The Perils of One Hundred Years of Solitude

Gabriel García Márquez’s incomparable 100 Years of Solitude traces a family line–that of the Buendías, originating with José Arcadio Buendía and Úrsula Iguarán–from its beginning to its end through seven generations; this is essentially what constitutes the novel’s plot. José Arcadio Buendía is the first of the line, though he obviously must have had a father himself, because he is the founder of Macondo, where the fate of the line plays out. Its fate is fated to play out here because José Arcadio Buendía leaves the place he grew up after killing a man who insults him for not being able to sexually satisfy his wife. Notably, this man, Prudencio Aguilar, levels the insult after José Arcadio Buendía’s cock defeats his in a cockfight; the insult stems from a rumor that’s stemmed from Úrsula refusing to consummate her marriage to José Arcadio Buendía because they’re distantly related, making her worried that their children will be born “with the tail of a pig,” as a cousin of hers was who ended up dying when he finally got someone to chop the tail off. Úrsula fights her husband off for a year before Prudencio Aguilar’s insult and death leads him to insist on consummation. They have three children, the second generation: José Arcadio (conceived on the original trek to found Macondo), Aureliano, and Amaranta. Rebeca arrives a bit later, sent by people claiming to be the Buendías’ relatives whom they’ve never met and can’t remember. (Rebeca is the only one of that generation to outlive Úrsula, who lives through the sixth generation of the family and must be at least 140 by the time she dies. Amaranta ends up dying a virgin, managing to resist consummating the mutual torrid passion she has for her nephew, Aureliano’s son José Aureliano.) A notable figure for the first generation, though not related by blood, is the gypsy Melquiades, who kindles José Arcadio Buendía’s interests in the larger world as well as his imaginative fancies, and who eventually, after coming back from the dead, resides in a room in the family’s house until he dies again.

The men of the second generation, José Arcadio and Aureliano, essentially spread their seed indiscriminately. Both conceive children by the card reader Pilar Ternera, who came to Macondo with the original settlers; by her, Aureliano has Aureliano Jose and José Arcadio has Arcadio (this makes these members of the third generation both half-brothers and cousins, initiating the convoluted genetic connections that will permeate the line). Second-gen Aureliano becomes a colonel who fights and loses 32 civil wars against conservatives, in the course of which he ends up fathering 17 sons who are (almost) all assassinated in a single night. José Arcadio, leaving after conceiving Arcadio to travel the world with the gypsies, returns and ends up marrying Rebeca, but they have no children. Aureliano ends up choosing to marry Remedios Moscote, the youngest and still prepubescent daughter of the town magistrate that José Arcadio Buendía butted heads with after he arrived and wanted to impose rules. But after she’s old enough to conceive, Remedios dies during her pregnancy (with twins); Amaranta feels herself responsible because she prayed fervently for something to prevent the marriage of Rebeca to the dance instructor Pietro Crespi, which the extended mourning period interferes with. When José Arcadio returns from traveling the world with the gypsies and Rebeca ends up marrying him, Pietro Crespi eventually proposes to Amaranta, but she refuses, getting involved with her nephew Aureliano Jose around this time, though she never lets him consummate it.

Both Arcadio and José Aureliano, the third generation, are raised in the house their fathers grew up in and where their fathers are still without knowing who their parents actually are. Arcadio eventually joins his uncle Colonel Aureliano in fighting the civil wars and is shot by a firing squad while his wife Santa Sofía de la Piedad is still pregnant; his children, the fourth generation, are Remedios and the twins José Arcadio Segundo and Aureliano Segundo, who are also unaware of their relation to Pilar Ternera.

After Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s civil wars are over when he finally signs a surrender agreement against the wishes of his men (he escapes the firing squad he’s facing in the novel’s opening when he’s rescued by his brother José Arcadio, whose own death is either murder or suicide), a banana company arrives and drastically changes the atmosphere of Macondo thanks to José Arcadio Segundo giving the visiting gringo Mr. Herbert a banana; José Arcadio Segundo becomes a foreman for the company. Eventually there’s a strike for workers’ rights that gets violent, and the banana company has soldiers open fire on a crowd of 3000 people that includes José Arcadio Segundo, who wakes up on a train full of the crowd’s corpses. When he makes his way back to Macondo, everyone has been convinced that the workers returned to their families and that no violence occurred; this is the version that makes it into the history books. Broken by the incident, José Arcadio Segundo then basically pens himself up in the gypsy Melquiades’ former room for the rest of his life, trying to decipher the gypsy’s parchments, having no children. The banana company mysteriously induces a ten-year nonstop torrent of rain that then enables them to abolish operations there.

Meanwhile, Aureliano Segundo has the fifth generation, three children with Fernanda (while keeping the lifelong mistress Petra Cotes): Amaranta Úrsula, Jose Arcadio (whom Úrsula wants to groom to be pope), and Renata Remedios. The last goes by the nickname Meme and ends up having a fling with a mechanic, Mauricio Babilonia, who someone shoots one night when he’s sneaking into the house, leading to their discovery and Fernanda shipping Meme off to a convent. A nun shows up at the house one day a few months later with Meme’s baby by Mauricio, the sixth generation, Aureliano Babilonia, who doesn’t actually go by that name because Fernanda tells everyone she found him “floating in a basket,” and no one knows where he really came from. Fernanda raises him as her own child, so he’s essentially raised as fifth gen, as a brother to the other daughter of Fernanda and Aureliano Segundo, Amaranta Úrsula, though she’s really his aunt.

Amaranta Úrsula eventually leaves to spend some time abroad in Brussels right after Úrsula finally dies. When Amaranta Úrsula returns to Macondo to live, she and Aureliano, not believing themselves blood-related and with no one around who knows that they are, begin a passionate affair (notably, after Aureliano goes for advice to Pilar Ternera, who’s outlived even Úrsula and whom he’s unaware he’s related to, she encourages him to pursue it, leading him to essentially rape Amaranta Úrsula into willingness). When Amaranta Úrsula dies giving birth to their son, Aureliano, who’s the sixth/seventh generation, Aureliano Babilonia (only referred to in-text at this point as “Aureliano,” thus conflating him with the newest baby) is so distraught he goes out and gets drunk, and, “in the last dawn of Macondo,” the child Aureliano is eaten alive by ants on the porch, thus ending the line. Aureliano, who’s been trying to decipher Melquíades’ parchments (which Jose Arcadio Segundo failed to) since before he seduced Rebeca, is finally able to that day, discovering his true origin. He understands that Macondo will be wiped out the moment he finishes deciphering the parchments, “because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.” The End.

One can tell from this description of the “plot” that time works uniquely in this novel–things are not so simple as a neat chronological presentation of a series of events. There’s more summary than scene, and the narrator will frequently have to circle back to to describe things that were going on “during the period of [blank].” Úrsula repeatedly comments on how time seems to be going in a circle:

Looking at the sketch that Aureliano Triste drew on the table and that was a direct descendent of the plans with which José Arcadio Buendía had illustrated his project for solar warfare, Úrsula confirmed her impression that time was going in a circle.

When [Úrsula] said it she realized that she was giving the same reply that Colonel Aureliano Buendía had given in his death cell, and once again she shuddered with the evidence that time was not passing, as she had just admitted, but that it was turning in a circle.

Macondo also returns to the same state at the end that it was at the beginning, which reinforces how time does seem to have gone in a circle:

It was also around that time [after Úrsula and Rebeca have finally died] that the gypsies returned, the last heirs to Melquíades’ science, and they found the town so defeated and its inhabitants so removed from the rest of the world that once more they went through the houses dragging magnetized ingots as if that really were the Babylonian wise men’s latest discovery, and once again they concentrated the sun’s rays with the giant magnifying glass, and there was no lack of people standing open-mouthed watching kettles fall and pots roll and who paid fifty cents to be startled as a gypsy woman put in her false teeth and took them out again.

The description of Melquíades’ parchments near the end echoes and comments on the novel structure’s circular use of time:

It was the history of the family, written by Melquíades, down to the most trivial details, one hundred years ahead of time. … The final protection, which Aureliano had begun to glimpse when he let himself be confused by the love of Amaranta Úrsula, was based on the fact that Melquíades had not put events in the order of man’s conventional time, but had concentrated a century of daily episodes in such a way that they coexisted in one instant.

Such concentration is an impressive feat that is not Melquíades’ feat alone, but also Marquez’s.

Other echoes: early in the novel, José Arcadio Buendía finds the skeleton of a ship on one of his treks to find the sea; José Arcadio Segundo later brings the only boat in to ever dock in Macondo, and even later, Aureliano Triste, one of the 17 Aurelianos, brings the railroad to Macondo in order to expand the reach of his ice business, which will recall the novel’s opening line about Colonel Aureliano Buendía remembering, as he faces a firing squad, the afternoon his father took him “to discover ice.” At that point José Arcadio Buendía has a vision that Macondo will be made of ice, and in the final lines the town is described as “the city of mirrors (or mirages)” that will be “exiled from the memory of men” when Aureliano finishes deciphering the parchments. So José Arcadio Buendía’s vision of the town of ice, whose impermanent nature he does not understand, is foreshadowing both the family’s and the town’s impermanence. He also refuses to believe it when Melquíades tries to warn him:

One night [Melquíades] thought he had found a prediction of the future of Macondo. It was to be a luminous city with great glass houses where there was no trace remaining of the race of the Buendía. “It’s a mistake,” José Arcadio Buendía thundered. “They won’t be houses of glass but of ice, as I dreamed, and there will always be a Buendía, per omnia secula seculorum.”

The dream that José Arcadio Buendía is described to have in the paragraphs before he’s found dead could be a manifestation of his doomed desire for his line to continue forever:

When he was alone, José Arcadio Buendía consoled himself with the dream of the infinite rooms. He dreamed that he was getting out of bed, opening the door and going into an identical room with the same bed with a wrought-iron head, the same wicker chair, and the same small picture of the Virgin of Help on the back wall. From that room he would go into another that was just the same, the door of which would open into another that was just the same, the door of which would open into another one just the same, and then into another exactly alike, and so on to infinity. He liked to go from room to room. As in a gallery of parallel mirrors….

The tragedy of the novel’s ending is that it’s not just the family that vanishes, but any memory of them. This becomes political commentary in that the Buendías, largely via Colonel Aureliano Buendía but also through others, have fought to resist the forces of tyranny imposing on the town and the region. The fact that no one will remember their efforts underscores these efforts’ utter failure. Near the end, when Aureliano (Babilonia) is searching for more information on his identity, he talks to a priest who tells him he must just be named for a street in the town, which enrages him:

“So!” he said. “You don’t believe it either.”

“Believe what?”

“That Colonel Aureliano, Buendía fought thirty-two civil wars and lost them all,” Aureliano answered. “That the army hemmed in and machine-gunned three thousand workers and that their bodies were carried off to be thrown into the sea on a train with two hundred cars.”

The priest measured him with a pitying look.

The firing squad in the first line is also something that recurs; the novel circles back to show us that Colonel Aureliano does not in fact die by that firing squad as we’re led to believe he will at the beginning–he dies under the same chestnut tree where his father spent his later years (though his father was brought inside to die)–but Arcadio does die by firing squad, and Jose Aureliano is killed for an act of civil disobedience, so also at the hands of higher authorities.

The names are probably the most obvious example of recurrence that makes time feel circular:

While the Aurelianos were withdrawn, but with lucid minds, the José Arcadios were impulsive and enterprising, but they were marked with a tragic sign.

Another recurrence is that some of the mothers who have the children don’t want to name them after their forebears because they’re concerned it will brand/curse them with these associated characteristics, but it’s always the men who insist on using the names, and then the women decide not to challenge them. (Though it’s worth noting that the name Aureliano comes from Úrsula’s father, so the names are not just patrilineal.)

Aureliano Segundo, as was his custom came back to sleep in the house during his daughter’s vacation and Fernanda must have done something to regain her privileges as his legitimate wife because the following year Meme found a newborn little sister who against the wishes of her mother had been baptized with the name Amaranta Úrsula.

Through her tears Amaranta Úrsula could see that he was one of those great Buendías, strong and willful like the José Arcadios, with the open and clairvoyant eyes of the Aurelianos, and predisposed to begin the race again from the beginning and cleanse it of its pernicious vices and solitary calling, for he was the only one in a century who had been engendered with love.

“He’s a real cannibal.” she said. “We’ll name him Rodrigo.”

“No,” her husband countered. “We’ll name him Aureliano and he’ll win thirty-two wars. ”

Another recurrence: general confusion about who’s related to whom. Arcadio and Aureliano Jose live in the same house as their fathers without knowing they’re their fathers, and Arcadio tries to sleep with Pilar Ternera because he has no idea she’s his mother. A lack of clarity about bloodlines becomes critical to what ends the bloodline when Fernanda refuses to tell anyone the truth about where Meme’s son Aureliano really came from. Had Amaranta Úrsula realized she was his blood aunt rather than his adopted sister, she might have been able to resist his advances, as Amaranta resisted those of her nephew Jose Aureliano, whom she was aware was her nephew. Though it should be noted that Amaranta Úrsula did put up a significant struggle:

Aureliano, smiled, picked her up by the waist with both hands like a pot of begonias, and dropped her on her back on the bed. With a brutal tug he pulled off her bathrobe before she had time to resist and he loomed over an abyss of newly washed nudity whose skin color, lines of fuzz, and hidden moles had all been imagined in the shadows of the other rooms. Amaranta Úrsula defended herself sincerely with the astuteness of a wise woman, weaseling her slippery, flexible, and fragrant weasel’s body as she tried to knee him in the kidneys and scorpion his face with her nails, but without either of them giving a gasp that might not have been taken for that breathing of a person watching the meager April sunset through the open window. It was a fierce fight, a battle to the death…

And Pilar Ternera, who’s actually a part of this family though no one has ever acknowledged it, encourages this act basically as the last thing she does before she, the last person to predate Macondo, finally dies.

Another recurrence that contributes to the feeling of time being circular is the use of the phrase that the novel opens with: “Many years later…”:

MANY YEARS LATER as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant after noon when his father took him to discover ice.

Many years later Colonel Aureliano Buendía crossed the region again, when it was already a regular mail route, and the only part of the ship he found was its burned-out frame in the midst of a field of poppies.

Many years later, when Macondo was a field of wooden houses with zinc roofs, the broken and dusty almond trees still stood on the oldest streets, although no one knew who had planted them.

Many years later there were those who still insisted that the royal guard of the intruding queen was a squad of regular army soldiers who were concealing government-issue rifles under their rich Moorish robes.

Many years later, when she began to f eel she was the equal of her great-grandmother, Fernanda doubted her childhood vision, but her mother scolded her disbelief.

Many years later that child would still tell, to the disbelief of all, that he had seen the lieutenant reading Decree No. 4 of the civil and military leader of the province through an old phonograph horn.

Many years later that child would still tell, in spite of people thinking that he was a crazy old man, how José Arcadio Segundo had lifted him over his he ad an d hauled him, almost in the air, as if floating on the terror of the crowd, toward a nearby street.

The groundbreaking magical realism in the novel functions largely on a symbolic level, like when it rains yellow flowers when José Arcadio Buendía dies, or when Colonel Aureliano is only three and seems to cause a pot of soup to spill without touching it:

The child, Perplexed, said from the doorway, “It’s going to spill.” The pot was firmly placed in the center of the table, but just as soon as the child made his announcement, it began an unmistakable movement toward the edge, as if impelled by some inner dynamism, and it fell and broke on the floor.

Once you know the whole story, the soup seems symbolic of the family itself: it seems like the most stable fixture in the town, but then turns out not to be, and Colonel Aureliano’s failure to defeat the Conservatives paves the way for the imperialist banana company to wreak its destruction, which is a significant turning point in the family’s destruction. The novel depicts forces that we generally perceive as harbingers of progress to actually be harbingers of the exact opposite, which is why Macondo ends up in the same place at the end that it was at the beginning, like the train.

But when they recovered from the noise of the whistles and the snorting, all the inhabitants ran out into the street and saw Aureliano Triste waving from the locomotive, and in a trance they s a w the flower-bedecked train which was arriving for the first time eight months late. The innocent yellow train that was to bring so many ambiguities and certainties, so many pleasant and unpleasant moments, so many changes, calamities, and feelings of nostalgia to Macondo.

It’s interesting that Amaranta Úrsula’s nickname for the last Aureliano is the “cannibal”; a person who eats other people seems symbolic of this bloodline that will destroy itself through incest, which is of course Úrsula’s concern from the very beginning of the line. The ants that end up eating the last member of the line are also people-eating, and it’s certainly notable foreshadowing that in the period of Amaranta Úrsula’s and Aureliano’s feverish incestuous fornication they slather themselves with jam before making love on the porch and wake up with the ants trying to eat them. But the incest aspect that eradicates the family could be inversely symbolic of the larger imperialist forces that contribute to their destruction–they don’t really just destroy themselves in a vacuum; they can’t be said to be solely responsible, though of course any imperialist looking at it from the outside would probably say that they had…in this way the symbolism comments more broadly on the imperialist narratives it dramatizes in the episode of the American-owned banana company killing 3000 people in a massacre that goes utterly acknowledged by the history books. The incest aspect of the novel is certainly ugly and discomfiting, in the obvious way that imperialism should be but frequently isn’t.

-SCR

 

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Hydrophobia

Gabriel’s summary of “An Owner’s Guide to Home Repair, Page 238: What To Do About Water Odor” By: Michael Vincent Zito

An unnamed man turns on his faucet to find a foul smelling odor coming out from his water. He tries all the other faucets, shower, and the toilet all which release a horrible odor into his home. He goes into the basement to pull out The Owners Guide to home repair, a book his wife bought him the first christmas they were married. He flips to the Plumbing section which narrates the rest of the story from here on out.He asks around and takes apart and puts back together his plumbing system yet the odor persists.  After finding nothing wrong he calls the public water authority who seem uncaring in the matter because his home is the only house out of the thousands that share his local water supply to have this issue. He asks for the exact source of his water, Timber Lake Reservoir the man replies. He has a terrible realization as this is the lake where he dumped his wife’s body after they had a massive possibly marriage ending fight. The pipes in his home rattle violently that night, he can’t sleep and is forced to accept the stench as he steps in the shower and turns on the faucet, letting the water run over him.

Chronic Tension: The man killed his wife and dumped her body in a reservoir.

Acute tension: Her corpse is coming back to him through the water pipes releasing a horrible odor.

The first story element I tracked was tension, which was done quite impressively in my opinion. Michael Vincent Zito is able to tell this mystery of water odor while also ramping up the tension at the same time. Take for example this paragraph,

Call the public water authority. Tell them about the smell. Tell them you cannot live like this. Realize that the man on the phone is indifferent to your distress, that there is nothing he will do to help you, not when two thousand homes in your district share the same water source, and you are the only one to complain.

This paragraph takes a little wind out of you when you read it. We had already previously known that Ellis his neighbor has no issues with his water but to read that not a single house out of thousands has this issue combined with the knowledge that the only authority who can help him in this matter is uncaring, its tense to say the least.

The second story element I  tracked was unreliable narration. I myself am a huge fan of unreliable narrators and while reading this story I picked up on a couple hints of that. There is nothing wrong with his water or his piping  yet here is this odor, this odor that haunts him constantly. For example take this paragraph,

Raise your dirtied face to the showerhead knocking and quaking above you, scream no no no, but you must. Accept it all, the memory, the monstrous pounding of the pipes,

I don’t believe water pipes can shake so violently. So to read this leads me to believe that possibly the character is hallucinating. This theory could be backed up by this line,

Detect a whisper, coming from your bathroom, what could be a trickle of water or could be her voice: Darling.

Trickling water doesn’t sound like whispers yet this man believes it could be her voice calling for him, he’s clearly tumbling deeper into a sense of delirium after discovering that where he gets his water from the same reservoir that he dumped his wife’s corpse. What I will take to implement into my own writing from this story is how to write better tension. Specifically by crossing out the possible options  leaving the reader to puzzle over what the answer could be while also being dismissed by any authority that could help you in the matter.

Questions:

Why would the author lightly implement the unreliable narrator factor?

How is the tension weak in some places while strong in others and why?

Ellis

Summary

The story opens with the main character, supposedly you, encountering a horrible stench coming from the sink. You go around your house checking each source of water and oh boy, they all stink like straight up booty. You pick up this book on home repair that suggests you ask your neighbor if they’re experiencing the same thing, so you do this, and he doesn’t smell it. He does ask though if you and Margaret want to come over for dinner. You say no. Wait, who’s Margaret? It says to call a plumber. You decide it’d be a useless endeavor, and throw the book away. However, it continues narrating like a book. As time goes on, the odor gets more present and foul. You call the water company and complain about the odor. They say you’re the only one that’s complained. You “realize what this means.” You ask for the water source and it’s just what you suspected, the lake you put your wife, Margaret, in after you killed her with a metal wrench. The lake is where the water comes from. It’s filled with particles from her degrading corpse. It haunts you at night. The pipes are moaning at you. Finally, you can’t take it anymore, and finally shower and let her wash over you, burning with vengeance.

Ellis’s Section for Presentation

The first technique I tracked was the various times the author used language to build the atmosphere of this story, one that is very suspenseful, mysterious, but also very gross, disgusting, and one capable of giving the reader skin crawls. This language not only creates visual imagery, but also sinks into the readers mind, almost inducing the same sensations described in the story. Right off the bat, we receive a description of the stench of the water, comparing it to a dead crab that the main character (you) found as a kid.

…even as the crab’s shell turned a sick, dark grey and erupted with crawling pink worms that scavenged the flesh…

This sentence sears the image into the mind of the reader until the dead crab is almost right in front of them, including the color and small details like the worms. Here’s another example:

Imagine her now at the bottom of that reservoir, stuck in the black muck and vile reeds, the suitcase waterlogged and fallen apart, her corpse fat and half-devoured by fish, Margaret fizzing with decay—particles of death peeling away from her, set free into the water, into the supply, into the pipes, a funeral procession of stink and foulness, Margaret’s body coming home speck by speck in the currents.

This one sentence is full of imagery, describing the corpse of the main characters wife breaking down in the water and being carried through the pipes, but every tiny detail is described, from being eaten by fish, to her leftover particles being sucked into the pipes.

Secondly, I tracked the complexities in the main character, and hints into (or blatant statements about) the main character’s life. Throughout the story, we are slowly discovering the truth behind the reason the water smells so foul, and through that we receive various reactions  from the main character. One of which doesn’t necessarily make sense until the full story is read. After the main character talks on the phone with a man from the public water authority, the man tells him that nobody else has complained about the water. The story simply responds with, “Realize what this means.” This, of course, introduces a complexity, because we, the readers, do not realize what this means, but we can tell that some thought in the mind of the main character has awoken. Later on, we find out that since the wife’s corpse is in the water, and only the main character can smell it, that only adds to the main character’s belief that the water is almost haunted by his/her wife. This continues towards the end of the story, when the main character comes to accept the fact that his/her wife’s body is in the pipes and water. As he lie in bed, the book narrates,

Cover your ears, try to ignore it… shake your head to dispel… the memory… what could be a trickle of water or [be] her voice [saying] Darling.

This reiterates the fact that the main character is being haunted by their realization, that guilt is washing over them, nearly causing hallucinations. Of course, they soon cannot put up a defense against it, and allows the water his wife is in to wash over him.

Questions: Why doesn’t the author directly state/ go into detail about the misdeeds of the main character?

Do you believe everything being said is in the book, in the mind of the main character, etc, and why is it in the point of view that it’s in?

Alex

The chronic tension of the story is that the main character has killed his wife because she has found out about his illegal activities, while the acute tension is that her body (which he dumped in the lake) has contaminated the water supply and is stinking up his home.

The first technique I tracked was point of view. The entire story was written in second person, which I thought was a very interesting way to write. Not many pieces of fiction are written this way simply because it can be awkwardly written. The first paragraph starts with second person and immerses you into the plot:

Turn the crystal knob on your kitchen faucet and shut off the water. Step back. Wave the air in front of you, cough, snort, pinch your nose, do whatever you must to clear the repulsive smell clogging your nostrils as if you’ve just inhaled rotten meat. Think of the dead crab you found when you were ten years old, its body washed to shore in Rhode Island, and you brought it home and kept it all summer long in an empty pickle jar on your dresser, even as the crab’s shell turned a sick, dark grey and erupted with crawling pink worms that scavenged the flesh, until one day in August when you opened the jar. Compare that hideous stench—choking, miserable, terrifying—to the odor here now, the same, coming from the water in your house.

The use of second person point of view and figurative language (which I will talk about later) engage the reader into the story and leave one on the edge of their seat. It really forces the reader to relate to the story (even though I hope no one has killed their wife and shoved her into a lake) because they are already in second person.

Ask Ellis if he’s noticed any trouble with his water. Thank him when he checks and says no. Pretend to be interested in dinner some night, you, him and Margaret, then hang up on the lonely old man.

Remove the panels in your ceilings, room by room, and examine the pipes, spend hours hunting for old iron that may be a source of bacteria, the kind that stinks like death. Crinkle your nose at the smell in these crawl spaces, but find nothing that matches the descriptions and illustrations in your book, just smooth black PVC tubes slithering through walls and floors like huge headless snakes.

The story uses a sort of flashback near the sixth page that shows the main character killing his wife because she found out about some sort of criminal activity that he participated in.

Think of Margaret. Think of her that evening last month when she discovered your lies, your business failures, how desperate you’d become. Think of the words she shouted, words like fraud and criminal and divorce and jail. Think of her later that night at Timber Lake, splayed on the shore like the crab you found in Rhode Island.

Hang up on the man repeating Sir? Sir? and recall the drive in the darkness to Timber Lake, Margaret finally silent on the floor in your backseat, her head soft and broken, the trees black like prison bars as you pulled off the road and picked a path through the elms down to the water, a stumbling, strenuous trek with Margaret in your arms and your cramped fingers hooked through the handle of your largest suitcase, until at last you collapsed at the shore and filled the suitcase first with rocks and then with Margaret. Remember how cold the water felt as you waded into the lake, towing the suitcase until you could go no farther without being pulled under, out where it was deep enough to push Margaret off inside her submersible coffin, sending her sinking and sliding down the slope of the lake floor to an untold resting place.

Imagine her now at the bottom of that reservoir, stuck in the black muck and vile reeds, the suitcase waterlogged and fallen apart, her corpse fat and half-devoured by fish, Margaret fizzing with decay—particles of death peeling away from her, set free into the water, into the supply, into the pipes, a funeral procession of stink and foulness, Margaret’s body coming home speck by speck in the currents.

The second technique I tracked was figurative language. There are so many similes, metaphors, and strong images in the story. Like stated previously, the first paragraph borderline nauseates the reader with its clear-cut, intense imagery:

Think of the dead crab you found when you were ten years old, its body washed to shore in Rhode Island, and you brought it home and kept it all summer long in an empty pickle jar on your dresser, even as the crab’s shell turned a sick, dark grey and erupted with crawling pink worms that scavenged the flesh…

One could argue that the language distracts from the plot, but I think that enhances the story. Since the story is in both second person and it has a lot of olfactory and visual imagery, it immerses the reader completely into the piece.

I’d like to implement both of these things into my own writing. I’ve never written any fiction in second person perspective, and I’d like to try it. Figurative language is really interesting to me, and I’d like to get better at it.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why did the author choose to keep the origin of the smell hidden until the story was only halfway over?
  2. How does the author use repulsive imagery to propel the story?

 

“The Lottery” Write Up by Ivan, Esmeralda, and Aanisah

Summary:

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson starts with us being informed that a gathering for a lottery is happening. The boys are gathering rocks and the girls are standing aside. The men soon gathered along with the women. We are introduced to Mr. Summers, the man who we see has a big role in this town, and is in charge of the event taking place. He is carrying a black box that carries the slips of paper that replaced the wood chips that used to be used. Mr. Summers makes a list before they can start and Mr. Summers is sworn in. There had been some other traditions that used to be done before that everybody had forgotten. After that, Mrs. Hutchinson hurried arrives chatting briefly with Mrs. Delacroix before heading to the front where her family was standing, after that Mr. Summers asks if anybody is absent and after confirming Dunbar’s absence he asks who will draw for him, to  which Mrs. Dunbar responds she will. Mr. Summers confirms that there is no older son who could do it for him and he also confirms that the Watson boy was drawing that year and that Old Man Warner was present. The lottery begins and the men slowly get called up in alphabetical order and the people start talking about how other towns have abandoned the lottery and Old Man Warner talks condescendingly about those towns, wanting to keep tradition. They all get slips and everybody starts to question who has the slip. Bill Hutchinson has it and Mrs. Hutchinson gets agitated because she thinks it wasn’t a fair draw. Tessie protests as Bill is very willingly responding to Mr. Summers questions. He dumps out the rest leaving in only 5 slips. The Hutchinsons pull out their slips and when everyone but Tessie have opened their slips, Bill put up her slip that had a pencil mark on it. They all went to  the pile of stones the children had made before. They started to stone Tessie as she screamed.

Chronic Tension:

The chronic tension for “The Lottery” is the nature of the Lottery itself. They mention throughout the story that the deadly Lottery’s traditions were changing or disappearing, and the Lottery itself was disappearing in some villages. Each character seems to have differing opinions on this, and the reader can sense the tension from these past events influencing the present in the story.

Acute Tension:

The acute tension of  “The Lottery” is the Lottery that happened the day the story took place. It propels the characters to undertake certain actions and behave in peculiar, defensive ways. Throughout, the characters are on edge, and their dialogue increasingly shows it as the nature of the Lottery is revealed to the reader.

What Got Ivan’s Attention:

This story was so good because of the complete reversal the story takes. The word “lottery” has a positive connotation to it, but Shirley Jackson flips the word on its head. She expertly manipulates the reader and, without ever outright saying it, reveals that the Lottery is something evil, something despicable. I absolutely adore how Shirley Jackson did it, through subtle dialogue and description

What Ivan Would Imitate:

I would imitate how Shirley Jackson creates her characters. She introduces characters quickly, with a small physical description, and she lets the characters explain themselves through dialogue. Old Man Warner does this especially well, letting the reader realize his ideals and mindset about the Lottery and life in general. Additionally, how Shirley Jackson creates such tension through moderate language is wonderful, and I’d love to learn from it.

Ivan’s Techniques:

The two techniques tracked were characterization, through dialogue or description, and how the conflict escalates through dialogue. These two techniques were picked because they showcase how the plot was developed throughout the story and how Shirley Jackson expertly shows and does not tell.

When Shirley Jackson characterizes, she paints with a broad brush. She indicates only the faintest parts of a person’s personality, leaving the reader with enough to work out the characters but not much more. This keeps the reader intrigued, and the vagueness of the characters works hand in hand with the escalation of the plot.

In specific, Old Man Warner goes on and on when he speaks, revealing his positive view on the Lottery and his stereotypical “back-in-my-day” personality. He says,

‘Listening to the young folks, nothing’s good enough for them. Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more, live that way for a while. Used to be a saying about ‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.’

His disdain for the  “young folks” is evident and his trust in the Lottery is adamant. He also mentions that this is his seventy-seventh Lottery, showing his age.

The second technique tracked was the escalation of the acute tension/conflict through dialogue. The conversations held between characters can be said to be a product of their nerves. The adults speak in clipped, colloquial terms, intensifying as the Lottery begins taking place. The main way Jackson shows how the Lottery is evil is through the character’s speech.

To illustrate, Tessie contributes most to this escalation. As soon as she realizes her family has been picked, she provides verbal outcry again and again till the villagers. What she repeats, almost a mantra, is:

‘It isn’t fair!’

She says this as she realizes she has been picked for the Lottery, a broken record as the villagers turn on her.

Another prime example of Jackson’s expert intensification is Mr. Summers, the cold yet social administrator of the lottery. He continuously asks formal questions, poking and prodding. The answers that he forces out keep the story going, and he adds a slightly bureaucratic undertone to the whole affair with questions like,

“‘Bill,’ he said,’you draw for the Hutchinson family. You got any other households in the Hutchinsons?’”

and continuous worrying phrases that leave the reader’s mind moving such as

Someone said, ‘Don’t be nervous, Jack,’ …

and

Mr. Summers said ‘Take your time, son,’ ….

With phrases like this, Shirley Jackson keeps the story moving while also providing an illusion of safety and security with such phrases as “Take your time,” the undertone meaning to hurry up.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why did Shirley Jackson never go into depth on most character’s personalities?
  2. How did the reversal of the Lottery add to the story?

What Got Esmeralda’s Attention: I really liked the foreshadowing and how it escalated from a fairly innocent event to a dark and brutal persecution. It was very ambiguous and subtle how she gradually flipped the story on its head effectively.

What Esmeralda Would Imitate: I would imitate how the author uses details that seems meaningless or seem to have little to nothing to do with the main plot and use it later in a way that is very involved with the plot. I also would like use dialogue to escalate the plot.

I commend the authors use of metaphor to give meaning to the events that take place in the story.

Esmeralda’s Techniques:  The two techniques i tracked were theme and how the setting of the world is shown through exposition. I chose these two techniques because they help have a more well rounded look on the story.

When Shirley uses exposition, she explains this world very vaguely but effectively in a way. You can tell  there is a bigger world than the one she shows us in the story. The mentioning of other villages and forgotten rituals gives us a peek into the world surrounding the story.

“They do say,” Mr. Adams said to Old Man Warner, who stood next to him, “that over in the north village they’re talking of giving up the lottery.”

We also see a specific date that follows tradition: “The morning of June 27th.”

Transitioning into tradition, that is one of the themes in this story, or more specifically the lack  of wanting to abandon tradition. Old Man Warner clearly displays a clear distaste for other villages abandoning the lottery:

Old Man Warner snorted. “Pack of crazy fools,” he said. “Listening to the young folks, nothing’s good enough for them. Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work any more, live that way for a while. Used to be a saying about ‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.’ First thing you know, we’d all be eating stewed chickweed and acorns. There’s always been a lottery,” he added petulantly. “Bad enough to see young Joe Summers up there joking with everybody.”

“Some places have already quit lotteries.” Mrs. Adams said.

“Nothing but trouble in that,” Old Man Warner said stoutly. “Pack of young fools.”

It also leans a lot into the traditional “patriarchal mentality” where the men have all the power in the society. We see the women being submissive to their husbands and even when they are not they are still expected to do so, Mrs. Dunbar for example:

“Me. I guess,” a woman said. and Mr. Summers turned to look at her. “Wife draws for her husband.” Mr. Summers said. “Don’t you have a grown boy to do it for you, Janey?” Although Mr. Summers and everyone else in the village knew the answer perfectly well, it was the business of the official of the lottery to ask such questions formally. Mr. Summers waited with an expression of polite interest while Mrs. Dunbar answered.

“Horace’s not but sixteen yet.” Mrs. Dunbar said regretfully. “Guess I gotta fill in for the old man this year.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Shirley explored tradition and how some of it could be dangerous, did she use the theme of dangerous tradition effectively? Why or why not?
  2. How could have explaining the whole world of the story have affected the story? If anywhere, where would it have been the most impactful for the author to expand our knowledge of the world?

Aanisah’s Techniques Tracked:

  • How dialogue assists the setting
  • Escalation in the story

Even without the description of the town, the dialogue alone would give you an idea of where the story is taking place. The image this dialogue creates of a small town with a farm, pies baking on the windowsill and laundry pinned on a clothesline. It serves to only add to the authenticity of the setting. The first piece of dialogue from Mrs. Hutchinson is a saying that is only used without irony by someone who has grown up in a southern setting.

“Clean forgot what day it was,” she said to Mrs. Delacroix, who stood next to her, and they both laughed softly.

Other pieces of dialogue describe the setting itself directly. Another line from Mrs. Hutchinson when she is telling Mrs. Delacroix how she forgot the event taking place today is an example of this.

 “Thought my old man was out back stacking wood,”

Dialogue such as this also helps make the climax of the story even more chilling given the casualness in which it is delivered. The first line of the starts of by saying that the day is warm and sunny with blooming flowers and fresh, green grass which garners the assumption that the story won’t be hectic or the tension will build up slowly.

 “The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green.”

But from the very beginning, the whole town was very much aware of the climax that was going to take place and merely saw it as another aspect of life while a reader would consider it horrific and is not prepared for the stoning of Tessie and how the townspeople think about it. They treat it as an event that all towns are expected to have and not the taking of a human being’s life. They even give the Hutchinsons’ young son, Davy, a few pebbles to throw at his own mother. The story has an air of nonchalance and laughter which only changes when the Hutchinsons’ name is pulled from the black box and Tessie begins to shout that the drawing wasn’t fair. This abrupt escalation puts a shock into readers.

Questions:

  • Why do you think that the Lottery became a tradition?
  • Could the town eventually get rid of the Lottery?

“Everyday Use,” or Why Emma Should Be Allowed to Wear the Crown Jewels

  • a write up by Emma Bennett

“Everyday Use” by Alice Walker follows a family of three: Mama, and her two daughters Maggie and Dee. The story opens with Mama and Maggie waiting in the yard for Dee’s arrival. Mama reflects on dreams she’d had about their reunion, similar to TV shows where a child who has “made it” is presented to their parents and tears ensue. Mama then reflects on the reality on her life, which is much less glamorous than on TV. Maggie’s tentative arrival interrupts her thoughts; Mama mentally compares her child to a lame animal and remembers when their first house burned. Maggie was burned and now bears scars that make her self-conscious and timid. Dee hated their old house, and Mama used to think she hated Maggie as well, until Mama and the church raised money to send Dee to school. Dee’s education separated her from Mama and Maggie, who found it hard to keep up with her.

Dee arrives, wearing a bright dress, and with her hair styled in a way that appears unusual to Mama and Maggie. She greets them with a phrase neither of them understands, as does the man accompanying her. After telling her mother not to get up, Dee takes a camera from the car and snaps some photographs of her family and their house. Only after she’s finished does she kiss her mother on the forehead. When Mama greets Dee, Dee tells her that she is no longer Dee, but Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo. When Mama asks why, Dee tells her that she doesn’t want to be named after her oppressor, to which Mama responds by pointing out the family ties to the name. This doesn’t change Dee’s mind, so Mama tries pronouncing her name, but can’t manage her companion’s, who tells her to call him Hakim-a-barber.

The four of them sit down to eat traditional southern food, though Hakim-a-barber won’t eat collards or pork. Dee is delighted by everything, including that her mother is still using benches her father made when they couldn’t afford chairs. After they eat, Dee takes the butter dish, remarking that she wanted to ask if she could have it. She asks for the butter churn top and dasher as well, and after she’s wrapped them up, Mama holds the dasher and ponders how you can see the marks that years of use have left on it. Dee asks next for two quilts, made by Grandma Dee from a collection of cloth scraps from various times in the past. Mama tells her that she promised to give them to Maggie when she marries. Dee is scandalized; she tells Mama that Maggie won’t appreciate the quilts, and might do something stupid like use them. When Mama remarks that she hopes Maggie will use them, Dee points out how priceless they are, and says she would hang them instead. Maggie comes into the room and tells Mama that Dee can have the quilts. Mama is struck by how resigned Maggie looks, and all of a sudden snatches the quilts from Dee and gives them to Maggie. Dee storms out, and when Mama and Maggie come to the car, tells Mama she doesn’t understand her heritage. She then tells Maggie to try to make something for herself, and leaves. Maggie and Mama sit in the yard together, “just enjoying.”

“Everyday Use” introduces two different perspectives on culture and heritage through Dee and Mama (and by extension Maggie). Dee has traced her culture back to her African roots and has sought to learn more about them. She adapts her life to her new knowledge by changing her name and clothing style, and using Luganda phrases. She holds this form of her culture in such high esteem that she unwittingly rejects a culture much closer to her: that of her immediate family, and their simple lives. Dee sees the quilts as relics of the past, meant to be treasured and observed; she sees their place in history more than in everyday life. In addition, she wants the butter churn top and dasher for “artistic” purposes, ignoring that Mama and Maggie still use them, and know their history better than she does. When Mama refuses to give her the quilts, Dee is openly affronted and even condescending, commenting that Mama doesn’t understand her heritage. Though Dee believes she is doing the right thing for her heritage, she understands little about her immediate culture, and possibly even little about the Ugandan culture she emulates. Dee has spent a lot of time trying to leave the country life her mother and sister lead, but is willing to return and bear their trapping when it suits her. She wants the image of that life, but not its substance. Similarly, Hakim-a-barber claims to believe in the ideals of the Muslim community that lives down the road from Mama, but rejects their labor-intensive lifestyle. He, like Dee, is willing to take on the image and ideas of cultures and faiths he doesn’t fully understand.

Mama has a different take on culture and heritage. She focuses more on the here and now, and what she and Maggie have made of their lives. Dee’s attempts to incorporate their more distant culture confuse her; she doesn’t speak whatever language Dee greets her with, is struck by the impracticality of Dee’s clothing, and questions why Dee would change her name when it has importance within the family. Mama has very specific memories of using the butter dasher, showing a more hands-on relationship with her personal culture. While Dee sees putting old quilts to everyday use as “backward,” Mama doesn’t understand the point of not using something for its intended purpose, no matter how old it is. She even comments that if the quilts are worn out, Maggie can make some more; this indicates that quilting, an aspect of Mama’s cultural heritage, has been passed down to Maggie, and lives in her. While Dee views the destruction of these specific quilts as the destruction of the past, Mama seems to favor the view that the past lives in people; the quilts are a less important part of their heritage than Maggie is.

“Everyday Use” is set in the 1960s or 1970s: either the decade of the Civil Rights movement, or the decade following it. Either way, racism took more severe forms than in modern times, and black Americans as a whole were trying to define and control the many different facets of their collective identity. Though “Everyday Use” is not a story about racism, that social issue is ever-present in the background. Dee, unlike her mother and sister, is able to look a white man in the eye; her comment about not wanting to be named for her oppressors, though potentially misguided, points out the position of black Americans in society. Mama herself can recall a time when black people asked less questions, and Dee’s efforts to trace her roots to Uganda show that she, and the young generation as a whole, are likely asking many questions. The disparity between Mama and Dee’s ideologies can be linked to generational differences as well as personality differences.

Things to steal:

  1. Characters representing philosophical views
  2. A physical object symbolizing the roots of an argument
  3. Have a character’s ingrained expectations/life paradigm be shifted

Questions:

  • What is your opinion on cultural heritage? Should it be treasured or put to use?
  • Do you think issues of race deserved a bigger role in the story?
  • Why do you think the details of the burned house and Maggie’s scars were included?
  • Why do you think Dee took pictures of her mother and sister with their house?
  • How much of Dee’s character do you think is influenced by her education? Would Mama and Maggie think differently if they had her level of education? What do you think Alice Walker is saying about education?