“Found Objects” Write Up by Pieper Grantham

Jennifer Egan’s “Found Objects” starts with Sasha talking to her therapist, Coz, about her recent date and theft incident. During her date, she was in the bathroom fixing her makeup when she saw someone’s purse that was left by the sink, and assumed it to be the woman who was in the stall. She saw the woman’s wallet inside the bag, and decided to take it, because anyone who left there stuff lying around in a public bathroom deserved to be taught a lesson by having their stuff taken. At least, that’s how she defended it to herself. Coz corrected her, saying that she stole it, which was something he kept trying to get her to say. Lately, her and Coz had talked about the reason for Sasha’s stealing was that it was a personal challenge, but they wanted to make the challenge leaving the items. But that tactic hadn’t worked so far, so Sasha continued on with the wallet story. She talked about how before taking the wallet, her date had felt boring, and her date had just watched the Jets game while she told her story about her boss, but after taking the wallet, she felt dangerous and excited, suddenly much more interested in the date. She tells Coz about how touching the wallet afterwards made her feels exhilarated, and he asked her about how the theft would emotionally affect the person she stole from. Coz knows that Sasha doesn’t lack empathy because of the time she stole from her plumber. After taking his screwdriver, it didn’t feel so much like a special object, and Coz asked her how she had felt after taking it, but Sasha changed the subject to deprive Coz of the answer. She didn’t like how Coz compared the plumber to her absentee father that she didn’t care about, so she continued with her story. As her and her date, Alex, were leaving the hotel, the woman who owned the wallet cut them off, asking them if they had seen her missing wallet. Alex got with the hotel security, trying to help the woman locate the wallet, and Sasha realized he was not from New York, shown by his desire to do the right thing. Sasha went in to the restroom to pretend to look for the wallet, but really she was going to put it back. Then the woman came in, and Sasha handed the wallet back to her and apologized. The woman agreed to keep it between them since Sasha was getting help for her problem. Her and Alex went back to Sasha’s apartment, where Alex showed interest in her kitchen tub. Alex looked around the apartment, and found Sasha’s collection of found objects. As Alex looked at the little table of them, Sasha replayed all the excuses she’d made when taking them, the conversations she’d had with Coz. Coz asked her how she felt looking at Alex with her stuff, and she said it was like having her entire existence laid out. Something in her was stirred, watching Alex, and she and Alex had their moment on the living room carpet. Afterwards, Alex decided to take a bath in the kitchen tub. He had seen a bag of bath salts on the found object table, and asked Sasha if he could use them. She said it was fine. She and Coz had talked much before about why she never used the things she took, so letting Alex use the salts was a step in her journey. As Alex went into the bathroom to get towels, Sasha pulled out his wallet from his abandoned pants. She looked through it and found a piece of paper that said “I believe in you.” As she heard Alex finishing up in the bathroom, she decided to keep the paper. After the bath, Alex left and they didn’t ever talk after that. She wanted to be able to tell Coz what he wanted to hear, that she’d changed, but instead she said she didn’t want to talk about feelings. The story ends with Sasha staring at Coz’s ceiling, laying on his blue couch, feeling the minutes passing.

The two techniques I tracked in the story were the justifications that Sasha gave herself for stealing, and the moments when she felt guilt and admitted she has a stealing problem. I liked the contrast between these two techniques in the story, and how they built the complexity of Sasha’s character.

Throughout the story, Sasha kept coming up with reasons of why it was fine for her to be taking things. In fact, the way we are first introduced to Sasha in the story is by one of her excuses:

It was easy for Sasha to recognize, looking back, that the peeing woman’s blind trust had provoked her: We live in a city where people will steal the hair off your head if you give them half a chance, but you leave your stuff lying in plain sight and expect it to be waiting for you when you come back? It made her want to teach the woman a lesson.

Although this seems very harsh, Sasha later has much kinder excuses for herself, Like when she was remembering the scarf she had taken:

…winter is almost over; children grow so fast; kids hate scarves; it’s too late, they’re out the door; I’m embarrassed to return it; I could easily not have seen it fall—in fact I didn’t, I’m just noticing it now: Look, a scarf! A kid’s bright yellow scarf with pink stripes—too bad, who could it belong to? Well, I’ll just pick it up and hold it for a minute….

Using these excuses were a way for Sasha to rectify what she had done, and it was a way for Jennifer Egan to show the reader that Sasha was a kleptomaniac, and not some heartless criminal. Though these quotes show the darker, dangerous side of Sasha, they are only one facet of her personality around stealing.

That leads me into my second device, Sasha’s guilt and her admittance to her problem. Though the story starts off with the negative side of Sasha, the entire story is a framed narrative in which she is speaking to her therapist about her problems. I think the fact that she had the strength to admit she had a big enough problem to seek help is one of her most defining characteristics. It really does show when someone is more powerful than their mental illness that they have the capacity to change for the better. I think that is very important to mention that there are many more examples or her admittance than there are her excuses.

She and Coz were collaborators, writing a story whose end had already been determined: she would get well. She would stop stealing from people and start caring again about the things that had once guided her…

Redemption, transformation—God how she wanted these things. Every day, every minute. Didn’t everyone?

She has set goals for herself in life that she wants to reach, she knows that this wasn’t the life she had wanted for herself and she’s willing to drive herself into bankruptcy to get to the state of mind she needs.

These two facets of Sasha’s personality and life given to the reader make her very complex. From one angle, you can look at her as a kleptomaniac who can’t stop themselves from making excuses to justify themselves, and from the other angle she can be seen as someone making a very real attempt to better themselves after seeing a problem in themselves. This complexity is something that I want to achieve in my own writing. I want my characters to be seen by one person differently than by another, because that’s just how real people are.

Another thing I would like to try is the style of this story, with two different moments laid on top of each other that intertwine and interject each other, because I think that it’s a unique and interesting way of writing. It feels like you’re reading two stories at once, and that intrigues me. Especially how It feels like the main story, in this instance, is the wallet theft story, but in reality, it’s Sasha talking to Coz about the wallet theft story. The plot arc takes place in the past while a character from the present talks about the story from the past but at the same time references moments from the past during their present mind state that occur even farther back than the story containing the plot arc. And it all comes together so nicely that the reader probably doesn’t think about it in such a complicated way because it works so well. And the way present-Sasha references moments that are from a past even farther back from her wallet story feels so human and adds to the complexity of her character through backstory. Gosh, it’s so interesting to me. There’s a million things going on in Sasha’s head, and all of it is so interesting and all so human, and I love it.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What was the mental reversal in this story, if there was one at all?
  2. Why does Jennifer Egan choose to have Sasha’s harshest excuse be the first thing the reader sees?
  3. Why did Sasha return the wallet even though she had a table full of things that she never returned?
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“The Pelican Bar” Write Up by Lauren Sternenberg

Summary:

“The Pelican Bar” by Karen Joy Fowler begins with Norah, the main character, telling about the presents she received from her family for her fifteenth birthday. She tells how she didn’t even expect a celebration, much less a party, due to her using lots of foul language and being disrespectful and ungrateful. The presents are nice, but all she really wanted was to get together with her friends, Enoch and Kayla, who her parents don’t approve of.

When the party finally dies out late at night, Norah goes up to her room to get ready for her friends to come by at midnight. Enoch climbs up into her room through the window, then goes downstairs to let Kayla in because she’s already pretty wasted. Once they are both in Norah’s room, Enoch brings out some mushrooms called hawk’s eyes and they use them until the room starts swirling and Norah falls asleep.

The next morning, the still-tripping Norah is woken up by two weird looking people and is proclaimed to be high. Her mom eventually has to help her get dressed, and when Norah is finished the two people drag her outside and put her into their car. She tries to reach out to her mom, but is pulled away and driven to the airport.

While Norah is on the plane with them, her mother goes around returning all of her birthday gifts. Norah also sobers up and realizes the odd eyes and mouth on the woman and man are normal, but there was nowhere she could go.

After they land, Norah is taken to an old motel and told it is her new home. She’s roughly handed off to an elderly woman who tells Norah she is her new mom and needs to be called Mama Strong. Mama Strong points out that she doesn’t love Norah though, and to always obey, and she takes Norah up into her new room where ten other girls are sleeping.

Norah asks about a toothbrush but is told off. Then, she is given clothes to change into, showed to her bed, and told to go to sleep. She tries to talk to the girl next to her, but is ignored. She also realizes that nobody is ever going to turn the lights off.

The next morning, the girl next to Norah tells Mama Strong she was talking to her, and is given five points. Norah tells Mama Strong that she never said not to talk, but Mama Strong asks which of them is lying, and when Norah says that she is not, she loses more points for talking back. She is already at minus forty, where at plus ten she would’ve gotten a toothbrush.

Later, there is a group session held where all the members of Norah’s family, the Power girls, are told to write down five things about them that are true. Norah comes up with three and is told to share. When she does, Mama Strong says she is lying for the second time that day and invites the other girls to comment. They do, telling Norah that she is stuck on herself and that nobody honest ends up here.

Three months pass and Norah finally makes enough points to go outside, in a fenced yard where she could smell the ocean, and she tells about the measly classes she takes after group time, and how they’re all multiple choice and controlled by the teacher. She lost points by pointing out an incorrect key was being used by one of the teachers.

It takes Norah eleven months to get enough points to write to her parents, and she discreetly pleads for her parents to come take her home. Mama Strong laughs at her, but mails it anyway.

The conditions at the motel are horrible—the food is rotting, there is no medical care, there are bug bites and upset stomachs, and occasionally people disappear. Norah notices a couple of these disappearances, one being a girl named Jetta who couldn’t have gotten the 100 points needed to leave since she was new.

Just before Norah’s birthday, she lost all of her points for not going in-depth enough in group time. Her secrets weren’t enough so she’d begun stealing other stories from tv, but was called out and punished. She was sent to TAP, Think Again Position, as punishment.

In TAP, students lay face down and are only allowed a shift every three hours. If they didn’t obey, they were put into restraint, where a staff member held them down and pulled their arms up as far as they could go, and then some. Norah was sent to TAP for lying in group session because Mama Strong was tired of her antics. She lasted two weeks before admitting that she belonged there and deserved this. Even though TAP was bad, Norah thought the lack of the dark was worse at night.

For Norah’s sixteenth birthday, she got two postcards from her parents. They were playing tourist a few miles away at somewhere called the Pelican Bar. She imagines being outside and free and pledges to herself never to tell Mama Strong about the Pelican Bar.

Her seventeenth birthday passes by without her noticing, but her parents send some more irrelevant postcards. Norah also realizes that the night supervisor doesn’t like her, and mews at Norah until Mama Strong notices and deducts twenty points from Norah.

Mama Strong starts to follow Norah closely because she thinks Norah has some sort of secret, and Norah is sent to TAP many times—to the point that her thighs and back are bruised.

The girls in the Power family are disappearing, and Norah is one of the few originals left. A new girl named Chloe shows up next to Norah and tries to talk to her, but Norah ignores her and tells Mama Strong about her in the morning. Another girl tries to blame Norah, but Mama Strong basically tells her to be quiet and they put her [chloe?] in restraint for talking.

After, Mama Strong tells the girls to make a list of five reasons why they were set here. Norah does, including ‘I am a bad daughter,’ ‘I am still carrying around my BS,’ and ‘I am ungrateful.’ She can’t come up with any more and Mama Strong call her out on it. Mama Strong tries to get Norah to spill about the Pelican Bar, but Norah refuses to say anything. Norah is pinned by Mama Strong’s questions and scrabbles for two reasons to cover the Pelican Bar.

Norah challenges Mama Strong’s humanity, calling this place somewhere no human should be, and Mama Strong becomes even scarier. She tells Norah that she could send her somewhere else, and Norah knows that wherever this place is, it must be worse. So, Norah comes up with the two reasons that pop into her head.

The ones she comes up with are ‘I am a liar,’ and ‘I am a bad person,’ due to being pressured hard enough by Mama Strong. Norah is sent to TAP after, but at least it isn’t Mama Strong’s Somewhere Else.

After this, Chloe seems to be Mama Strong’s current focus now that Norah has turned seventeen. Chloe poses a challenge for Mama Strong since she cannot hold still, and Mama Strong seems up for that.

One day, Mama Strong goes up just before breakfast to Norah and tells her to follow her, which she does until they get outside, just behind the motel gate. Mama Strong then counts out fifty dollars and tells Norah she can go.

Norah is absolutely terrified as she slowly moves towards the gate, refusing to believe that Mama Strong is serious. When she finally makes it outside, Mama Strong closes the gate behind her and locks it. Norah begins walking and doesn’t stop, not wanting to end the illusion of freedom.

She walks through this town, noticing stands of food and the functionality of the town even though Mama Strong’s motel is only a bit down the road. She considers buying food but doesn’t feel up to talking to someone else. Norah walks until she finally reaches the ocean.

She wades in and just stands, the cuts and bruises stinging until they finally stop and the money in her pocket is soaked. She sees all of the tourists sitting around and wants to tell everyone that, miles away, children are being kept and starved, but she figures they won’t believe her even if she told. Eventually, Norah walks out to a market that is by a river and realizes one of the vendors is a man who once put her in restraint.

When he sees her, he offers some bananas for her birthday and tells her that they have to let her go at eighteen. Norah receives a bracelet from a woman behind her who also mentions that they have to let her go at eighteen since it’s the law. The woman offers something else for her birthday, but Norah just asks for directions to the Pelican Bar. She bought clothes, a soda, and tickets to ride on the boat. Once on it, she does all the things she imagined while inside the motel, and the boat drops her into the water a few meters from shore.

She briefly twirls around in the water, reveling in the freedom, before going onto shore and buying Chloe a postcard, telling her to ‘come here,’ and that ‘I’m a bad person’ After this, Norah goes and buys herself a fish but doesn’t finish, and lounges around until she falls asleep, only awoken by someone who wanted her to be on the last boat back.

When Norah gets back to the main island, she notices Mama Strong sitting at an outdoor bar towards the edge of the marketplace. She feels there is no way back unless she talks to Mama Strong. So she does.

Mama Strong criticizes Norah’s money usage, and Norah asks if she cares if she goes hungry, to which Mama Strong just says she’s made Norah stronger—albeit not strong enough. Mama Strong says she doesn’t care.

Norah only knows she wants to be clean, fed, not hurting, and in the dark, and tells Mama Strong that once she runs out of money, she’ll ask somebody for help and they’ll eventually help her. Norah recalls that Mama Strong said she would change after all of this, but she feels empty, as if she vanished instead.

Mama Strong just swirls her glass, drinks it, and calls the world pretty. She also says humans do more than what she’d done, and Norah notices two men coming up behind her. Norah is sure they’ve come for her, but when they pass by and begin singing, she questions their humanity as well.

The Pelican Bar ends with Mama Strong saying, ‘Very pretty world.’

So, the first technique I tracked was Norah being disobedient, mainly because she usually didn’t listen to someone telling her how to do this/that, and because she sometimes contradicted herself on top of that (highlighted in green). This is present in varying degrees throughout the story, and mainly drives the narrative because Norah deliberately disobeying her parents so often causes them to send her to Mama Strong anyway.

And then there were a handful of nights when Norah didn’t come home and turned off her phone so they all thought she was in the city in the apartment of some man she’d probably met on the internet and was probably dead.

This quote fully encompasses my thought of someone being disobedient. It represents this in the way of directly going against her parents, then adding in a touch of characterization for Norah in the way of how her brain works. I wouldn’t think it’s such an extreme jump from dead phone to dead somewhere—seeing as my own parents get so worked up about instances when they can’t contact me for whatever mundane reason I provide, but the notion that Norah provides caught my eye. She is speaking in the voice of her parents, saying that they would think that, instead of being dead, she’d be with some man she met online and dead. This provides extra information about the state of the relationship of her and her parents, while also being a driving force to the inciting incident of Norah being shipped off.

The second technique I tracked is whenever Norah’s thoughts/opinions were overridden by someone else, or sometimes even by herself. She morphs her actions or thoughts into something more extreme in the case of her parents, but when she meets Mama Strong and tries to do that as well, she is shut down and punished almost immediately. It gets to the point where Norah will alter her outward opinions because they get her in trouble or sent to TAP, and she does this to herself after Mama Strong does simply because she wants to avoid the consequences—almost like censoring herself before she speaks.

Norah held her breath. In that instant, her brain produced the two missing reasons. “I am a liar,” she said. She heard her own desperation. “I am a bad person.”

This quote is one of the best example of this technique in this piece. It shows Norah’s struggle to not speak her mind after the initial outburst—saying the motel wasn’t any place for humans—and she tries to backtrack. Her brain, in the state of panic she is currently in, spewed out two reasons in order to complete the five Mama Strong originally told her to do. Norah doesn’t believe these reasons, but she makes herself say them to escape the worst punishment or Mama Strong’s Somewhere Else. Even though she’s still sent to TAP for this, Norah is just grateful that Mama Strong didn’t send her anywhere else.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think Norah began to act out in the first place, even before her birthday party?
  2. Why do you think Mama Strong does what she does?
  3. What is Chloe’s significance to Norah?
  4. What would you do if your parents sent you somewhere like Mama Strong’s motel?

“The Tell-Tale Heart” Write Up by Ellis Wilkins-Haverkamp

Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart” begins with the unnamed main character giving one of his many assurances that he is not insane, but rather empowered, claiming the “disease,” of his has sharpened his senses. He moves on to the old man, informing the audience of his plan to kill the old man he took care of, though at first he has no clue why he made the choice to do so, though realizes only a few seconds later that it was the old man’s eye that threatened him. He sneaks into the man’s room every night for a week, using a lantern, opened just a sliver, to shine in the man’s vulture eye as a weapon against it. On the eighth day, he makes the choice to kill the man after his finger slips on the lantern and his target sits up out of bed, suspecting there was someone else in the pitch black room. As the main character stays still in the darkness, he begins to supposedly hear the man’s heartbeat as he ponders his fear and how much terror the man must be in. In an entirely not insane manner, he comes to an epiphany: If he can hear it, the neighbors can too! He rushes into the room and the two scream as the main character throws the bed onto the old man, killing him without shedding blood. From that point, he dismembers the body (through all of this, still assuring us that he’s sane) and hides his pieces in the walls and floorboards, proclaiming victory, and becoming so confident that he lets in 3 police officers that come to his door to search the manor that he now calls his own. Despite the long search, they find nothing, but the man has a new problem to face; he cans still hear the old man’s heart beating and increasing in volume, despite knowing the man was dead. As the officers sit down and chat, the man grows irritated that they will not leave, and comes to another entirely logical conclusion: The officers can hear it too! Unable to bear the situation any longer, he breaks, admitting the dead and revealing his victims heart in the floor.

The first technique I tracked was the main character’s descriptions of things working against him and personifying them as evil (highlighted in green). Throughout the story, the main character believes himself to be incredibly intelligent being, and anything vexing him is purposefully trying to work against him. This begins with the descriptions of the man’s vulture eye.

I undid [the lantern] cautiously as a single ray fell upon the vulture eye… for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye.

In this quote, he first describes the eye as that of a vulture, making this comparison due to the common association of vultures with vile things, being as they feed on corpses. Afterward, he flat-out calls the eye evil, which is self-explanatory. His personifications span all the way to the end of the story, ending it with, “it is the beating of his hideous heart!” This contributes to one of the main traits of the character; that he is clearly insane, despite denying this. He states that his enemy is not the man, but the parts of the man that work against him.

Secondly, I tracked the character’s descriptions of his own criminal actions in a calm and collected demeanor (highlighted in red). In the story, the main character is clearly a murderer, but does not see himself as something so crass or ill-willed. In his eyes, he is simply ridding himself and the world of an evil eyeball.

I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

Keep in mind that the main character has presumably never killed anyone previously, or he likely would have mentioned that as a way of saying that he has experience. With this in mind, notice that he goes through no conflict, no moment in the story when he considers that this may not be the best option. It was just an easy, “yeah, I guess I’ll kill him now.” And, of course, this also contributes to the main character’s insanity; the fact that he had no second thought about killing the man he had been taking care of. Also adding to this common theme of no internal conflict regarding his actions, the man was also satisfied after making his kill, as oppose to showing any sign of regret.

I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done.

Finally, my third technique was somewhat interesting and more food for thought than an official technique; the main character directly referring to the audience (highlighted in purple). One of the most recognizable traits in the narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart” is his constant claims that he is far from mad, which directly speaks to the audience.

If you still think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body.

This is an element I rarely see in stories, due to how many questions and theories it can raise, mainly regarding who the character is talking to. Is it really the readers or something more? However, I feel it was entirely appropriate for this character, considering that he is, without a doubt, mad. This is an element I’d like to take from this story in order to create my own where there’s more to be thought about regarding who you are, being able to hear this story directly from a character. We will return to this aspect of the story in the…

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe the main character felt any guilt for his actions? How does this relate to the end of the story?
  2. Who was the old man talking to throughout the story?
  3. What purpose did the lantern serve against the old man’s eye?

“The Stolen Party” Write Up by Caroline Paden

In Liliana Heker’s “The Stolen Party,” a young girl named Rosaura sneaks into her friend’s kitchen and spots a monkey, immediately flooded with relief. This odd reaction to a kitchen-monkey is the result of a fight with her mother, who says Rosaura shouldn’t believe everything she’s told just because her friend, Luciana, says so. In fact, Rosaura’s mother doesn’t even think Luciana is her friend, because Rosaura’s mother cleans Luciana’s house for a living, something Rosaura is ashamed of. This cynicism hurts Rosaura because she loves the idea of wealth and wealthy people, and wants to become rich one day. Despite the argument, Rosaura can attend the party and is even given special “privileges” by Luciana’s mother, Señora Ines—pouring orange juice because the other children are too clumsy, passing out cake, and being allowed to admire the kitchen-monkey because the other children can’t enter the kitchen. The only damper on this fun is a girl with a bow in her hair who says she is Luciana’s cousin. This girl says Rosaura can’t be Luciana’s friend because she knows all of Luciana’s friends, and she doesn’t know Rosaura (Rosaura later gets revenge on this girl by kicking her in the shins and giving her a paper-thin slice of cake). When a magician—the owner of the kitchen-monkey—goes onstage, he picks Rosaura to be his assistant after another guest is deemed too “unmanly.” Rosaura does an excellent job, prompting the magician to call her “a little countess.” Rosaura is thrilled by this and tells her mother immediately afterward, instead of staying mad as she had previously intended. Señora Ines asks Rosaura and her mother to stay behind, which worries the latter. Rosaura assures her that she is only going to get them their gifts, like the other guests—the girls get bracelets and the boys get sparkly yo-yos. Sure enough, Señora Ines returns with two goody bags—which she gives to the last two guests. When she turns to Rosaura, Rosaura extends her hand, expecting two gifts, perhaps. Instead, Señora Ines offers her two bills—revealing that Rosaura really wasn’t just a guest after all.

The first technique I tracked was how Rosaura’s perspective affected the story. The reader is given a clear view of Rosaura’s mind and how she thinks—she idolizes wealth and the wealthy, convinced that rich people can do no wrong. By contrast, she is ashamed of her mother for being cynical about her friendship with Luciana and her invitation to the party at all. She believes her mother simply doesn’t know wealthy people like she does, which is as ideal human beings. She is either in denial or doesn’t understand that being given chores at a party isn’t normal, simply chalking it up to her superior behavior.

“I was the best-behaved at the party.”

In fact, she enjoys that she is trusted enough to pour orange juice from a heavy jug and to pass out cake—she feels powerful and proud in those moments.

Rosaura had enjoyed the task immensely, because everyone called out to her, shouting “Me, me!” Rosaura remembered a story in which there was a queen who had the power of life or death over her subjects. She had always loved that, having the power of life or death.

She is both innocent and arrogant, and those two traits lead to her downfall when she realizes she isn’t merely a well-behaved guest—she, too, has become an employee.

The second technique I tracked was how other people’s perspectives affected the story. The first outside opinion we hear is from Rosaura’s mother—that she doesn’t want Rosaura to attend Luciana’s party because she doesn’t believe that Luciana is really Rosaura’s friend.

“That one’s not your friend. You know what you are to them? The maid’s daughter, that’s what.”

The second outside opinion is Señora Ines’s, which is praising Rosaura for being so helpful and well-behaved.

Senora Ines had said: “You yes, but not the others, they’re much too boisterous, they might break something.”

This further lulls Rosaura into a false sense of security and feeds her ego, making her more willing to help. Next, it’s Luciana’s cousin, who affirms Rosaura’s mother’s doubts about Luciana and Rosaura’s friendship and interrogates her about how she knows Luciana, causing her to dodge the question out of shame. The final perspective is the magician’s, who calls her his “little countess,” again feeding Rosaura’s ego. These perspectives cause Rosaura to retreat further into denial, either by praising her and affirming her beliefs, or by doubting her and making her dig her heels in even more. These other people also connect the reader to the story more—we can see the logic in Rosaura’s mother’s fears and cynicism, and the ulterior motives behind Señora Ines’s praise and requests. If the reader were only given Rosaura’s point of view, it could be frustrating, as it is difficult to connect with her idealistic and stubborn perspective—we know guests at parties typically aren’t asked to help with chores, and we know rich people aren’t perfect. These other viewpoints contribute to a heartbreaking but understandable ending that the reader can connect to.

Something I would like to take away from this story is the juxtaposition of perspectives. I have a tendency to focus in on one point of view without the reader getting a chance to get to know the other side and connect with them, and I think that can get frustrating after a while. I’d like to introduce multiple, conflicting perspectives the reader can relate to or sympathize with. I think even if the other points of view aren’t all identical, they can be different variations on a theme the reader can pick up and comprehend.

Questions:

  1. Do you think Luciana and Rosaura are actually friends?
  2. What happened to the money?
  3. How do you think Rosaura sees rich people now?

“Job’s Jobs” Write Up by Celeste Schmidt

“Job’s Jobs” by Aimee Bender tells the story of a man and his troubles with both jobs and God. He starts out as a writer, and he’s content, but that ends when God shows up with a gun and tells him to never write another word again. Since he was not about to challenge God, he obliged and put away his writing supplies. He did nothing for a few days, but then he took up art. He discovered that he actually liked painting, and he wasn’t half bad at it either. It made him happy, and God showed up later holding a dagger, telling him that he couldn’t make any more images of any sort. So he put away his paint, paintbrushes, etc. and went on to acting. He wasn’t the most talented actor, but as with painting, he got attached to acting and it too made him happy, eventually. One day, he got in the car to find God in the backseat with a bayonet. God, of course, was against the acting, but this time, the main character tried to bargain with him, asking to keep acting or become a mime… God said no. The main character went along with it. He decided to try cooking, and discovered that he was naturally talented at that too. This time, God didn’t show up just as soon as the main character began to be happy, but instead let him enjoy himself for a while before walking in with a noose. He gave up on cooking, then tried piano, dance and architecture, but God shut him down those times too. He decided to stop being creative, and do “boring” things like accounting, law, chemistry, the stock market… They still interested him, so he had to give those up too. By now, God wouldn’t let him talk, so he sat on a bench and a young woman looked at him, walked around him, wrote in her notebook, and thanked him. God told him to close his eyes, and he couldn’t move or speak… The story ends with God putting the man in a box, where he thinks and doesn’t do much else.

The first technique I tracked was God’s characterization throughout the story. He is described as having

…an East Coast accent, tough like a mobster, but his lined face was frail and ethereal.

This is one of the only physical descriptions of God in the entire story, and the rest of the information that the reader gets about him is through dialogue or actions such as:

Cut the painting too, said God. No words, no images. Or—He made a slicing motion near his stringy throat,

“God lifted the dagger to the lightbulb of the garage and it glinted, unpolished silver, speckled with brown. Do not question God, said God,”

and

The actor started to cry. I love acting, he said. I’m just getting it right, he said. My wife thinks I’m coming out of my shell. God shook his head. Mime? The man pleaded. God poked the actor’s side with the sweet triangular tip of the bayonet.

God is usually portrayed as a good and gentle character in stories, or, at the very least, some sort of impartial force of justice, so this kind of violent, unrefined characterization of God is definitely different. The unique character of God is one of, if not the most interesting thing about this story. If God weren’t so threatening and persistent, then there would be no plot, and therefore no story.

The second technique I tracked was the main character’s reactions to God. His responses tended to fluctuate throughout the story, and at first he just agreed:

He was sad because he loved words as much as he loved people, because words were the way he said what he wanted about people, but this was God and God was the real deal, and he didn’t want to spend time dwelling on it. So he packed up his type-writer and paper and tucked them in the hall closet.

He asked God “Why?” when he was told to stop painting, cried and tried to bargain with God after he’s told to stop acting, and objects when God tells him to stop cooking. After that, he actively tried out jobs that he thought wouldn’t make him happy, but when he found out that they did, he quit them by himself. The main character’s responses to God showing up repeatedly are what build the tension and move the plot. The fact that his responses do vary, and that he also consistently keeps trying artistic jobs, thinking that he will escape God’s criticism this time, make the story fun to read. For example, the story would not be as interesting if the main character never tried to go against God at all; or even just quit trying to do anything after God told him to stop the first time.

One thing I would like to take from this story to use in my own writing would be the use of pattern in plot and the different sentence and paragraph structures to avoid making patterns repeat themselves too much. I really like patterns in stories (maybe a little too much), but it’s actually fairly difficult to keep rigid patterns interesting, especially if they’re as drawn out as they are in this story, so I’d like to try having a plot mostly made up of a specific pattern but not have it be too repetitive or boring.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What message do you think this story is meant to convey?
  2. What does God symbolize (besides God himself)?
  3. Why is this happening to the main character? Why not anyone else?

“The Death of a Government Clerk” Write Up by Eva Trakhtman

In Anton Chekhov’s “The Death of a Government Clerk,” Ivan Dmitrich Tchervyakov, a government clerk, is watching an opera when he is overwhelmed by the sudden urge to sneeze, which he obliges. After wiping his nose, he realizes that he sneezed all over a civilian general named Brizzhalov. Tchervyakov apologizes to Brizzhalov and is quickly dismissed. When he goes to apologize again, Brizzhalov is slightly annoyed. Tchervyakov returns home and explains his dilemma to his wife; she doesn’t react with as much urgency as Tchervyakov would’ve expected. The next day, Tchervyakov freshens himself up and goes to Brizzhalov to apologize. Brizzhalov, who is in the middle of a meeting with petitioners, is not happy by Tchervyakov’s presence. He hears him out one time, slightly annoyed, then the second time slams the door on his face. Tchervyakov, offended, wants to write Brizzhalov a letter, explaining he had no evil intentions when he spattered him, but decides against it. Tchervyakov then proceeds to apologize again in person. During the interaction, Brizzhalov, now extremely angered, yells at Tchervyakov and chases him away from his office. A defeated Tchervyakov heads home, lies down on the sofa, and dies.

One of the techniques I tracked in this story was the overdramatization of simple things. Ivan Tchervyakov took everything Brizzhalov did and made it seem worse. For example,

“Oh, that’s enough . . . I’d forgotten it, and you keep on about it!” said the general, moving his lower lip impatiently.

“He has forgotten, but there is a fiendish light in his eye,” thought Tchervyakov, looking suspiciously at the general.

After Brizzhalov assures Tchervyakov that he is not in the wrong, Tchervyakov continues circulating all his thoughts around the idea that Brizzhalov may somehow hold this against him in the future. Chekhov, by adding these cases of over-dramatization, helps create a comedic and surrealistic reading experience. The last, most dramatic part of the story is included at the very end:

Something seemed to give way in Tchervyakov’s stomach. Seeing nothing and hearing nothing he reeled to the door, went out into the street, and went staggering along. . . . Reaching home mechanically, without taking off his uniform, he lay down on the sofa and died.

This line is probably the most unexpected line in the whole story. How can a simple sneeze lead up all the way to a fatality? This story has a deeper meaning behind it, which is underlined by the extreme over-dramatization added to the story.

I got two meanings from this story, the first being that you shouldn’t cycle over your mistakes because it will lead to your downfall. The second representing strict rule following back in Communist Russia and that ignoring the law (in this case refusing to bother Brizzhalov), will lead to punishment and in a way, to self-destruction.

The second technique that I tracked in this story is the rising action through another character’s reactions. In this case, I used Brizzhalov as my topic, because of how his reactions proportionately reflected the sequence of apologies.

For example, at the beginning Brizzhalov is a bit disgruntled, but not a lot seeing as this is the first time that Tchervyakov apologizes.

“I spattered you, your Excellency, forgive me . . . you see . . . I didn’t do it to . . . .”

“Oh, that’s enough . . . I’d forgotten it, and you keep on about it!” said the general, moving his lower lip impatiently.

Next, Brizzhalov, who just got out of a meeting with petitioners, after interacting with Tchervyakov gets slightly more annoyed, seeing as he had already left it all behind. Finally, when Tchervyakov goes to see Brizzhalov for the last time, Brizzhalov (who is now very angry at Tchervyakov for pestering him constantly), yells at Tchervyakov to get out and to stop annoying him.

“Be off!” yelled the general, turning suddenly purple, and shaking all over.

“What?” asked Tchervyakov, in a whisper turning numb with horror.

“Be off!” repeated the general, stamping.

Because this story is in omniscient third-person point of view, the reader doesn’t get to see the rising action from Tchervyakov’s perspective, seeing as Tchervyakov is not aware that what he is doing isn’t right. For this exact reason, Chekhov implemented Brizzhalov’s reactions as a way to show how the tension is rising. I really like this technique because it still allows the reader to understand the story.

What I would like to try and imitate in my own story is the comedic, surrealistic turn on a message. I realized, by reading this story, just how greatly it can impact one’s perception not only of the story, but also of the message that the story is trying to convey.

Sidenote: Chekhov is famous for using interesting and unique last names for almost all of his characters in almost all of his stories. In this case, Tchervyakov has a root in the name which means “worm” and

Questions:

Are you satisfied with this perspective, why or why not?

What other meanings can be shown in this story?

Why do you think Chekhov used over-dramatization to prove a point?

 

“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” Write Up by Mariah Adeeko

Techniques Tracked:

  • direct reveals of a character’s personality/characteristics/appearance
  • specific character’s feelings on what love means
  • specific character’s emotions towards other characters

“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” by Raymond Carver is about two married couples sitting down at a table together, casually drinking gin and tonic as they talk about a generalized topic that they took for granted: love. The first couple we’re given lots of information about are two people named Mel and Teresa who’ve been married for more than four years; the second is a couple who haven’t been together quite as long named Nick (the narrator) and Laura. They get into different scenarios about what love is, their past love relationships (i.e. Terri and Ed and Mel and his ex-wife), showing us that Terri was abused by her ex-lover Ed and that once she finally left, he had two unsuccessful suicide attempts until he eventually died. The story even goes into how Mel witnessed a first-hand car accident that helped him think about what love truly means to him and how it can be shown through an old couple. The mood of the story takes a lax turn as the atmosphere changes to more a drunken bliss when Mel says he wants to talk to his kids. It is also revealed that he and Terri have a bad relationship with their kid, Marjorie, and is struggling to love her because of her poor relationship choices. Once again, the atmosphere quickly takes this mood away and we end on an ambiguous vibe as we see the characters reflecting on their conversation.

The first technique I looked for in this story had to be how each character thought about love. This story does an excellent job of revealing several deep thought out moments that are casually said by the characters, only making it more emotional for the reader. For example, the reader can tell Mel has thought long and hard about what it means to be in love and how it feels. This only became more the real to me when he said,

“I mean, it was killing the old fart just because he couldn’t look at the fucking woman.”

Even if it is a vulgar line (and even that’s the just the gin and tonic talking) you can still get that this accident deeply affected him more than it usually would’ve affected him when one of his patients got into a car wreck.

But this story doesn’t just demonstrate this through what a character’s saying, it also shows us through the character’s actions. Since this story is in first person, we can only get so much insight from all the characters. And all in all, we don’t even get that many mental thoughts from the narrator that reflect everyone else’s thoughts; we get scenery and setting through him which fills in any gaps. I looked closely to see what other character’s reactions were when Mel said something about love, or how they responded.

She was using her finger to rub at something on the table. Then she stopped rubbing.

This line may not mean much to people, but if we go back and read the section before it, you can tell Terri was thinking about why people would need pills and why she wanted her husband whom she loved to take them. This is a whole other story inside itself! If we could see what all the characters were thinking at once, it’d almost be like a train wreck. The fact that we can see what all the character’s opinions are like through subtle hints and actions and mostly direct speaking adds to the story.

The second technique I looked for was different character’s emotions towards other characters. This was shown mainly through responses to one’s comment. Mainly, this was shown through Terri responding to Mel.

Some could be questioned upon the base of their relationship,

“Please, Mel,” Terri said. “Don’t always be so serious, sweetie. Can’t you take a joke?”

Some could be seen as playful,

“Folks, this is an advertisement for the National Safety Council,” Terri said. “This is your spokesman, Dr. Melvin R. McGinnis, talking.” Terri laughed.

And others could be looked closely at,

“Sure, sometimes he may have acted crazy. Okay. But he loved me. In his own way maybe, but he loved me. There was love there, Mel. Don’t say there wasn’t.”

You can tell that the reason why these characters respond to each other this way is because they’ve known each other for so long. A prime example of this is when Mel, drunkenly, outbursts that he’d fall in love with Laura if it wasn’t for his relationship ties with his best friend Nick and his wife Terri who the reader know he’s in love with. These reactions and responses to comments that impact the story help the reader get to know the characters better and gives them a flesh and bone feel.

The third technique I tracked in the story was direct characterization and how the author captured all four characters in such a distinct way. He would give out features straight out, like their hair color or how they looked, and even sometimes what they looked. He demonstrated this when he was first introducing the characters to the readers eyes: every time we’d meet a character, we’d get a brief description.

Laura is a legal secretary. We’d met in a professional capacity. Before we knew it, it was a courtship. She’s thirty-five, three years younger than I am. In addition to being in love, we like each other and enjoy one another’s company. She’s easy to be with.

This gives us a nice image of what Laura did in the past, so we’re not completely drawn at a blank when trying to figure out what kind of person she is. If he didn’t tell us directly, he would tell us through little peak ins of stories or conversations that didn’t completely revolve around talking about the character’s features.

“How long have you been together now? How long has it been? A year? Longer than a year?”

“Going on a year and a half,” Laura said, flushed and smiling.

This tell us how long the narrator/Nick and Laura have been together simply by a conversation slip-in of mock disgust presented by Terri. It was nicely done, and it can be seen in several other parts of the story like when Terri is talking about Marjorie or when Nick holds up Laura’s hand to kiss it.

Discussion Questions:

1. Do you think the way Mel feels about love is correct? Give a brief explanation on what you think his definition on what love is, and explain why or why not.
2. Do you like the point of view of this story? If not, what could it be changed to to give the reader a clearer view on the story?
3. Why do you think Laura wanted Mel to be convinced that Ed really did love her even though he mentally (and physically) abused her?