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?

 

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“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?

It’s a Wilde Ride Up Here: “The Remarkable Rocket,” as written by the spirit of “Rocket Man” Oscar Wilde (and interpreted* by the physicality of Melissa Alter)

AND I THINK IT’S GONNA BE A LONG LONG TIME SUMMARY

(except not really because the point of a summary is to be concise)

Oscar Wilde’s “The Remarkable Rocket” begins with a prince and a princess meeting each other days before their wedding. The prince compliments her appearance, and the young page makes a humorous comment that causes the king to double his salary (which is completely useless, since the page isn’t paid at all, and twice nothing is still nothing. The king should have tripled his salary instead.) The two royals get married and drink from a crystal chalice, which prompts the page to make another pun, and the king once again doubles his nonexistent salary. In honor of his son’s wedding, the king summons the Royal Pyrotechnist, who prepares a firework show to go off at midnight. In the hours leading up to the show, the fireworks begin to talk to each other. A Squib is proud of himself for traveling, and the Roman Candle corrects him, saying that the king’s garden is not the world. A Catharine Wheel interjects, reminiscing on her past love and thinking about how romance is dead. The Rocket, who is a smidge pretentious, demands everyone’s attention before announcing that the prince and princess are very lucky that their wedding day happened to coincide with the day he was being let off. The Squib tries to correct him, but the Rocket ignores him. He continues discussing himself and how amazing he is, scolding a Cracker for not thinking about others – namely, himself. He prides himself on being important and degrades the other firecrackers as mundane. The other fireworks emphasize the importance of staying dry, but the Rocket ignores them and starts crying. When midnight comes, the Royal Pyrotechnist starts the firework display. All of the firecrackers go off except the Rocket, whose tears have made his gunpowder too wet to ignite. When the maintenance crew comes the next day, one of them says that the firecracker is a ‘bad rocket’. The Rocket is mortally offended, until he realizes that the man actually said ‘grand rocket’ (an easy mistake to make, I’m sure). The rocket is tossed from the walls of the castle and falls in the mud. A frog hops by and starts talking over the Rocket, who is very offended that he can’t get a word in. The Rocket points out that the frog is selfish for only talking about himself, when all the Rocket wants to do is talk about himself. A dragonfly comes by and points out that the frog has left, and the Rocket is talking to himself; the Rocket replies that it is not his fault the frog is missing out on a wise conversation. A white duck paddles by and asks the Rocket how he serves a practical purpose in life; the Rocket responds that he doesn’t need to be useful because he has “certain accomplishments, and that is more than sufficient.” When the duck leaves, the Rocket initially calls her back, but then decides he is glad she is gone. Next, a couple of boys come across the Rocket and mistake him for an old stick (luckily, the Rocket soon realizes that the boy meant to say ‘gold stick’. A mere slip of the tongue). The boys decide to use him as firewood and put him in the pile of sticks to burn. It takes a while, but eventually the Rocket’s gunpowder dries and he goes off in a shower of sparks. Unfortunately, nobody witnessed his explosion (but it was amazing, let me tell you. Big crowds, he had the biggest crowds, what a turnout). When the Rocket comes back down, he is pleased with his sensational success before finally going out.

‘TILL TOUCH DOWN BRINGS ME ‘ROUND AGAIN TO FIND THE CHRONIC AND ACUTE TENSIONS

The chronic tension is the Rocket’s desire to be admired.

The acute tension is the royal wedding of the prince and princess.

I’M NOT THE MAN THEY THINK I AM AT HOME; OH, NO, NO, NO (I’M WAY MORE COMPELLING THAN THAT)

Two of my favorite things about this story were the ways that Wilde used humor and personification to poke fun at the upper classes. Wilde starts with the “human” side of the story, where he takes advantage of the numerous opportunities to lightly insult the king. He makes fun of the pointless, yet widely acknowledged, actions of the royals, as when

…the King gave orders that the Page’s salary was to be doubled. As he received no salary at all this was not of much use to him, but it was considered a great honour, and was duly published in the Court Gazette.

Having the Page’s salary doubled twice emphasizes the humor of this moment; although nothing is ultimately changed, the king’s actions are praised nonetheless. Additionally, Wilde satirizes the sycophants in the Court. The king himself

…only knew two airs, and was never quite certain which one he was playing; but it made no matter, for, whatever he did, everybody cried out, «Charming! charming!»

The utter insanity of these circumstances serves a dual purpose of being humorous and making fun of those who pander to the elite.

The personification of the firecrackers, namely the Rocket, is also used to make fun of the nobility. The Rocket’s convoluted notions of what constitutes ‘good behavior’ parallels the ignorance and braggadocious[1] nature of the Court, as exemplified when he notes that everyone else

“…should be thinking about me. I am always thinking about myself, and I expect everybody else to do the same. That is what is called sympathy.”

There are several instances where the Rocket employs faulty logic to explain his actions. For instance, when the duck leaves, he initially cries for her to “Come back! Come back!” but in the next line decides that he is “glad that she has gone,” for “she has a decidedly middle-class mind.” The Rocket changes his mind to suit the circumstances throughout the course of the story, and each occurrence further develops Wilde’s mockery of the upper class.

I’M A ROCKET MAN AND I STEAL THE SHOW: SO HERE’S WHAT YOU CAN STEAL FROM ME

Using humor and personification are light, gentle ways to poke fun at the upper class, which is a good technique to convey your message without getting arrested (or beheaded, depending on who exactly you’re satirizing). Structurally, the story begins with the humans and then transitions to the firecrackers, where it proceeds to follow the Rocket’s perspective. In a way, this fulfills his desire to be a prominent figure, as Wilde forces the readers to focus their attention on the Rocket. Choosing to focus on either an attention-seeking character or a shyer one can impact the reader’s sympathies.

Although the reader gets a sense of the king as a bumbling ruler, each of the firecrackers is characterized more than the humans. Much of the characterization, for both firecrackers and humans, is done through dialogue or the author’s asides; personally, I like the narrative interjections as a way to give context for the character’s actions (such as the side note about Page having no salary).

Using a third person point of view allows the reader to get insight into both the humans’ and firecrackers’ worlds. For this reason, third person is practical, although it also permits for a more satirical story. Writing this in first person from the Rocket’s perspective wouldn’t have allowed the reader to understand the humans’ perspectives and might have only ostracized the reader further from this character. Because it’s written in third person, we understand from the moment we meet the Rocket that he makes false justifications (such as when he states that the prince and princess happen to be getting married on the day of his explosion, and that their marriage was not the cause for his explosion). This knowledge shapes how the reader will view the Rocket for the rest of the story and hints that we will have to take everything the Rocket says with a grain of salt.

ROCKET MAN, BURNING OUT HIS FUSE UP HERE ALONE (SO I’LL INVITE YOU TO JOIN ME BY ASKING Y’ALL SOME QUESTIONS)

  1. Why are the firecrackers characterized more than the humans? Did the lack of characterization for the humans bother you? How much characterization is necessary on the part of both the humans and inanimate objects?
  2. Why was there no character change anywhere in the story?
  3. Was the Rocket given a redeeming quality? Why/why not? Did this character work for you or just annoy you?
  4. No one ended up watching the Rocket’s moment of glory – did that diminish it?
  5. Was this an effective method of satirizing the upper classes?

* Any similarities this bears to the work or words of Oscar Wilde, Elton John, Donald Trump, or any other prominent figure, is not intended to violate copyright.

[1] Copyright Donald Trump

“EPICAC” Write Up by Kenneth Moreno

EPICAC is a very short story about a mathematician who befriends (befriend is a word used lightly here) a robot named EPICAC. The mathematician is in love with one of his coworkers, Pat, but she does not love him back because he is too calculated and logical manner of thinking. She wants someone who can be romantic with her, and the mathematician is not the one for the job. One night, the mathematician develops a code to speak to EPICAC. He tells him about girls and love and poetry. EPICAC begins to write poems, which the mathematician steals as his own, unbeknownst to EPICAC. The mathematician has now decided to prepare to propose, and when he goes to ask EPICAC for the words, he discovers the EPICAC is in love with the same woman. The mathematician tells EPICAC he can never be with the woman because he is a robot, and fate would not allow it. After the mathematician dupes EPICAC, it writes hundreds of poems for his beloved and short circuits himself.

Easily one of the most fascinating things about this story is the way that it compares EPICAC’s humanity with the mathematician’s cold personality. There are interjections that remind the reader that EPICAC is in fact a computer, but throughout the piece Vonnegut constantly describes its actions and reactions as that of a person. One of the most heartbreaking reactions was EPICAC’s “Oh.” The mathematician on the other hand, is definitely described in a more robotic, selfish way. This is, of course, if we give humanity the benefit of the doubt and say that to be human is to be kind and caring of others. Constantly, we are only given strands of humanity on the mathematician’s part, though even then the reasoning for the emotions that he shows is still selfish. He addresses EPICAC as his friend, but we never see any form of friendship between the two. EPICAC is always working to solve a problem or write poetry. Like the mathematician said, “Machines are built to serve men.” The relationship between the two is, at most, strictly professional. EPICAC only calls the mathematician his friend near the end because he is the only one he could speak to. Meanwhile, the mathematician only feels for EPICAC because he can no longer ask him to write things for him.

I really think the main thing to take away from this story is the way that Vonnegut characterizes EPICAC and the mathematician. From the beginning, EPICAC is referred to as a he, which immediately makes him seem more human. Vonnegut doesn’t try to hide the fact that this is a computer either. It’s addressed from the beginning, emphasizing that he costs taxpayers a very large sum of money. He’s been designed by a doctor, and seen as a machine by many. But throughout the story, Vonnegut instead emphasizes the more humanistic traits of EPICAC. He’s described as sluggish and not perfect- words that have more connotations with an uninspired person than an imperfect computer- until he finds a passion in poetry. EPICAC’s exposure to communication with the mathematician and the poetry for Pat is the way he becomes human. Suddenly, he begins actually feeling the things he writes about. He cares about Pat, and cares about what Pat thinks of him and his work for her. He is more than willing to get married to her, an unexpected action from a computer, and yet the fact that he is a computer is still there. He is still faster at processing numbers than the mathematician is. The way EPICAC dies is interesting, as it showcases the humanity within the computer: he kills himself because he cannot be with the woman he loves, and thus cannot fulfill a purpose that he has assigned himself. EPICAC isn’t told to fall in love, it’s something he does himself. I think we can definitely use that balance of humanity and the artificial programming that makes EPICAC the interesting character that he is in our own writing.

  • Do you think EPICAC is more human than the mathematician?
  • Do you think the EPICAC genuinely considers the mathematician as his friend, or is it just because he is the only one that he could really speak to?
  • What do you interpret Vonnegut’s stark contrast of the two main characters to mean?

“Salvation” Write Up by Niara Pelton

Summary

In “Salvation” by Langston Hughes, the main character has been dragged to his Auntie Reed’s church for a youth revival night. Based on what his aunt told him, he was expecting to meet Jesus, encounter a deep spiritual and revolutionizing experience with God. As the preacher begins his dramatic sermon, people slowly began coming up to get saved. Langston feels nothing. The people of the church keep singing and praying and shouting, and one by one the kids come up. Soon the only ones left are Langston and a boy named Wesley. It’s getting hotter and later and nobody is letting up. Since they won’t be able to leave until they are saved, Wesley goes on up and gets saved, leaving Langston alone on the bench, wondering what God would think and what God would want from him. He keeps waiting to feel and see something from God, but he doesn’t, and he knows Wesley didn’t feel anything from God. Under the pressure of his aunts and the churchgoers, Langston goes up to get saved. Later that night, Langston starts crying uncontrollably. His aunt says it’s because he encountered God…Langston knows it’s because he didn’t.

Analysis

This story is compelling from the very first line, because the author immediately presents a contradiction. He says that he got saved but he didn’t. That makes readers want to know how he did get saved, and how he didn’t. It immediately shows that there is an inner dilemma that contradicts the outward circumstances and it makes the readers want to understand the outward circumstances and how they conflicted with his inner circumstances and how that ended.

One thing I loved about this writing that I would want to use in my own writing is the way that the author created a vivid setting without a lot of exposition. He brilliantly wove in small threads of the tapestry throughout the story gradually creating the whole picture. It was subtle and it wasn’t overly expository.  He used a real setting, how own experience that’s a common experience. I personally, have been to churches like that and grown up in churches like that, so I connected to the setting. I could vividly smell, hear, and see the glistening sweat, lemon polish, wood, organ runs…all of the things associated with black churches. He also used variation and metaphors in his description that provided great insight, in addition to a good reading experience.

The chronic tension in the story is the character’s previous (lack of) experience with God, and his aunt’s piety. The acute tension is him being forced to either encounter God, or fake an encounter with God in order to satisfy his pious aunt. The techniques used to show this are the character’s own thoughts, as well as his unwillingness to stand up. At the end of the story, it’s shown through his tears, and his rejection of God. The change is shown in the transition from the character who is eagerly awaiting to experience God based on what his aunt told him, and the character at the end, who’s rejecting the experiences of his aunts, and their idea of God with bitter, sad disappointment.

Discussion Questions:

  • What were your thoughts and reactions to the first line “saved but not saved”?

  • Do you think any of the kids really felt religiously moved?

  • Do you think the aunt had truly felt that experience with Jesus?

  • Why do you think Langston didn’t feel anything? What does his guilt and despair say about him?

  • What do you think God would think of Langston and the other kids? If he is real why wouldn’t he reveal himself? What do you think of the church?

  • What was the perception you got of the social environment of the church?

  • How do you think Langston thought of God after this experience?

  • What do you think would have happened if Langston hadn’t lied?

  • Do you think his aunt and the preacher really believed him?