the stick, and I’m going to throw it over the armies as they come together. As I throw it, it will become a spear. And then, as the spear arcs over the battle, I’m going to shout ‘I dedicate this battle to Odin.’ “

“Huh?” said the fat kid. “Why?”

“Power,” said Mr. World. He scratched his chin. “And food. A combination of the two. You see, the outcome of the battle is unimportant. What matters is the chaos, and the slaughter.”

He then initiates the slaughter by killing the fat kid for having told him too much.

In chapter 18, the old gods debate if it’s time to make their move. Shadow drinks beer with Whiskey Jack, who says he’s a culture hero, not a god, and that it’s not going to be a war, but a bloodbath. Shadow finally sees that the war between the old and new gods is being engineered as Wednesday’s elaborate two-man con. He’s pulled from the underworld as Easter and the hawk-headed man free and revive him. Town thinks he’s in love with Laura; when they get to Rock City, she kills him right before he’s going to deliver the stick. Shadow flies to Rock City on the thunderbird Easter rode in on. Laura takes the stick in and finds Mister World, who turns out to be Loki. She stabs him with the stick as it becomes a spear, and she dedicates his death to Shadow. As Shadow’s entering Rock City, he hears Wednesday’s voice tell him that he, Shadow, was the misdirection in the coin trick. He finds Loki, who’s still alive and has managed to throw the spear. They were playing both sides, creating a massacre in which all deaths would be dedicated to Odin, allowing him to gain a ton of power back through the sacrifice of all the dead gods. Loki dies but Wednesday says they’ll both be brought back, because the game is rigged. Shadow says rigged games are the easiest to beat, and goes out on the battlefield and tells everyone what Odin and Loki were up to and succeeds in convincing them to stop the battle. Afterwards he finds Laura, who was also stabbed by the spear when she stabbed Loki. He take the coin from around her neck and she dies. END PART 3.

In chapter 19, an Epilogue, Shadow and Mr. Nancy drive to Florida and Shadow sings cathartic karaoke at a bar. He dreams of the buffalo-headed man who commends him for making peace and tells him that he, the buffalo man, is the land. Shadow remembers being told it was important to remember “It’s in the trunk” when he was on the tree.

In chapter 20, Shadow returns to Lakeside and goes out on the thin ice of the barely frozen lake to the klunker, where he finds the body of Alison McGovern in the trunk right before the car crashes through the ice (it is the day he picked for the raffle). He almost drowns, but then someone pulls him up. He wakes up in Hinzelmann’s bathtub wondering how Hinzelmann could have gotten him there singlehandedly. He accuses Hinzelmann of killing all those kids and asks why he let him live; Hinzelmann says he owed Wednesday a debt. He gave the town a lake and prosperity in return for one kid a year. Mulligan shows up and overhears, and Hinzelmann throws a fire poker at him, and Mulligan shoots him dead. Shadow remembers when he made snow and channels his energy to eliminate the day’s events from Mulligan’s head. Shadow goes to see Sam the hitchhiker but she’s with a woman so he just leaves her flowers. He then goes to see Czernobog, who merely taps him with the sledgehammer.

In the postscript, Shadow, enjoying his freedom, travels to Reykjavik, where he’s visited by an old man who says he’s Odin. Shadow gives him back his eye via a coin trick. THE END.

Or almost the end. Many of these aforementioned chapters end with a section involving different characters, in which something extreme or unnatural happens; many of these sections read as stand-alone short stories. In chapter 1’s section, “Somewhere in America,” a man has intensely pleasurable sex with a woman whose vagina then swallows him whole.

In chapter 3’s section, “A.D. 813,” a bard on a ship

…sang of Odin, the All-Father, who was sacrificed to himself as bravely and as nobly as others were sacrificed to him. He sang of the nine days that the All-Father hung from the world-tree, his side pierced and dripping from the spear-point’s wound, and he sang them all the things the All-Father had learned in his agony: nine names, and nine runes, and twice-nine charms. When he told them of the spear piercing Odin’s side…

These Northmen sailors in pre-Viking America make human sacrifices to Odin, but then are wiped out by a group they took a sacrifice from. When the Vikings arrive a hundred years later, they find the gods Odin, Tyr, and Thor waiting for them.

In chapter 4’s section, “1721,” Mr. Ibis is writing in his journal about how American history is fictional. He writes about Essie Tregowan, a British woman who loved listening to tales about “piskies” (who are apparently red-haired men) and was sentenced to “transportation” to America for helping rob a family she worked as a maid for, but convinces the ship captain to marry her and take her back to England, where she’s eventually discovered and sentenced to a life term of transportation. In Virginia she tells her children tales of, among others, the piskies, whom she still makes offerings to. “She told them all these things, and they believed, because she believed.” She convinces the man she’s an indentured servant to to marry her and manages the farm well after he dies until one of her sons kills one of her others (his half brother) in a dispute over it. As an old lady she encounters a red-haired man, who proposes to her, and she dies. (We’ll later recognize this piskie as Mad Sweeney the leprechaun.)

In chapter 7’s section, “Somewhere in America” (again), we get the story of Salim, who’s in NYC on a business trip from Oman trying to peddle cheap touristy trinkets from his brother-in-law’s factory. After Salim’s last-ditch effort to entice a big company as a customer, he’s considering hurling himself in front of a cab, but then gets in one instead with a driver who turns out to be a “jinn,” as he sees from the man’s eyes when he accidentally knocks off his sunglasses. They have passionate sex that night and Salim wakes to find the jinn gone, along with his wallet and souvenir trinkets, which the jinn has replaced with his own, and so Salim goes off to assume his identity.

In chapter 11’s section, “Coming to America 1778,” Mr. Ibis writes another story, of twins sold by their uncle. Wututu and Agasu, sold from Africa and wind up in America, are separated as slaves. Agasu dies young; Wututu continues to worship the African gods and becomes renowned for knowing things among her people, and eventually meets her brother’s ghost.

In chapter 12’s section, “Interlude,” we’re told that the war has started though no one knows it, and we see the goddess Bilquis, a half demon who works as a prostitute, killed by a john who picks her up who knows who she is.

In chapter 13’s section, “14,000 BC,” nomads roamed the Northern Plains who worshipped the skull of a mammoth as a god, and who tells them (after they ritualistically eat dried mushrooms) to migrate, but one woman, Atsula, refuses to listen, as she believes gods come from their hearts, but they go anyway, crossing a land bridge to a new land. THE END.

In an interview included after the audiobook, Gaiman states that the book’s structure is simple–a journey, road trip, The Odyssey. He also says the book has two main characters: Shadow, and America. It seems Shadow is the “anthropomorphized personification“ of America’s shadow self, as per Gaiman’s (as per Wikipedia) “trademark use of anthropomorphic personification of various metaphysical entities.” He’s also potentially, ironically, through his acting out of the Norse myth at the apparent age of 33, a Christ-figure. 

Gaiman keeps us turning pages with the question of what exactly the endeavor is that Wednesday has enlisted Shadow’s help with. There are clues pretty quickly (end of chapter 1 quickly) that Wednesday has got mysterious capabilities, and with Laura’s rising from the dead on top of that, we’re pretty intrigued to know how such things could happen. Gaiman also pulls off the reader’s believing in the reality of Laura’s resurrection with the specificity of the physical details–that she’s “still wearing the navy blue suit they had buried her in,” her “odor of rot, of flowers and preservatives,” the fact that she can’t taste her cigarette, that her coin still has “black dirt” on it, her tongue being “cold, and dry, and it tasted of cigarettes and of bile,” the smell of “cigarettes and preservatives” that lingers after she leaves.

Gaiman brings similar detail to bear on the believability of the gods themselves:

He was looking at Mr. Nancy, an old black man with a pencil mustache, in his check sports jacket and his lemon-yellow gloves, riding a carousel lion as it rose and lowered, high in the air; and, at the same time, in the same place, he saw a jeweled spider as high as a horse, its eyes an emerald nebula, strutting, staring down at him; and simultaneously he was looking at an extraordinarily tall man with teak-colored skin and three sets of arms, wearing a flowing ostrich-feather headdress, his face painted with red stripes, riding an irritated golden lion, two of his six hands holding on tightly to the beast’s mane; and he was also seeing a young black boy, dressed in rags, his left foot all swollen and crawling with blackflies; and last of all, and behind all these things, Shadow was looking at a tiny brown spider, hiding under a withered ocher leaf.

This is where we also get to know more about Wednesday’s true identity:

“I told you I would tell you my names. This is what they call me. I am called Glad-of-War, Grim, Raider, and Third. I am One-Eyed. I am called Highest, and True-Guesser. I am Grimnir, and I am the Hooded One. I am All-Father, and I am Gondlir Wand-Bearer. I have as many names as there are winds, as many titles as there are ways to die. My ravens are Huginn and Muninn, Thought and Memory; my wolves are Freki and Geri; my horse is the gallows.”

Curiously, he omits the name Odin. This is trickery, showing us his capacity for deception even here; he’s not putting it up front that that’s who he is just like he’s not putting up from what he’s really enlisting everyone’s “help” for…though Shadow calls him out for being Odin just a moment later.

Another way Gaiman secures the reader’s belief in this wacky concept is by having a protagonist who is in the position of being equally skeptical. This protagonist, too, is convinced by appeals to his senses (and a dream that entreated him to “believe”):

I don’t really believe, Shadow thought. I don’t believe any of this. Maybe I’m still fifteen. Mom’s still alive and I haven’t even met Laura yet. Everything that’s happened so far has been some kind of especially vivid dream. And yet he could not believe that either. All we have to believe with is our senses, the tools we use to perceive the world: our sight, our touch, our memory. If they lie to us, then nothing can be trusted. And even if we do not believe, then still we cannot travel in any other way than the road our senses show us; and we must walk that road to the end.

Gaiman himself admits that rendering the believability of the concept was part of what he enjoyed about the process, having prior experience in that arena:

As I was writing [an old sequence in the Sandman series] I kept expecting the whole suspension-of-disbelief mechanism to collapse, you know, you’re asking people to believe how many impossible things can you believe, and how can you possibly have all these different pantheons around and standing next to each other directly in the same environment? And what I discovered was they worked just fine, if you do them with belief, if you grant them a certain amount of credibility, they will look after you. So when I came to write American Gods, I knew that was gonna work, that was one piece of the equation that I figured would definitely work, because I’d seen it work before and I loved it, I loved the feeling that you get when you get, that moment when they’re all going up the hill, to Rock City, and they’ve all gathered there, the moment, even when you’ve got them all at the House on the Rock, and just the idea that you can have Anancy the African spider god and Odin, and Czernobog, these three grumpy old men-well, Nancy isn’t that grumpy–but it was a delight.  

His real stroke of genius is personifying gods that had not been conceived of in such a sense before, which appropriately comes to its most satisfying fruition in the Rock City climax:

There were car gods there: a powerful, serious-faced contingent, with blood on their black gloves and on their chrome teeth: recipients of human sacrifice on a scale undreamed-of since the Aztecs. Even they looked uncomfortable. Worlds change.

And, as the AV Club review puts it,

Shadow’s solid, believable grounding in the minute trivia of the real world rivals the book’s grounding in the fantastic and arcane world of ancient theologies; those two aspects meet and merge to form a cohesive, compelling whole that approaches Gaiman’s finest work.

Gaiman spent a significant amount of time developing gods not through developing their actual characters, but by offering stories, in the sections at the end of some of the chapters, of the people who had brought the gods over here in the first place. So much time is spent on these sections it seems like they’re setup for something more significant, like, for instance, these particular gods figuring heavily in the final battle at Rock City, or playing some role in Shadow’s getting there, as Easter does. It’s interesting (though perhaps disappointing for a plot-oriented reader) that in the end the work they do seems to be predominantly thematic, with the exception of the story that involves Mad Sweeney, whose coin bringing Laura back to life winds up being the gesture that undoes all of Wednesday’s plans.

Another notable aspect of Gaiman’s is foreshadowing. Coin tricks figure heavily throughout the book. From chapter 7:

“Come on,” said the man in the gold-rimmed spectacles to the dog, “it was only a coin trick. It’s not like he was doing an underwater escape.”

“Not yet,” said the dog. “But he will.”

-SCR

“How To Date A Brown Girl (Black Girl, White Girl, or Halfie)” Write Up by Chaise Jones

Techniques/ Elements Tracked:

  • Second person point of view using “you”
  • Actions of characters to portray stereotypes and social classes
  • Thoughts of narrator that subtly reveal a fact

“How to Date a Brown Girl (Black girl, White Girl, or Halfie)” by Junot Díaz is a how-to manual on dating and creating sexual relations with stereotypical girls. It starts by the narrator convincing his mother to let him stay at home; after being left alone, he hides any signs or evidence that would embarrass him in front of girls. Then after cleaning up, he waits for the girl to show up; depending on where she’s from and what race she is, she may arrive at a different time. This is the beginning of a stereotype-filled piece. Next, they run into a neighborhood bully, in which different types of girls would react to the nuisance. At dinner, the narrator will treat or perform differently based on her ethnicity. They make their way back to his house, where he again has “choices.” The two drink from an old bottle of alcohol. The night will play out different if the girl is white (remember, stereotypically) than if she is a halfie. The narrator, in the end, after the decline or acceptance of sexual relations, is left alone. In the empty house, by himself, ready to put the house back together so his mother will not get mad. All of this is hypothetical.

One thing that initially drew me in when I was looking for a short story was the title, but besides that the second-person point of view. So rarely do we read a narrative like that, it was almost like a simulation. For example,

You have choices. If the girl’s from around the way, take her to El Cibao for dinner. Order everything in your busted-up Spanish.

The use of second-person point of view gives the narrator a peek into the mind of a “common” teenage boy and his thoughts, while also making the reader the teenage boy. These thoughts in the piece may not reflect the beliefs of the audience, which intrigue the reader to read on.

If she’s a whitegirl you know you’ll at least get a hand job.

Lines like this definitely contradict my feelings, and we all know it depends on the actual person. Using a different point of view in fiction can change the whole aspect of the story.

Another element that draws the reader in is the actual actions, or hypothetical actions, of each of the different characters throughout the piece. These actions show the actual stereotypes that are/were presumed to be believed. The narrator doesn’t outright say that a “halfie” is a bit more outgoing, but shows this by their actions, the show don’t tell principle.

In school she is known for her attention-grabbing laugh, as high and far-ranging as a gull, but here she will worry you.

Using actions to convey information about the characters make the writing a bit more to the reader’s experience.

The inner emotion and thoughts of the character also is another technique that made this story so intriguing. The narrator hints at their ethnicity by showing their thoughts and actions.

Don’t tell her that your moms knew right away what it was, that she recognized its smell from the year the United States invaded your island.

And another example,

Hide the pictures of yourself with an Afro.

These sentences give the reader hints about the narrator’s ethnicity, which you think would be mentioned since he is judging all of these girls based on their race.

The author does not scream at us that the narrator himself was a minority race that is always picked on. He left a bunch of little Easter eggs for the reader to pick up on and this does not really distract the reader from the point the author is trying to get across.

Make sure the bathroom is presentable. Put the basket with all the crapped-on toilet paper under the sink. Spray the bucket with Lysol, then close the cabinet.

One thing I would also like to mention about the main character is that like other males, he comes across as confident, but underneath there are some self-esteem problems. And in the end, he was alone anyway. And that he only really wanted physical intimacy and didn’t care for emotional intimacy.

(1) I would like to incorporate this into my future writing, planting little hints that do not stray from the major plot to reveal a little bit more about a character. I feel that it is important to give your reader something to think about in the back of their minds, something that they can connect to the main story and have an OH moment. I have always wanted to use second person, but never really understood the concept. In the piece second person is like a simulator. And it actually is all hypothetical, there is not even an actual date. (2) Another thing I will be using in my future writing, is dropping a subtle subplot to make the readers think and connect the dots. Whenever there is something else to dig up in a story, the reader becomes more interested and it adds another layer of meaning to the piece. (3) Show don’t tell is also always important in writing. (4) One last thing I would like to mention is that adding a bit of race or social class to a story adds a bit to the characterization to the characters and their surroundings. When there is not race mentioned, some people’s brain automatically goes to the default race (normally their own, or the people they grew up around). It is important to add things like this to give the reader a better picture; I will definitely add this to my writing.

Questions:

  1. Though it might be a bit tricky to pick out, what did you interpret as the theme of this piece?
  2. What is the significance of Howie? Was the bully important to the story?
  3. Why would the narrator think to take the date to Wendy’s if they were from out of town? Why not to El Cibao? Do restaurants make different impressions?

“The Doll’s House” Write Up by Zoe Vastakis

Summary

This story begins with the Burnell family receiving a doll house from Mrs. Hay. They left it in the backyard because it smelled so strongly of paint. The house is so tiny and perfect and adorable that the children are able to look over the terrible smell though. They unhook the house, and it opens from the side, so that we are able to get a peek into every room of the house. Not only was everything perfect on the outside, but the inside was intricately detailed and guess what.. Perfect. Shocker. Keiza says that her favorite thing about the house is the tiny little lamp. She thinks the dolls are a little too big for the house, and a little too stiff, but the light is perfect with its little moving oil on the inside. The next day, the Burnell children were so excited to tell everyone about their new house. Isabel is telling the other girls, Kieza and Lottie that she going to be the one to tell everyone about the house, and invite two people to come over to see it. That’s right. I said “see” it, because no other child is allowed to play with the house. By lunchtime all of these girls come around to listen to Isabel talk about her magnificent new doll house. We then learn that the Burnells are classy: the only reason they are going to this school is because it’s the only school around for miles. So their are people of mixed… “social classes” within the school. While the Burnells were the highest class of the story, the Kelvey’s are the lowest. Most kids wouldn’t even speak to them and they turned their noses up at them! (kids are the worst). Their mother was a washerwoman and their father was supposedly in jail, no one really knew. The two Kelvey girls were named Lil and Else. They wore tattered clothing and just looked ratty. Lil never really smiles and Else doesn’t talk, just holds onto Lil’s skirt and uses that almost as a form of communication.

Back to the playground, so the Kelvey girls were also listening in on Isabell talking about her doll house. Isabel tells all of the girls about the house and invites the two girls over. They fawn over her and whatever, and eventually, every person comes over and sees the house but the Kelvey girls. One night over dinner, Kezia asks her mother if she can please have the Kelvey girls over to come look at the house, but her mother says no and that’s the end of it.

The next day Isabell is sitting with two people: Jessie May and Lena Logan, and Miss Lena (the brat) says that she thinks that Lil is going to be a servant when she grows up. Jessie dares Lena to go tell Lil this (even though Lil was the one who sort of propositioned it) and Lena goes up to Lil and tells her “you’re going to be a servant.” Oh, dear old Lil just smiles and acts like it doesn’t affect her, which pisses Lena off until she screams that their daddy is in prison. The Kelvey’s are ashamed and run away. The three girls felt so powerful afterwards. That afternoon, the Burnell children are at home when Kieza sees the Kelvey girls walking her way. She invites them in to see the house, but Lil tells her that she doesn’t want to get in trouble. Else tugs on Lil’s skirt, so they go in to see the house, and they think it’s beautiful. However, Aunt Beryl comes in and screams at the Kelvey girls and leave and talks to them basically like they’re animals. Then she yells at Kieza, and she feels better afterwards, almost powerful. We go to the Kelvey’s house and the two girls are talking, and we end with Else smiling and saying she saw the lamp.

Chronic: this sort of idea of status, and everyone beating each other down to feel better.

Acute: Could be either the scene where Lena goes off on the Kelveys or the Aunt going off on them, more so the aunt though.

What’s Compelling.

I thought the power struggle that is seen throughout the entire piece is what really pulled me in. I also thought it was interesting how we see this idea of class and need for power from adults to children. Aunt Beryl goes off on the Kelveys and Keiza because she had gotten a threatening letter from this man that said he was going to her door if she didn’t meet up with him, and she had wanted to feel powerful. Isabell immediately shows off her power by stating she is the oldest therefore she should be the one who tells people everything. You see the harshness that can come from children when they tease the Kelveys during recess. It’s just these little moments of cruelty I think that are what pulled me in. And that it was a little girl who was able to see passed it all.  Also, this was not only shown through her actions of inviting the girls in, but the fact that her favorite thing in the house is this light bulb. She doesn’t care about its extravagance. The detailed walls and miniature furniture, but the lightbulb. Light = symbol of enlightenment. Not a very elaborate metaphor but whatever. Oh my gosh though, the fact that Elsie said she saw the lamp, as in she saw someone who was able to see passed all of this class BS was such a beautiful ending. It made it an almost semi-happy ending!

I was also intrigued by the differences in the relationships within the Kelveys family and the Burnell’s. The Kelvey girls are close: communicate in public in a way that isn’t verbal. They just get each other, and it’s through these small actions. However, the Burnells, who do talk to each other, are so focused on this whole power struggle going on within their families that they don’t really see past that. None of the other girls understand what Kieza means when she talks about the lamp. They just think it’s cool that there is oil in it, when there is SO MUCH MORE!

Imitation
I loved this non-complex metaphor thing going on. How it was brought up throughout the piece and wasn’t slap you in the face obvious, but also wasn’t so deep you could dig to China and not see it. I also love the idea of the power struggle trickling down from adult to children. Maybe I wouldn’t use the whole power thing, but I just love the idea of the butterfly affect/people who learn from observing the behavior of others. I think that would create a nice tension in any piece.

“Dark They Were, And Golden Eyed” Write Up by Kyra McNally Albers

In “Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed,” by Ray Bradbury, the Bittering family moves to Mars to escape an atom war on Earth. Mr. Bittering is uneasy and reluctant to live here; he says that the place was meant for Martians, not Earth people like them- but this is their safest option. A few days after their arrival to Mars, news comes from Earth that New York has been bombed- no more rockets to Mars. Mr. Bittering is devastated; up until then he had consoled his restlessness toward living on Mars with the o knowledge that he could buy a ticket back to Earth at any time if he wanted to. Later, while he is gardening, he notices that the peach blossoms and vegetables are different somehow, although he cannot quite tell how. Later they find that their grass is turning violet and their cow has grown a third horn. Mr. Bittering is afraid that interacting with this stuff for much longer may result in them changing, too. He resolves to build a rocket himself. In town, he finds that none of the other colonists are upset by the news of the bombing on Earth. Sam hands him a mirror, and he sees that he has developed golden specks in his eyes. He drops the mirror and gets to work on the rocket. A few days later they run out of food from Earth, and he is forced to eat food from their garden. Cora, his wife, invites him to go swimming with her and the children. He reluctantly agrees. While they are swimming, he asks Cora how long her eyes have been yellow, and she replies always, and that the children’s eyes have changed to yellow, which is completely normal for children. His son Tim asks to change his name to Linnl, and they agree without thinking too much about it. Throughout the next week, building the rocket becomes less and less important in Mr. Bittering’s mind. He and his family decide to move up to an old Martian villa for the summer, leaving most of their belongings behind in their settlement. They later decide to come back “next year, or the year after, or the year after that.” A few years later, a rocket comes from Earth to rescue them. They find the colonial villages abandoned, with only tall, dark, golden-eyed Martians living up in their villas. They decide that a plague of some sort must have wiped out the colony. The story ends with the humans naming landmarks after American leaders.

A couple of things I found that made this story compelling, besides its unique plot, were the use of figurative language (of all types) and foreboding.

A family moves to Mars and slowly turns into Martians- a pretty unnerving topic to start out with. But I felt that the element of the story that really topped it off was the figurative language. The author uses figurative language copiously throughout the piece, especially in the beginning. For example, on the first page:

He picked up the luggage in his cold hands. ‘Here we go,’ he said- a man standing on the edge of a sea, ready to wade in and be drowned.

This metaphor gives us a peek at exactly how Mr. Bittering feels about this move- not just his opinion, but the exact sensation he gets when he thinks about living on Mars. We get so much more from this piece of figurative language than we would if the author had simply said “Mr. Bittering was unsettled by the idea of living on Mars.” The same goes for the line:

I feel like a salt crystal,’ he often said, ‘in a mountain stream, being washed away.’

And:

At any moment the Martian air might draw his soul from him, as marrow comes from white bone.

This not only shows figurative language, but foreboding as well; in the end, you could say that the Martian air did draw his soul from him, in the sense that he lost his identity due to the move to Mars. This story is packed with foreboding that you may not pick up on until the second or even third time reading it. One example of this is how the author says things like “sun-browned hand” and “burnt almost black by the sun” throughout the piece. While on the surface it seems like the people are getting extremely sunburned; only later does it become evident that they were actually transforming into dark Martians. Another example is when Mr. and Mrs. Bittering are talking in the canal and she says it’s normal for children’s eyes to change color. Mr. Bittering replies:

“Maybe we’re children, too. At least to Mars.”

This could just seem like an offhand thought at first, but once we know a little more about the plot, we can see that this is true in the sense that Mars is changing them.

These are both things I would like to imitate with my own writing. I find it makes writing more flavorful, and it makes the reader more easily sucked in to the story.

Some questions:

-What lesson, if any, do you think we were meant to learn from this story?

-The Bitterings own a voice clock that sings “Tick tock, seven o’clock” at seven in the morning, just like the clock in “There Will Come Soft Rains,” by the same author. Do you think there is any connection?

-Why do you think Ray Bradbury chose to make Bittering the only defiant character? Why aren’t there other characters who try to resist the change?