“Super-Frog Saves Tokyo” Write Up by Ty Gates

Part I (you already know we’re summarizing)

Super-Frog Saves Tokyo” by Haruki Murakami begins when Mr. Katagiri, a bank loan collector, walks into his small apartment and is confronted by a large anthropomorphic frog. While sharing a cup of tea, Frog describes in detail why he has come to Katagiri’s apartment; Worm, a creature that absorbs kinetic energy through the earth and turns it into pure rage, is going to cause a devastating earthquake beneath Tokyo at 8:30 AM on February 18, and Frog needs Katagiri’s courage to assist him in doing mortal combat with Worm.

Katagiri struggles to accept even the fact that there is a giant anthropomorphic Frog in his apartment that insists he call it ‘Frog’ and not ‘Mr. Frog.’ It is even more difficult to accept the fact that he is needed to save Tokyo. So, Frog promises he’ll get a group of mobsters to repay a loan that Katagiri wasn’t sure he’d be able to himself.

Frog gets the mobsters to repay the loan by the next morning, and convinces Katagiri that he’s real. He then tells Katagiri the bare bones of the plan (how they’ll get to Worm and when). However, the day before they intended to do battle, Katagiri is shot in the shoulder by a man on the street. He wakes up in a hospital forty minutes after Worm was supposed to cause an earthquake. After asking the nurse, Katagiri discovers there had been no earthquake, and he had not been shot at all.

Frog comes to Katagiri’s hospital bed, and tells him that he had defeated Worm. Frog thanks Katagiri for his help, and tells him that even while he was unconscious in the hospital, he helped Frog in his imagination. Then, Frog returns to the murk, and maggots and centipedes crawl out of his body and cover the hospital room. When they start burrowing into Katagiri, he screams, and the nurse returns, and Katagiri confesses that he was more fond of Frog than of any other.

Part II (you already know we’re talking about the craft elements)

The thing about this story that I find most interesting is Katagiri’s character. He’s a lonely man with v e r y little purpose in his life. He has no friends, no lovers, his parents are dead and his siblings don’t appreciate everything he did for them. It seems to me that Katagiri’s strongest desire, though he may not be aware of it, is to be appreciated or credited for something, anything, by anyone. He finds no fulfilment in his work because, while he is respected by other loan collectors, he is disliked and the rest of his coworkers have no respect for loan collecting. Even though he put his siblings through college and arranged marriages for them at his own expense, they show no kind of appreciation for him. All of this is why I think that Frog is an entity that Katagiri created to fulfill that part of himself that absolutely needs some kind of recognition. Even when Frog tells him that no one will know that they stopped worm, there is a plural first person involved. He will be a part of something, with another (I hesitate to say person) Frog.

That brings me to my second point, the fact that Frog is humanized, maybe even more than Katagiri. Not only does he reference classics like he has several masters degrees, he speaks with a much more casual and human tone than Katagiri. He even makes a balls joke. I mean, come on. It’s also important to note that he insists Katagiri calls him Frog instead of Mr. Frog, which is a very personal thing. Katgiri refuses to simply call him Frog until the last few pages of the story, lending a sort of emotional distance that, even though it’s not really unhuman, is lacking in human connection.

Part III (you already know we’re discussing discussion questions)

  1. What’s up with the whole “returning to the murk” bit? What is the purpose or meaning of the centipedes and maggots?
  2. Did Frog Exist? It’s obvious I think he didn’t, but I’m interested what y’all thought.
  3. What’s up with the whole “you were unconscious for no reason” thing?
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The Princess Bride of the Future (with a slightly less happy ending)

*A Presentation on Leah Cypess’ “BLU3RD” by Melissa Alter

Have Fun Storming the Castle: You Guys Ready for Some Summarizin’?

This story takes place in the distant future, focusing on one woman’s relationship with her robotic husband, BLU3RD. Things seem to be going pretty well for them until she asks if he will love her for the rest of his life. While he says that he loves her at that moment, he knows that he is incapable of loving her forever, as he is immortal and will eventually move on since his programming requires him to love.

The woman has to report to the College, which ensures that the BLU3RD unit remains fully functional and will not decide to turn on the humans, as had happened before during the Robotic Wars. BLU3RD is summoned for his yearly exam, and his wife occupies herself with looking into his past memories, where she is confronted by the knowledge that he has loved several women before her, and will continue to love others long after she is gone. When the woman is questioned about BLU3RD’s love for her, she replies that she knows he loves her; however, the scans say that she is lying, so he is deactivated.

This all happened in the past; in the present, the woman is undergoing therapy, claiming to still be guilt-ridden over her role in causing BLU3RD’s deactivation, but also wanting to relive memories of their time together in the memory-hypnosis chamber. During one of her sessions, the therapist claims that BLU3RD never loved her, as he is a robot and incapable of love; the woman protests, saying that he knew what love was better than she ever could. She breaks off the therapy sessions and goes to see the public terminal in which BLU3RD’s memories are on display, but ultimately chooses to focus on her own memories of their time together and walks away.

The Cliffs of Insanity: How’d She Pull This Off? Let’s Talk Craft and What You Can Steal

Leah Cypess isn’t afraid to tackle the big questions, discussing the meaning of life and the nature of love. There are no unsympathetic characters in the story; rather, the main conflict is that of confronting the inevitable. This year, we have talked a lot about characters’ driving forces. In making the narrator’s primary goal something unattainable – for BLU3RD to love her forever – conflict is generated from the conditions of the world itself.

Fact: The narrator loves BLU3RD, and BLU3RD thinks he loves her.

Fact: The narrator will die, and BLU3RD will not.

Fact: BLU3RD will move on.

From the initial mention of BLU3RD’s immortality, the reader knows not to expect a happy ending. We are led to believe that it is impossible for the narrator’s main wish to be fulfilled, because something designed to love forever must eventually move on. Yet Cypess does an excellent job of subverting expectations, because in the end, the narrator’s wish is granted – BLU3RD does love her until the end of his days. The only problem is that ‘the end of his days’ is exponentially shorter than it was at the beginning of this novel. This would be an interesting tool to steal: the character gets what he/she wants, yet must give up more than that goal was worth. Reminiscent of the ‘be careful what you wish for’ adage, this technique works well to provide an unhappy ending for the characters, yet similarly satisfying for the readers.

On a similar thread, Cypess’ handling of irony is particularly pleasing. His ability to love is what saved BLU3RD from being destroyed after the Robot Wars; yet his need to love was also what ultimately got him deactivated. Having the very thing that enables a character to survive be the same thing that kills him would make for both a meaningful commentary on human (or robot) nature and an impactful death scene.

Speaking of humans and robots and the inherent nature of each, let’s discuss the humanizing and dehumanizing factors in the story (the humanizing ones are highlighted in yellow, while the dehumanizing ones are highlighted in gray). By placing the elements so closely together, Cypess blurs the distinction, as she gives traits of man and machine alike to BLU3RD; he has both “sad and tender eyes”, seemingly exhibiting human emotion, yet he also was “not created with the ability to lie”, another subtle reminder of his differences from humankind.

Cypess takes themes such as love and loneliness and places them in a futuristic context, reminding the reader of their timelessness. She raises unanswerable questions and fosters interesting relationships, expanding beyond the scope of human nature and questioning the essence of all things. 

The Pit of Despair: Your Turn to Answer Some Questions! 

  1. The narrator claims that BLU3RD “knew more about love than I ever did.” Do you agree? Did BLU3RD love her? Could he?
  2. To answer the therapist’s question: What is the difference between mattering and being loved?
  3. Is it more ‘human’ to love forever, or to have the ability to move on? Is love temporary? Is it permanent? Does it always have to be one or the other?

The Situation’s Gravity

T.C. Boyle’s “Chicxulub” begins with the first-person narrator describing his daughter walking down a street in the rain, then describing a woman leaving a restaurant drunk. The narrator interrupts himself to bring up the last time there was a “large-body impact on the Earth’s surface” and describe the damage it did. He points out that our planet regularly intersects the paths of much bigger asteroids than this most recent one. His daughter has gone to the mall to have sushi with friends, and he’s about to have sex with his wife when they’re interrupted by a phone call that their daughter was in an accident. At this point the narrator introduces the titular Chicxulub, the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. He interweaves passages describing its destruction with scenes of him and his wife at the hospital, where they have to wait while their daughter is in surgery, before she’s eventually pronounced dead. But when they’re called to ID the body, it’s a different girl. It turns out their daughter had lent her ID to a friend to see a movie, and it was her friend that got killed. The narrator reflects that he was spared, but that Chicxulub, the force that will “remake our fate,” has already arrived for the family of their daughter’s friend.

One of the interesting things about this story is that it has no chronic tension in the traditional sense to interact with the acute-tension event of the accident and case of mistaken identity. There’s no ongoing conflict between the narrator and his daughter that this event of her pseudo-death with push to the surface, or between the narrator and his wife, for that matter–Boyle seems to go out of his way on the latter front to assure us all is well there. What we get in place of this localized chronic tension–that is, tension between the characters–is what could be interpreted as a much larger-scale chronic tension: the planet’s chronic tension, the fact that our general existence is so tenuous. This tenuous existence works on the level of planet and individual, which is part of what makes this metaphorical thread effective. As the chronic and acute tension ideally do, the asteroid thread intersects with the hospital thread in the descriptions at the climax, when the narrator has to pull the sheet off the body:

The gurney is the focal point in a room of gurneys, people laid out as if there’d been a war, the beaked noses of the victims poking up out of the maze of sheets like a series of topographic blips on a glaciated plain. [emphasis mine]

and

Can I tell you how hard it is to lift this sheet? Thin percale, and it might as well be made of lead, iron, iridium, might as well be the repository of all the dark matter in the universe. [emphasis mine]

These descriptions of the acute event are invoking broad-scale cosmic imagery that would likely feel overblown without the setup of the ongoing asteroid thread. 

In addition to standing in for a more immediate chronic tension, or perhaps via standing in for it, the asteroid thread also carries much of the story’s emotional weight in the places where it could definitely tend toward melodrama in rendering scenes of distraught parents facing the death of a child. Only something as momentous as the destruction of an entire species could capture the emotional significance of such a loss for an individual. After the death of a child, life for the parents would cease to exist on any meaningful level. It may seem like a bit of slapstick that the momentous phone call in which they learn of it interrupts an intimate interlude, but there’s also irony here that the act that created their daughter is interrupted by a call about the potential death of that daughter.

The story’s opening is a virtuosic sentence that twists and turns, and which will also turn out to in certain respects be fairly misleading:

My daughter is walking along the roadside late at night—too late, really, for a seventeen-year-old to be out alone, even in a town as safe as this—and it is raining, the first rain of the season, the streets slick with a fine immiscible glaze of water and petrochemicals, so that even a driver in full possession of her faculties, a driver who hadn’t consumed two apple Martinis and three glasses of Hitching Post pinot noir before she got behind the wheel of her car, would have trouble keeping the thing out of the gutters and the shrubbery, off the sidewalk and the highway median, for Christ’s sake. . . . But that’s not really what I want to talk about, or not yet, anyway.

It will turn out it’s not his daughter at all, and the story’s point of view seems to technically be retrospective from a point after he knows his daughter wasn’t really killed–otherwise how would he know about such details as the brand of pinot noir?–so this has the potential to make the reader feel tricked. He subtly defuses this by adding shortly:

Maddy has a cell phone and theoretically she could have called us, but she didn’t—or that’s how it appears. And so she’s walking. In the rain.

But it also seems a commentary on our perception of reality and how tenuous it really is. Boyle renders images he wasn’t there to see–“the streets slick with a fine immiscible glaze of water and petrochemicals,”  but this image turns out to actually be crucial to the narrative, helping explain how the woman lost control of the car. In hindsight it’s actually a great description–one heavily mediated by the narrator’s particular POV and the frustrations of what he’s been through. Defamiliarization via the narrator’s voice is another tactic Boyle uses to convey the gravity of the situation (so to speak):

…she just had to see her friends and gossip and giggle and balance slick multicolored clumps of raw sh and pickled ginger on conjoined chopsticks at the mall…

Here Boyle is using defamiliarization to accentuate the narrator’s perspective, in this particular case, his incredulousness. We’ve gotten hints that his daughter was in a horrible accident, and so here he’s essentially laying out the reason that she might have died: for the sake of eating sushi at the mall. Many of us probably like sushi (though maybe not mall sushi); few of us probably think it’s worth dying for (especially mall sushi). While the passage is somewhat derisive of teenage girls, it is entirely in keeping with the perspective of a man who thinks his daughter might have died–or rather, as it will turn out, who was put through the ringer of believing his daughter was dead when she wasn’t.

 This is a very existential story, one big cosmic metaphor that literally invokes a cosmic metaphor, or something:

The room seems to tick and buzz with the fading energy of the larger edifice, and I can’t help thinking of the congeries of wires strung inside the walls, the cables bringing power to the X-ray lab, the EKG and EEG machines, the life-support systems, and of the myriad pipes and the fluids that they drain.

This is a nice objective correlative description wherein describing the literal clinical and medical technological mechanisms of life, Boyle is describing the larger biological and existential mechanics of it. He seems to be saying in part that we can only appreciate someone else’s pain if we’ve experienced it ourselves, while pointing out that it’s inevitable we eventually will. 

-SCR

 

 

 

One Hundred Years of Solitude Write Up by Laura Mercado

Summary:

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

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

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

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

“The earth is round, like an orange.”

Analysis:

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

Let’s begin with his name.

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

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

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

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

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

…the gypsy proclaimed with a harsh accent…

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

Additional support to this includes the line

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

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

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

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

Which leads us to…

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

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

 

“In Another Country” Write Up by Ty Gates

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

The chronic tension is the loss these men have experienced.

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

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

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

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

Questions

What did you make of the hawk metaphor?

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions

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

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

Summary:

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

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

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

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

Compelling, Interesting Elements of the Story:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things to Imitate in Your Own Writing:

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

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

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

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

Questions:

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