“Today is August 4, 2026 . . . “

A presentation on Ray Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Natalie Hampton, Athena Haq, and Deonna Ford

Summary Part 1: Natalie

A voice echoes throughout the house, saying the date and time. The house is run by technology; the stove makes breakfast and voices continuing to repeat the date, time, and events happening that day. The garage door opens but shuts when no one comes. The untouched food is scraped away. Robot mice come out of the walls, clean, and disappear again. The house, standing alone in a city of rubble and ashes, is cleaned by technology on the outside. On a black wall, there are the silhouettes of a family of five.

Summary Part 2: Athena

At noon, a skinny, bruised dog walks into the house, looking for his owners, but realized they are gone. It died, and the cleaning robot mice cleaned up its body. As time passed the house was still silent, and everything the house prepared for whoever lived there was untouched. Some parts of the house were pretty broken down, including the nursery. A radioactive glow hung over it. From five to nine o’clock, the house continued with its nightly routine. Then, it asked Mrs. McClellan what poem she would like to hear that night. When there is no response, the house recited her favorite one. The poem, There Will Come Soft Rains, is about how when man destroys itself with war, nature will go on happily without it.

Summary Part 3: Deonna

It’s 10PM after the house recites the poem. The wind picks up, knocking a tree branch into the hearth and setting the house on fire. The house spirals into a frenzy. It sends various robots to try and extinguish the fire – a bevy of mice spewing water, robots spitting a green fluid, mechanical snakes batting the flames with their tail – none of which seem to work and, in fact, make the house more hysterical. All the house’s functions switch on at an insanely rapid rate as the house continues to burn. By the next morning’s sunrise, a voice is heard repeating, “Today is August 5, 2026” through the mass of burnt rubble.

Natalie’s Analysis

The first craft element I identified was sensory detail. Sensory detail was used to convey how dependent the house was on technology and the ruins it was left in, building setting. The lines,

The house stood alone in a city of rubble and ashes. This was the one house left standing. At night the ruined city gave of a radioactive glow which could be seen for miles,

illustrate the state of this dystopian world.

The story was mainly visual sensory details. While the characters were limited as it was a setting driven story, the dog contributed to building the backstory of the world.

The dog, once large and fleshy, but now gone to bone and covered with sores, moved in and through the house, tracking mud.

These lines demonstrate the change from a luxurious and joyful life, to an empty one with no humans around. The description of the dog also is used to invoke emotion in the reader, as many people have personal connections with pets and imagine the dog as their own.

Use of visual and sound sensory detail is especially evident as the house is dying and technology is failing.

Ten more voices died. In the last instant under the fire avalanche, other choruses, oblivious, could be heard announcing the time, playing music, cutting the lawn by remote-control mower, or setting an umbrella frantically out and in the slamming and opening front door, a thousand things happening, like a clock shop when each clock strikes the hour insanely before or after the other, a scene of maniac confusion, yet unity; singing, screaming, a few last cleaning mice darting bravely out to carry the horrid ashes away! And one voice, with sublime disregard for the situation, read poetry aloud all in the fiery study, until all the film spools burned, until all the wires withered and the circuits cracked.

The detail there is a sharp contrast to the calmer beginning, with lines such as, “In the kitchen the breakfast stove gave a hissing sigh and ejected from its warm interior eight pieces of perfectly browned toast, eight eggs sunnyside up, sixteen slices of bacon, two coffees, and two cool glasses of milk.” These lines show how the house is surviving, while the above paragraph from the end shows how it is dying.

By using sensory detail in my pieces, I can illustrate setting, evoke emotion in readers, and contrast the beginning of my story to the end.

The second craft element I identified was similes. Similarly to sensory details, by using similes in my writing, I can illustrate setting, character, and set the tone/mood of a piece. Similes also engage the reader and help the flow of a story.

There Will Come Soft Rains was rich in similes, several in particular standing out to me.

There, down tubes which fed into the cellar, it was dropped like evil Baal in a dark corner.

This line unique and I’ve never heard it before, immediately drawing my attention and perfectly describing the situation. It fit the overall vibe of the story and added just another layer to the plot.

Another specific line that stood out was,

At four o’clock the tables folded like great butterflies back through the paneled walls.

A lot of the story was spent building a world of ruins with more depressing imagery, but just the word butterfly has a positive connotation and the contrast between a butterfly and ruins is beautiful.

The entire paragraph where the house was burning was filled with similes.

The house shuddered, oak bone on bone, its bared skeleton cringing from the heat, its wire, its nerves revealed as if a surgeon had torn the skin off to let the red veins and capillaries quiver in the scalded air. Help, help! Fire! Run, run! Heat snapped mirrors like the first brittle winter ice. And the voices wailed Fire, fire, run, run, like a tragic nursery rhyme, a dozen voices, high, low, like children dying in a forest, alone, alone. And the voices fading as the wires popped their sheathings like hot chestnuts.

It both personifies the house and uses similes to illustrate as it loses its life and the last home in this area is destroyed. Throughout the story, the house has almost been a character, and the image of it being burned is painted perfectly and the paragraph reads poetically.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does the use of sensory details and similes affect the tone and mood of the story?
  2. How does the use of sensory details and similes build a backstory and develop setting?

Athena’s Analysis

One craft element Bradbury used was the passing of time. First, there were voices in the house announcing the hours and what needs to be done throughout the day, such as waking up at seven o’clock,  eating breakfast at seven-nine, and filling the bath at five. The time passing throughout the day also shows the mechanics in the house. No people are left, but no nature is left either. All the “nature” is technology and machines, such as the cleaning mice. He also began the story with, “Today is August 4, 2026”, and ended it with, “Today is August 5, 2026.” This implies that this cycle of destruction is never-ending.

This brings me to the next craft element Bradbury used, irony. The poem that the house recites, There Will Come Soft Rains, is about how nature will live on and thrive when mankind has destroyed itself. For example, this is shown when the poem says,

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree, if mankind perished utterly; And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn Would scarcely know that we were gone.

But throughout the story, it is shown that even with man gone, war has destroyed nature. One sign of this is the dog, who is skinny and bruised but was once healthy and plump, dying. Furthermore, nature is almost nonexistent. There’s a radioactive glow hanging in the air, and the closest thing to “soft rains” is the sprinkler running in the backyard.

This story was also very interesting to read because of its progression from the beginning to the resolution. In the beginning, I mostly just got the impression that humans had destroyed themselves, and this is what was left. From the automated house running by itself, to the various robots helping out, to the dog coming in and dying, I learned that in the story man destroyed itself and nature. The way all this was revealed was very compelling, especially with the use of a poem inside of a story. The poem really enhanced it because it revealed the prominent theme of irony with its contrast to what was really happening in that world. As I mentioned when explaining the craft element of time, the resolution of the story is that there isn’t really a resolution, and the last voice of the house repeatedly recites the date, as it will likely do for a long time.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How did the use of the craft element of time passing help shape the resolution?
  2. How did the use of the poem in the story reveal the theme of irony?

Deonna’s Analysis

Techniques tracked:

Metaphor

Text-within-the-text

When people in the 1950s spoke of the future, it was always with a hopeful glint in their eyes, dreams of fast-flying cars and robot maids quick to heed to your beck and call. In Ray Bradbury’s case, however, he sees our heavy reliance on technology as a ball-and-chain to society. In his short story, “There Will Come Soft Rains,” Bradbury follows a house that is the last house in some unknown war that destroyed everything else in the city, people included.

The house stood alone in a city of rubble and ashes. This was the one house left standing. At night the ruined city gave off a radioactive glow which could be seen for miles. Ten-fifteen.

Though there are no people in the house, it continues to function as it normally would; it prepares breakfast, it powers up a play area for the children, it washes dishes, and even recites a poem, the story’s namesake, “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Sara Teasdale for its past owner. After the poem, the house catches fire, and though the houses tries its hardest to douse the fire, the attempts come to no avail, and the house is destroyed.

Bradbury’s story is itself extended metaphor for the dangerous, cold, and apathetic nature of technology. Early in the story it’s evident that the house is only doing what it was programmed to do – daily, routinely activities such as preparing food, for instance. It can’t detect that it’s doing all of this for no one. On top of this, these are all things that an adult should easily be able to do.

Seven-nine, breakfast time, seven-nine!

In the kitchen the breakfast stove gave a hissing sigh and ejected from its warm interior  eight pieces of perfectly browned toast, eight eggs sunnyside up, sixteen slices of bacon, two coffees, and two cool glasses of milk.

Bradbury highlights that our society is one of convenience. Technology is something we use to make our lives easier and, in this story, it has gotten to the point where even the most menial of tasks are performed by robots.

Later in the story, as the house lights on fire, it’s clearly not well-trained on handling a situation like this, seeing as the house burns down after many miserable attempts to extinguish it.

The fire burst the house and let it slam flat down, puffing out skirts of spark and smoke.

In the kitchen, an instant before the rain of fire and timber, the stove could be seen   making breakfasts at a psychopathic rate, ten dozen eggs, six loaves of toast, twenty dozen bacon strips, which, eaten by fire, started the stove working again, hysterically hissing!

This may be part of the reason the family living in the house was killed – expecting that technology was going to save them, which didn’t happen to be the case.

The poem included in the story, There Will Come Soft Rains by Sara Teasdale, adds to the theme of non-human things going forth without us. It describes a landscape, still growing and blossoming with beauty even after humanity was wiped out by war, presumed to be World War I as the poem was originally published in 1918, the year the war ended. Lines 10 through 12, in particular, contribute to this:

If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,

Would scarcely know that we were gone

A relationship between these three lines can be drawn back to the house still running even though the owners are not there. However, where Earth’s actions are graceful and natural, the technology’s whirring out of control straight after the poem is read can be perceived as a bastardization of this scene.

In summary, the short story There Will Come Soft Rains is a lengthened metaphor of technology’s repetitive, rehearsed, yet dangerous tendencies. The addition of the Teasdale’s poem of the same name flavors the story’s message by describing a landscape of Earth continuing forth even without the presence of man, a nod to the story’s post-apocalyptic premise of a technology-heavy house going through its routine without its owners being there.

DISCUSSION Q’S:

  1. Many of the actions from objects in the story are described with human/”living” verbs – such as sighing, shrugging, and dying. Why is that?
  2. How does the author use imagery of an altar to illustrate the functions of the house?

 

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The Cowboy’s Unknowing

A presentation on Stephen King’s “A Death” by Sebastian Kiteka, Gabriela Mejia, and Isabella Jimenez

Summary Part 1: Sebastian

In the beginning of the story, page one says, “Jim Trusdale had a shack on the west side of his father’s gone-to-seed ranch, and that was where he was when Sheriff Barclay and half a dozen deputized townsmen found him,”. This is where Trusdale is confronted and thought to have been the murderer in the story. Throughout the story the question “Where is your hat, Jim?” is mentioned, and Trusdale says back things like I don’t know but on this page (1) he answers, “‘I might have lost it.’” This is his common excuse, but later on in the story it is revealed it is near the dead girl he has killed. King states that the men had gone to town. There intention was to search and jail Trusdale for the time until he went to court. On page 3 it says,“They went to town. It was four miles. Trusdale rode in the back of the mortuary wagon, shivering against the cold. Without turning around, the man holding the reins said, ‘Did you rape her as well as steal her dollar, you hound?’”. This explains why Trusdale is being jailed, and they believe it is him who has killed and possibly raped her because of the evidence of Trusdale’s hat. The townspeople are obviously angered at Trusdale who they think (and know) is the killer of a 10-year old girl. This is mentioned on page 4, “‘Hang that baby killer!’ a man shouted, and someone threw a rock. It flew past Trusdale’s head and clattered on the board sidewalk.” This man has most likely heard the news and I would infer that all of the townspeople think that Trusdale is the murderer. Trusdale is also searched for the silver dollar on page 5, “Trusdale turned, grabbed his buttocks, and pulled them apart. Sheriff Barclay winced, sighed, and poked a finger into Trusdale’s anus. Trusdale groaned. Barclay removed his finger, wincing again at the soft pop, and wiped his finger on Trusdale’s undershirt.” Though it is disgusting for both, Sheriff Barclay wants to find justice in the Rebecca Cline case and he is willing to do it at any cost. On the same page, 5, the sheriff arrests Trusdale and locks him up in a cell,  “‘I’m arresting you for the murder of Rebecca Cline.’” The 5th page ends with Sheriff Barclay saying, “‘I feel sorry for you, Jim. Hell ain’t too hot for a man who’d do such a thing.’” and then walking away, leaving Trusdale “questioning” the situation. I interpreted Barclay’s quote as him feeling “sorry” for Trusdale, and there are a lot of criminals in Hell, and it’s willing to add another one.

Summary Part 2: Gabi

Jim Trusdale has been led to jail with mocking accusation of him committing unspeakable crimes. Sheriff Barclay leads him to jail where he then searches every part of Jim for evidence. Time passes with more mocking’s and threats of death. The trial finally arrives where he is prosecuted and judged in process that questions his morality. This section is closed with the meeting hinting at the possibilities of a slow death because of established evidence which involves stealing money and killing a girl.

Summary Part 3: Isabella

The execution has been set for the next day and Sheriff Barclay tells Trusdale he can have anything for his last meal, which leads to a conversation between the both of them to try and help Trusdale remember if he recognized anybody’s face at the bar. Trusdale can’t, and the Sheriff takes his dishes and leaves. The next day, the day the hanging takes place, Trusdale is hysterical and tries to fight back, saying he’ll be good if he can see the mountains one last time. The crowd watching jeers and insults him for being pathetic and horrible even after he is hung. The sheriff goes back to the cell, then his office, until the next morning he is called to the mortuary and sees Trusdale’s underwear on the ground covered in feces, and he and his colleague spot the silver dollar that the little girl had presumably been killed for. The sheriff questions his judgement for thinking the man was innocent and thinks himself a fool for being the only one in the town who believed the murderer.

Analysis Part 1: Sebastian

Character- A figure in a literary work (personality, gender, age, etc). Flat characters are types of caricatures defined by a single idea of quality, whereas round characters have the three-dimensional complexity of real people.

There were many flat characters in the story, “A Death” by Stephan King, including the citizens of the town and Trusdale. The main flat character, Trusdale was shown to be flat, because of his personality never changing. He was confused, “‘What thing?’” meaning that he was unsure of whether he did the crime, and he believed it fullheartally until his death:

Barclay nodded to House. House pulled the lever. The greased beam retracted and the trap dropped. So did Trusdale. There was a crack when his neck broke. His legs drew up almost to his chin, then fell back limp. Yellow drops stained the snow under his feet.

This shows in the ending of Trusdale’s life, and the townspeople are happy he has finally died, which is what they wanted, “The spectators stayed until Trusdale’s corpse, still wearing the black hood, was laid in the same hurry-up wagon he’d ridden to town in. Then they dispersed.” Another quote adding on to the previous is the one on page 14, “Because the Clines knew all along. Everyone in town knew all along. He was the only one who hadn’t known.” The round character in this story is Sheriff Barclay. He is skeptical whether or not Trusdale has committed the crime, unlike his fellow policemen. On page 14,

”You believed him,” Hines said at last.

“Fool that I am, I did.”

“Maybe that says more about you than it does about him.”

This shows that the sheriff was very wrong in believing the murderer to be a freeman, which a fellow sheriff’s deputy tells him.

Plot- The major events that move the action in a narrative. It is the sequence of major events in a story, usually in a cause-effect relation.

The plot in the story is finding out who the girl killer is. Stephan King has convinced his readers that Trusdale is innocent, (along with the Sheriff and the killer himself) yet the town believes (and knows) that Trusdale is the person who should be convicted of being a child murderer. The first major event to the story is taking Trusdale into custody, page 2,

“You need to get in the back of the wagon,” the sheriff said.

This is the beginning to the story. The second major event is searching and convicting Trusdale, page 5,

“Where is it, Jim?”

“My hat?”

“You think I went up your ass looking for your hat? Or through the ashes in your stove? Are you being smart?”

and,

“I’m arresting you for the murder of Rebecca Cline.”

This signifies the only suspect who is at fault for murdering Rebecca Cline. The 3rd major event to the story is the trial of Trusdale, on page 10,

“The jury will retire to consider a verdict. You have three choices, gentlemen—innocent, manslaughter, or murder in the first degree.”

This ends the decision for an execution to Trusdale. The next major event to the story is after Trusdale has died and the men find the silver dollar in Trusdale’s feces. On page 13,

They lay on the floor, mostly turned inside out. Something gleamed in the mess. Barclay leaned closer and saw it was a silver dollar. He reached down and plucked it from the crap.

This indicates when Trusdale has finally been proven guilty.

And the final major event in the story is when the sheriff is looking back on how wrong he really was in thinking that Trusdale was actually innocent. On page 14,

He was the only one who hadn’t known. Fool that he was.

Sheriff Barclay truly feels bad and foolish to believe that Trusdale could’ve actually been innocent instead of guilty.

Discussion questions 1, and 2:

I believe Stephan King used a lot of flat characters because his dynamic, round characters represented the sheriff, and us the readers. Many people thought that Trusdale was actually going to be innocent but instead we were proven wrong as long as the Sheriff. I think the story was a little shorter compared to his longer stories like “It” or “The Shining” because he was going for a shorter, straight to the point kind of story. I like many of his stories, and this story was a pretty horrific story. He did use a little less diction compared to his more spooky or horrid novels, but this story had its own vibe, and was very scary, because we thought Trusdale was innocent, and the way he died, and other factors like that were involved. I believed he did this because when he used more diction it was because of the vile things happening in the story.

Analysis Part 2: Gabi

Point of view: The story “A Death” by Stephen King is written in 3rd person point of view. 3rd person point of view is when the narrator is telling us what is going on in the story. The story shows more of an omniscient 3rd person point of view which is when the narrator knows or has the knowledge of all the feelings or desires of the characters in the book. “A Death” by Stephen King falls under these guidelines because it never mentions the main character referencing throughout the story as if he was telling it. The reader is considered as a spectator and is only filled in with information that the narrator delivers it to us, even though he knows the thoughts and feelings of all characters it does not mean that the narrator has to expose all of them. We can prove this hypothesis with a quote from the beginning of the story stating

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Trusdale said.

This shows the reader the main character Jim is feeling confused, but we don’t have more information to conclude anything else about his feelings. This proves the story is written in a 3rd person omniscient point of view because the narrator is informing us with textual evidence that shows emotions and story plot but not the eternity of the picture.

Style: The story “A Death” by Stephen King is written in a horror/realistic style. When referring to style in a book or novel it means the specific way an author uses diction, use of vocabulary, figurative language and words to immerse the reader scenes in the story. Style also helps portray the mood of the book and helps the reader foreshadow future events because of tension or other created situations. One great example of this in “A Death” by Stephen king is towards the end of the story when it states,

“Let me look at the mountains!” Trusdale bellowed. Runners of snot hung from his nostrils. “I’ll be good if you let me look at the mountains one more time!”

This shows the author’s use of the word mountain to describe life and to continue it instead of dying. Another great example of the diction Stephen King uses use is at the beginning where it states

Trusdale turned, grabbed his buttocks, and pulled them apart. Sheriff Barclay winced, sighed, and poked a finger into Trusdale’s anus. Trusdale groaned. Barclay removed his finger, wincing again at the soft pop, and wiped his finger on Trusdale’s undershirt.

Although this is gruesome it shows the reader how eager the sheriff is to find justice or at least evidence in and “inside” of Jim.

Two discussion questions: 1. The hat is used as a specific piece of evidence in Jim’s trail making him come back to the restaurant in look of it but, why did Stephen King choose a hat, and does it symbolize something more?  2.At the end of the story it is mentioned when Jim dies that he expels all the liquid and bodily fluids in his body. They then find the missing coin in his bodily fluids but earlier in the text  it states “There was a bunk and a stool and a waste bucket.” this proves that Jim could have used the restroom and probably did because of the amount of time he was in jail for. So, did Jim must hide the coin during the inspection of evidence and then eat it before the trial?

Analysis Part 3: Isabella

My two craft elements were theme and setting. First, a couple themes I noticed were prevalent throughout the story; Justice and self importance/rationalization.

Justice- the sense of justice is definitely not the same as we think of it now, as in the 19th century the system and process is incredibly fast, rushed to the point of not being thorough or caring about the wellbeing of the suspect- the suspects are practically guilty till proven innocent. This is reiterated at several points in the story that I will mentioned later. The story deals with a horrible crime; the murder and robbery of a 10-year-old girl and starts off by telling the reader exactly who is suspected to have done it, which has the reader thinking that it can’t be him, it’s too obvious and sudden. (which also goes along with the rationalization theme) The entire time law enforcement (mostly Sheriff Barclay) and people of the town argue over justice and making things right for the poor little girl- even though I personally doubt a 10-year-old girl would want the man hung.  It’s a battle of right and wrong and he hurt her, so we better hurt him back. There are several moments that show how biased the law system is against the defendant/suspect, such as when on page 6 it says

There was no lawyer in town to serve as Trusdale’s defense, so Mizell called on George Andrews, owner of the mercantile, the hostelry, and the Good Rest Hotel. Andrews had got two years of higher education at a business school back East. He said he would serve as Trusdale’s attorney only if Mr. and Mrs. Cline agreed.

This is just the first of a series of events that prove the messy justice and legal process in this town and time. There are also quotes such as;

Roger Mizell, who had familiarized himself with the case, served as prosecuting attorney as well as judge.

..no one suggested that it was a bad idea. It had a certain economy, after all.

And

Prosecutor Mizell called half a dozen witnesses, and Judge Mizell never objected once to his line of questioning.

Rationalization/Self Importance; as the reader, and as human beings, we often think (unconsciously or not) that we know best and our opinions are irrefutable. So, of course, since the reader is pushed to believe Trusdale is innocent, he must be, and all the gathered evidence and jury ruling are wrong. Stephen King plays on the idea the reader will make up in their head that all the townsmen are vicious, that everyone is mad at a man who did nothing but be uneducated and simple minded. By the end, there is a conclusion, that no, somehow the reader was incorrect (unless you’re one of the few that believed he was a criminal the whole way through) and we see how being in our own minds constantly leads us to think our thoughts and ideas can’t possibly be wrong. Stephen king is trying to prove a point here about people’s self-importance and how it leads to rationalizing facts that were proved wrong with just our human emotion. The lines

“You believed him,” Hines said at last. ‘Fool that I am, I did.”

“Maybe that says more about you than it does about him.””

are all reminiscent of what I imagine King is trying to tell the reader. Most of the story is making fun of the human species’ long-time conflict starter- pride, haughtiness, and self-importance. I rather enjoyed the way Stephen King subtly introduced the theme, and very quickly had the reader feeling sorry for the criminal of the story. I’d like to be able to develop complex character’s or at least quick attachment and intelligent storylines and underlying themes and concepts in my writing.

Two things I’d like to know about Stephen King’s thought and writing decisions/process (discussion questions)

  1. How did he come up with the idea/concept for the story and what spurred him to implant the theme of self-importance?
  2. Did King have the idea in his head that Trusdale was going to be guilty the entire time? Was there a point in the story that he realized that would make sense and wrote it, or did he plan it all out/have an idea of the ending he wanted to build up to?

I’m a Believer (of Writing)

Summary Part 1: Erin

The story starts off by telling us how to live our life. It says to try at something and fail so you can write haikus about loss. The story goes on to say your mother will pay you no mind and tell you to do the dishes. When you do you’ll break a glass. In school, you write villanelles and sonnets about your teacher. You try writing a fiction story and turn it into your teacher, who says there’s no plot. It tells you to take babysitting jobs and tell your stories to the kids. You decide to take a child psychology major and sign up for a bird class. You find out the bird class is creative writing and you decide to stay there because sometimes mistakes happen for a reason.

Summary Part 2: Alessa

Francie decides she likes college life, meeting all kinds of people with different levels of intelligence and different points of view.

The assignment that week in creative writing is to narrate a violent happening. The teacher tells her she has no sense of plot when he hands back her writing piece. She writes another story with six paragraphs and reads it out loud in class, someone later coming up to her to ask if she’s crazy.

Francie eventually decides that she should probably stick to comedies and starts dating someone funny. She writes down all his jokes without his knowledge and gives her socially handicapped characters the name of his old girlfriend. Francie’s psychology advisor tells her to focus more on her major. Francie says she understands.

For the next two years, she continues going to creative writing seminars and watches as her class looks through her writing for some plot. Francie gets depressed and finally switches majors when she realizes how happy she is while writing.

Her writing professor asks for altered realistic stories created through the power of imagination. When Francie tells her roommate about her idea, the roommate suggests going out for a big beer. The creative writing seminar doesn’t like her idea-turned-story.

The next semester, the writing professor asks for stories about personal experience, but only three things have happened to her in the past three years; losing her virginity, her parents getting divorced, and her brother returning home from the war with only half a thigh. She writes the first two stories with ease, but no words can be found for the last.

Summary part 3: Meghana

Francie is at an undergraduate cocktail party where her roommate says that all she writes about is her boyfriend, but Francie insists she likes to count the syllables. She is having trouble thinking of things to write about, and when her mom visits her, giving her a business book and a baby naming book, her mom doubts her writing will succeed. Her writing continues to disappoint those around her, and she attempts law school but backs out. Instead, she works small jobs, takes writing classes, and breaks up with her boyfriend. The story ends with Francie, still failing at her writing, with an unencouraging date.

The chronic tension is that Francie didn’t get any support for her writing from her family. The acute tension is that in her creative writing college course, she got a lot of harsh criticism for her stories.

Analysis Part 1: Erin

POV

The first thing that I tracked in this story was the Point of View. The story is in second-person POV, evident from the way the author uses ‘you, you’re, and your’ as a way of talking to the audience. In this perspective, the story of ‘you’ is narrated. This way of writing is often used in instructions or directions, and in this case, it may be correct with the title of the story being ‘How to Become a Writer.’ The main character’s name is also a gender-neutral name, Francie can be the shortened form of Francis (male) or Frances (female). This can lead to the assumption that this is a how-to guide of how to become a writer told as if you’re the main character.

In your high school English class look only at Mr. Killian’s face.

This is the first time that ‘you’ is used in the story. It’s assuming every aspect of your life, to the name of the teacher and what you’ll be doing in class. It’s telling you, the reader exactly what to think and feel at each stage of life.

When you are home, in the privacy of your own room, faintly scrawl in pencil beneath his black-inked comments: “Plots are for dead people, pore-face.”

This line of the story is reinforcing the idea of what to think and what to do in every situation. It’s almost as if the story is told from personal experience like this is the author retelling her story of how she became a writer. A lot of details like this are very specific and interesting to think of a deeper meaning for.

Try to smile proudly.

Apply to college as a child psychology major.

Here’s the author detailing your life again. Because you are good with kids you try out for a child psychology major. Throughout the story, it always thrusts the reader to think certain ways. Because of the lack of a concrete main character, it relies on the reader’s personal experiences to fill in the blanks. This story has a lot of elements in it. It contains lots of writing styles like haikus, sonnets, villanelles, and fiction. It also is chock-full of personal experiences, the mother, the brother in the war, the boyfriend, how ‘you’ like birds, creative writing, the book of baby names for characters, and so much more. All of the story is chock-full of different narrative experiences. I think this is done because the story is supposed to be in ‘your’ point of view. It has a lot of experiences because it’s trying to connect to the reader. The reader is probably going to have experienced at least something similar to the main character in the story. This means a lot of people can see themselves in the role of the ‘you’ that’s prominent of the story. Especially writers, who can connect to the creative writing part of the story as well as all of the writing types.

You will continue, unfortunately, to view the world in exactly these terms for the rest of your life.

This will also connect to a multitude of people. We all have a way of seeing the world, and this is explored here. We all think of the world in certain terms, a place to live, a place ruined by the older generations, a place ruined by an incompetent president, or just as a rock floating in space. No matter what your view is you’re set on a core belief of how the world works.

Why write? Where does writing come from? These are questions to ask yourself.

Here’s a line that also connects to plenty of people. I’m sure we’ve all fallen into creative slumps where we ask ourselves ‘why write’ or ‘what do I want to achieve with my writing’ or, the dreaded, ‘will I be able to make a living off of my writing?’

Later on in life you learn that writers are merely open, helpless texts with no real understanding of what they have written and therefore must half-believe anything and everything that is said of them.

This is also true for a lot of writers. It’s giving us foreshadowing for careers in writing. The half-believing what’s said of them also cuts deep. It’s like saying to take constructive criticism with a grain of salt, something young writers who, according to the author, won’t’ learn this until later in life because they’re taught that each criticism is something to be taken seriously.

 …the same way you said it when someone in the fourth grade accused you of really liking oboe lessons and your parents weren’t really just making you take them.

This is another specific detail that was, in my opinion, put in to connect to certain and specific people. It’s symbolic of not wanting to do something and insisting you hate it just to win an argument, even if you actually like it. I myself can think of plenty of examples of myself doing just that.

Perhaps you go to graduate school. Perhaps you work odd jobs and take writing courses at night. Perhaps you are working on a novel and writing down all the clever remarks and intimate personal confessions you hear during the day. Perhaps you are losing your pals, your acquaintances, your balance.

The repeated use of ‘perhaps’ here is what caught my attention. When a word is repeated, be it fiction or poetry, it’s always to put stress on a specific point or draw attention to something the author thinks is important. Here the thing that’s important is that the story has a very set form of this is exactly what’s going to happen in your life from the names of your teachers to what you write about.’ Here is the story saying that this is perhaps what you’ll do instead of this is what you’ll do. It’s giving the reader creative liberty of the story, taking you out of the cookie-cutter form and giving flexibility.

“You Are Here,” says the red star on the back of the menu.

This is one of the last lines of the story. It’s when you’re an adult, out of school, ready to make a name for yourself now that you’re on your own. The story has layed all the groundwork out for you on ‘how to become a writer.’ And now you are here, your training is complete, and now the story is saying, go off, be your own person, I’ve given you the steps now make use of them.

Characterization

I’m going to contradict myself here and go with the assumption that Francie is a real person and the story is being told through her eyes.

Show it to your mom. She is tough and practical. She has a son in Vietnam and a husband who may be having an affair. She believes in wearing brown because it hides spots. She’ll look briefly at your writing, then back at you with a face blank as a donut. She’ll say: “How about emptying the dishwasher?”

This is one of the first insights into Francie’s character. She immediately dismissed Francie’s writing and suggests something for Francie to do that will only benefit her. The mom doesn’t show interest in her kid’s hobby and doesn’t compliment her for doing something creative, seemingly seeing it as a waste of time.

Decide faces are important. Write a villanelle about pores. Struggle.

This gives us knowledge of the beginning of Francie’s writing life. Through the story, we always get a front row seat to what’s going on in Francie’s life, including her thoughts. The beginning of the story is literally the beginning of her story, starting with what she first writes about and her struggles.

 You start to get up to leave and then don’t. The lines at the registrar this week are huge. Perhaps you should stick with this mistake.

This is what jumpstarts Francie’s life as a writer. It’s where she gets critiques when she explores what she can do with writing, where she finds her calling. It’s the start of her career as a writer, the baby steps to the life she’s about to lead.

You have, however, a ludicrous notion of plot.

This is her first critique in a real creative writing class. The plot in her stories is something that Francie can never seem to overcome. It’s like her terrible crystal, her class always picks apart her stories for not having any plot, and regardless her stories seem to never change.

Start dating someone who is funny, someone who has what in high school you called a “really great sense of humor” and what now your creative writing class calls “self-contempt giving rise to comic form.” Write down all of his jokes, but don’t tell him you are doing this.

This shows Francie’s manipulative relationship with her boyfriend. She dates him, perhaps because she likes him but also because he helps her stories. She’s always ridiculed by her class for having no notion of a plot so she tries something different. The fact that she writes down all his jokes without telling him is a big teller that she’s also using him to get better at writing.

On days when it is your turn, you look at the class hopefully as the scour your mimeographs for a plot. They look back up at you, drag deeply, and then smile in a sweet sort of way.

Despite her attempts, her class still doesn’t like her writing. They smile in pity and still don’t think much of her writing. It’s frustrating for her, even as she keeps writing and writing people always say her images are great but lack plot.

Say to your roommate: “Mopey Dick, get it?” Your roommate looks at you, her face blank as a large Kleenex. She comes up to you, like a buddy, and puts an arm around your burdened shoulders. “Listen, Francie,” she says, slow as speech therapy. “Let’s go out and get a big beer.”

Here is Francie coming up with an idea on her own. She finds it witty and funny and presents it to her roommate because she likes it and seems to be seeking confirmation from her friend. She’s repaid with her roommate giving her a blank stare and, without commenting on her story idea, suggests they go out for beer. This is, without a doubt, probably very frustrating for Francie. Now not only is her plot being criticized but her friend seemingly shoots down her idea without so much as batting an eye.

Insist you are not very interested in any one subject at all, that you are interested in the music of language, that you are interested in in syllables, because they are the atoms of poetry, the cells of the mind, the breath of the soul. Begin to feel woozy. Stare into your plastic wine cup.

This is Francie when confronted with the prospect of writing as a major fiercely denying it. When trying to say a different interest it still loops back to writing. This is because of all of the criticism her writing has gotten. Throughout her life- her mother and roommate turning a blind eye to her writing, her teacher and classmates always telling her she has no plot, she is unsure of her path now. The idea of writing as a profession scares her because she’s not sure she can pull it off at this point.

From here on in, many things can happen. But the main one will be this: you decide not to go to law school after all, and, instead, you spend a good, big chunk of your adult life telling people how you decided not to go to law school after all. Somehow you end up writing again. Perhaps you go to graduate school. Perhaps you work odd jobs and take writing courses at night. Perhaps you are working on a novel and writing down all the clever remarks and intimate personal confessions you hear during the day. Perhaps you are losing your pals, your acquaintances, your balance.

This is Francie’s adult life being described in a nutshell. Like a lot of her life, it’s hard and she’s losing a lot to achieve what she wants. She still wants to be a writer, working incredibly hard to make her dream a reality. It shows the life a lot of aspiring writers lead and the harsh reality of making it big as a writer.

Possible plot? A woman gets on a bus.

This is one of the last things in the story. It’s Francie, after working incredibly hard, finally taking all of her criticism to heart. She’s growing and considering how to become better. She’s starting to do plot and writing down plot ideas. It’s a small step, but it will mean a lot in the long run.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do you think the story would have differed is Francie’s mother had been supportive of her efforts to become a writer?
  2. Do you think this story was created with the intent of connecting to writers or telling the story of Francie?

 

Analysis Part 2: Alessa

The craft elements that I tracked were conflicts and literary devices.

One of the many conflicts is when the main character discovers that the computer has made an error in her schedule when she shows up to the wrong class. Aside from that, the most commonly mentioned one in this story was how the main character had “a ludicrous notion of plot…outrageous and incompetent.” After reading one of her stories out loud in class, someone later approached her afterward to ask her if she was crazy. Later on in the story, Frankie, the main character, gets into an obsessive/depressive state (spent too much time slouched, demoralized, self-mutilating and losing weight) but continues writing nonetheless. Later on, Frankie realizes how deep her love for creative writing runs and decides to switch majors which means she has “fallen in with a bad crowd.”

Now, moving on to literary devices. It is commonly used throughout the story, especially lines that mention blank faces (which is followed further on Meghana’s analysis). Metaphors and similes are the most commonly used such as: “…she says, slow as speech therapy…” and “…writers are merely open, helpless texts…”

Conflict:

  • Some of your images are quite nice, but you have no sense of plot.
  • You have, however, a ludicrous notion of plot.
  • They say your sense of plot is outrageous and incompetent.
  • After class someone asks you if you are crazy.
  • You spend too much time slouched and demoralized.
  • You are said to be self-mutilating and losing weight, but you continue writing.
  • You have, as your mother would say, fallen in with a bad crowd.

Literary Devices:  

  • It is a pond, a cherry blossom, a wind brushing against sparrow wing leaving for mountain.
  • These are questions that you keep in your wallet, like calling cards.
  • let your imagination sail, to let it grow big-bellied in the wind
  • she says, slow as speech therapy
  • a permanent smirk nestled into one corner of his mouth.
  • Your type-writer hums.
  • writers are merely open, helpless texts
  • Now you have time like warts in your hands.
  • Consider how it looks like the soggy confetti of a map

Discussion Questions:

  1.      What was the main conflict of the story?
  2.      What is the significance of dialogue in the story?

Analysis Part 3: Meghana

I first tracked the repeating phrase of “face as blank as.” In the story, the writer uses the phrase to make the reader pay attention to a significant change to Francie’s mindset and emotional state. The first time it is used, it says, “She’ll look briefly at your writing, then back up at you with a face blank as a donut.” This shows that from the very start, Francie had little support from any parental figure in her life. After this, her mother tells Francie to do the dishes, which she does angrily. This was the first sign in her life that she wanted to write, so it is understandable for her to be upset. This creates an unstable emotional base to build the rest of her writing career off of. She says that this is “a required pain and suffering”, meaning that this lack of encouragement contributed to her writing. She also doesn’t get the support she needs from her teacher who says that she has no sense of plot. Her frustration is again shown by her scratching out the comments and writing “plots are for dead people, pore-face.”

The next time the phrase is used, it says,

‘Excuse me, isn’t this Birdwatching One-oh-one?’ The class stops and turns to look at you. They seem to all have one face – giant and blank as a vandalized clock. Someone with a beard booms out, ‘No. this is Creative Writing.’

This begins her college experience where she continuously feels isolated and left out. She is already not supposed to be in the class, so Francie feels alienated. She sees herself in the middle of everyone else, which is apparent in the lines,

Some are smarter than you. And some, you notice, are dumber than you. You will continue, unfortunately, to view the world in exactly these terms for the rest of your life.

People in her class even ask her if she’s crazy. She is different and feels as if there is no place for her.

The phrase is used again in the lines,

Your roommate looks at you, her face blank as a large Kleenex. She comes up to you, like a buddy, and puts an arm around your burdened shoulders. ‘Listen, Francie,’ she says, slow as speech therapy. ‘Let’s go out and get a big beer.’

She is being treated like a child and dehumanized because everyone close to her is acting as if her writing is making her insane. At a cocktail party when asked if her writing is all about her boyfriend, she says

you stiffen and say, ‘I do not,’ the same way you said it when someone in the fourth grade accused you of really liking oboe lessons and your parents really weren’t just making you take them.

In this part, it shows her trying to be more like everyone else. She feels uncomfortable and stiffens up when she is singled out. She also compares herself to a fourth grader, someone younger than her. This line is highlighting the fact that her roommate was babying her.  When speaking to her mom, Francie says that she enjoys writing, and her mom says sarcastically, “Sure you like to write. Of course.” The fact that her mother won’t outright tell her that she doesn’t like that Francie is writing may make her feel like her mom isn’t treating her like an adult. Other people also ask Francie if writing was some kind of fantasy of hers, which says that it’ll never be a reality. They have no faith in her abilities, but they’re trying to cover it up to sound polite. This makes Francie feel alone because no one will truthfully talk to her anymore.

The last time the phrase is used, it is to describe a date she is on where the man’s face is as blank as a sheet of paper. While she is talking, the man begins smoothing all his arm hair in one direction. He is clearly uncomfortable in the conversation about her writing and distracts himself. He seems to see Francie as a crazy artist who has no real talent, so the world’s perception of her hasn’t changed since the beginning of the story. While tracking the phrase “as blank as”, you can see Francie’s progression of her reactions to the lack of support. She is used to no one believing in her by the end. I would like to incorporate a repeating phrase in my fiction to see how it keeps the reader’s attention.

The second craft element I followed was theme. I believe the theme is her confusion with her own identity. The very first words from the story are “First, try to be something, anything, else” which sounds like she isn’t very confident in what she is doing now. This confusion continues into her college life when she thinks her placement in creative writing class was fate. If you believe in fate, it is like you have no control over your own life because it’s been planned out for you. Francie may feel like everything in her life, including her being a writer, is simply happening to her without her being able to affect it. Francie also has a hard time committing to one thing. She tries comedies and attempts to focus on the syllables in writing. She also switches majors. Her inability to stick to one thing is because she isn’t sure who she wants to be yet. Her teachers also confuse her. The first professor is “stressing the Power of Imagination. Which means he doesn’t want long descriptive stories about your camping trip last July” but then her second professor wants personal experiences and camping trips. These two conflicting people in her writing career could’ve only confused her.

The lines “Begin to wonder what you do write about. Or if you have anything to say. Or if there even is such a thing as a thing to say. Limit these thoughts to no more than ten minutes a day; like sit-ups, they can make you thin” are very important to the theme. Francie starts to question whether her writing is saying anything since she doesn’t know what she wants to say. Her uncertainty about her identity is overwhelming and stressful, which is why she says she must limit the thoughts or else she’ll become thin. Writing can help you find out more about yourself. Francie isn’t ready to figure out who she is yet, so she feels safe in her other classes. Also, at the end when she compares writing to polio, this is saying that writing is hurting her. Throughout the story, we see that Francie does hurt herself to get through her writing. This shows that she doesn’t understand herself yet. At the very end of the story when she is looking at coleslaw on a menu, she says how it looks like “the soggy confetti of a map: where you’ve been, where you’re going- “You are Here,” says the red star on the back of the menu.” Francie is obviously lost about her individuality. She is trying to figure it out by looking back at her past and where she plans to go next, but she finds herself on the back of the menu, which is kind of nowhere. This reflects the theme throughout the whole story.

Discussion Questions

  1.       How did the writer portray Francie’s feelings toward her own writing and how did it grow throughout the story?
  2.       How does the mother add to the theme?

Daddy Issues

Summary Part 1: Liv

This story, titled, Gondwana, by Steve Almond, begins with the narrator, Myristica, riding the bus to her father’s house while absorbing the dreadfulness and misery of the people around her. Once she reaches her destination, she begins to recite to her father how living with him wasn’t working and she wanted to release herself from the father-daughter bonds that she was currently in. Her father, a television pundit, responded to Myristica’s statement by calling in one of his servants, whom Myristica named Niblet because of her perfect niblets for teeth, and began to discuss with her on whether or not she loved her father. Naturally, Niblet says that she does love her father but after she exits to go fetch a Diet Pepsi for Myristica father, he fires her. After Niblet was fired, Myristica begins to explain that she wants to move into her friend Twig’s basement, also providing her father with the legal documents to prove her desire to divorce him but her father is resistant, even though Myristica has provided a argument that has got her father stuck in a corner. As her father is thinking through the complications of the divorce, Myristica flashes back to previous conversations that she had had with her friend Twig about her father and their relationship.

Summary Part 2: Carson

Pages 6 – 9 starts out with meg and her dad continuing to argue. The dad insults twig and says he has never met her when he has many many times. Meg doesnt correct him noting that you cant correct her dad and says that whatever is his record becomes the record. Meg makes it clear she will not hurt his political career and ambitions. She then reveals that her dad is an orphan too. His parents killed each other but he covered it up with a story they slid on ice while driving to a civil rights protest. The only way she knows this is because she caught him crying after a gossip site was going to expose the truth. Her dads assistant tells her everything and then makes her sign a nondisclosure form. She apologizes but is cut off when her dad keeps getting business phone calls. The dad calls a new, terrified assistant in the room and tells her he needs to be downstairs and proceeds to rename her. Meg tells her what he means and then thinks about gondwana where you didnt have a name but a song people sang to call you. She then thinks of when her dad would come home when she was going to school after drinking and he would start singing classic rock to her.

Summary Part 3: Elise

The father’s new assistant, Janice, greets Meg before getting an order from the father. Meg wonders about what her name might have been had she lived in Gondwana, and what life would be like there. Her reminiscing turns to her father, who she remembers used to sing to her back in his “boozing days.”

She snaps back to reality when the assistant leaves, and her father asks her to not divorce him. Meg is reminded of the time her father took her to New Guinea on her thirteenth birthday, during which she attempted to jump out of his helicopter. They had found out that the orphanage that was her first home was destroyed, and the only person they could find to speak to was an ancient woman who hissed and spat and eventually left when they tried to talk to her.

Meg found out later that night that the woman had said that she did not belong to them, that she was not a slave. And Meg agreed with that, returning to reality with the thought that maybe that was the problem after all. She then notices that her dad has forgotten she is there, and is now focused on his phone, lamenting to himself.

The chronic tension within, Gondwana, is that the narrator was adopted as a publicity stunt for her father.

 

The acute tension within, Gondwana, is the fact that the narrator wants to divorce her father.

 

 

Analysis Part 1: Liv

The two craft elements that I pinpointed within the story, Gondwana, by Steve Almond, are conflict and point of view. The conflict of this story is Myristica’s struggle in her relationship with her father and this can bee seen very clearly whenever she states that she no longer wants to be in his custody. The point of view of this story is from the first person and through the eyes of Myristica, the narrator. Because the point of view is in the first person we are able to see not only how she views herself, but also how she views her father and the life he lives.

Starting with conflict, we first see the relationship first ignites whenever Myristica climbs over out of the bus she had ridden to her father’s house and tells him that she doesn’t think their relationship was working.

And then I was standing there in front of him saying (just like I’d rehearsed), I’m really sorry to interrupt your busy day and all, Dad, but its not working for me.

Here we can see that Myristica not only does not think that their relationship is falling apart, but she has thought that for enough of a while to be able to recite those lines for memory. In this story, Myristica was an orphan from Papua New Guinea who had been adopted almost as a publicity stunt for her father who is a television pundit. Because of her adoption and her doubt that her father truly loves her, Myristica begins to question whether or not she should remain in her father’s custody.

‘[Brought] her home to Laurel fucking Canyon and [tucked] her in each night-’

‘You didn’t tuck me in,’ I said.

‘I did too, Dad said.

‘You had staff do it.’

Hand-picked staff,’ Dad roared.

In the quote above, we see Myristica’s doubt of her father’s love and also the tension that arises whenever her father tries to prove his worth. Another instance wherever conflict appears is whenever Myristica claims that she wants to live with her friend Twig instead of living with her father.

‘Do you know what Yasser Arafat once told me?’ he said.

I told him that I didn’t care and that… I just wanted to move into my friend Twig’s basement and lead a normal life.

‘He said to me,’ Dad said, meaning Yasser Arafat, ‘that God gives us daughters to toughen our hearts.’

In this quote, we see that the conflict comes not only from the father’s stubborn personality but also from the carelessness/rudeness of Myristica. The father was intentionally ignoring his daughter’s confession of what she wanted to do with her life, and whenever she had finished he made a comment to try to fire her up and get a reaction out of her. Although the father seems reasonably annoying, Myristica was responding to her father in ways that many children should not: she not only said she no longer wanted to live with him, but with a friend, but whenever he began speaking to her, she seemed to ignore what he had to say as well. The conflict in this story seems very one-sided to both characters, but to the reader, both the father and Myristica are in the wrong.

The conflict throughout this story travels back and forth from the father being rude and Myristica getting upset because of his actions to Myristica’s internal insults and anger bubbling with only a fraction of it showing. Whenever Myristica first announces to her father that she wants to leave him, he questions one of his servants on whether or not she loves her father. This small act on the father’s part, comparing the servant’s love of her father to his daughter’s love of him, was especially petty and rude and starts the story out with the knowledge that this father-daughter relationship was going down hill.

‘Do you have a father?’ Dad said to Niblet. She nodded.

‘Do you love him?’ Dad said…

‘Of course I love him,’ she said. Dad glanced at me.

Within the story, there are many types of conflict, Myristica’s internal conflict of not fitting in, the father’s conflict of trying to keep his daughter home without ruining his campaign, and finally both of their conflicts of living with each other and rubbing against one another’s skins.

The second craft element that I will cover is point of view. The point of view is in the first person, through Myristica’s eyes, and because of this, we are able to see how she views the world and the people around her. We first see that the story is in the first person whenever Myristica addresses her self as I, letting us know that it will be from her point of view. One of the people that she thinks most about is her father, and as she tries to divorce him, a lot of thoughts flood her mind, giving us a taste of how she views him.

I wanted dad to have a long and happy life, while also wanting him to die instantly.

In the quote above, Myristica’s thoughts clearly show us that she wants her dad to be happy, but also wants him to die as well. Because this story is in the first person, we get all of our information of the father through the eyes of Myristica, providing a slightly distorted view of the father: we know that he can be annoying, but with Myristica’s thoughts, we see him as much worse than that, hence the way she thinks about her desire for her father’s death. Another way Myristica sees her father is with longing.

Where is that Dad, I wonder, who was bad but meant good? Who sang off-key but at least sang?

The father becomes very distant as his political life overwhelms his family life and even though Myristica becomes very annoyed and angry at her father, she longs for the family man he used to be. Through Myristica’s eyes, we get not only the negative sides to characters, but also the positive sides, making a realistic three dimensional setting, but with this, there also other points throughout the story whenever Myristica’s thoughts about her father are neither negative or positive, they just are.

[My father had] already stared into the camera with the  bulging grief-stricken eyes of  a saint and implored The Almighty to tell him what had gone wrong in America.

In this quote, the way she thinks of how her father stares into the camera is not a positive description, but it doesn’t seem to be negative either, giving Myristica some undecided thoughts about her father.

With first person, we are able to see how Myristica views herself as someone who does not fit in or belong in the world she lives in and also how she can have a bit of low self esteem.

I stood there, as I so often do, feeling misplaced.

In this quote, we are able to see the isolation that Myristica finds herself in wherever she is in her father’s wealthy white world and how that provides tension within her whenever she feels like she does not belong. The second instance mentioned above was whenever Myristica sees herself with low self esteem.

At night, [my dad] would steal into my room and leave lavish gifts. In the mourning, he would lurk behind the door and wait for me to express astonishment. It was like being courted by a vampire Santa Claus. Oh, God, [I thought], I’m probably making myself sound like a poor little rich girl.

In the last sentence, Myristica thinks poorly of herself for thinking it awkward for her father to behave in such a way, in a sense blaming herself and her emotions for the strange choices her father make. The point of view in this story proved to be a useful a tool in depicting an image of the world and the people in it through the eyes of Myristica.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would have the story differed if Steve Almond showed Myristica succeed in divorcing her father?
  2. Why was Twig a necessary character in this story?

 

 

Anaysis Part 2: Carson

Setting: the setting in this story is revealed through small details that are easy to miss. We know that theyre talking in Megs dads huge, luxury apartment-possible-penthouse but we dont know where until it is revealed in page 5 as being in los angeles. This is important because megs dad works as a part time dentist (i believe) and los angeles is a very cosmetic driven city. He also has a presidential campaign going and being from such a huge city could definitely benefit him. Not to mention how expensive it is to live in california especially los angeles. This adds to just how wealthy megs dad is. Another large setting in the story is Gondwana, Megs home country that she was “rescued” from by her Dad. From what we gather Gondwana is a very war stricken place which is the original reason Meg was taken away. Gondwana is described as being just how they describe in movies: hot, humid, no technology, simpler life, and remote. However, do not be mistaken to think the habiting people are less intelligent as the old woman they spoke to saw right through their shallow intentions and rightfully disregarded them. Another small setting is Twigs basement where Meg is planning to move to. This is important because it shows how adament meg is about getting away from her father, willing to leave her luxurious, comfortable life to live in a basement.

Plot: the plot in this story is pretty unusual where it doesnt really have a climax or resolution because we never actually see Meg leaving or the court. Instead, we get a lot of rising action and tension that slowly morphs into a conclusion of sorts. The small details and stories of Megs neglect and emotional abuse pile on top of eachother until the reader has no choice but to side with Meg on moving out. It almost sounds like a persuasive essay for the jury told in narrative format than a story. I feel as though if Meg shared this story with the court itd be a solid argument to have her legally cut ties with her adopted father.

Discussion Questions:

Do you think you that Meg was justified in leaving her dad or was she just being bratty?

Does Megs dad have any redeemable qualities or is he just a one noted awful person?

 

Analysis Part 3: Elise

Gondwana depends on flashbacks to tell its story- without them, you wouldn’t know why Meg wants to divorce her father. These flashbacks help us to know the dad’s true intentions- that, really, Meg was just a publicity stunt. After mentioning her father’s campaign, Meg says that

..it was going to be worse for me because a decade ago, as a mere regional cable curiosity, Dad had given an interview to a small radio station in Winston-Salem, on the occasion of Martin Luther Kings birthday. As some of you know; he’d said, I have a daughter. A little five-year-old. She is a pure-blooded Papua New Guinean and I love her for that. I m proud she’s racially pure, that she’ll grow up knowing who she is…

Meg provides the reader with a mere glimpse into the past, within which deeper meaning can be found. The fact that is talking this way about his five-year-old daughter on a radio show says a lot about his motives. He is using the child to make a political statement. And he contradicts himself in another flashback.

One night after dinner, I asked Dad whether he was going to take me back to Gondwana, which I understood to be the place of my birth.

To where, he said, God-what-ah?

Gondwana, I said.

You come from Los Angeles, he said quietly. Eat your sundae.

He said that she would grow up knowing who she was. And yet, here he is, telling her that she comes from Los Angeles. While she did grow up there, the father doesn’t even know where she came from- how was she supposed to?

The father’s actions aren’t commented on by Meg- she’s just stating what happened. It’s up to us, the readers, to characterize the father through what he does. It’s judging someone based on what somebody’s told you- we may not have the full story, but we like to think that we don’t need it. From these beginning flashbacks, we get the image of a bad man, an evil man, who cares more about publicity than his own child. And, even when he shows vulnerability, it’s due to a threat to his publicity,

The only reason I know the truth is because I caught Dad weeping in his Media Strategy Room a few years ago. A Web site devoted to humiliating the famous had obtained his mother’s court records; the story was about to break.

The inclusion of this indicates that he isn’t found weeping often- a fact that wouldn’t be hard to believe given his stardom. But the reason that he is crying adds to the image of a publicity-crazed person- he’s crying because a website found out that his parents killed each other, and that would absolutely ruin his career if somebody found out. Meg admits that he wasn’t always like this.

Dad himself used to sing to me, back in his boozing days. He’d come home right around the time I was getting up for school and stumble into my room and bellow classic rock staples, while Elba, the German… I guess you’d call her a governess… attempted to shoo him away. He looked awful, a dark wing of hair pasted to his brow, a ghostly halo of pancake makeup rimming his jowls…

She reminisces of the old dad, the one who “was bad but meant good” and who was happy to find her in the house. Here, now, is a hint at some sort of good in the father- at least in the past. Although he is selfish and terrible now, Meg has seen him in another light before. But that dad is gone, and that’s why she wants to divorce the one she has now.

Near the end of the story is the longest flashback, that of her trip to Papua New Guinea when she was thirteen.

I know why my father hired you, I said.

Moss smiled. I’m not sure what you mean.

That old woman was supposed to recognize me or hug me or whatever. I’m not dumb, you know.”

This is the point that Meg referenced in the beginning of the text, when she mentioned to Twig that her dad was going to take her to Papua New Guinea again. The first time was a publicity stunt- unsurprising, given the character of the father- that went wrong, and Meg is fully aware that he is going to try again if she doesn’t divorce him. The fact that he’d take her again despite the failure of the first trip emphasizes the lack of concern the father has for Meg’s feelings and well-being.

Discussion Questions:

Why do you think Almond included the action of the father firing “Niblet?” How does this contribute to the characterization of the father?

How might the story have been affected if the flashback of the trip to Papua New Guinea wasn’t included?

 

“The Devil Comes to Orekhovo” Write Up by Emma H, Henry, and Sydney

Summary Part 1: Emma H

A man in the army during World War 2 named Leksi counts the amount of wild dogs he sees while he marches with his troop of two other soldiers, Nikolai and Surkhov, who are older then him and have been in the army longer. As Leksi holds his rifle and ponders its weight, he thinks about in his hometown he and his school friends had wanted desperately to be a solider because all the girls adored them, and that no able man above the age of 18 wasn’t enlisted. Leksi’s mind goes back to his current surroundings, snow, snow, and more snow, but he can’t complain about the cold because he is the youngest. But  Nikolai and Surkhov complain and are restlessly loud which makes Leksi nervous as he has heard horror stories, but still he says nothing. Surkhov wants someone named Khlebnikov to be put in charge. Leksi then describes  Nikolai and Surkhov. Nikolai says that they will never bring  Khlebnikov there because he is a tank and that this is a game because Nikolai and Surkhov don’t take anything seriously. Leksi recounts last week when they had found a dead dog and Surkhov had pretended is was a dummy and played with it, which Nikolai thought was funny but Leksi unnerving. Leksi fall sbehind the two men and they chastize him for not paying attention. They stop close to the mansion they want to enter and sit smoking a cigarette try to decide weather or not it is occupied. At night, Leksi keeps watch and can hear te wild dogs howling and he thinks back on his life, hoping that he will make it through tomorrow. At three A.M. the trio climbs down the hill to the house, darkening their faces and clothing. When they get to the house, it is unkempt and looks abandonded. The door is unlocked and it’s empty. Still the men search the whole house, but when Leski opens the fridge, he gets slapped by Surkhov because the light could have given them away. When the search was complete, they inform their base and sit in the library. Leksi is embrassed becasue he thinks that a slap is a femmine thing.

Summary Part 2: Henry

Summary Part 3: Sydney

Leksi hands the old woman a shovel and begin on their way. She tries to reason with him as they walk, saying that his fellow soldiers were just trying to test him, and they couldn’t care less whether she lived or died. Leksi realizes that she’s probably right, but still doesn’t want to let her go. She says that her grandchildren won’t know where her grave would be and Leksi agrees to put up a marker even though he plans not to. She tells him to put her hometown and her name, Tamara Shashani, on the grave. She starts telling him a story called “When The Devil Comes to Orekhovo”. In the story, the Devil wanted to marry the most beautiful woman alive. So he starts to go to Orekhovo to meet a girl named Aminah. On his way, he asks a boy for directions before killing him and taking out his eyes. Leksi recalls hearing a similar version of this story before. Continuing the story, the devil asks to enter a fat woman’s house, who turns out to be Aminah’s mother. After he offers her gold in exchange for her daughter’s hand in marriage, he kills her and takes her eyes as well.  The devil meets Aminah at a frozen lake and asks to skate with her. She agrees, but after a while, he asks her to be the queen of his kingdom, giving her a necklace of blue diamonds, which were actually the eyes he took. Instead of taking up his offer, Aminah skates away as fast as she can causing the devil to fall through the ice while chasing her. After the story ends, Leksi panics as he realizes he got lost. Suddenly feeling really warm, he takes off his parka and relaxes. The old woman slips away without Leksi realizing, and as he’s tracking her footsteps, he sees Nikolai shortly before hearing a gunshot close by.

Tensions?

Analysis Part 1: Emma

My first element was significant detail.

The first significant detail that we get is the fact that the dogs have gone feral. This detail is significant because we will see these feral dogs later on in the story, multiple times. They find a dead dog who had been used as target practice, and Surkhov and Nikolai had played with the corpse, but Leski had a bad feeling because he was deeply superstitious.

They came across a skinny dead dog, and Surkhov dragged it by its front paws into the center of the road…Surkhov, one hand on the back of its neck, lifted the dog’s frozen corpse onto its hind legs and used it as a ventriloquist’s dummy to sing, in falsetto, the old Zhana Matveyeva song.

Later, when Leski is keeping watch the night before they storm the house he hears the dogs howling to each other and becomes unerved.

Every few minutes a dog would howl and then his brothers would answer, until the hills echoed with lonely dogs calling for each other.

Even later, towards the end of the story, when the old woman, Tamara Shashani, is telling the story of The Devil Comes To Orekhovo to Leski, telling him of the misdirection that Aminah had used in order to get away from the Devil who prized her and had killed to find her, entrancing him in the story that he had heard as a child, she too leads him away from where it is that they are meant to be going and leading him to a place that he doesn’t know how to go back to the house from and into a pack of three wild dogs feasting on a deer carcass.

Leksi heard growls and turned to see where they came from. In the shadow of a great boulder twenty meters away three dogs feasted on a deer’s still-steaming intestines. Each dog seemed to sense Leksi’s gaze at the same time; they lifted their heads and stared at him until he averted his eyes.

And so he finds himself in a similar position as in the beginning, lost in thought surrounded by the feral dogs, who are eyeing him, but not attacking, despite what seems to be a violent nature.

Another significant detail is Leski’s equipment. These details are significant because they help Nikolai and Surkhov come to the conclusion that Leski is weak and inexperienced. We first see him struggle with his rifle. He has to constantly shift it because it slips off his shoulder, but is too heavy to carry in his hands. Later, when he rushes to speak with Nikolai he nearly trips because of the weight of the rifle unbalancing him and Nikolai notices this.

His rifle strap kept slipping off his shoulder so he ended up holding the gun in his gloved  hands. He still wasn’t used to the rifle. It never seemed heavy when he picked it up in the morning, but by noon, when he was sweating through his undershirt despite the cold, his arms ached from the burden.

He rushed forward, nearly tripping. Carrying the rifle disrupted his balance.

Leski doesn’t wear his helmet because when he does Nikolai and Surkhov throw pebbles at him, because apparently they are considered “unmanly”.

Leksi, whose head was still shaved to regulation specifications, felt vulnerable without his helmet, which he had left behind after Surkhov and Nikolai kept throwing pebbles at it. None of the older. soldiers wore helmets. Helmets were considered unmanly, like seat belts, fit only for U.N. observers and French journalists.

When they enter the house later and Leski opens the fridge, he is slapped by Surkhov, which Leski finds insulting because he thinks that Surkhov doesn’t think he is worthy of a punch.

Later when the men are drunk off of the stolen vodka from the kitchen, the men have a conversation where Surkhov and Nikolai ask him how many women he has been with and when he tells them the number of girls he has kissed, they assume he is lying because they consider him unmasculine.

“But you’ve been with women?”

Leksi burped and nodded. “Here and there.”

“Virgin,” said Surkhov, carving his name into the mahogany tabletop with his knife… “I’ve been with three.”

Nikolai raised his eyebrows as if the number impressed him. “You must be a legend in your hometown.”

“And I’ve kissed eleven.”

Surkhov plunged his knife into the table and shouted,

“That’s a lie!” Then he giggled and drank more vodka.

“Eleven,” repeated Leksi.

When he learns that he must kill her, he wishes to that the whole is an elaborate joke or that she will refuse to cooperate and one of the others must do it, because he is still that young and unwilling, which as the old woman points out later in the woods, is why they have chosen him for the task. They want to see if he is worthy, strong enough. If he will pass the test that they have set for him.

She hadn’t stopped walking, though, and she continued talking. “It’s a test for you. They want to see how strong you are.”

The old woman asks about how will her grandchildren find her when she is dead and Leski replies that he will pt up a marker but he has no intention of doing that, he had just run out of things to say to this woman. Leski describes his fury as having already disappeared, which is bad because he needs to find a way to dehumanize this woman so that he can kill her without remorse. He needs a reason and she isn’t giving him one.

While she tells him the story, he doesn’t pay attention to his surroundings and becomes lost at the bottom of the hill. The old woman tricked him, as Aminah tricked the Devil. He lets her go, but it’s all for nothing. Surkhov kills her anyway and without apparent guilt or moral restraint.

When he finally raised his head the old woman was gone, as he knew she would be…A moment later a single gunshot echoed across the valley floor…He turned to find Surkhov marching toward them, singing “Here Comes the Sun,” twirling a silver chain with a black cameo on its end.

My second element was scene vs summary.

I chose a few different things for summary but the ones that chose help to infer the kind of person that each character is (physically, mentally, emotionally). According to Janet Burroway’s “Summary and Scene”, part of a summary’s purpose is to “fill in a character’s background”, and I believe these words do just that for each of the main characters in the story. Like with the old woman. We get two different descriptions of her, one off her younger years, and the other as she is now.

A raven-haired woman stared at the camera. She looked faintly bored yet willing to play along, the same expression Leksi saw on all the beautiful young wives in his hometown. Her dark eyebrows plunged toward each other but didn’t meet.

An old woman sat on a bare mattress. She did not look up at them. Her thinning gray hair was tied back in a bun and her spotted hands trembled on her knees. She wore a long black dress. A black cameo on a slender silver chain hung from her neck.

From this brief description of her looks you can see how her body has deteriorated with time, how she is no longer the same beautiful, bored woman in that photograph, but her will remains the same, willing to play along with the game of whoever is taking the picture and the three Russian soldiers in her house.

But it doesn’t just provide good background information about the character, it also helps to tie together different places in time, like how in beginning Leksi is with Surkhov and Nikolai, in the snow, surrounded by dogs. The same goes for the ending, but a huge amount of character development has occurred.

The dogs had gone feral. They roamed the countryside their claws grown long, their fur thick and untangled with thistles. When the soldiers began Leksi counted each dog he spotted, a game pass. He quit after forty.

…Only the dogs would know where to find him…. He sat in the snow and listened to the countryside around him.

Onto scene. Burroway describes scene to be significant moments, and they “…deal(s) with a relatively short period of time at length.”

I thought that this particular scene fit the criteria well. It contained dialogue, it was a very significant moment in the story and is relatively short containing less than two hundred words.

They were halfway up the stairs when Nikolai placed his two wine bottles on the step above him, drew his pistol from his waist holster, and chambered a bullet. Leksi did not have a pistol. His rifle was still in the library. He held a bottle in one hand and the toy truck in the other. He looked at Nikolai, not sure what was happening.

“Leksi,” whispered Nikolai. “How do they play pool with the table jammed against the wall ?”

Leksi shook his head. He had no idea what the older man was talking about.

“Get Surkhov. Get your rifles and come down here.”

By the time Leksi had retrieved Surkhov from the dining room, their rifles from the library, and returned to the cellar staircase, Nikolai was gone. Then they heard him calling for them. “Come on, come on, it’s over.’

They found him standing above an opened trapdoor, his pistol reholstered. He had shoved the billiards table aside to get to the trapdoor, a feat of strength that Leksi did not even register until a few minutes later. The three soldiers stared down into the tiny subcellar.

As you can see this is the moment when the men find the old woman in the house and it is a very significant plot point in the story. It’s also right before you the reader knows what exactly is happening down in this subceller. Nikolai knows,as he has already seen her and at the very end so do Surkhov and Leski, but until the very next sentence, the reader/audience has no idea. It’s not fast paced at all either. We are eased into this realization through the quiet turn of events that occurs.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why does the author choose not to state Tamaras death explicitly?
  2. Why does the author choose to start the story with the feral dogs line?  

 

 

Analysis Part 2: Henry

The Devil Comes to Orekhovo is an interesting look into the aspects of war. These three soldiers are just boys, they’re still young and impressionable. They were born to a society that glorifies the act of war and of becoming a soldier, and they unwittingly enlisted into the Russian army, not having a clue as to the gravity of what they were doing.

Leksi, along with all of his school friends, had eagerly anticipated enlistment.

The three of them are still trying to find their place in society, trying to sort out who they are as people. The story almost revolves around a Hero’s Journey, in a way. Leksi is a young boy who enlists in order to become a man. He meets these two older soldiers, who sort of test him and show him the ropes, and give him a strange mixture of tough love and genuine anger. The men show Leksi what it’s like being a soldier for the Russian army, and what he is to expect. But the defining aspect of this story that makes it so on par with the Hero’s Journey is the old woman.

Nikolai sighed. ‘It is not a pleasant thing, but she is old. Her life from now on would be very bad. Give her back to Allah.’

Nikolai shows an abrupt personality change when he is dealing with the old woman, going from harsh and cruel to the young Leksi to warm and agreeable. He does what she says without many complaint, and the reason is revealed to be that Nikolai wants her to be killed. He orders Leksi to do it, something that Leksi is reasonably unhappy with. Leksi does it anyways, and he takes the woman out to the woods. When walking through, the woman gives him a tale about the devil reminiscent of the Greek myth of Persephone. Leksi never does kill the woman, instead, he completes his Hero’s Journey by digging her grave.

Nikolai smiled and held out the shovel. ‘Come here, Aleksandr. You have work to do.’

The immediate answer for the work that Leksi must do is that he must dig the grave of the old woman, but it should also be taken into account that they were planning on having the old woman dig her own grave. It isn’t impossible that Surkhov and Nikolai could have had Leksi dig two graves, one for the old woman, and one for himself. The ending does leave a lot to interpretation, which is what I would like to learn for my own stories.

This story left the ending up to the reader, and I want to include that sort of ambiguity and the unknown factor when writing. Writing something intentionally vague in order to let the reader interpret is one of the best ways to write horror, and this story included some aspects of the horror genre in it, from the Devil story and from the general atmosphere of the cold blanket snow of Chechnya.

Religion is a large factor in many stories, and Orekhovo is no exception. These soldiers are likely atheist, from the way they speak about Moscow and common society. They mention Allah, considering Chechnya has a large Muslim population. And of course, there is also the story of the Devil. Religion is just another aspect of Russian society that conforms these young men into enlisting in the army. Russian society as a whole plays a major part in this story. I did “References to Religion” last presentation too, and I’m starting to think my choices of story subconsciously prefer religious undertones.

Discussion Questions

-What does the tale of The Devil Comes to Orekhovo have to do with the rest of the story?

-Do you think Leksi was killed at the end of the story for betraying his fellow soldiers?

 

 

Analysis Part 3: Sydney

Characterization

The story’s main character, Leksi, is an eighteen year old russian soldier who wants to prove himself the older men that accompany him.

“Of the three soldiers, Leksi, at eighteen, was the youngest.”

Right off the bat, our protagonist is an underdog. He’s less experienced than his comrades and struggles to get used to hiking long distances in the freezing temperatures and much to his annoyance, his heavy rifle keeps slipping off his shoulder, highlighting his inexperience once again.

He was so cold his teeth were cold. If he breathed through his mouth his throat hurt; if he breathed through his nose his head hurt. But he was younger, and he was a soldier, so he never complained. Surkhov and Nikolai, on the other hand, never stopped complaining.

Leksi is younger and feels as if he must prove himself to his comrades. He fears that complaining would cause his fellow soldiers to lose respect for him, despite the fact that they’re the ones actually complaining.

Leksi couldn’t understand why Surkhov and Nikolai were so recklessly loud, but they had been soldiers for years. Both had seen extensive combat. Leksi didn’t question them.

By this point, the readers can all tell that Leksi looks up to these guys and follows them without question. Benioff was smart to characterize Leksi like this early on in the story, so it is no surprise when he agrees to kill an innocent old woman without a second thought.

Only after they began marching again, after Surkhov and Nikolai began singing Beatles songs replacing the original lyrics with obscene variations, did Leksi wonder who was watching his back.

When Nikolai unfairly scolds him for ‘not watching his back’, Leksi acts guilty and submissive despite the fact that nobody was watching his own back. He’s a complete doormat to these two men. This inability to think for himself also gives him room to grow and change as a character, and I personally was very anxious to see him finally stand up for himself.

Leksi’s face was still flushed from embarrassment. He knew that he deserved the slap, that he had acted stupidly, but he was furious anyway. He imagined that Surkhov slapped his girlfriends that way if he caught them stealing money, and it burned Leksi to be treated with such disrespect, as if he were unworthy of a punch.

Leksi embarrassed himself in front of Surkhov and it eats him up. He feels as if he’s being treated as a child and obviously desires Surkhov and Nikolai to treat him as an equal. Being slapped for misbehaving makes him utterly furious. However,

Leksi was unable to hold grudges. He extended his hand and said, “I’m sorry.”

He directly states that he doesn’t hold grudges, making him seem even more like a doormat.

Later in the story, as the old woman is telling him the story, he fails to see the parallels between the fairytale and his current predicament. Benioff establishes a connection between these two characters before they even meet, when Leksi was questioning why strangers would want to kill him.

In a few hours he might be fighting for a house he had never seen before tonight, against men he had never met. He hadn’t insulted anyone or fucked anyone’s girlfriend, he hadn’t stolen any money or crashed into anyone’s car, and yet these men, if they were here, would try to kill him. It seemed very bizarre to Leksi. Strangers wanted to kill him. They didn’t even know him, but they wanted to kill him.

His internal monologue makes his lack of empathy to the old woman very ironic; neither she nor he can understand why someone would want them dead even if they didn’t do anything wrong. By this point, we can pretty much tell that Leksi isn’t the sharpest tool in the box. He even says it himself;

‘They don’t care if I live or die, you must know this. Why should they? Look at me, what can I do? They are testing you. Can’t you see this? You are smart, you must see.’

‘No,’ said Leksi. ‘I’m not smart.’

Even when the old woman clearly tells him that his comrades are testing him, he still refuses to acknowledge it because of his blind trust in the more experienced soldiers. In the end, its this lack of self awareness that cause the old woman to escape his clutches.

Setting

Setting played an important role in this story, providing external conflicts for our protagonist. In the beginning of the story, the freezing temperatures of Russia make Leksi very uncomfortable and cause him to question what he’s fighting for in the first place.

Instead he had this: snow, snow, more snow, snow. It all looked the same to Leksi, and it was endless. He never paid attention to where they were going; he just followed the older soldiers. If he were ever to look up and find them gone, Leksi would be lost in the wilderness, without any hope of finding his way out. He could not understand why anyone would want to live here, let alone fight for the place.

One strength I found in the text was Benioff’s ability to help the readers infer when and where the story was taking place by using subtle clues and references rather than saying outright that they are in Russia during the 1960’s or 70’s.

…after Surkhov and Nikolai began singing Beatles songs replacing the original lyrics with obscene variations..

So, by referencing things like the Beatles, readers can use their prior knowledge to guess when this story is happening.

Setting also helped give us more information on the woman who lived in the house Leksi and company decided to take over.

A heavy black dresser· with brass handles stood against one wall. On top of the dresser were pill bottles, a brush tangled with long gray hairs, a china bowl filled with coins, a cutglass vial of perfume, a jar of pungent face cream, and several silver-framed photographs. One of the photographs caught Leksi’s eye, an old black-and-white, and he picked it up. A raven-haired woman stared at the camera. She looked faintly bored yet willing to play along, the same expression Leksi saw on all the beautiful young wives in his hometown. Her dark eyebrows plunged toward each other but didn’t meet.

Leksi had the eerie sense, examining the photograph, that the woman knew she would be seen this way. As if she expected that a day would come, years and years after the shutter clicked, when a stranger with a rifle strapped to his shoulder would point his flashlight at her face and wonder what her name was. 

Leksi thinks back to this photograph quite often, giving him a connection to the old woman and giving her entire character a feeling of history.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why did the author set this story in Russia during this time period?

  2. Why did the author have Leksi think of himself as unintelligent?

Loneliness, Clinginess and Betrayal

Summary Part 1: Meg

Twice a month, the protagonist visits his aging parents at their flat in Enugu. His parents have changed since they retired, becoming slower, both mentally and physically, and beginning to believe far-fetched tales that they would have dismissed as ridiculous before. The protagonist doesn’t believe in their stories, but still humors them in listening and talking to them. One day in November, the protagonist is listening to a story about armed robberies, which prompts his mother to say that the ring leader of a robbery was their former houseboy, Raphael. His parents expect that he won’t remember Raphael, but the protagonist, of course, does remember the former houseboy.

Raphael, at the beginning, was just another houseboy who’d come to work at the protagonist’s parent’s estate. He was a regular teenager from some nearby village, just like all the other former houseboys. The house staff mostly didn’t care about the protagonist, but they cared about not making his mother, who treated the staff poorly, upset with them. She would punish them for all types of offenses, including ones that wouldn’t be considered a very big deal. The protagonist was also his parent’s only child, born late in their lives after they thought that they’d have a child. Both parents were intellectuals, and very intense at that. The protagonist never like reading or academia as much as either of them, and spent his childhood worrying that he wasn’t smart enough for them and read only to make them happy. In all, the protagonist didn’t fit in very well at his house, not particularly liking books or badmitton.

Summary Part 2: Elijah

Onkenwa gets a new houseboy named Raphael after the last one was sent home following an incident where he insulted his mother. At first Raphael is like all the previous house boys until one day while onkenwa was is doing “kung-foo” he catches sight of Raphael watching him. At first onkenwa thinks he has embarrassed himself but then it turns out that Raphael is as much of a fanatic as he is. Raphael teaches onkenwa how to kung foo better. And their friendship blossoms until one day during dinner onkenwa’ mother discovers that Raphael has contracted Apollo. She then Quarantines Raphael to the back room and orders Onkenwa not to see him.

Summary Part 3: Avalon

After Okenwa spent some time in Raphael’s bedroom, helping him with his eye drops, Raphael is finally free of his Apollo. However, after waking up from a dream of Raphael and Bruce Lee, Okenwa discovers that now he is infected with Apollo.

Okenwa’s mother gets mad at Raphael, blaming him for infecting Okenwa with the contagious eye infection. However, Okenwa lies to his mother and tells her that he caught Apollo from a classmate, making up a name on the spot. He does this to avoid confessing to his parents that he was in Raphael’s room.

Okenwa’s mother calls his doctor and gets him proper medicine. She also bans Raphael from his room. For the whole week, Okenwa’s parents visit Okenwa to give him eye drops. The eye drops remind Okenwa of Raphael.

Then, Okenwa started to think about Raphael more, like why hasn’t he tried to visit him? And why didn’t he ever apologize for giving him Apollo?

Eventually, Okenwa just tries to sneak downstairs to see Raphael, but his father’s already at the end of the stairs, so he aborts his mission.

One day, though, Okenwa’s parents are out, and he takes this as an opportunity to go see Raphael. While looking for Raphael, Okenwa hears his voice outside on the veranda and follows. He catches him talking to Josephine, another house worker for whom I assume is Okenwa’s neighbor. Okenwa grew agitated as he noticed how shy Raphael was talking to Josephine, and how flirty Josephine portrayed herself.

Okenwa calls out for Raphael, and then becomes embarrassed, so he tells him to prepare him food. Raphael asks Okenwa what he wants to eat just as he loses his balance. Okenwa falls off the veranda and cries out of humiliation. Okenwa’s parents arrive just in time to find Okenwa on the ground.

When asked what happened, Okenwa claims that Raphael pushed him off the veranda.

Okenwa reflects on the incident, saying that there was time for him to cut in and take back his lie. But he never did. Okenwa let the silence pass and Raphael is told to pack his things and leave.

Analysis Part 1: Meg

The first craft element of “Apollo” that I will analyze is point of view.

Twice a month, like a dutiful son, I visited my parents…

In this quote, at the very beginning of Adichie’s story, the pronoun “I” is used. It is used throughout the story. The story in is in first person, narrated by a man at the beginning, who then flashes back to memories of his childhood. He talks, in first person, about his experience with a former houseboy, Raphael. The author’s use of first person convey Okenwa’s feelings, mostly towards Raphael, but also towards his parents and situations.

The second craft element of the story that I will discuss is characterization. Throughout the story, there are several characters. For the purposes of this analysis, I will focus on four: the characterizations of Okenwa, his parents, and Raphael.

Throughout my childhood, I worried about not being quick enough to respond when they spoke to me.

I sometimes felt like an interloper in our house.

These quotes describe Okenwa’s attitude towards his parents: He does love them but doesn’t connect with either of them very well. This leads to a feeling of loneliness present throughout his childhood until he meets Raphael.

I expected a mild reprimand. He had made my bed that morning, and now the room was in disarray. Instead, he smiled, touched his chest, and brought his finger to his tongue, as though tasting his own blood. My favorite scene. I stared at Raphael with the pure thrill of unexpected pleasure. “I watched the film in the other house where I worked,” he said. “Look at this.”

Okenwa feels a connection with Raphael very quickly. As the two grow closer, he becomes obsessive and clingy, expecting that Raphael prioritizes him as Okenwa does Raphael, going so far as to break rules to see and help Raphael.

I wanted to see Raphael, but my mother had banned him from my room, as though he could somehow make my condition worse. I wished that he would come and see me. Surely he could pretend to be putting away a bedsheet, or bringing a bucket to the bathroom. Why didn’t he come? He had not even said sorry to me.

Okenwa goes so far in his clinginess to be upset when Raphael does not break his mother’s rules to see him. Despite his mother’s direct commands and the fact that his mother would be incredibly angry at Raphael, he is unreasonably angry. One day, when both of his parents are out of the house, Okenwa seeks Raphael. Eventually, Okenwa finds him talking to a Josephine, a family friend’s house help, and becomes angry and jealous.

With her, Raphael was different—the slouch in his back, the agitated foot. He was shy. She was talking to him with a kind of playful power, as though she could see through him to things that amused her. My reason blurred.

Okenwa tries to drive Josephine away, by asking Raphael for food, but realizes that Raphael doesn’t care about him like Okenwa does Raphael. It is only when Okenwa’s parents arrive home that Raphael offers to help Okenwa, but it becomes clear that isn’t because of Okenwa; it is because Raphael doesn’t want to anger Okenwa’s parents. Okenwa realizes this and falls. Then, out of revenge, Okenwa tells his parents that Raphael pushed him so that his parents will be upset with Raphael.

Okenwa’s parents are similar people, who are vey competitive with one another and expect Okenwa to be like they are. As discussed earlier, Okenwa doesn’t really live up to their expectations.

I sensed my parents’ disappointment in the way they glanced at each other when I spoke about a book, and I knew that what I had said was not incorrect but merely ordinary, uncharged with their brand of originality. Going to the staff club with them was an ordeal: I found badminton boring…

Okenwa’s mother specifically is very strict, holding her house staff to high standards as shown in this quote:

All the houseboys treated me with the contemptuous care of people who disliked my mother. Please come and eat your food, they would say—I don’t want trouble from Madam. My mother regularly shouted at them, for being slow, stupid, hard of hearing; even her bell-ringing, her thumb resting on the red knob, the shrillness I hard of hearing; even her bell-ringing, her thumb resting on the red knob, the shrillness searing through the house, sounded like shouting. How difficult could it be to remember to fry the eggs differently, my father’s plain and hers with onions, or to put the Russian dolls back on the same shelf after dusting, or to iron my school uniform properly?

Okenwa’s parents are also shown to be smart and sharp, although, at the beginning of the story, it is shown that, in their old age, they grew dull, slow, and superstitious.

It is shown throughout “Apollo” that Okenwa’s parents do care about their son, but they don’t connect very well with him. Yes, they love him, but he doesn’t share their interests in books or badminton. The lack of a parent/child connection makes Okenwa very lonely, which is necessary for the story to make Okenwa’s clinginess to Raphael make sense.

Throughout the story, Raphael is portrayed idealistically through Okenwa. He is more caring and more polite than all of the other houseboys that Okenwa could remember. Raphael liked martial arts and Bruce Lee. Okenwa feels connected to him very quickly, due to shared interests. Okenwa hasn’t really shared interests with any friends before that we are shown, and Okenwa certainly hasn’t shared any interests with his parents.

Despite Okenwa being convinced that Raphael really cared about him throughout the story he only cares about not angering Okenwa’s mother. He does like martial arts and Bruce Lee, but, as Okenwa figures out in this quote:

Had my parents not come back, he would have stayed there mumbling by the tank; my presence had changed nothing.

Raphael is not as attached to Okenwa as Okenwa is to Raphael. This realization angers Okenwa, so he tells his parents that Raphael pushed him, exacting his revenge.

Throughout the story, Okenwa is portrayed through his own eyes. Therefore, the reader doesn’t really understand just how clingy and jealous Okenwa is about Raphael until the end of the story when it is revealed in the last scene. Even so, it makes sense how clingy and jealous Okenwa turns out to be upon rereading the story. The twist of Okenwa’s clinginess is very well-written and sort of unexpected, but also it makes sense with the progression leading up to the reveal. That is something I think could be taken away for our own writings.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why does the author need to emphasize the strictness of Okenwa’s mother for the plot to go the way it does?
  2. Why does Adichie make Okenwa a lonely child? What relevance does it have to the plot?

Analysis Part 2: Elijah

My two craft elements were flash back and foreshadowing, for flashback I decided to focus on the main transitions from the present to the past. Which is mainly a section that takes places on page 2-3

“Do you know,” she continued, “one of the armed robbers, in fact the ring leader, was Raphael? He was our house boy years ago. I don’t think you’ll remember him.” I stared at my mother. “Raphael?” “It’s not surprising he ended like this,” my father said. “He didn’t start well.” My mind had been submerged in the foggy lull of my parents’ storytelling, and I struggled now with the sharp awakening of memory. My mother said again, “You probably won’t remember him. There were so many of those house boys. You were young.” But I remembered. Of course, I remembered Raphael.

Here is the Initial beginning of the flashback, we have the conflict story and plot somewhat set up here all at once. Keep that in mind you will be seeing this again.

Flash back is particularly evoked in the last two lines especially

-But I remembered. Of course, I remembered Raphael-

The second part of flashback is when we actually flash back in time. Directly below the high lighted section is this continuation

Nothing changed when Raphael came to live with us, not at first. He seemed like all the others, an ordinary-looking teen from a nearby village

And there now we are in the past. The rest of the story is in the past as made clear by the continuous usage of “I did” “he did” “I was” “then,” which all clearly and distinctly puts the brunt of this story in the past.

My second element of review was foreshadowing and, there is a lot of it sprinkled again in that thick area amongst the flashback transition. Here is a quote you have all seen before. Except this time. It is not flashback hidden in its heart but foreshadowing. a very well used foreshadowing, it is when an author gets right on the brink of contradicting themselves and then does not. I am sure we have all used this in some way or another.

Nothing changed when Raphael came to live with us, not at first. He seemed like all the others, an ordinary-looking teen from a nearby village.

Here is an example-

The town judge was a good man, just and honest, or so everyone thought.

See quite easy. This type of foreshadowing is used to set up the problem. The town judge is thought to be a good guy. When “reading between the lines” the message is noticeably clear that no. judge is a big bad guy. Same in Apollo.

Nothing changed when Raphael came to live with us, not at first. He seemed like all the others, an ordinary-looking teen from a nearby village.

In these words, particularly

 At first

And

Seemed

Clue a reader into to the right assumption that the story and connection between onkenwa and Raphael is deeper than what onkenwa would ever have first assumed.

Perhaps an even better example of foreshadowing in this story is at the very beginning of our introduction of Raphael. Which we get through the mother.

“Do you know,” she continued, “one of the armed robbers, in fact the ring leader, was Raphael? He was our house boy years ago. I don’t think you’ll remember him.” I stared at my mother. “Raphael?” “It’s not surprising he ended like this,” my father said. “He didn’t start well.” My mind had been submerged in the foggy lull of my parents’ storytelling, and I struggled now with the sharp awakening of memory. My mother said again, “You probably won’t remember him. There were so many of those house boys. You were young.” But I remembered. Of course, I remembered Raphael.

Exhibit A, the way onkenwa mother speaks of Raphael.

Its clear from the words she uses when she speaks of R. is that of nonchalant. A tone one might use when they find something only mildly interesting and for a fraction of a second consider sharing but then decide it is not worth the effort. She also uses phrases like “I don’t think you’ll remember him.” “you probably won’t remember him” “there were so many of those houseboys when you were young.

From this I gather that the mother thinks truly little of R. from the last sentence I gather that she lumps all her former house boys into a group of little consequence and thinks that is it is just so happens that that R was one of those houseboys. The signifies to me that whatever happens between R and the family does not matter to the mother, overall.

Exhibit B.

On the father’s side he says

“It’s not surprising he ended like this,” my father said. “He didn’t start well.”

This tells me that the past event was in someway negative and though the mother and father place little significance on it, whatever happened led them to lead the assumption that R was no good anyway. This could also be being amplified by their apparent classism of their houseboys.

Exhibit C.

Lastly, we have Onkenwa himself who is perhaps the most telling of all. His line:

But I remembered. Of course, I remembered Raphael

Bears in direct conflict from what the mother said though interestingly not so much with the father. There are two main things I want to talk about in this line. The repeating of words. Very often in literature   and common language itself, repeating a word or phrase adds meaning or in some ways changes the meaning of words, E.g  hot hot, bed bed, close close, and in this case the word remembered which is amplified in turn by the preface of “of course” with just this simply repeating the sentence seemingly takes on a bigger depth, as if there is more to this more we want to know and will be important to Onkenwa. the second thing is the conflict this is with everything else we have heard about R thus far. It has all been he has a trouble maker, he was just a houseboy, extraordinarily little importance but from the way Onkenwa uses these 7 words it makes it seem that if only to Onkenwa that R was something different something more, and why of course he is- and that is-I feel, good foreshadowing.

Discussion questions

Is Onkenwa right to get so attached?

Does Raphael forgive him?

Analysis Part 3: Avalon

The first craft element of Apollo by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that I tracked was setting. Adichie uses subtle details to help her readers envision the scenes of her story. For example, in the first sentence of Apollo, Adichie writes:

Twice a month, like a dutiful son, I visited my parents in Enugu, in their small overfurnished flat that grew dark in the afternoon.

In this sentence specifically, it lets the readers know the characters’ current location, which is Enugu. Adichie tells the readers where the story starts off in very first sentence, and I believe disclosing your character’s setting in the beginning of your story is very effective because it prevents any setting-related confusion that could generate later in the story.

Again, exclusively to this sentence, Adichie manages to imply to the readers that the main character, Okenwa, lives in a city other than Enugu, away from his parents. Because this sentence tells you so much about the characters and setting in such little words, I think it’s a brilliant way to open a short story.

Adichie uses concrete detail to describe the setting when she says “…small overfurnished flat that grew dark in the afternoon”. She uses concrete detail in different parts of the story to help describe the setting, as well.

Along with helping the readers better picture the scenes of this story, Adichie’s use of detail for setting also helps the readers better interpret some of the financial aspects of the characters in this story. For example, some sentences help to hint that Okenwa’s family is wealthy or middle-class (very comfortable).

Here’s an example:

Later, my parents drove to the pharmacy in town and came back with a bottle of eye  drops, which my father took to Raphael’s room in boys’ quarters, at the back of the house, with the air of someone going reluctantly into battle.

This excerpt, through my eyes, leads the reader to assume that Okenwa’s family is at least somewhat rich. It appears that Adichie added the detail “in the boys’ quarter” to imply that there are other boys (house help) who work for Okenwa’s family. Also, the last part of this sentence where it says “…with the air of someone going reluctantly into battle.” Could be interpreted as Okenwa’s father is nervous to enter the boys’ quarters, perhaps because he rarely does.

So to reiterate, I admire Adichie’s use of detail to express location and imply the main character’s family’s financial stance. As well as her brilliant idea of stating the setting at the beginning of her story. These are great aspects that I’d like to adopt in my writing, most definitely.

The second craft element I highlighted was concrete detail, which, surprisingly didn’t really overlap with setting. Adichie uses concrete detail very purposefully. Her words not only appeal to the senses but also reveal bits about the character.

Here’s some examples of concrete detail in Apollo that appeal to the senses:

They even smelled alike—a menthol scent, from the green vial of Vicks VapoRub…

Raphael served white disks of boiled yam on a bed of greens, and then cubed pawpaw and pineapple.

In the first example provided, Adichie could’ve easily stated that Okenwa’s parents smelled like Vicks, however, she decides to describe that scent for the readers. Adichie also described the color of the Vicks container. This sentence would have an entirely different feel if “a menthol scent” and “from the green vial” were removed. The thorough descriptiveness of this sentence is what makes this imagery so vivid and believable.

And the same goes with the second sentence, Adichie could’ve simply written “Raphael served yams, greens, pawpaw and pineapple.” But instead, she included the color and shapes of the food to make this image for appealing to the readers.

Moving on, the last highlight I’d like to include is when Okenwa wakes up with Apollo.

I pried my lids apart. My eyes burned and itched. Each time I blinked, they seemed to produce more pale ugly fluid that coated my lashes. It felt as if heated grains of sand were under my eyelids.

This excerpt has rather specific concrete detail that I’d describe as nauseating and effective. The detailing of the pale fluid is so well described that I found it disgusting. And the overall excerpt as a whole is very necessary because it uses show-not-tell to convey to the readers that Okenwa is infected with Apollo.

Adichie’s use of not excessive, but pleasantly thorough descriptions in her concrete detail help the story’s imagery appear more vivid to the reader’s, and this craft is something I feel I can learn from and would like to incorporate more in my own writing.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How are Adichie’s details about setting necessary to the story?
  2. How does Adichie’s use of concrete detail affect how Apollo is read?

The End???

Summary Part 1: Rylan

In T.C. Boyle’s “Chicxulub,” the speaker talks about his daughter being alone walking out on the sleek rode late at night and how someone who is not drunk would still have difficulty navigating the road. He interrupts himself, then goes on to talk about the explosion from a meteorite in the Tunguska River in Russia. He describes the power from the explosion suddenly reaching and killing a reindeer and a man very far from the initial explosion. How the explosion cleared seven hundred square miles of siberian forest, and talks about the possibility of it exploding over St. Petersburg and killing more people and suddenly eliminating the historically important city. The narrator makes his point and says that we should simply pray this doesn’t happen to us and explains earth’s asteroid cycles. He goes back to his daughter and talks about how he she is out and alone. He says he and his wife bought her the safest car, but it was in the shop and she was supposed to be brought home by Kimberly after sushi at the mall. Then he says that, Alice K. Petermann lost control of her car. It is just past midnight, and he goes back to back his present reality. He is naked waiting for his wife in the bathroom and listening to the sounds of her getting ready, presumably for sex. The phone then rings. His wife worries to that it might be his daughter Maddy, then he goes back to describing the sky the night Tunguska exploded. He talks about how this effect was minimal compared to what could have happened if a larger object had crashed into the earth. Then he speaks to the inevitability of this because of the natural orbit of the Earth. He talks about how when this happens there will be nothing left, no sun or crops for at least a year. Going back to his reality, his wife is on the phone with a nurse who tells her they identified a crash victim as their daughter because of her id. The woman won’t tell her the current status of her daughter over the phone, and the two hurriedly get dressed and rush to the hospital. Then he begins to describe Chicxulub, a cataclysmic meteorite that ended the dinosaurs and disrupted all earthly ecosystems. He then says that the odds of an event like this occurring is the same as dying in an automobile accident in the next six months, or living to one hundred in the company of your spouse. He then arrives at the hospital and says he only sees an endless row of windows and he and his wife hurriedly exit the car and run into the hospital.

Summary Part 2: Isobel

Maureen and Ted rush over to the hospital after receiving a call that said that their daughter had been in an accident. The couple rush into the hospital and rush to the lady at the front desk to ask where there daughter is and what condition she’s in. The nurse isn’t able to give much information, saying that she only knows that the girl was in an accident and brought in by paramedics. After learning that, Maureen pulls Ted through the corridors. While they are walking, Ted thinks about Chicxulub and how, in reality, we are all insignificant and have no control over what happens to us. When he comes back to reality, Ted sees that he and Maureen have been brought into a new room with a new nurse who isn’t able to give any new information.Ted loses his temper and yells at the nurse, who in response, leads the couple to a new room and asks them to wait for the doctor to come. Maureen begins to sob, and Ted tries his best to comfort her, but he is also really nervous.

Summary Part 3: Adele

The narrator, the dad of Maddy, Ted, and his wife Maureen are still waiting to hear the news of their daughter when a young doctor comes in telling the parents that he is sorry, which is news that the parents take as their daughter is dead. Ted cuts to talk about if another meteor hits the Earth at the right place, then thousands of kilometers of surface and rock will be pushed up towards the atmosphere and causing series of events to take place that include natural disasters. And everything that is to happen because of the meteor is unchangeable by Ted and the people on Earth. Everyone is powerless. The story comes back to the parents as they stand among gurneys being led towards the one that holds their daughter. Neither parents has the strength to lift the sheet but when Ted thinks about how he and his wife created the daughter they would see beneath the sheet, it gives him what he needs to lift the sheet. When the sheet is lifted, it takes time for the parents to realize, but they tell the doctor that the girl who died isn’t their daughter. Their daughter is alive and in her room at home while her friend, Kristi Cherwin, had Maddy’s ID and is the one who died. Ted tries to imagine the parents of Kristi before they find out their daughter has been killed. He tries to imagine them before Chicxulub comes for them and ruins their lives. Chicxulub hasn’t struck Ted and his family, but it has for the Cherwins.

Acute Tension

The acute tension of Chicxulub is Ted and Maureen thinking that their daughter is in the hospital, dying.

Chronic Tension

The chronic tension of Chicxulub is the looming presence of death.

 

Rylan’s Analysis

For my part of the story analysis I will be discussing the point of view, and characterization within the story.

When it comes, the meteor will punch through the atmosphere and strike the Earth in the space of a single second, vaporizing on impact and creating a fireball that will in that moment achieve temperatures of sixty thousand degrees Kelvin, or ten times the surface reading of the sun.

The entire story is told from beginning to end from the father’s point of view, but at some points in the text he seems omniscient and can describe events that he did not actually witness with great accuracy and also speak to what other characters are feeling. Now the father as we know him in the story is incredibly smart and seems to instantaneously recall tedious statistics about meteors and the likelihood of death by vehicle accident.

Every other paragraph, he seems to be drawn out of his current situation while he discusses explosions and meteors. When he does this he seems very distant from the current situation at hand, but Boyle would make sure to throw in some reference that would draw him back to his current reality.

 I can’t speak. I’m rushing still with the euphoria of this new mainline drug I’ve discovered, soaring over the room, the hospital, the whole planet. Maureen says it for me: “This is not our daughter.

He and his wife both feel relieved at the end when they realize that it is, infact, not their daughter under the sheet but her friend. Understandably so, but the speaker eventually feels wrong because he realizes that someone else’s child is dead. He almost shames himself into feeling remorse for the family that did in fact lose their daughter.

He brings up brief interactions he had with the girl’s parents while they were children to intentionally trigger a melancholy emotional reaction. When in reality, he seems like he may be feeling joy for his daughter being alive, but he is trying to run from that emotion and put himself in a dangerous place.

The characterization of his wife is different than the speaker. She seems more urgent throughout the story and adamant about going to their daughter. He often describes her as being in front of him or already being somewhere when he was just thinking of going there. It is even evident from the beginning when she goes before he does to pick up the phone, she knows it is late and her daughter was supposed to be home by now. So, she was already somewhat worrisome at the beginning of the story. While the speaker didn’t want her to go and was primarily focused on the *cough cough* task at hand.

…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…

From what the speaker says he has details that aren’t readily available from just looking at a situation. In the beginning of the text he says that he knows the exact number and types out drinks that Alice had when she went out driving. Although he couldn’t know that. This may have just been an exaggeration for the story, but the point of view was definitely unrealistic throughout the story.

My point? You’d better get down on your knees and pray to your gods, because each year this big spinning globe we ride intersects the orbits of some twenty million asteroids, at least a thousand of which are more than half a mile in diameter.

But my daughter. She’s out there in the dark and the rain, walking home. Maureen and I bought her a car, a Honda Civic, the safest thing on four wheels, but the car was used—pre-owned…

Then the question of when is occurring throughout the story. The alternate paragraphs where the speaker is talking about the explosions and meteors seem like he’s reflecting on past events, but the other paragraphs seem like he is in the moment while he is describing what is going on around him. First person is a very difficult point to write from because you have to be able to convey other characters’ emotions without breaking from the limited point of view of the speaker.

I can’t help myself. It’s that neutrality, that maddening clinical neutrality, and can’t anybody take any responsibility for anything?

“I don’t have that information,” the nurse says, and her voice is neutral, robotic even.

Though this break is what fuels the reader’s bridge between the nurse and the speaker and makes the reader have distant and possibly angry feelings toward them.

Our daughter has, unbeknownst to us or anyone else, fudged the rules a bit—the smallest thing in the world, nothing really, the sort of thing every teen-ager does without thinking twice. She has loaned her I.D. to her second-best friend, Kristi Cherwin, because Kristi is sixteen and Kristi wants to see—is dying to see—the movie at the Cineplex with Brad Pitt in it, the one rated NC-17.

Another example of this is when the sheet is pulled back and the narrator instantly knows how and why the girl ended up with his daughter’s id.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why did the author choose to have the father constantly reference extinction-level events and statistics about them?
  2. Why did the author make the speaker hold resentment for the nurses?

 

Isobel’s Analysis

Techniques Tracked:

  • Conflict
  • Artistic Purpose

Conflict

In the beginning of “Chicxulub” we see that Ted and Maureen are just about to enjoy a night without there daughter Maddy when they receive a call from the hospital saying that their daughter has just been in an accident. After receiving this call, Ted and Maureen rush to the hospital concerned that their daughter might be injured or dead. This uncertainty and fear of the unknown is one of the forms of conflict that I noticed early on in the story, and it continues throughout the rest of the short story as well. The couple struggling to get more information on what has happened to their daughter is what helps keep the story going and keeps tensions high.

When Ted and Maureen first get to the hospital, they go to a nurse in the front to ask her about what condition their daughter is in. The nurse tells them that their daughter is in surgery, and when the couple asks for more information, then nurse responds with.

“There was an accident,” the nurse says. “She was brought in by the paramedics. That’s all I can tell you.”

Shortly after, the couple is brought into another room where there is another nurse. They try to get information from her, but she tells them that she doesn’t have any information on the state of their daughter. This causes Ted to get upset and yell at the nurse.

I can’t help myself. It’s that neutrality, that maddening clinical neutrality, and can’t anybody take any responsibility for anything? “What information do you have?” I say, and maybe I’m too loud, maybe I am. “Isn’t that your job, for Christ’s sake—to know what’s going on here?”

If we are going in terms of man vs ____, I took this conflict as man vs the unknown. I guess it could also be man vs man because Ted had to ask the nurses about his daughter, and he ended up yelling at one of them due to that conflict. However, another form of conflict that I saw was man vs the uncontrollable (or fate I guess). Throughout “Chicxulub”, Ted begins to understand just how little control we actually have over our lives and just how fragile and insignificant life really is. This understanding and realization can be seen through the following quotes:

You’d better get down on your knees and pray to your gods, because each year this big spinning globe we ride intersects the orbits of some twenty million asteroids, at least a thousand of which are more than half a mile in diameter.

The thing that disturbs me about Chicxulub, aside from the fact that it erased the dinosaurs and wrought catastrophic and irreversible change, is the deeper implication that we, and all our works and worries and attachments, are so utterly inconsequential.

Ted feels like his daughter’s life is in the hands of god now, and that he has no actual control over the outcome of his daughter’s accident.

If I claim Maddy as my own—and I’m making deals again—then I’m sure to jinx her, because those powers that might or might not be, those gods of the infinite and the minute, will see how desperately I love her and they’ll take her away just to spite me for refusing to believe in them.

There are multiple moments in the short story where Ted is thinking about how he has no control and about god and how he wants to be able to help but can’t. I took this as Ted struggling to take control of the situation when he feels like he has not control over anything. He also believes that in the future another meteor like Chicxulub will hurtle into earth, and that there is no way to stop it from happening.  He thinks that the gods have all the control, so that’s why I believe that this exemplifies man vs. fate.

The final form of conflict that I saw was Ted and Maureen thinking that their daughter had died in the end of the short story. After the doctor comes into the room saying that he is sorry for the couple’s loss, Ted feels like he has lost everything and he and Maureen walk up to where Maddy’s body is, only to find that it’s not their daughter who has died.

Artistic Purpose

The second technique that I highlighted in the story, was artistic purpose. In the beginning of the story, Ted interrupts his thoughts of his daughter walking home by herself to talk about a meteor that hit an area in Russia, then he also talks about Chicxulub. The reason I think that Boyle decided to add the meteors in his story was to compare losing a loved one to a meteor hitting earth. Ted mentions things in the story like:

…day became night and that night extended so far into the future…

Astrophysicists call such objects “civilization enders,”…

I also think that Boyle included the information about Chicxulub to explain just how big the death of someone is. Just based off of the quotes from above, I could say that Chicxulub and the death of a loved one could cause someone’s world to turn upside down and seem to end their world all together. Also, when Ted and Maureen think that Maddy died, Ted begins to talk about when the meteor enters the earth’s atmosphere and destroys everything. This helps the reader understand that Ted feels like his entire world is ending. So, the reason the author included the information about Chicxulub is to help show some of Ted’s emotions and to show the severity of a death.

In the beginning of “Chicxulub”, Ted and Maureen are about to enjoy their night without their daughter, and they both seemed pretty happy. I think that the author included this small scene of the couple being happy to help with the symbolism of Chicxulub. I won’t go into the symbolism of Chicxulub, but just like Chicxulub fell quickly into earth’s atmosphere, death fell quickly onto the lives of Ted and Maureen. Another thing that I found interesting about the purpose of this scene, is that it goes with Ted’s realization of just how insignificant people’s lives are. The scene of Ted and Maureen being happy is so small compared to the rest of the story, showing that their life isn’t really that important compared to everything else.

The final thing that I highlighted for artistic purpose was Maddy not dying, and it ends up being her friend who died. There was a part in the beginning of the story where Ted says:

…calculate the chances that a disaster of this magnitude will occur during any individual’s lifetime at roughly one in ten thousand, the same odds as dying in an auto accident in the next six months…

I think that the artistic purpose of keeping Maddy alive was to keep the short story aligned with the idea of Chicxulub. Since the odds of another meteor like Chicxulub happening in your life time is small (just like the odds of dying in an auto accident in the next six months), I think that Boyle wanted to keep Maddy alive to show just how small those odds are. Ted and Maureen were lucky that the odds were in their favor and that their Chicxulub didn’t hit them, and instead hit Maddy’s friend’s family.

Discussion Questions

  1. Was there any form of man vs self in “Chicxulub”? If so, where was it?
  2. How did the death of Maddy’s friend go along with the idea of Chicxulub?

Adele’s Analysis

There is a lot of symbolism in this story, mainly featured around meteors and the connection to the situation Ted is in. The symbolism begins when Ted talks about Tunguska in Russia, a smaller meteor that burned up and exploded before striking the Earth.

This was the site of the last known large-body impact on the Earth’s surface, nearly a hundred years ago. Or that’s not strictly accurate—the meteor, which was an estimated sixty yards across, never actually touched down.

This was mentioned before Ted even mentions his daughter or how she got into a car accident. It was almost like foreshadowing of the news that was to come. This is the least severe of all of the meteors or large-impacts that is brought up, showing that Ted doesn’t know the news yet and is still in a situation that is joyful, like the way that Tunguska never touched down and where the explosion took place was sparsely populated so there were not any known casualties, leaving the world still in peace and comfort. Sure, it affected some people, but it wasn’t at the same level as something worse. And this connects to when Ted finds out it wasn’t his daughter that died. The meteor, or loss of his daughter, hadn’t hit him yet and nor had the news.

The next reference of symbolism was still connected with Tunguska but more with the affects it had on the rest of the world and places that weren’t right by the impact site. A symbol for the situation of Ted and his wife finding out that it wasn’t their daughter. Even though it wasn’t their daughter, they were still affected by the fear since at first, there was confusion as to who the girl was and how the doctors thought she was Maddy. In the end, Maddy’s parents weren’t the one’s who lost a child, but they still had to deal with the shock of it before knowing the truth.

The night of the Tunguska explosion the skies were unnaturally bright across Europe— as far away as London people strolled in the parks past midnight and read novels out of doors while the sheep kept right on grazing and the birds stirred uneasily in the trees. There were no stars visible, no moon—just a pale, quivering light, as if all the color had been bleached out of the sky.

The main symbol in the story was the asteroid that the story was named after, Chicxulub.

When it came down, day became night and that night extended so far into the future that at least seventy- five per cent of all known species were extinguished, including the dinosaurs in nearly all their forms and array and some ninety per cent of the oceans’ plankton, which in turn devastated the pelagic food chain.

This asteroid and the mentions of it symbolize the final impact of the loss of their daughter. Chicxulub was seen as the end of life on the planet, one of the six mass extinctions. This correlates to Ted and his wife. When they thought their daughter died, the felt like their world was ending. And this is why there are so many mentions of it after this point, because when the asteroid struck, everything was ravaged and not much survived due to the after effects. The same goes for the parents of Maddy. They love their daughter so much and losing a child is so hard on a parent that it was like Chicxulub struck them.

Ted, while mentioning Chicxulub once more, explained that everyone is powerless to the events that will occur. Even the gods. When Chicxulub struck, there was no surviving it or finding a way. The only species that really survived lived because of the way that their bodies were. They had no choice in their lives and they didn’t prevent the impact or the extinction of the organisms that weren’t biologically lucky.

So, what does it matter? What does anything matter? We are powerless. We are bereft. And the gods—all the gods of all the ages combined—are nothing but a rumor.

This continues the symbolism of Chicxulub to the situation Ted is in because of how he feels powerless to change anything that happened and how his daughter supposedly died.

The rock is coming, the new Chicxulub, hurtling through the dark and the cold to remake our fate. But not tonight. Not for me.

For the Cherwins, it’s already here.

In these last two sentences, Chicxulub better is seen as a symbol for the pain and loss and end of someone’s world. The parents of the girl who did died are unaware that their daughter is dead, unaware of the news they will receive. But when they do, they will feel helpless and like their lives are over. Just like Chicxulub.

This symbolism was very beneficial in this story because it helped to show the severity of the situation for the characters and it gave insight into how the characters felt. Ted’s point of view directly told how he was feeling, but the symbolism with Chicxulub and the other meteor, showed the reader how Ted was feeling without the straight up telling. It also helped the reader understand how Maureen was feeling as well, which was important because she too was dealing with the thought that her daughter died but the story wasn’t in her point of view.

Setting was very important to this story because it helped to place the reader into the situation and better visualize where the characters are. The setting in this story changed a lot because of how the characters moved from placed to place, like their home to the hospital. And there were small mentions of a different setting where Ted wasn’t but were still important to mention since they connected to his daughter and where she was or to Tunguska or Chicxulub.

…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…

This was a description of the setting of the entire town where Ted and his family lived. Naturally, it’s placed at the beginning of the story so that the reader can understand throughout the rest of the story. This description of setting was especially vital because it gave some insight into more of the severity of the situation. This quote can tell the reader that one of the only reasons why Maddy could ever get into a car accident was due to how the streets were wet from rain, mainly because the town is so safe.

This is the main setting, the vast part of it and where the story takes place. But specific settings are described later that shows exactly where the characters of the large-mass impacts were. However, the settings of the impacts weren’t as detailed or described because it wasn’t as needed. The only settings that were given a lot of detail were where the plot was. Chicxulub, as important it was to the story, wasn’t directly incorporated into the plot and the characters weren’t there. It also makes sense because the story is from the point of view of Ted and he wouldn’t know too much detail about something he didn’t see with his own eyes. It maintains the realism of his thoughts.

…a cookout at their place, the adults gathered around the grill with gin-and-tonics, the radio playing some forgotten song, the children, our daughters, riding their bikes up and down the cobbled drive, making a game of it, spinning, dodging, lifting the front wheels from the ground even as their hair fans out behind them and the sun crashes through the trees.

This is the last described setting in the short story. It is very detailed for somewhere that Ted wasn’t, yet it wasn’t an exact situation, so Ted didn’t need to get his facts completely correct. The point of the description of this setting wasn’t to just show the readers where the characters are, but it was also to show that the Cherwins were in a happy setting and they were going to get news. It better showed the beginning before getting bad news and all the joy is gone. Almost like a representation of obliviousness.

The setting in this story wasn’t just to help the reader visualize where the characters were, but also as a sign of the emotion that was happening at the moment. Like with the rain, a common sad symbol, but shown as a setting to give the reader an idea of what was to come. Setting was an aspect of “Chicxulub” that was for more than just description.

Discussion questions

  1. Was it the author’s intention to use Tunguska and Chicxulub as symbols for the emotions of the characters or was it for another reason?
  2. Why did the author include that last description of setting?