Interior Deterioration: “The Yellow Wallpaper” Write Up by Caroline Paden

“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is the story of an unnamed mentally ill narrator whose husband, a physician named John, has rented a summer home for them as part of her treatment. She is deprived of all stimulation except for the ugly yellow wallpaper that coats her bedroom, only able to write when she is sure no one (either John or his sister, Jennie) will catch her. John is incredibly dismissive of his wife, insisting that her condition is a “temporary nervous depression”, and that after some rest and fresh air, she’ll be as good as new. The months pass, and the narrator is continually agitated by the wallpaper, spending hours at a time examining it as her condition worsens—she claims it shifts depending on the time of day, and eventually asserts that it does this because there is a woman trapped inside who comes out at night to creep around. The last day of their stay, the narrator peels off the yellow wallpaper to trap the woman in the walls, arming herself with a rope and locking out everyone else by throwing the room key out the window. When John returns, the narrator tells him where the key is. When he unlocks the door, he faints—the narrator is creeping around the room on all fours, believing herself to be the woman in the walls.

The chronic tension is the narrator’s mental illness, and the acute tension is the narrator being trapped in a room with nothing except ugly yellow wallpaper to look at.

The first technique I tracked was plot progression as shown through the writer’s personal opinions (in pink on the highlights). Since the story is in first-person, obviously a large portion of the story is the narrator’s inner monologue; however, I restricted my highlights to thoughts the narrator would want to conceal or descriptions of her worsening condition, specifically. The narrator leads a very restricted life to treat her illness, the theory being that rest and fresh air could cure her nervous troubles. This under-stimulation and forced rest was a real treatment many women in the nineteenth century went through, including the author, Charlotte Gilman—this story is based in part on her experience. Because the narrator is so closely monitored for signs of progress, it is only in her journal that she can safely express her feelings about her condition and her husband’s ideas. At first, her disagreements are with her husband concerning the efficacy of her treatment:

Personally I disagree with their ideas. Personally I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good. But what is one to do? I did write for a while in spite of them; but it does exhaust me a good deal— having to be so sly about it, or else meet with heavy opposition. I sometimes fancy that in my condition if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus— but John says the very worst thing I can do is to think about my condition, and I confess it  always makes me feel bad.

The narrator longs to write and meet with other people, but her husband refuses. As the narrator is more and more upset by and fixated on the wallpaper, however, her private thoughts focus more on the wallpaper than her treatment—she believes she is improving, despite the fact that she doesn’t sleep at night and is seeing people walking through the grounds where there are none. She views John with more suspicion (that’s focused on in the next section) and guards her observations about her room very closely for fear of institutionalization. Bluntly, her private thoughts become much more paranoid and delusional as the story progresses.

I’m feeling ever so much better! I don’t sleep much at night, for it is so interesting to watch developments[.]

I don’t like the look in [John’s] eyes.

But I am here, and no person touches this paper but me—not alive!

The second technique I tracked was the characterization of the narrator’s husband, John, through her descriptions of him—and how that characterization changes throughout the piece (in green on the highlights). At first, the narrator is incredibly deferential to John (even if she does disagree with his ideas), refusing to contradict him or acknowledge her own resentment of him as valid. She sees him as her knight in shining, pragmatic armor.

He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction. […] he takes all care from me, and so I feel basely ungrateful not to value it more.

John is incredibly controlling of his wife, all in the name of treating her illness. He uses his authority as a physician to prevent his wife from getting what she wants, and she has no way to combat this due to her condition and her place as a subservient wife. One of the reasons I tracked this technique was because it struck me as odd my first read-through that this narrator, who seems so confident (at least at the start of the story), would be so deferential towards someone who obviously never takes her seriously. John treats his wife like a petulant child instead of a grown woman, going so far as to call her a little girl at one point

“What is it, little girl?” he said. “Don’t go walking about like that— you’ll get cold.”

Ironically, this militant you’re-going-to-get-better-because-I-say-so attitude leads directly to the narrator’s deterioration—he ignores his wife’s pleas to get rid of the wallpaper, and she ends up fixating on it to the point of insanity.

At first he meant to re paper the room, but afterwards he said that I was letting it get the better of me, and that nothing was worse for a nervous patient than to give way to such fancies.

As the narrator grows more paranoid because of the wallpaper, she is more suspicious of John’s intentions, though he is ostensibly the same skeptical pragmatist he was at the start of the story. The more the narrator hides from her husband, the less she trusts his judgment.

I believe John is beginning to notice. I don’t like the look in his eyes.

He asked me all sorts of questions, too, and pretended to be very loving and kind. As if I couldn’t see through him!

I think Gilman’s use of her protagonist’s relationships to other people, as well as her relationship to herself, is a brilliant way to subtly guide the reader through the story without overloading them with exposition or heavy-handed dialogue. By the time the narrator states her mistrust of John outright, the reader is already primed to agree with her because of Gilman’s skillful characterization. The narrator’s whimsical, willful personality is apparent from paragraph one, which is what led me to pick this story in the first place—a cursory glance at the first page completely drew me into the story. I love it when narrators talk directly to the reader (probably a byproduct of my being raised on several Snicket-esque children’s series), and Gilman also used it as a way to explain the narrator’s secrecy around writing—in a way, the reader becomes the narrator’s confidant.

Writing exercise: Write a story using a narrator who believes that they’re something they actually aren’t.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is John written more as a misguided physician or an abusive husband?
  2. How does Jennie serve the story? Is she more or less sympathetic than John or the narrator?
  3. Why did the writer make a point to mention John and Jennie examining the wallpaper, too?
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“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?

 

Faith and Rage: “The Murder” Write Up by Miguel Hugetz

The Murder” opens with an orthodox religous service at a train station, where Matvey Terehov participates joyfully in the church choir, singing with great enthusiasm. When the service is over, Terehov, a middle aged man, goes to the station’s bar and tells the waiter, Sergey Nikanoritch, about his old tile factory’s choir and their skill. He reminisces about days gone and reflects on the current state of his current household, where he lives with his older cousins Yakov Ivanitch and Aglaia, as well as Ivanitch’s daughter Dashutka. Terehov laments that Ivanitch has taken to prayer and religious service with his sister only at home, scorning the clergy and involvement in the church. Terehov sees this isolation as a prideful sin, and tells his cousins to repent daily. Terehov goes home and reads a book borrowed from his police friend, Zhukov, before going to sleep. In the morning of Annunciation Day, Terehov returns to the station bar and tells Zhukov and Nikanoritch of his earlier religious experiences, where he strayed from normal church attendance and entered extreme piety until he was rebuked for becoming prideful and being a backslider from the church. Terehov describes Ivanitch as being in a similar state right now, despite his repeated attempts to get him to call off that way of life. Zhukov and Nikanortitch mostly ignore this and discuss how Ivanitch is rich and has screwed Terehov out of some inheritance. Meanwhile, Ivanitch reflects on his misery and troubles since Terehov returned from the factory and the way his cousin’s repeated insistences are beginning to undermine his thoughts and faith. Terehov is rebuked by Aglai for sending what money he had after leaving the factory to his former lover. Ivanitch calls her away to pray with him, and while they are praying Zhukov and Nikanoritch come to visit Terehov. Nikanoritch asks a baffled Terehov for money, prompting him to ask his cousin for money and a horse to leave town. Ivanitch considers it but decides that his money, wrapped up in banking and merchantism, is not available to him to lend. Ivanitch continues to question his religious faith while Nikanoritch and Zhukov continue to visit Terehov for money. After one visit ends and Ivanitch presumes Nikanoritch to have left, he begins his personal religious services but is interrupted by Terehov. This encounter causes Ivanitch to leave the room in anger. Terehov eats oil on a fasting day while the rest of the family watches, causing Ivanitch to angrily yell at him. In response, Terehov loses his cool and declares Ivanitch a heretic and backslider from God. Ivanitch and Agaila physically assault Terehov, accidentally killing him while Nikanoritch, revealed to still be in the house, witnesses. He initially flees the house but is bribed by Ivanitch to go along with the murder coverup. Ivanitch and Dashutka take his body away from the village and dump it on the road. Soon enough, the police catch up with the culprits and arrest them. At trial, the murderers are subjected to variously lengthening sentences of prison in labor camps. Ivanitch is sent to East Siberia, where after misery and a brief lack of faith he discovers what he believes is true faith and reflects tragically that he wishes he was able to attain it without so much early suffering. The story ends as Ivanitch works with other convicts in Siberia.

The acute tension is the increasing conflict between cousins Yakov and Matvey, while the chronic tension is the two’s majorly divergent religious practices which operate at the cores of their self-identities and internal struggles.

While on the surface Chekhov’s narrative is about a family feud that leads to a tragic death and its consequences, “The Murder” is a story that concerns itself with religious faith. Matvey and Yakov’s disparate religions drive the two cousins to deep conflict with each other, as the former’s persistent attack on Yakov’s beliefs drive him to fundamentally question his personal values and identity. 

Chekhov uses this internal confusion to build tension as the story escalates, raising the reader’s anticipation of violence with each detailing of Yakov’s declining mental state and faith. This tension works in tandem with the story’s title- “The Murder” is a clear declaration of what the reader ought to expect, and as the story progresses, our anticipation of it grows higher.

When Chekhov begins to show the reader Yakov’s perspective, he reveals his religious perspective early on. Faith is central to Yakov’s identity and belief about the world, as is shown by this passage:

Man cannot live without religion, and religion ought to be expressed from year to year and from day to day in a certain order, so that every morning and every evening a man might turn to God with exactly those words and thoughts that were befitting that special day and hour. One must live, and, therefore, also pray as is pleasing to God, and so every day one must read and sing what is pleasing to God–that is, what is laid down in the rule of the church.

Yakov’s faith is extremely strong, but he commits to it on his own terms, viewing the local clergy and church as improperly devoted to God and sinful. Unfortunately for Yakov, his views closely mirror those that his cousin once held dearly but has since given up. Matvey’s own personal experiences cause him to have a particularly strong view of Yakov’s relationship with God, which he sees as inherently prideful and thus full of sin. Matvey acknowledges Yakov’s criticisms of the church, but views those flaws as being aspects of human nature, and thus part of God’s intended life. His cousin’s adherence to strict regimen alienates him to other members of the community, which to Matvey is far more dangerous and against god then drinking milk on fasting days. Matvey’s continual needling of Yakov leads to ruptures opening up in the latter’s mind, as his internal devotion to faith proves less firm then he thought.

But yet he was troubled and could not pray as before. As soon as he went into the prayer-room and opened the book he began to be afraid his cousin would come in and hinder him; and, in fact, Matvey did soon appear and cry in a trembling voice: “Think what you are doing, brother! Repent, brother!”

Though he regarded his cousin’s words as nonsense, yet for some reason it had of late haunted his memory that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, that the year before last he had made a very good bargain over buying a stolen horse, that one day when his wife was alive a drunkard had died of vodka in his tavern…

Matvey’s continued assaults on Yakov’s faith take their toll on him. And as Yakov’s mental state declines, the tension of the story rises.

…little by little the broodings settled like a burden on his mind, his head burned and he could not sleep.

Yakov begins to question his own religious beliefs when he witnesses his own daughter and neighbors’ lack of faith, but this questioning does not lead to positive revaluation of his own belief, but instead shakes him to his core.

He kept shaking his head, as though there were something weighing upon his head and shoulders, as though devils were sitting on them; and it seemed to him that it was not himself walking about, but some wild beast, a huge terrible beast, and that if he were to cry out his voice would be a roar that would sound all over the forest and the plain, and would frighten everyone.

Yakov’s deep faith is replaced by deep anger, mainly directed against his cousin and the doubts his presence has engendered within him. Tension is now reaching its critical boiling point.

He was afraid Matvey would come in, and was certain that he would come in, and felt an anger against him which he could overcome neither by prayer nor by continually bowing down to the ground.

It was clear to him now that he was himself dissatisfied with his religion, ant could not pray as he used to do. He must repent, he must think things over, reconsider, live and pray in some other way. But how pray? And perhaps all this was a temptation of the devil, and nothing of this was necessary? . . . How was it to be? What was he to do? Who could guide him? What helplessness! He stopped and, clutching at his head, began to think, but Matvey’s being near him prevented him from reflecting calmly.

Yakov’s anger eventually spills out into physical violence, leading to tragedy and tearing his family apart. Tension breaks with his religion, and as the story comes to rest at a less agitated tempo, Yakov loses and then rediscovers comfortable faith. Religion in Chekhov’s story is tied not only to its characters and themes, but to the pace of the narrative itself. 

If Yakov’s primary conflict comes from his struggle with religious faith, Matvey’s comes from a more general dissatisfaction with his life. He constantly yearns for his former life at the factory, laments his inability to change his cousin’s ways, and feels constrained by illness and malady. Matvey reminisces on his former factory life often, and wishes to return to it.

“It is true we began St. Andrey’s prayers and the Praises between six and seven, and it was past eleven when we finished, so that it was sometimes after midnight when we got home to the factory. It was good,” sighed Matvey. “Very good it was, indeed, Sergey Nikanoritch.”

…he could hear that Matvey, too, was awake, and continually sighing and pining for his tile factory.

Matvey, hungry and melancholy, sat reading, or went up to the Dutch stove and slowly scrutinized the tiles which reminded him of the factory.

This attachment to his former life is noticed by the other members of his family, and Aglaia often attacks him with his factory experiences as the main subject of her bitter mockery.

Matvey wishes greatly to escape his living situation, believing his home to be a miserable place of resentment and anger. He asks Yakov for a horse so he can get away, which Yakov himself desires, but is unable- or possibly just unwilling- to spare the materials that will make that possible.

“Brother,” said Matvey, “I am a sick man. I don’t want possession — let them go; you have them, but give me a small share to keep me in my illness. Give it me and I’ll go away.”

Matvey’s dissatisfaction brings him into conflict with his cousin, as it partially motivates him to attack his cousin’s more rooted and sustained lifestyle and religion.

As far as what I’d like to learn from Chekhov’s writing and this story in particular, I think his method of building tension through internal reflection and a character’s crisis of faith is extremely skillful. The story builds and builds without much even happening for most of it, as most of the conflict occurs within Yakov’s and to a lesser extent Matvey’s minds. It is on the abstract level that most of the thematic and narrative events occur until Matvey’s murder, and even this viscerally physical act is only a final expression of Yakov’s previous internal problems. Chekhov’s dialogue is also very good, and his style of short but narratively important character discourse is something I’d very much like to take from. Hardly a word is ever wasted or expended pointlessly, and it creates a very sharp flow between characters that moves the story along effortlessly while still being captivating on its own merits.

Questions:

  • Why do you think Chekhov choses to open the story with two sections exclusively from the point of view of Matvey, leaving Yakov for later?
  • Who do you think Chekhov places primacy on as the main character- Matvey or Yakov? Does the story end with either of their religious perspectives as triumphant?
  • Does the story portray Matvey and his actions in a positive light? Do you think he’s any better than his cousin, or is he a hypocrite?

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?

Deceit, Purslanes, and Children: “In The Kindergarten” Write Up by Mariah Adeeko

“In the Kindergarten” by Ha Jin explores a mature approach of character development and his fictional kindergarten setting conditions through eyes of elementary protagonist Shoana. The story shows through Shoana that this atypical kindergarten contains deeper problems than blatantly presented: lies, forced labor, extreme forms of punishment, and more. While these might not be all the problems that the “boarding school” seems to face, they are the ones that Shoana realizes and attempts to comprehend.

Shoana is a lonely kindergartener who longs to be back home with her parents and new baby brother. Adjusting to kindergarten life has been hard, having to conform to iron beds, disgusting meals, and new authority. One day her teacher, recently going through divorce and abortion, has the kids pick purslanes: something they’ll get to eat for dinner if they work hard. While picking, one of Shoana’s classmates – Dabin – boasts about having more purslanes and ends up in a fight with another one of their classmates. The result of this fight has the teacher punishing him: banishing him to a cupboard where he may or may not be forgotten about. In the end, the children don’t get to eat the purslanes; only Shoana is the one who sees the teacher heading away keeping the purslanes to herself. Later that day, Shoana and Dabin make up. She gives him some peanuts – collateral collected when she saw her parents outside of the kindergarten. The next day, Shoana spends her time on the rainy field playing court with her classmates, getting muddy. The mud on all the children’s clothes causes the teacher to wash all their clothes, confiscating Shoana’s peanuts as she does, leaving the toddler devastated. The next day, the teacher sets the kids out to pick out more purslanes, saying that they will get to eat them for dinner tonight for sure. As they do so, a rabbit breaks out from the area and the teacher commands everyone to chase after it. As they chase for the animal, Shoana pees in the duffel bag where the purslanes have been being accumulated in. With new confidence, she joins the rabbit chase. That evening, Shoana happily eats the gruel given to her and even plays the boys “as if she had become a big girl”. Her new mindset hints that she’ll adjust to the kindergarten, exposing her to a new level of maturity.

Regarding chronic tension, it would be Shoana’s adversity adjusting to kindergarten. For acute tension, it would be Shoana noticing her teacher taking their harvest for herself (or, debatably, the beginning of the rabbit chase).

The first technique that I tracked was “descriptions and conditions of the kindergarten” because the reader easily gets enamored by the elementary setting. We must adjust, just like Shoana, as the setting forces our perspective to go through a distortion of understanding (from having gone through (a presumably) normal kindergarten experience ourselves).

Through the setting, we see that the students don’t have lots of freedom. They are trapped inside the kindergarten through cases of physical barriers set by authority.

The children were excited, because they were seldom allowed to go out of the stone wall.

The rules didn’t allow her to eat anything after she had brushed her teeth for bed.

However, their freedom is sometimes literally stripped from them too. When we see Dabin go through punishment, it is a jarring description that the reader can be glad is fictional.

The boy would be “jailed”, and he might get even with her after he was released. On the second floor of their building was a room, the kitchen is only for storage, in a corner of which that three bedside cupboards. Sometimes a troublesome boy will be locked in one of them for hours.

Lastly, the nutritional conditions in the kindergarten are questionable. The food is gross enough to challenge prison food, serving as one of the reasons the children are eager to pick purslanes. It’s because their regular food is bad enough that they’re willing to work for anything else. Later, as we see this food has a spandrel effect on Shoana’s attitude, it turns out the school’s horrible gruel serves to be tolerable after all.

For the first time in the kindergarten she ate a hearty meal – three sweet potatoes, two bowls of corn glue, and many spoonfuls of fried eggplant.

The conditions of the kindergarten make the story surreal but tangible. It helps ground the story to something that the reader can access, but still have somewhat of a distance from. Shoana is the overall connecting piece for the setting as her perception and preexisting knowledge of the place helps fill the reader in on details that would have normally slipped by.

Transitioning into the second technique I tracked, “character development and changes” was something I ended up expanding to a range of changes. I realized just how many changes there were in the story, minor and major, that added to the core of the plot. At first, it was “internal/external” changes. I then realized that the story’s kinetic called for “emotional” changes too. Finally, I gave into the and added in “physical” changes because the debate of whether character actions were as important as their emotions arose. Jin masters this technique through expanding development to every single character mentioned (mainly Shoana, of course, but most of hers is near the end). Ones that are more initial, like the teacher’s, required events that already happened (such as her divorce, abortion, accumulating debt, etc.). However, the ones that focused on the students would all have to take place later after an incident has already happened. For examples…

Shoana, at first hating the desolate kindergarten, changes the most when she gathers the courage to not conform into the rabbit chase and take on her own desired course of action.

Shoana was not with them because she wanted to pee. Looking around, she saw nobody nearby, so she squatted down over the duffel, making sure to conceal her little bottom with her skirt, and peed on the purslanes laying inside the bag. Then with a kicking heart, she ran away to join the chasers.

We also see this technique through character disputes that are flippant and can be solved, such as interactions Shoana has with minor characters, like Dabin. After she gives him the peanuts as a peace offering, he demands…

“You must be nice to me from now on. Remember to save lots of goodies for me, got it?”

Stemming off emotional changes, this extends to Shoana’s realizations throughout the story. Most likely the most heartbreaking example coming from Shoana being the sole witness to her teacher’s flight with the purslanes.

Now she understood, their teacher took their harvest home.

Lastly, there were physical changes too. As mentioned above with Shoana’s taste changing through her adrenaline, examples of physical changes would often lead to different perceptions and outlooks. For dinner, it was for the better. However, in less cheerful examples, we see how physical changes can lead to emotional changes too.

They elected her the queen…she had to sit on the wet ground all the time. She got up from the ground, shouting, “I quit!”

Also…

He went up to her, grabbed her shoulder, pushed her to the ground, and kicked her buttocks. She burst out crying.

Some crafts I would like to take from this story would be Jin’s descriptions and skillful use of dialogue. He, like Antonya Nelson, use dialogue to enhance the story instead of fuel it. It’s not excessive to the point where it’s filler, but where it’s a piece you must pay attention to in order to have a further familiarity with their story. Jin’s descriptions can be subtle revelations (i.e. Aunt Chef), while others are jarringly blatant (i.e. the iron beds the kids must sleep on). Both, when used to their full potential, will help escalate the reader’s attention the whole readthrough. If I were to come up with a writing exercise for this story, it would be to write a story where a character is presented with several dilemmas that seem insolvable. It will be up to the author or not as to whether these dilemmas are solved, unsolved, or like Shoana, solved through one decision that has a later domino effect.

Discussion Questions

  • How does the rabbit scene affect the chronic tension?
  • How does the teacher’s problems affect the kids? Physically? Emotionally?
  • How do you think, according to the snip-it descriptions, the kindergarten affects the adults?

 

 

“The Cost of Dehaunting” Write Up by Laura Mercado

In “The Cost of Dehaunting,” by Dominica Phetteplace, Petra is at a job in a super expensive condo, hired to dehaunt it. There’s nothing wrong with the house, though, just a crooked floor, so she walks around to waste time. We move onto her next job, a house that will soon be demolished but the owner wants it dehaunted to fetch a higher price for the land. There are ghost cats in the kitchen so Petra puts them in a bag instead of passing them over into the ghost world. Petra gets a third call, to go dehaunt some apartments. Turns out there’s no actual ghost and it’s a ruse to evict the people living there. She wants to connect with the tenants but is rusty in her Spanish. She has flashbacks to her relationship with her friend Corazon, which she kind of relates to, her and her mother, which she minimally relates to. Then, she goes to her therapist Joanna’s office. She talks about being a Latina but mostly talks about the other country, which her therapist doesn’t fully believe. Petra lets the cats out and the therapist kind of starts to believe, but not fully until Petra pulls a ritual to out the cats away that doesn’t work as well as it should because she uses a simpler, rusty technique. The cats cause maybe but finally get absorbs in a gem of Petra’s. Joanna finally fully accepts Petra’s story and sits down for Petra to tell her tales.

Petra is technically Latina. She’s Morena and her name is as Spanish as it gets; anyone can tell by looking at her she has a Hispanic background. Petra’s sphere she works in, however, is majority millionaire of Anglo descent. The only recognizable part of Petra to her customers is designer Mansur Gavriel bag, and she catches a realtor, Wendy, “eyeing the bag” as she performs ghost rituals. It’s the only part about her appearance and her rituals the Anglo clientele can immediately relate to. There are two main worlds in this story: this dimension, and a magical other world she refers to as “the other country”. It is from this other country she gets her wealth from, though she must reside in this dimension. Similarly, there are two cultural spheres Petra alternates between: her Mexican background, and her American present. Petra looks right at home in her Mexican background, but her core- the culture she knows best and was surrounded by her whole life- is that of her American present. She lives in a state of in-between, never able to completely cross over into one culture or the other. Some of the ghosts we see her deal with in this piece, primarily the cat spirits, live in a similar state of not quite passing over. Petra affords the high-class life she leads only due to the gems she gathered from the other country; additionally, she is only able to successfully complete the ghost rituals through a mix of Mexican rituals. Both of these instances show that Petra would not be who she is today without her backgrounds, both in culture and in the “other country”. It shows that the magical land of the “other country” is a physical manifestation of her Mexican culture, which Petra prefers to reside in but must pay the price of isolation. Petra attempts to get over this feeling of isolation by talking to her second generation Latina therapist, Joanna. She talks to Joanna about things she cannot talk to her mother or her friend Corazon about: her adventures in the other country. Joanna’s mother, fully Latina, cannot understand the struggles of juggling two cultures. Corazon, being mega rich, of light skin, and living solely in this American culture cannot understand Petra’s struggle. Joanna the therapist is the only person in Petra’s life with some form of connection to both cultures, although even she does not fully understand Petra’s struggle (Joanna is also of light skin, has a totally American last name, and has a first name that can be pronounced in both Spanish and English, depending on the situation. She is able to seamlessly cross over cultures). Petra feels anger upon Joanna’s attempts to relate her struggles of identifying as a Latina to her own, due to the privilege of having a transferable name and genetics that allow for a smoother cultural transitioning; she internally explodes in a similar way the spirit cats do when Petra attempts to gather them from Joanna’s office in a non-traditional manner. The cats are Petra; Petra is the cats. Ironically, it is the ghost cats’ anger that finally leads to Joanna accepting Petra’s struggles in fitting in from the other country, or other culture, to this one; it is once the cats almost destroy all that Petra finally has her struggles listened to and fully understood by someone, what she wanted all along.

I want to copy how deeply the metaphor of the ghosts and cats represented Petra’s conflict with living in two cultures. The chronic tension is incredibly intertwined with the acute, and in a literal manifestation.

Exercise: Pick an object and write a scene with it. Put that paper away. Pull out new paper. Pick a character and write a scene with them having an internal conflict. Then cut up each line from both pieces of paper and collage them together, making a new story with the object intertwined with the internal conflict. Then take this idea and write a more fluent, cohesive scene with it.

Questions:

  • Was there a villain/ bad guy in this story? Who was the bad guy to y’all?
  • Thoughts on writing two cultures in one piece? Was they way the author switched between them confusing to anyone?
  • Satisfied with the ending? Did it feel like a cop-out or was it wholesome?

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?