“Madame Bovary’s Greyhound” Write Up by Edward Clarke

-Summary-

The story “Madame Bovary’s Greyhound” by Karen Russell concerns itself with the greyhound Djali, and her owner, Emma Bovary. It begins with a scene of the two walking through a frosted forest. Emma is weeping (which is one of her favorite hobbies), and try as she might, Djali cannot get her to cheer up. Emma’s marriage to her wealthy husband, Charles, is the main source of her unhappiness, and though Emma’s downtrodden demeanor often saddens her pet, Djali finds each meeting with her owner utterly wonderful, and draws great happiness from Emma. However, as the months draw on, and Emma still is unresponsive to the poor dog, it too grows unhappy, and finds little meaning in the fantastic world around her. Emma begins to cheat on her husband, and pay even less attention to the dog. Djali becomes unruly, forgets her house training, cowers underneath beds, and has sudden spasms before the fireplace. Then one day, only a few days before the Bovarys move to a new town, Djali escapes into the forest and finds there the boundless freedom of a predator. She learns all the woods should offer but after several weeks becomes tired, and lonesome, and hungry. During a rainfall one day, she leaves the cave in which she has been living and slides down a mud bank into a rocky ravine. Her fall has taken her leg, and she believes she is dying. Back in the home of the Bovarys, Emma’s affair has been ended. As the greyhound is lying in the dirt, a games warden finds her and nourishes her back into health. He gives her his own name, Hubert, and there she lives in happiness for several years, before Hubert and little Hubert have a chance run in with Emma, who no longer recognizes the dog.

-Compelling Elements-

While this story is based off the novel Madame Bovary, I have not read that novel, so I will not take any of that wish-wash into account while analyzing the story, and will operate as if the story is a stand-alone piece of short fiction.

The story itself allows a very compelling arc, presenting the dog Djali at first happy, and entranced with life, and the reader, after these beautiful, gorgeous, passages of the dog’s happiness and contentment, is met slowly with the dog’s sadness and depression as Emma Bovary begins to drift away from her. Then, the reader sees a victory for the already ingratiated dog. However, this leg of the dog’s life has its own even more threatening problems.

The story was also compelling because of the sheer and utter beauty of almost every phrase. The language is stunning from the beginning of the piece to the end, with images like “wild circuses” when discussing fleas, or a “spray of champagne-yellow birds” when talking about startled finches, or “a spill of jeweled rot like boiling cranberries” when describing the putrid rotting head of a decapitated deer carcass. I would feel compelled read this story solely for the language itself, completely regardless of the plot.

-Thievery for my own writing-

This story has a lot of very interesting elements that one could possibly steal for his or her own writing. The most blatant is, of course, the absolutely drop-dead stunning descriptions mentioned in the previous section of this presentation. I think much of the description was interesting not only because it was beautiful but because it was seen through the eyes of a dog, which functioned as a sort of naïve narrator, and allowed much of the surreal imagery to be glossed quietly with a thin believability. The complication of the canine narrator also brought up another hurdle which the story surmounted with ease; a communication black out. The dog is unable to speak or communicate sufficiently with any of the humans in its life, and this forces the story to communicate with Djali some other way. It did this through the massive amount of description in this story, which, in turn, necessitated the beautiful language of the piece to keep the reader interested through paragraph after paragraph of sheer description. Dialogue breaks these blocks very infrequently.

I also thought the comparisons between Djali the greyhound and Emma Bovary were a particularly interesting addition to the story, as they both had many of the same emotions at the same time (sadness, desire to escape, loneliness) but expressed the emotions very differently, and, while this should have been obvious to the reader seeing as how one of the characters is a human woman and the other is a dog, I found it interesting that those differences and similarities were played upon so heavily in the story, and I want to try to use more comparisons similar to the ones found in this piece to help flesh out characters in my own writing.

-Questions-

  1. Was this a happy ending, or a sad ending?
  2. Why did the story end there? Why not earlier, or later?
  3. Did the story stand alone, or do you think more reference to the book would have been helpful?

“2BR02B” Write Up by Kenneth Moreno

The story of “2BR02B” by Kurt Vonnegut begins in a hospital of sorts, not that hospitals are needed all too much anymore considering that humanity has essentially solved death and dying. Diseases have been indefinitely cured, and aging no longer poses a serious threat on us mortals. In this hospital are a few characters, each with some interesting personalities. First to be introduced is Wehling Jr., whose wife is about to giving birth to triplets. Also in the cast is an orderly and a painter, whose character traits somewhat clash with each other.

Wehling seems to be waiting on something, at first we are not sure what. When the orderly arrives, he watches the painter create a mural, one that is immortalizing a staff that is practically immortal already. The mural depicts Dr. Hitz at the center of a glorious garden, one that has been well kept. Around him are figures in purple attire, getting rid of any old and unnecessary plants in the area. The orderly is admires the mural and compliments the painter, but the painter is less than happy with it, as it does not truly represent what he sees life to be. The orderly tells the painter that if he is not happy with life, he may just make an appointment with the Federal Bureau of Termination and end his life to make room for others. The painter would rather take his own life, as life is too perfected and calculated for his taste.

Then arrives a service worker from the FBT, Leora Duncan. She is there to take a picture with Dr. Hitz and to help terminate a life. The painter tells her she is going to be immortalized in the mural, and asks her to pick a body. At first, she does not care but then chooses one that fits her job. Dr. Hitz now arrives to the scene, ready to take his picture. Leora is very excited to see him, but Wehling is not. Wehling, while excited to have triplets, must provide three volunteers to end their lives or else the children will not be allowed to live. Wehling only has one.

Hitz goes on a brief spiel about the importance of population control, and how limiting birth and encouraging death provide a balanced and sustainable future. He feels accomplished by his statements, yet that feeling is short-lived as Wehling pulls out a revolver and shoots Hitz. He also shoots Leora, and then himself, making way for the three babies. The painter, having seen all this, decides that it is his time to end his life and calls the FBT, scheduling an appointment for as soon as possible. The worker on the other end thanks him for his generosity and thanks him for future generations.

One of the most captivating things to me about this story has to be the questions that is poses. This world has been literally engineered to be perfect; disease has been cured, crime has been stopped, aging has been solved, and peace has been achieved. However, is such a perfect life one worth living? Throughout the piece, we’re shown how this world is perfect. The steps taken to achieve such a world, though to the average reader may seem somewhat drastic are treated like they are normal. The people in this world have become so accustomed to death and lack thereof that they don’t question the means to immortality. This leads to a few different reactions, most prominently from the painter and Wehling. Dr. Hitz, Leora Duncan, and the orderly are all fine with the way the world functions, as they are members of the system. However, when you look to the others, we can see more dissatisfaction and frustration with it. The painter, though having benefitted from the seeming immortality, is unhappy with the world. He does not believe it to be perfect and beautiful. He considers it more like a dropcloth, as mentioned in the story. Wehling also is unhappy, though his frustration is more for personal reasons. He is unhappy because the laws of this society require three people to die for his children to live. The risk of losing his children drives him to murder and suicide.

It is this juxtaposition that I believe we can use in our own writing. Vonnegut uses the painter and Wehling to show us what is wrong with a world where everything is perfect. While the 2BR02B system seems fair, we’re shown the outside implications of it through Wehling. Is it really fair to have life require death? Should someone have to die in order for someone to be born? Yes, someone has chosen to die, but what about the loved ones? What about those around them? They are not the only ones affected by the choice to die. As mentioned previously, those who work with the Bureau are perfectly fine with the system, but those affected by the system are not. The juxtaposition of this brings deep complexity to the story, one that, again, poses a question that may have at first seemed like an easy answer.

Another thing that I enjoyed about this story were the absolute disturbing statements that were treated as normalcy. While Vonnegut used normalcy a lot, these particular statements were so absurd and off-putting that it really drives home the idea that this system is wrong. The most noteworthy one in my opinion is the song that the orderly is quietly singing. The song is one of a disturbing love. The lyrics talk about someone being denied a kiss, and as a result contemplate suicide, as they would rather make way for another baby than live without their love. It is these tiny details of absurdity that I so often see in Vonnegut’s work that I absolutely love and try to implement in my own whenever it is fitting.

  • Do you think the 2BR02B is a fair system of life and death?
  • Is the painter a likable character? If not, what didn’t you like about him?
  • How do you see the story of Hamlet in the lens of this story?

Your Children Are Lion To You

Summary: “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury begins with Lydia Hadley raising her concerns about the nursery in the HappyLife Home with her husband George. They go to the nursery, where they find themselves in an African Veldt watching lions and vultures in the aftermath of a lions meal. The lions begin to stalk towards the couple, prompting them to flee the nursery, followed by George consoling Lydia. This leads into a conversation about turning the entire house off and living self-sufficiently, because Lydia feels she is not necessary anymore because the house fills her roles as wife and mother, and the children like it better. The couple sits down for dinner, and George thinks about shutting down the nursery and the implications of the Veldt being their children’s preferred scenery. He returns to nursery and discovers it won’t change into anything but the Veldt, and that he can no longer control it the way he is supposed to be able to. He shares this discovery with his wife, who suggests that Peter, their son, may have tampered with it. The children arrive home, and, when questioned, say that the room has never been Africa, even proving this to their parents. George remains suspicious upon finding a mangled wallet of his in the nursery, and decides to lock it. They discuss their children’s behavioral problems, before hearing two screams from the nursery. Some time later, Peter and George argue about locking up the nursery and turning the house off. Peter is averse to the idea, even going so far as to threaten his father. The next day, David McClean, a psychologist, comes to inspect the nursery and reveals that their behavioral change is due to their parents disciplining them for the first time, and suggests they shut the room off and then discover an mangled scarf of Lydia’s. The children are angry at hearing the room is going to be shut off, prompting George to turn off every electronic in the house. George allows the children one last visit to the nursery, and soon after the children call him and Lydia in. They are trapped in, surrounded by lions, and realize that the screams they have been hearing from the room are there’s, and that the children are imagining their deaths in the nursery. The scene cuts to McClean entering the nursery to find the children watching lions devour their prey, Mr. and Mrs. Hadley out of sight.

The chronic tension is that the Hadleys spoiled their children for most of their lives and then decided to take a more disciplinary role and their children don’t like that. The acute tension is that the nursery in their home won’t change from the African veldt when the adults try to change it and the lions are constantly eating something.

Pieper:

The two devices I tracked throughout the story were how the children, Wendy and Peter, were characterized through the story’s dialogue, and the significance of the jump cuts and scene breaks and how they are used to bring focus onto the important parts of the story and introduce new concepts.

There are a total of four scene breaks and jump cuts through the story, only one of which is not shown through the use of a break in the lines. This one occurs between the lines

“Of course not,” he said.

And

At dinner they ate alone, for Wendy and Peter were at a special plastic fair across town.

I was curious as to why Ray Bradbury chose to include this cut without a line break, as he did with all of the others. At first I thought it might be because the cut in the story of the quote might be the only one in which the cut separated events occurring on the same day, but that, unfortunately, was not true. There were two cuts in the story that separate events from the same day, this one and one occurring at

“Mr. and Mrs. Hadley screamed.

And suddenly they realized why those other screams had sounded familiar.

* * *

“Well, here I am,” said David McClean from the nursery door.

Of course, this one is indicated by a line break, which meant that my hypothesis was incorrect. Assuming that Ray Bradbury meant something by the line breaks, and that the break without the * * * was not merely an accident, I had to keep thinking about it. But then I wondered if it wasn’t Bradbury who had made the mistake, but the person making the PDF. I looked up a different copy of the story, which, surprisingly, had 7 * * *. I compared the two versions and concluded that The Veldt’s breaks come at moments in which dialogue and action that is unnecessary in furthering the plot would occur naturally in the day of the Hadley’s. Such as in the section

“Very well.” And Peter walked off to the nursery.

* * *

“Am I on time?” said David McClean.

It would be extra and extraneous to include paragraphs dedicated to the rest of George’s day and night, when the part that advances the plot occurs at the arrival of McClean. Although it might seem more fluid to just do a summary of the night, the jump cuts give focus to the parts of the story that are important. This story once again gives light to the concept that you can have an entire story in scene, but not an entire story in summary, as Ray Bradbury has chosen to just remove the parts in summary, save a few lines, in favor of moving directly to the next scene. Bradbury utilizes this tactic through many of his stories, such as “There Will Come Soft Rains,” which is split up into sections by numbers.

I imagine the scene breaks like flashing images, similar to the way the nursery would change if it was working properly. It gives a jilted feel to reading the story that seems normal when reading it, but stands out greatly when reading it with the intention to understand the purpose they serve.

The second device I tracked was the characterization of Wendy and Peter through the story’s bountiful dialogue. If you read the story, you’ll know that Peter and Wendy are little monsters, but there are very little actions in the story that could convey that fact straight from the text, because, let’s face it, we all know they killed their parents (or do we?). Besides George’s thoughts, the dialogue is their source of characterization.

The first piece of information we get about the two, other than they read about Africa, comes from this quote:

“You know how difficult Peter is about that. When I punished him a month ago by locking it for even a few hours – the way he lost his temper! And Wendy too. They live for the nursery.”

I’d say this quote is one of the best for getting the essence of the children’s character: they love the nursery, and they will become very upset if it is taken from them. This plays a part, of course, throughout the story and is addressed directly by McClean:

“Everything. Where before they had a Santa Claus now they have a Scrooge. Children prefer Santa. You’ve let this room and this house replace you and your wife in your children’s feelings. This room is their mother and father, far more important in their lives than their real parents. And now you come along and want to shut it off. No wonder there’s hatred here.”

But they are not just characterized in the way the adults speak of them, but in how they speak to adults. When Peter talks to George and says

“I thought we were free to play as we wished.”

“You are, within reasonable limits.”

“What’s wrong with Africa, Father?”

“Oh, so now you admit you have been thinking up Africa, do you?”

“I wouldn’t want the nursery locked up,” said Peter coldly. “Ever.”’

We can see how he talks to his father, and makes a habit in constantly challenging his authority.

This tendency towards harshness can clue the reader into the cause of the parents’ death. If we were to see Wendy and Peter as laughing, polite children who simply loved playing in the veldt periodically, then we might have doubt that they were the cause of their parents’ death. But because of the cold, obsessive behavior they are given through the dialogue, we can infer that they killed their parents.

Something I’d like to use from this story is the way Bradbury world-builds by simply stating facts that are true in the world without needing to justify them. He doesn’t need to add in a character who is new to the world to help show the readers all of the facets of the universe, the world simply is and it is accepted that way. I think I would find that very difficult to write without leaving miles of questions, but I would still like to try.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What purpose does David McClean serve in the story? How does Ray Bradbury use him to advance to the plot?
  2. Could Lydia be considered a character prop? If so, what qualities (or the lack thereof) make her one? If not, why is she included?

Miguel:

The two devices I highlighted in the story were Narrative Echo (Using the repeating screams we hear) and the power relationship between our protagonist, George Hadley, and the house.

Narrative Echo is when something is repeated or reinforced throughout a story. In Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt,” Narrative Echo is seen through the constant, blood curdling screams heard by the protagonist, George Hadley, and his wife, Lydia. When it first pops up in the story, Bradbury has casually inserted it, almost as an afterthought, yet it stilled creepy and unnerving.

“Did you hear that scream?” she asked.

“No.”

“About a minute ago?”

“Sorry, no.”

The rest of the story uses the screams around eleven times, and each time they occur they’re creepier and harder to ignore than the last. Both the reader and Bradbury’s protagonist start to dread them more and more.

A moment later they heard the screams. Two screams. Two people screaming from downstairs.

And then a roar of lions.

Narrative Echo is primarily used to drive home a point or increase a specific emotion felt by the reader. In “The Veldt,” Narrative Echo is used by Ray Bradbury to increase the story’s tension and create a sense of building dread, as the screams becoming more pronounced and the reader expects a worse and worse outcome for our main characters. The screams remain the most chilling feature of the african setting the children play in, and we are deftly aware of their presence near the climax of the story. Another element is also added to their appearance around the halfway point.

 “Those screams – they sound familiar.”

“Do they?”

“Yes, awfully.”

This new characteristic of the narrative echo brings further dread and fear to the repeated screams. The reader remains unnerved by this element and the still continuing screams from the nursery take on a new feeling of horror for the rest of the story. The Narrative Echo is brought to a conclusion during the climax of the story, when George Hadley and his wife are trapped in the nursery. The Narrative Echo does not fizzle out or become defunct, but instead receives a chilling pay-off.

Mr. Hadley looked at his wife and they turned and looked back at the beasts edging slowly forward, bent, tails in the air.

Mr. and Mrs. Hadley screamed.

And suddenly they realized why those other screams had sounded familiar.

The other element I tracked was the power struggle between the story’s protagonist, George Hadley, and the nominal antagonist of the story, the nursery. This hero-villain relationship is interesting in the fact that our antagonist is not human, nor do we even know if it really has any sentience. The house controlling the nursery has one line of dialogue, but it could be very well prerecorded and pre programmed into the machine.

“Sorry,” said a small voice within the table, and tomato sauce appeared.

The central conflict of the story is the bitterness felt by the children at their parents and their placement of parental feelings on the nursery, which is directly referenced by the psychologist while talking to George Hadley.

“Everything. Where before they had a Santa Claus now they have a Scrooge. Children prefer Santa. You’ve let this room and this house replace you and your wife in your children’s feelings. This room is their mother and father, far more important in their lives than their real parents. And now you come along and want to shut it off. No wonder there’s hatred here. You can feel it coming out of the sky. Feel that sun. George, you’ll have to change your life. Like too many others, you’ve built it around creature comforts. Why, you’d go hungry tomorrow if something went wrong in your kitchen. You wouldn’t know how to cook an egg. All the same, turn everything off. Start new. It’ll take time. But we’ll make good children out of bad in a year, wait and see.”

Though this is directly revealed to the audience near the end of the story, the parental conflict between George Hadley and the nursery are evident throughout the story. Near it’s opening, Hadley and his wife have (what the reader knows is) a near fatal experience with the lions in the african veldt. This is the first instance of the conflict between Hadley and the nursery that continues through the story.

 “Watch out!” screamed Lydia.

The lions came running at them. Lydia turned suddenly and ran. Without thinking, George ran after her. Outside in the hall, after they had closed the door quickly and noisily behind them, he was laughing and she was crying.

Hadley initially brushes this encounter off, but as the narrative continues Hadley’s relationship with the nursery becomes harsher and harsher. When he goes into the nursery to turn off the Veldt, it refuses to cooperate with him, remaining in it’s african setting and setting George Hadley off.

“Go away,” he said to the lions.

They did not go. He knew exactly how the room should work. You sent out your thoughts.

Whatever you thought would appear. “Let’s have Aladdin and his lamp,” he said angrily. The veldt remained; the lions remained.

“Come on, room! I demand Aladdin!” he said.

Nothing happened. The lions made soft low noises in the hot sun.

“Aladdin!”

He went back to dinner. “The fool room’s out of order,” he said. “It won’t change.”

When Wendy and her brother Peter return home, Hadley find them resistant and cold to his explanation of why they might be turning off the house for a bit. They both lie to him about the nature of the nursery and change it away from the african veldt scene. With this, Bradbury incorporates a new element into the conflict- the nursery’s paternal/maternal relationship with the children. Much of the conflict between Hadley and the nursery is exhibited through Hadley’s interactions with his children.

George Hadley looked in at the changed scene. “Go to bed,” he said to the children.

They opened their mouths.

“You heard me,” he said.

“I don’t know anything,” he said, “except that I’m beginning to be sorry we bought that room for the children. If children are suffering from any kind of emotional problem, a room like that…”

“It’s supposed to help them work off their emotional problems in a healthy way.”

“I’m starting to wonder.” His eyes were wide open, looking up at the ceiling.

“We’ve given the children everything they ever wanted. Is this our reward – secrecy, not doing what we tell them?”

“Who was it said, ‘Children are carpets, they should be stepped on occasionally’? We’ve never lifted a hand. They’re unbearable – let’s admit it. They come and go when they like; they treat us as if we were the children in the family. They’re spoiled and we’re spoiled.”

“Will you shut off the house sometime soon?”

“We’re considering it.”

“I don’t think you’d better consider it any more, Father.”

“I won’t have any threats from my son!”

“Very well.” And Peter walked off to the nursery.

An element I can take from this story to incorporate into my own writing is the extremely effective and powerful use of narrative echo. It really helps create a creepy and unnerving atmosphere for the story to take place in, and even transcends its role as a theme setting element by being revealed to be a clue to the fates of the story’s main characters.

Questions:

  1. To what extent does Bradbury’s use of narrative echo effect the story? Would it remain  as effective without it?
  2. How does Bradbury reveal the nature of the Hadleys’ feelings about the nursery? Through dialogue or through other literary devices?

Eli:

The first element I tracked in this story was foreshadowing. One way Bradbury foreshadows the climax of the story is through the repeated use of the screams. The first time they are mentioned in the story is during George and Lydia’s first foray into the nursery in the story, when Lydia asks her husband

“Did you hear that scream?”

which she heard before they entered, to which he replies no. The screams are heard again before George enters the nursery a second time, this time followed by a lions roar. The next time the screams are heard Lydia remarks

“Those screams – they sound familiar.”

The screams repeat again when George and David McClean are about to enter the nursery, and at the climax of the story, George and Lydia scream before they are eaten by the lions, and realize that the other screams are their own. This is effective foreshadowing because the screams go from just signifying that their children are imagining death in the nursery, to them imagining the deaths of someone who is familiar to them, to signifying their own deaths. It also is effective because the repetition of a single event creates tension in the readers because the event repeats in the readers head and indicates to the reader that screaming and lions devouring their prey will be involved in the climax. Another way Bradbury includes foreshadowing in the story is using George’s wallet and Lydia’s scarf. After the children changed the Veldt into a rainforest, George finds one of his old wallets, which is described as

“wet from being in the lion’s mouth, there were tooth marks on it, and there was dried blood on both sides.”

This insinuates that the children were imagining something violent in relation to George, (the lions most likely maimed some imaginary version of him, indicated by the teeth marks and the blood), which indicates that something similar will happen to George later in the story. The damage to the wallet and the inclusion of blood also indicate that it is possible for the images created by the nursery to become real, or at least affect real-life object. Much the same can be said of the inclusion of Lydia’s scarf. The inclusion of the objects in conjunction with the twin screams also leads the reader to conclude that the two screams are George and Lydia’s, further foreshadowing their demise at the story’s climax.

The second technique I tracked through this story was Bradbury’s use of concrete details and names to build the futuristic world of the story believably, as well as to build the environment of the African Veldt created by the nursery. One way Bradbury uses concrete details to enhance the believability is by nonchalantly dropping them into sentences. One example of this is when George is eating dinner and meditating on the nursery, and the story states

“He ate the meat that the table had cut for him without tasting it.”

By dropping this detail about the futuristic capabilities of the technology in the house without drawing attention/emphasizing it, the detail seems more natural and believable to the audience. Because Bradbury does not feel the need to justify the technology, instead simply stating that it is, the audience is more inclined to accept the way Bradbury builds the futuristic world instead of questioning it. He does much the same thing by including the mechanics of the nursery in George’s reassuring of Lydia, which makes the explanation seem more like well-known and absolute facts. Another way that Bradbury enhances his worldbuilding is through given items certain names, as well as associating specific prices with them. The best example of this is when Bradbury describes them walking to the nursery, saying

“They walked down the hall of their HappyLife Home, which had cost them thirty thousand dollars with everything included.”

Giving the house a specific, seemingly trademarked name makes it seem more realistic, much like the names iPhone and Xbox. Because Bradbury has the name capitalized, it seems more realistic and technological to the audience, and the way it is delivered adds to the suspension of disbelief because Bradbury includes the name as if it simply is instead of attempting to justify this. The inclusion of the home’s price also adds to the realistic nature of the story because the attribution of a specific price adds to the realism, as money is something the audience is familiar with, and attributing a price brings the audience further into the narrative, as it is possible to compare the house to items in our world of a comparable price. It also adds to the authenticity of the house, because by giving it a price, Bradbury expands the house into a larger world where money is still relevant and because it is a tangible amount that deepens the reality of the story.

What I want to take away from this story is Bradbury’s ability to use a repeating event to create tension in the audience without it getting annoying or the timing becoming overly predictable. I also want to use his ease and nonchalance in dropping details into a narrative to build the world of my stories in order to make the narrative more believable.

Questions

  1. The general of thumb with foreshadowing is that you want it to be obvious enough for the audience to put together but still subtle enough that they are satisfied by their discovery. Do you think Bradbury’s foreshadowing falls into that category, or is it too obvious/not obvious enough? Why? How would you change it to make it fit those parameters?
  2. Is Bradbury’s world building effective in creating a realistic setting for the story? Would you change it so the futuristic elements are more fully explained/justified, or do you prefer the approach he uses? Why?

“Voiceless” Write Up by Joanna Zhou

In “Voiceless” by Emily Smith, main character Kanya is 31 years old and a social media influencer. In the beginning, she’s about to share a picture of a mouthwatering sandwich. After posting the picture, she watches the “hearts roll in”, which are probably synonymous to likes on a social media platform. Rather than eating the meal after posting, she instead puts the wine back into the bottle and scrapes the meat into the trash can. Her meals for the day will consist of the bread from the sandwich (sans meat) which she’s cut into tiny pieces.

Kanya sees a post from her friend Tayla, who is at the beach. Kanya notices the ring on Tayla’s toe in the picture and notes how its sole purpose is to be in the picture and that Tayla probably took it off afterwards. Kanya gets a message from her mother, since her mother doesn’t follow her or anyone else, despite this world being steeped in social media.

Kanya then goes to work, although she works from home. Her job is to provide customer support, and when she does well she gets points that she can spend on shopping. All of her clients live “by the water,” a place where only the richest or most successful and well-known seem to live. Kanya herself desperately wants to reach the water.

She reveals that she is at the same weight she was when she was 12 years old and puts a lot of work into maintaining that weight, including intensive workout videos. This is because “everyone loves watching a tiny girl eat fat food,” and so Kanya diets excessively and does high intensity workouts to maintain this weight. Instead of yoga, which she posts about sometimes despite not actually doing it, Kanya’s workouts include a large man screaming at her to “get down then get up” repeatedly.

Naylen, Kanya’s boyfriend, then messages her about how he liked her post. Although she is fond of Naylen, she’s concerned that he’ll get 15k followers before her and make it to the water–if this happens, it’s implied Kanya will break up with him.

Towards the end of the story, a follower has tracked down Kanya to her small apartment. He wants to have dinner with Kanya but she refuses. He breaks down her door and then takes photos of her in her apartment, showing her life in all its truth: the scattered paint cans, the desperate bursts of pastel on the walls like patchwork, Kanya herself making a noise like “the cry of an unknown animal.” The follower scene could also be interpreted as a hallucination due to Kanya’s malnutrition though.

She later wakes up in the hospital. Her mother is there and tells her that they are bringing her back to life. Kanya thinks back to her apartment where the evidence of her superficial lifestyle resides.

The chronic tension is Kanya’s desperate desire for validation.

The acute tension is Kanya’s obsessive follower accosting her at the end, though I think this could be argued against since it’s also the climactic scene and happens near the very end.

This story takes place in a dystopian future where social media rules people’s minds. That’s what first grabbed me. It is so real, as if written in present 2018 or even earlier, perhaps back to when Facebook or Myspace was making its rounds as something revolutionary. Social media has invaded this society to its core, but the funny thing is you don’t get a sense of this being a dystopia or too far in the future because the subject matter is so current and believable.

The only overt sci-fi element is a marginal mention to “the Bot” that brings Kanya’s purchases to her door, and that isn’t even that high-tech. There’s almost a George Saunders feel to this story–words that normally wouldn’t be capitalized are capitalized, like Food, Travel, and Music, much like  Saunders’ weird product names that he uses to worldbuild.

That’s kind of the beauty of “Voiceless”’s world. It does not need to be explained because we are already in it. I can clearly see the social media influencers of today following almost exactly in Kanya’s path, from the fake yoga aspirations to not eating the delicious but fattening foods she posts to not even harboring genuine emotions for her equally social-media obsessed boyfriend.

I love stories like “Voiceless” that make you realize something off about society, something unsettling, and I guess this is me hearkening back to Saunders and how he too makes unsettling worlds that, behind the vast veil of sci-fi tech and terminology, are deeply familiar to us 21st century readers.

Onto the things we can steal:

The first craft technique I chose was how Smith uses “the water” as a mechanism for social advancement in her story. Throughout “Voiceless,” Kanya thinks of the water. She wants to reach it so desperately, even crying at her first 1k followers because that goal of the water finally seems attainable. The water is a distant almost abstract concept. Smith doesn’t write about what the houses by the water are like or how it’s better than Kanya’s current circumstances.

We instead read between the lines. The water is probably more luxurious, full of people who are high class with high-maintenance needs, people that complain to customer support to solve their problems because it takes away from time they could be using to putz around on the toilet. The water probably has nicer apartments than Kanya’s Maker space, which is sparse and almost institutional in the uniformity of Kanya and the 13 other Makers in the building.

The water is a symbol for something more than moving to a nicer place; it represents moving up in society so Kanya can maybe live a life similar to the one she posts about. This is ironic because those that live by the water probably have to work even harder than Kanya and her 13 fellow Makers to maintain their follower count and in turn maintain their place by the water.

The second technique I chose was using food as a way to highlight artifice. The first few words are about food, setting up a situation that the reader later realizes is not at all what it seems. Instead of being delicious, something to be desired, food is instead treated as a means to an end. It loses its sustenance and becomes calories to maintain a low weight. What ends up on the screens of Kanya’s followers differs vastly from what she actually consumes, and sometimes she doesn’t eat any of what she posts. Sometimes what she posts isn’t even edible, such as the lemon lavender glaze. At first this seems absurd. Who would go to such lengths?

But even today there is this artifice in advertising, so is it so far of a stretch to imagine it pervading social media spaces? Most milk in milk commercials isn’t milk. It’s glue. A lot of those fresh vegetables aren’t vegetables; they are models of vegetables–wax, paper, and glue. Kanya’s yoga mat goes unused. Her candles are lit for mere seconds before being snuffed out again. This sounds like some weird chef adage, but the food highlights the fakery. Yes, fakery is a word.

Fun fact before the questions: one of those crackpot baby naming sites says people named Kanya have a “SoulUrge Number” of 2. This means that they have a “deep inner desire for love and companionship” or something.

Questions:

  • Is the story too preachy for making the social issue of social media oversaturation a central focus?
  • What was your interpretation of what happened in the ending?
  • Is Kanya a sympathizable character? Is she just a caricature of a social-media obsessed millennial or instead a well-rounded character you can relate to? How excusable are her flaws?

A Picnic of Built Worlds and Sickening Conflicts

In the story “A Tiny Feast” by Chris Adrian, two fairies, Oberon and Titania, find themselves in a different world, of having to deal with the alien situation of mortal life and medicine at the hospital. After one of their periodic arguments, Oberon gifted his wife a human child, which he stole from an apartment near their home under a hill in Buena Vista Park. As their changeling, named Boy, grew up, he developed leukemia and falls ill. As fairies, Oberon and Titania, are immortal and unaware of human mortality, and refuse to accept that their child is sick. Eventually, Titania agrees to take him to the hospital and see why he’s being acting so different. There, Dr. Blork and Dr. Beadle tells them Boy has leukemia and will have to undergo several years of procedures. Throughout their stay, the fairies decorate their child’s room, including the addition of Beastie, his blanket who acts like a “dog” companion, provide him a tiny feast when the “poison” makes him grow desperately hungry, and at one point become so helpless, Oberon suggests the cancer was brought upon by his homesickness. Each day, there’s bad news followed by good news, until Boy’s leukemia goes away, but only for a small period of time. Shortly after, his health continues to deteriorate, and with everyday that passes, the doctors become more unable to help. The boy dies, after months of struggling, leaving a hole in Titania and Oberon’s hearts, who have learned to love him as their own. When the baby first arrived to their home, Titania used to see him as a pet who’d follow her around, but as the story progressed, develops feelings for him by choice, because it’s hinted that fairies always have the final say. As Titania and Oberon request help from their other fairies to build a bier, they leave the hospital without disguise and reach their home under the hill, unaware of what to do with Boy’s body. At last, Oberon speaks and pronounces Beastie has also died, but from its own grief.

Shelby

The first element tracked is conflict. The acute conflict, that the boy has cancer, in the story is taken differently by both sides, faeries and hospital staff. The faeries on one hand, do not quite get that the boy has a critical illness that can (and will) take his life. They are not used to illnesses such as cancer because they live in an entirely different world than the real world.

“A boy should not be sick,” she said suddenly to Dr. Blork, cutting him off as he was beginning to describe some of the side effects of the treatment they were proposing. “A boy should play—that is his whole purpose.”

This paragraph shows how the faeries interpret the illness as something odd and, most importantly temporary.

[Oberon] was smiling, and crying into his lovely beard. ‘Can you cure it?’

This is another example of how the faeries can’t get a grasp on the human world where the diseases cannot be cured simply and the patients must be hurt to get better.

On the other hand, the doctors live in a world where they experience children getting life-threatening diseases like cancer often. They are experienced in how they explain the bad news to the parents. As Oberon explains,

The doctors called the good news good news, but for the bad news they always found another name. Dr. Blork would say that they had taken a little detour on the way to recovery, or that they had encountered a minor disappointment; rarely, when things really took a turn for the worse, he’d admit that the news was, if not bad, then not very good.

The doctors understand how difficult the situation is for the parents and how serious the situation is. Unlike the faeries, who don’t understand how serious the boy’s illness is, the doctors know that they boy may not stand a chance against the illness. Titania and Oberon both think for most of the story that the boy will get better and they’ll get to leave the human world and return to the faery world.

The chronic tension, that Titania is afraid that the boy’s mother will take him back, is only addressed by one set of characters, the faeries. It is addressed from when it is first explained how the faeries got the boy.

The boy had been one of those gifts, brought home to the hill, stolen from his crib in the dark of the night and presented to her by dawn.

This first sentence doesn’t fully explain Titania’s fear that the boy will be taken though. It is addressed through a flashback about the time the boy drank wine and slept underneath the cupboard. “She began to suspect that his mortal mother had stolen him back, and without even doing her the courtesy of returning the hobgoblin that had been left in his place.” This acute tension is important to the chronic tension because it shows how terrified Titania is that the boy will leave her and she will be left without him. The chronic tension almost foreshadows what will end up happening to the boy at the end of the story and how Titania will be left alone.

The difference in how the conflict is interpreted helps characterize the faeries. It helps build their world and show the differences between the human world and their world. It also shows how Titania and Oberon do not come into the human world with their changeling often. This conflict that is interpreted in different ways is an interesting choice for the author to select. Of course, this conflict allows an interesting plot to arise, about how people who are unfamiliar to a situation react differently from others. But the difficult part about the author deciding on this acute conflict in particular is that he has to write two sets of characters who have entirely different experiences. The faeries are focused on more in the story than the doctors, but the doctors are important to the story nonetheless. The author had to really dive into the characters’ mindset and establish their thought processes before writing so that he kept the character’s thoughts consistent. Before reading this story, I had never seen a conflict that ties so much into characterization, but I would love to experiment with this idea in future writings.

The next technique tracked is scene versus summary. In “A Tiny Feast,” sometimes scenes are used, giving great details into what is happening, and other times the author summarizes parts of the story instead of describing them in detail. The story starts off right with summary,

It took them both a long time to realize the boy was sick.

The author doesn’t go into detail about how Titania and Oberon realized that the boy was sick, but rather just summarizes that they did so that the story to be told can begin. Next, summary is used again to tell about the mortal lovers that the faeries had taken, but it is not described in detail, rather talked about in one sentence. Later on page one, summary is used yet again to say that they doctors were describing how the boy was sick. Only a few lines are told about what the doctors are actually saying, and the information is mostly portrayed through a few sentences summarizing the conversation and briefing. This technique is used mostly through the story until the last meeting with the doctors before the boy dies. But this point ties more into point of view, which we’ll talk about later, so let’s move on to when the scenes are told through play by play.

The first big scene that is told retells the first time that Titania was watching the boy and it is described in much detail. Another time scene is used to describe when Oberon tries the poison to tell the boy how it is to ease his nerves. This is told very straight forward, detailing every part of this experience and not summarizing much of it. The time that the faeries prepare cheese for the boy and the time that the faeries assemble the tiny feast for the boy. Most of the important exchanges with the boy are told through scene, until the end of the story once the boy had passed away.

The faeries walking down the hospital hallways is told through scene, but by the time they reach the end of their march and Oberon announces that Beastie died from grief, the writing is summarized. Why does the author make this switch? I found one line that explains this. When Titania is walking with the boy down the hospital hallways, she thinks,

…there is no past and no future, she told herself. We have been here forever and we will be here forever.

This line explains why some of the story is told through scene and some through summary. Most of Titania and Oberon’s past together without the boy is told through summary, such as

…they had been quarrelling for as long as they had been in love. She forgot the quarrels as soon as they were resolved, but the gifts her husband brought her to reconcile—even when she was at fault—she never forgot.

and

Oberon had trained previous changelings to be pages or attendants for her, and they had learned, even as young children, to brush her hair in just the way that she liked.

But once the boy enters their lives, the scenes are told in scene, such as

For a while she lay on her back, watching the stars come out upon the ceiling of her grotto, listening to the little snores.

And most of the scenes that take place in the hospital with the boy are told in scene,

Titania protested, and threatened to get the nurse, and even held the call button in her hand, almost pressing it while the boy shoved steak into his mouth and Oberon laughed.

The scenes in the hospital take place in scene because Titania and Oberon are living in a place in time where there “is no past or future” and this seems like their entire life, their past life told as just memories because it doesn’t seem to exist anymore. Their life is preoccupied by caring for the boy, so their past life is left in the past.

discussion questions:

  1. Why does the author choose to describe how Titania heals the other patients of the hospital through summary as opposed to scene? Does the author continue or break the pattern that he has created with summary vs. scene? How?
  2. How does the author show who the conflict is affecting?

Valentina

The first technique I tracked is the use of symbolism in Beastie and the actual tiny feast  which appear very minorly in the story, but have strong connections to it.

From the beginning of the story, at the hospital, Titania mentions a creature blanket that accompanies Boy and acts like a dog, constantly trying to protect people and stays loyal to its “owner”.

And the bedspread was no ordinary blanket but the boy’s own dear Beastie, a flat headless creature of soft fur that loved him like a dog and tried to follow him out of the room whenever they took him away for some new test or procedure.

Generally, dogs are great pets and comfort their owners when they need it, just as Beastie acts with Boy. Titania seems to have made Beastie out of a spell while remodeling the “ugly” hospital room, to help Boy through his procedures and has become part of his identity, much like a dog becomes part of its owner’s life.

Beastie represents what Titania and Oberon thought of the boy, the love they grew to have for him and the emotions they hide from Boy, while at the hospital.  At first, when Boy arrived at their home under the hill as a baby, Titania wasn’t very fond of him and acted as if he was an object or a pet, who she treated like Boy’s beastie, not needing much affection.

The child grew, and changed, and became ever more delightful to her, and she imagined that they could go on forever like that, that he would always be her favorite thing. Maybe it would have been better if he had stayed her favorite thing—a toy and not a son—because now he would just be a broken toy.

As the story continues, it can be seen that part of why she refused to accept him at the beginning was the fear of separation or that something like this would happen, and she would have to deal with a loved one’s suffering. She didn’t expect much of the boy from her refusing to accept him, but as he grows up and calls her “mama”, realizes he deserves the attention any other of her changelings have gotten.

Beastie doesn’t show up much in the story, but is an active “character” in the last lines. At the end, Oberon and Titania are in shock due to Boy’s death and don’t know what to do with his body. Oberon cries a lot while watching the boy suffer in between treatments, and his death lightens the burden, but it’s only because they choose not to express their sorrow as parents.

They were all looking to Titania to speak, but it was Oberon who finally broke the silence, announcing from the back of the room that the Beastie had died of its grief.

By saying it was Beastie who died, who represented Boy’s identity, Oberon is trying to announce the reality of Boy’s death, but not being able to because of the connections they’ve grown to have with him.

Being titled “A Tiny Feast,” I figured there’d have to be some significant meaning behind just eating a lot of tiny food. As can be seen in the story, Boy’s cancer would improve and then worsen to the point where Dr. Blork and Dr. Beadle, began injecting the boy in his thigh to make the “evil” white blood cells go away.  After these treatments, Boy grew hungry, making Oberon angry and Titania sad to see her child suffering so much, which is when they began contemplating feeding him “real” food, not thebag of honey-colored liquid the nurses connected to his IV.

“It’s a crime,” Oberon said. “Damn the triglycerides, the boy is hungry!” The nurses had hung up a bag of liquid food for him, honey-colored liquid that went directly into his veins…. He fed the boy a bun, and a steak, and a crumpled cream puff, pulling each piece of food from his pocket with a flourish.

Although Oberon wasn’t supposed to feed him, he does so out of desperation. Then, after Boy begs Titania, so much that she feels forced to help him escape his misery, she agrees to give him a “little feast.”

“Mama, please,” he said all day, “just one little feast. I won’t ask again, I promise.” Oberon was silent, and left the room eventually, once again crying his useless tears, and Titania told the boy again that he would only become sick if he ate.

“All right, love,” she said, “just one bite.”

The tiny feast, including when the fairies are sent to make Boy a grilled cheese sandwich, represent Titania and Oberon’s parental oblivion. They just want the best for their changeling, and are unaware of the consequences making Boy temporarily happy will have in the long run. As parents, it makes it very hard to watch their child suffering and want to do everything possible to help him, especially because they don’t know trying to make Boy happy will actually hurt him more. As fairies, being immortal creatures, they’ve never had to face the danger of death and have always had a very optimistic life, since everything they want can easily be done with a spell or their manipulative ways, having fellow fairies do certain things for them. Since Titania and Oberon have never been really stuck when making a decision, it can be understood that it’s part of their nature to be impulsive and not think about the consequences (because they can always be fixed!).

Another time when Titania and Oberon seem oblivious to what the future has to bring, is when Titania begins referring to the boy as a “terrible gift”.

“What a terrible gift you have given me,” she said to her husband.

As mentioned in the story, Boy was a gift of reconciliation after a fight the fairies had, from Oberon. From this pattern of oblivion, it’s emphasized how little they think of the future at moments when they do something, such a stealing a baby, and not familiar with the possibility of a mortal developing such a horrible illness. Titania doesn’t say Boy is a terrible gift because she doesn’t like the boy, but more because of the pain his cancer has brought and slight anger at the recognition that he may die from it. Oberon just wanted to make his wife happy, and clearly didn’t think a gift with good intentions could have such a catastrophic outcome.

The second technique I tracked is the world building aspect of this story, including the similarities and, mainly, the  differences portrayed between the human and fairy worlds. Chris Adrian really used worldbuilding throughout the whole story to establish his two settings and emphasize the fairies’ behavior in a very realistic, human situation. Titania and Oberon are fairies, immortal creatures who live in a home under the hill. Boy is their changeling, a human who was stolen by Oberon after a fight (as I’ve mentioned before). As we know, humans are mortals and don’t have the sort of magical power fairies in the story do, to create an alter ego and easily use spells to deceive their true appearance.

The first thing that caught my attention and something different to what humans are “used” to, is that Titania and Oberon called their child Boy because they don’t have another name for him, and he, too, responds to many names. In the human world, parents are expected to give their child a set name when they’re born and that’s what they often grow up responding to. Although, as they grow up are given more freedom to choose what they want to be called, as perhaps Titania and Oberon had in mind when not giving Boy a certain name.

They called back, “Hello, Brad!” or “Hello, Brian!” or “Hello, Billy!” since he answered to all those names. People all heard something different when they asked his name and Titania replied, “Boy.”

Fairies are used to change, from identities to settings and decorations because they have the facilitated power of spells and their size enables them to do so, but humans are usually not prone to like change, we prefer to remain with what we know. By not giving him a set name, we get to see the fairies’ fickle nature and acceptance to change.

Fairies also seem to have everything their way, by how Titania and Oberon treat the doctors and nurses and what they think of their surroundings in a human world. When they find out Boy has Leukemia, they’re very reluctant to accept this, no matter how much they tolerate change in other circumstances, because they’ve never had to deal with the thought of death (that’s never going to happen to them!) and expect the doctors to do their “mortal thing” and make Boy’s health improve.

“A boy should not be sick,” she said suddenly to Dr. Blork, cutting him off as he was beginning to describe some of the side effects of the treatment they were proposing. “A boy should play—that is his whole purpose.”

“You will do your mortal thing,” she said sadly. “I know all I need to know.”

Both Titania and Oberon have different ideas of what children are supposed to be and do, but certainly being sick and different to their other changelings is not it.  Living in another world, their society operates completely different from humans, and the morals their society raises them with. In the fairy world, children seem to be little “adults” with the same capacities as a grown fairy, and they’re unaware that with Boy, they’re going to have to change this around, for humans learn by imitating what their guardians do.

He was never a very useful changeling.

But the boy only hit her when she presented him with the brush, and instead she found herself brushing his hair.

When the story first transitions to the hospital, we learn that Titania and Oberon have a spell on themselves to make them appear as if they were normal humans, Titania a hairdresser named Trudy and Oberon the owner of an organic orchard named Bob. This makes the doctors think they’re “normal” and therefore understand how hospitals work and have at least heard of cancer, as we in the human world have. Additionally, Titania is very disappointed in how ugly the hospital room is and accommodates it to look nicer.

She saw paper stars hanging from the ceiling, and cards and posters on the wall, and a homey bedspread upon the mattress, but faeries had come to carpet the room with grass, to pave the walls with stone and set them with jewels, and to blow a cover of clouds to hide the horrible suspended ceiling.

She has a spell on the room to make it more like their home under the hill, and different perspectives of hospital medicines, such as referring to the boy’s medicine as “poison”, for it is what they’re used to when thinking of mortals and sickness. Even though fairies are very volatile beings, like I said before, there are some ways in which they are just like us and prefer to remain close to home (what they know), like remodeling the room to their taste, referring to human items as they would in their world and remembering names that are closely related to “fairy” names, such as the doctor’s names.

Even though Titania and Oberon are from another world and don’t comprehend other worlds as well, they being to feel the paternal love a “normal” human would and having the desire for the success of their child, which is something humans can certainly relate to (maybe not us yet, but it’s seen in other people).

“More than you do, and more than you’ll ever understand. You like to see him undone and ailing, but I can’t bear to look at him like that.”

 The sort of love they develop from a mortal creature brings with it the pain of the possibility of death, which ends up happening to Boy, and pain in watching the suffering of a loved one.

What can one take from this story?

Personally, what I want to take away from this story, is the incorporation of a fantastical element in a very realistic situation. This is one of my favorite things about the story and I think the way in which Chris Adrian built a fairy world and introduced a human world into it to portray the differences between each one really enhanced the story for me. I also liked the connections he used between both worlds, and how despite the many clear differences, there’s also similarities that humans can connect to and understand. He was able to build another world, one which he doesn’t know much about (i’d think), and still communicate a story that’s understandable to us.

discussion questions:

  1. How does author include the setting to add tension? how does this setting help to show the differences between the fairy and human worlds?
  2. Whose story does it seem to be? who shows a more prominent contrast between the two worlds?

Mariah

The first technique I looked at was point of view. The way Adrian writes point of view in this story is interesting because he changes it quite a bit, but makes it work by directly showing who’s speaking each time. It always starts off with a name, or a designated pronoun (example, “she” could reference to Titania) for a character to show who exactly is speaking. In my opinion, I think at least more than half of the story is shown through Titania, so I really focused on her. I understood her the most and could really interpret her feelings. For example, every time Oberon’s feelings were interpreted as sad, Titania would always have a say about his feelings afterwards, calling them pitiful or something among the lines of ugly (which is humorous in its own way). Another reason why I think the story is being interpreted mainly through Titania is because Adrian always portrayed a clear picture of how she felt or her reactions whenever they get updated on the boy’s health or other major things about the boy popped up. It’s unmistakable that her feelings are negative towards the whole time during the situation since she’s still figuring out how she feelings towards the boy.

Titania was the only one among them ever to have ridden on a roller coaster, but she didn’t offer up the experience as an analogy, because it seemed insufficient to describe a process that to her felt less like a violent unpredictable ride than like someone ripping your heart out one day and then stuffing it back in your chest the next.

Titania’s mixed feelings about the boy can definitely be understood. She’s never had a gift/changeling/page like the boy that has impacted her like this. The barrier that was supposed to be between them was broken, and instead of the boy serving him she basically took care, served, and loved him instead. She was reluctant at first, but later warmed up to him as he was growing up. So, given, when someone who she truly feels for for the first time gets sick, and no less a should-be servant, her heart is confused on how to feel and is deciding whether to just discard the boy completely or to keep feeling for him as she had done before.

Another clear representation of her feelings can be seen here, her way of looking at things has changed all because of the boy, and she’s still getting used to that:

“I like to take the long view of things,” Titania said in response, and that had been true as a rule all through her long, long life. But lately her long view had contracted. Even without looking ahead into the uncertain future, she always found something to worry about.

Adrian lets us interpret what Titania was like before the boy got sick, and even her life before she had the boy. She is defined a strong and courageous woman who doesn’t let anyone change her mind except her own intellect. She had a sturdy mindset on how to feel so that no one could change this personality of hers, and we get the feel that nothing could change that, even something major. But then the boy comes along, and she basically falls for him like he was her own son. This mindset starts to falter after learning he has cancer, and we can only guess what happens to her mindset when the boy dies completely since we only get a short glimpse of what their life will be like afterwards.

The second technique I looked at was flashbacks and clarified emotions towards the boy. As stated earlier, and as seen many times in the story, everyone is affected towards the boy’s sick and dangerous situation. They have to adjust to mortal sickness, and can only rely on other mortal doctor’s treatments (which they refer to as poisons) to make him better. We can tell that Titania just wants the boy to get better by mortal help, and Oberon wants to do anything for the boy to make him feel good in his current state since his heart has been changed on how he previously felt about the boy. I think this is the reason why Oberon feeds the boy even after being instructed by mortals to not do so. He just wants to help the boy feel happy since he can’t bare for him being sad. When the boy is sad and he cannot do anything to help it, he runs off and cries, and Titania looks down upon this.

Oberon began to cry, of course. He was always crying these days, and it seemed rather showy to Titania, who thought she suffered more deeply in her silence than he did in his sobs.

This ties in a bit with Titania’s point of view, but at the same time clearly expresses Oberon’s. The ‘these days’ in this quote implies that Oberon probably usually doesn’t cry very much. The boy’s state has affected him so much that sobbing or showing his emotions through tears or sadness has now become the norm. Titania’s reaction to this change? She doesn’t like it one bit, and thinks she suffers more from the boy’s state than him, so it’s safe to say that she thinks quiet suffering is better than Oberon’s obvious grieving.

When it was done, the boy ate the whole thing, and did not share a morsel, which was exactly as it was supposed to be. Aside from the size of it, there was nothing magical about the food. It shouldn’t have sated him any more than half a dozen peanuts, but even the aroma calmed him down as they were cooking, and by the time he had finished off the last tack-size pastry and dime-size cake he was very quiet again. He looked around the room, as if for more food, and when he opened his mouth wide Titania thought he was going to shout or cry. But he burped instead, a tiny little noise, commensurate with what he had eaten.

Oberon and Titania both want the boy to be happy, and the only thing he says in this story that answers how they can give him that is by giving them food. (The one thing they aren’t supposed to give him.) Obviously being immune to his “powers” of getting things he wants from Titania and Oberon, as demonstrated earlier in the story, he gets what he wants. Although, in the end, it only temporarily satisfies him since he just throws it all up later.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why does Adrian show what everyone in the room is thinking before he starts a new scene?
  2. Why does Adrian show the boy’s backstory and his relations to his new “parents”?

 

“The Maker” Write Up by Laura Mercado

SUMMARY

The unnamed character in this section of “The Maker” by Jorge Luis Borges has lived through a lot in his life, and throughout these experiences he has collected memories full of details in all of the five senses, but especially sight. He most vividly remembers visiting a mythic like town with whimsical mountains, the type which might be inhabited by satyrs. The character is the type of person who believes in stories without regard for their reality. The character begins to go blind; he can no longer clearly make out the natural environment around him and begins to lose himself. He breaks down once he realizes he is losing his sight, and begins to imagine the loss of the world around him. He wakes up one day and suddenly comes to peace with his deteriorating condition; he accepts his near blindness and welcomes the unknown future with an air of adventure. He digs into his memory, then, and recalls when he was little and another child bullied him. The character had complained to his father, who sat there and seemed to ignore everything. At the end of the young main character’s vent, the father handed him a bronze dagger (which the child had wanted since forever) and tells him to prove himself as a man. The memory continues with the child challenging the bully to a fight, pulling out the knife, and coming back home with a bloodied blade. Another memory, him finding his way with eyesight through a maze for a woman he desires, follows the first. He wonders why these, of all memories, came to him. Suddenly, he understands- in the journey of blindness he is about to embark on, lives love and danger. His life will not cease to be just because he can no longer see. He compares his impending descent to the epic journeys of Greek heroes, and soon falls into irreversible darkness.

AND INTO THE ANALYSIS STUFF WE GO…

The piece starts out with a bold statement of how the character is the type to believe whimsical stories thoroughly and fully. Through the piece, he compares his experiences to those of the fabled greats found in mythology. To him, this has all occurred before; he takes solace in the fact that greater people than him, his childhood heroes, have been through worse and got through life’s struggles by living them as an adventure. The main character is still a child at heart, and has not stopped believing in the reassuring messages of these myths. He directly compares his upcoming experience in a world without sight as a Greek hero embarking on an adventure. He therefore sees himself as going on a journey of trials and trivial misfortunes, each misstep making up a bigger scope of an epic adventure. Although this is an optimistic view, the main character believes everything will turn out OK not because he genuinely believes that his situation will end up OK, but because the characters he sees himself as turn out OK in their adventures. His mechanism for coping with his loss of sight is viewing his life as nothing more than a story, with himself as the hero for which life will inevitably turn out alright. The ironic part of this is that while most Greek heroes do survive epic adventures, most of them eventually died painful deaths, and usually separated from their love interests. Thus, the main character’s solace in his descent to “love and danger” is a lie, as blindness in his old age will most likely not lead to a romantic representation of either of those. This highlights the important distinction in life between stories and life, truth and fiction, delusion and reality. It is vital to hold both in one’s mind, as hope lives within the could-be’s of fiction, but it is important to continue grounding oneself in reality to be prepared for the future.

Through the gradual blinding of the main character, we can see him lose his sense of self and continuously adapt a Greek hero-type view of himself, thus gradually losing touch of reality. While he is losing reality and the world around him, however, the main character becomes increasingly enriched in his own mind. The descent to darkness of the real world in turn represents a journey into the self, as the character’s dreams and fantasy-infused memories of his experiences are the only things he is able to view, in the end.

My favorite part about this piece is that it is an autobiography. The main character is Borges, the author, who struggled with losing his eyesight piece by piece from the age of 55 until he became fully blind. He has infused himself into the piece as the main character; his memories, his struggles, his delusions became that of the character. I would like to “steal” this openness in Borges’s writing, as I feel like his willingness to spill his soul on paper is what made this piece feel so humanistic and wholesome. It felt real. I’d like to begin creating this feeling of real in my writing.

 

“Reunion” Write Up by Evan Sherer

Summary:

In the short story “Reunion” by John Cheever, a boy named Charlie meets his father for the last time. The story, set in New York, starts at the information booth of wherever the father works, or perhaps owns, where Charlie and his father have planned to meet. He is extremely excited when he sees his father again, who he hasn’t seen since his mother divorced him three years prior. He sees himself in him, and thinks about how he wanted to be just like him.

The father takes Charlie to four different bars. At each bar, the father is awfully rude to their waiters, calling them names, and just being extremely condescending. He’d call them over in four different languages, always ordering a Gibson Beefeater in the most obnoxious way possible. Most of the story is the father making fun of the waiters and then storming out with his son when they weren’t served.

After the last bar, Charlie says he needs to catch his train. The father says he was “terribly sorry,” and offers to get him a paper for his trip. At the booth, he does the same thing, just being terribly condescending to the newspaper salesman, and asks Charlie to wait so he can watch him “get a rise” out of the guy. Charlie says goodbye and does not wait for a response.

The acute tension is Charlie and his father meeting and the chronic tension is the distance between the two, and also perhaps the father’s evasion from connecting with his son.

What makes the story compelling?

One thing that made this story interesting to me was the sheer rudeness of the father. When they went to the first restaurant, I was not expecting the father to be so disgusting to the employees. Because of Charlie’s idolization of his father in the beginning, I got the sense that he would be a good, hardy, self-respecting, honest man, but both Charlie and I were so wrong. After the scene he made at the first restaurant, even though he did not show any guilt, I still was not expecting to be as rude as he was again. But I stand corrected. As the story goes on, I got the sense that the father just really does not want to talk to his son, and would rather distract himself with fussing with the waiters. Because, how could a successful man (a man who goes to the Club and has a secretary answer all of his calls) have made it this far in life by being the biggest prick alive? Surely he could not be so successful if he wasn’t even able to get a drink at a bar. In the end, he doesn’t even say goodbye to his son, instead getting distracted himself with the newspaper salesman.

Another thing that I found really interesting about this story was its disbalance of description. Normally, if the beginning is packed with description and imagery and inner dialogue, and the end is not, it can give the impression that the ending was not given the same amount of attention as the beginning, or it can feel rushed and not as important. However, for me, the lack of description following the beginning served the story very well. It helped to highlight how the father dominated their afternoon together, and how Charlie just didn’t matter to his father. It also shows how empty Charlie probably feels after having such high hopes for his father be crushed. After the first restaurant, you can tell that Charlie is just waiting for their time to be over.

Also, one more thing: the first sentence. It’s great. It immediately poses a dramatic situation: a father and son’s relationship dies, and we are about to hear the story of how that came to be.

What can we steal for our writing?

So a concrete technique that I think can be applicable for a lot of stories is how John Cheever frames the story. I just mentioned how good the first sentence is, but I didn’t point out how the last sentence and the first sentence are almost identical. I think this could be useful to employ if an ending feels incomplete, or if the story doesn’t feel tied together. For me, it just made the story feel whole. All you have to do is say what happens in the first sentence–you’re not really spoiling it, because you’ll have to explain how you got to that conclusion, and the reader will probably forget what you said in the first sentence anyways.

Another thing that I just really appreciate about this story is how Cheever really lets the story do the work. What I mean by that is, Charlie doesn’t explain to us that his father is a huge snob, that he regrets meeting him again, and he is forced to accept the fact that he has a terrible dad. We get all of this ourselves through some pretty easy-to-understand dialogue, in just over two pages. While this may not be something that you can just steal, I think it’s good to recognize how briefly Cheever told this story, yet it’s packed with underlying themes of alcoholism, fatherhood, family and grief.

One last thing: repetition. Having a character do or say the same things over and over again is a great way to engrave a character in the reader’s mind.

Questions:

  1. Do you think the father is an ass to avoid talking to his son, or because he’s just an ass?
  2. How did you feel about the silent inner dialogue of Charlie following the beginning?
  3. Do enough things happen in this story? Does it seem too short?