“Prey” Write Up by Gabriel Werline

Summary:

“Prey” by Richard Matheson begins with our protagonist Amelia coming home after buying a birthday present for her boyfriend Arthur. The present is a Zuni fetish doll that is said to have the spirit of a deadly Zuni hunter trapped inside it, whose soul can only be released when the chain wound around its body comes off. Amelia calls her mother to tell her she won’t be going to the movies with her because she’s going to be spending the night with Arthur since it’s his birthday.

Her mother hasn’t even heard of Arthur and is mad at Amelia for not spending time with her even though Amelia visits her 2-3 times a week! She decides to give Amelia the silent treatment and is cold to her on the phone; Amelia is submissive to her mother and decides to cancel plans with Arthur once they hang up. Amelia is angry at her mother for controlling her life and goes to take a bath. While she’s gone the Zuni fetish doll falls off the coffee table headfirst and its gold chain slides off its body.

Amelia later returns to the living room after getting ready for her bath; by now it has gotten dark and she’s turned on the lamps. She calls Arthur to tell him that she cannot spend his birthday with him. Arthur is disappointed yet understanding of how Amelia’s mother controls her life and hangs up quietly while apologizing to her.

Amelia goes to put the doll back in its box and plans to return it to the store tomorrow since it would make no sense to give it to Arthur now. Only instead of the doll being where she left it all there is is the gold chain lying on the floor next to the coffee table.

She begins to search under the couch for the doll and gets pricked in the finger; under her fingernail is the spearhead of the Zuni doll. She searches under the couch for the rest of the Zuni doll but it’s not there. So she moves the couch but all she finds is the rest of its spear; she figures the doll must have moved when she moved the couch. She hears noises behind her and in the kitchen, she checks the kitchen; everything’s normal except that the small knife from the knife rack is missing. She sees movement out of the corner of her eye in the living room and goes to inspect it. The lamp goes out from across the room and now its dark; she sees rapid movement near the floor, then the glint of a knife and suddenly stabbing in her calves.

She tries to run to the bathroom but the throw rug underneath her slips and despite her efforts, she falls onto the floor and sees something quickly move towards her; it starts cutting her legs. She lurches her body upwards and runs into her room slamming the door shut.

She grabs the bedside telephone and thinks of who to call for help; she decides to call Arthur but before she can dial his number the door swings open and she sees something near the floor run at the bed. She pulls her legs up onto the bed and can feel it climb up the sheets; she doesn’t believe it could possibly really be the Zuni doll doing all of this until she sees its face pop up from the side of the bed.

She realizes that the doll is alive and runs to the bathroom and slams the door shut making sure to lock it. Right as she shuts it, she feels the doll banging and scratching at the door, eventually, it stops and is eerily quiet.

She cleans up her wounds and inspects herself in the mirror but the Zuni doll has learned to pick the lock. When the door is unlocked and the dolls run in she beats it with the towel and bursts down to hall trying to make it back to her room but her ankle goes out and she hits the floor; she can see the Zuni doll running at her from down the hall so she scrambles backwards into a bedroom closet. It slices her foot open so she starts to throw all her clothes on top of it and buries it in a mound of clothes.

She uses the time she has while it’s trapped to hobble to the front door and escape but the lock’s jammed and she cants open it; she screams and bangs for help, to no avail. She hears the doll escape and runs around the bedroom so she lurches herself into the living room and tries to call for help but her fingers are trembling too much to dial someone. The doll charges her from the hallway so she starts throwing stuff at it but can’t hit it and its soon jabbing her in the legs. She runs away and knocks over living room furniture to buy her some time. She rushes into the closet in the hallway and slams it shut, it stabs her in the toe from under the door.

She backs away from the door but keeps her hand firmly on the doorknob; she’s mortified when she feels it’s turning the door open against her own strength.

Her head bumps into a suitcase and she gets the idea of trapping it inside the case. She swings the door open with all her might and the doll flies into the wall; she grabs the suitcase from the top of the closet and unclasps it holding it like an open book in front of the closet doorway, it regains composure and charges inside the closet, running straight into the case. Amelia locks it inside and runs off to budge the door with an icepick. When she makes it back to the front door she sees the Zuni doll trying to saw its way out of the case with its knife. She tries to take the knife, but it twists it and yanks it downwards, slicing her thumb deep. Amelia’s urgency to unlock the door grows but the icepick snaps when she tries to push the bolt back in. She’s trapped with no escape. Just as she gets the idea to hurl the suitcase out the window and watch it tumble down the side of her high rise apartment it’s already wiggling its head and shoulders out of the case. Defeated again Amelia tries to run into the kitchen but cuts her foot on a piece of broken crockery and falls on her side. The Zuni doll is leaping on top of her and she kicks it off, running into the kitchen she slams the door shut but somethings keeping it from closing all the way; its arm is stuck in the door. With all her strength she pulls down on the door and hears the satisfying crack and splintering off its arm detach from its body. She throws the knife in the sink and lets go of the door; the doll slammed the door open, pushing her and rushing inside. She started attacking it but it wasn’t attacking her it was trying to climb into the sink; it needed its weapon. In this moment of vulnerability, she turned the gas on in the broiler and grabbed the doll which began to kick and twist. She hurled it in the broiler and slammed the door shut; it slammed against the door like a wild animal and she braced her knees and pressed her back against it to keep it from getting out; silent screaming filled her mind. By the time it was over and the kitchen smelled of burnt wood and the banging stopped she stopped leaning against the broiler and got up. But she had to know if she had gotten it or not, so she opened the broiler door and saw a black charred frame run at her; her mind was filled with screaming again only this time it was the scream of a successful hunt. She became possessed by the doll, she dialed her mother and apologized for her behavior asking her to come over and they could spend time together; her mother agreed to come over. She hung up and walked into the kitchen, grabbing the longest carving knife, then to the front door and unlocking the bolt with ease. She took off her bathrobe and danced a dance of hunting, of the joy of hunting, of the joy of the impending kill. Then she sat cross-legged in the corner, waiting for her prey to arrive.

Characterization

Something I appreciated about this story was how Richard Matheson added all the characterization at the beginning of the story so we could understand each of the characters and their motives. Whenever Amelia would do something I wasn’t thinking what? Amelia wouldn’t act like that. But well Amelia’s submissive and she allows people like her mother to control her and her life so it’s no surprise she would do something like that. Matheson defined Amelia and revealed just enough about other characters early on so that when we read the rest of the story we could understand their motives, that is except for the Zuni doll who doesn’t need much more characterization other than a possessed dolls whos one motive is to kill. Here’s an example of Matheson’s characterization of Amelia and her mother through dialogue:

“Haven’t you left yet?” her mother asked. Amelia steeled herself. “Mom, I know it’s Friday night—” she started.  She couldn’t finish. There was silence on the line. Amelia closed her eyes. Mom, please, she thought. She swallowed.

The snippet “Amelia steeled herself” shows that Amelia isn’t one to disobey or go against what her mother would like; her mother expects her to have already left by now but Amelia has different plans, so she must summon up her courage to tell her mother that she can’t attend. But Amelia doesn’t have enough courage to stand up to her mother and she couldn’t even finish her first sentence. “Mom, please” shows Amelia wanting her mother to not resort to her guilt tripping or manipulative tactics of making Amelia feel bad for not doing what her mother wanted. What we can take from this piece of conversation is Amelia is submissive when it comes to her mother and possibly other people.

We can also get to understand Amelia’s mother, how when Amelia disobeyed or disappoints her instead of talking about it like a normal adult with a child she gives her the silent treatment. This shows us that Amelia’s mother is possibly manipulative and most likely still controlling some aspects of her daughter’s life. The rest of the conversation is just the same pattern of Amelia trying to tell her mother what she wants but her mother continuing to be silent and cold back. Now let’s talk about the Arthur and his characterization through dialogue.

She sat on the sofa and placed the telephone on her lap. For several minutes, she stared at it. At last, with a heavy sigh, she lifted the receiver and dialed a number.  ‘‘Arthur?’’ she said when he answered.  “Yes?” Amelia knew the tone—pleasant but suspecting. She couldn’t speak.  “Your mother,” Arthur finally said.  That cold, heavy sinking in her stomach. “It’s our night together,” she explained. “Every Friday—” She stopped and waited. Arthur didn’t speak. “I’ve mentioned it before,” she said.  “I know you’ve mentioned it,” he said.  Amelia rubbed at her temple.  “She’s still running your life, isn’t she?” he said.  Amelia tensed. “I just don’t want to hurt her feelings anymore,” she said. “My moving out was hard enough on her.”  “I don’t want to hurt her feelings either,” Arthur said. “But how many birthdays a year do I have? We planned on this.”  “I know.” She felt her stomach muscles tightening again.  ‘‘Are you really going to let her do this to you?” Arthur asked. “One Friday night out of the whole year?” Amelia closed her eyes. Her lips moved soundlessly. I just can’t hurt her feelings anymore, she thought. She swallowed. “She’s my mother,” she said.  “Very well,” he said. ‘‘I’m sorry. I was looking forward to it, but—” He paused. “I’m sorry,” he said. He hung up quietly.

Matheson didn’t put much detail into Arthur’s characters since this is his only scene and he’s a minor character, but he’s important for the story to continue. Yet the conversation with Arthur shows us what type of person Arthur is and it also solidifies our image of Amelia. What we the reader gather from this conversation is that Arthur is understanding of Amelia, allowing her mom to run her life, yet he’s disappointed that Amelia cant stand up and say no. So what we gather is Arthur is a caring and understanding individual who knows about Amelia’s life.

Here’s what the conversation shows about Amelia, It shows that she truly cares about Arthur by the way she talks about his voice, and again it shows Amelia not being brave enough to disappoint Arthur and tell him that she won’t be attending his birthday party.

Conflict or action

I felt like this was a key factor that made the story so great, the amount of detail and sensory words in the action just makes these scenes so tense and vivid.

She saw it then—a rapid movement near the floor. There was a glint of metal, instantly, a stabbing pain in her right calf. Amelia gasped. She kicked out blindly. Pain again. She felt warm blood running down her skin. She turned and lunged into the hall. The throw rug slipped beneath her and she fell against the wall, hot pain lancing through her right ankle. She clutched at the wall to keep from falling, then went sprawling on her side. She thrashed around with a sob of fear.  More movement, dark on dark. Pain in her left calf, then her right again. Amelia cried out. Something brushed along her thigh. She scrabbled back, then lurched up blindly, almost falling again.

Here’s just one piece of the practically 6 pages of action and here’s why it’s all great.

In this paragraph, it does not tell us clearly what is attacking Amelia at all; it’s telling it from her perspective, what she is seeing, and what she is experiencing, this makes it easier for us to slip in Amelia’s shoes which is something you want your readers to do.

If instead, he said in the beginning of the story when Amelia still didn’t know what was attacking her, “The zuni doll began stabbing her in the legs” that would automatically lose the suspense from

She saw it then—a rapid movement near the floor. There was a glint of metal, instantly, a stabbing pain in her right calf. Amelia gasped.

This first-person view adds much more intensity because we can put ourselves in her shoes.

A second thing that’s so great about the action is how fast everything happens. Matheson won’t mind dwelling on details but when it comes to action it’s rapid and as you read it feels like it’s going down in real time.

My favorite snippet from this paragraph is “pain lanced up her leg.” I mean could you not have a better way to say that there was simply pain in her leg? Matheson will occasionally throw in a great line like this in every paragraph or two and it just puts such clear and distinct image of what’s happening in the story in your brain.

The detail combined with the fast-paced Action is just such a perfect combination.

She turned and lunged into the hall. The throw rug slipped beneath her and she fell against the wall, hot pain lancing through her right ankle. She clutched at the wall to keep from falling, then went sprawling on her side.

This is so short but a lot of stuff just happened and he used some amazing word choices, like clutch, sprawling, and lunging.

So in summary with the action, its fast-paced feel makes it intense and the great descriptive words put clear images in your mind.

Something I’m going to start putting in my writing is trying to make the action have detailed and description incorporated in it without it bogging down the intensity and making sure it can flow. I will also try to characterize the protagonist at the beginning so people can understand the motives to his actions.

Discussion questions.

  1. Do you think the doll being able to possess you at the end was just a cop-out?
  2. What was something you wish they expanded on in the story or something you would have done differently if you wrote it?
  3. What experience did this story have on you? Did you like it? Why or why not? Did it affect the way you wrote at all?

 

 

 

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One Hundred Years of Solitude Write Up by Laura Mercado

Summary:

In the opening of Gabriel García Márquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Soiltude, Colonel Aureliano Buendia flashes back to his hometown of Macondo, in a point in time where the world is so new that pointing at things was more effective than naming them, since most thing in this world did not yet have names. March comes along, and with it a family of ragged gypsies displaying their new inventions. The first time Buendia saw them, the gypsies had brought along a magnet. Its magnetism attracted objects such as pots and pans and long-lost trinkets, astounding the people of the village. The main gypsy, named Melquiades, explains the magnet’s properties through its ability to awaken the souls of the objects it calls. Buendia decides to use this invention as a way of scouting for gold, as he believes the magnet will call the gold towards him and quickly make him rich. Melquiades warns against this, saying that the magnet will not work for that, but Buendia racist attitudes shine through when he choses to ignore the gypsies because he believes them incapable of telling the truth. Despite the gypsy’s resistance, he trades a mule and two goats for two magnetized rods, which he then uses to explore the land. He comes out of the adventure exhausted and having attracted only a medieval armor with a skeleton inside. The only recognizable aspect of the skeleton is a locket containing a woman’s lock of hair.

The gypsies return again next year, and with them bring “a telescope and a magnifying glass the size of a drum.” Melquiades sells the telescope as a marvel of science, a tool that eliminates distance, adding the claim that soon enough, it will be so advanced that man will be able to see anywhere in the world without leaving his own house. They advertise the magnifying glass by burning a pile of hay. Buendia sees the burning hay and uses his wife’s, Ursula’s, reserve of money to purchase it, leaving her devastated and his family broke. In his attempt to turn the magnifying glass into a weapon, he ends up burning himself, leaving his body as only a series of sores.

A long time passed before Buendia completed his plans of using the magnifying glass as a weapon of war. He finally sends a manuscript to the government via an unfortunate messenger who nearly perishes on the way. Buendia proceeded to await the government’s answer, dreaming about how he would be in charge of training the army once his method was approved.

Buendia finally gave up, after years of receiving no answer, and complained to the gypsy. Melquiades, being a decent person, gives Buendia a full refund for the magnifying glass, along with some “Portuguese maps and several instruments of navigation,” as well as detailed notes on how to use said instruments. Buendia proceeds to “spend the long months of the rainy season” shut in a room and watching stars, forgetting everything around him to such an extreme that he “almost contracts sunstroke.” His end goal is to master the use of the navigation instruments. Having fully abandoned his family obligations, his wife and children practically break their backs working. One day, Buendia breaks out of his feverish obsession with one realization-

“The earth is round, like an orange.”

Analysis:

Colonel Jose Aureliano Buendia… oh, so much to say.

Let’s begin with his name.

Three characters go named in this excerpt from One Hundred Years of Solitude–Colonel Aureliano Buendia, Ursula, and Melquiades. While we only see Ursula named once (the rest of the time she is referred to as “the wife”), the same as with Melquiades (the rest of the time he is referred to as “the gypsy” and accompanied by a derogative description), we are showered with Colonel Jose Aureliano Buendia’s full name every single time he is mentioned. Which makes for a grand total of eight times in this short section. Albeit annoying to read, Marquez’s use of the name leaves no room for misinterpretation of his piece’s main character. The constant use of Buendia’s name illustrates his narcissistic personality right off the bat and cues us in on the piece being written from the point of view of an unreliable narrator, as no sane person would refer to Buendia’ full name every time he is being described. We can safely assume, therefore, that the information presented to us is in the form seen by Jose Aureliano Buendia, the only person who’d refer to himself this way. This style of presenting information opens the heavenly doors to an ultimate “show don’t tell,” as there is no better way to get to know someone than to see the world through their eyes.

Let’s explore the world through Buendia’s eyes.

Not only does Buendia view himself as superior to all others to the point where his full name should be constantly brought up, but there are hints that he sees himself as racially, if not culturally superior, as well. From the beginning of the piece, the gypsies are introduced with a clear distinction to what Buendia perceives to be a dignified man. Lines such as

A heavy gypsy with an untamed beard and sparrow hands, who introduced himself as Melquíades…

presents Buendia’s opening views on gypsies and this concept of the “other.” Plenty of lines sprinkled through the whole of the piece sing along to the same tune:

…the gypsy proclaimed with a harsh accent…

There is absolutely nothing wrong with having an accent, but the point made by the focusing on such as thing in this piece is that this man is not on the same level, whether it be socially or intellectually, as Buendia. Accents imply the idea of an outsider, further distancing the imperfections and humanity of the gypsy with the perfection and ultimacy that Buendia sees himself as being.

Additional support to this includes the line

…the gypsy then gave him a convincing proof of his honesty…

as unlike Buendia, whose honesty has not been questioned in the piece, we both begin and end Buendia’s maddening adventure with the questioning of Melquiades’, the gypsy’s, honesty. This cements in the difference in status Buendia sees Melquiades as compared to himself, beautifully defining Buendia as an egotistical racist without making such interactions obvious, as they are woven in beautifully with the plot. The characterization of Buendia as a racist, or at the very least classist, feels almost as natural as breathing.

If we hate him, why do we keep on reading (other than it was assigned)?

While Buendia represents some of the worst/ most annoying traits possible in humanity, he also presents some we cannot help but seeing in ourselves. Buendia goes through a number of inventions, looking for a get rich quick scheme, to no avail. While his family works themselves to death in the earth’s fertile soil, Buendia works his body to death (a slight exaggeration; he almost works himself to contracting sunstroke) as he stares into the sky. As people, we default to spending our prime time (defined as anything from all of your twenties to the weekend where you could be studying but end up reading for fun/ Netflix-ing/ sleeping) daydreaming or procrastinating rather than doing painful work which, as a fellow human, I completely relate to. Buendia is just like us in the way that he possesses hopes and dreams for his future. Hopefully, he is not like us the fact that he’s an irresponsible and borderline abusive human being (to his own family, nevertheless), but we all relate to his sense of wanting something better, something more.

Which leads us to…

Buendia’s greed for more leads to mounds of pain placed on others, such as his unnamed children, but in the spirit of Colonel Aureliano Buendia’s narcissism and the fact that he would only care about his own personal pain, let’s go into detail about that.

After the failure of the magnetic rods, Buendia finds a suit of medieval armor with a skeleton wearing a locket with a lock of some woman’s hair inside. This could represent that relationships and meaningful interactions with people are the only thing that matter in the end, since nothing is recognizable from this person apart from his relationship with the beloved whose hair that belonged to. Funnily enough, Buendia’s greed for more alienates himself from his wife, seemingly the only potentially meaningful human interaction/relationship he has. In searching for gold, he finds the truth of what his future would be, an object I would argue is just as valuable as the metal.

To summarize Buendia’s characterization, as well as the theme throughout the complete novel of One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez’s lesson on the condition of humanity is that people are horrible.

Discussion Questions:

  • From the way humanity was presented in this short story, do you agree with Marquez’s view on humanity? Was there a glimmer of hope for something better hidden in this piece?
  • Do you view the presentation of Buendia as timeless? Will there ever be a time when people will no longer be able to recognize Buendia’s character as well-rounded? Basically, is this a timeless or dated piece? Could it ever become dated?
  • What did you think of Buendia’s character? Loved him? Hated him? Pitied him? Related to him?
  • Why do you think Marquez chose a magnet, telescope, and magnifying glass for this piece?
  • What was your favorite relationship/interaction in this piece? Why? Did it seem like something that could take place in the real world, or could it only happen in the genre of “magical realism”?
  • Any questions? Comments? Concerns? Opinions? …theories?

 

White Fang Write Up by Miguel Hugetz

In the opening section of Jack London’s novel White Fang, two men, Bill and Henry, are traveling across the arctic on sleds to deliver the body of a rich foreign nobleman to a military fort. As they move across the region, they realize that they are being tracked by a pack of starving wolves who have not eaten anything in days. As they make camp, their sled dogs begin to panic. As Bill feeds the dogs, he realizes that there are more dogs to feed then there should be, and tells Henry that he thinks a wolf snuck in to feed with them. They discuss the fact that such a wolf cannot be entirely normal, and must be some sort of wolf-dog hybrid. They go to sleep for the night and wake to find one of the original dogs, Fatty, has gone missing. They summarize that he must have been led away and devoured by the wolf pack. The men continue on their way and once they make camp for the second time Bill smashes the intruding wolf-dog on the head and scares it off. After a night’s rest they awake to find another dog, Frog, gone and eaten. After another day of sledding, Bill creates a stronger leash to hold the dogs. They encounter the wolf-dog again, a small female who they recognize has probably led the sled dogs to their dooms. When they wake up in the morning, Bill learns that One Eye, the lead sled dog, has chewed one of his peers, Spanker, loose. They continue on until the sled gets overturned and One Eye is drawn away by the She-Wolf. Bill goes after them and slams into the rest of the pack; Henry hears One Eye’s death and Bill running out of bullets. He moves on until he finally makes camp for the final time, and loses the rest of his dogs. After a prolonged battle with the wolves, he is rescued by men who have come to pick up the deceased nobleman.

Analysis:    

One technique I tracked during this story was how Jack London characterized the setting itself. The Arctic is described as a malevolent entity that causes only grief and pain for those inside it. During the opening page Jack London writes that

The land itself was a desolation, lifeless, without movement, so lone and cold that the spirit of it was not even that of sadness. There was a hint in it of laughter, but of a laughter more terrible than any sadness — a laughter that was mirthless as the smile of the Sphinx, a laughter cold as the frost and partaking of the grimness of infallibility. It was the masterful and incommunicable wisdom of eternity laughing at the futility of life and the effort of life. It was the Wild, the savage, frozen-hearted Northland Wild.

Another notable example of this personification is how he describes the Arctic’s relationship with living things:

Life is an offence to it, for life is movement; and the Wild aims always to destroy movement.

Because this is how the story starts, we get a clear image of the setting and how the characters of the story are likely to interact with it. The Arctic is an active force within the context of the piece and our protagonists view it as such, as seen after the death of Frog:

Henry leaped out of the blankets and to the dogs. He counted them with care, and then joined his partner in cursing the powers of the Wild that had robbed them of another dog.

The other thing I paid attention to was how the story’s main “villains” are represented. The wolves make their presence felt throughout the opening of White Fang. As they stalk our protagonists through the narrative, Jack London paints a clear picture of their miserable state. Of their initial cries, he says:

It might have been a lost soul wailing, had it not been invested with a certain sad fierceness and hungry eagerness.

The wolves are characterized and given personified elements by both the “narrator” and the story’s two unlucky sled men, Bill and Henry. Throughout their encounters with the wolves we hear their thoughts and tirades on the hunters. This is where a bulk of our description on the pack comes from. Bill says

Well, them wolves is land sharks. They know their business better’n we do, an’ they ain’t a-holdin’ our trail this way for their health. They’re goin’ to get us. They’re sure goin’ to get us, Henry.

This line of dialogue conveys a few things to the reader. The first thing is a further understanding of our main characters’ relationship with the predators: Bill views them as cunning monsters that know both the land and how to obtain their food. But because the narrative offers no conflicting information, we assume his conclusions are true and add more info about the wolves to our minds. The narrator is not a passive voice in White Fang; at one point, it corrects our characters assumptions about the color of the She-Wolf:

“Kind of strange color for a wolf,” was Bill’s criticism. “never seen a red wolf before. Looks almost cinnamon to me.”

The animal was certainly not cinnamon-colored. Its coat was the true wolf-coat. The dominant color was gray, and yet there was to it a faint reddish hue — a hue that was baffling, that appeared and disappeared, that was more like an illusion of the vision, now gray, distinctly gray, and again giving hints and glints of a vague redness of color not classifiable in terms of ordinary experience.

This creates an interesting dynamic between the narrator and characters. The narrator is the dominant member that has the final word on truth and falsities. Yet still the characters are important in delivering the theme and ideas of the story to the reader, and through their dialogue the plot flows.

A few things I’d like to implement into my own work are both the incredible dialogue and vivid descriptions of setting. The dialogue works both to effectively characterize and develop the two men, move forward the plot, and give us valuable exposition and backstory.

Discussion Questions:

  1.    What do you think ultimately makes Bill snap and head off into the woods to confront the wolf pack?
  2.    Why do you think Henry gives up near the end of the story?
  3.    What would you have done in that situation?

“In Another Country” Write Up by Ty Gates

Ernest Hemingway’s “In Another Country” is hard to summarize. An unnamed first-person character tells a few stories about his time in Milan, and the people he met who were all recovering from wounds they sustained in battle. First, he tells about the city, and the various ways to get to the hospital. The doctor tells him his treatment is working, and he’ll be able to play football again, thanks to “the machines.” He tells about the different people he meets, such as the Major whose hand is wounded. He befriends three other men, a lawyer, a painter, and a career soldier, as well as another who wore a scarf to cover his face because he lost it in the war. After talking about medals, however, he falls out of the group. After that, he befriends the Major who had already been introduced. The major teaches him proper Italian. During conversation the Major, whose name is Signor Maggiore, asks him if he was married. The narrator says he isn’t but wants to be, and Maggiore tells him not to marry, because a man should never put himself in a position to lose. Maggiore yells at the narrator, then apologizes and tells him he just lost his wife.

The chronic tension is the loss these men have experienced.

The acute tension is either the machines, and the medical treatment in general.

I thought what made the story interesting was the characterization and the use of symbolism. I think the only character that was named was Maggiore, and his name was only used a few times. I think it’s interesting how Hemmingway characterizes characters without ever giving them names. The names are unimportant to the story, so they’re left out. All you need to know is the character. That’s something I want to try in my own writing. The major, I think, is the most characterized character in the story. More so even than the narrator.

I would argue that Maggiore is the central character of the story. Even though the story is told by a first-person narrator, and much of the time in the story is spent away from Maggiore, the climactic moment incites a more noticeable change in him, and not the narrator. The character of the narrator is a tool that Hemmingway uses to tell the story of Maggiore. I want to try that in my writing and see how it works out.

The use of symbolism is also very important to the piece. The machines, especially, interest me. The machines are established as new ways of healing wounds, and the men are the guinea pigs in that. But the machines, I think, are symbols of the ways men handled the mental repercussions of the war. Take the man who lost his nose, for example. The doctors reconstruct a nose for him, but they can never get it right. I think this reflects how many men came home from war, and assimilated back into civilian life, but they were never quite able to rid themselves of what happened. With the concluding image of Maggiore sitting among the machines, not using any of them and staring at the wall, with the questionable promises of the doctors behind him, we see a character recede into himself. Maggiore rejects the change the doctors promise him, and that’s the change he undergoes in the story. At the beginning he’s skeptical, but goes anyway. At the end, he doesn’t even acknowledge the machines.

Questions

What did you make of the hawk metaphor?

What do you think of the decision leave the characters unnamed?

Why do you think the three/four others were included in the story? What’s their function?

“The Falling Girl” Write Up by Val Yero

Techniques tracked:

  • Vivid Imagery
  • Surreal and Fantastical Imagery

In “The Falling Girl” by Dino Buzzati, a nineteen-year-old girl named Marta looks over the railing of her terrace. All the grand and luxurious residents of her city overwhelm her. They drive expensive cars, sport costly jewelry, and wear pricey clothes. The buildings are all adorned with intricate patterns and Marta yearns for a lavish life. Marta leans over the balcony and lets herself fall. As she descends, she has multiple conversations with people. She sees some people having a party, and she wishes to attend. Girls falling from their terraces isn’t abnormal, it’s actually why the apartments have such a high rent. Marta notices another girl falling faster than she is and she gets jealous because the girl is dressed in expensive clothing, while her clothes are boring and dry. Marta realizes that she will not make it in time to the ball. In a room on the twenty-eighth floor, a wife tells her husband that a woman has just fallen, and he asks who it is. She says that it’s an old woman, and he is disappointed because only old women fall from the low floors, while the young, pretty ones fall from the higher ones, which is why the apartments cost so much to stay in them. He says that the only real advantage is that you get to hear the thud when the old women hit the ground.

The two techniques that I’ve tracked are vivid imagery and surreal and fantastical imagery. The first one is already prominent by the second paragraph:

The skyscraper was silver, supreme and fortunate in that most beautiful and pure evening, as here and there the wind stirred a few fine filaments of cloud against an absolutely incredible blue background… Within it were powerful men, and women who were even more powerful, furs and violins, cars glossy as and they constituted an interesting diversion for the tenants; this was also the reason why the price of those apartments was very high, the neon signs of nightclubs, the entrance halls of darkened mansions, fountains, diamonds, old silent gardens, parties, desires, affairs…

The vivid and intense description goes on through the whole story, and you can easily picture the setting of the story because a lot of detail is given to you very clearly. There’s a lot of sensory detail (mostly sight, but touch and hearing as well) that helps the reader visualize what’s happening in the story. It’s very jam-packed and elaborate, reflecting the society that Marta lives in.

The surreal component of the story adds a lot to the entire theme. In our world, if anyone falls from their roof, it’s a big deal. There’s an investigation, and the person gets medical attention, if they even survive. But here, it’s a regular instance. in fact, it’s a pastime for the wealthy renters of the apartments on the higher floors of the apartment complex:

…and they constituted an interesting diversion for the tenants; this was also the reason why the price of those apartments was very high.

Buzzati uses surreal elements to add to the overall weird feeling of the whole story. The bizarre idea of having multiple conversations while falling from a terrace makes the story feel like something that came straight out of a dream.

Some things that I’d like to implement in my own work is to write things that are not always “logical.” The author’s use of narrative time in the story works well. Marta falling would take about 25 seconds, and the majority of the story plays out between Marta falling from the balcony, and continues with her descending from the terrace.

I’d also like to be careful with my use of adjectives. Sometimes, I find myself looking through the thesaurus for every single word. This story does it well, though, because the use of elongated and elegant words shows how rich the wealthy people of Marta’s community are, and how different she is from them.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do the residents of the apartments enjoy watching the women fall from their balconies?
  2. Can the story be related to any aspect of real life?
  3. What will happen once Marta and the other girls hit the ground?

“Everything That Rises Must Converge” Write Up by Leni Negron

Summary

Flannery O’Connor’s “Everything That Rises Must Converge” is about a woman and her son Julian. They take a trip to the YMCA because the old woman has to take a class to lower her blood pressure. Julian is dramatically depressed about having to go with her because he really dislikes her and doesn’t seem to care about her at all. They have to take the bus. The old lady and some other bus passengers make some racist comments and a black man gets on the bus. Julian wants to make some point about how he is on the side of the black man to make his mother upset but instead embarrasses himself. Julian daydreams about how to terrorize his racist mother with black people, like making her use a black doctor and marrying a black girl. A black woman and her very young son get on the bus. The old woman seems to enjoy the son even though his mother doesn’t ever want them to interact. When they are all about to get off the bus at the same stop, the old woman looks for a nickel to give the young boy, which Julian knows is a bad idea. He tries to stop her but she offers the boy a penny and the boy’s mother hits the old woman with her pocketbook. Julian begins to yell at the old woman about how times are changing and she can’t do things like be patronizing or racist as she tries to walk home. Then the old woman begins to lose it, asking for her old black nanny Caroline, and Julian freaks out and tries to do something but can’t, so the old woman dies.

Chronic tension: Racial tension/the old woman being racist
Acute tension: Julian and his mother have to make this journey to the YMCA

Analysis

Racism was a really big part in this story. It turns the reader against the mother when she first says black people were “were better off when they were” slaves. We realize that she is not simply an old woman with high blood pressure and an ugly hat. She then continues to be racist on the bus, getting other people to be racist with her, with comments like “I don’t know how we’ve let it get in this fix” about racial integration. She’s only racist towards adults, as she seems to enjoy the young boy who sits next to her on the bus, until the end when the mother gets fed up with her patronizing tone. Except the last person she calls out to is Caroline, her black nurse from her childhood, which was interesting.

Julian is not racist on the same levels that she is, but he definitely is a little racist. He thinks of black people as a way to exact revenge on his mother, using them almost as a tool to ruin his mother’s life, like describing bringing home a black woman or only finding his mother a black doctor if she was in the hospital. While he acknowledges things about these people, that they are accomplished and intelligent and dimensional, he still only thinks of them as a way to raise his mother’s blood pressure, which almost makes him no better than his mother in the end. But he does seem to realize, at the end of the story, that things are changing and that “the whole colored race which will no longer take your condescending pennies.”

There is a theme of “do you know yourself” which is really heavy at the beginning and comes back again in the end. This really highlights the generational differences between the two, and is brought up again at the end. The mother really believes that she knows herself.

“I most certainly do know who I am,” she said, “and if you don’t know who you are, I’m ashamed of you.”

Julian is so sure of himself throughout the story, and is so sure that he is different from his mother, claiming

…in spite of growing up dominated by a small mind, he had ended up with a large one; in spite of all her foolish views, he was free of prejudice and unafraid to face facts. Most miraculous of all, instead of being blinded by love for her as she was for him, he had cut himself emotionally free of her and could see her with complete objectivity.

However, when she is dying he freaks out and is calling for help and panicking, showing that he is obviously not emotionally free from her.

He spends the whole story attempting to contrast from her and using generational difference to point out how they are separate. I think three aspects of this story are working really closely together. Racism and generational differences intersect a lot, along with the idea of knowing oneself. Julian attributes his mother’s racism to growing up in a different time period and ultimately being closed-minded.

The third person omniscient, close to Julian, was super effective in this story. It gives the reader insight into the mind of one of the characters. The parentheses that we get, like when he says

…he had turned out so well-good looking (her teeth had gone unfilled so that his could be straightened), intelligent (he realized he was too intelligent to be a success), and with a future ahead of him (there was of course no future ahead of him).

are all coming from Julian’s internal voice. I also like the idea of Julian not being as different as he credits himself to be from his mother.

The introduction of an overarching question, do you know who you are, which kind of sandwiched this story was really good in creating a strong sense of the two characters. It was emphasized through a number of of ways, like the generational gap and the theme of racism. These three things, the racism, generational gap, and the question, all work together and play each other up throughout the entire story which was also really nice.

Questions

  • Do you think Julian’s depression was caused by his mother or by something else?
  • We would like to think that Julian is so adverse to his mother because of her racist beliefs, but do you think that is truly what makes him hate her?
  • What is converging in this story?
  • Did the mother truly know herself? Did Julian?

“The Red Fox Fur Coat” Write Up by Evan Sherer

Summary:

So “The Red Fox Fur Coat” by Teolinda Gersão starts off with a bank clerk (I’m gonna call her Sheila for the rest of this presentation because I like that more than “the bank clerk”) making her way home one day after work. She walks by a furrier’s shop and is immediately entranced with a red fox fur coat. But the shop is closed, so she eagerly waits until the next morning to try it on. The saleswoman remarks that the coat could have been made for Sheila. Unfortunately, the price is five times what she can afford, but the saleswoman says that she can spread out the payments. She quickly decides to work over the holidays so she can buy the coat.

From then on, Sheila would visit the shop at night and look at the coat through the window. She knew it would look good on her, but she didn’t really care about that. She felt a sense of “harmony” with the coat, a deep connection that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. She also noticed something strange happening–she was suddenly more agile and energized. All of her senses were heightened. She became interested in nature and started studying animal encyclopedias, and thinks a lot about the word ‘predator.’ She also got hungrier; not for her favorite things like cheese and coffee, but for fruits.

Then, Sheila gets invited to a party. Now, this is really exciting for her. She paints her nails scarlet, and notices that her nails are growing. Her smile is “feline;” her face, triangular. At the party she goes after the roast beef, devouring it with just her mouth, and maniacally laughs and dances. The next morning, she finally buys the coat, and can barely contain her inner fox as she drives to the forest. Once she gets there, she takes off on all fours, shaking her tail and howling for joy.

The acute tension in this story is when Sheila spots the fur coat in the window. The chronic tension is the suppression of Sheila’s inner-fox.

Compelling, Interesting Elements of the Story:

I think that the transformation of Sheila from woman to fox is by far the most gravitating part of the story, just because of how essential it is to the plot and the increasing severity of her transformation. In the beginning, her metamorphosis is subtle:

It was as if the rhythm of her breathing had changed, had grown calmer and deeper. She realized too, perhaps because she no longer felt tired, that she moved more quickly, that she could walk effortlessly now, at twice her usual speed.

These are things that anyone can go through. But near the end of the story, she’s basically a fox in a human’s body:

Ah, she thought, the taste of almost raw meat, the action of sinking her teeth into it, of making the blood spurt, the taste of blood on her tongue, in her mouth, the innocence of devouring the whole slice, and she took another slice, already sensing that using her hand was now a pointless waste of time.

The author sets our expectations low, and then blows them out of the water by the end.

Something else that I found myself invested in were the clear thoughts that Sheila had where it was evident she was knowledgeable of the changes she was going through. For example:

Everything about her was lighter, quicker; her back, shoulders, and limbs all moved more easily.

It must be all the keep-fit I’ve been doing, she thought, because for some reason she had started taking regular exercise.

Here, we see Sheila’s ability to look at her own evolving in a more objective way–she recognizes the fact that something is a little off. But, again, just like with her physical transformation, her opinions grow in magnitude:

She burst out laughing and began to dance, waving her bloodstained hands in the air, feeling her own blood rise, as if some tempestuous inner force had been unleashed, a malign force that she could transmit to others, a plague or a curse, but this idea was nevertheless sweet, quiet, almost joyful, she felt.

I think these rare, conscious thoughts are important because they humanize Sheila; she can at least make judgments and form opinions about the changes she is going through. Humanizing the main character in this story is particularly important to up the transition of human to animal. The close third person POV also lets us watch the transformation from the inside. Watching her emotions and temptations surge gives the story more weight.

Things to Imitate in Your Own Writing:

I think the biggest thing we can take away from this story is how the author uses imagery to heighten the transformation and enforce the close 3rd POV. There is so much warm, fiery red imagery throughout the entire piece, and it doesn’t just come in descriptions of the fur coat. She eats red apples and grapes. She paints her nails with scarlet nail polish before she goes to the party. The roast beef stains her hands with blood. These subtle details make the story more vivid and thorough. There are also images that only Sheila imagines, such as when she thinks about how her senses are keener and she notices

…a lizard scurrying through the leaves, an invisible mouse making a twig crack, an acorn falling, a bird landing on a bush.

These small descriptions plant the reader further into Sheila’s world and make her metamorphosis all the more sensory.

I also think it’s interesting that there is only one important character in this story, since the saleswoman just facilitates the plot basically. We have an entire story about the transformation of one character, with nobody else inhibiting her progress (unless you count the saleswoman). The conflict in the story is completely man vs. self. Teolinda Gersão reminds us that that is enough. This naturally made the story feel allegorical. It is easy to take off the devices of storytelling here; at the heart of the story, man goes through a journey of transformation to become one with nature. Focusing on one character can make it easier to draw meaning.

Questions:

  1. What do you think the fur coat represents, if anything?
  2. Did you want more characters or bigger obstacles for Sheila to overcome to get the coat?
  3. How did this story leave you feeling? How is this feeling different than how stories with more action/characters/conflict/exposition leave you?