4-5 pages book : Kelly J. Mays’s Norton Introduction to Literature, Shorter 12th edition

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T H E N O RTO N I N T R O D U C T I O N TO

LITERATURE S H O R T E R T W E L F T H E D I T I O N

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T H E N O RTO N I N T RO DU C TIO N TO

LITERATURE S H O R T E R T W E L F T H E D I T I O N

KELLY J. MAYS U N I V E R S I T Y O F N E V A D A , L A S V E G A S

B W . W . N O R T O N & C O M P A N Y N e w Y o r k , L o n d o n

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W. W. Norton & Company has been in de pen dent since its founding in 1923, when William Warder Norton and Mary D. Herter Norton fi rst published lectures delivered at the People’s Institute, the adult education division of New York City’s Cooper Union. The fi rm soon expanded its program beyond the Institute, publishing books by celebrated academics from America and abroad. By mid- century, the two major pillars of Norton’s publishing program— trade books and college texts— were fi rmly established. In the 1950s, the Norton family transferred control of the company to its employees, and today— with a staff of four hundred and a comparable number of trade, college, and professional titles published each year— W. W. Norton & Company stands as the largest and oldest publishing house owned wholly by its employees.

Editor: Spencer Richardson- Jones Project Editor: Christine D’Antonio Associate Editor: Emily Stuart Editorial Assistant: Rachel Taylor Manuscript Editor: Jude Grant Managing Editor, College: Marian Johnson Managing Editor, College Digital Media: Kim Yi Production Manager: Ashley Horna Media Editor: Carly Fraser Doria Assistant Media Editor: Cara Folkman Media Editorial Assistant: Ava Bramson Marketing Manager, Literature: Kimberly Bowers Design Director: Rubina Yeh Book Designer: Jo Anne Metsch Photo Editor: Evan Luberger Photo Research: Julie Tesser Permissions Manager: Megan Schindel Permissions Clearer: Margaret Gorenstein Composition: Westchester Book Group Manufacturing: LSC Communications

Copyright © 2017, 2016, 2013, 2010, 2006, 2002, 1998, 1995, 1991, 1986, 1981, 1977, 1973 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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Permission to use copyrighted material is included in the permissions ac know ledg ments section of this book, which begins on page A15.

The Library of Congress has cataloged an earlier edition as follows: Library of Congress Cataloging- in- Publication Data The Norton Introduction to Lit er a ture / [edited by] Kelly J. Mays, University Of Nevada, Las Vegas. — Shorter Twelfth Edition. pages cm Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-393-93892-0 (pbk. : alk. paper) 1. Lit er a ture— Collections. I. Mays, Kelly J., editor. PN6014.N67 2016 808.8— dc23

2015034604

This edition: ISBN 978-0-393-62357-4

W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110

www .wwnorton .com

W. W. Norton & Company Ltd., 15 Carlisle Street, London W1D 3BS

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v

Contents

Preface for Instructors xxv

Introduction 1

What Is Literature? 1

What Does Literature Do? 3

John Keats, On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer 4 What Are the Genres of Literature? 4

Why Read Literature? 6

Why Study Literature? 8

Fiction FICTION: READING, RESPONDING, WRITING 12

Anonymous, The Elephant in the Village of the Blind 13

READING AND RESPONDING TO FICTION 16

Linda Brewer, 20/20 16 SAMPLE WRITING: Annotation and Notes on “20/20” 17

Marjane Satrapi, The Shabbat (from Persepolis) 20

WRITING ABOUT FICTION 31

Raymond Carver, Cathedral 32 SAMPLE WRITING: Wesley Rupton, Notes on Raymond Carver’s

“Cathedral” 43

SAMPLE WRITING: Wesley Rupton, Response Paper on Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” 46

SAMPLE WRITING: Bethany Qualls, A Narrator’s Blindness in Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” 49

TELLING STORIES: AN ALBUM 53

Sherman Alexie, Flight Patterns 54 Grace Paley, A Conversation with My Father 67

AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Grace Paley 72

tim o’brien, The Lives of the Dead 72

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UNDERSTANDING THE TEXT 85

1 PLOT 85 Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Shroud 87 James Baldwin, Sonny’s Blues 93 Edith Wharton, Roman Fever 115 joyce carol oates, Where Are You Going, Where Have

You Been? 125 AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Joyce Carol Oates 137

sample writing: ann warren, The Tragic Plot of “A Rose for Emily” 139

INITIATION STORIES: AN ALBUM 145

Toni Cade Bambara, The Lesson 146 AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Toni Cade Bambara 152

Alice Munro, Boys and Girls 152 John Updike, A & P 163

AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: John Updike 168

James Joyce, Araby 168

2 NARRATION AND POINT OF VIEW 174 Edgar Allan Poe, The Cask of Amontillado 178 Jamaica Kincaid, Girl 184 George Saunders, Puppy 186

AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: George Saunders 192

jennifer egan, Black Box 193 AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Jennifer Egan 216

3 CHARACTER 218 William Faulkner, Barn Burning 225 Toni Morrison, Recitatif 238

AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Toni Morrison 252

David Foster Wallace, Good People 253

MONSTERS: AN ALBUM 261

Margaret Atwood, Lusus Naturae 262 Karen Russell, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves 267 jorge luis borges, The House of Asterion 279

AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Jorge Luis Borges 282

4 SETTING 284 Italo Calvino, from Invisible Cities 286 Margaret Mitchell, from Gone with the Wind 286

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Alice Randall, from Wind Done Gone 288 Anton Chekhov, The Lady with the Dog 290 Amy Tan, A Pair of Tickets 302 Judith Ortiz Cofer, Volar 316 william gibson, The Gernsback Continuum 318

AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: William Gibson 327

SAMPLE WRITING: Steven Matview, How Setting Reflects Emotions in Anton Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Dog” 329

5 SYMBOL AND FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE 334 Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Birth- Mark 339 A. S. Byatt, The Thing in the Forest 351 Edwidge Danticat, A Wall of Fire Rising 366

SAMPLE WRITING: Charles Collins, Symbolism in “The Birth- Mark” and “The Thing in the Forest” 379

6 THEME 383 Aesop, The Two Crabs 383 Stephen Crane, The Open Boat 387 Gabriel García Márquez, A Very Old Man with Enormous

Wings: A Tale for Children 405 Yasunari Kawabata, The Grasshopper and the

Bell Cricket 410 junot díaz, Wildwood 413

CROSS- CULTUR AL ENCOUNTERS: AN ALBUM 431

Bharati Mukherjee, The Management of Grief 432 AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Bharati Mukherjee 445

Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies 446 AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Jhumpa Lahiri 461

David Sedaris, Jesus Shaves 462

EXPLORING CONTEXTS 467

7 THE AUTHOR’S WORK AS CONTEXT: FLANNERY O’CONNOR 467

THREE STORIES BY FLANNERY O’CONNOR 470

A Good Man Is Hard to Find 470 Good Country People 481 Everything That Rises Must Converge 495

CONTENTS v ii

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PASSAGES FROM FLANNERY O’CONNOR’S ESSAYS AND LETTERS 506

CRITICAL EXCERPTS 510

Mary Gordon, from Flannery’s Kiss 510 Ann E. Reuman, from Revolting Fictions: Flannery O’Connor’s

Letter to Her Mother 513 Eileen Pollack, from Flannery O’Connor and the New

Criticism 516

8 CULTURAL AND HISTORICAL CONTEXTS: WOMEN IN TURN- OF- THE- CENTURY AMERICA 519

Kate Chopin, The Story of an Hour 523 Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Yellow Wallpaper 526 Susan Glaspell, A Jury of Her Peers 537

CONTEXTUAL EXCERPTS 554

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, from Similar Cases 554 from Women and Economics 555

Barbara Boyd, from Heart and Home Talks: Politics and Milk 556 Mrs. Arthur Lyttelton, from Women and Their Work 556 Rheta Childe Dorr, from What Eight Million Women Want 557 The New York Times, from Mrs. Delong Acquitted 558 The Washington Post, from The Chances of Divorce 558 Charlotte Perkins Gilman, from Why I Wrote “The Yellow

Wall-paper” 559 The Washington Post, The Rest Cure 559

from Egotism of the Rest Cure 559

9 CRITICAL CONTEXTS: TIM O’BRIEN’S “THE THINGS THEY CARRIED” 562

tim o’brien, The Things They Carried 564

CRITICAL EXCERPTS 577

steven kaplan, The Undying Uncertainty of the Narrator in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried 577

lorrie n. smith, “The Things Men Do”: The Gendered Subtext in Tim O’Brien’s Esquire Stories 582

susan farrell, Tim O’Brien and Gender: A Defense of The Things They Carried 592

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READING MORE FICTION 599

Ambrose Bierce, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge 599 Ralph Ellison, King of the Bingo Game 605 louise erdrich, Love Medicine 612 william faulkner, A Rose for Emily 628 Ernest Hemingway, Hills Like White Elephants 634 franz kafka, A Hunger Artist 638 Bobbie Ann Mason, Shiloh 645 guy de maupassant, The Jewelry 655 Herman Melville, Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall

Street 661 Eudora Welty, Why I Live at the P.O. 687

Poetry POETRY: READING, RESPONDING, WRITING 698

DEFINING POETRY 699

Lydia Davis, Head, Heart 700 AUTHORS ON THEIR CR AF T: Billy Collins 701

POETIC SUBGENRES AND KINDS 702

Edwin Arlington Robinson, Richard Cory 703 Thomas Hardy, The Ruined Maid 704 William Wordsworth, [I wandered lonely as

a cloud] 705 Frank O’Hara, Poem [Lana Turner has collapsed] 706 Phillis Wheatley, On Being Brought from Africa

to America 707 Emily Dickinson, [The Sky is low— the Clouds are mean] 708 Billy Collins, Divorce 708 Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska 709 Robert Hayden, A Letter from Phillis Wheatley 710

RESPONDING TO POETRY 712

Aphra Behn, On Her Loving Two Equally 712

WRITING ABOUT POETRY 719

SAMPLE WRITING: Names in “On Her Loving Two Equally” 720

SAMPLE WRITING: Multiplying by Dividing in Aphra Behn’s “On Her

Loving Two Equally” 722

CONTENTS ix

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THE ART OF (READING) POETRY: AN ALBUM 727

Emily Dickinson, [I dwell in Possibility—] 727 Archibald MacLeish, Ars Poetica 728 Czeslaw Milosz, Ars Poetica? 729

AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Czeslaw Milosz 730

Elizabeth Alexander, Ars Poetica #100: I Believe 730 Marianne Moore, Poetry 731 Julia Alvarez, “Poetry Makes Nothing Happen”? 732 Billy Collins, Introduction to Poetry 733

UNDERSTANDING THE TEXT 735

10 SPEAKER: WHOSE VOICE DO WE HEAR? 735 NARRATIVE POEMS AND THEIR SPEAKERS 735

X. J. Kennedy, In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus One Day 735

SPEAKERS IN THE DRAMATIC MONOLOGUE 737

Robert Browning, Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister 737

THE LYRIC AND ITS SPEAKER 739

Margaret Atwood, Death of a Young Son by Drowning 740 AUTHORS ON THEIR CR AF T: Billy Collins and Sharon Olds 741

William Wordsworth, She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways 742

Dorothy Parker, A Certain Lady 742

POEMS FOR FURTHER STUDY 743

Walt Whitman, [I celebrate myself, and sing myself ] 743 langston hughes, Ballad of the Landlord 744 E. E. Cummings, [next to of course god america i] 745 Gwendolyn Brooks, We Real Cool 745

AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Gwendolyn Brooks 746

lucille clifton, cream of wheat 746

EXPLORING GENDER: AN ALBUM 749

Richard Lovelace, Song: To Lucasta, Going to the Wars 750 Mary, Lady Chudleigh, To the Ladies 750 Wilfred Owen, Disabled 751 Elizabeth Bishop, Exchanging Hats 752 David Wagoner, My Father’s Garden 753 Judith Ortiz Cofer, The Changeling 754 Marie Howe, Practicing 755

AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Marie Howe 756

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Terrance Hayes, Mr. T— 757 Bob Hicok, O my pa- pa 758 stacey waite, The Kind of Man I Am at the DMV 759

11 SITUATION AND SETTING: WHAT HAPPENS? WHERE? WHEN? 761 SITUATION 762

Rita Dove, Daystar 762 Linda Pastan, To a Daughter Leaving Home 762

THE CARPE DIEM POEM 763

John Donne, The Flea 764 Andrew Marvell, To His Coy Mistress 764

SETTING 766

Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach 766

THE OCCASIONAL POEM 767

Martín Espada, Litany at the Tomb of Frederick Douglass 768 AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Martín Espada 769

THE AUBADE 769

John Donne, The Good- Morrow 770 Jonathan Swift, A Description of the Morning 770

ONE POEM, MULTIPLE SITUATIONS AND SETTINGS 771

Li- Young Lee, Persimmons 771

ONE SITUATION AND SETTING, MULTIPLE POEMS 773

christopher marlowe, The Passionate Shepherd to His Love 774

sir walter raleigh, The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd 774 anthony hecht, The Dover Bitch 775

POEMS FOR FURTHER STUDY 776

Natasha Trethewey, Pilgrimage 776 kelly cherry, Alzheimer’s 777 mahmoud darwish, Identity Card 778 yehuda amichai, [On Yom Kippur in 1967 . . .] 780 yusef komunyakaa, Tu Do Street 780

AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Yusef Komunyakaa 782

HOMELANDS: AN ALBUM 785

Maya Angelou, Africa 785 AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Maya Angelou 786

Derek Walcott, A Far Cry from Africa 786 AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Derek Walcott 788

CONTENTS xi

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Judith Ortiz Cofer, The Latin Deli: An Ars Poetica 789 Cathy Song, Heaven 790 Agha Shahid Ali, Postcard from Kashmir 791 adrienne su, Escape from the Old Country 792

12 THEME AND TONE 794 TONE 794

W. D. Snodgrass, Leaving the Motel 795 THEME 796

Maxine Kumin, Woodchucks 796 Adrienne Rich, Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers 797

AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Adrienne Rich 798

THEME AND CONFLICT 799

adrienne su, On Writing 800 authors on their work: Adrienne Su 801

POEMS FOR FURTHER STUDY 801

William Blake, London 801 Paul Laurence Dunbar, Sympathy 802 W. H. Auden, [Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone] 802 Sharon Olds, Last Night 803 Kay Ryan, Repulsive Theory 804 terrance hayes, Carp Poem 805 c. k. williams, The Economy Rescued by My Mother

Returning to Shop 806 SAMPLE WRITING: Stephen Bordland, Response Paper on

W. H. Auden’s “Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone” 809

FAMILY: AN ALBUM 813

simon j. ortiz, My Father’s Song 813 Robert Hayden, Those Winter Sundays 814 ellen bryant voigt, My Mother 814 martín espada, Of the Threads That Connect the Stars 816 Emily Grosholz, Eden 816 philip larkin, This Be the Verse 817

authors on their work: Philip Larkin 818 Jimmy Santiago Baca, Green Chile 818 paul martinez pompa, The Abuelita Poem 819 charlie smith, The Business 820 Andrew Hudgins, Begotten 821

xii CONTENTS

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13 LANGUAGE: WORD CHOICE AND ORDER 822 PRECISION AND AMBIGUITY 822

Sarah Cleghorn, [The golf links lie so near the mill] 822 martha collins, Lies 823

DENOTATION AND CONNOTATION 823

Walter de la Mare, Slim Cunning Hands 824 Theodore Roethke, My Papa’s Waltz 825

WORD ORDER AND PLACEMENT 825

Sharon Olds, Sex without Love 827 AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Sharon Olds 828

POEMS FOR FURTHER STUDY 828

gerard manley hopkins, Pied Beauty 828 William Carlos Williams, The Red Wheelbarrow 829

This Is Just to Say 829 AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: William Carlos Williams 830

Kay Ryan, Blandeur 831 martha collins, [white paper #24] 831 a. e. stallings, Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda 832

14 VISUAL IMAGERY AND FIGURES OF SPEECH 834 Richard Wilbur, The Beautiful Changes 835 Lynn Powell, Kind of Blue 836

META PHOR 837

William Shakespeare, [That time of year thou mayst in me behold] 837

Linda Pastan, Marks 838

PERSONIFICATION 838

Emily Dickinson, [Because I could not stop for Death—] 839

SIMILE AND ANALOGY 839

Robert Burns, A Red, Red Rose 840 todd boss, My Love for You Is So Embarrassingly 840

ALLUSION 841

amit majmudar, Dothead 842 patricia lockwood, What Is the Zoo for What 842

POEMS FOR FURTHER STUDY 844

William Shakespeare, [Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?] 844

Anonymous, The Twenty- Third Psalm 845 John Donne, [Batter my heart, three- personed God] 845

CONTENTS xiii

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Randall Jarrell, The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner 846 john brehm, Sea of Faith 846

15 SYMBOL 848 THE INVENTED SYMBOL 848

James Dickey, The Leap 849

THE TRADITIONAL SYMBOL 851

Edmund Waller, Song 851 Dorothy Parker, One Perfect Rose 852

THE SYMBOLIC POEM 853

William Blake, The Sick Rose 853

POEMS FOR FURTHER STUDY 854

john keats, Ode to a Nightingale 854 robert frost, The Road Not Taken 856 Howard Nemerov, The Vacuum 857 Adrienne Rich, Diving into the Wreck 858 Roo Borson, After a Death 860 Brian Turner, Jundee Ameriki 860

AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Brian Turner 861

sharon olds, Bruise Ghazal 862

16 THE SOUNDS OF POETRY 863 RHYME 863

ONOMATOPOEIA, ALLITERATION, ASSONANCE, AND

CONSONANCE 865

alexander pope, from The Rape of the Lock 866 SOUND POEMS 866

Helen Chasin, The Word Plum 867 Kenneth Fearing, Dirge 867 Alexander Pope, Sound and Sense 868

POETIC METER 871

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Metrical Feet 873 Anonymous, [There was a young girl from St. Paul] 875 Alfred, Lord Tennyson, from The Charge of the

Light Brigade 875 jane taylor, The Star 876 anne bradstreet, To My Dear and Loving Husband 877 jessie pope, The Call 877 wilfred owen, Dulce et Decorum Est 878

xiv CONTENTS

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POEMS FOR FURTHER STUDY 879

William Shakespeare, [Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore] 879

GeraRd Manley Hopkins, Spring and Fall 880 walt whitman, Beat! Beat! Drums! 880 kevin young, Ode to Pork 881

WORD AND MUSIC: AN ALBUM 885

Thomas Campion, When to Her Lute Corinna Sings 885 Anonymous, Sir Patrick Spens 886 dudley randall, Ballad of Birmingham 887 Augustus Montague Toplady, A Prayer, Living

and Dying 888 Robert Hayden, Homage to the Empress of the Blues 889 Michael Harper, Dear John, Dear Coltrane 890 bob dylan, The Times They Are A- Changin’ 891 linda pastan, Listening to Bob Dylan, 2005 892 Mos Def, Hip Hop 893 jose b. gonzalez, Elvis in the Inner City 895

17 INTERNAL STRUCTURE 897 DIVIDING POEMS INTO “PARTS” 897

Pat Mora, Sonrisas 897

INTERNAL VERSUS EXTERNAL OR FORMAL “PARTS” 899

Galway Kinnell, Blackberry Eating 899

LYRICS AS INTERNAL DRAMAS 899

Seamus Heaney, Punishment 900 Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Frost at Midnight 902 Sharon Olds, The Victims 904

MAKING ARGUMENTS ABOUT STRUCTURE 905

POEMS WITHOUT “PARTS” 905

Walt Whitman, I Hear America Singing 905

POEMS FOR FURTHER STUDY 906

William Shakespeare, [Th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame] 906

Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ode to the West Wind 907 Philip Larkin, Church Going 909

AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Philip Larkin 911 katie ford, Still- Life 912

CONTENTS xv

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kevin young, Greening 912 SAMPLE WRITING: Lindsay Gibson, Philip Larkin’s

“Church Going” 914

18 EXTERNAL FORM 918 STANZAS 918

TRADITIONAL STANZA FORMS 918

richard wilbur, Terza Rima 919 TRADITIONAL VERSE FORMS 920

FIXED FORMS OR FORM- BASED SUBGENRES 921

TRADITIONAL FORMS: POEMS FOR FURTHER STUDY 922

Dylan Thomas, Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night 922 Natasha Trethewey, Myth 923 Elizabeth Bishop, Sestina 923 Ciara Shuttleworth, Sestina 925 E. E. Cummings, [l(a] 926

[Buffalo Bill’s] 926

CONCRETE POETRY 927

George Herbert, Easter Wings 927 May Swenson, Women 928

THE SONNET: AN ALBUM 931

francesco Petrarch, [Upon the breeze she spread her golden hair] 932

Henry Constable, [My lady’s presence makes the roses red] 933 William Shakespeare, [My mistress’ eyes are nothing like

the sun] 933 [Not marble, nor the gilded monuments] 934 [Let me not to the marriage of true minds] 934

John Milton, [When I consider how my light is spent] 935 William Wordsworth, Nuns Fret Not 935 Elizabeth Barrett Browning, How Do I Love Thee? 936 Christina Rossetti, In an Artist’s Studio 936 Edna St. Vincent Millay, [What lips my lips have kissed,

and where, and why] 937 [Women have loved before as I love now] 937 [I, being born a woman and distressed] 937 [I will put Chaos into fourteen lines] 938

Robert Frost, Range- Finding 938 Design 939

xv i CONTENTS

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Gwendolyn Brooks, First Fight. Then Fiddle. 939 Gwen Harwood, In the Park 940 June Jordan, Something Like a Sonnet for Phillis

Miracle Wheatley 940 Billy Collins, Sonnet 941 harryette mullen, Dim Lady 941 sherman alexie, The Facebook Sonnet 942

HAIKU: AN ALBUM 945

Chiyojo, [Whether astringent] 945 Basho, [A village without bells—] 946

[This road —] 946 Buson, [Coolness—] 946

[Listening to the moon] 946 Lafcadio Hearn, [Old pond —] 946 Clara A. Walsh, [An old- time pond] 946 Earl Miner, [The still old pond] 947 Allen Ginsberg, [The old pond] 947 ezra pound, In a Station of the Metro 947 allen ginsberg, [Looking over my shoulder] 947 richard wright, [In the falling snow] 947 Etheridge Knight, from [Eastern guard tower] 948

[The falling snow flakes] 948 [Making jazz swing in] 948 AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Etheridge Knight 948

Mark Jarman, Haiku 949 Sonia Sanchez, from 9 Haiku 949 sue standing, Diamond Haiku 949 linda pastan, In the Har- Poen Tea Garden 950

EXPLORING CONTEXTS 952

19 THE AUTHOR’S WORK AS CONTEXT: ADRIENNE RICH 954 POEMS BY ADRIENNE RICH 958

At a Bach Concert 958 Storm Warnings 958 Living in Sin 959 Snapshots of a Daughter- in- Law 959 AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Adrienne Rich 963

Planetarium 964 For the Record 965

CONTENTS xv ii

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[My mouth hovers across your breasts] 966 History 966 Transparencies 967 To night No Poetry Will Serve 968

PASSAGES FROM RICH’S ESSAYS 969

from When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re- Vision 969 from A Communal Poetry 970 from Why I Refused the National Medal for the Arts 971 from Poetry and the Forgotten Future 974 SAMPLE WRITING: Melissa Makolin , Out- Sonneting Shakespeare:

An Examination of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Use of the Sonnet

Form 981

EMILY DICKINSON: AN ALBUM 987

[Tell all the truth but tell it slant—] 988 [I stepped from Plank to Plank] 988 [Wild Nights—Wild Nights!] 989 [My Life had stood— a Loaded Gun—] 989 [After great pain, a formal feeling comes—] 990 [A narrow Fellow in the Grass] 990 Wendy Cope, Emily Dickinson 991 Hart Crane, To Emily Dickinson 991 Billy Collins, Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes 992

W. B. YEATS: AN ALBUM 997

The Lake Isle of Innisfree 999 AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: W. B. Yeats 1000

All Things Can Tempt Me 1000 Easter 1916 1001 The Second Coming 1003 Leda and the Swan 1004 Sailing to Byzantium 1004 W. H. Auden, In Memory of W. B. Yeats 1006

AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: W. H. Auden 1008

PAT MOR A: AN ALBUM 1013

Elena 1014 Gentle Communion 1015 Mothers and Daughters 1015 La Migra 1016 Ode to Adobe 1017

xviii CONTENTS

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20 THE AUTHOR’S WORK AS CONTEXT: WILLIAM BLAKE’S SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND OF EXPERIENCE 1021

color insert: Facsimile Pages from SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND OF EXPERIENCE faces 1021

WILLIAM BLAKE’S SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND OF EXPERIENCE 1022

songs of innocence, Introduction 1023 The Ecchoing Green 1023 Holy Thursday 1024 The Lamb 1024 The Chimney Sweeper 1025

songs of experience, Introduction 1026 The Tyger 1026 The Garden of Love 1027 The Chimney Sweeper 1027 Holy Thursday 1027

21 CULTURAL AND HISTORICAL CONTEXTS: THE HARLEM RE NAIS SANCE 1031

POEMS OF THE HARLEM RE NAIS SANCE 1040

Arna Bontemps, A Black Man Talks of Reaping 1040 Countee Cullen, Yet Do I Marvel 1041

Saturday’s Child 1041 From the Dark Tower 1042

AngElina Grimké, The Black Finger 1042 Tenebris 1043

Langston Hughes, Harlem 1043 The Weary Blues 1043 The Negro Speaks of Rivers 1044 I, Too 1045

Helene Johnson, Sonnet to a Negro in Harlem 1046 Claude McKay, Harlem Shadows 1046

If We Must Die 1047 The Tropics in New York 1047 The Harlem Dancer 1047 The White House 1048

CONTEXTUAL EXCERPTS 1048

James Weldon Johnson, from the preface to The Book of American Negro Poetry 1048

Alain Locke, from The New Negro 1050 Rudolph Fisher, from The Caucasian Storms Harlem 1054

CONTENTS xix

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W. E. B. Du Bois, from Two Novels 1058 Zora Neale Hurston, How It Feels to Be Colored Me 1059 Langston Hughes, from The Big Sea 1062

SAMPLE WRITING: Irene Morstan, “They’ll See How Beautiful I Am”: “I, Too” and the Harlem Re nais sance 1067

22 CRITICAL CONTEXTS: SYLVIA PLATH’S “DADDY” 1072 Sylvia Plath, Daddy 1073

CRITICAL EXCERPTS 1077

George Steiner, from Dying Is an Art 1077 A. Alvarez, from Sylvia Plath 1080 Irving Howe, from The Plath Celebration: A Partial Dissent 1081 Judith Kroll, from Rituals of Exorcism: “Daddy” 1083 Mary Lynn Broe, from Protean Poetic 1084 Margaret Homans, from A Feminine Tradition 1086 Pamela J. Annas, from A Disturbance in Mirrors 1087 Steven Gould Axelrod, from Sylvia Plath: The Wound

and the Cure of Words 1089 Laura Frost, from “Every Woman Adores a Fascist”:

Feminist Visions of Fascism from Three Guineas to Fear of Flying 1096

READING MORE POETRY 1102

W. H. Auden, Musée des Beaux Arts 1102 Robert Browning, My Last Duchess 1103 Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Kubla Khan 1104 E. E. Cummings, [in Just-] 1105 John Donne, [Death, be not proud] 1106

Song 1107 The Sun Rising 1107 A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning 1108

Paul Laurence Dunbar, We Wear the Mask 1109 T. S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock 1110 Robert Frost, Home Burial 1113

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Eve ning 1116 Seamus Heaney, Digging 1116 Gerard Manley Hopkins, God’s Grandeur 1117

The Windhover 1118 Ben Jonson, On My First Son 1118 John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn 1119

To Autumn 1120

xx CONTENTS

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etheridge knight, Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane 1121

yusef komunyakaa, Facing It 1122 AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Yusef Komunyakaa 1123

Linda Pastan, love poem 1123 marge piercy, Barbie Doll 1124 sylvia plath, Lady Lazarus 1125

Morning Song 1127 edgar allan poe, The Raven 1127 ezra pound, The River- Merchant’s Wife: A Letter 1130 Wallace Stevens, Anecdote of the Jar 1131

The Emperor of Ice- Cream 1131 Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Tears, Idle Tears 1132

Ulysses 1132 Walt Whitman, Facing West from California’s Shores 1134

A Noiseless Patient Spider 1134 richard wilbur, Love Calls Us to the Things of

This World 1135 William Carlos Williams, The Dance 1136 William Wordsworth, [The world is too much with us] 1136

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES: POETS 1137

Drama DRAMA: READING, RESPONDING, WRITING 1152

READING DRAMA 1152

Susan Glaspell, Trifles 1155

RESPONDING TO DRAMA 1165

SAMPLE WRITING: Annotation of Trifles 1165 SAMPLE WRITING: Reading Notes 1168

WRITING ABOUT DRAMA 1171

SAMPLE WRITING: jessica zezulka, Trifles Plot Response Paper 1173

SAMPLE WRITING: stephanie orteGa , A Journey of Sisterhood 1175

UNDERSTANDING THE TEXT 1178

23 ELEMENTS OF DRAMA 1178 August Wilson, Fences 1187

CONTENTS xxi

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AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK : August Wilson 1239

quiara alegrÍa hudes, Water by the Spoonful 1239

EXPLORING CONTEXTS 1288

24 THE AUTHOR’S WORK AS CONTEXT: WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 1288

THE LIFE OF SHAKESPEARE: A BIOGRAPHICAL MYSTERY 1288

EXPLORING SHAKESPEARE’S WORK: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

AND HAMLET 1290

A Midsummer Night’s Dream 1294 Hamlet 1350

25 CULTURAL AND HISTORICAL CONTEXTS: LORRAINE HANSBERRY’S RAISIN IN THE SUN 1446

Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun 1456 AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Lorraine Hansberry 1520

CONTEXTUAL EXCERPTS 1523

Richard Wright, from Twelve Million Black Voices 1523 Robert Gruenberg, from Chicago Fiddles While Trumbull

Park Burns 1527 Gertrude Samuels, from Even More Crucial Than in the

South 1529 Wilma Dykeman and James Stokely, from New Southerner:

The Middle-Class Negro 1532 Martin Luther King, Jr., from Letter from Birmingham

Jail 1534 Robert C. Weaver, from The Negro as an American 1536 Earl E. Thorpe, from Africa in the Thought of Negro

Americans 1540 Phaon Goldman, from The Significance of African Freedom

for the Negro American 1541 Bruce Norris, from Clybourne Park 1544

26 CRITICAL CONTEXTS: SOPHOCLES’S ANTIGONE 1549 Sophocles, Antigone 1551

CRITICAL EXCERPTS 1584

Richard c. Jebb, from The Antigone of Sophocles 1584 Maurice Bowra, from Sophoclean Tragedy 1585 Bernard Knox, from Introduction to Antigone 1587

xxii CONTENTS

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Martha c. Nussbaum, from Sophocles’ Antigone: Conflict, Vision, and Simplification 1594

Philip Holt, from Polis and the Tragedy in the Antigone 1599 SAMPLE WRITING: Jackie Izawa, The Two Faces of Antigone 1609

READING MORE DRAMA 1616

Anton Chekhov, The Cherry Orchard 1616 henrik ibsen, A Doll House 1654 Jane Martin, Two Monologues from Talking With . . . 1704 Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman 1709

AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Arthur Miller 1776

Sophocles, Oedipus the King 1777 Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire 1817

WRITING ABOUT LITERATURE 1885

27 BASIC MOVES: PARAPHRASE, SUMMARY, AND DESCRIPTION 1886

28 THE LITERATURE ESSAY 1890

29 THE WRITING PRO CESS 1910

30 THE LITERATURE RESEARCH ESSAY 1923

31 QUOTATION, CITATION, AND DOCUMENTATION 1934

32 SAMPLE RESEARCH ESSAY sarah Roberts , “Only a Girl”? Gendered Initiation in

Alice Munro’s “Boys and Girls” 1961

CRITICAL APPROACHES 1971

GLOSSARY A1

Permissions Acknowledgments A15

Index of Authors A31

Index of Titles and First Lines A37

Index of Literary Terms A45

CONTENTS xxiii

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xxv

Preface for Instructors

Like its pre de ces sors, this Twelfth Edition of The Norton Introduction to Litera- ture offers in a single volume a complete course in reading literature and writing about it. A teaching anthology focused on the actual tasks, challenges, and ques- tions typically faced by students and instructors, The Norton Introduction to Lit- erature offers practical advice to help students transform their fi rst impressions of literary works into fruitful discussions and meaningful critical essays, and it helps students and instructors together tackle the complex questions at the heart of literary study.

The Norton Introduction to Literature has been revised with an eye to provid- ing a book that is as fl exible and as useful as possible—adaptable to many dif- ferent teaching styles and individual preferences—and that also conveys the excitement at the heart of literature itself.

FEATURES OF THE NORTON INTRODUCTION TO LITERATURE

Although this Twelfth Edition contains much that is new or refashioned, the essential features of the text have remained consistent over many editions:

Diverse selections with broad appeal

Because readings are the central component of any literature class, my most important task has been to select a rich array of appealing and challenging liter- ary works. Among the 58 stories, 301 poems, and 12 plays in The Norton Intro- duction to Literature, readers will fi nd selections by well- established and emerging voices alike, representing a broad range of times, places, cultural perspectives, and styles. The readings are excitingly diverse in terms of subject and style as well as authorship and national origin. In selecting and presenting literary texts, my top priorities continue to be quality as well as pedagogical relevance and usefulness. I have integrated the new with the old and the experimental with the canonical, believing that contrast and variety help students recognize and respond to the unique features of any literary work. In this way, I aim to help students and instructors alike approach the unfamiliar by way of the familiar (and vice versa).

Helpful and unobtrusive editorial matter

As always, the instructional material before and after each selection avoids dic- tating any par tic u lar interpretation or response, instead highlighting essential terms and concepts in order to make the literature that follows more accessible to student readers. Questions and writing suggestions help readers apply general

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xxv i PREFACE FOR INSTRUCTORS

concepts to specifi c readings in order to develop, articulate, refi ne, and defend their own responses. As in all Norton anthologies, I have annotated the works with a light hand, seeking to be informative but not interpretive.

An introduction to the study of literature

To introduce students to fi ction, poetry, and drama is to open up a complex fi eld of study with a long history. The Introduction addresses many of the questions that students may have about the nature of literature as well as the practice of literary criticism. By exploring some of the most compelling reasons for reading and writing about literature, much of the mystery about matters of method is cleared away, and I provide motivated students with a sense of the issues and opportunities that lie ahead as they study literature. As in earlier editions, I con- tinue to encourage student fascination with par tic u lar authors and their careers, expanding upon the featured “Authors on Their Work” boxes as well as single- author chapters and albums.

Thoughtful guidance for writing about literature

The Twelfth Edition integrates opportunities for student writing at each step of the course, highlighting the mastery of skills for students at every level. “Read- ing, Responding, Writing” sections at the beginning of each genre unit, including a thoroughly revised opener to the poetry unit, offer students concrete advice about how to transform careful reading into productive and insightful writing. Sample questions for each work or about each element (e.g., “Questions about Character”) provide exercises for answering these questions or for applying new concepts to par tic u lar works, and examples of student writing demonstrate how a student’s notes on a story or poem may be developed into a response paper or an or ga nized critical argument. New essays bring the total number of examples of student writing to seventeen.

The constructive, step- by- step approach to the writing pro cess is thoroughly demonstrated in several chapters called “Writing about Literature.” As in the chapters introducing concepts and literary selections, the fi rst steps presented in the writing section are simple and straightforward, outlining the basic formal ele- ments common to essays—thesis, structure, and so on. Following these steps encourages students to approach the essay both as a distinctive genre with its own elements and as an accessible form of writing with a clear purpose. From here, I walk students through the writing pro cess: how to choose a topic, gather evidence, and develop an argument; the methods of writing a research essay; and the mechanics of effective quotation and responsible citation and documentation. New, up- to- date material on using the Internet for research has been included. Also featured is a sample research paper that has been annotated to call attention to important features of good student writing.

Even more resources for student writers are available at the free student website, LitWeb, described below.

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PREFACE FOR INSTRUCTORS xxv ii

A comprehensive approach to the contexts of literature

The Twelfth Edition not only offers expanded resources for interpreting and writing about literature, but it also extends the perspectives from which students can view par tic u lar authors and works. One of the greatest strengths of The Nor- ton Introduction to Literature has been its exploration of the relation between literary texts and a variety of contexts. For several editions, “Author’s Work” and “Critical Contexts” chapters have served as mini- casebooks that contain a wealth of material for in- depth, context- focused reading and writing assignments. Recent editions have also been supplemented with “Cultural Contexts” chapters that explore a cultural moment or setting.

In the Twelfth Edition I have revised and expanded the current context chap- ters and added an entirely new chapter on Tim O’Brien’s seminal story, “The Things They Carried.” Other revised context chapters include an updated chapter on Adrienne Rich, featuring work from her fi nal collection of poetry and essays published shortly before her death, and re- edited excerpts from scholarly essays in the chapter on Sophocles’s Antigone, as well as general revision and updates throughout each context chapter.

The “Critical Approaches” section provides an overview of contemporary crit- ical theory and its terminology and is useful as an introduction, a refresher, or a preparation for further exploration.

A sensible and teachable or ga ni za tion

The accessible format of The Norton Introduction to Literature, which has worked so well for teachers and students for many editions, remains the same. Each genre is approached in three logical steps. Fiction, for example, is introduced by “Fiction: Reading, Responding, Writing,” which treats the purpose and nature of fi ction, the reading experience, and the steps one takes to begin writing about fi ction. This feature is followed by the six- chapter section called “Understanding the Text,” which concentrates on the genre’s key elements. The third section, “Exploring Contexts” suggests ways to embrace a work of literature by considering various literary, temporal, and cultural contexts. “Reading More Fiction,” the fi nal compo- nent in the Fiction section, is a reservoir of additional readings for in de pen dent study or a different approach. The Poetry and Drama sections, in turn, follow exactly the same or gan i za tional format as Fiction.

The book’s arrangement allows movement from narrower to broader frame- works, from simpler to more complex questions and issues, and mirrors the way people read— wanting to learn more as they experience more. At the same time, no chapter or section depends on any other, so that individual teachers can pick and choose which chapters or sections to assign and in what order.

Deep repre sen ta tion of select authors

The Norton Introduction to Literature offers a range of opportunities for in- depth study of noted authors. Author’s Work chapters on Flannery O’Connor, Adri- enne Rich, William Blake, and William Shakespeare in the “Exploring Contexts” sections substantively engage with multiple works by each author, allowing

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xxv iii PREFACE FOR INSTRUCTORS

students to make substantive connections between works from different phases of an author’s career. In addition, “albums” of multiple works by Emily Dickin- son, W. B. Yeats, and Pat Mora allow students to explore on their own a larger sampling of each poet’s work. Other chapters, such as the “Cultural and His- torical Contexts” chapters, explore the historical milieu of such works as Susan Glaspell’s “Jury of Her Peers,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpa- per,” and Kate Chopin’s “Story of An Hour,” as well as Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. “Critical Contexts” chapters in each genre section, including Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy,” and Sopho- cles’s Antigone, encourage students to delve deeper into each author’s work after they have sampled the rich and varied tradition of commentary that each author has inspired.

NEW TO THE TWELFTH EDITION

Fifty- two new selections

There are eight new stories, forty- two new poems, and two new plays in this Twelfth Edition of The Norton Introduction to Literature. You will fi nd new selections from pop u lar and canonical writers such as Tim O’Brien, August Wil- son, Toni Cade Bambara, Philip Larkin, Lucille Clifton, Langston Hughes, William Blake, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Jorge Luis Borges, as well as works by exciting new authors such as Junot Díaz, Kevin Young, Patricia Lockwood, Wil- liam Gibson, Jennifer Egan, Charlie Smith, Todd Boss, Adrienne Su, and Quiara Alegría Hudes.

Signifi cantly improved writing pedagogy

Recent editions The Norton Introduction to Literature greatly expanded and improved the resources for student writers, including thorough introductions to each genre in “Reading, Responding, Writing,” broadened online materials, and new student essays. For the Twelfth Edition, the chapters on Writing about Literature have been completely revised to be much more focused on the essen- tials moves of writing and interpretation, as well as much more coverage on the kinds of writing students are most frequently assigned. In addition, four new samples of student writing for different kinds of assignments have been added to the book, bringing the total number of such samples to eigh teen. More generally, throughout the Twelfth Edition I have thoroughly revised the writing prompts and suggestions.

A new Critical Context chapter on Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried”

“The Things They Carried” is among the most widely taught works in introduc- tory literature courses, and, in order to offer a compelling exploration of this story in anthology, a new Critical Context chapter has been built around it. This new chapter offers a incisive, array of scholarly essays on diverse topics related to O’Brien’s work, and will help spur lively classroom discussion and encourage engaging student writing.

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PREFACE FOR INSTRUCTORS xxix

Expanded and revised thematic “albums”

Recognizing that many courses build their reading lists around resonant topics or themes, I have expanded in this Twelfth Edition several topic- oriented clusters of stories and poems. Revised and updated versions of collections like “Cross- Cultural Encounters,” “Initiation Stories,” “Exploring Gender,” and “Music and Lyrics” provide students and instructors with ample opportunity to approach their reading (and the course) through a comparison of varied treatments of a common topic, setting, or subgenre.

STUDENT RESOURCES

LitWeb (digital . wwnorton . com / litweb)

Improved and expanded, this free resource offers tools that help students read and write about literature with skill and understanding:

• New Pause & Practice exercises expand on the “Writing about Literature” chapters and offer additional opportunities to practice effective writing. Seven exercises, each tied to a specifi c writing skill, test students on what they know, provide instruction both text and video for different learning styles, assess students on what they’ve learned, and give them an oppor- tunity to apply newly strengthened skills.

• In- depth workshops feature fi fty- fi ve often- taught works from the text, all rooted in the guidance given in the “Reading, Responding, Writing” chapters.

• Self- grading multiple- choice quizzes on sixty of the most widely taught works offer instant feedback designed to hone students’ close- reading skills

Digital Edition

The Shorter Twelfth Edition of The Norton Introduction to Lit er a ture is now avail- able as an ebook. To preview and purchase visit digital . wwnorton . com / lit12 shorter.

INSTRUCTOR RESOURCES

Instructor’s Manual

This thorough guide offers in- depth discussions of nearly all the works in the anthology as well as teaching suggestions and tips for the writing- intensive litera- ture course.

Coursepacks for learning management systems

Available for all major learning management systems (including Blackboard, Angel, Moodle), this free and customizable resource makes the features of LitWeb and plus the Writing about Literature video series and other material available to instructors within the online framework of their choice.

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xxx PREFACE FOR INSTRUCTORS

Teaching Poetry: A Handbook of Exercises for Large and Small Classes (Allan J. Gedalof, University of Western Ontario)

This practical handbook offers a wide variety of innovative in- class exercises to enliven classroom discussion of poetry. Each of these fl exible teaching exercises includes straightforward step- by- step guidelines and suggestions for variation.

Play DVDs

DVDs of most of the plays in the anthology are available to qualifi ed adopters. Semester- long Netfl ix subscriptions are also available.

To obtain any of these instructional resources, please contact your local Nor- ton representative.

AC KNOW LEDG MENTS

In working on this book, I have been guided by teachers and students in my own and other En glish departments who have used this textbook and responded with comments and suggestions. Thanks to such capable help, I am hopeful that this book will continue to offer a solid and stimulating introduction to the experience of literature.

This project continually reminds me why I follow the vocation of teaching literature, which after all is a communal rather than a solitary calling. Since its inception, The Norton Introduction to Literature has been very much a collabora- tive effort. I am grateful for the opportunity to carry on the work begun by the late Carl Bain and Jerome Beaty, whose student I will always be. And I am equally indebted to my wonderful colleagues Paul Hunter and Alison Booth. Their wisdom and intelligence have had a profound effect on me, and their stamp will endure on this and all future editions of this book. I am thankful to Alison especially for the erudition, savvy, grace, and humor she brought to our partnership.

Thanks also to Jason Snart, of the College of Dupage, for his work preparing the online resources for students. As more and more instructors have integrated online materials into their teaching, users of this book have benefi ted from his experienced insight into teaching writing and literature, as well as his thoughtful development of exercises, quizzes, videos and more. I would also like to thank Carly Fraser Doria, emedia editor for the Twelfth Edition, as well as Kimberly Bowers, marketing manager for both the Eleventh and Twelfth Editions.

In putting together the Twelfth Edition, I have accrued many debts to friends and colleagues and to users of the Eleventh Edition who reached out to point out its mistakes, as well as successes. I am grateful for their generosity and insight, as I also am that of my wise and patient editor, Spencer Richardson- Jones. But I am also peculiarly aware this edition of more enduring and personal debts as well, which I hope it’s not entirely out of place to honor here—to my mother, Lola Mays, who died in the very midst of this book’s making, and to both my sister, Nelda Mays, and my husband and in- house editor, Hugh Jackson, without whom I’m not sure I would have made it through that loss, this book, or anything else. To them, much love, much thanks.

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PREFACE FOR INSTRUCTORS xxxi

The Norton Introduction to Literature continues to thrive because so many teach- ers and students generously take the time to provide valuable feedback and sug- gestions. Thank you to all who have done so. This book is equally your making.

At the beginning of planning for the Twelfth Edition, my editors at Norton solicited the guidance of hundreds of instructors via in- depth reviews and a Web- hosted survey. The response was impressive, bordering on overwhelming; it was also im mensely helpful. Thank you to those provided extensive written com- mentary: Julianne Altenbernd (Cypress College), Troy Appling (Florida Gate- way College), Christina Bisirri (Seminole State College), Jill Channing (Mitchell Community College), Thomas Chester (Ivy Tech), Marcelle Cohen (Valencia College), Patricia Glanville (State College of Florida), Julie Gibson (Greenville Tech), Christina Grant (St. Charles Community College), Lauren Hahn (City Colleges of Chicago), Zachary Hyde (Valencia College), Brenda Jernigan (Meth- odist University), Mary Anne Keefer (Lord Fairfax Community College), Shari Koopman (Valencia College), Jessica Rabin (Anne Arundel Community College), Angela Rasmussen (Spokane Community College), Britnee Shandor (Lanier Tech- nical College), Heidi Sheridan (Ocean County College), Jeff Tix (Wharton Jr. College), Bente Videbaek (Stony Brook University), Patrice Willaims (Northwest Florida State College), and Connie Youngblood (Blinn College).

Thanks also to everyone who responded to the survey online: Sue Abbotson (Rhode Island College), Emory Abbott (Georgia Perimeter

College), Mary Adams (Lincoln College- Normal), Julie Altenbernd (Cypress College), Troy Appling (Florida Gateway College), Marilyn Judith Atlas (Ohio University), Unoma Azuah (Lane College), Diann Baecker (Virginia State Uni- versity), Aaron Barrell (Everett Community College), Craig Barrette (Brescia University), John Bell (American River College), Monica Berlin (Knox College), Mary Anne Bernal (San Antonio College), Jolan Bishop (Southeastern Com- munity College), Randall Blankenship (Valencia College), Margaret Boas (Anne Arundel Community College), Andrew Bodenrader (Manhattanville College), James Borton (Coastal Carolina University), Ethel Bowden (Central Maine Community College), Amy Braziller (Red Rocks Community College), Jason Brown (Herkimer County Community College), Alissa Burger (SUNY Delhi), Michael Burns (Spokane Community College), Ryan Campbell (Front Range Community College), Anna Cancelli (Coastal Carolina Community College), Vanessa Canete- Jurado (Binghamton University), Rebecca Cash (SUNY Adiron- dack), Kevin Cavanaugh (Dutchess Community College), Emily Chamison (Georgia College & State University), Jill Channing (Mitchell Community Col- lege), Thomas Chester (Ivy Tech), Ann Clark (Jefferson Community College), Thomas Coakley (Mount Aloysius College), Susan Cole (Albert Magnus Col- lege), Tera Joy Cole (Idaho State University), Vicki Collins (University of South Carolina Aiken), Jonathan Cook (Durham Technical Community College), Beth Copeland (Methodist University), Bill Corby (Berkshire Community Col- lege), James Crowley (Bridgewater State University), Diane D’Amico (Allegheny College), Susan Dauer (Valencia College), Emily Dial- Driver (Rogers State Uni- versity), Lorraine DiCicco (University of Western Ontario), Christina Devlin (Montgomery College), Jess Domanico (Point University), William Donovan (Idaho State University), Bonnie Dowd (Montclair State University), Douglas

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xxx ii PREFACE FOR INSTRUCTORS

Dowland (Ohio Northern University), Justine Dymond (Springfi eld College), Jason Evans (Prairie State College), Richard Farias (San Antonio College), Karen Feldman (Seminole State College),  V. Ferretti (Westmoreland County Com- munity College), Bradley Fest (University of Pittsburgh), Glynn- Ellen Fisichelli (Nassau Community College), Colleen Flanagan (Seminole State College of Flor- ida), Michael Flynn (University of North Dakota), Matthew Fullerty (Chowan University), Robert Galin (University of New Mexico at Gallup), Margaret Gar- dineer (Felician College), Jan Geyer (Hudson Valley Community College), Sea- mus Gibbons (Bergen Community College), Eva Gold (Southeastern Louisiana University), Melissa Green (Ohio University Chillicothe), Frank Gruber (Bergen Community College), Lauren Hahn (City Colleges of Chicago), Rob Hale (West- ern Kentucky University), Nada Halloway (Manhattanville College), Melody Hargraves (St. Johns River State College), Elizabeth Harlan (Northern Virginia Community College), Stephanie Harzewski (University of New Hampshire), Lance Hawvermale (Ranger College), Catherine Heath (Victoria College), Beth Heim de Bera (Rochester Community and Technical College), Natalie Hewitt (Hope International University), Melissa Hoban (Blinn College), Charles Hood (Antelope Valley College), Trish Hopkins (Community College of Vermont), Spring Hyde (Lincoln College), Tammy Jabin (Chemeketa Community College), Kim Jacobs- Beck (University of Cincinnati Clermont College), Brenda Jerrigan (Methodist University), Kathy Johnson (SUNY Cobleskill), Darlene Johnston (Ohio Northern University), Kimberly Kaczorowski (University of Utah), Mary- ellen Keefe (SUNY Maritime College), Mary Anne Keefer (Lord Fairfax Com- munity College), Caroline Kelley (Bergen Community College), Tim Kelley (Northwest- Shoals Community College), Mary Catherine Killany (Robert Mor- ris University), Amy Kolker (Black Hawk College), Beth Kolp (Dutchess Com- munity College), Shari Koopman (Valencia College), Jill Kronstadt (Montgomery College), Liz Langemak (La Salle University), Audrey Lapointe (Cuyamaca College), Dawn Lattin (Idaho State University), Richard Lee (Elon University), Nancy Lee- Jones (Endicott College), Sharon Levy (Northampton Commu- nity College), Erika Lin (George Mason University), Clare Little (Embry- Riddle Aeronautical University), Paulette Longmore (Essex County College), Carol Luther (Pellissippi State Community College), Sean McAuley (North Georgia Technical College), Sheila McAvey (Becker College), Kelli McBride (Seminole State College), Jim McWilliams (Dickinson State University), Vickie Melograno (Atlantic Cape Community College), Agnetta Mendoza (Nashville State Com- munity College), David Merchant (Louisiana Tech University), Edith Miller (Angelina College), Benjamin Mitchell (Georgia College & State University), James Norman (Bridgewater State University), Angelia Northrip- Rivera (Mis- souri State University), James Obertino (University of Central Missouri), Elaine Ostry (SUNY Plattsburg), Michelle Paulsen (Victoria College), Russell Perkin (Saint Mary’s University), Katherine Perry (Georgia Perimeter College), Thomas Pfi ster (Idaho State University), Gemmicka Piper (University of Iowa), Michael Podolny (Onondaga Community College), Wanda Pothier- Hill (Mt. Wachusett Community College), Gregg Pratt (SUNY Adirondack, Wilton Campus), Jona- than Purkiss (Pulaski Technical College), Jessica Rabin (Anne Arundel Com- munity College), Elizabeth Rambo (Campbell University), Angela Rasmussen

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PREFACE FOR INSTRUCTORS xxxiii

(Spokane Community College), Rhonda Ray (East Stroudsburg University), Janet Red Feather (Normandale Community College), Joan Reeves (Northeast Ala- bama Community College), Matthias Regan (North Central College), Eliza- beth Rescher (Richard Bland College), Stephanie Roberts (Georgia Military College), Paul Robichaud (Albert Magnus College), Nancy Roche (University of Utah), Mary Rohrer- Dann (Pennsylvania State University), Michael Rottnick (Ellsworth Community College), Scott Rudd (Monroe Community College), Ernest Rufl eth (Louisiana Tech University), Frank Rusciano (Rider University), Michael Sarabia (University of Iowa), Susan Scheckel (Stony Brook Univer- sity), Lori Schroeder (Knox College), Britnee Shandor (Lanier Technical Col- lege), Jolie Sheffer (Bowling Green State University), Olympia Sibley, (Blinn College), Christine Sizemore (Spelman College), Chris Small (New Hampshire Technical Institute), Katherine Smit (Housatonic Community College), Whit- ney Smith (Miami University), Jason Snart (College of Dupage), John Snider (Montana State University- Northern), Shannon Stewart (Costal Carolina Uni- versity), Susan St. Peters (Riverside City College), Michael Stubbs (Idaho State University), Patrice Suggs (Craven Community College), Joseph Sullivan (Mari- etta College), Heidi L. Sura (Kirtland Community College), David Susman (York County Community College), Fred Svoboda (University of Michigan), Taryne Taylor (University of Iowa), Nancy Thompson (Community College of Vermont), Rita Treutel (University of Alabama at Birmingham), Keja Valens (Salem State University), Diana Vecchio (Widener University), Bente Videbaek (Stony Brook University), Donna Waldron (Campbell University), Kent Walker (Brock Uni- versity), Brandi Wallace (Wallace Community College), Valerie Wallace (City Colleges of Chicago), Maureen Walters (Vance- Granville Community College), Megan Walsh (St. Bonaventure University), Kimberly Ward (Campbell Univer- sity), Catherine Welter (University of New Hampshire), Jeff Westover (Boise State University), Kathy Whitaker (East Georgia State College), Bruce Wigutow (Farmingdale State College), Jessica Wilkie (Monroe Community College), Leigh Williams (Dutchess Community College), Jenny Williams (Spartanburg Community College), Patrice Williams (Northwest Florida State College), Greg- ory Wilson (St. John’s University), Mark WIlson (Southwestern Oregon Com- munity College), Rita Wisdom (Tarrant County College), Martha Witt (William Paterson University), Robert Wiznura (Grant MacEwan University), Jarrell Wright (University of Pittsburgh), Kelly Yacobucci (SUNY Cobleskill), Kidane Yohannes (Burlington County College), Brian Yost (Texas A&M University), Connie Youngblood (Blinn College), Susan Youngs (Southern New Hampshire University), and Jason Ziebart (Central Carolina Community College).

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T H E N O RTO N I N T R O D U C T I O N TO

LITERATURE S H O R T E R T W E L F T H E D I T I O N

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Introduction

In the opening chapters of Charles Dickens’s novel Hard Times (1854), the aptly named Thomas Gradgrind warns the teachers and pupils at his “model” school to avoid using their imaginations. “Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life,” exclaims Mr. Gradgrind. To press his point, Mr. Gradgrind asks “girl number twenty,” Sissy Jupe, the daughter of a circus performer, to defi ne a horse. When she cannot, Gradgrind turns to Bitzer, a pale, spiritless boy who “looked as though, if he were cut, he would bleed white.” A “model” stu- dent of this “model” school, Bitzer gives exactly the kind of defi nition to satisfy Mr. Gradgrind:

Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely, twenty- four grinders, four eye- teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs.

Anyone who has any sense of what a horse is rebels against Bitzer’s lifeless pic- ture of that animal and against the “Gradgrind” view of reality. As these fi rst scenes of Hard Times lead us to expect, in the course of the novel the fact- grinding Mr. Gradgrind learns that human beings cannot live on facts alone; that it is dangerous to stunt the faculties of imagination and feeling; that, in the words of one of the novel’s more lovable characters, “People must be amused.” Through the downfall of an exaggerated enemy of the imagination, Dickens reminds us why we like and even need to read literature.

WHAT IS LITERATURE?

But what is literature? Before you opened this book, you probably could guess that it would contain the sorts of stories, poems, and plays you have encountered in En glish classes or in the literature section of a library or bookstore. But why are some written works called literature whereas others are not? And who gets to decide? The American Heritage Dictionary of the En glish Language offers a num- ber of defi nitions for the word literature, one of which is “imaginative or creative writing, especially of recognized artistic value.” In this book, we adopt a version of that defi nition by focusing on fi ctional stories, poems, and plays— the three major kinds (or genres) of “imaginative or creative writing” that form the heart of litera- ture as it has been taught in schools and universities for over a century. Many of the works we have chosen to include are already ones “of recognized artistic value” and thus belong to what scholars call the canon, a select, if much- debated and ever- evolving, list of the most highly and widely esteemed works. Though quite a few of the literary texts we include are simply too new to have earned that status, they, too, have already drawn praise, and some have even generated controversy.

Certainly it helps to bear in mind what others have thought of a literary work. Yet one of this book’s primary goals is to get you to think for yourself, as well as communicate with others, about what “imaginative writing” and “artistic value” are or might be and thus about what counts as literature. What makes a story or poem different from an essay, a newspaper editorial, or a technical manual? For

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that matter, what makes a published, canonical story like Herman Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener both like and unlike the sorts of stories we tell each other every day? What about so- called oral literature, such as the fables and folk- tales that circulated by word of mouth for hundreds of years before they were ever written down? Or published works such as comic strips and graphic novels that rely little, if at all, on the written word? Or Harlequin romances, tele vi sion shows, and the stories you collaborate in making when you play a video game? Likewise, how is Shakespeare’s poem My mistress’s eyes are nothing like the sun both like and unlike a verse you might fi nd in a Hallmark card or even a jingle in a mouthwash commercial?

Today, literature departments offer courses in many of these forms of expres- sion, expanding the realm of literature far beyond the limits of the dictionary defi nition. An essay, a song lyric, a screenplay, a supermarket romance, a novel by Toni Morrison or William Faulkner, and a poem by Walt Whitman or Emily Dickinson— each may be read and interpreted in literary ways that yield insight and plea sure. What makes the literary way of reading different from pragmatic reading is, as scholar Louise Rosenblatt explains, that it does not focus “on what will remain [. . .] after the reading— the information to be acquired, the logical solution to a problem, the actions to be carried out,” but rather on “what happens

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during [. . .] reading.” The difference between pragmatic and literary reading, in other words, resembles the difference between a journey that is only about reach- ing a destination and one that is just as much about fully experiencing the ride.

In the pages of this book, you will fi nd cartoons, an excerpt from a graphic novel, song lyrics, folktales, and stories and plays that have spawned movies. Through this inclusiveness, we do not intend to suggest that there are no distinctions among these various forms of expression or between a good story, poem, or play and a bad one; rather, we want to get you thinking, talking, and writing both about what the key differences and similarities among these forms are and what makes one work a better example of its genre than another. Sharpening your skills at these peculiarly intensive and responsive sorts of reading and interpretation is a primary purpose of this book and of most literature courses.

Another goal of inclusiveness is simply to remind you that literature doesn’t just belong in a textbook or a classroom, even if textbooks and classrooms are essential means for expanding your knowledge of the literary terrain and of the concepts and techniques essential to thoroughly enjoying and understanding a broad range of literary forms. You may or may not be the kind of person who always takes a novel when you go to the beach or secretly writes a poem about your experience when you get back home. You may or may not have taken a literature course (or courses) before. Yet you already have a good deal of literary experience and even expertise, as well as much more to discover about literature. A major aim of this book is to make you more conscious of how and to what end you might use the tools you already possess and to add many new ones to your tool belt.

WHAT DOES LITERATURE DO?

One quality that may well differentiate stories, poems, and plays from other kinds of writing is that they help us move beyond and probe beneath abstractions by giv- ing us concrete, vivid particulars. Rather than talking about things, they bring them to life for us by representing experience, and so they become an experience for us— one that engages our emotions, our imagination, and all of our senses, as well as our intellects. As the British poet and critic Matthew Arnold put it more than a century ago, “The interpretations of science do not give us this intimate sense of objects as the interpretations of poetry give it; they appeal to a limited fac- ulty, and not to the whole man. It is not Linnaeus [. . .] who gives us the true sense of animals, or water, or plants, who seizes their secret for us, who makes us par- ticipate in their life; it is Shakespeare [. . .] Wordsworth [. . .] Keats.”

To test Arnold’s theory, compare the American Heritage Dictionary’s rather dry defi nition of literature with the following poem, in which John Keats describes his fi rst encounter with a specifi c literary work— George Chapman’s translation of the Iliad and the Odyssey, two epics by the ancient Greek poet Homer.

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JOH N KE ATS On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer1

Much have I traveled in the realms of gold, And many goodly states and kingdoms seen; Round many western islands have I been Which bards in fealty to Apollo2 hold.

5 Oft of one wide expanse had I been told That deep- browed Homer ruled as his demesne; Yet did I never breathe its pure serene3

Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold: Then felt I like some watcher of the skies

10 When a new planet swims into his ken;4

Or like stout Cortez5 when with ea gle eyes He stared at the Pacifi c— and all his men Looked at each other with a wild surmise— Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

1816

Keats makes us see literature as a “wide expanse” by greatly developing this meta- phor and complementing it with similes likening reading to the sighting of a “new planet” and the fi rst glimpse of an undiscovered ocean. More important, he shows us what literature means and why it matters by allowing us to share with him the subjective experience of reading and the complex sensations it inspires— the diz- zying exhilaration of discovery; the sense of power, accomplishment, and pride that comes of achieving something diffi cult; the wonder we feel in those rare moments when a much- anticipated experience turns out to be even greater than we had imagined it would be.

It isn’t the defi nitions of words alone that bring this experience to life for us as we read Keats’s poem, but also their sensual qualities— the way the words look, sound, and even feel in our mouths because of the par tic u lar way they are put together on the page. The sensation of excitement— of a racing heart and mind— is reproduced in us as we read the poem. For example, notice how the lines in the middle run into each other, but then Keats forces us to slow down at the poem’s end— stopped short by that dash and comma in the poem’s fi nal lines, just as Cortez and his men are when they reach the edge of the known world and peer into what lies beyond.

WHAT ARE THE GENRES OF LITERATURE?

The conversation that is literature, as well as the conversation about literature, invites all comers, requiring neither a visa nor a special license of any kind. Yet literary studies, like all disciplines, has developed its own terminology and its own

1. George Chapman’s were among the most famous Re nais sance translations of Homer; he completed his Iliad in 1611, his Odyssey in 1616. Keats wrote the sonnet after being led to Chapman by a former teacher and reading the Iliad all night long. 2. Greek god of poetry and music. Fealty: literally, the loyalty owed by a vassal to his feudal lord. 3. Atmosphere. 4. Range of vision; awareness. 5. Actually, Balboa; he fi rst viewed the Pacifi c from Darien, in Panama.

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systems of classifi cation. Helping you understand and effectively use both is a major focus of this book; especially important terms appear in bold throughout and are defi ned in a glossary at the back.

Some essential literary terms are common, everyday words used in a special way in the conversation about literature. A case in point, perhaps, is the term literary criticism, as well as the closely related term literary critic. Despite the usual con- notations of the word criticism, literary criticism is called criticism not because it is negative or corrective but rather because those who write criticism ask searching, analytical, “critical” questions about the works they read. Literary criticism is both the pro cess of interpreting and commenting on literature and the result of that pro cess. If you write an essay on the play Hamlet, the poetry of John Keats, or the development of the short story in the 1990s, you engage in literary criticism, and by writing the essay, you’ve become a literary critic.

Similarly, when we classify works of literature, we use terms that may be famil- iar to you but have specifi c meanings in a literary context. All academic disci- plines have systems of classifi cation, or taxonomies, as well as jargon. Biologists, for example, classify all organisms into a series of ever- smaller, more specifi c cat- egories: kingdom, phylum or division, class, order, family, genus, and species. Clas- sifi cation and comparison are just as essential in the study of literature. We expect a poem to work in a certain way, for example, when we know from the outset that it is a poem and not, say, a factual news report or a short story. And— whether consciously or not— we compare it, as we read, to other poems we’ve read in the past. If we know, further, that the poem was fi rst published in eighteenth- century Japan, we expect it to work differently from one that appeared in the latest New Yorker. Indeed, we often choose what to read, just as we choose what movie to see, based on the “class” or “order” of book or movie we like or what we are in the mood for that day— horror or comedy, action or science fi ction.

As these examples suggest, we generally tend to categorize literary works in two ways: (1) on the basis of contextual factors, especially historical and cultural context— that is, when, by whom, and where it was produced (as in nineteenth- century literature, the literature of the Harlem Re nais sance, American literature, or African American literature)— and (2) on the basis of formal textual features. For the latter type of classifi cation, the one we focus on in this book, the key term is genre, which simply means, as the Oxford En glish Dictionary tells us, “A par tic u lar style or category of works of art; esp. a type of literary work characterized by a par- tic u lar form, style, or purpose.”

Applied rigorously, genre refers to the largest categories around which this book is organized—fi ction, poetry, and drama (as well as nonfi ction prose). The word subgenre applies to smaller divisions within a genre, and the word kind to divisions within a subgenre. Subgenres of fi ction include the novel, the novella, and the short story. Kinds of novels, in turn, include things like the bildungsro- man or the epistolary novel. Similarly, important subgenres of nonfi ction include the essay, as well as biography and autobiography; a memoir is a par tic u lar kind of autobiography, and so on.

However, the terms of literary criticism are not so fi xed or so consistently, rig- orously used as biologists’ are. You will often see the word genre applied both much more narrowly— referring to the novel, for example, or even to a kind of novel such as the epistolary novel or the historical novel.

The way we classify a work depends on which aspects of its form or style we concentrate on, and categories may overlap. When we divide fi ction, for example,

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into the subgenres novel, novella, and short story, we take the length of the works as the salient aspect. (Novels are much longer than short stories.) But other fi ctional subgenres— detective fi ction, gothic fi ction, historical fi ction, science fi ction, and even romance— are based on the types of plots, characters, settings, and so on that are customarily featured in these works. These latter categories may include works from all the other, length- based categories. There are, after all, gothic novels (think Stephenie Meyer), as well as gothic short stories (think Edgar Allan Poe).

A few genres even cut across the boundaries dividing poetry, fi ction, drama, and nonfi ction. A prime example is satire— any literary work (whether poem, play, fi ction, or nonfi ction) “in which prevailing vices and follies are held up to ridicule” (Oxford En glish Dictionary). Examples of satire include poems such as Alexander Pope’s Dunciad (1728); plays, movies, and tele vi sion shows, from Molière’s Tar- tuffe (1664) to Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (1964) to South Park and The Daily Show; works of fi ction like Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) and Voltaire’s Candide (1759); and works of nonfi ction such as Swift’s “A Modest Pro- posal” (1729) and Ambrose Bierce’s The Dev il’s Dictionary (1906). Three other major genres that cross the borders between fi ction, poetry, drama, and nonfi ction are parody, pastoral, and romance.

Individual works can thus belong simultaneously to multiple generic categories or observe some conventions of a genre without being an example of that genre in any simple or straightforward way. The Old En glish poem Beowulf is an epic and, because it’s written in verse, a poem. Yet because (like all epics) it narrates a story, it is also a work of fi ction in the more general sense of that term.

Given this complexity, the system of literary genres can be puzzling, especially to the uninitiated. Used well, however, classifi cation schemes are among the most essential and effective tools we use to understand and enjoy just about everything, including literature.

WHY READ LITERATURE?

Because there has never been and never will be absolute, lasting agreement about where exactly the boundaries between one literary genre and another should be drawn or even about what counts as literature at all, it might be more useful from the outset to focus on why we look at par tic u lar forms of expression.

Over the ages, people have sometimes dismissed all literature or at least certain genres as a luxury, a frivolous pastime, even a sinful indulgence. Plato famously banned poetry from his ideal republic on the grounds that it tells beautiful lies that “feed and water our passions” rather than our reason. Thousands of years later, the infl uential eighteenth- century phi los o pher Jeremy Bentham decried the “magic art” of literature as doing a good deal of “mischief” by “stimulating our passions” and “exciting our prejudices.” One of Bentham’s contemporaries— a minister— blamed the rise of immorality, irreligion, and even prostitution on the increasing popularity of that par tic u lar brand of literature called the novel.

Today, many Americans express their sense of literature’s insignifi cance by simply not reading it: The 2004 government report Reading at Risk indicates that less than half of U.S. adults read imaginative literature, with the sharpest declines occurring among the youn gest age groups. Even if they very much enjoy reading on their own, many contemporary U.S. college students nonetheless hesitate to study or major in literature for fear that their degree won’t provide them with marketable credentials, knowledge, or skills.

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Yet the enormous success of The Hunger Games trilogy and the proliferation of reading groups are only two of many signs that millions of people continue to fi nd both reading literature and discussing it with others to be enjoyable, meaningful, even essential activities. En glish thrives as a major at most colleges and universi- ties, almost all of which require undergraduates majoring in other areas to take at least one course in literature. (Perhaps that’s why you are reading this book!) Schools of medicine, law, and business are today more likely to require their stu- dents to take literature courses than they were in past de cades, and they continue to welcome literature majors as applicants, as do many corporations. So why do so many people read and study literature, and why do schools encourage and even require students to do so? Even if we know what literature is, what does it do for us? What is its value?

There are, of course, as many answers to such questions as there are readers. For centuries, a standard answer has been simply that imaginative literature provides a unique brand of “instruction and delight.” John Keats’s On Looking into Chapman’s Homer illustrates some of the many forms such delight can take. Some kinds of imaginative writing offer us the delight of immediate escape, but imaginative writing that is more diffi cult to read and understand than a Harry Potter or Twilight novel offers escape of a different and potentially more instruc- tive sort, liberating us from the confi nes of our own time, place, and social milieu, as well as our habitual ways of thinking, feeling, and looking at the world. In this way, a story, poem, or play can satisfy our desire for broader experience— including the sorts of experience we might be unable or unwilling to endure in real life. We can learn what it might be like to grow up on a Canadian fox farm or to clean ashtrays in the Singapore airport. We can travel back into the past, experienc- ing war from the perspective of a soldier watching his comrade die or of prisoners suffering in a Nazi labor camp. We can journey into the future or into universes governed by entirely different rules than our own. Perhaps we yearn for such knowl- edge because we can best come to understand our own identities and outlooks by leaping over the boundaries that separate us from other selves and worlds.

Keats’s friend and fellow poet Percy Bysshe Shelley argued that literature increases a person’s ability to make such leaps, to “imagine intensely and compre- hensively” and “put himself in the place of another and of many othe[r]” people in order “to be greatly good.” Shelley meant “good” in a moral sense, reasoning that the ability both to accurately imagine and to truly feel the human consequences of our actions is the key to ethical behavior. But universities and professional schools today also defi ne this “good” in distinctly pragmatic ways. In virtually any career you choose, you will need to interact positively and productively with both coworkers and clients, and in today’s increasingly globalized world, you will need to learn to deal effectively and empathetically with people vastly different from yourself. At the very least, literature written by people from various backgrounds and depict- ing various places, times, experiences, and feelings will give you some under- standing of how others’ lives and worldviews may differ from your own— or how they may be very much the same.

Similarly, our rapidly changing world and economy require intellectual fl exibil- ity, adaptability, and ingenuity, making ever more essential the human knowledge, general skills, and habits of mind developed through the study of literature. Litera- ture explores issues and questions relevant in any walk of life. Yet rather than offer- ing us neat or comforting solutions and answers, literature enables us to experience diffi cult situations and human conundrums in all their complexity and to look at

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them from various points of view. In so doing, it invites us sometimes to question conventional thinking and sometimes to see its wisdom, even as it helps us imag- ine altogether new possibilities.

Finally, literature awakens us to the richness and complexity of language— our primary tool for engaging with, understanding, and shaping the world around us. As we read more and more, seeing how different writers use language to help us feel their joy, pain, love, rage, or laughter, we begin to recognize the vast range of possibilities for self- expression. Writing and discussion in turn give us invaluable practice in discovering, expressing, and defending our own nuanced, often contra- dictory thoughts about both literature and life. The study of literature enhances our command of language and our sensitivity to its effects and meanings in every form or medium, providing interpretation and communication skills especially cru- cial in our information age. By learning to appreciate and articulate what the language of a story, poem, a play, or an essay does to us and by considering how it affects others, we also learn much about what we can do with language.

What We Do With Literature: Three Tips

1. Take a literary work on its own terms. Adjust to the work; don’t make the work adjust to you. Be prepared to hear things you do not want to hear. Not all works are about your ideas, nor will they always present emotions you want to feel. But be tolerant and listen to the work fi rst; later you can explore the ways you do or don’t agree with it.

2. Assume there is a reason for everything. Writers do make mistakes, but when a work shows some degree of verbal control it is usually safest to assume that the writer chose each word carefully; if the choice seems peculiar, you may be missing something. Try to account for everything in a work, see what kind of sense you can make of it, and fi gure out a coherent pattern that explains the text as it stands.

3. Remember that literary texts exist in time, and times change. Not only the meanings of words, but whole ways of looking at the universe vary in differ- ent ages. Consciousness of time works two ways: Your knowledge of history provides a context for reading the work, and the work may modify your notion of a par tic u lar age.

WHY STUDY LITERATURE?

You may already feel the power and plea sure to be gained from a sustained encounter with challenging reading. Then why not simply enjoy it in solitude, on your own free time? Why take a course in literature? Literary study, like all disci- plines, has developed its own terminology and its own techniques. Some knowl- edge and understanding of both can greatly enhance our personal appreciation of literature and our conversations with others about it. Literature also has a context and a history, and learning something about them can make all the difference in the amount and kind of plea sure and insight you derive from literature. By read- ing and discussing different genres of literature, as well as works from varied times and places, you may well come to appreciate and even love works that you might never have discovered or chosen to read on your own or that you might have dis- liked or misunderstood if you did.

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INTRODUCTION 9

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Most important, writing about works of literature and discussing them with your teachers and other students will give you practice in analyzing literature in greater depth and in considering alternative views of both the works themselves and the situations and problems the works explore. A clear understanding of the aims and designs of a story, poem, or play never falls like a bolt from the blue. Instead, it emerges from a pro cess that involves trying to put into words how and why this work had such an effect on you and, just as important, responding to what others say or write about it. Literature itself is a vast, ongoing, ever- evolving con- versation in which we most fully participate when we enter into actual conversa- tion with others.

As you engage in this conversation, you will notice that interpretation is always variable, always open to discussion. A great diversity of interpretations might sug- gest that the discussion is pointless. On the contrary, that’s when the discussion gets most interesting. Because there is no single, straight, paved road to an under- standing of a literary text, you can explore a variety of blazed trails and less- traveled paths. In sharing your own interpretations, tested against your peers’ responses and guided by your instructor’s or other critics’ expertise, you will hone your skills at both interpretation and communication. After the intricate and interactive pro cess of interpretation, you will fi nd that the work has changed when you read it again. What we do with literature alters what it does to us.

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FICTION

James Baldwin

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FICTION Reading, Responding, Writing

Stories are a part of daily life in every culture. Stories are what we tell when we return from vacation or survive an accident or illness. They help us make sense of growing up or growing old, of a hurricane or a war, of the country and world we live in. In conversations, a story may be invited by the listener (“What did you do last night?”) or initiated by the teller (“Guess what I saw when I was driving home!”). We assume such stories are true, or at least that they are meant to describe an experience honestly. Of course, many of the stories we encoun- ter daily, from jokes to online games to tele vi sion sitcoms to novels and fi lms, are intended to be fi ction— that is, stories or narratives about imaginary persons and events. Every story, however, whether a news story, sworn testimony, idle gossip, or a fairy tale, is always a version of events told from a par tic u lar perspective (or several), and it may be incomplete, biased, or just plain made up. As we listen to others’ stories, we keep alert to the details, which make the stories rich and enter- taining. But we also need to spend considerable time and energy making sure that we accurately interpret what we hear: We ask ourselves who is telling the story, why the story is being told, and whether we have all the information we need to understand it fully.

Even newspaper articles, which are supposed to tell true stories— the facts of what actually happened— may be open to such interpretation. Take as an example the following article, which appeared in the New York Times on January 1, 1920:

The report’s appearance in a reliable newspaper; its identifi cation of date, loca- tion, and other information; and the legalistic adjectives “accused” and “alleged”

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The Elephant in the Village of the Blind 13

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suggest that it strives to be accurate and objective. But given the distance between us and the events described here, it’s also easy to imagine this chain of events being recounted in a play, murder mystery, Hollywood fi lm, or televised trial. In other words, this news story is still fundamentally a story. Note that certain points of view are better represented than others and certain details are highlighted, as might be the case in a novel or short story. The news item is based almost entirely on what Kate Uhl asserts, and even the subtitle, “Woman Becomes Desperate,” plays up the “dramatic sequel to the woman’s dilemma.” We don’t know what Mervin Uhl said when he allegedly accused his wife and turned her out of the house, and Bryan Pownall, the murdered man, never had a chance to defend himself. Presumably, the article reports accurately the husband’s accusation of adultery and the wife’s accu- sation of rape, but we have no way of knowing whose accusations are true.

Our everyday interpretation of the stories we hear from various sources— including other people, tele vi sion, newspapers, and advertisements— has much in common with the interpretation of short stories such as those in this anthology. In fact, you’ll probably discover that the pro cesses of reading, responding to, and writ- ing about stories are already somewhat familiar to you. Most readers already know, for instance, that they should pay close attention to seemingly trivial details; they should ask questions and fi nd out more about any matters of fact that seem myste- rious, odd, or unclear. Most readers are well aware that words can have several meanings and that there are alternative ways to tell a story. How would someone else have told the story? What are the storyteller’s perspective and motives? What is the context of the tale— for instance, when is it supposed to have taken place and what was the occasion of telling it? These and other questions from our expe- rience of everyday storytelling are equally relevant in reading fi ction. Similarly, we can usually tell in reading a story or hearing it whether it is supposed to make us laugh, shock us, or provoke some other response.

TELL ING STOR IE S: INTER PR E TATION

Everyone has a unique story to tell. In fact, many stories are about this difference or divergence among people’s interpretations of reality. A number of the stories in this anthology explore issues of storytelling and interpretation.

Consider a well- known tale, “The Blind Men and the Elephant,” a Buddhist story over two thousand years old. Like other stories that have been transmitted orally, this one exists in many versions. Here’s one way of telling it:

The Elephant in the Village of the Blind

Once there was a village high in the mountains in which everyone was born blind. One day a traveler arrived from far away with many fi ne things to sell and many tales to tell. The villagers asked, “How did you travel so far and so high carry ing so much?” The traveler said, “On my elephant.” “What is an elephant?” the villagers asked, having never even heard of such an animal in their remote mountain village. “See for yourself,” the traveler replied.

The elders of the village were a little afraid of the strange- smelling creature that took up so much space in the middle of the village square. They could hear

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14 FICTION: READING, RESPONDING, WRITING

it breathing and munching on hay, and feel its slow, swaying movements dis- turbing the air around them. First one elder reached out and felt its fl apping ear. “An elephant is soft but tough, and fl exible, like a leather fan.” Another grasped its back leg. “An elephant is a rough, hairy pillar.” An old woman took hold of a tusk and gasped, “An elephant is a cool, smooth staff.” A young girl seized the tail and declared, “An elephant is a fringed rope.” A boy took hold of the trunk and announced, “An elephant is a water pipe.” Soon others were stroking its sides, which were furrowed like a dry plowed fi eld, and others determined that its head was an overturned washing tub attached to the water pipe.

At fi rst each villager argued with the others on the defi nition of the elephant, as the traveler watched in silence. Two elders were about to come to blows about a fan that could not possibly be a pillar. Meanwhile the elephant patiently enjoyed the investigations as the cries of curiosity and angry debate mixed in the afternoon sun. Soon someone suggested that a list could be made of all the parts: the elephant had four pillars, one tub, two fans, a water pipe, and two staffs, and was covered in tough, hairy leather or dried mud. Four young mothers, sitting on a bench and comparing impressions, realized that the elephant was in fact an enormous, gentle ox with a stretched nose. The traveler agreed, adding only that it was also a powerful draft horse and that if they bought some of his wares for a good price he would be sure to come that way again in the new year.

• • •

The different versions of such a tale, like the different descriptions of the ele- phant, alter its meaning. Changing any aspect of the story will inevitably change how it works and what it means to the listener or reader. For example, most ver- sions of this story feature not an entire village of blind people (as this version does), but a small group of blind men who claim to be wiser than their sighted neighbors. These blind men quarrel endlessly because none of them can see; none can put together all the evidence of all their senses or all the elephant’s various parts to create a whole. Such traditional versions of the story criticize people who are too proud of what they think they know; these versions imply that sighted people would know better what an elephant is. However, other versions of the tale, like the one above, are set in an imaginary “country” of the blind. This setting changes the emphasis of the story from the errors of a few blind wise men to the value and the insuffi ciency of any one person’s perspective. For though it’s clear that the various members of the community in this version will never agree entirely on one interpretation of (or story about) the elephant, they do not let themselves get bogged down in endless dispute. Instead they compare and combine their various stories and “readings” in order to form a more satisfying, holistic under- standing of the wonder in their midst. Similarly, listening to others’ different inter- pretations of stories, based on their different perspectives, can enhance your experience of a work of literature and your skill in responding to new works.

Just as stories vary depending on who is telling them, so their meaning varies depending on who is responding to them. In the elephant story, the villagers pay attention to what the tail or the ear feels like, and then they draw on comparisons to what they already know. But ultimately, the individual interpretations of the elephant depend on what previous experiences each villager brings to bear (of pillars, water

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pipes, oxen, and dried mud, for example), and also on where (quite literally) he or she stands in relation to the elephant. In the same way, readers participate in re- creating a story as they interpret it. When you read a story for the fi rst time, your response will be informed by other stories you have heard and read as well as your expectations for this kind of story. To grapple with what is new in any story, start by observing one part at a time and gradually trying to understand how those parts work together to form a whole. As you make sense of each new piece of the picture, you adjust your expectations about what is yet to come. When you have read and grasped it as fully as possible, you may share your interpretation with other readers, discussing different ways of seeing the story. Finally, you might express your refl ec- tive understanding in writing— in a sense, telling your story about the work.

Questions about the Elements of Fiction

• Expectations: What do you expect? ° from the title? from the fi rst sentence or paragraph? ° after the fi rst events or interactions of characters? ° as the confl ict is resolved?

• What happens in the story? (See ch. 1.) ° Do the characters or the situation change from the beginning to the end? ° Can you summarize the plot? Is it a recognizable kind or genre of story?

• How is the story narrated? (See ch. 2.) ° Is the narrator identifi ed as a character? ° Is it narrated in the past or present tense? ° Is it narrated in the fi rst, second, or third person? ° Do you know what every character is thinking, or only some characters,

or none? • Who are the characters? (See ch. 3.)

° Who is the protagonist(s) (hero, heroine)? ° Who is the antagonist(s) (villain, opponent, obstacle)? ° Who are the other characters? What is their role in the story? ° Do your expectations change with those of the characters, or do you

know more or less than each of the characters? • What is the setting of the story? (See ch. 4.)

° When does the story take place? ° Where does it take place? ° Does the story move from one setting to another? Does it move in one

direction only or back and forth in time and place? • What do you notice about how the story is written?

° What is the style of the prose? Are the sentences and the vocabulary simple or complex?

° Are there any images, fi gures of speech or symbols? (See ch. 5.) ° What is the tone or mood? Does the reader feel sad, amused, worried,

curious? • What does the story mean? Can you express its theme or themes? (See ch. 6.)

° Answers to these big questions may be found in many instances in your answers to the previous questions. The story’s meaning or theme depends on all its features.

FICTION: READING, RESPONDING, WRITING 15

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READING AND RESPONDING TO FICTION

When imaginary events are acted out onstage or onscreen, our experience of those events is that of being a witness to them. In contrast, prose fi ction, whether oral or written, is relayed to us by someone. Reading it is more like hearing what hap- pened after the fact than witnessing it before our very eyes. The teller, or narra- tor, of fi ction addresses a listener or reader, often referred to as the audience. How much or how little we know about the characters and what they say or do depends on what a narrator tells us.

You should read a story attentively, just as you would listen attentively to some- one telling a story out loud. This means limiting distractions and interruptions; you should take a break from social networking and obtrusive music. Literary prose, as well as poetry, works with the sounds as well as meanings of words, just as fi lm works with music and sound as well as images. Be prepared to mark up the text and to make notes.

While reading and writing, you should always have a good college- level diction- ary on hand so that you can look up any unfamiliar terms. In the era of the Inter- net it’s especially easy to learn more about any word or concept, and doing so can help enrich your reading and writing. Another excellent resource is the Oxford En glish Dictionary, available in the reference section of most academic libraries or on their websites, which reveals the wide range of meanings words have had over time. Words in En glish always have a long story to tell because over the centuries so many languages have contributed to our current vocabulary. It’s not uncommon for meanings to overlap or even reverse themselves.

The following short short story is a contemporary work. As in The Elephant in the Village of the Blind, this narrator gives us a minimal amount of informa- tion, merely observing the characters’ different perceptions and interpretations of things they see during a cross- country car trip. As you read the story, pay attention to your expectations, drawing on your personal experience as well as such clues as the title; the characters’ opinions, behavior, and speech; specifi cs of setting (time and place); and any repetitions or changes. When and how does the story begin to challenge and change your initial expectations? You can use the questions above to guide your reading of any story and help you focus on some of its important features.

LINDA BREWER 20/20

B y the time they reached Indiana, Bill realized that Ruthie, his driving com-panion, was incapable of theoretical debate. She drove okay, she went halves on gas, etc., but she refused to argue. She didn’t seem to know how. Bill was used to East Coast women who disputed everything he said, every step of the way. Ruthie stuck to simple observation, like “Look, cows.” He chalked it up to the fact that she was from rural Ohio and thrilled to death to be anywhere else.

She didn’t mind driving into the setting sun. The third eve ning out, Bill rested his eyes while she cruised along making the occasional announcement.

“Indian paintbrush. A golden ea gle.”

16 FICTION: READING, RESPONDING, WRITING

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Miles later he frowned. There was no Indian paintbrush, that he knew of, near Chicago.

The next eve ning, driving, Ruthie said, “I never thought I’d see a Bigfoot in real life.” Bill turned and looked at the side of the road streaming innocently out behind them. Two red spots winked back— refl ectors nailed to a tree stump.

“Ruthie, I’ll drive,” he said. She stopped the car and they changed places in the light of the eve ning star.

“I’m so glad I got to come with you,” Ruthie said. Her eyes were big, blue, and capable of seeing wonderful sights. A white buffalo near Fargo. A UFO above Twin Falls. A handsome genius in the person of Bill himself. This last vision came to her in Spokane and Bill decided to let it ride.

1996

• • •

SAMPLE WRITING: ANNOTATION AND NOTES ON “20/20”

Now re- read the story, along with the brief note one reader made in the margins, based on the questions in the box on page 15. The reader then expanded these annotations into longer, more detailed notes. These notes could be or ga nized and expanded into a response paper on the story. Some of your insights might even form the basis for a longer essay on one of the elements of the story.

5

FICTION: READING, RESPONDING, WRITING 17

20/20

By the time they reached Indiana, Bill realized that Ruthie, his

driving companion, was incapable of theoretical debate. She drove

okay, she went halves on gas, etc., but she refused to argue. She didn’t

seem to know how. Bill was used to East Coast women who disputed

everything he said, every step of the way. Ruthie stuck to simple

observation, like “Look, cows.” He chalked it up to the fact that she

was from rural Ohio and thrilled to death to be anywhere else.

She didn’t mind driving into the setting sun. The third eve ning out,

Bill rested his eyes while she cruised along making the occasional

announcement.

“Indian paintbrush. A golden ea gle.”

Miles later he frowned. There was no Indian paintbrush, that he

knew of, near Chicago.

Like “20/20 hindsight” or perfect vision? Also like the way Bill and Ruthie go 50/50 on the trip, and see things in two different ways.

Bill’s doubts about Ruthie. Is he reliable? Does she “refuse” or not “know how” to argue? What’s her view of him?

Bill’s keeping score; maybe Ruthie’s nicer, or has better eyesight. She notices things.

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Initial Impressions Plot: begins in the middle of action, on a journey. Narration: past tense, third person. Setting: Indiana is a middling, unromantic place.

Paragraph 1 Narration and Character: Bill’s judgments of Ruthie show that he prides himself on arguing about abstract ideas; that he thinks Ruthie must be stupid; that they didn’t know each other well and aren’t suited for a long trip together. Bill is from the unfriendly East Coast; Ruthie, from easy going, dull “rural Ohio.” Style: The casual language—“okay” and “etc.”— sounds like Bill’s voice, but he’s not the narrator. The vague “etc.” hints that Bill isn’t really curious about her. The observation of cows sounds funny, childlike, even stupid. But why does he have to “chalk it up” or keep score?

Paragraph 2 Plot and Character: This is the fi rst specifi c time given in the story, the “third eve ning”: Ruthie surprises the reader and Bill with more than dull “observation.”

Paragraph 4 Style, Character, Setting, and Tone: Dozing in the speeding car, Bill is too late to check out what she says. He frowns (he doesn’t argue) because the plant and the bird can’t be seen in the Midwest. Brewer uses a series of place names to indicate the route of the car. There’s humor in Ruthie’s habit of pointing out bizarre sights.

18 FICTION: READING, RESPONDING, WRITING

The next eve ning, driving, Ruthie said, “I never thought I’d see a

Bigfoot in real life.” Bill turned and looked at the side of the road

streaming innocently out behind them. Two red spots winked back—

refl ectors nailed to a tree stump.

“Ruthie, I’ll drive,” he said. She stopped the car and they changed

places in the light of the eve ning star.

“I’m so glad I got to come with you,” Ruthie said. Her eyes were big,

blue, and capable of seeing wonderful sights. A white buffalo near

Fargo. A UFO above Twin Falls. A handsome genius in the person of

Bill himself. This last vision came to her in Spokane and Bill decided

to let it ride.

Repetition, like a folk tale: 2nd

sunset drive, 3rd time she speaks.

Not much dialogue in story.

Bill’s only speech. Turning point: Bill

sees something he doesn’t already

know.

Repetition, like a joke, in 3 things

Ruthie sees.

Story begins and ends in the middle

of things: “By the time,” “let it ride.”

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R E ADING AN D R E SPON DING TO GR APHIC F IC TION

You may approach any kind of narrative with the same kinds of questions that have been applied to 20/20. Try it on the following chapter of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. This best-selling graphic novel, or graphic memoir, originally written in French and now a successful fi lm, relates Satrapi’s own experience as a girl in Iran through her artwork and words. Persepolis begins with a portrait of ten- year- old Satrapi, wearing a black veil, in 1980. The Islamic leaders of Iran had recently imposed religious law, including mandatory head coverings for schoolgirls. On September 22, 1980, Iraq invaded Iran, beginning a confl ict that lasted until 1988, greatly affecting Satrapi’s childhood in Tehran (once known as Persepolis). The Iran- Iraq War was a precursor of the Persian Gulf War of 1990– 91 and the Iraq War, or Second Gulf War, that began in 2003.

This excerpt resembles an illustrated short story, though it is closely based on actual events. How do the images contribute to expectations, narration (here, tell- ing and showing), characterization, plot, setting, style, and themes? Read (and view) with these questions in mind and a pencil in hand. Annotating or taking notes will guide you to a more refl ective response.

Paragraph 5 Character and Setting: Bigfoot is a legendary monster living in Western forests. Is Ruthie’s imagination getting the better of Bill’s logic? “Innocently” personifi es the road, and the refl ectors on the stump wink like the monster; Bill is fi nally looking (though in hindsight). The scenery seems to be playing a joke on him.

Paragraph 6 Plot and Character: Here the characters change places. He wants to drive (is she hallucinating?), but it’s as if she has won. The narration (which has been relying on Bill’s voice and perspective) for the fi rst time notices a romantic detail of scenery that Ruthie doesn’t point out (the eve ning star).

Paragraph 7 Character and Theme: Bill begins to see Ruthie and what she is capable of. What they see is the journey these characters take toward falling in love, in the West where things become unreal. Style: The long “o” sounds and images in “A white buffalo near Fargo. A UFO above Twin Falls” (along with the words Ohio, Chicago, and Spokane) give a feeling for the wildness (notice the Indian place names). The outcome of the story is that they go far to Fargo, see double and fall in love at Twin Falls— see and imagine wonderful things in each other. They end up with perfectly matched vision.

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MARJANE SATRAPI (b. 1969) The Shabbat

As the granddaughter of Nasreddine Shah, the last Quadjar emperor of Iran, Iranian- born Marjane Satrapi is a princess by birth and a self- declared paci- fi st by inclination. Only ten years old at the time of the 1979 Islamist revolution, she was reportedly expelled at age fourteen from her French- language

school after hitting a principal who demanded she stop wearing jewelry. Fearing for her safety, Satrapi’s secularist parents sent her to Vienna, Austria, where she would remain until age eighteen, when she returned to Iran to attend college. After a brief marriage ended in divorce, Satrapi moved to France in 1994, where her graphic memoir, Persepo- lis, was published to great acclaim in 2000. Subsequently translated into numerous languages, it appeared in the United States as Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (2003) and Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return (2004). A 2007 animated movie version was nominated for an Academy Award in 2008. Satrapi’s other works are Embroideries (2005), which explores Ira ni an women’s views of sex and love through a conversation among Satrapi’s female relatives; Chicken with Plums (2006), which tells the story of both the 1953 CIA- backed Ira ni an coup d’état and the last days of Satrapi’s great- uncle, a musician who committed suicide; and several children’s books.

20 FICTION: READING, RESPONDING, WRITING

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Shabbat: sabbath (Hebrew).

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The Shah: the shah, or king, of Iran was deposed in 1979, the beginning of what was soon known as the Islamic Revolution under the leadership of Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini (1900– 89). An ayatollah is a high- ranking cleric in the Shia branch of Islam to which most Ira ni ans adhere.

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2000

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KEY CONCEPTS

As you read, respond to, and write about fi ction, some key terms and concepts may be useful in comparing or distinguishing different kinds of stories. Stories may be oral rather than written down, and they may be of different lengths. They may be based on true stories or completely invented. They may be written in verse rather than prose, or they may be created in media other than the printed page.

STORY AND NARR ATIVE

Generally speaking, a story is a short account of an incident or series of incidents, whether actual or invented. The word is often used to refer to an entertaining tale of imaginary people and events, but it is also used in phrases like “the story of my life”— suggesting a true account. The term narrative is especially useful as a gen- eral concept for the substance rather than the form of what is told about persons and their actions. A story or a tale is usually short, whereas a narrative may be of any length from a sentence to a series of novels and beyond.

Narratives in Daily Life

Narrative plays an important role in our lives beyond the telling of fi ctional stories. Consider the following:

• Today, sociologists and historians may collect personal narratives to present an account of society and everyday life in a certain time or place.

• Since the 1990s, the practice of narrative medicine has spread as an improved technique of diagnosis and treatment that takes into account the patient’s point of view.

• There is a movement to encourage mediation rather than litigation in divorce cases. A mediator may collaborate with the couple in arriving at a shared perspective on the divorce; in a sense, they try to agree on the story of their marriage and how it ended.

• Some countries have attempted to recover from the trauma of genocidal eth- nic confl ict through offi cial hearings of testimony by victims as well as defen- dants. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is an example of this use of stories.

OR AL NARR ATIVE AND TALES

We tend to think of stories in their written form, but many of the stories that we now regard as among the world’s greatest, such as Homer’s Iliad and the Old En glish epic Beowulf, were sung or recited by generations of storytellers before being written down. Just as rumors change shape as they circulate, oral stories tend to be more fl uid than printed stories. Traditionally oral tales such as fairy tales or folktales may endure for a very long time yet take different forms in vari-

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ous countries and eras. And it’s often diffi cult or impossible to trace such a story back to a single “author” or creator. In a sense, then, an oral story is the creation of a whole community or communities, just as oral storytelling tends to be a more communal event than reading.

Certain recognizable signals set a story or tale apart from common speech and encourage us to pay a different kind of attention. Children know that a story is beginning when they hear or read “Once upon a time . . . ,” and traditional oral storytellers have formal ways to set up a tale, such as Su- num- twee (“listen to me”), as Spokane storytellers say. “And they lived happily ever after,” or simply “The End,” may similarly indicate when the story is over. Such conventions have been adapted since the invention of printing and the spread of literacy.

F IC TION AN D NON FIC TION

The word fi ction comes from the Latin root fi ngere ‘to fashion or form.’ The earli- est defi nitions concern the act of making something artifi cial to imitate something else. In the past two centuries, fi ction has become more narrowly defi ned as “prose narrative about imaginary people and events,” the main meaning of the word as we use it in this anthology.

Genres of Prose Fiction by Length

A novel is a work of prose fi ction of about forty thousand words or more. The form arose in the seventeenth and early eigh teenth centuries as prose romances and adventure tales began to adopt techniques of history and travel narrative as well as memoir, letters, and biography.

A novella is a work of prose fi ction of about seventeen thousand to forty thousand words. The novella form was especially favored between about 1850 and 1950, largely because it can be more tightly controlled and con- centrated than a long novel, while focusing on the inner workings of a character.

A short story is broadly defi ned as anywhere between one thousand and twenty thousand words. One expectation of a short story is that it may be read in a single sitting. The modern short story developed in the mid- nineteenth century, in part because of the growing popularity of magazines.

A short short story, sometimes called “fl ash fi ction” or “micro- fi ction,” is generally not much longer than one thousand words and sometimes much shorter. There have always been very short fi ctions, including parables and fables, but the short short story is an invention of recent de cades.

30 FICTION: READING, RESPONDING, WRITING

In contrast with fi ction, nonfi ction usually refers to factual prose narrative. Some major nonfi ction genres are history, biography, and autobiography. In fi lm, documentaries and “biopics,” or biographical feature fi lms, similarly attempt to

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represent real people, places, and events. The boundary between fi ction and non- fi ction is often blurred today, as it was centuries ago. So- called true crime novels such as Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (1966) and novelized biographies such as Colm Tóibín’s The Master (2004), about the life of the novelist Henry James, use the techniques of fi ction writing to narrate actual events. Graphic novels, with a format derived from comic books, have become an increasingly pop u lar medium for memoirs. (Two examples are Art Spiegelman’s Maus [1986, 1991] and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis.) Some Hollywood movies and TV shows dramatize real people in everyday situations or contexts, or real events such as the assassination of Presi- dent John F. Kennedy. In contrast, historical fi ction, developed by Sir Walter Scott around 1815, comprises prose narratives that present history in imaginative ways. Such works of prose fi ction adhere closely to the facts of history and actual lives, just as many “true” life stories are more or less fi ctionalized.

• • •

The fi ction chapters in this volume present a collection of prose works— mostly short stories— almost all of which were printed within the author’s lifetime. Even as you read the short prose fi ction in this book, bear in mind the many ways we encounter stories or narrative in everyday life, and consider the almost limitless variety of forms that fi ction may take.

WRITING ABOUT FICTION

During your fi rst reading of any story, you may want to read without stopping to address each of the questions on page 15. After you have read the whole piece once, re- read it carefully, using the questions as a guide. It’s always interesting to compare your initial reactions with your later ones. In fact, a paper may focus on comparing the expectations of readers (and characters) at the beginning of a story to their later conclusions. Responses to fi ction may come in unpredictable order, so feel free to address the questions as they arise. Looking at how the story is told and what happens to which characters may lead to observations on expectations or setting. Consideration of setting and style can help explain the personalities, actions, mood, and effect of the story, which can lead to well- informed ideas about the meaning of the whole. But any one of the questions, pursued further, can serve as the focus of more formal writing.

Following this chapter are three written responses to Raymond Carver’s short story Cathedral. First, read the story and make notes on any features that you fi nd interesting, important, or confusing. Then look at the notes and response paper by Wesley Rupton and the essay by Bethany Qualls, which show two different ways of writing about “Cathedral.”

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RAYMOND CARVER (1938 – 88) Cathedral

Born in the logging town of Clatskanie, Oregon, to a  working- class family, Raymond Carver married at  nineteen and had two children by the time he was twenty- one. Despite these early responsibilities and a lifelong struggle with alcoholism, Carver pub- lished his fi rst story in 1961 and graduated from

Humboldt State College in 1963. He published his fi rst book, Near Klamath, a collec- tion of poems, in 1968 and thereafter supported himself with visiting lectureships at the University of California at Berkeley, Syracuse University, and the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, among other institutions. Described by the New York Times as “surely the most infl uential writer of American short stories in the second half of the twentieth century”; credited by others with “reviving what was once thought of as a dying literary form”; and compared to such literary luminaries as Ernest Hemingway, Stephen Crane, and Anton Chekhov, Carver often portrays characters whom one reviewer describes as living, much as Carver long did, “on the edge: of poverty, alcoholic self- destruction, loneli- ness.” The author himself labeled them the sort of “good people,” “doing the best they could,” who “fi lled” America. Dubbed a “minimalist” due to his spare style and low- key plots, Carver himself suffered an early death, of lung cancer, at age fi fty. His major short- story collections include Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? (1976), What We Talk about When We Talk about Love (1983), and the posthumously published Call if You Need Me (2001).

This blind man, an old friend of my wife’s, he was on his way to spend the night. His wife had died. So he was visiting the dead wife’s relatives in Con- necticut. He called my wife from his in- laws’. Arrangements were made. He would come by train, a fi ve- hour trip, and my wife would meet him at the sta- tion. She hadn’t seen him since she worked for him one summer in Seattle ten years ago. But she and the blind man had kept in touch. They made tapes and mailed them back and forth. I wasn’t enthusiastic about his visit. He was no one I knew. And his being blind bothered me. My idea of blindness came from the movies. In the movies, the blind moved slowly and never laughed. Some- times they were led by seeing- eye dogs. A blind man in my house was not something I looked forward to.

That summer in Seattle she had needed a job. She didn’t have any money. The man she was going to marry at the end of the summer was in offi cers’ train- ing school. He didn’t have any money, either. But she was in love with the guy, and he was in love with her, etc. She’d seen something in the paper: help wanted—Reading to Blind Man, and a telephone number. She phoned and went over, was hired on the spot. She’d worked with this blind man all summer.

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She read stuff to him, case studies, reports, that sort of thing. She helped him or ga nize his little offi ce in the county social- service department. They’d become good friends, my wife and the blind man. How do I know these things? She told me. And she told me something else. On her last day in the offi ce, the blind man asked if he could touch her face. She agreed to this. She told me he touched his fi ngers to every part of her face, her nose— even her neck! She never forgot it. She even tried to write a poem about it. She was always trying to write a poem. She wrote a poem or two every year, usually after something really impor- tant had happened to her.

When we fi rst started going out together, she showed me the poem. In the poem, she recalled his fi ngers and the way they had moved around over her face. In the poem, she talked about what she had felt at the time, about what went through her mind when the blind man touched her nose and lips. I can remember I didn’t think much of the poem. Of course, I didn’t tell her that. Maybe I just don’t understand poetry. I admit it’s not the fi rst thing I reach for when I pick up something to read.

Anyway, this man who’d fi rst enjoyed her favors, the offi cer- to- be, he’d been her childhood sweetheart. So okay. I’m saying that at the end of the summer she let the blind man run his hands over her face, said goodbye to him, married her childhood etc., who was now a commissioned offi cer, and she moved away from Seattle. But they’d kept in touch, she and the blind man. She made the fi rst contact after a year or so. She called him up one night from an Air Force base in Alabama. She wanted to talk. They talked. He asked her to send him a tape and tell him about her life. She did this. She sent the tape. On the tape, she told the blind man about her husband and about their life together in the military. She told the blind man she loved her husband but she didn’t like it where they lived and she didn’t like it that he was a part of the military- industrial thing. She told the blind man she’d written a poem and he was in it. She told him that she was writing a poem about what it was like to be an Air Force offi cer’s wife. The poem wasn’t fi nished yet. She was still writing it. The blind man made a tape. He sent her the tape. She made a tape. This went on for years. My wife’s offi cer was posted to one base and then another. She sent tapes from Moody AFB, McGuire, McConnell, and fi nally Travis, near Sacramento, where one night she got to feeling lonely and cut off from people she kept losing in that moving- around life. She got to feeling she couldn’t go it another step. She went in and swallowed all the pills and capsules in the medicine chest and washed them down with a bottle of gin. Then she got into a hot bath and passed out.

But instead of dying, she got sick. She threw up. Her offi cer— why should he have a name? he was the childhood sweetheart, and what more does he want?— came home from somewhere, found her, and called the ambulance. In time, she put it all on a tape and sent the tape to the blind man. Over the years, she put all kinds of stuff on tapes and sent the tapes off lickety- split. Next to writing a poem every year, I think it was her chief means of recreation. On one tape, she told the blind man she’d decided to live away from her offi cer for a time. On another tape, she told him about her divorce. She and I began going out, and of course she told her blind man about it. She told him every-

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thing, or so it seemed to me. Once she asked me if I’d like to hear the latest tape from the blind man. This was a year ago. I was on the tape, she said. So I said okay, I’d listen to it. I got us drinks and we settled down in the living room. We made ready to listen. First she inserted the tape into the player and adjusted a couple of dials. Then she pushed a lever. The tape squeaked and someone began to talk in this loud voice. She lowered the volume. After a few minutes of harmless chitchat, I heard my own name in the mouth of this stranger, this blind man I didn’t even know! And then this: “From all you’ve said about him, I can only conclude—” But we were interrupted, a knock at the door, something, and we didn’t ever get back to the tape. Maybe it was just as well. I’d heard all I wanted to.

Now this same blind man was coming to sleep in my house. “Maybe I could take him bowling,” I said to my wife. She was at the draining

board doing scalloped potatoes. She put down the knife she was using and turned around.

“If you love me,” she said, “you can do this for me. If you don’t love me, okay. But if you had a friend, any friend, and the friend came to visit, I’d make him feel comfortable.” She wiped her hands with the dish towel.

“I don’t have any blind friends,” I said. “You don’t have any friends,” she said. “Period. Besides,” she said, “goddamn

it, his wife’s just died! Don’t you understand that? The man’s lost his wife!” I didn’t answer. She’d told me a little about the blind man’s wife. Her name

was Beulah. Beulah! That’s a name for a colored woman. “Was his wife a Negro?” I asked. “Are you crazy?” my wife said. “Have you just fl ipped or something?” She

picked up a potato. I saw it hit the fl oor, then roll under the stove. “What’s wrong with you?” she said. “Are you drunk?”

“I’m just asking,” I said. Right then my wife fi lled me in with more detail than I cared to know. I

made a drink and sat at the kitchen table to listen. Pieces of the story began to fall into place.

Beulah had gone to work for the blind man the summer after my wife had stopped working for him. Pretty soon Beulah and the blind man had themselves a church wedding. It was a little wedding— who’d want to go to such a wedding in the fi rst place?— just the two of them, plus the minister and the minister’s wife. But it was a church wedding just the same. It was what Beulah had wanted, he’d said. But even then Beulah must have been carry ing the cancer in her glands. After they had been inseparable for eight years— my wife’s word, inseparable— Beulah’s health went into a rapid decline. She died in a Seattle hospital room, the blind man sitting beside the bed and holding on to her hand. They’d married, lived and worked together, slept together— had sex, sure— and then the blind man had to bury her. All this without his having ever seen what the goddamned woman looked like. It was beyond my understanding. Hearing this, I felt sorry for the blind man for a little bit. And then I found myself thinking what a pitiful life this woman must have led. Imagine a woman who could never see herself as she was seen in the eyes of her loved one. A woman who could go on day after day and never receive the smallest compliment from her beloved. A

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woman whose husband could never read the expression on her face, be it misery or something better. Someone who could wear makeup or not— what difference to him? She could, if she wanted, wear green eye- shadow around one eye, a straight pin in her nostril, yellow slacks and purple shoes, no matter. And then to slip off into death, the blind man’s hand on her hand, his blind eyes stream- ing tears— I’m imagining now— her last thought maybe this: that he never even knew what she looked like, and she on an express to the grave. Robert was left with a small insurance policy and half of a twenty- peso Mexican coin. The other half of the coin went into the box with her. Pathetic.

So when the time rolled around, my wife went to the depot to pick him up. With nothing to do but wait— sure, I blamed him for that— I was having a drink and watching the TV when I heard the car pull into the drive. I got up from the sofa with my drink and went to the window to have a look.

I saw my wife laughing as she parked the car. I saw her get out of the car and shut the door. She was still wearing a smile. Just amazing. She went around to the other side of the car to where the blind man was already starting to get out. This blind man, feature this, he was wearing a full beard! A beard on a blind man! Too much, I say. The blind man reached into the back seat and dragged out a suitcase. My wife took his arm, shut the car door, and, talking all the way, moved him down the drive and then up the steps to the front porch. I turned off the TV. I fi nished my drink, rinsed the glass, dried my hands. Then I went to the door.

My wife said, “I want you to meet Robert. Robert, this is my husband. I’ve told you all about him.” She was beaming. She had this blind man by his coat sleeve.

The blind man let go of his suitcase and up came his hand. I took it. He squeezed hard, held my hand, and then he let it go. “I feel like we’ve already met,” he boomed. “Likewise,” I said. I didn’t know what else to say. Then I said, “Welcome. I’ve

heard a lot about you.” We began to move then, a little group, from the porch into the living room, my wife guiding him by the arm. The blind man was carry- ing his suitcase in his other hand. My wife said things like, “To your left here, Robert. That’s right. Now watch it, there’s a chair. That’s it. Sit down right here. This is the sofa. We just bought this sofa two weeks ago.”

I started to say something about the old sofa. I’d liked that old sofa. But I didn’t say anything. Then I wanted to say something else, small- talk, about the scenic ride along the Hudson. How going to New York, you should sit on the right- hand side of the train, and coming from New York, the left- hand side.

“Did you have a good train ride?” I said. “Which side of the train did you sit on, by the way?”

“What a question, which side!” my wife said. “What’s it matter which side?” she said.

“I just asked,” I said. “Right side,” the blind man said. “I hadn’t been on a train in nearly forty years.

Not since I was a kid. With my folks. That’s been a long time. I’d nearly forgotten the sensation. I have winter in my beard now,” he said. “So I’ve been told, any- way. Do I look distinguished, my dear?” the blind man said to my wife.

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“You look distinguished, Robert,” she said. “Robert,” she said. “Robert, it’s just so good to see you.”

My wife fi nally took her eyes off the blind man and looked at me. I had the feeling she didn’t like what she saw. I shrugged.

I’ve never met, or personally known, anyone who was blind. This blind man was late forties, a heavy- set, balding man with stooped shoulders, as if he car- ried a great weight there. He wore brown slacks, brown shoes, a light- brown shirt, a tie, a sports coat. Spiffy. He also had this full beard. But he didn’t use a cane and he didn’t wear dark glasses. I’d always thought dark glasses were a must for the blind. Fact was, I wished he had a pair. At fi rst glance, his eyes looked like anyone else’s eyes. But if you looked close, there was something dif- ferent about them. Too much white in the iris, for one thing, and the pupils seemed to move around in the sockets without his knowing it or being able to stop it. Creepy. As I stared at his face, I saw the left pupil turn in toward his nose while the other made an effort to keep in one place. But it was only an effort, for that eye was on the roam without his knowing it or wanting it to be.

I said, “Let me get you a drink. What’s your plea sure? We have a little of everything. It’s one of our pastimes.”

“Bub, I’m a Scotch man myself,” he said fast enough in this big voice. “Right,” I said. Bub! “Sure you are. I knew it.” He let his fi ngers touch his suitcase, which was sitting alongside the sofa. He

was taking his bearings. I didn’t blame him for that. “I’ll move that up to your room,” my wife said. “No, that’s fi ne,” the blind man said loudly. “It can go up when I go up.” “A little water with the Scotch?” I said. “Very little,” he said. “I knew it,” I said. He said, “Just a tad. The Irish actor, Barry Fitzgerald? I’m like that fellow.

When I drink water, Fitzgerald said, I drink water. When I drink whiskey, I drink whiskey.” My wife laughed. The blind man brought his hand up under his beard. He lifted his beard slowly and let it drop.

I did the drinks, three big glasses of Scotch with a splash of water in each. Then we made ourselves comfortable and talked about Robert’s travels. First the long fl ight from the West Coast to Connecticut, we covered that. Then from Connecti- cut up here by train. We had another drink concerning that leg of the trip.

I remembered having read somewhere that the blind didn’t smoke because, as speculation had it, they couldn’t see the smoke they exhaled. I thought I knew that much and that much only about blind people. But this blind man smoked his cigarette down to the nubbin and then lit another one. This blind man fi lled his ashtray and my wife emptied it.

When we sat down at the table for dinner, we had another drink. My wife heaped Robert’s plate with cube steak, scalloped potatoes, green beans. I but- tered him up two slices of bread. I said, “Here’s bread and butter for you.” I swallowed some of my drink. “Now let us pray,” I said, and the blind man low- ered his head. My wife looked at me, her mouth agape. “Pray the phone won’t ring and the food doesn’t get cold,” I said.

We dug in. We ate everything there was to eat on the table. We ate like there was no tomorrow. We didn’t talk. We ate. We scarfed. We grazed that table. We

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were into serious eating. The blind man had right away located his foods, he knew just where everything was on his plate. I watched with admiration as he used his knife and fork on the meat. He’d cut two pieces of meat, fork the meat into his mouth, and then go all out for the scalloped potatoes, the beans next, and then he’d tear off a hunk of buttered bread and eat that. He’d follow this up with a big drink of milk. It didn’t seem to bother him to use his fi ngers once in a while, either.

We fi nished everything, including half a strawberry pie. For a few moments, we sat as if stunned. Sweat beaded on our faces. Finally, we got up from the table and left the dirty plates. We didn’t look back. We took ourselves into the living room and sank into our places again. Robert and my wife sat on the sofa. I took the big chair. We had us two or three more drinks while they talked about the major things that had come to pass for them in the past ten years. For the most part, I just listened. Now and then I joined in. I didn’t want him to think I’d left the room, and I didn’t want her to think I was feel- ing left out. They talked of things that had happened to them— to them!— these past ten years. I waited in vain to hear my name on my wife’s sweet lips: “And then my dear husband came into my life”— something like that. But I heard nothing of the sort. More talk of Robert. Robert had done a little of everything, it seemed, a regular blind jack- of- all- trades. But most recently he and his wife had had an Amway distributorship, from which, I gathered, they’d earned their living, such as it was. The blind man was also a ham radio opera- tor. He talked in his loud voice about conversations he’d had with fellow oper- ators in Guam, in the Philippines, in Alaska, and even in Tahiti. He said he’d have a lot of friends there if he ever wanted to go visit those places. From time to time, he’d turn his blind face toward me, put his hand under his beard, ask me something. How long had I been in my present position? (Three years.) Did I like my work? (I didn’t.) Was I going to stay with it? (What were the options?) Finally, when I thought he was beginning to run down, I got up and turned on the TV.

My wife looked at me with irritation. She was heading toward a boil. Then she looked at the blind man and said, “Robert, do you have a TV?”

The blind man said, “My dear, I have two TVs. I have a color set and a black- and- white thing, an old relic. It’s funny, but if I turn the TV on, and I’m always turning it on, I turn on the color set. It’s funny, don’t you think?”

I didn’t know what to say to that. I had absolutely nothing to say to that. No opinion. So I watched the news program and tried to listen to what the announcer was saying.

“This is a color TV,” the blind man said. “Don’t ask me how, but I can tell.” “We traded up a while ago,” I said. The blind man had another taste of his drink. He lifted his beard, sniffed it,

and let it fall. He leaned forward on the sofa. He positioned his ashtray on the coffee table, then put the lighter to his cigarette. He leaned back on the sofa and crossed his legs at the ankles.

My wife covered her mouth, and then she yawned. She stretched. She said, “I think I’ll go upstairs and put on my robe. I think I’ll change into something else. Robert, you make yourself comfortable,” she said.

“I’m comfortable,” the blind man said.

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“I want you to feel comfortable in this house,” she said. “I am comfortable,” the blind man said.

After she’d left the room, he and I listened to the weather report and then to the sports roundup. By that time, she’d been gone so long I didn’t know if she was going to come back. I thought she might have gone to bed. I wished she’d come back downstairs. I didn’t want to be left alone with a blind man. I asked him if he wanted another drink, and he said sure. Then I asked if he wanted to smoke some dope with me. I said I’d just rolled a number. I hadn’t, but I planned to do so in about two shakes.

“I’ll try some with you,” he said. “Damn right,” I said. “That’s the stuff.” I got our drinks and sat down on the sofa with him. Then I rolled us two fat

numbers. I lit one and passed it. I brought it to his fi ngers. He took it and inhaled. “Hold it as long as you can,” I said. I could tell he didn’t know the fi rst thing. My wife came back downstairs wearing her pink robe and her pink slippers. “What do I smell?” she said. “We thought we’d have us some cannabis,” I said. My wife gave me a savage look. Then she looked at the blind man and said,

“Robert, I didn’t know you smoked.” He said, “I do now, my dear. There’s a fi rst time for everything. But I don’t

feel anything yet.” “This stuff is pretty mellow,” I said. “This stuff is mild. It’s dope you can

reason with,” I said. “It doesn’t mess you up.” “Not much it doesn’t, bub,” he said, and laughed. My wife sat on the sofa between the blind man and me. I passed her the

number. She took it and toked and then passed it back to me. “Which way is this going?” she said. Then she said, “I shouldn’t be smoking this. I can hardly keep my eyes open as it is. That dinner did me in. I shouldn’t have eaten so much.”

“It was the strawberry pie,” the blind man said. “That’s what did it,” he said, and he laughed his big laugh. Then he shook his head.

“There’s more strawberry pie,” I said. “Do you want some more, Robert?” my wife said. “Maybe in a little while,” he said. We gave our attention to the TV. My wife yawned again. She said, “Your

bed is made up when you feel like going to bed, Robert. I know you must have had a long day. When you’re ready to go to bed, say so.” She pulled his arm. “Robert?”

He came to and said, “I’ve had a real nice time. This beats tapes, doesn’t it?” I said, “Coming at you,” and I put the number between his fi ngers. He

inhaled, held the smoke, and then let it go. It was like he’d been doing it since he was nine years old.

“Thanks, bub,” he said. “But I think this is all for me. I think I’m beginning to feel it,” he said. He held the burning roach out for my wife.

“Same here,” she said. “Ditto. Me, too.” She took the roach and passed it to me. “I may just sit here for a while between you two guys with my eyes closed.

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But don’t let me bother you, okay? Either one of you. If it bothers you, say so. Otherwise, I may just sit here with my eyes closed until you’re ready to go to bed,” she said. “Your bed’s made up, Robert, when you’re ready. It’s right next to our room at the top of the stairs. We’ll show you up when you’re ready. You wake me up now, you guys, if I fall asleep.” She said that and then she closed her eyes and went to sleep.

The news program ended. I got up and changed the channel. I sat back down on the sofa. I wished my wife hadn’t pooped out. Her head lay across the back of the sofa, her mouth open. She’d turned so that her robe had slipped away from her legs, exposing a juicy thigh. I reached to draw her robe back over her, and it was then that I glanced at the blind man. What the hell! I fl ipped the robe open again.

“You say when you want some strawberry pie,” I said. “I will,” he said. I said, “Are you tired? Do you want me to take you up to your bed? Are you

ready to hit the hay?” “Not yet,” he said. “No, I’ll stay up with you, bub. If that’s all right. I’ll stay up

until you’re ready to turn in. We haven’t had a chance to talk. Know what I mean? I feel like me and her monopolized the eve ning.” He lifted his beard and he let it fall. He picked up his cigarettes and his lighter.

“That’s all right,” I said. Then I said, “I’m glad for the company.” And I guess I was. Every night I smoked dope and stayed up as long as I

could before I fell asleep. My wife and I hardly ever went to bed at the same time. When I did go to sleep, I had these dreams. Sometimes I’d wake up from one of them, my heart going crazy.

Something about the church and the Middle Ages was on the TV. Not your run- of- the- mill TV fare. I wanted to watch something else. I turned to the other channels. But there was nothing on them, either. So I turned back to the fi rst channel and apologized.

“Bub, it’s all right,” the blind man said. “It’s fi ne with me. What ever you want to watch is okay. I’m always learning something. Learning never ends. It won’t hurt me to learn something to night. I got ears,” he said.

We didn’t say anything for a time. He was leaning forward with his head turned at me, his right ear aimed in the direction of the set. Very disconcerting. Now and then his eyelids drooped and then they snapped open again. Now and then he put his fi ngers into his beard and tugged, like he was thinking about some- thing he was hearing on the tele vi sion.

On the screen, a group of men wearing cowls was being set upon and tor- mented by men dressed in skeleton costumes and men dressed as dev ils. The men dressed as dev ils wore dev il masks, horns, and long tails. This pageant was part of a pro cession. The En glishman who was narrating the thing said it took place in Spain once a year. I tried to explain to the blind man what was happening.

“Skeletons,” he said. “I know about skeletons,” he said, and he nodded. The TV showed this one cathedral. Then there was a long, slow look at

another one. Finally, the picture switched to the famous one in Paris, with its

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fl ying buttresses and its spires reaching up to the clouds. The camera pulled away to show the whole of the cathedral rising above the skyline.

There were times when the En glishman who was telling the thing would shut up, would simply let the camera move around over the cathedrals. Or else the camera would tour the countryside, men in fi elds walking behind oxen. I waited as long as I could. Then I felt I had to say something. I said, “They’re showing the outside of this cathedral now. Gargoyles. Little statues carved to look like monsters. Now I guess they’re in Italy. Yeah, they’re in Italy. There’s paintings on the walls of this one church.”

“Are those fresco paintings, bub?” he asked, and he sipped from his drink. I reached for my glass. But it was empty. I tried to remember what I could

remember. “You’re asking me are those frescoes?” I said. “That’s a good ques- tion. I don’t know.”

The camera moved to a cathedral outside Lisbon. The differences in the Portuguese cathedral compared with the French and Italian were not that great. But they were there. Mostly the interior stuff. Then something occurred to me, and I said, “Something has occurred to me. Do you have any idea what a cathedral is? What they look like, that is? Do you follow me? If somebody says cathedral to you, do you have any notion what they’re talking about? Do you know the difference between that and a Baptist church, say?”

He let the smoke dribble from his mouth. “I know they took hundreds of workers fi fty or a hundred years to build,” he said. “I just heard the man say that, of course. I know generations of the same families worked on a cathedral. I heard him say that, too. The men who began their life’s work on them, they never lived to see the completion of their work. In that wise, bub, they’re no dif- ferent from the rest of us, right?” He laughed. Then his eyelids drooped again. His head nodded. He seemed to be snoozing. Maybe he was imagining himself in Portugal. The TV was showing another cathedral now. This one was in Ger- many. The En glishman’s voice droned on. “Cathedrals,” the blind man said. He sat up and rolled his head back and forth. “If you want the truth, bub, that’s about all I know. What I just said. What I heard him say. But maybe you could describe one to me? I wish you’d do it. I’d like that. If you want to know, I really don’t have a good idea.”

I stared hard at the shot of the cathedral on the TV. How could I even begin to describe it? But say my life depended on it. Say my life was being threatened by an insane guy who said I had to do it or else.

I stared some more at the cathedral before the picture fl ipped off into the countryside. There was no use. I turned to the blind man and said, “To begin with, they’re very tall.” I was looking around the room for clues. “They reach way up. Up and up. Toward the sky. They’re so big, some of them, they have to have these supports. To help hold them up, so to speak. These supports are called buttresses. They remind me of viaducts, for some reason. But maybe you don’t know viaducts, either? Sometimes the cathedrals have dev ils and such carved into the front. Sometimes lords and ladies. Don’t ask me why this is,” I said.

He was nodding. The whole upper part of his body seemed to be moving back and forth.

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RAYMOND CARVER Cathedral 41

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“I’m not doing so good, am I?” I said. He stopped nodding and leaned forward on the edge of the sofa. As he lis-

tened to me, he was running his fi ngers through his beard. I wasn’t getting through to him, I could see that. But he waited for me to go on just the same. He nodded, like he was trying to encourage me. I tried to think what else to say. “They’re really big,” I said. “They’re massive. They’re built of stone. Marble, too, sometimes. In those olden days, when they built cathedrals, men wanted to be close to God. In those olden days, God was an important part of everyone’s life. You could tell this from their cathedral- building. I’m sorry,” I said, “but it looks like that’s the best I can do for you. I’m just no good at it.”

“That’s all right, bub,” the blind man said. “Hey, listen. I hope you don’t mind my asking you. Can I ask you something? Let me ask you a simple question, yes or no. I’m just curious and there’s no offense. You’re my host. But let me ask if you are in any way religious? You don’t mind my asking?”

I shook my head. He couldn’t see that, though. A wink is the same as a nod to a blind man. “I guess I don’t believe in it. In anything. Sometimes it’s hard. You know what I’m saying?”

“Sure, I do,” he said. “Right,” I said. The En glishman was still holding forth. My wife sighed in her sleep. She

drew a long breath and went on with her sleeping. “You’ll have to forgive me,” I said. “But I can’t tell you what a cathedral looks

like. It just isn’t in me to do it. I can’t do any more than I’ve done.” The blind man sat very still, his head down, as he listened to me. I said, “The truth is, cathedrals don’t mean anything special to me. Noth-

ing. Cathedrals. They’re something to look at on late- night TV. That’s all they are.”

It was then that the blind man cleared his throat. He brought something up. He took a handkerchief from his back pocket. Then he said, “I get it, bub. It’s okay. It happens. Don’t worry about it,” he said. “Hey, listen to me. Will you do me a favor? I got an idea. Why don’t you fi nd us some heavy paper? And a pen. We’ll do something. We’ll draw one together. Get us a pen and some heavy paper. Go on, bub, get the stuff,” he said.

So I went upstairs. My legs felt like they didn’t have any strength in them. They felt like they did after I’d done some running. In my wife’s room, I looked around. I found some ballpoints in a little basket on her table. And then I tried to think where to look for the kind of paper he was talking about.

Downstairs, in the kitchen, I found a shopping bag with onion skins in the bottom of the bag. I emptied the bag and shook it. I brought it into the living room and sat down with it near his legs. I moved some things, smoothed the wrinkles from the bag, spread it out on the coffee table.

The blind man got down from the sofa and sat next to me on the carpet. He ran his fi ngers over the paper. He went up and down the sides of the

paper. The edges, even the edges. He fi ngered the corners. “All right,” he said. “All right, let’s do her.” He found my hand, the hand with the pen. He closed his hand over my

hand. “Go ahead, bub, draw,” he said. “Draw. You’ll see. I’ll follow along with

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you. It’ll be okay. Just begin now like I’m telling you. You’ll see. Draw,” the blind man said.

So I began. First I drew a box that looked like a house. It could have been the house I lived in. Then I put a roof on it. At either end of the roof, I drew spires. Crazy.

“Swell,” he said. “Terrifi c. You’re doing fi ne,” he said. “Never thought any- thing like this could happen in your lifetime, did you, bub? Well, it’s a strange life, we all know that. Go on now. Keep it up.”

I put in windows with arches. I drew fl ying buttresses. I hung great doors. I couldn’t stop. The TV station went off the air. I put down the pen and closed and opened my fi ngers. The blind man felt around over the paper. He moved the tips of his fi ngers over the paper, all over what I had drawn, and he nodded.

“Doing fi ne,” the blind man said. I took up the pen again, and he found my hand. I kept at it. I’m no artist. But

I kept drawing just the same. My wife opened up her eyes and gazed at us. She sat up on the sofa, her robe

hanging open. She said, “What are you doing? Tell me, I want to know.” I didn’t answer her. The blind man said, “We’re drawing a cathedral. Me and him are working on

it. Press hard,” he said to me. “That’s right. That’s good,” he said. “Sure. You got it, bub. I can tell. You didn’t think you could. But you can, can’t you? You’re cooking with gas now. You know what I’m saying? We’re going to really have us something here in a minute. How’s the old arm?” he said. “Put some people in there now. What’s a cathedral without people?”

My wife said, “What’s going on? Robert, what are you doing? What’s going on?”

“It’s all right,” he said to her. “Close your eyes now,” the blind man said to me. I did it. I closed them just like he said. “Are they closed?” he said. “Don’t fudge.” “They’re closed,” I said. “Keep them that way,” he said. He said, “Don’t stop now. Draw.” So we kept on with it. His fi ngers rode my fi ngers as my hand went over the

paper. It was like nothing else in my life up to now. Then he said, “I think that’s it. I think you got it,” he said. “Take a look. What

do you think?” But I had my eyes closed. I thought I’d keep them that way for a little longer.

I thought it was something I ought to do. “Well?” he said. “Are you looking?” My eyes were still closed. I was in my house. I knew that. But I didn’t feel

like I was inside anything. “It’s really something,” I said.

1983

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SAMPLE WRITING: READING NOTES

Wesley Rupton wrote the notes below with the “Questions about the Elements of Fiction” in mind (p. 15). As you read these notes, compare them to the notes you took as you read Cathedral. Do Rupton’s notes reveal anything to you that you didn’t notice while reading the story? Did you notice anything he did not, or do you disagree with any of his interpretations?

Notes on Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” What do you expect?

• Title: The fi rst words are “this blind man,” and those words keep being repeated. Why not call it “The Blind Man” or “The Blind Man’s Visit”?

• The threatening things the husband says made me expect that he would attack the blind man. I thought the wife might leave her husband for the blind man, who has been nicer to her.

• When they talk about going up to bed, and the wife goes to “get comfort- able” and then falls asleep, I thought there was a hint about sex.

What happens in the story?

• Not that much. It is a story about one eve ning in which a husband and wife and their guest drink, have dinner, talk, and then watch TV.

• These people have probably drunk two bottles of hard liquor (how many  drinks?) before, during, and after a meal. And then they smoke marijuana.

• In the fi nal scene, the two men try to describe and draw cathedrals that are on the TV show. Why cathedrals? Though it connects with the title.

• The husband seems to have a different attitude at the end: He likes Robert and seems excited about the experience “like nothing else in my life up to now.”

How is the story narrated?

• It’s told in fi rst person and past tense. The husband is the narrator. We never get inside another character’s thoughts. He seems to be telling someone about the incident, fi rst saying the blind man was coming, and then fi lling in the background about his wife and the blind man, and then telling what happens after the guest arrives.

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• The narrator describes people and scenes and summarizes the past; there is dialogue.

• It doesn’t have episodes or chapters, but there are two gaps on the page, before paragraph 57 and before paragraph 88. Maybe time passes here.

Who are the characters?

• Three main characters: husband, wife, and blind man (the blind man’s own wife has just died, and the wife divorced her fi rst husband). I don’t think we ever know the husband’s or wife’s names. The blind man, Rob- ert, calls him “bub,” like “buddy.” They seem to be white, middle- class Americans. The wife is lonely and looking for meaning. The blind man seems sensitive, and he cares about the poetry and tapes.

• The husband is sort of acting out, though mostly in his own mind. Asking “Was his wife a Negro?” sounds like he wants to make fun of black or blind people. His wife asks, “Are you drunk?” and says that he has no friends; I thought he’s an unhappy man who gets drunk and acts “crazy” a lot and that she doesn’t really expect him to be that nice.

• It sounds like these people have plenty of food and things, but aren’t very happy. They all sound smart, but the narrator is ignorant, and he has no religion. All three characters have some bad or ner vous habits (alcohol, cigarettes, drugs; insomnia; suicide attempt; divorce).

What is the setting and time of the story?

• Mostly in the house the eve ning the blind man arrives. But after the intro there’s a kind of fl ashback to the summer in Seattle ten years ago (par. 2). The story about the visit starts again in paragraph 6, and then the wife tells the husband more about the blind man’s marriage— another fl ash- back in paragraph 16. In paragraph 17, “the time rolled around” to the sto- ry’s main event. After that, it’s chronological.

• We don’t know the name of the town, but it seems to be on the U.S. East Coast (fi ve hours by train from Connecticut [par. 1]). It can’t be too long ago or too recent either: They mention trains, audiotapes, color TV, no Internet. No one seems worried about food or health the way they might be today.

• I noticed that travel came up in the story. Part of what drives the wife crazy about her fi rst husband is moving around to different military bases (par. 4). In paragraph 46, Robert tells us about his contact with ham radio operators in places he would like to visit (Guam, Alaska). The TV show takes Robert and the narrator on a tour of France, Italy, and Portugal.

What do you notice about how the story is written?

• The narrator is irritating. He repeats words a lot. He uses ste reo types. He seems to be informally talking to someone, as if he can’t get over it. But then he sometimes uses exaggerated or bored- sounding phrases: “this man who’d fi rst enjoyed her favors,” “So okay. I’m saying . . . married her childhood etc.” (par. 4). His style is almost funny.

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• Things he repeats: Paragraphs 2 and 3: “She told me” (3 times), “he could touch her face . . . he touched his fi ngers to every part of her face . . .” (and later “touched her nose” and “they’d kept in touch”). “She even tried to write a poem . . . always trying to write a poem” (and 4 more times “poem”). The words “talk,” “tape,” “told” are also repeated.

What does the story mean? Can you express its theme or themes?

• The way the narrator learns to get along with the blind man must be important. The narrator is disgusted by blind people at fi rst, and at the end he closes his eyes on purpose.

• I think it makes a difference that the two men imagine and try to draw a cathedral, not a fl ower or an airplane. It’s something made by human beings, and it’s religious. As they mention, the builders of cathedrals don’t live to see them fi nished, but the buildings last for centuries. It’s not like the narrator is saved or becomes a great guy, but he gets past what ever he’s afraid of at night, and he seems inspired for a little while. I don’t know why the wife has to be left out of this, but probably the husband couldn’t open up if he was worrying about how close she is to Robert.

READING NOTES 45

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SAMPLE WRITING: RESPONSE PAPER

A response paper may use a less formal or ga ni za tion and style than a longer, more formal essay, but it should not just be a summary or description of the work. Indeed, a response paper could be a step on the way to a longer essay. You need not form a single thesis or argument, but you should try to develop your ideas and feelings about the story through your writing. The point is to get your thoughts in writing without worrying too much about form and style.

Almost everything in the following response paper comes directly from the notes above, but notice how the writer has combined observations, adding a few direct quo- tations or details from the text to support claims about the story’s effects and mean- ing. For ease of reference, we have altered the citations in this paper to refer to paragraph numbers. Unless your instructor indicates other wise, however, you should always follow convention by instead citing page numbers when writing about fi ction.

Rupton 1

Wesley Rupton Professor Suarez En glish 170 6 January 2017

Response Paper on Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral”

Not much happens in Raymond Carver’s short story “Cathedral,” and at fi rst I wondered what it was about and why it was called “Cathedral.” The narrator, the unnamed husband, seems to be telling someone about the eve ning that Robert, a blind friend of his wife, came to stay at their house, not long after Robert’s own wife has died. After the narrator fi lls us in about his wife’s fi rst marriage and her relationship with the blind man, he describes what the three characters do that eve ning: they drink a lot of alcohol, eat a huge dinner that leaves them “stunned” (par. 46), smoke marijuana, and after the wife falls asleep the two men watch TV. A show about cathedrals leads the husband to try to describe what a cathedral looks like, and then the men try to draw one together. The husband seems to have a different attitude at the end: he likes Robert and seems excited about an experience “like nothing else in my life up to now” (par. 131).

The husband’s way of telling the story is defi nitely important. He is sort of funny, but also irritating. As he makes jokes about ste reo types, you start to

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RESPONSE PAPER 47

Rupton 2

dislike or distrust him. When he hears about Robert’s wife, Beulah, he asks, “Was his wife a Negro?” (par. 12) just because her name sounds like a black woman’s name to him. In three paragraphs, he fl ashes back to the time ten years ago when his wife was the blind man’s assistant and the blind man

asked if he could touch her face. . . . She told me he touched his fi ngers to every part of her face. . . . She even tried to write a poem about it. . . .

. . . In the poem, she recalled his fi ngers . . . over her face. In the poem, she talked about what she had felt . . . when the blind man touched her nose and lips. (pars. 2-3)

The narrator seems to be going over and over the same creepy idea of a man feeling his wife’s face. It seems to disgust him that his wife and the blind man communicated or expressed themselves, perhaps because he seems incapable of doing so. When his wife asks, “Are you drunk?” and says that he has no friends, I got a feeling that the husband is an unhappy man who gets drunk and acts “crazy” a lot and that his wife doesn’t really expect him to be very nice (pars. 8- 13). He’s going to make fun of their guest (asking a blind man to go bowling). The husband is sort of acting out, though he’s mostly rude in his own mind.

There’s nothing heroic or dramatic or even unusual about these people (except that one is blind). The events take place in a house somewhere in an American suburb and not too long ago. Other than the quantity of alcohol and drugs they consume, these people don’t do anything unusual, though the blind man seems strange to the narrator. The ordinary setting and plot make the idea of something as grand and old as a Eu ro pe an cathedral come as a surprise at the end of the story. I wondered if part of the point is that they desperately want to get out of a trap they’re in. I noticed that travel came up in the story. Part of what drove the wife crazy with her fi rst husband was moving around to different military bases (par. 4). In paragraph 46, Robert tells us about his contact with ham radio operators in places he would like to visit (Guam, Alaska). The TV show takes Robert and the narrator on a tour of France, Italy, and Portugal.

The way the narrator changes from disliking the blind man to getting along with him must be important to the meaning of the story. After the wife goes up to “get comfortable,” suggesting that they might go to bed, the story focuses on the two men. Later she falls asleep on the sofa between them, and the narrator decides not to cover up her leg where her robe has fallen open, as if he has stopped being jealous. At this point the narrator decides he is “glad for the company” of his guest (par. 84). The cooperation between the two men is the turning point. The narrator is disgusted by blind people at fi rst, and at the end he closes his eyes on purpose. The two men try to imagine something and build something together, and Robert is coaching the narrator. Robert says, “let’s do her,” and then says, “You’re doing fi ne” (pars. 115, 118; emphasis added). I think it makes a difference that they imagine and draw a cathedral, not a fl ower or a cow or an airplane. It’s something made by human beings, and it’s religious. I don’t

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Rupton 3

think the men are converted to believing in God at the end, but this narrow- minded guy gets past what ever he’s afraid of at night and fi nds some sort of inspiring feeling. I don’t know why the wife has to be left out, but probably the husband couldn’t open up if he was worrying about how close she is to Robert.

The ideas of communicating or being in touch and travel seem connected to me. I think that the husband tries to tell this story about the cathedral the way his wife tried to write a poem. The narrator has had an exciting experience that gets him in touch with something beyond his small house. After drawing the cathedral, the narrator says that he “didn’t feel like I was inside anything” (par. 135). Though I still didn’t like the narrator, I felt more sympathy, and I thought the story showed that even this hostile person could open up.

48 SAMPLE WRITING

Rupton 4

Work Cited

Carver, Raymond. “Cathedral.” The Norton Introduction to Literature, edited by Kelly J. Mays, shorter 12th ed., W. W. Norton, 2017, pp. 32-42.

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SAMPLE WRITING: ESSAY

Bethany Qualls wrote the following fi rst draft of an essay analyzing character and narration in Carver’s Cathedral. Read this paper as you would one of your peers’ papers, looking for opportunities for the writer to improve her pre sen ta tion. Is the tone consistently appropriate for academic writing? Does the essay maintain its focus? Does it demonstrate a steady progression of well- supported arguments that build toward a strong, well- earned conclusion? Is there any redundant or other- wise unnecessary material? Are there ideas that need to be developed further? For a critique and revision of this essay’s conclusion, see ch. 28, “The Lit erature Essay,” in the Writing about Lit erature section of this book.

(For ease of reference, we have altered the citations in this essay to refer to para- graph numbers. Unless your instructor indicates other wise, however, you should always follow convention by instead citing page numbers when writing about fi ction. For more on citation, please refer to ch. 31.)

Qualls 1

Bethany Qualls Professor Netherton En glish 301 16 January 2017

A Narrator’s Blindness in Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral”

A reader in search of an exciting plot will be pretty disappointed by Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” because the truth is nothing much happens. A suburban husband and wife receive a visit from her former boss, who is blind. After the wife falls asleep, the two men watch a TV program about cathedrals and eventually try to draw one. Along the way the three characters down a few cocktails and smoke a little pot. But that’s about as far as the action goes. Instead of focusing on plot, then, the story really asks us to focus on the characters, especially the husband who narrates the story. Through his words even more than his actions, the narrator unwittingly shows us why nothing much happens to him by continually demonstrating his utter inability to connect with others or to understand himself.

The narrator’s isolation is most evident in the distanced way he introduces his own story and the people in it. He does not name the other characters or himself, referring to them only by using labels such as “this blind man,” “his wife,” “my wife” (par. 1), and “the man [my wife] was going to marry” (par. 2). Even after the narrator’s wife starts referring to their visitor as “Robert,” the narrator keeps calling him “the blind man.” These labels distance him from the other characters and also leave readers with very little connection to them.

At least three times the narrator notices that this habit of not naming or really acknowledging people is signifi cant. Referring to his wife’s “offi cer,” he

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Qualls 2

asks, “why should he have a name? he was the childhood sweetheart, and what more does he want?” (par. 5). Moments later he describes how freaked out he was when he listened to a tape the blind man had sent his wife and “heard [his] own name in the mouth of this . . . blind man [he] didn’t even know!” (par. 5). Yet once the blind man arrives and begins to talk with the wife, the narrator fi nds himself “wait[ing] in vain to hear [his] name on [his] wife’s sweet lips” and disappointed to hear “nothing of the sort” (par. 46). Simply using someone’s name suggests an intimacy that the narrator avoids and yet secretly yearns for.

Also reinforcing the narrator’s isolation and dissatisfaction with it are the awkward euphemisms and clichés he uses, which emphasize how disconnected he is from his own feelings and how uncomfortable he is with other people’s. Referring to his wife’s fi rst husband, the narrator says it was he “who’d fi rst enjoyed her favors” (par. 4), an antiquated expression even in 1983, the year the story was published. Such language reinforces our sense that the narrator cannot speak in language that is meaningful or heartfelt, especially when he tries to talk about emotions. He describes his wife’s feelings for her fi rst husband, for example, by using generic language and then just trailing off entirely: “she was in love with the guy, and he was in love with her, etc.” (par. 2). When he refers to the blind man and his wife as “inseparable,” he points out that this is, in fact, his “wife’s word,” not one that he’s come up with (par. 16). And even when he admits that he would like to hear his wife talk about him (par. 46), he speaks in language that seems to come from books or movies rather than the heart.

Once the visit actually begins, the narrator’s interactions and conversations with the other characters are even more awkward. His discomfort with the very idea of the visit is obvious to his wife and to the reader. As he says in his usual deadpan manner, “I wasn’t enthusiastic about his visit” (par. 1). During the visit he sits silent when his wife and Robert are talking and then answers Robert’s questions about his life and feelings with the shortest possible phrases: “How long had I been in my present position? (Three years.) Did I like my work? (I didn’t.)” (par. 46). Finally, he tries to escape even that much involvement by simply turning on the TV and tuning Robert out.

Despite Robert’s best attempt to make a connection with the narrator, the narrator resorts to a label again, saying that he “didn’t want to be left alone with a blind man” (par. 57). Robert, merely “a blind man,” remains a category, not a person, and the narrator can initially relate to Robert only by invoking the ste reo types about that category that he has learned “from the movies” (par. 1). He confi des to the reader that he believes that blind people always wear dark glasses, that they never smoke (par. 43), and that a beard on a blind man is “too much” (par. 18). It follows that the narrator is amazed about the connection his wife and Robert have because he is unable to see Robert as a person like any other. “Who’d want to go to such a wedding in the fi rst place?” (par. 16), he asks rhetorically about Robert’s wedding to his wife, Beulah.

Misconceptions continue as the narrator assumes Beulah would “never receive the smallest compliment from her beloved,” since the compliments he is

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thinking about are physical ones (par. 16). Interestingly, when faced with a name that is specifi c (Beulah), the narrator immediately assumes that he knows what the person with that name must be like (“a colored woman,” par. 11), even though she is not in the room or known to him. Words fail or mislead the narrator in both directions, as he’s using them and as he hears them.

There is hope for the narrator at the end as he gains some empathy and forges a bond with Robert over the drawing of a cathedral. That pro cess seems to begin when the narrator admits to himself, the reader, and Robert that he is “glad for [Robert’s] company” (par. 84) and, for the fi rst time, comes close to disclosing the literally nightmarish loneliness of his life. It culminates in a moment of physical and emotional intimacy that the narrator admits is “like nothing else in my life up to now” (par. 131)— a moment in which discomfort with the very idea of blindness gives way to an attempt to actually experience blindness from the inside. Because the narrator has used words to distance himself from the world, it seems fi tting that all this happens only when the narrator stops using words. They have a tendency to blind him.

However, even at the very end it isn’t clear just whether or how the narrator has really changed. He does not completely interact with Robert but has to be prodded into action by him. By choosing to keep his eyes closed, he not only temporarily experiences blindness but also shuts out the rest of the world, since he “didn’t feel like [he] was inside anything” (par. 135). Perhaps most important, he remains unable to describe his experience meaningfully, making it diffi cult for readers to decide whether or not he has really changed. For example, he says, “It was like nothing else in my life up to now” (par. 131), but he doesn’t explain why this is true. Is it because he is doing something for someone else? Because he is thinking about the world from another’s perspective? Because he feels connected to Robert? Because he is drawing a picture while probably drunk and high? There is no way of knowing.

It’s possible that not feeling “inside anything” (par. 135) could be a feeling of freedom from his own habits of guardedness and insensitivity, his emotional “blindness.” But even with this fi nal hope for connection, for the majority of the story the narrator is a closed, judgmental man who isolates himself and cannot connect with others. The narrator’s view of the world is one fi lled with misconceptions that the visit from Robert starts to slowly change, yet it is not clear what those changes are, how far they will go, or whether they will last.

ESSAY 51

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Work Cited

Carver, Raymond. “Cathedral.” The Norton Introduction to Literature, edited by Kelly J. Mays, shorter 12th ed., W. W. Norton, 2017, pp. 32-42.

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Telling Stories A N A L B U M

Is it human nature or human culture? Is it hardwired in our brains or inspired by our need to live with others in a community? What ever the cause, people tell stories in every known society. Professional and amateur storytellers, as well as scholars in the humanities and sciences, have been paying more attention to the phenomenon of stories or narrative in recent de cades. Online forums and organizations around the world are dedicated to a revival of oral storytelling, rather like the twentieth- century revival of folk music. Educators, religious lead- ers, therapists, and organizers of programs for the young or the needy have turned to various publications and programs for guidance on how the techniques of story- telling might benefi t their clients.

Stories are part of our everyday lives, and everyone has stories to tell. Perhaps you have heard the life stories broadcast every week on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition in conjunction with the StoryCorps project, which allows ordi- nary Americans to record their own interviews with friends or family (often in a traveling “studio” van) and have their recordings archived in the Library of Con- gress. Most likely you are familiar with blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube videos, and other means of producing or sharing some version of yourself, some aspect of your experience or your life.

Authors of short fi ction have often refl ected on the irresistible appeal of stories by making storytelling part of the plot or action within their fi ction. We include here three stories that do just that. As you read the stories, think about what each implies about how stories and storytelling work and what they can do for us. When and why do we both tell stories and listen to those of others? What do we derive from the act of telling or listening, as well as from the story itself? What makes a story compelling, worth listening to or even writing down? How might the sorts of choices we make in telling a story resemble those a fi ction writer makes in writing one? As listeners or readers, how are our expectations of a story and our responses to it shaped by our knowledge of or assumptions about its teller? In what different ways might stories, whether oral or written, be “true”?

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SHERMAN ALEXIE (b. 1966) Flight Patterns

Sherman Alexie grew up with his four siblings on a reservation near Spokane, Washington, an experi- ence he once described as the “origin” of “everything I do now, writing and otherwise.” After attending high school in nearby Reardan, where he was the only Native American other than the school mascot,

he earned a BA in American Studies from Washington State University and soon after published the fi rst of over twelve collections of poetry, The Business of Fancydancing (1991). Named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, it also earned high praise from the New York Times Book Review, which hailed its twenty-six- year- old author as “one of the major lyric voices of our time.” Yet Alexie is perhaps better understood as an accomplished storyteller in verse and prose. His fi rst collection of fi ction, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfi ght in Heaven (1993), received a PEN/Hemingway Award for Best First Book, which Alexie followed up over fi fteen years later with a PEN/Faulkner Award for his fourth collection, War Dances (2010). In between have come novels— including Reservation Blues (1995), Flight (2007), and the National Book Award– winning young adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part- Time Indian (2009)— as well as radio scripts and screenplays: Smoke Signals (1998) was featured at the Sundance Film Festi- val. A sometime stand- up comedian and four- time champion of the World Heavyweight Poetry Slam, he lives in Seattle, Washington, with his wife and two sons.

A t 5:05 a.m., Patsy Cline fell loudly to pieces on William’s clock radio.1 He hit the snooze button, silencing lonesome Patsy, and dozed for fi fteen more minutes before Donna Fargo bragged about being the happiest girl in the whole USA. William wondered what had ever happened to Donna Fargo,2 whose birth name was the infi nitely more interesting Yvonne Vaughn, and wondered why he knew Donna Fargo’s birth name. Ah, he was the bemused and slightly embar- rassed own er of a twenty- fi rst- century American mind. His intellect was a big comfy couch stuffed with sacred and profane trivia. He knew the names of all nine of Elizabeth Taylor’s husbands and could quote from memory the entire Declaration of In de pen dence. William knew Donna Fargo’s birth name because he wanted to know her birth name. He wanted to know all of the great big and tiny little American details. He didn’t want to choose between Ernie Heming- way and the Spokane tribal elders, between Mia Hamm and Crazy Horse, between The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and Chief Dan George. William wanted all of it. Hunger was his crime. As for dear Miss Fargo, William fi gured she probably played the Indian casino circuit along with the Righ teous Brothers, Smokey Robinson, Eddie Money, Pat Benatar, RATT, REO Speedwagon, and

1. Reference to country music singer Patsy Cline’s recording of “I Fall to Pieces” (1961). 2. American singer (b. 1949) best known for her recording of “Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.” (1972).

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dozens of other formerly famous rock- and country- music stars. Many of the Indian casino acts were bad, and most of the rest were pure nostalgic entertain- ment, but a small number made beautiful and timeless music. William knew the genius Merle Haggard played thirty or forty Indian casinos every year, so long live Haggard and long live tribal economic sovereignty. Who cares about fi shing and hunting rights? Who cares about uranium mines and nuclear- waste- dump sites on sacred land? Who cares about the recovery of tribal languages? Give me Freddy Fender singing “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” in En glish and Spanish to 206 Spokane Indians, William thought, and I will be a happy man.

But William wasn’t happy this morning. He’d slept poorly— he always slept poorly— and wondered again if his insomnia was a physical or a mental condition. His doctor had offered him sleeping- pill prescriptions, but William declined for philosophical reasons. He was an Indian who didn’t smoke or drink or eat pro- cessed sugar. He lifted weights three days a week, ran every day, and competed in four triathlons a year. A two- mile swim, a 150- mile bike ride, and a full marathon. A triathlon was a religious quest. If Saint Francis were still around, he’d be a tri- athlete. Another exaggeration! Theological hyperbole! Rabid self- justifi cation! Diagnostically speaking, William was an obsessive- compulsive workaholic who was afraid of pills. So he suffered sleepless nights and constant daytime fatigue.

This morning, awake and not awake, William turned down the radio, chang- ing Yvonne Vaughn’s celebratory anthem into whispered blues, and rolled off the couch onto his hands and knees. His back and legs were sore because he’d slept on the living room couch so the alarm wouldn’t disturb his wife and daughter upstairs. Still on his hands and knees, William stretched his spine, using the twelve basic exercises he’d learned from Dr. Adams, that master prac- titioner of white middle- class chiropractic voodoo. This was all part of William’s regular morning ceremony. Other people fi nd God in ornate ritual, but William called out to Geronimo, Jesus Christ, Saint Therese, Buddha, Allah, Billie Holi- day, Simon Ortiz, Abe Lincoln, Bessie Smith, Howard Hughes, Leslie Marmon Silko, Joan of Arc and Joan of Collins, John Woo, Wilma Mankiller, and Karl and Groucho Marx while he pumped out fi fty push- ups and fi fty abdominal crunches. William wasn’t particularly religious; he was generally religious. Fin- ished with his morning calisthenics, William showered in the basement, suffer- ing the water that was always too cold down there, and threaded his long black hair into two tight braids— the indigenous businessman’s tonsorial special— and dressed in his best travel suit, a navy three- button pinstripe he’d ordered online. He’d worried about the fi t, but his tailor was a magician and had only mildly chastised William for such an impulsive purchase. After knotting his blue paisley tie, purchased in person and on sale, William walked upstairs in bare feet and kissed his wife, Marie, good- bye.

“Cancel your fl ight,” she said. “And come back to bed.” “You’re supposed to be asleep,” he said. She was a small and dark woman who seemed to be smaller and darker at

that time of the morning. Her long black hair had once again defeated its braids, but she didn’t care. She sometimes went two or three days without brushing it. William was obsessive about his mane, tying and retying his ponytail, knotting and reknotting his braids, experimenting with this shampoo and that condi- tioner. He greased down his cowlicks (inherited from a cowlicked father and grandfather) with shiny pomade, but Marie’s hair was always unkempt, wild,

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and renegade. William’s hair hung around the fort, but Marie’s rode on the war- path! She constantly pulled stray strands out of her mouth. William loved her for it. During sex, they spent as much time readjusting her hair as they did readjusting positions. Such were the erotic dangers of loving a Spokane Indian woman.

“Take off your clothes and get in bed,” Marie pleaded now. “I can’t do that,” William said. “They’re counting on me.” “Oh, the plane will be fi lled with salesmen. Let some other salesman sell

what you’re selling.” “Your breath stinks.” “So do my feet, my pits, and my butt, but you still love me. Come back to

bed, and I’ll make it worth your while.” William kissed Marie, reached beneath her pajama top, and squeezed her

breasts. He thought about reaching inside her pajama bottoms. She wrapped her arms and legs around him and tried to wrestle him into bed. Oh, God, he wanted to climb into bed and make love. He wanted to fornicate, to sex, to breed, to screw, to make the beast with two backs. Oh, sweetheart, be my little synonym! He wanted her to be both subject and object. Perhaps it was wrong (and unavoidable) to objectify female strangers, but shouldn’t every husband seek to objectify his wife at least once a day? William loved and respected his wife, and delighted in her intelligence, humor, and kindness, but he also loved to watch her lovely ass when she walked, and stare down the front of her loose shirts when she leaned over, and grab her breasts at wildly inappropriate times— during dinner parties and piano recitals and uncontrolled intersections, for instance. He constantly made passes at her, not necessarily expecting to be successful, but to remind her he still desired her and was excited by the thought of her. She was his passive and active.

“Come on,” she said. “If you stay home, I’ll make you Scooby.” He laughed at the inside joke, created one night while he tried to give her

sexual directions and was so aroused that he sounded exactly like Scooby- Doo. “Stay home, stay home, stay home,” she chanted and wrapped herself tighter

around him. He was supporting all of her weight, holding her two feet off the bed. “I’m not strong enough to do this,” he said. “Baby, baby, I’ll make you strong,” she sang, and it sounded like she was writ-

ing a Top 40 hit in the Brill Building, circa 1962. How could he leave a woman who sang like that? He hated to leave, but he loved his work. He was a man, and men needed to work. More sexism! More masculine tunnel vision! More need for gender- sensitivity workshops! He pulled away from her, dropping her back onto the bed, and stepped away.

“Willy Loman,” she said, “you must pay attention to me.”3

“I love you,” he said, but she’d already fallen back to sleep— a narcoleptic gift William envied— and he wondered if she would dream about a man who never left her, about some unemployed agoraphobic Indian warrior who liked to cook and wash dishes.

William tiptoed into his daughter’s bedroom, expecting to hear her light snore, but she was awake and sitting up in bed, and looked so magical and

3. Protagonist of Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman (1949); Willy’s wife, Linda, says of her hus- band, “Attention, attention must fi nally be paid to such a person.”

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androgynous with her huge brown eyes and crew- cut hair. She’d wanted to completely shave her head: I don’t want long hair, I don’t want short hair, I don’t want hair at all, and I don’t want to be a girl or a boy, I want to be a yellow and orange leaf some little kid picks up and pastes in his scrapbook.

“Daddy,” she said. “Grace,” he said. “You should be asleep. You have school today.” “I know,” she said. “But I wanted to see you before you left.” “Okay,” said William as he kissed her forehead, nose, and chin. “You’ve seen

me. Now go back to sleep. I love you and I’m going to miss you.” She fi ercely hugged him. “Oh,” he said. “You’re such a lovely, lovely girl.” Preternaturally serious, she took his face in her eyes and studied his eyes.

Morally examined by a kindergartner! “Daddy,” she said. “Go be silly for those people far away.” She cried as William left her room. Already quite sure he was only an ade-

quate husband, he wondered, as he often did, if he was a bad father. During these mornings, he felt generic and violent, like some caveman leaving the fi re to hunt animals in the cold and dark. Maybe his hands were smooth and clean, but they felt bloody.

Downstairs, he put on his socks and shoes and overcoat and listened for his daughter’s crying, but she was quiet, having inherited her mother’s gift for instant sleep. She had probably fallen back into one of her odd little dreams. While he was gone, she often drew pictures of those dreams, coloring the sky green and the grass blue— everything backward and wrong— and had once sketched a man in a suit crashing an airplane into the bright yellow sun. Ah, the rage, fear, and loneliness of a fi ve- year- old, simple and true! She’d been espe- cially afraid since September 11 of the previous year4 and constantly quizzed William about what he would do if terrorists hijacked his plane.

“I’d tell them I was your father,” he’d said to her before he left for his last business trip. “And they’d stop being bad.”

“You’re lying,” she’d said. “I’m not supposed to listen to liars. If you lie to me, I can’t love you.”

He couldn’t argue with her logic. Maybe she was the most logical person on the planet. Maybe she should be illegally elected president of the United States.

William understood her fear of fl ying and of his fl ight. He was afraid of fl y- ing, too, but not of terrorists. After the horrible violence of September 11, he fi gured hijacking was no longer a useful weapon in the terrorist arsenal. These days, a terrorist armed with a box cutter would be torn to pieces by all of the coach- class passengers and fed to the fi rst- class upgrades. However, no matter how much he tried to laugh his fear away, William always scanned the air- ports and airplanes for little brown guys who reeked of fundamentalism. That meant William was equally afraid of Osama bin Laden and Jerry Falwell wearing the last vestiges of a summer tan. William himself was a little brown guy, so the other travelers were always sniffi ng around him, but he smelled only of Dove soap, Mennen deodorant, and sarcasm. Still, he understood why people were afraid of him, a brown- skinned man with dark hair and eyes. If Norwegian

4. That is, September 11, 2001, when hijacked planes were fl own into the World Trade Center in New York and into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., killing thousands.

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terrorists had exploded the World Trade Center, then blue- eyed blondes would be viewed with more suspicion. Or so he hoped.

Locking the front door behind him, William stepped away from his house, carried his garment bag and briefcase onto the front porch, and waited for his taxi to arrive. It was a cold and foggy October morning. William could smell the saltwater of Elliott Bay and the freshwater of Lake Washington. Surrounded by gray water and gray fog and gray skies and gray mountains and a gray sun, he’d lived with his family in Seattle for three years and loved it. He couldn’t imagine living anywhere else, with any other wife or child, in any other time.

William was tired and happy and romantic and exaggerating the size of his familial devotion so he could justify his departure, so he could survive his departure. He did sometimes think about other women and other possible lives with them. He wondered how his life would have been different if he’d married a white woman and fathered half- white children who grew up to complain and brag about their biracial identities: Oh, the only box they have for me is Other! I’m not going to check any box! I’m not the Other! I am Tiger Woods! But William most often fantasized about being single and free to travel as often as he wished— maybe two million miles a year— and how much he’d enjoy the bene- fi ts of being a platinum frequent fl ier. Maybe he’d have one- night stands with a long series of traveling saleswomen, all of them thousands of miles away from husbands and children who kept looking up “feminism” in the dictionary. Wil- liam knew that was yet another sexist thought. In this capitalistic and demo- cratic culture, talented women should also enjoy the freedom to emotionally and physically abandon their families. After all, talented and educated men have been doing it for generations. Let freedom ring!

Marie had left her job as a corporate accountant to be a full- time mother to Grace. William loved his wife for making the decision, and he tried to do his share of the house work, but he suspected he was an old- fashioned bastard who wanted his wife to stay at home and wait, wait, wait for him.

Marie was always waiting for William to call, to come home, to leave mes- sages saying he was getting on the plane, getting off the plane, checking in to the hotel, going to sleep, waking up, heading for the meeting, catching an earlier or later fl ight home. He spent one third of his life trying to sleep in uncomfortable beds and one third of his life trying to stay awake in airports. He traveled with thousands of other capitalistic foot soldiers, mostly men but increasing numbers of women, and stayed in the same Ramadas, Holiday Inns, and Radissons. He ate the same room- service meals and ran the same exercise- room treadmills and watched the same pay- per- view porn and stared out the windows at the same strange and lonely cityscapes. Sure, he was an enrolled member of the Spokane Indian tribe, but he was also a fully recognized member of the notebook- computer tribe and the security- checkpoint tribe and the rental- car tribe and the hotel- shuttle- bus tribe and the cell- phone- roaming- charge tribe.

William traveled so often, the Seattle- based fl ight attendants knew him by fi rst name.

At fi ve minutes to six, the Orange Top taxi pulled into the driveway. The driver, a short and thin black man, stepped out of the cab and waved. William rushed down the stairs and across the pavement. He wanted to get away from the house before he changed his mind about leaving.

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“Is that everything, sir?” asked the taxi driver, his accent a colonial cocktail of American En glish, formal British, and French sibilants added to a base of what must have been North African.

“Yes, it is, sir,” said William, self- consciously trying to erase any class differences between them. In Spain the previous summer, an el der ly porter had cursed at William when he insisted on carry ing his own bags into the hotel. “Perhaps there is something wrong with the caste system, sir,” the hotel concierge had explained to William. “But all of us, we want to do our jobs, and we want to do them well.”

William didn’t want to insult anybody; he wanted the world to be a fair and decent place. At least that was what he wanted to want. More than anything, he wanted to stay home with his fair and decent family. He supposed he wanted the world to be fairer and more decent to his family. We are special, he thought, though he suspected they were just one more family on this block of neighbors, in this city of neighbors, in this country of neighbors, in a world of neighbors. He looked back at his house, at the windows behind which slept his beloved wife and daughter. When he traveled, he had nightmares about strangers break- ing into the house and killing and raping Marie and Grace. In other nightmares, he arrived home in time to save his family by beating the intruders and chasing them away. During longer business trips, William’s nightmares became more violent as the days and nights passed. If he was gone over a week, he dreamed about mutilating the rapists and eating them alive while his wife and daughter cheered for him.

“Let me take your bags, sir,” said the taxi driver. “What?” asked William, momentarily confused. “Your bags, sir.” William handed him the briefcase but held on to the heavier garment bag. A

stupid compromise, thought William, but it’s too late to change it now. God, I’m supposed to be some electric aboriginal warrior, but I’m really a wimpy liberal pacifi st. Dear Lord, how much longer should I mourn the death of Jerry Garcia? 5

The taxi driver tried to take the garment bag from William. “I’ve got this one,” said William, then added, “I’ve got it, sir.” The taxi driver hesitated, shrugged, opened the trunk, and set the briefcase

inside. William laid the garment bag next to his briefcase. The taxi driver shut the trunk and walked around to open William’s door.

“No, sir,” said William as he awkwardly stepped in front of the taxi driver, opened the door, and took a seat. “I’ve got it.”

“I’m sorry, sir,” said the taxi driver and hurried around to the driver’s seat. This strange American was making him uncomfortable, and he wanted to get behind the wheel and drive. Driving comforted him.

“To the airport, sir?” asked the taxi driver as he started the meter. “Yes,” said William. “United Airlines.” “Very good, sir.” In silence, they drove along Martin Luther King Jr. Way, the bisector of an

African American neighborhood that was rapidly gentrifying. William and his family were Native American gentry! They were the very fi rst Indian family to

5. Guitarist (1942– 95) for the Grateful Dead, a rock group noted for its live concerts and fi ercely devoted fans.

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ever move into a neighborhood and bring up the property values! That was one of William’s favorite jokes, self- deprecating and politely racist. White folks could laugh at a joke like that and not feel guilty. But how guilty could white people feel in Seattle? Seattle might be the only city in the country where white people lived comfortably on a street named after Martin Luther King, Jr.

No matter where he lived, William always felt uncomfortable, so he enjoyed other people’s discomfort. These days, in the airports, he loved to watch white people enduring random security checks. It was a perverse thrill, to be sure, but William couldn’t help himself. He knew those white folks wanted to scream and rage: Do I look like a terrorist? And he knew the security offi cers, most often low- paid brown folks, wanted to scream back: Defi ne terror, you Anglo bastard! William fi gured he’d been pulled over for pat- down searches about 75 percent of the time. Random, my ass! But that was okay! William might have wanted to irritate other people, but he didn’t want to scare them. He wanted his fellow travelers to know exactly who and what he was: I am a Native American and therefore have ten thousand more reasons to terrorize the U.S. than any of those Taliban jerk- offs, but I have chosen instead to become a civic American citizen, so all of you white folks should be celebrating my kindness and moral decency and awesome ability to forgive! Maybe William should have worn beaded vests when he traveled. Maybe he should have brought a hand drum and sang “Way, ya, way, ya, hey.” Maybe he should have thrown casino chips into the crowd.

The taxi driver turned west on Cherry, drove twenty blocks into downtown, took the entrance ramp onto I-5, and headed south for the airport. The freeway was moderately busy for that time of morning.

“Where are you going, sir?” asked the taxi driver. “I’ve got business in Chicago,” William said. He didn’t really want to talk. He

needed to meditate in silence. He needed to put his fear of fl ying inside an imaginary safe deposit box and lock it away. We all have our ceremonies, thought William, our personal narratives. He’d always needed to meditate in the taxi on the way to the airport. Immediately upon arrival at the departure gate, he’d listen to a tape he’d made of rock stars who died in plane crashes. Buddy Holly, Otis Redding, Stevie Ray, “Oh Donna,” “Chantilly Lace,” “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay.” William fi gured God would never kill a man who listened to such a morbid collection of music. Too easy a target, and plus, God could never justify killing a planeful of innocents to punish one minor sinner.

“What do you do, sir?” asked the taxi driver. “You know, I’m not sure,” said William and laughed. It was true. He worked

for a think tank and sold ideas about how to improve other ideas. Two years ago, his company had made a few hundred thousand dollars by designing and selling the idea of a better shopping cart. The CGI prototype was amazing. It looked like a mobile walk- in closet. But it had yet to be manufactured and probably never would be.

“You wear a good suit,” said the taxi driver, not sure why William was laugh- ing. “You must be a businessman, no? You must make lots of money.”

“I do okay.” “Your house is big and beautiful.” “Yes, I suppose it is.” “You are a family man, yes?” “I have a wife and daughter.”

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SHERMAN ALEXIE Flight Patterns 61

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“Are they beautiful?” William was pleasantly surprised to be asked such a question. “Yes,” he said.

“Their names are Marie and Grace. They’re very beautiful. I love them very much.”

“You must miss them when you travel.” “I miss them so much I go crazy,” said William. “I start thinking I’m going to

disappear, you know, just vanish, if I’m not home. Sometimes I worry their love is the only thing that makes me human, you know? I think if they stopped lov- ing me, I might burn up, spontaneously combust, and turn into little pieces of oxygen and hydrogen and carbon. Do you know what I’m saying?”

“Yes sir, I understand love can be so large.” William wondered why he was being honest and poetic with a taxi driver.

There is emotional safety in anonymity, he thought. “I have a wife and three sons,” said the driver. “But they live in Ethiopia with

my mother and father. I have not seen any of them for many years.” For the fi rst time, William looked closely at the driver. He was clear- eyed

and handsome, strong of shoulder and arm, maybe fi fty years old, maybe older. A thick scar ran from his right ear down his neck and beneath his collar. A black man with a violent history, William thought and immediately reprimanded himself for racially profi ling the driver: Excuse me, sir, but I pulled you over because your scar doesn’t belong in this neighborhood.

“I still think of my children as children,” the driver said. “But they are men now. Taller and stronger than me. They are older now than I was when I last saw them.”

William did the math and wondered how this driver could function with such fatherly pain. “I bet you can’t wait to go home and see them again,” he said, follow- ing the offi cial handbook of the frightened American male: When confronted with the mysterious, you can defend yourself by speaking in obvious generalities.

“I cannot go home,” said the taxi driver, “and I fear I will never see them again.” William didn’t want to be having this conversation. He wondered if his

silence would silence the taxi driver. But it was too late for that. “What are you?” the driver asked. “What do you mean?” “I mean, you are not white, your skin, it is dark like mine.” “Not as dark as yours.” “No,” said the driver and laughed. “Not so dark, but too dark to be white.

What are you? Are you Jewish?” Because they were so often Muslim, taxi drivers all over the world had often

asked William if he was Jewish. William was always being confused for some- thing else. He was ambiguously ethnic, living somewhere in the darker section of the Great American Crayola Box, but he was more beige than brown, more mauve than sienna.

“Why do you want to know if I’m Jewish?” William asked. “Oh, I’m sorry, sir, if I offended you. I am not anti- Semitic. I love all of my

brothers and sisters. Jews, Catholics, Buddhists, even the atheists, I love them all. Like you Americans sing, ‘Joy to the world and Jeremiah Bullfrog!’ ”6

6. Made famous by the band Three Dog Night, the song “Joy to the World” begins, “Jeremiah was a bullfrog.”

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The taxi driver laughed again, and William laughed with him. “I’m Indian,” William said. “From India?” “No, not jewel- on- the- forehead Indian,” said William. “I’m a bows- and-

arrows Indian.” “Oh, you mean ten little, nine little, eight little Indians?” “Yeah, sort of,” said William. “I’m that kind of Indian, but much smarter. I’m

a Spokane Indian. We’re salmon people.” “In En gland, they call you Red Indians.” “You’ve been to En gland?” “Yes, I studied physics at Oxford.” “Wow,” said William, wondering if this man was a liar. “You are surprised by this, I imagine. Perhaps you think I’m a liar?” William covered his mouth with one hand. He smiled this way when he was

embarrassed. “Aha, you do think I’m lying. You ask yourself questions about me. How could

a physicist drive a taxi? Well, in the United States, I am a cabdriver, but in Ethiopia, I was a jet- fi ghter pi lot.”

By coincidence or magic, or as a coincidence that could willfully be inter- preted as magic, they drove past Boeing Field at that exact moment.

“Ah, you see,” said the taxi driver, “I can fl y any of those planes. The prop planes, the jet planes, even the very large passenger planes. I can also fl y the experimental ones that don’t fl y. But I could make them fl y because I am the best pi lot in the world. Do you believe me?”

“I don’t know,” said William, very doubtful of this man but fascinated as well. If he was a liar, then he was a magnifi cent liar.

On both sides of the freeway, blue- collared men and women drove trucks and forklifts, unloaded trains, trucks, and ships, built computers, tele vi sions, and airplanes. Seattle was a city of industry, of hard work, of calluses on the palms of hands. So many men and women working so hard. William worried that his job— his selling of the purely theoretical— wasn’t a real job at all. He didn’t build anything. He couldn’t walk into department and grocery stores and buy what he’d created, manufactured, and shipped. William’s life was mea sured by imaginary numbers: the binary code of computer languages, the amount of money in his bank accounts, the interest rate on his mortgage, and the rise and fall of the stock market. He invested much of his money in socially responsible funds. Imagine that! Imagine choosing to trust your money with companies that supposedly made their millions through ethical means. Imagine the breath- taking privilege of such a choice. All right, so maybe this was an old story for white men. For most of American history, who else but a white man could endure the existential crisis of economic success? But this story was original and aborig- inal for William. For thousands of years, Spokane Indians had lived subsistence lives, using every last part of the salmon and deer because they’d die without every last part, but William only ordered salmon from menus and saw deer on tele vi sion. Maybe he romanticized the primal— for thousands of years, Indians also died of ear infections— but William wanted his comfortable and safe life to contain more wilderness.

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SHERMAN ALEXIE Flight Patterns 63

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“Sir, forgive me for saying this,” the taxi driver said, “but you do not look like the Red Indians I have seen before.”

“I know,” William said. “People usually think I’m a longhaired Mexican.” “What do you say to them when they think such a thing?” “No habla español. Indio de Norteamericanos.” “People think I’m black American. They always want to hip- hop rap to me.

‘Are you East Coast or West Coast?’ they ask me, and I tell them I am Ivory Coast.”

“How have things been since September eleventh?” “Ah, a good question, sir. It’s been interesting. Because people think I’m

black, they don’t see me as a terrorist, only as a crackhead addict on welfare. So I am a victim of only one misguided idea about who I am.”

“We’re all trapped by other people’s ideas, aren’t we?” “I suppose that is true, sir. How has it been for you?” “It’s all backward,” William said. “A few days after it happened, I was walking

out of my gym downtown, and this big phallic pickup pulled up in front of me in the crosswalk. Yeah, this big truck with big phallic tires and a big phallic fl agpole and a big phallic fl ag fl ying, and the big phallic symbol inside leaned out of his window and yelled at me, ‘Go back to your own country!’ ”

“Oh, that is sad and funny,” the taxi driver said. “Yeah,” William said. “And it wasn’t so much a hate crime as it was a crime of

irony, right? And I was laughing so hard, the truck was halfway down the block before I could get breath enough to yell back, ‘You fi rst!’ ”

William and the taxi driver laughed and laughed together. Two dark men laughing at dark jokes.

“I had to fl y on the fi rst day you could fl y,” William said. “And I was fl ying into Baltimore, you know, and D.C. and Baltimore are pretty much the same damn town, so it was like fl ying into Ground Zero, you know?”

“It must have been terrifying.” “It was, it was. I was sitting in the plane here in Seattle, getting ready to take

off, and I started looking around for suspicious brown guys. I was scared of little brown guys. So was everybody else. We were all afraid of the same things. I started looking around for big white guys because I fi gured they’d be under- cover cops, right?”

“Imagine wanting to be surrounded by white cops!” “Exactly! I didn’t want to see some pacifi st, vegan, whole- wheat, free- range,

organic, progressive, gray- ponytail, communist, liberal, draft- dodging, NPR- listening wimp! What are they going to do if somebody tries to hijack the plane? Throw a Birkenstock at him? Offer him some pot?”

“Marijuana might actually stop the violence everywhere in the world,” the taxi driver said.

“You’re right,” William said. “But on that plane, I was hoping for about twenty- fi ve NRA- loving, gun- nut, serial- killing, psychopathic, Ollie North,7

7. Oliver North (b. 1943), an ex– marine offi cer, now author and po liti cal commentator, fi rst became famous for his involvement in a secret weapons- for- hostages deal with the Ira ni an government.

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Norman Schwarzkopf,8 right- wing, Agent Orange, post- traumatic- stress- disorder, CIA, FBI, automatic- weapon, smart- bomb, laser- sighting bastards!”

“You wouldn’t want to invite them for dinner,” the taxi driver said. “But you want them to protect your children, am I correct?”

“Yes, but it doesn’t make sense. None of it makes sense. It’s all contradictions.” “The contradictions are the story, yes?” “Yes.” “I have a story about contradictions,” said the taxi driver. “Because you are a

Red Indian, I think you will understand my pain.” “Su- num- twee,” said William. “What is that? What did you say?” “Su- num- twee. It’s Spokane. My language.” “What does it mean?” “Listen to me.” “Ah, yes, that’s good. Su- num- twee, su- num- twee. So, what is your name?” “William.” The taxi driver sat high and straight in his seat, like he was going to say

something important. “William, my name is Fekadu. I am Oromo and Muslim, and I come from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, and I want you to su- num- twee.”

There was nothing more important than a person’s name and the names of his clan, tribe, city, religion, and country. By the social rules of his tribe, William should have reciprocated and offi cially identifi ed himself. He should have been polite and generous. He was expected to live by so many rules, he sometimes felt like he was living inside an indigenous version of an Edith Wharton9 novel.

“Mr. William,” asked Fekadu, “do you want to hear my story? Do you want to su- num- twee?”

“Yes, I do, sure, yes, please,” said William. He was lying. He was twenty min- utes away from the airport and so close to departure.

“I was not born into an important family,” said Fekadu. “But my father worked for an important family. And this important family worked for the family of Emperor Haile Selassie.1 He was a great and good and kind and terrible man, and he loved his country and killed many of his people. Have you heard of him?”

“No, I’m sorry, I haven’t.” “He was magical. Ruled our country for forty- three years. Imagine that! We

Ethiopians are strong. White people have never conquered us. We won every war we fought against white people. For all of our history, our emperors have been strong, and Selassie was the strongest. There has never been a man capa- ble of such love and destruction.”

“You fought against him?” Fekadu breathed in so deeply that William recognized it as a religious

moment, as the fi rst act of a ceremony, and with the second act, an exhalation, the ceremony truly began.

8. Norman Schwarzkopf (1934–2012), celebrated commander in chief of U.S. forces in Operation Desert Shield (1990). 9. American novelist (1862– 1937) known for her sophisticated depictions of upper- class mores. 1. Haile Selassie (1892– 1975), emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1936 and again from 1941 to 1974, when he was overthrown in a violent military coup.

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SHERMAN ALEXIE Flight Patterns 65

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“No,” Fekadu said. “I was a smart child. A genius. A prodigy. It was Selassie who sent me to Oxford. And there I studied physics and learned the math and art of fl ight. I came back home and fl ew jets for Selassie’s army.”

“Did you fl y in wars?” William asked. “Ask me what you really want to ask me, William. You want to know if I was

a killer, no?” William had a vision of his wife and daughter huddling terrifi ed in their

Seattle basement while military jets screamed overhead. It happened every August when the U.S. Navy Blue Angels came to entertain the masses with their aerial acrobatics.

“Do you want to know if I was a killer?” asked Fekadu. “Ask me if I was a killer.”

William wanted to know the terrible answer without asking the terrible question.

“Will you not ask me what I am?” asked Fekadu. “I can’t.” “I dropped bombs on my own people.” In the sky above them, William counted four, fi ve, six jets fl ying in holding

patterns while awaiting permission to land. “For three years, I killed my own people,” said Fekadu. “And then, on the

third of June in 1974, I could not do it anymore. I kissed my wife and sons good- bye that morning, and I kissed my mother and father, and I lied to them and told them I would be back that eve ning. They had no idea where I was going. But I went to the base, got into my plane, and fl ew away.”

“You defected?” William asked. How could a man steal a fi ghter plane? Was that possible? And if possible, how much courage would it take to commit such a crime? William was quite sure he could never be that courageous.

“Yes, I defected,” said Fekadu. “I fl ew my plane to France and was almost shot down when I violated their airspace, but they let me land, and they arrested me, and soon enough, they gave me asylum. I came to Seattle fi ve years ago, and I think I will live here the rest of my days.”

Fekadu took the next exit. They were two minutes away from the airport. William was surprised to discover that he didn’t want this journey to end so soon. He wondered if he should invite Fekadu for coffee and a sandwich, for a slice of pie, for brotherhood. William wanted to hear more of this man’s sto- ries and learn from them, whether they were true or not. Perhaps it didn’t matter if any one man’s stories were true. Fekadu’s autobiography might have been completely fabricated, but William was convinced that somewhere in  the world, somewhere in Africa or the United States, a man, a jet pi lot, wanted to fl y away from the war he was supposed to fi ght. There must be hundreds, maybe thousands, of such men, and how many were courageous enough to fl y away? If Fekadu wasn’t describing his own true pain and loneli- ness, then he might have been accidentally describing the pain of a real and lonely man.

“What about your family?” asked William, because he didn’t know what else to ask and because he was thinking of his wife and daughter. “Weren’t they in danger? Wouldn’t Selassie want to hurt them?”

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“I could only pray Selassie would leave them be. He had always been good to me, but he saw me as impulsive, so I hoped he would know my family had noth- ing to do with my fl ight. I was a coward for staying and a coward for leaving. But none of it mattered, because Selassie was overthrown a few weeks after I defected.”

“A coup?” “Yes, the Derg2 deposed him, and they slaughtered all of their enemies and

their enemies’ families. They suffocated Selassie with a pillow the next year. And now I could never return to Ethiopia because Selassie’s people would always want to kill me for my betrayal and the Derg would always want to kill me for being Selassie’s soldier. Every night and day, I worry that any of them might harm my family. I want to go there and defend them. I want to bring them here. They can sleep on my fl oor! But even now, after democracy has almost come to Ethiopia, I cannot go back. There is too much history and pain, and I am too afraid.”

“How long has it been since you’ve talked to your family?” “We write letters to each other, and sometimes we receive them. They sent

me photos once, but they never arrived for me to see. And for two days, I waited by the telephone because they were going to call, but it never rang.”

Fekadu pulled the taxi to a slow stop at the airport curb. “We are here, sir,” he said. “United Airlines.”

William didn’t know how this ceremony was supposed to end. He felt small and powerless against the collected history. “What am I supposed to do now?” he asked.

“Sir, you must pay me thirty- eight dollars for this ride,” said Fekadu and laughed. “Plus a very good tip.”

“How much is good?” “You see, sometimes I send cash to my family. I wrap it up and try to hide it

inside the envelope. I know it gets stolen, but I hope some of it gets through to my family. I hope they buy themselves gifts from me. I hope.”

“You pray for this?” “Yes, William, I pray for this. And I pray for your safety on your trip, and I

pray for the safety of your wife and daughter while you are gone.” “Pop the trunk, I’ll get my own bags,” said William as he gave sixty dollars to

Fekadu, exited the taxi, took his luggage out of the trunk, and slammed it shut. Then William walked over to the passenger- side window, leaned in, and studied Fekadu’s face and the terrible scar on his neck.

“Where did you get that?” William asked. Fekadu ran a fi nger along the old wound. “Ah,” he said. “You must think I got

this fl ying in a war. But no, I got this in a taxicab wreck. William, I am a much better jet pi lot than a car driver.”

Fekadu laughed loudly and joyously. William wondered how this poor man could be capable of such happiness, however temporary it was.

“Your stories,” said William. “I want to believe you.” “Then believe me,” said Fekadu. Unsure, afraid, William stepped back.

2. Brutal military junta that overthrew Haile Selassie in 1974 and ruled Ethiopia until the Derg (“Committee”) was itself toppled in 1991.

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GRACE PALEY A Conversation with My Father 67

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“Good- bye, William American,” Fekadu said and drove away. Standing at curbside, William couldn’t breathe well. He wondered if he was

dying. Of course he was dying, a fl awed mortal dying day by day, but he felt like he might fall over from a heart attack or stroke right there on the sidewalk. He left his bags and ran inside the terminal. Let a luggage porter think his bags were dangerous! Let a security guard x-ray the bags and fi nd mysterious shapes! Let a bomb- squad cowboy explode the bags as precaution! Let an airport manager shut down the airport and search every possible traveler! Let the FAA president order every airplane to land! Let the American skies be empty of everything with wings! Let the birds stop fl ying! Let the very air go still and cold! William didn’t care. He ran through the terminal, searching for an available pay phone, a landline, something true and connected to the ground, and he fi nally found one and dropped two quarters into the slot and dialed his home number, and it rang and rang and rang and rang, and William worried that his wife and daugh- ter were harmed, were lying dead on the fl oor, but then Marie answered.

“Hello, William,” she said. “I’m here,” he said.

2003

QUESTIONS

1. William tells himself a variety of stories to cope with his feelings. How do these stories relate to his dialogue with the taxi driver and the stories the driver tells?

2. The taxi driver asks William, “The contradictions are the story, yes?” (par. 128). What might this indicate about Sherman Alexie’s conception of the reality behind a good story?

3. At the end of Flight Patterns, does William fully believe Fekadu’s story? Does it matter to William whether or not Fekadu’s story is factual?

GRACE PALEY (1922–2007) A Conversation with My Father

Born to Rus sian immigrants in the Bronx, New York, Grace Paley attended Hunter College and New York University but never fi nished college because she was too busy reading and writing poetry before she turned to fi ction. Her short stories, fi rst published in The Little Disturbances of Man: Stories of Men and Women

at Love (1959), Enormous Changes at the Last Minute (1974), and Later the Same Day (1985), are assembled in The Collected Stories (1994); her poetry, in Begin Again: Col- lected Poems (2000); and her essays, reviews, and lectures, in Just as I Thought (1998). In 1987, she was awarded a Se nior Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts, in recognition of her lifetime contribution to literature. In 1988, she was named the fi rst New York State Author. Always po liti cally engaged, she was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War and a lifelong anti nuclear activist and feminist.

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M y father is eighty- six years old and in bed. His heart, that bloody motor, is equally old and will not do certain jobs any more. It still fl oods his head with brainy light. But it won’t let his legs carry the weight of his body around the house. Despite my meta phors, this muscle failure is not due to his old heart, he says, but to a potassium shortage. Sitting on one pillow, leaning on three, he offers last- minute advice and makes a request.

“I would like you to write a simple story just once more,” he says, “the kind de Maupassant wrote, or Chekhov, the kind you used to write. Just recognizable people and then write down what happened to them next.”

I say, “Yes, why not? That’s possible.” I want to please him, though I don’t remember writing that way. I would like to try to tell such a story, if he means the kind that begins: “There was a woman . . .” followed by plot, the absolute line between two points which I’ve always despised. Not for literary reasons, but because it takes all hope away. Everyone, real or invented, deserves the open destiny of life.

Finally I thought of a story that had been happening for a couple of years right across the street. I wrote it down, then read it aloud. “Pa,” I said, “how about this? Do you mean something like this?”

Once in my time there was a woman and she had a son. They lived nicely, in a small apartment in Manhattan. This boy at about fi fteen became a junkie, which is not unusual in our neighborhood. In order to maintain her close friendship with him, she became a junkie too. She said it was part of the youth culture, with which she felt very much at home. After a while, for a number of reasons, the boy gave it all up and left the city and his mother in disgust. Hopeless and alone, she grieved. We all visit her.

“O.K., Pa, that’s it,” I said, “an unadorned and miserable tale.” “But that’s not what I mean,” my father said. “You misunderstood me on pur-

pose. You know there’s a lot more to it. You know that. You left everything out. Turgenev1 wouldn’t do that. Chekhov wouldn’t do that. There are in fact Rus- sian writers you never heard of, you don’t have an inkling of, as good as anyone, who can write a plain ordinary story, who would not leave out what you have left out. I object not to facts but to people sitting in trees talking senselessly, voices from who knows where . . .”

“Forget that one, Pa, what have I left out now? In this one?” “Her looks, for instance.” “Oh. Quite handsome, I think. Yes.” “Her hair?” “Dark, with heavy braids, as though she were a girl or a foreigner.” “What were her parents like, her stock? That she became such a person. It’s

interesting, you know.” “From out of town. Professional people. The fi rst to be divorced in their

county. How’s that? Enough?” I asked. “With you, it’s all a joke,” he said. “What about the boy’s father. Why didn’t

you mention him? Who was he? Or was the boy born out of wedlock?”

1. Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev (1818– 83); his best- known novel, Fathers and Sons, deals with the con- fl ict between generations.

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GRACE PALEY A Conversation with My Father 69

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“Yes,” I said. “He was born out of wedlock.” “For Godsakes, doesn’t anyone in your stories get married? Doesn’t anyone

have the time to run down to City Hall before they jump into bed?” “No,” I said. “In real life, yes. But in my stories, no.” “Why do you answer me like that?” “Oh, Pa, this is a simple story about a smart woman who came to N.Y.C. full

of interest love trust excitement very up to date, and about her son, what a hard time she had in this world. Married or not, it’s of small consequence.”

“It is of great consequence,” he said. “O.K.,” I said. “O.K. O.K. yourself,” he said, “but listen. I believe you that she’s good-

looking, but I don’t think she was so smart.” “That’s true,” I said. “Actually that’s the trouble with stories. People start out

fantastic. You think they’re extraordinary, but it turns out as the work goes along, they’re just average with a good education. Sometimes the other way around, the person’s a kind of dumb innocent, but he outwits you and you can’t even think of an ending good enough.”

“What do you do then?” he asked. He had been a doctor for a couple of de cades and then an artist for a couple of de cades and he’s still interested in details, craft, technique.

“Well, you just have to let the story lie around till some agreement can be reached between you and the stubborn hero.”

“Aren’t you talking silly, now?” he asked. “Start again,” he said. “It so happens I’m not going out this eve ning. Tell the story again. See what you can do this time.”

“O.K.,” I said. “But it’s not a fi ve- minute job.” Second attempt:

Once, across the street from us, there was a fi ne handsome woman, our neighbor. She had a son whom she loved because she’d known him since birth (in helpless chubby infancy, and in the wrestling, hugging ages, seven to ten, as well as earlier and later). This boy, when he fell into the fi st of adoles- cence, became a junkie. He was not a hopeless one. He was in fact hopeful, an ideologue and successful converter. With his busy brilliance, he wrote persuasive articles for his high- school newspaper. Seeking a wider audience, using important connections, he drummed into Lower Manhattan newsstand distribution a periodical called Oh! Golden Horse!2

In order to keep him from feeling guilty (because guilt is the stony heart of nine tenths of all clinically diagnosed cancers in America today, she said), and because she had always believed in giving bad habits room at home where one could keep an eye on them, she too became a junkie. Her kitchen was famous for a while— a center for intellectual addicts who knew what they were doing. A few felt artistic like Coleridge3 and others were scientifi c and revolutionary like Leary.4 Although she was often high herself, certain good mothering refl exes remained, and she saw to it that there was lots of orange juice around and honey and milk and vitamin pills. However, she never cooked

2. Horse is slang for heroin. 3. Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772– 1834), En glish Romantic poet, claimed that his poem “Kubla Khan” recorded what he remembered of a dream stimulated by opium. 4. Timothy Leary (1920– 96), American psychologist, promoted the use of psychedelic drugs.

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anything but chili, and that no more than once a week. She explained, when we talked to her, seriously, with neighborly concern, that it was her part in the youth culture and she would rather be with the young, it was an honor, than with her own generation.

One week, while nodding through an Antonioni5 fi lm, this boy was severely jabbed by the elbow of a stern and proselytizing girl, sitting beside him. She offered immediate apricots and nuts for his sugar level, spoke to him sharply, and took him home.

She had heard of him and his work and she herself published, edited, and wrote a competitive journal called Man Does Live By Bread Alone. In the organic heat of her continuous presence he could not help but become inter- ested once more in his muscles, his arteries, and nerve connections. In fact he began to love them, trea sure them, praise them with funny little songs in Man Does Live . . .

the fi ngers of my fl esh transcend my transcendental soul the tightness in my shoulders end my teeth have made me whole

To the mouth of his head (that glory of will and determination) he brought hard apples, nuts, wheat germ, and soybean oil. He said to his old friends, From now on, I guess I’ll keep my wits about me. I’m going on the natch. He said he was about to begin a spiritual deep- breathing journey. How about you too, Mom? he asked kindly.

His conversion was so radiant, splendid, that neighborhood kids his age began to say that he had never been a real addict at all, only a journalist along for the smell of the story. The mother tried several times to give up what had become without her son and his friends a lonely habit. This effort only brought it to supportable levels. The boy and his girl took their electronic mimeograph and moved to the bushy edge of another borough. They were very strict. They said they would not see her again until she had been off drugs for sixty days.

At home alone in the eve ning, weeping, the mother read and reread the seven issues of Oh! Golden Horse! They seemed to her as truthful as ever. We often crossed the street to visit and console. But if we mentioned any of our children who were at college or in the hospital or dropouts at home, she would cry out, My baby! My baby! and burst into terrible, face- scarring, time- consuming tears. The End.

First my father was silent, then he said, “Number One: You have a nice sense of humor. Number Two: I see you can’t tell a plain story. So don’t waste time.” Then he said sadly, “Number Three: I suppose that means she was alone, she was left like that, his mother. Alone. Probably sick?”

I said, “Yes.” “Poor woman. Poor girl, to be born in a time of fools, to live among fools. The

end. The end. You were right to put that down. The end.”

5. Michelangelo Antonioni (1912– 2007), Italian fi lm director (Blow- Up, Zabriskie Point). Nodding: a slang term referring to the narcotic effect of heroin.

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GRACE PALEY A Conversation with My Father 71

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I didn’t want to argue, but I had to say, “Well, it is not necessarily the end, Pa.”

“Yes,” he said, “what a tragedy. The end of a person.” “No, Pa,” I begged him. “It doesn’t have to be. She’s only about forty. She

could be a hundred different things in this world as time goes on. A teacher or a social worker. An ex- junkie! Sometimes it’s better than having a master’s in education.”

“Jokes,” he said. “As a writer that’s your main trouble. You don’t want to rec- ognize it. Tragedy! Plain tragedy! Historical tragedy! No hope. The end.”

“Oh, Pa,” I said. “She could change.” “In your own life, too, you have to look it in the face.” He took a couple of

nitroglycerin.6 “Turn to fi ve,” he said, pointing to the dial on the oxygen tank. He inserted the tubes into his nostrils and breathed deep. He closed his eyes and said, “No.”

I had promised the family to always let him have the last word when arguing, but in this case I had a different responsibility. That woman lives across the street. She’s my knowledge and my invention. I’m sorry for her. I’m not going to leave her there in that house crying. (Actually neither would Life, which unlike me has no pity.)

Therefore: She did change. Of course her son never came home again. But right now, she’s the receptionist in a storefront community clinic in the East Village. Most of the customers are young people, some old friends. The head doctor said to her, “If we only had three people in this clinic with your experiences . . .”

“The doctor said that?” My father took the oxygen tubes out of his nostrils and said, “Jokes. Jokes again.”

“No, Pa, it could really happen that way, it’s a funny world nowadays.” “No,” he said. “Truth fi rst. She will slide back. A person must have character.

She does not.” “No, Pa,” I said. “That’s it. She’s got a job. Forget it. She’s in that storefront

working.” “How long will it be?” he asked. “Tragedy! You too. When will you look it in

the face?” 1974

QUESTIONS

1. What different ideas about stories and storytelling do the narrator and her father seem to have in A Conversation with My Father? What might account for their different attitudes?

2. In what ways is the narrator’s second version of her story an improvement over the fi rst? Why does her father still reject the story?

3. Why does the narrator’s father object so strongly to the jokes in the stories, even though he compliments her “nice sense of humor” (par. 36)? Are jokes out of place in a story about someone facing death?

6. Medicine for certain heart conditions.

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AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK GRACE PALEY (1922– 2007)

From “Conversation with Grace Paley” (1980)*

I have lots of pages that I’ll never turn into a story. [. . . They] are just a para- graph of nice writing, or something like that [. . .] It’s not that they’re not worth working with, but nothing in that paragraph gives me that feeling which is one of the impetuses of all storytelling: “I want to tell you a story— I want to tell you something.”

• • •

[. . . E]verybody tells stories, and we all tell stories all day long. I’ve told about seven or eight today myself. And we are storytellers— I mean, we’re keeping the record of this life on this place, on earth, you know— all the time. And often you tell a story and somebody says to you, “Gee, that’s a good story,” and you think to yourself, “Well, it certainly is a good story— it must be good— I’ve told it about six times.” But then you don’t write it. And you don’t write it because you’ve told it so many times. And also because in writing there has to be [. . .] some of the joy of mystery. [. . .] There’s a way I have of thinking about what you write, really write— you write what you don’t know about what you know.

• • •

I don’t really intend to be funny. [. . .] I have a story [. . .] “Conversation with My Father,” in which my father keeps telling me: “All you do is tell jokes.” And it was true [. . .] this was one of the things that he would always kind of bug me about. He’d say, “Okay, yeah, more jokes, you think that’s funny, right?” And I’d say, “No, I didn’t say it was funny. If people laugh, I can’t help it— I didn’t say it was funny.”

*“Conversation with Grace Paley.” Interview by Leonard Michaels. Threepenny Review, no. 3, Autumn 1980, pp. 4– 6. JSTOR, www . jstor . org / stable / 4382967.

TIM O’BRIEN (b. 1946) The Lives of the Dead

The son of an insurance salesman who was also a World War II veteran and of an elementary- school teacher who had served, during the war, as a WAVE (navy- speak for Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Ser vice), William Timothy (Tim) O’Brien grew up in Worthington, Minnesota, a place he has suggested one might fi nd a sketch of “[i]f you look in

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TIM O’BRIEN The Lives of the Dead 73

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a dictionary under the word ‘boring.’ ” After a childhood spent playing Little League and “reading books like [. . .] Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer,” as well as “crap [. . .] like The Hardy Boys,” O’Brien headed to college in 1964, just as the Vietnam War was escalating. In 1968, he was welcomed home, po liti cal science degree in hand, by a draft notice. Opposed to the war, O’Brien seriously considered evading ser vice by heading to nearby Canada, only to decide that he simply “ couldn’t do it.” Four months later he was an infantryman in Vietnam on a thirteen- month tour of duty. Returning home, in 1970, with a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, O’Brien began work on a Harvard PhD (in gov- ernment) that he would never fi nish and, with his hybrid memoir/novel If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home (1973), launched his career. Though he has published several other novels, O’Brien is primarily known for three books— If I Die . . . , the National Book Award– winning novel Going after Cacciato (1978), and the short- story collection The Things They Carried (1990). A fi nalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, the latter book opens with “The Things They Carried” and closes with “The Lives of the Dead.”

But this too is true: stories can save us. I’m forty- three years old, and a writer now, and even still, right here, I keep dreaming Linda alive. And Ted Lav- ender, too, and Kiowa, and Curt Lemon, and a slim young man I killed, and an old man sprawled beside a pigpen, and several others whose bodies I once lifted and dumped into a truck. They’re all dead. But in a story, which is a kind of dreaming, the dead sometimes smile and sit up and return to the world.

Start here: a body without a name. On an after noon in 1969 the platoon took sniper fi re from a fi lthy little village along the South China Sea.1 It lasted only a minute or two, and nobody was hurt, but even so Lieutenant Jimmy Cross got on the radio and ordered up an air strike. For the next half hour we watched the place burn. It was a cool bright morning, like early autumn, and the jets were glossy black against the sky. When it ended, we formed into a loose line and swept east through the village. It was all wreckage. I remember the smell of burnt straw; I remember broken fences and torn-up trees and heaps of stone and brick and pottery. The place was deserted—no people, no animals— and the only confi rmed kill was an old man who lay face-up near a pigpen at the center of the village. His right arm was gone. At his face there were already many fl ies and gnats.

Dave Jensen went over and shook the old man’s hand. “How- dee- doo,” he said. One by one the others did it too. They didn’t disturb the body, they just

grabbed the old man’s hand and offered a few words and moved away. Rat Kiley bent over the corpse. “Gimme fi ve,” he said. “A real honor.” “Pleased as punch,” said Henry Dobbins. I was brand- new to the war. It was my fourth day; I hadn’t yet developed a

sense of humor. Right away, as if I’d swallowed something, I felt a moist sick- ness rise up in my throat. I sat down beside the pigpen, closed my eyes, put my head between my knees.

After a moment Dave Jensen touched my shoulder.

1. Part of the Pacifi c Ocean enclosed by China and Taiwan (to the north), the Philippines (to the east), and Vietnam (to the west). This story takes place in Vietnam during the Vietnam War (c. 1954–75).

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“Be polite now,” he said. “Go introduce yourself. Nothing to be afraid about, just a nice old man. Show a little res pect for your elders.”

“No way.” “Maybe it’s too real for you?” “That’s right,” I said. “Way too real.” Jensen kept after me, but I didn’t go near the body. I didn’t even look at it

except by accident. For the rest of the day there was still that sickness inside me, but it wasn’t the old man’s corpse so much, it was that awesome act of greet- ing the dead. At one point, I remember, they sat the body up against a fence. They crossed his legs and talked to him. “The guest of honor,” Mitchell Sanders said, and he placed a can of orange slices in the old man’s lap. “Vitamin C,” he said gently. “A guy’s health, that’s the most im por tant thing.”

They proposed toasts. They lifted their canteens and drank to the old man’s family and ancestors, his many grandchildren, his newfound life after death. It was more than mockery. There was a formality to it, like a funeral without the sadness.

Dave Jensen fl icked his eyes at me. “Hey. O’Brien,” he said, “you got a toast in mind? Never too late for manners.” I found things to do with my hands. I looked away and tried not to think. Late in the after noon, just before dusk, Kiowa came up and asked if he could

sit at my foxhole for a minute. He offered me a Christmas cookie from a batch his father had sent him. It was February now, but the cookies tasted fi ne.

For a few moments Kiowa watched the sky. “You did a good thing today,” he said. “That shaking hands crap, it isn’t

decent. The guys’ll hassle you for a while— especially Jensen— but just keep saying no. Should’ve done it myself. Takes guts, I know that.”

“It wasn’t guts. I was scared.” Kiowa shrugged. “Same difference.” “No. I couldn’t do it. A mental block or something . . . I don’t know, just

creepy.” “Well, you’re new here. You’ll get used to it.” He paused for a second, study-

ing the green and red sprinkles on a cookie. “ Today— I guess this was your fi rst look at a real body?”

I shook my head. All day long I’d been picturing Linda’s face, the way she smiled.

“It sounds funny,” I said, “but that poor old man, he reminds me of . . . I mean, there’s this girl I used to know. I took her to the movies once. My fi rst date.”

Kiowa looked at me for a long while. Then he leaned back and smiled. “Man,” he said, “that’s a bad date.”

Linda was nine then, as I was, but we were in love. And it was real. When I write about her now, three de cades later, it’s tempting to dismiss it as a crush, an infatuation of childhood, but I know for a fact that what we felt for each other was as deep and rich as love can ever get. It had all the shadings and com- plexities of mature adult love, and maybe more, because there were not yet words for it, and because it was not yet fi xed to comparisons or chronologies or the ways by which adults mea sure such things.

I just loved her.

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TIM O’BRIEN The Lives of the Dead 75

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She had poise and great dignity. Her eyes, I remember, were deep brown like her hair, and she was slender and very quiet and fragile- looking.

Even then, at nine years old, I wanted to live inside her body. I wanted to melt into her bones— that kind of love.

And so in the spring of 1956, when we were in the fourth grade, I took her out on the fi rst real date of my life— a double date, actually, with my mo ther and father. Though I can’t remember the exact sequence, my mo ther had somehow arranged it with Linda’s parents, and on that damp spring night my dad did the driving while Linda and I sat in the back seat and stared out opposite win- dows, both of us trying to pretend it was nothing special. For me, though, it was very special. Down inside I had im por tant things to tell her, big profound things, but I couldn’t make any words come out. I had trou ble breathing. Now and then I’d glance over at her, thinking how beautiful she was: her white skin and those dark brown eyes and the way she always smiled at the world— always, it seemed—as if her face had been designed that way. The smile never went away. That night, I remember, she wore a new red cap, which seemed to me very stylish and sophisticated, very unusual. It was a stocking cap, basi- cally, except the tapered part at the top seemed extra long, almost too long, like a tail growing out of the back of her head. It made me think of the caps that Santa’s elves wear, the same shape and color, the same fuzzy white tassel at the tip.

Sitting there in the back seat, I wanted to fi nd some way to let her know how I felt, a compliment of some sort, but all I could manage was a stupid comment about the cap. “Jeez,” I must’ve said, “what a cap.”

Linda smiled at the win dow— she knew what I meant— but my mo ther turned and gave me a hard look. It surprised me. It was as if I’d brought up some horrible secret.

For the rest of the ride I kept my mouth shut. We parked in front of the Ben Franklin store2 and walked up Main Street toward the State Theater. My par- ents went fi rst, side by side, and then Linda in her new red cap, and then me tailing along ten or twenty steps behind. I was nine years old; I didn’t yet have the gift for small talk. Now and then my mo ther glanced back, making little motions with her hand to speed me up.

At the ticket booth, I remember, Linda stood off to one side. I moved over to the concession area, studying the candy, and both of us were very careful to avoid the awkwardness of eye contact. Which was how we knew about being in love. It was pure knowing. Neither of us, I suppose, would’ve thought to use that word, love, but by the fact of not looking at each other, and not talking, we understood with a clarity beyond language that we were sharing something huge and permanent.

Behind me, in the theater, I heard cartoon music. “Hey, step it up,” I said. I almost had the courage to look at her. “You want

popcorn or what?”

The thing about a story is that you dream it as you tell it, hoping that others might then dream along with you, and in this way memory and imagination and language

2. Discount store common in small towns throughout the United States since the 1920s.

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combine to make spirits in the head. There is the illusion of aliveness. In Viet- nam, for instance, Ted Lavender had a habit of popping four or fi ve tranquilizers every morning. It was his way of coping, just dealing with the realities, and the drugs helped to ease him through the days. I remember how peaceful his eyes were. Even in bad situations he had a soft, dreamy expression on his face, which was what he wanted, a kind of escape. “How’s the war today?” somebody would ask, and Ted Lavender would give a little smile to the sky and say, “Mellow— a nice smooth war today.” And then in April he was shot in the head outside the village of Than Khe. Kiowa and I and a couple of others were ordered to prepare his body for the dustoff.3 I remember squatting down, not wanting to look but then looking. Lavender’s left cheekbone was gone. There was a swollen blackness around his eye. Quickly, trying not to feel anything, we went through the kid’s pockets. I remember wishing I had gloves. It wasn’t the blood I hated; it was the deadness. We put his personal effects in a plastic bag and tied the bag to his arm. We stripped off the canteens and ammo, all the heavy stuff, and wrapped him up in his own poncho and carried him out to a dry paddy and laid him down.

For a while nobody said much. Then Mitchell Sanders laughed and looked over at the green plastic poncho.

“Hey, Lavender,” he said, “how’s the war today?” There was a short quiet. “Mellow,” somebody said. “Well, that’s good,” Sanders murmured, “that’s real, real good. Stay cool

now.” “Hey, no sweat, I’m mellow.” “Just ease on back, then. Don’t need no pills. We got this incredible chopper

on call, this once in a lifetime mind- trip.” “Oh, yeah— mellow!” Mitchell Sanders smiled. “There it is, my man, this chopper gonna take you

up high and cool. Gonna relax you. Gonna alter your whole perspective on this sorry, sorry shit.”

We could almost see Ted Lavender’s dreamy blue eyes. We could almost hear him.

“Roger that,” somebody said. “I’m ready to fl y.” There was the sound of the wind, the sound of birds and the quiet after noon,

which was the world we were in. That’s what a story does. The bodies are animated. You make the dead talk.

They sometimes say things like, “Roger that.” Or they say, “Timmy, stop crying,” which is what Linda said to me after she was dead.

Even now I can see her walking down the aisle of the old State Theater in Worthington, Minnesota.4 I can see her face in profi le beside me, the cheeks softly lighted by coming attractions.

The movie that night was The Man Who Never Was.5 I remember the plot clearly, or at least the premise, because the main character was a corpse. That

3. Medical evacuation he li cop ter, perhaps an acronym for Dedicated Unhesitating Ser vice to Our Fighting Forces. 4. Small town near the South Dakota border where author Tim O’Brien grew up. 5. Film (1956) based on real events that occurred during World War II.

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TIM O’BRIEN The Lives of the Dead 77

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fact alone, I know, deeply impressed me. It was a World War Two fi lm: the Allies6 devise a scheme to mislead Germany about the site of the upcoming landings in Eu rope. They get their hands on a body— a British soldier, I believe; they dress him up in an offi cer’s uniform, plant fake documents in his pockets, then dump him in the sea and let the currents wash him onto a Nazi beach. The Germans fi nd the documents; the deception wins the war. Even now, I can remember the awful splash as that corpse fell into the sea. I remember glancing over at Linda, thinking it might be too much for her, but in the dim gray light she seemed to be smiling at the screen. There were little crinkles at her eyes, her lips open and gently curving at the corners. I couldn’t understand it. There was nothing to smile at. Once or twice, in fact, I had to close my eyes, but it didn’t help much. Even then I kept seeing the soldier’s body tumbling toward the water, splashing down hard, how inert and heavy it was, how completely dead.

It was a relief when the movie fi nally ended. Afterward, we drove out to the Dairy Queen at the edge of town. The night

had a quilted, weighted- down quality, as if somehow burdened, and all around us the Minnesota prairies reached out in long repetitive waves of corn and soy- beans, everything fl at, everything the same. I remember eating ice cream in the back seat of the Buick, and a long blank drive in the dark, and then pulling up in front of Linda’s house. Things must’ve been said, but it’s all gone now except for a few last images. I remember walking her to the front door. I remember the brass porch light with its fi erce yellow glow, my own feet, the juniper bushes along the front steps, the wet grass, Linda close beside me. We were in love. Nine years old, yes, but it was real love, and now we were alone on those front steps. Finally we looked at each other.

“Bye,” I said. Linda nodded and said, “Bye.”

Over the next few weeks Linda wore her new red cap to school every day. She never took it off, not even in the classroom, and so it was inevitable that she took some teasing about it. Most of it came from a kid named Nick Veenhof. Out on the playground, during recess, Nick would creep up behind her and make a grab for the cap, almost yanking it off, then scampering away. It went on like that for weeks: the girls giggling, the guys egging him on. Naturally I wanted to do something about it, but it just wasn’t possi ble. I had my reputation to think about. I had my pride. And there was also the prob lem of Nick Veenhof. So I stood off to the side, just a spectator, wishing I could do things I couldn’t do. I watched Linda clamp down the cap with the palm of her hand, holding it there, smiling over in Nick’s direction as if none of it really mattered.

For me, though, it did matter. It still does. I should’ve stepped in; fourth grade is no excuse. Besides, it doesn’t get easier with time, and twelve years later, when Vietnam presented much harder choices, some practice at being brave might’ve helped a little.

Also, too, I might’ve stopped what happened next. Maybe not, but at least it’s possi ble.

Most of the details I’ve forgotten, or maybe blocked out, but I know it was an after noon in late spring, and we were taking a spelling test, and halfway into

6. Co ali tion of nations including France, Great Britain, and the United States.

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the test Nick Veenhof held up his hand and asked to use the pencil sharpener. Right away a couple of kids laughed. No doubt he’d broken the pencil on pur- pose, but it wasn’t something you could prove, and so the teacher nodded and told him to hustle it up. Which was a mistake. Out of nowhere Nick developed a terrible limp. He moved in slow motion, dragging himself up to the pencil sharp- ener and carefully slipping in his pencil and then grinding away forever. At the time, I suppose, it was funny. But on the way back to his seat Nick took a short detour. He squeezed between two desks, turned sharply right, and moved up the aisle toward Linda.

I saw him grin at one of his pals. In a way, I already knew what was coming. As he passed Linda’s desk, he dropped the pencil and squatted down to get

it. When he came up, his left hand slipped behind her back. There was a half- second hesitation. Maybe he was trying to stop himself; maybe then, just briefl y, he felt some small approximation of guilt. But it wasn’t enough. He took hold of the white tassel, stood up, and gently lifted off her cap.

Somebody must’ve laughed. I remember a short, tinny echo. I remember Nick Veenhof trying to smile. Somewhere behind me, a girl said, “Uh,” or a sound like that.

Linda didn’t move. Even now, when I think back on it, I can still see the glossy whiteness of her

scalp. She wasn’t bald. Not quite. Not completely. There were some tufts of hair, little patches of grayish brown fuzz. But what I saw then, and keep seeing now, is all that whiteness. A smooth, pale, translucent white. I could see the bones and veins; I could see the exact structure of her skull. There was a large Band- Aid at the back of her head, a row of black stitches, a piece of gauze taped above her left ear.

Nick Veenhof took a step backward. He was still smiling, but the smile was doing strange things.

The whole time Linda stared straight ahead, her eyes locked on the blackboard, her hands loosely folded at her lap. She didn’t say anything. After a time, though, she turned and looked at me across the room. It lasted only a moment, but I had the feeling that a whole conversation was happening between us. Well? she was saying, and I was saying, Sure, okay.

Later on, she cried for a while. The teacher helped her put the cap back on, then we fi nished the spelling test and did some fi ngerpainting, and after school that day Nick Veenhof and I walked her home.

It’s now 1990. I’m forty- three years old, which would’ve seemed impossible to a fourth grader, and yet when I look at photographs of myself as I was in 1956, I realize that in the im por tant ways I haven’t changed at all. I was Timmy then; now I’m Tim. But the essence remains the same. I’m not fooled by the baggy pants or the crew cut or the happy smile— I know my own eyes— and there is no doubt that the Timmy smiling at the camera is the Tim I am now. Inside the body, or beyond the body, there is something absolute and unchanging. The human life is all one thing, like a blade tracing loops on ice: a little kid, a twenty- three- year- old infantry sergeant, a middle- aged writer knowing guilt and sorrow.

And as a writer now, I want to save Linda’s life. Not her body— her life. She died, of course. Nine years old and she died. It was a brain tumor. She lived

through the summer and into the fi rst part of September, and then she was dead.

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But in a story I can steal her soul. I can revive, at least briefl y, that which is absolute and unchanging. In a story, miracles can happen. Linda can smile and sit up. She can reach out, touch my wrist, and say, “Timmy, stop crying.

I needed that kind of miracle. At some point I had come to understand that Linda was sick, maybe even dying, but I loved her and just couldn’t accept it. In the middle of the summer, I remember, my mo ther tried to explain to me about brain tumors. Now and then, she said, bad things start growing inside us. Some- times you can cut them out and other times you can’t, and for Linda it was one of the times when you can’t.

I thought about it for several days. “All right,” I fi nally said. “So will she get better now?”

“Well, no,” my mo ther said, “I don’t think so.” She stared at a spot behind my shoulder. “Sometimes people don’t ever get better. They die sometimes.”

I shook my head. “Not Linda,” I said. But on a September after noon, during noon recess, Nick Veenhof came up to

me on the school playground. “Your girlfriend,” he said, “she kicked the bucket.” At fi rst I didn’t understand. “She’s dead,” he said. “My mom told me at lunch- time. No lie, she actually

kicked the goddang bucket.” All I could do was nod. Somehow it didn’t quite register. I turned away, glanced

down at my hands for a second, then walked home without telling anyone. It was a little after one o’clock, I remember, and the house was empty. I drank some choco late milk and then lay down on the sofa in the living

room, not really sad, just fl oating, trying to imagine what it was to be dead. Nothing much came to me. I remember closing my eyes and whispering her name, almost begging, trying to make her come back. “Linda,” I said, “please.” And then I concentrated. I willed her alive. It was a dream, I suppose, or a day- dream, but I made it happen. I saw her coming down the middle of Main Street, all alone. It was nearly dark and the street was deserted, no cars or people, and Linda wore a pink dress and shiny black shoes. I remember sitting down on the curb to watch. All her hair had grown back. The scars and stitches were gone. In the dream, if that’s what it was, she was playing a game of some sort, laugh- ing and running up the empty street, kicking a big aluminum water bucket.

Right then I started to cry. After a moment Linda stopped and carried her water bucket over to the curb and asked why I was so sad.

“Well, God,” I said, “you’re dead.” Linda nodded at me. She was standing under a yellow streetlight. A nine-

year- old girl, just a kid, and yet there was something ageless in her eyes— not a child, not an adult— just a bright ongoing everness, that same pinprick of abso- lute lasting light that I see today in my own eyes as Timmy smiles at Tim from the graying photographs of that time.

“Dead,” I said. Linda smiled. It was a secret smile, as if she knew things nobody could ever

know, and she reached out and touched my wrist and said, “Timmy, stop crying. It doesn’t matter.”

In Vietnam, too, we had ways of making the dead seem not quite so dead. Shaking hands, that was one way. By slighting death, by acting, we pretended

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it was not the terrible thing it was. By our language, which was both hard and wistful, we transformed the bodies into piles of waste. Thus, when someone got killed, as Curt Lemon did, his body was not really a body, but rather one small bit of waste in the midst of a much wider wastage. I learned that words make a difference. It’s easier to cope with a kicked bucket than a corpse; if it isn’t human, it doesn’t matter much if it’s dead. And so a VC nurse, fried by napalm,7 was a crispy critter. A Viet nam ese baby, which lay nearby, was a roasted peanut. “Just a crunchie munchie,” Rat Kiley said as he stepped over the body.

We kept the dead alive with stories. When Ted Lavender was shot in the head, the men talked about how they’d never seen him so mellow, how tran- quil he was, how it wasn’t the bullet but the tranquilizers that blew his mind. He wasn’t dead, just laid- back. There were Christians among us, like Kiowa, who believed in the New Testament stories of life after death. Other stories were passed down like legends from old- timer to newcomer. Mostly, though, we had to make up our own. Often they were exaggerated, or blatant lies, but it was a way of bringing body and soul back together, or a way of making new bodies for the souls to inhabit. There was a story, for instance, about how Curt Lemon had gone trick- or- treating on Halloween. A dark, spooky night, and so Lemon put on a ghost mask and painted up his body all different colors and crept across a paddy to a sleeping village— almost stark naked, the story went, just boots and balls and an M-16— and in the dark Lemon went from hootch to hootch8— ringing doorbells, he called it— and a few hours later, when he slipped back into the perimeter, he had a whole sackful of goodies to share with his pals: candles and joss sticks9 and a pair of black pajamas and statu- ettes of the smiling Buddha. That was the story, anyway. Other versions were much more elaborate, full of descriptions and scraps of dialogue. Rat Kiley liked to spice it up with extra details: “See, what happens is, it’s like four in the morning, and Lemon sneaks into a hootch with that weird ghost mask on. Everybody’s asleep, right? So he wakes up this cute little mama- san.1 Tickles her foot. ‘Hey, Mama- san,’ he goes, real soft like. Hey, Mama- san— trick or treat!’ Should’ve seen her face. About freaks. I mean, there’s this buck naked ghost standing there, and he’s got this M-16 up against her ear and he whis- pers, ‘Hey, Mama- san, trick or fuckin’ treat!’ Then he takes off her pj’s. Strips her right down. Sticks the pajamas in his sack and tucks her into bed and heads for the next hootch.”

Pausing a moment. Rat Kiley would grin and shake his head. “Honest to God,” he’d murmur. “Trick or treat. Lemon— there’s one class act.”

To listen to the story, especially as Rat Kiley told it, you’d never know that Curt Lemon was dead. He was still out there in the dark, naked and painted

7. Flammable jelly used in incendiary bombs. VC: Viet Cong (military acronym/slang), short for Viet Nam Cong Sam, meaning “Viet nam ese Communists,” the guerrilla force that fought, with the sup- port of the North Viet nam ese Army, against both South Vietnam and the United States during the Vietnam War. 8. Hut or small dwelling (slang). 9. Incense sticks. 1. In East Asia, a woman in authority; in Japa nese, san is an honorifi c suffi x, a title (not unlike “Mr.” or “Mrs.”) added to names and proper nouns to indicate res pect.

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TIM O’BRIEN The Lives of the Dead 81

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up, trick- or- treating, sliding from hootch to hootch in that crazy white ghost mask. But he was dead.

In September, the day after Linda died, I asked my father to take me down to Benson’s Funeral Home to view the body. I was a fi fth grader then; I was curi- ous. On the drive downtown my father kept his eyes straight ahead. At one point, I remember, he made a scratchy sound in his throat. It took him a long time to light up a cigarette.

“Timmy,” he said, “you’re sure about this?” I nodded at him. Down inside, of course. I wasn’t sure, and yet I had to see

her one more time. What I needed, I suppose, was some sort of fi nal confi rma- tion, something to carry with me after she was gone.

When we parked in front of the funeral home, my father turned and looked at me. “If this bothers you,” he said, “just say the word. We’ll make a quick get- away. Fair enough?”

“Okay,” I said. “Or if you start to feel sick or anything—” “I won’t,” I told him. Inside, the fi rst thing I noticed was the smell, thick and sweet, like something

sprayed out of a can. The viewing room was empty except for Linda and my father and me. I felt a rush of panic as we walked up the aisle. The smell made me dizzy. I tried to fi ght it off, slowing down a little, taking short, shallow breaths through my mouth. But at the same time I felt a funny excitement. Anticipation, in a way— that same awkward feeling as when I’d walked up the sidewalk to ring her doorbell on our fi rst date. I wanted to impress her. I wanted something to happen between us, a secret signal of some sort. The room was dimly lighted, almost dark, but at the far end of the aisle Linda’s white casket was illuminated by a row of spotlights up in the ceiling. Everything was quiet. My father put his hand on my shoulder, whispered something, and backed off. After a moment I edged forward a few steps, pushing up on my toes for a better look.

It didn’t seem real. A mistake, I thought. The girl lying in the white casket wasn’t Linda. There was a resemblance, maybe, but where Linda had always been very slender and fragile- looking, almost skinny, the body in that casket was fat and swollen. For a second I wondered if somebody had made a terrible blunder. A technical mistake: pumped her too full of formaldehyde or embalm- ing fl uid or what ever they used. Her arms and face were bloated. The skin at her cheeks was stretched out tight like the rubber skin on a balloon just before it pops open. Even her fi ngers seemed puffy. I turned and glanced behind me, where my father stood, thinking that maybe it was a joke— hoping it was a joke— almost believing that Linda would jump out from behind one of the cur- tains and laugh and yell out my name.

But she didn’t. The room was silent. When I looked back at the casket, I felt dizzy again. In my heart, I’m sure, I knew this was Linda, but even so I couldn’t fi nd much to recognize. I tried to pretend she was taking a nap, her hands folded at her stomach, just sleeping away the after noon. Except she didn’t look asleep. She looked dead. She looked heavy and totally dead.

I remember closing my eyes. After a while my father stepped up beside me. “Come on now,” he said. “Let’s go get some ice cream.”

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In the months after Ted Lavender died, there were many other bodies. I never shook hands— not that— but one after noon I climbed a tree and threw down what was left of Curt Lemon. I watched my friend Kiowa sink into the muck along the Song Tra Bong. And in early July, after a battle in the mountains, I was assigned to a six- man detail to police up the enemy KIAs.2 There were twenty- seven bodies altogether, and parts of several others. The dead were every- where. Some lay in piles. Some lay alone. One, I remember, seemed to kneel. Another was bent from the waist over a small boulder, the top of his head on the ground, his arms rigid, the eyes squinting in concentration as if he were about to perform a handstand or somersault. It was my worst day at the war. For three hours we carried the bodies down the mountain to a clearing alongside a narrow dirt road. We had lunch there, then a truck pulled up, and we worked in two- man teams to load the truck. I remember swinging the bodies up. Mitchell Sanders took a man’s feet, I took the arms, and we counted to three, working up momentum, and then we tossed the body high and watched it bounce and come to rest among the other bodies. The dead had been dead for more than a day. They were all badly bloated. Their clothing was stretched tight like sausage skins, and when we picked them up, some made sharp burping sounds as the gases were released. They were heavy. Their feet were bluish green and cold. The smell was terrible. At one point Mitchell Sanders looked at me and said, “Hey, man, I just realized something.”

“What?” He wiped his eyes and spoke very quietly, as if awed by his own wisdom. “Death sucks,” he said.

Lying in bed at night, I made up elaborate stories to bring Linda alive in my sleep. I in ven ted my own dreams. It sounds impossible, I know, but I did it. I’d picture somebody’s birthday party— a crowded room, I’d think, and a big choco- late cake with pink candles— and then soon I’d be dreaming it, and after a while Linda would show up, as I knew she would, and in the dream we’d look at each other and not talk much, because we were shy, but then later I’d walk her home and we’d sit on her front steps and stare at the dark and just be together.

She’d say amazing things sometimes. “Once you’re alive,” she’d say, “you can’t ever be dead.”

Or she’d say: “Do I look dead?” It was a kind of self- hypnosis. Partly willpower, partly faith, which is how

stories arrive. But back then it felt like a miracle. My dreams had become a secret meeting

place, and in the weeks after she died I couldn’t wait to fall asleep at night. I began going to bed earlier and earlier, sometimes even in bright daylight. My mo ther, I remember, fi nally asked about it at breakfast one morning. “Timmy, what’s wrong?” she said, but all I could do was shrug and say, “Nothing. I just need sleep, that’s all.” I didn’t dare tell the truth. It was embarrassing, I sup- pose, but it was also a precious secret, like a magic trick, where if I tried to explain it, or even talk about it, the thrill and mystery would be gone. I didn’t want to lose Linda.

2. Killed in action (military acronym/slang).

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TIM O’BRIEN The Lives of the Dead 83

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She was dead. I understood that. After all, I’d seen her body. And yet even as a nine- year- old I had begun to practice the magic of stories. Some I just dreamed up. Others I wrote down— the scenes and dialogue. And at nighttime I’d slide into sleep knowing that Linda would be there waiting for me. Once, I remem- ber, we went ice skating late at night, tracing loops and circles under yellow fl oodlights. Later we sat by a wood stove in the warming house, all alone, and after a while I asked her what it was like to be dead. Apparently Linda thought it was a silly question. She smiled and said, “Do I look dead?”

I told her no, she looked terrifi c. I waited a moment, then asked again, and Linda made a soft little sigh. I could smell our wool mittens drying on the stove.

For a few seconds she was quiet. “Well, right now,” she said, “I’m not dead. But when I am, it’s like . . . I don’t

know. I guess it’s like being inside a book that nobody’s reading.” “A book?” I said. “An old one. It’s up on a library shelf, so you’re safe and everything, but the

book hasn’t been checked out for a long, long time. All you can do is wait. Just hope somebody’ll pick it up and start reading.”

Linda smiled at me. “Anyhow, it’s not so bad,” she said. “I mean, when you’re dead, you just have

to be yourself.” She stood up and put on her red stocking cap. “This is stupid. Let’s go skate some more.”

So I followed her down to the frozen pond. It was late, and nobody else was there, and we held hands and skated almost all night under the yellow lights.

And then it becomes 1990. I’m forty- three years old, and a writer now, still dreaming Linda alive in exactly the same way. She’s not the embodied Linda; she’s mostly made up, with a new identity and a new name, like the man who never was. Her real name doesn’t matter. She was nine years old. I loved her and then she died. And yet right here, in the spell of memory and imagination, I can still see her as if through ice, as if I’m gazing into some other world, a place where there are no brain tumors and no funeral homes, where there are no bodies at all. I can see Kiowa, too, and Ted Lavender and Curt Lemon, and sometimes I can even see Timmy skating with Linda under the yellow fl ood- lights. I’m young and happy. I’ll never die. I’m skimming across the surface of my own history, moving fast, riding the melt beneath the blades, doing loops and spins, and when I take a high leap into the dark and come down thirty years later, I realize it is as Tim trying to save Timmy’s life with a story.

1986, 1990

QUESTIONS

1. This story begins, “But this too is true: stories can save us” (par. 1). In what different ways does that prove true in this story? Why “but”?

2. In terms of the story’s exploration of the relationship between fact and fi ction, life and stories, how might it matter that the story’s narrator is called Tim O’Brien? that the movie Linda and Timmy see is The Man Who Never Was?

3. What do Nick Veenhof and the incident with Linda’s red cap contribute to the story? How would the story work differently, and how might its meaning change without this character or incident?

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SUGGESTIONS FOR WRITING

1. Citing examples from one or more of the stories in this album, write an essay dis- cussing the effects of storytelling on the actions, attitudes, and/or relationships of the characters.

2. Write an essay comparing what A Conversation with My Father and The Lives of the Dead suggest about the relationship between death and stories. Might the vari ous characters within each story (and especially Paley’s) express different views? If so, which, if any, does each story seem to embrace?

3. Write a response paper or essay comparing an experience you’ve had either telling or hearing a personally revealing story to the experience of Fekadu or William in Flight Patterns. What might the depiction of this character’s experience now help you see or understand about your own? Conversely, how might your experience shape your response to theirs?

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At its most basic, every story is an attempt to answer the question What hap- pened? In some cases, this question is easy to answer. J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy (1954– 55) is full of battles, chases, and other heart- stopping dramatic action; Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) relates Huck and Jim’s adventures as they travel down the Mississippi River. Yet if we ask what happens in other works of fi ction, our initial answer might well be, “Not much.” In one of the most pivotal scenes in Henry James’s novel The Portrait of a Lady (1881), for example, a woman enters a room, sees a man sitting down and a woman stand- ing up, and beats a hasty retreat. Not terribly exciting stuff, it would seem. Yet this event ends up radically transforming the lives of just about everyone in the novel. “On very tiny pivots do human lives turn” would thus seem to be one common message— or theme— of fi ction.

All fi ction, regardless of its subject matter, should make us ask, What will hap- pen next? and How will all this turn out? And responsive readers of fi ction will often pause to answer those questions, trying to articulate just what their expecta- tions are and how the story has shaped them. But great fi ction and responsive readers are often just as interested in questions about why things happen and about how the characters’ lives are affected as a result. These how and why questions are likely to be answered very differently by different readers of the very same fi ctional work; as a result, such questions will often generate powerful essays, whereas mainly factual questions about what happens in the work usually won’t.

PLOT VERSUS ACTION, SEQUENCE, AND SUBPLOT

The term plot is sometimes used to refer to the events recounted in a fi ctional work. But in this book we instead use the term action in this way, reserving the term plot for the way the author sequences and paces the events so as to shape our response and interpretation.

The difference between action and plot resembles the difference between ancient chronicles that merely list the events of a king’s reign in chronological order and more modern histories that make a meaningful sequence out of those events. As the British novelist and critic E. M. Forster put it, “The king died and then the queen died” is not a plot, for it has not been “tampered with.” “The queen died after the king died” describes the same events, but the order in which they are reported has been changed. The reader of the fi rst sentence focuses on the king fi rst, the reader of the second on the queen. The second sentence, moreover, subtly encourages us to speculate about why things happened, not just what happened and when: Did the queen die because her husband did? If so, was her death the result of her grief? Or was she murdered by a rival who saw the king’s death as the perfect opportunity to

PLOT1

Understanding the Text

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get rid of her, too? Though our two sentences describe the same action, each has quite a different focus, emphasis, effect, and meaning thanks to its sequencing— the precise order in which events are related.

Like chronicles, many fi ctional works do relate events in chronological order, starting with the earliest and ending with the latest. Folktales, for example, have this sort of plot. But fi ction writers have other choices; events need not be recounted in the par tic u lar order in which they happened. Quite often, then, a writer will choose to mix things up, perhaps opening a story with the most recent event and then moving backward to show us all that led up to it. Still other stories begin somewhere in the middle of the action or, to use the Latin term, in medias res (literally, “in the middle of things”). In such plots, events that occurred before the story’s opening are sometimes presented in fl ashbacks. Conversely, a story might jump forward in time to recount a later episode or event in a fl ashforward. Fore- shadowing occurs when an author merely gives subtle clues or hints about what will happen later in the story.

Though we often talk about the plot of a fi ctional work, however, keep in mind that some works, especially longer ones, have two or more. A plot that receives signifi cantly less time and attention than another is called a subplot.

PACE

In life, we sometimes have little choice about how long a par tic u lar event lasts. If you want a driver’s license, you may have to spend a boring hour or two at the motor vehicle offi ce. And much as you might prefer to relax and enjoy your lunch, occasionally you have to scarf it down in the ten minutes it takes you to drive to campus.

One of the pleasures of turning experiences into a story, however, is that doing so gives a writer more power over them. In addition to choosing the order in which to recount events, the writer can also decide how much time and attention to devote to each. Pacing, or the duration of par tic u lar episodes— especially relative to each other and to the time they would have taken in real life— is a vital tool of storytellers and another important factor to consider in analyzing plots. In all fi c- tion, pace as much as sequence determines focus and emphasis, effect and mean- ing. And though it can be very helpful to differentiate between “fast- paced” and “slow- paced” fi ction, all effective stories contain both faster and slower bits. When an author slows down to home in on a par tic u lar moment and scene, often intro- duced by a phrase such as “Later that eve ning . . .” or “The day before Maggie fell down . . . ,” we call this a discriminated occasion. For example, the fi rst para- graph of Linda Brewer’s 20/20 quickly and generally refers to events that occur over three days. Then Brewer suddenly slows down, pinpointing an incident that takes place on “[t]he third eve ning out. . . .” That episode consumes four paragraphs of the story, even though the action described in those paragraphs accounts for only a few minutes of Bill and Ruthie’s time. Next the story devotes two more para- graphs to an incident that occurs “[t]he next eve ning.” In the last paragraph, Brewer speeds up again, telling us about the series of “wonderful sights” Ruthie sees between Indiana and Spokane, Washington.

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PLOT 87

CONFLICTS

What ever their sequence and pace, all plots hinge on at least one confl ict— some sort of struggle— and its resolution. Confl icts may be external or internal. Exter- nal confl icts arise between characters and something or someone outside them- selves. Adventure stories and fi lms often present this sort of confl ict in its purest form, keeping us poised on the edge of our seats as James Bond struggles to outwit and outfi ght an arch- villain intent on world domination or destruction. Yet exter- nal confl icts can also be much subtler, pitting an individual against nature or fate, against a social force such as racism or poverty, or against another person or group of people with a different way of looking at things (as in “20/20”). The cartoon below presents an external confl ict of the latter type and one you may well see quite differently than the cartoonist does.

Internal confl icts occur when a character struggles to reconcile two competing desires, needs, or duties, or two parts or aspects of himself: His head, for instance, might tell him to do one thing, his heart another. Often, a confl ict is simultane- ously external and internal, as in the following brief folktale, in which a woman seems to struggle simultaneously with nature, with mortality, with God, and with her desire to hold on to someone she loves versus her need to let go.

JACOB AND WILHELM GRIMM The Shroud

There was once a mother who had a little boy of seven years old, who was so handsome and lovable that no one could look at him without liking him,

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and she herself worshipped him above everything in the world. Now it so hap- pened that he suddenly became ill, and God took him to himself; and for this the mother could not be comforted, and wept both day and night. But soon afterwards, when the child had been buried, it appeared by night in the places where it had sat and played during its life, and if the mother wept, it wept also, and, when morning came, it disappeared. As, however, the mother would not stop crying, it came one night, in the little white shroud in which it had been laid in its coffi n, and with its wreath of fl owers round its head, and stood on the bed at her feet, and said, “Oh, mother, do stop crying, or I shall never fall asleep in my coffi n, for my shroud will not dry because of all thy tears which fall upon it.” The mother was afraid when she heard that, and wept no more. The next night the child came again, and held a little light in its hand, and said, “Look, mother, my shroud is nearly dry, and I can rest in my grave.” Then the mother gave her sorrow into God’s keeping, and bore it quietly and patiently, and the child came no more, but slept in its little bed beneath the earth.

1812

• • •

THE FIVE PARTS OF PLOT

Even compact and simple plots, like that of The Shroud, have the same fi ve parts or phases as lengthy and complex plots: (1) exposition, (2) rising action, (3) climax or turning point, (4) falling action, and (5) conclusion or resolution. The following diagram, named Freytag’s pyramid after the nineteenth- century German scholar Gustav Freytag, maps out a typical plot structure:

Freytag’s Pyramid

resolution

climax

falling actionris ing

a ct

ion

inciting incident

exposition conclusion

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Exposition

The fi rst part of the plot, called the exposition, introduces the characters, their situations, and, usually, a time and place, giving us all the basic information we need to understand what is to come. In longer works of fi ction, exposition may go on for paragraphs or even pages, and some exposition may well be deferred until later phases of the plot. But in our examples, the exposition is all up- front and brief: Trudeau’s fi rst panel shows us a teacher (or at least his words), a group of stu- dents, and a classroom; the Grimms’ fi rst sentence introduces a mother, her young son, and the powerful love she feels for him.

Exposition usually reveals some source or seed of potential confl ict in the ini- tial situation, of which the characters may be as yet unaware. In Trudeau’s cartoon, the contrast between the talkative teacher, who expects “in de pen dent thought” from those in his class, and the silent, scribbling students suggests a confl ict in the making. So, too, does the Grimms’ statement that the mother “worshipped” her boy “above everything” else in a world in which nothing and no one lasts forever.

Rising Action

By suggesting a confl ict, exposition may blend into the second phase of the plot, the rising action, which begins with an inciting incident or destabilizing event— that is, some action that destabilizes the initial situation and incites open confl ict, as does the death of the little boy in the second sentence of the folktale. Typically, what keeps the action rising is a complication, an event that introduces a new confl ict or intensifi es an existing one. This happens in the third sentence of “The Shroud,” when the mother begins to see her little boy every night, although he is dead and buried.

Climax or Turning Point

The plot’s climax or turning point is the moment of greatest emotional intensity. (Notice the way boldface lettering appears and exclamation points replace ques- tion marks in the second- to- last panel of the Doonesbury strip.) The climax is also the moment when the outcome of the plot and the fate of the characters are decided. (A climax thus tends to be a literally pivotal incident that “turns things around,” or involves, in Aristotle’s words, “the change from one state of things [. . .] to its opposite.”) The Shroud reaches its climax when the mother stops crying after her little boy tells her that her grief is what keeps him from sleeping and that peaceful sleep is what he craves.

Here, as in many plots, the turning point involves a discovery or new insight or even an epiphany, a sudden revelation of truth inspired by a seemingly trivial event. As a result, turning points often involve internal or psychological events, even if they are prompted by, and lead to, external action. In “The Shroud,” for instance, the mother’s new insight results in different behavior: She “wept no more.”

Sometimes, though, critics differentiate between the story’s climax and the crisis that precedes and precipitates it. In “The Shroud,” for example, these critics would describe the crisis as the moment when the son confronts the mother with information that implicitly requires her to make a choice, the climax as the moment when she makes it. This distinction might be especially helpful when you

PLOT 89

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grapple with longer works of fi ction in which much more time and action inter- venes between the crisis and the climax.

Falling Action

The falling action brings a release of emotional tension and moves us toward the resolution of the confl ict or confl icts. This release occurs in “The Shroud” when the boy speaks for the second and last time, assuring his mother that her more peaceful demeanor is giving him peace as well.

In some works of fi ction, resolution is achieved through an utterly unexpected twist, as in “Meanwhile, unknown to our hero, the marines were just on the other side of the hill,” or “Susan rolled over in bed and realized the whole thing had been just a dream.” Such a device is sometimes called a deus ex machina. (This Latin term literally means “god out of a machine” and derives from the ancient theatrical practice of using a machine to lower onto the stage a god who solves the problems of the human characters.)

Conclusion

Finally, just as a plot begins with a situation that is later destabilized, so its con- clusion presents us with a new and at least somewhat stable situation— one that gives a sense of closure because the confl ict or confl icts have been resolved, if only temporarily and not necessarily in the way we or the characters had expected. In “The Shroud,” that resolution comes in the last sentence, in which the mother bears her grief “quietly and patiently” and the child quietly sleeps his last sleep. The fi nal Doonesbury panel presents us with a situation that is essentially the reverse of the one with which the strip begins— with the teacher silently slumped over his podium, his students suddenly talking to each other instead of scribbling down his words. Many plots instead end with a situation that outwardly looks almost identical to the one with which they began. But thanks to all that has hap- pened between the story’s beginning and its end, the fi nal “steady state” at which the characters arrive can never be exactly the same as the one in which they started. A key question to ask at the end of a work of fi ction is precisely why, as well as how, things are different.

Some fi ctional works may also include a fi nal section called an epilogue, which ties up loose ends left dangling in the conclusion proper, updates us on what has happened to the characters since their confl icts were resolved, and/or provides some sort of commentary on the story’s larger signifi cance. (An epilogue is thus a little like this paragraph, which comes after we have concluded our discussion of the fi ve phases of plot but still feel that there is one more term to deal with.)

A Note on Dénouement

In discussions of plot, you will very often encounter the French word dénoue- ment (literally, “untying,” as of a knot). In this anthology, however, we generally try to avoid using dénouement because it can be, and often is, used in three differ- ent, potentially contradictory ways— as a synonym for falling action; as a synonym for conclusion or resolution; and even as a label for a certain kind of epilogue.

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Plot Summary: An Example and an Exercise

Although any good plot summary should be a relatively brief recounting (or synopsis) of what happens in a work of fi ction, it need not necessarily tell what happens in the same order that the work itself does. As a result, many a plot summary is in fact more like an action summary in the sense that we defi ne the terms action and plot in this book. But unless you have a good reason for reordering events, it is generally a good idea to follow the plot. The following plot summary of Raymond Carver’s Cathedral does just that:

The narrator is annoyed to learn that his wife’s old friend Robert, a blind man who once employed her as a reader, is coming to visit the couple. The wife has corresponded with her friend for years via cas- sette tapes, describing the details of her early marriage, divorce, and remarriage to her husband, the narrator. Uncomfortable with the prospect of having a blind person in his home, the narrator is sur- prised by Robert’s appearance and behavior: his booming voice and full beard are not what he expected, and he eats, drinks, and smokes marijuana with relish. After dinner the three watch tele vi sion. After the narrator’s wife has fallen asleep, a program about cathedrals begins. The narrator asks Robert if he knows what cathedrals look like or represent, and Robert, admitting that he does not, asks the narrator to draw one. With Robert’s hand lying on top of his own, the narrator traces roofs, spires, arches, and even people. Eventually Rob- ert instructs the narrator to close his eyes and continue drawing. The narrator reports that this experience was like nothing else in my life up to now. (From “Raymond Carver: ‘Cathedral,’ ” Characters in Twen- tieth Century Literature, Book Two [Gale Research, 1995].)

Now try this yourself: Choose any of the stories in this anthology and write a one- paragraph plot summary. Then, in a paragraph or two, refl ect on your choices about which details to include, which to omit, and how to order them (especially if you’ve deviated from the plot). What does your summary imply about the story’s focus, meaning, and signifi cance? Now repeat the exercise, summarizing the story in a different way and then refl ecting on the signifi cance and effect of the changes you’ve made.

Alternatively, try the same exercise with a friend who has also read the story: Each of you should write your own summary; then exchange them and (separately or together) write a few paragraphs comparing your summaries and refl ecting on the signifi cance of the similarities and differences.

COMMON PLOT TYPES

If most plots are essentially variations on the same fi ve- part pattern, some plots have even more features in common. As you think back over the fi ction you have read and the movies you have seen (not to mention the video games you have played), you might be surprised to discover just how many of their plots involve a quest— a character or characters’ journey to fi nd something or someone that

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seems, at least at fi rst, of tremendous material or spiritual value. Traditionally, that requires a literal journey, the challenge being not only to fi nd and acquire the object but also to return home with it. Such quests occur often in folktales and are a convention of chivalric romance and epic, in which the questing heroes are often men of high rank sent on their quests by someone with even greater power— a god, a wizard, a prophet, a king. And many works of modern fi ction— from James Joyce’s Araby to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings to William Gibson’s science- fi ction classic Neuromancer (1984)— depend for their full effect on our knowledge of the conventions of traditional quest plots.

Many fi ctional works both ancient and modern also (or instead) follow patterns derived from the two most important and ancient forms (or subgenres) of drama— tragedy and comedy. Tragic plots, on the one hand, trace a downward movement centering on a character’s fall from fortune into misfortune and isolation; they end unhappily, often with death. Comedic plots, on the other hand, tend to end hap- pily, often with marriage or some other act of social integration and celebration.

• • •

As you read the stories in this chapter, or any other work of fi ction, think about what sets each one apart when it comes to plot; how each uses variations on com- mon plot conventions; how each generates, fulfi lls, and often frustrates our expec- tations about the action to come; and how each uses sequence, pace, and other techniques to endow action with both emotional charge and meaning. When it comes to action and plot, every good story holds its own surprises and offers a unique answer to the nagging question What happened?

Questions about Plot

• Read the fi rst few paragraphs and then stop. What potential for confl ict do you see here? What do you expect to happen in the rest of the story?

• What is the inciting incident or destabilizing event? How and why does this event destabilize the initial situation?

• How would you describe the confl ict that ultimately develops? To what extent is it external, internal, or both? What, if any, complications or secondary con- fl icts arise?

• Where, when, how, and why does the story defy your expectations about what will happen next? What in this story— and in your experience of other stories— created these expectations?

• What is the climax or turning point? Why and how so? • How is the confl ict resolved? How and why might this resolution fulfi ll or

defy your expectations? How and why is the situation at the end of the story different from what it was at the beginning?

• Looking back at the story as a whole, what seems especially signifi cant and effective about its plot, especially in terms of the sequence and pace of the action?

• Does this plot follow any common plot pattern? Is there, for example, a quest of any kind? Or does this plot follow a tragic or comedic pattern?

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JAMES BALDWIN Sonny’s Blues 93

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JAMES BALDWIN (1924 – 87) Sonny’s Blues

For much of his life, James Baldwin was a leading literary spokesman for civil rights and racial equality in America. Born in New York City but long a resi- dent of France, he fi rst attracted critical attention with two extraordinary novels, Go Tell It on the Moun- tain (1953), which draws on his past as a teenage

preacher in the Fireside Pentecostal Church, and Giovanni’s Room (1956), which deals with the anguish of being black and homosexual in a largely white and heterosexual society. Other works include the novels Another Country (1962) and If Beale Street Could Talk (1974), the play Blues for Mr. Charlie (1964), and a story collection, Going to Meet the Man (1965). Baldwin is perhaps best remembered as a perceptive and eloquent essay- ist, the author of Notes of a Native Son (1955), Nobody Knows My Name (1961), The Fire Next Time (1963), No Name in the Street (1972), and The Price of a Ticket (1985).

I read about it in the paper, in the subway, on my way to work. I read it, and I  couldn’t believe it, and I read it again. Then perhaps I just stared at it, at the newsprint spelling out his name, spelling out the story. I stared at it in the swinging lights of the subway car, and in the faces and bodies of the people, and in my own face, trapped in the darkness which roared outside.

It was not to be believed and I kept telling myself that, as I walked from the subway station to the high school. And at the same time I couldn’t doubt it. I was scared, scared for Sonny. He became real to me again. A great block of ice got settled in my belly and kept melting there slowly all day long, while I taught my classes algebra. It was a special kind of ice. It kept melting, sending trickles of ice water all up and down my veins, but it never got less. Sometimes it hard- ened and seemed to expand until I felt my guts were going to come spilling out or that I was going to choke or scream. This would always be at a moment when I was remembering some specifi c thing Sonny had once said or done.

When he was about as old as the boys in my classes his face had been bright and open, there was a lot of copper in it; and he’d had wonderfully direct brown eyes, and great gentleness and privacy. I wondered what he looked like now. He had been picked up, the eve ning before, in a raid on an apartment downtown, for peddling and using heroin.

I couldn’t believe it: but what I mean by that is that I couldn’t fi nd any room for it anywhere inside me. I had kept it outside me for a long time. I hadn’t wanted to know. I had had suspicions, but I didn’t name them, I kept putting them away. I told myself that Sonny was wild, but he wasn’t crazy. And he’d always been a good boy, he hadn’t ever turned hard or evil or disrespectful, the way kids can, so quick, so quick, especially in Harlem. I didn’t want to believe that I’d ever see my brother going down, coming to nothing, all that light in his

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face gone out, in the condition I’d already seen so many others. Yet it had hap- pened and here I was, talking about algebra to a lot of boys who might, every one of them for all I knew, be popping off needles every time they went to the head.1 Maybe it did more for them than algebra could.

I was sure that the fi rst time Sonny had ever had horse,2 he couldn’t have been much older than these boys were now. These boys, now, were living as we’d been living then, they were growing up with a rush and their heads bumped abruptly against the low ceiling of their actual possibilities. They were fi lled with rage. All they really knew were two darknesses, the darkness of their lives, which was now closing in on them, and the darkness of the movies, which had blinded them to that other darkness, and in which they now, vindictively, dreamed, at once more together than they were at any other time, and more alone.

When the last bell rang, the last class ended, I let out my breath. It seemed I’d been holding it for all that time. My clothes were wet— I may have looked as though I’d been sitting in a steam bath, all dressed up, all afternoon. I sat alone in the classroom a long time. I listened to the boys outside, downstairs, shouting and cursing and laughing. Their laughter struck me for perhaps the fi rst time. It was not the joyous laughter which— God knows why— one associates with chil- dren. It was mocking and insular, its intent was to denigrate. It was disen- chanted, and in this, also, lay the authority of their curses. Perhaps I was listening to them because I was thinking about my brother and in them I heard my brother. And myself.

One boy was whistling a tune, at once very complicated and very simple, it seemed to be pouring out of him as though he were a bird, and it sounded very cool and moving through all that harsh, bright air, only just holding its own through all those other sounds.

I stood up and walked over to the window and looked down into the court- yard. It was the beginning of the spring and the sap was rising in the boys. A teacher passed through them every now and again, quickly, as though he or she couldn’t wait to get out of that courtyard, to get those boys out of their sight and off their minds. I started collecting my stuff. I thought I’d better get home and talk to Isabel.

The courtyard was almost deserted by the time I got downstairs. I saw this boy standing in the shadow of a doorway, looking just like Sonny. I almost called his name. Then I saw that it wasn’t Sonny, but somebody we used to know, a boy from around our block. He’d been Sonny’s friend. He’d never been mine, having been too young for me, and, anyway, I’d never liked him. And now, even though he was a grown- up man, he still hung around that block, still spent hours on the street corners, was always high and raggy. I used to run into him from time to time and he’d often work around to asking me for a quarter or fi fty cents. He always had some real good excuse, too, and I always gave it to him. I don’t know why.

But now, abruptly, I hated him. I couldn’t stand the way he looked at me, partly like a dog, partly like a cunning child. I wanted to ask him what the hell he was doing in the school courtyard.

1. Lavatory. 2. Heroin.

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He sort of shuffl ed over to me, and he said, “I see you got the papers. So you already know about it.”

“You mean about Sonny? Yes, I already know about it. How come they didn’t get you?”

He grinned. It made him repulsive and it also brought to mind what he’d looked like as a kid. “I wasn’t there. I stay away from them people.”

“Good for you.” I offered him a cigarette and I watched him through the smoke. “You come all the way down here just to tell me about Sonny?”

“That’s right.” He was sort of shaking his head and his eyes looked strange, as though they were about to cross. The bright sun deadened his damp dark brown skin and it made his eyes look yellow and showed up the dirt in his kinked hair. He smelled funky. I moved a little away from him and I said, “Well, thanks. But I already know about it and I got to get home.”

“I’ll walk you a little ways,” he said. We started walking. There were a couple of kids still loitering in the courtyard and one of them said goodnight to me and looked strangely at the boy beside me.

“What’re you going to do?” he asked me. “I mean, about Sonny?” “Look. I haven’t seen Sonny for over a year, I’m not sure I’m going to do any-

thing. Anyway, what the hell can I do?” “That’s right,” he said quickly, “ain’t nothing you can do. Can’t much help old

Sonny no more, I guess.” It was what I was thinking and so it seemed to me he had no right to say it. “I’m surprised at Sonny, though,” he went on— he had a funny way of talking,

he looked straight ahead as though he were talking to himself—“I thought Sonny was a smart boy, I thought he was too smart to get hung.”

“I guess he thought so too,” I said sharply, “and that’s how he got hung. And how about you? You’re pretty goddamn smart, I bet.”

Then he looked directly at me, just for a minute. “I ain’t smart,” he said. “If I was smart, I’d have reached for a pistol a long time ago.”

“Look. Don’t tell me your sad story, if it was up to me, I’d give you one.” Then I felt guilty— guilty, probably, for never having supposed that the poor bastard had a story of his own, much less a sad one, and I asked, quickly, “What’s going to happen to him now?”

He didn’t answer this. He was off by himself some place. “Funny thing,” he said, and from his tone we might have been discussing the

quickest way to get to Brooklyn, “when I saw the papers this morning, the fi rst thing I asked myself was if I had anything to do with it. I felt sort of responsible.”

I began to listen more carefully. The subway station was on the corner, just before us, and I stopped. He stopped, too. We were in front of a bar and he ducked slightly, peering in, but whoever he was looking for didn’t seem to be there. The juke box was blasting away with something black and bouncy and I half watched the barmaid as she danced her way from the juke box to her place behind the bar. And I watched her face as she laughingly responded to some- thing someone said to her, still keeping time to the music. When she smiled one saw the little girl, one sensed the doomed, still- struggling woman beneath the battered face of the semi- whore.

“I never give Sonny nothing,” the boy said fi nally, “but a long time ago I come to school high and Sonny asked me how it felt.” He paused, I couldn’t bear to

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watch him, I watched the barmaid, and I listened to the music which seemed to be causing the pavement to shake. “I told him it felt great.” The music stopped, the barmaid paused and watched the juke box until the music began again. “It did.”

All this was carry ing me some place I didn’t want to go. I certainly didn’t want to know how it felt. It fi lled everything, the people, the houses, the music, the dark, quicksilver barmaid, with menace; and this menace was their reality.

“What’s going to happen to him now?” I asked again. “They’ll send him away some place and they’ll try to cure him.” He shook his

head. “Maybe he’ll even think he’s kicked the habit. Then they’ll let him loose”— he gestured, throwing his cigarette into the gutter. “That’s all.”

“What do you mean, that’s all?” But I knew what he meant. “I mean, that’s all.” He turned his head and looked at me, pulling down the

corners of his mouth. “Don’t you know what I mean?” he asked, softly. “How the hell would I know what you mean?” I almost whispered it, I don’t

know why. “That’s right,” he said to the air, “how would he know what I mean?” He

turned toward me again, patient and calm, and yet I somehow felt him shaking, shaking as though he were going to fall apart. I felt that ice in my guts again, the dread I’d felt all afternoon; and again I watched the barmaid, moving about the bar, washing glasses, and singing. “Listen. They’ll let him out and then it’ll just start all over again. That’s what I mean.”

“You mean— they’ll let him out. And then he’ll just start working his way back in again. You mean he’ll never kick the habit. Is that what you mean?”

“That’s right,” he said, cheerfully. “You see what I mean.” “Tell me,” I said at last, “why does he want to die? He must want to die, he’s

killing himself, why does he want to die?” He looked at me in surprise. He licked his lips. “He don’t want to die. He

wants to live. Don’t nobody want to die, ever.” Then I wanted to ask him— too many things. He could not have answered, or

if he had, I could not have borne the answers. I started walking. “Well, I guess it’s none of my business.”

“It’s going to be rough on old Sonny,” he said. We reached the subway station. “This is your station?” he asked. I nodded. I took one step down. “Damn!” he said, suddenly. I looked up at him. He grinned again. “Damn it if I didn’t leave all my money home. You ain’t got a dollar on you, have you? Just for a couple of days, is all.”

All at once something inside gave and threatened to come pouring out of me. I didn’t hate him any more. I felt that in another moment I’d start crying like a child.

“Sure,” I said. “Don’t sweat.” I looked in my wallet and didn’t have a dollar, I only had a fi ve. “Here,” I said. “That hold you?”

He didn’t look at it— he didn’t want to look at it. A terrible, closed look came over his face, as though he were keeping the number on the bill a secret from him and me. “Thanks,” he said, and now he was dying to see me go. “Don’t worry about Sonny. Maybe I’ll write him or something.”

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JAMES BALDWIN Sonny’s Blues 97

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“Sure,” I said. “You do that. So long.” “Be seeing you,” he said. I went on down the steps.

And I didn’t write Sonny or send him anything for a long time. When I fi nally did, it was just after my little girl died, and he wrote me back a letter which made me feel like a bastard.

Here’s what he said:

Dear brother, You don’t know how much I needed to hear from you. I wanted to write

you many a time but I dug how much I must have hurt you and so I didn’t write. But now I feel like a man who’s been trying to climb up out of some deep, real deep and funky hole and just saw the sun up there, outside. I got to get outside.

I can’t tell you much about how I got here. I mean I don’t know how to tell you. I guess I was afraid of something or I was trying to escape from some- thing and you know I have never been very strong in the head (smile). I’m glad Mama and Daddy are dead and can’t see what’s happened to their son and I swear if I’d known what I was doing I would never have hurt you so, you and a lot of other fi ne people who were nice to me and who believed in me.

I don’t want you to think it had anything to do with me being a musician. It’s more than that. Or maybe less than that. I can’t get anything straight in my head down here and I try not to think about what’s going to happen to me when I get outside again. Sometime I think I’m going to fl ip and never get outside and sometime I think I’ll come straight back. I tell you one thing, though, I’d rather blow my brains out than go through this again. But that’s what they all say, so they tell me. If I tell you when I’m coming to New York and if you could meet me, I sure would appreciate it. Give my love to Isabel and the kids and I was sure sorry to hear about little Gracie. I wish I could be like Mama and say the Lord’s will be done, but I don’t know it seems to me that trouble is the one thing that never does get stopped and I don’t know what good it does to blame it on the Lord. But maybe it does some good if you believe it.

Your brother, Sonny

Then I kept in constant touch with him and I sent him what ever I could and I went to meet him when he came back to New York. When I saw him many things I thought I had forgotten came fl ooding back to me. This was because I had begun, fi nally, to wonder about Sonny, about the life that Sonny lived inside. This life, what ever it was, had made him older and thinner and it had deepened the distant stillness in which he had always moved. He looked very unlike my baby brother. Yet, when he smiled, when we shook hands, the baby brother I’d never known looked out from the depths of his private life, like an animal waiting to be coaxed into the light.

“How you been keeping?” he asked me. “All right. And you?” “Just fi ne.” He was smiling all over his face. “It’s good to see you again.” “It’s good to see you.”

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The seven years’ difference in our ages lay between us like a chasm: I won- dered if these years would ever operate between us as a bridge. I was remem- bering, and it made it hard to catch my breath, that I had been there when he was born; and I had heard the fi rst words he had ever spoken. When he started to walk, he walked from our mother straight to me. I caught him just before he fell when he took the fi rst steps he ever took in this world.

“How’s Isabel?” “Just fi ne. She’s dying to see you.” “And the boys?” “They’re fi ne, too. They’re anxious to see their uncle.” “Oh, come on. You know they don’t remember me.” “Are you kidding? Of course they remember you.” He grinned again. We got into a taxi. We had a lot to say to each other, far

too much to know how to begin. As the taxi began to move, I asked, “You still want to go to India?” He laughed. “You still remember that. Hell, no. This place is Indian enough

for me.” “It used to belong to them,” I said. And he laughed again. “They damn sure knew what they were doing when

they got rid of it.” Years ago, when he was around fourteen, he’d been all hipped on the idea of

going to India. He read books about people sitting on rocks, naked, in all kinds of weather, but mostly bad, naturally, and walking barefoot through hot coals and arriving at wisdom. I used to say that it sounded to me as though they were getting away from wisdom as fast as they could. I think he sort of looked down on me for that.

“Do you mind,” he asked, “if we have the driver drive alongside the park? On the west side— I haven’t seen the city in so long.”

“Of course not,” I said. I was afraid that I might sound as though I were humoring him, but I hoped he wouldn’t take it that way.

So we drove along, between the green of the park and the stony, lifeless ele- gance of hotels and apartment buildings, toward the vivid, killing streets of our childhood. These streets hadn’t changed, though housing projects jutted up out of them now like rocks in the middle of a boiling sea. Most of the houses in which we had grown up had vanished, as had the stores from which we had stolen, the basements in which we had fi rst tried sex, the rooftops from which we had hurled tin cans and bricks. But houses exactly like the houses of our past yet dominated the landscape, boys exactly like the boys we once had been found themselves smothering in these houses, came down into the streets for light and air and found themselves encircled by disaster. Some escaped the trap, most didn’t. Those who got out always left something of themselves behind, as some animals amputate a leg and leave it in the trap. It might be said, perhaps, that I had escaped, after all, I was a school teacher; or that Sonny had, he hadn’t lived in Harlem for years. Yet, as the cab moved uptown through streets which seemed, with a rush, to darken with dark people, and as I covertly studied Sonny’s face, it came to me that what we both were seeking through our sepa- rate cab windows was that part of ourselves which had been left behind. It’s always at the hour of trouble and confrontation that the missing member aches.

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We hit 110th Street and started rolling up Lenox Avenue. And I’d known this avenue all my life, but it seemed to me again, as it had seemed on the day I’d fi rst heard about Sonny’s trouble, fi lled with a hidden menace which was its very breath of life.

“We almost there,” said Sonny. “Almost.” We were both too ner vous to say anything more. We live in a housing project. It hasn’t been up long. A few days after it was up

it seemed uninhabitably new, now, of course, it’s already rundown. It looks like a parody of the good, clean, faceless life— God knows the people who live in it do their best to make it a parody. The beat- looking grass lying around isn’t enough to make their lives green, the hedges will never hold out the streets, and they know it. The big windows fool no one, they aren’t big enough to make space out of no space. They don’t bother with the windows, they watch the TV screen instead. The playground is most pop u lar with the children who don’t play at jacks, or skip rope, or roller skate, or swing, and they can be found in it after dark. We moved in partly because it’s not too far from where I teach, and partly for the kids; but it’s really just like the houses in which Sonny and I grew up. The same things happen, they’ll have the same things to remember. The moment Sonny and I started into the house I had the feeling that I was simply bringing him back into the danger he had almost died trying to escape.

Sonny has never been talkative. So I don’t know why I was sure he’d be dying to talk to me when supper was over the fi rst night. Everything went fi ne, the oldest boy remembered him, and the youn gest boy liked him, and Sonny had remembered to bring something for each of them; and Isabel, who is really much nicer than I am, more open and giving, had gone to a lot of trouble about dinner and was genuinely glad to see him. And she’s always been able to tease Sonny in a way that I haven’t. It was nice to see her face so vivid again and to hear her laugh and watch her make Sonny laugh. She wasn’t, or, anyway, she didn’t seem to be, at all uneasy or embarrassed. She chatted as though there were no subject which had to be avoided and she got Sonny past his fi rst, faint stiffness. And thank God she was there, for I was fi lled with that icy dread again. Everything I did seemed awkward to me, and everything I said sounded freighted with hidden meaning. I was trying to remember everything I’d heard about dope addiction and I couldn’t help watching Sonny for signs. I wasn’t doing it out of malice. I was trying to fi nd out something about my brother. I was dying to hear him tell me he was safe.

“Safe!” my father grunted, whenever Mama suggested trying to move to a neighborhood which might be safer for children. “Safe, hell! Ain’t no place safe for kids, nor nobody.”

He always went on like this, but he wasn’t, ever, really as bad as he sounded, not even on weekends, when he got drunk. As a matter of fact, he was always on the lookout for “something a little better,” but he died before he found it. He died suddenly, during a drunken weekend in the middle of the war, when Sonny was fi fteen. He and Sonny hadn’t ever got on too well. And this was partly because Sonny was the apple of his father’s eye. It was because he loved Sonny so much and was frightened for him, that he was always fi ghting with him. It doesn’t do any good to fi ght with Sonny. Sonny just moves back, inside himself, where he can’t be reached. But the principal reason that they never hit it off is

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that they were so much alike. Daddy was big and rough and loud- talking, just the opposite of Sonny, but they both had— that same privacy.

Mama tried to tell me something about this, just after Daddy died. I was home on leave from the army.

This was the last time I ever saw my mother alive. Just the same, this picture gets all mixed up in my mind with pictures I had of her when she was younger. The way I always see her is the way she used to be on a Sunday afternoon, say, when the old folks were talking after the big Sunday dinner. I always see her wearing pale blue. She’d be sitting on the sofa. And my father would be sitting in the easy chair, not far from her. And the living room would be full of church folks and relatives. There they sit, in chairs all around the living room, and the night is creeping up outside, but nobody knows it yet. You can see the darkness growing against the windowpanes and you hear the street noises every now and again, or maybe the jangling beat of a tambourine from one of the churches close by, but it’s real quiet in the room. For a moment nobody’s talking, but every face looks darkening, like the sky outside. And my mother rocks a little from the waist, and my father’s eyes are closed. Everyone is looking at something a child can’t see. For a minute they’ve forgotten the children. Maybe a kid is lying on the rug, half asleep. Maybe somebody’s got a kid in his lap and is absent- mindedly stroking the kid’s head. Maybe there’s a kid, quiet and big- eyed, curled up in a big chair in the corner. The silence, the darkness coming, and the darkness in the faces frighten the child obscurely. He hopes that the hand which strokes his forehead will never stop— will never die. He hopes that there will never come a time when the old folks won’t be sitting around the living room, talking about where they’ve come from, and what they’ve seen, and what’s happened to them and their kinfolk.

But something deep and watchful in the child knows that this is bound to end, is already ending. In a moment someone will get up and turn on the light. Then the old folks will remember the children and they won’t talk any more that day. And when light fi lls the room, the child is fi lled with darkness. He knows that every time this happens he’s moved just a little closer to that dark- ness outside. The darkness outside is what the old folks have been talking about. It’s what they’ve come from. It’s what they endure. The child knows that they won’t talk any more because if he knows too much about what’s happened to them, he’ll know too much too soon, about what’s going to happen to him.

The last time I talked to my mother, I remember I was restless. I wanted to get out and see Isabel. We weren’t married then and we had a lot to straighten out between us.

There Mama sat, in black, by the window. She was humming an old church song, Lord, you brought me from a long ways off. Sonny was out somewhere. Mama kept watching the streets.

“I don’t know,” she said, “if I’ll ever see you again, after you go off from here. But I hope you’ll remember the things I tried to teach you.”

“Don’t talk like that,” I said, and smiled. “You’ll be here a long time yet.” She smiled, too, but she said nothing. She was quiet for a long time. And I

said, “Mama, don’t you worry about nothing. I’ll be writing all the time, and you be getting the checks. . . .”

“I want to talk to you about your brother,” she said, suddenly. “If anything happens to me he ain’t going to have nobody to look out for him.”

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“Mama,” I said, “ain’t nothing going to happen to you or Sonny. Sonny’s all right. He’s a good boy and he’s got good sense.”

“It ain’t a question of his being a good boy,” Mama said, “nor of his having good sense. It ain’t only the bad ones, nor yet the dumb ones that gets sucked under.” She stopped, looking at me. “Your Daddy once had a brother,” she said, and she smiled in a way that made me feel she was in pain. “You didn’t never know that, did you?”

“No,” I said, “I never knew that,” and I watched her face. “Oh, yes,” she said, “your Daddy had a brother.” She looked out of the win-

dow again. “I know you never saw your Daddy cry. But I did— many a time, through all these years.”

I asked her, “What happened to his brother? How come nobody’s ever talked about him?”

This was the fi rst time I ever saw my mother look old. “His brother got killed,” she said, “when he was just a little younger than you

are now. I knew him. He was a fi ne boy. He was maybe a little full of the dev il, but he didn’t mean nobody no harm.”

Then she stopped and the room was silent, exactly as it had sometimes been on those Sunday afternoons. Mama kept looking out into the streets.

“He used to have a job in the mill,” she said, “and, like all young folks, he just liked to perform on Saturday nights. Saturday nights, him and your father would drift around to different places, go to dances and things like that, or just sit around with people they knew, and your father’s brother would sing, he had a fi ne voice, and play along with himself on his guitar. Well, this par tic u lar Satur- day night, him and your father was coming home from some place, and they were both a little drunk and there was a moon that night, it was bright like day. Your father’s brother was feeling kind of good, and he was whistling to himself, and he had his guitar slung over his shoulder. They was coming down a hill and beneath them was a road that turned off from the highway. Well, your father’s brother, being always kind of frisky, decided to run down this hill, and he did, with that guitar banging and clanging behind him, and he ran across the road, and he was making water behind a tree. And your father was sort of amused at him and he was still coming down the hill, kind of slow. Then he heard a car motor and that same minute his brother stepped from behind the tree, into the road, in the moonlight. And he started to cross the road. And your father started to run down the hill, he says he don’t know why. This car was full of white men. They was all drunk, and when they seen your father’s brother they let out a great whoop and holler and they aimed the car straight at him. They was having fun, they just wanted to scare him, the way they do sometimes, you know. But they was drunk. And I guess the boy, being drunk, too, and scared, kind of lost his head. By the time he jumped it was too late. Your father says he heard his brother scream when the car rolled over him, and he heard the wood of that guitar when it give, and he heard them strings go fl ying, and he heard them white men shout- ing, and the car kept on a-going and it ain’t stopped till this day. And, time your father got down the hill, his brother weren’t nothing but blood and pulp.”

Tears were gleaming on my mother’s face. There wasn’t anything I could say. “He never mentioned it,” she said, “because I never let him mention it before

you children. Your Daddy was like a crazy man that night and for many a night

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thereafter. He says he never in his life seen anything as dark as that road after the lights of that car had gone away. Weren’t nothing, weren’t nobody on that road, just your Daddy and his brother and that busted guitar. Oh, yes. Your Daddy never did really get right again. Till the day he died he weren’t sure but that every white man he saw was the man that killed his brother.”

She stopped and took out her handkerchief and dried her eyes and looked at me.

“I ain’t telling you all this,” she said, “to make you scared or bitter or to make you hate nobody. I’m telling you this because you got a brother. And the world ain’t changed.”

I guess I didn’t want to believe this. I guess she saw this in my face. She turned away from me, toward the window again, searching those streets.

“But I praise my Redeemer,” she said at last, “that He called your Daddy home before me. I ain’t saying it to throw no fl owers at myself, but, I declare, it keeps me from feeling too cast down to know I helped your father get safely through this world. Your father always acted like he was the roughest, strongest man on earth. And everybody took him to be like that. But if he hadn’t had me there— to see his tears!”

She was crying again. Still, I couldn’t move. I said, “Lord, Lord, Mama, I didn’t know it was like that.”

“Oh, honey,” she said, “there’s a lot that you don’t know. But you are going to fi nd out.” She stood up from the window and came over to me. “You got to hold on to your brother,” she said, “and don’t let him fall, no matter what it looks like is happening to him and no matter how evil you gets with him. You going to be evil with him many a time. But don’t you forget what I told you, you hear?”

“I won’t forget,” I said. “Don’t you worry, I won’t forget. I won’t let nothing happen to Sonny.”

My mother smiled as though she was amused at something she saw in my face. Then, “You may not be able to stop nothing from happening. But you got to let him know you’s there.”

Two days later I was married, and then I was gone. And I had a lot of things on my mind and I pretty well forgot my promise to Mama until I got shipped home on a special furlough for her funeral.

And, after the funeral, with just Sonny and me alone in the empty kitchen, I tried to fi nd out something about him.

“What do you want to do?” I asked him. “I’m going to be a musician,” he said. For he had graduated, in the time I had been away, from dancing to the juke

box to fi nding out who was playing what, and what they were doing with it, and he had bought himself a set of drums.

“You mean, you want to be a drummer?” I somehow had the feeling that being a drummer might be all right for other people but not for my brother Sonny.

“I don’t think,” he said, looking at me very gravely, “that I’ll ever be a good drummer. But I think I can play a piano.”

I frowned. I’d never played the role of the oldest brother quite so seriously before, had scarcely ever, in fact, asked Sonny a damn thing. I sensed myself in the presence of something I didn’t really know how to handle, didn’t under-

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stand. So I made my frown a little deeper as I asked: “What kind of musician do you want to be?”

He grinned. “How many kinds do you think there are?” “Be serious,” I said. He laughed, throwing his head back, and then looked at me. “I am serious.” “Well, then, for Christ’s sake, stop kidding around and answer a serious

question. I mean, do you want to be a concert pianist, you want to play classical music and all that, or— or what?” Long before I fi nished he was laughing again. “For Christ’s sake, Sonny!”

He sobered, but with diffi culty. “I’m sorry. But you sound so—scared!” and he was off again.

“Well, you may think it’s funny now, baby, but it’s not going to be so funny when you have to make your living at it, let me tell you that.” I was furious because I knew he was laughing at me and I didn’t know why.

“No,” he said, very sober now, and afraid, perhaps, that he’d hurt me, “I don’t want to be a classical pianist. That isn’t what interests me. I mean”— he paused, looking hard at me, as though his eyes would help me to understand, and then gestured helplessly, as though perhaps his hand would help—“I mean, I’ll have a lot of studying to do, and I’ll have to study everything, but, I mean, I want to play with— jazz musicians.” He stopped. “I want to play jazz,” he said.

Well, the word had never before sounded as heavy, as real, as it sounded that afternoon in Sonny’s mouth. I just looked at him and I was probably frowning a real frown by this time. I simply couldn’t see why on earth he’d want to spend his time hanging around nightclubs, clowning around on bandstands, while people pushed each other around a dance fl oor. It seemed— beneath him, some- how. I had never thought about it before, had never been forced to, but I sup- pose I had always put jazz musicians in a class with what Daddy called “good- time people.”

“Are you serious?” “Hell, yes, I’m serious.” He looked more helpless than ever, and annoyed, and deeply hurt. I suggested, helpfully: “You mean— like Louis Armstrong?”3

His face closed as though I’d struck him. “No. I’m not talking about none of that old- time, down- home crap.”

“Well, look, Sonny, I’m sorry, don’t get mad. I just don’t altogether get it, that’s all. Name somebody— you know, a jazz musician you admire.”

“Bird.” “Who?” “Bird! Charlie Parker!4 Don’t they teach you nothing in the goddamn army?” I lit a cigarette. I was surprised and then a little amused to discover that I

was trembling. “I’ve been out of touch,” I said. “You’ll have to be patient with me. Now. Who’s this Parker character?”

3. New Orleans– born trumpeter and singer (1901– 71); by the 1950s, his music would have seemed old- fashioned to a jazz afi cionado. 4. Charlie (“Bird”) Parker (1920– 55), brilliant saxophonist and jazz innovator; working in New York in the mid- 1940s, he developed, with Dizzy Gillespie and others, the style of jazz called “bebop.” He was a narcotics addict.

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“He’s just one of the greatest jazz musicians alive,” said Sonny, sullenly, his hands in his pockets, his back to me. “Maybe the greatest,” he added, bitterly, “that’s probably why you never heard of him.”

“All right,” I said, “I’m ignorant. I’m sorry. I’ll go out and buy all the cat’s rec- ords right away, all right?”

“It don’t,” said Sonny, with dignity, “make any difference to me. I don’t care what you listen to. Don’t do me no favors.”

I was beginning to realize that I’d never seen him so upset before. With another part of my mind I was thinking that this would probably turn out to be one of those things kids go through and that I shouldn’t make it seem important by pushing it too hard. Still, I didn’t think it would do any harm to ask: “Doesn’t all this take a lot of time? Can you make a living at it?”

He turned back to me and half leaned, half sat, on the kitchen table. “Every- thing takes time,” he said, “and— well, yes, sure, I can make a living at it. But what I don’t seem to be able to make you understand is that it’s the only thing I want to do.”

“Well, Sonny,” I said gently, “you know people can’t always do exactly what they want to do—”

“No, I don’t know that,” said Sonny, surprising me. “I think people ought to do what they want to do, what else are they alive for?”

“You getting to be a big boy,” I said desperately, “it’s time you started thinking about your future.”

“I’m thinking about my future,” said Sonny, grimly. “I think about it all the time.”

I gave up. I decided, if he didn’t change his mind, that we could always talk about it later. “In the meantime,” I said, “you got to fi nish school.” We had already decided that he’d have to move in with Isabel and her folks. I knew this wasn’t the ideal arrangement because Isabel’s folks are inclined to be dicty5 and they hadn’t especially wanted Isabel to marry me. But I didn’t know what else to do. “And we have to get you fi xed up at Isabel’s.”

There was a long silence. He moved from the kitchen table to the window. “That’s a terrible idea. You know it yourself.”

“Do you have a better idea?” He just walked up and down the kitchen for a minute. He was as tall as I was.

He had started to shave. I suddenly had the feeling that I didn’t know him at all. He stopped at the kitchen table and picked up my cigarettes. Looking at me

with a kind of mocking, amused defi ance, he put one between his lips. “You mind?”

“You smoking already?” He lit the cigarette and nodded, watching me through the smoke. “I just

wanted to see if I’d have the courage to smoke in front of you.” He grinned and blew a great cloud of smoke to the ceiling. “It was easy.” He looked at my face. “Come on, now. I bet you was smoking at my age, tell the truth.”

I didn’t say anything but the truth was on my face, and he laughed. But now there was something very strained in his laugh. “Sure. And I bet that ain’t all you was doing.”

5. Snobbish, bossy.

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He was frightening me a little. “Cut the crap,” I said. “We already decided that you was going to go and live at Isabel’s. Now what’s got into you all of a sudden?”

“You decided it,” he pointed out. “I didn’t decide nothing.” He stopped in front of me, leaning against the stove, arms loosely folded. “Look, brother. I don’t want to stay in Harlem no more, I really don’t.” He was very earnest. He looked at me, then over toward the kitchen window. There was something in his eyes I’d never seen before, some thoughtfulness, some worry all his own. He rubbed the muscle of one arm. “It’s time I was getting out of here.”

“Where do you want to go, Sonny?” “I want to join the army. Or the navy, I don’t care. If I say I’m old enough,

they’ll believe me.” Then I got mad. It was because I was so scared. “You must be crazy. You god-

damn fool, what the hell do you want to go and join the army for?” “I just told you. To get out of Harlem.” “Sonny, you haven’t even fi nished school. And if you really want to be a musi-

cian, how do you expect to study if you’re in the army?” He looked at me, trapped, and in anguish. “There’s ways. I might be able to

work out some kind of deal. Anyway, I’ll have the G.I. Bill when I come out.” “If you come out.” We stared at each other. “Sonny, please. Be reasonable. I

know the setup is far from perfect. But we got to do the best we can.” “I ain’t learning nothing in school,” he said. “Even when I go.” He turned

away from me and opened the window and threw his cigarette out into the nar- row alley. I watched his back. “At least, I ain’t learning nothing you’d want me to learn.” He slammed the window so hard I thought the glass would fl y out, and turned back to me. “And I’m sick of the stink of these garbage cans!”

“Sonny,” I said, “I know how you feel. But if you don’t fi nish school now, you’re going to be sorry later that you didn’t.” I grabbed him by the shoulders. “And you only got another year. It ain’t so bad. And I’ll come back and I swear I’ll help you do what ever you want to do. Just try to put up with it till I come back. Will you please do that? For me?”

He didn’t answer and he wouldn’t look at me. “Sonny. You hear me?” He pulled away. “I hear you. But you never hear anything I say.” I didn’t know what to say to that. He looked out of the window and then back

at me. “OK,” he said, and sighed. “I’ll try.” Then I said, trying to cheer him up a little, “They got a piano at Isabel’s. You

can practice on it.” And as a matter of fact, it did cheer him up for a minute. “That’s right,” he

said to himself. “I forgot that.” His face relaxed a little. But the worry, the thoughtfulness, played on it still, the way shadows play on a face which is star- ing into the fi re.

But I thought I’d never hear the end of that piano. At fi rst, Isabel would write me, saying how nice it was that Sonny was so serious about his music and how, as soon as he came in from school, or wherever he had been when he was sup- posed to be at school, he went straight to that piano and stayed there until sup- pertime. And, after supper, he went back to that piano and stayed there until everybody went to bed. He was at the piano all day Saturday and all day Sun- day. Then he bought a record player and started playing rec ords. He’d play one

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record over and over again, all day long sometimes, and he’d improvise along with it on the piano. Or he’d play one section of the record, one chord, one change, one progression, then he’d do it on the piano. Then back to the record. Then back to the piano.

Well, I really don’t know how they stood it. Isabel fi nally confessed that it wasn’t like living with a person at all, it was like living with sound. And the sound didn’t make any sense to her, didn’t make any sense to any of them— naturally. They began, in a way, to be affl icted by this presence that was living in their home. It was as though Sonny were some sort of god, or monster. He moved in an atmosphere which wasn’t like theirs at all. They fed him and he ate, he washed himself, he walked in and out of their door; he certainly wasn’t nasty or unpleasant or rude, Sonny isn’t any of those things; but it was as though he were all wrapped up in some cloud, some fi re, some vision all his own; and there wasn’t any way to reach him.

At the same time, he wasn’t really a man yet, he was still a child, and they had to watch out for him in all kinds of ways. They certainly couldn’t throw him out. Neither did they dare to make a great scene about that piano because even they dimly sensed, as I sensed, from so many thousands of miles away, that Sonny was at that piano playing for his life.

But he hadn’t been going to school. One day a letter came from the school board and Isabel’s mother got it— there had, apparently, been other letters but Sonny had torn them up. This day, when Sonny came in, Isabel’s mother showed him the letter and asked where he’d been spending his time. And she fi nally got it out of him that he’d been down in Greenwich Village, with musicians and other characters, in a white girl’s apartment. And this scared her and she started to scream at him and what came up, once she began— though she denies it to this day— was what sacrifi ces they were making to give Sonny a decent home and how little he appreciated it.

Sonny didn’t play the piano that day. By eve ning, Isabel’s mother had calmed down but then there was the old man to deal with, and Isabel herself. Isabel says she did her best to be calm but she broke down and started crying. She says she just watched Sonny’s face. She could tell, by watching him, what was happening with him. And what was happening was that they penetrated his cloud, they had reached him. Even if their fi ngers had been a thousand times more gentle than human fi ngers ever are, he could hardly help feeling that they had stripped him naked and were spitting on that nakedness. For he also had to see that his pres- ence, that music, which was life or death to him, had been torture for them and that they had endured it, not at all for his sake, but only for mine. And Sonny couldn’t take that. He can take it a little better today than he could then but he’s still not very good at it and, frankly, I don’t know anybody who is.

The silence of the next few days must have been louder than the sound of all the music ever played since time began. One morning, before she went to work, Isabel was in his room for something and she suddenly realized that all of his rec ords were gone. And she knew for certain that he was gone. And he was. He went as far as the navy would carry him. He fi nally sent me a postcard from some place in Greece and that was the fi rst I knew that Sonny was still alive. I didn’t see him any more until we were both back in New York and the war had long been over.

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He was a man by then, of course, but I wasn’t willing to see it. He came by the house from time to time, but we fought almost every time we met. I didn’t like the way he carried himself, loose and dreamlike all the time, and I didn’t like his friends, and his music seemed to be merely an excuse for the life he led. It sounded just that weird and disordered.

Then we had a fi ght, a pretty awful fi ght, and I didn’t see him for months. By and by I looked him up, where he was living, in a furnished room in the Village, and I tried to make it up. But there were lots of other people in the room and Sonny just lay on his bed, and he wouldn’t come downstairs with me, and he treated these other people as though they were his family and I weren’t. So I got mad and then he got mad, and then I told him that he might just as well be dead as live the way he was living. Then he stood up and he told me not to worry about him any more in life, that he was dead as far as I was concerned. Then he pushed me to the door and the other people looked on as though nothing were happening, and he slammed the door behind me. I stood in the hallway, staring at the door. I heard somebody laugh in the room and then the tears came to my eyes. I started down the steps, whistling to keep from crying, I kept whistling to myself, You going to need me, baby, one of these cold, rainy days.

I read about Sonny’s trouble in the spring. Little Grace died in the fall. She was a beautiful little girl. But she only lived a little over two years. She died of polio and she suffered. She had a slight fever for a couple of days, but it didn’t seem like anything and we just kept her in bed. And we would certainly have called the doctor, but the fever dropped, she seemed to be all right. So we thought it had just been a cold. Then, one day, she was up, playing, Isabel was in the kitchen fi xing lunch for the two boys when they’d come in from school, and she heard Grace fall down in the living room. When you have a lot of chil- dren you don’t always start running when one of them falls, unless they start screaming or something. And, this time, Gracie was quiet. Yet, Isabel says that when she heard that thump and then that silence, something happened to her to make her afraid. And she ran to the living room and there was little Grace on the fl oor, all twisted up, and the reason she hadn’t screamed was that she couldn’t get her breath. And when she did scream, it was the worst sound, Isa- bel says, that she’d ever heard in all her life, and she still hears it sometimes in her dreams. Isabel will sometimes wake me up with a low, moaning, strangling sound and I have to be quick to awaken her and hold her to me and where Isa- bel is weeping against me seems a mortal wound.

I think I may have written Sonny the very day that little Grace was buried. I was sitting in the living room in the dark, by myself, and I suddenly thought of Sonny. My trouble made his real.

One Saturday afternoon, when Sonny had been living with us, or anyway, been in our house, for nearly two weeks, I found myself wandering aimlessly about the living room, drinking from a can of beer, and trying to work up cour- age to search Sonny’s room. He was out, he was usually out whenever I was home, and Isabel had taken the children to see their grandparents. Suddenly I was standing still in front of the living room window, watching Seventh Avenue. The idea of searching Sonny’s room made me still. I scarcely dared to admit to myself what I’d be searching for. I didn’t know what I’d do if I found it. Or if I didn’t.

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On the sidewalk across from me, near the entrance to a barbecue joint, some people were holding an old- fashioned revival meeting. The barbecue cook, wearing a dirty white apron, his conked6 hair reddish and metallic in the pale sun, and a cigarette between his lips, stood in the doorway, watching them. Kids and older people paused in their errands and stood there, along with some older men and a couple of very tough- looking women who watched everything that happened on the avenue, as though they owned it, or were maybe owned by it. Well, they were watching this, too. The revival was being carried on by three sisters in black, and a brother. All they had were their voices and their Bibles and a tambourine. The brother was testifying7 and while he testifi ed two of the sisters stood together, seeming to say, amen, and the third sister walked around with the tambourine outstretched and a couple of people dropped coins into it. Then the brother’s testimony ended and the sister who had been taking up the collection dumped the coins into her palm and transferred them to the pocket of her long black robe. Then she raised both hands, striking the tambourine against the air, and then against one hand, and she started to sing. And the two other sisters and the brother joined in.

It was strange, suddenly, to watch, though I had been seeing these meetings all my life. So, of course, had everybody else down there. Yet, they paused and watched and listened and I stood still at the window. “ ’Tis the old ship of Zion,” they sang, and the sister with the tambourine kept a steady, jangling beat, “it has rescued many a thousand!” Not a soul under the sound of their voices was hearing this song for the fi rst time, not one of them had been rescued. Nor had they seen much in the way of rescue work being done around them. Neither did they especially believe in the holiness of the three sisters and the brother, they knew too much about them, knew where they lived, and how. The woman with the tambourine, whose voice dominated the air, whose face was bright with joy, was divided by very little from the woman who stood watching her, a cigarette between her heavy, chapped lips, her hair a cuckoo’s nest, her face scarred and swollen from many beatings, and her black eyes glittering like coal. Perhaps they both knew this, which was why, when, as rarely, they addressed each other, they addressed each other as Sister. As the singing fi lled the air the watching, listening faces underwent a change, the eyes focusing on something within; the music seemed to soothe a poison out of them; and time seemed, nearly, to fall away from the sullen, belligerent, battered faces, as though they were fl eeing back to their fi rst condition, while dreaming of their last. The barbecue cook half shook his head and smiled, and dropped his cigarette and disappeared into his joint. A man fumbled in his pockets for change and stood holding it in his hand impatiently, as though he had just remembered a pressing appointment further up the avenue. He looked furious. Then I saw Sonny, standing on the edge of the crowd. He was carry ing a wide, fl at notebook with a green cover, and it made him look, from where I was standing, almost like a schoolboy. The coppery sun brought out the copper in his skin, he was very faintly smiling, standing very still. Then the singing stopped, the tambourine turned into a col- lection plate again. The furious man dropped in his coins and vanished, so did

6. Pro cessed: straightened and greased. 7. Publicly professing belief.

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JAMES BALDWIN Sonny’s Blues 109

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a couple of the women, and Sonny dropped some change in the plate, looking directly at the woman with a little smile. He started across the avenue, toward the house. He has a slow, loping walk, something like the way Harlem hipsters walk, only he’s imposed on this his own half- beat. I had never really noticed it before.

I stayed at the window, both relieved and apprehensive. As Sonny disap- peared from my sight, they began singing again. And they were still singing when his key turned in the lock.

“Hey,” he said. “Hey, yourself. You want some beer?” “No. Well, maybe.” But he came up to the window and stood beside me,

looking out. “What a warm voice,” he said. They were singing If I could only hear my mother pray again! “Yes,” I said, “and she can sure beat that tambourine.” “But what a terrible song,” he said, and laughed. He dropped his notebook on

the sofa and disappeared into the kitchen. “Where’s Isabel and the kids?” “I think they went to see their grandparents. You hungry?” “No.” He came back into the living room with his can of beer. “You want to

come some place with me to night?” I sensed, I don’t know how, that I couldn’t possibly say no. “Sure. Where?” He sat down on the sofa and picked up his notebook and started leafi ng

through it. “I’m going to sit in with some fellows in a joint in the Village.” “You mean, you’re going to play, to night?” “That’s right.” He took a swallow of his beer and moved back to the window.

He gave me a sidelong look. “If you can stand it.” “I’ll try,” I said. He smiled to himself and we both watched as the meeting across the way

broke up. The three sisters and the brother, heads bowed, were singing God be with you till we meet again. The faces around them were very quiet. Then the song ended. The small crowd dispersed. We watched the three women and the lone man walk slowly up the avenue.

“When she was singing before,” said Sonny, abruptly, “her voice reminded me for a minute of what heroin feels like sometimes— when it’s in your veins. It makes you feel sort of warm and cool at the same time. And distant. And— and sure.” He sipped his beer, very deliberately not looking at me. I watched his face. “It makes you feel— in control. Sometimes you’ve got to have that feeling.”

“Do you?” I sat down slowly in the easy chair. “Sometimes.” He went to the sofa and picked up his notebook again. “Some

people do.” “In order,” I asked, “to play?” And my voice was very ugly, full of contempt

and anger. “Well”—he looked at me with great, troubled eyes, as though, in fact, he

hoped his eyes would tell me things he could never otherwise say—“they think so. And if they think so—!”

“And what do you think?” I asked. He sat on the sofa and put his can of beer on the fl oor. “I don’t know,” he

said, and I couldn’t be sure if he were answering my question or pursuing his thoughts. His face didn’t tell me. “It’s not so much to play. It’s to stand it, to be

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able to make it at all. On any level.” He frowned and smiled: “In order to keep from shaking to pieces.”

“But these friends of yours,” I said, “they seem to shake themselves to pieces pretty goddamn fast.”

“Maybe.” He played with the notebook. And something told me that I should curb my tongue, that Sonny was doing his best to talk, that I should listen. “But of course you only know the ones that’ve gone to pieces. Some don’t— or at least they haven’t yet and that’s just about all any of us can say.” He paused. “And then there are some who just live, really, in hell, and they know it and they see what’s happening and they go right on. I don’t know.” He sighed, dropped the note- book, folded his arms. “Some guys, you can tell from the way they play, they on something all the time. And you can see that, well, it makes something real for them. But of course,” he picked up his beer from the fl oor and sipped it and put the can down again, “they want to, too, you’ve got to see that. Even some of them that say they don’t—some, not all.”

“And what about you?” I asked— I couldn’t help it. “What about you? Do you want to?”

He stood up and walked to the window and I remained silent for a long time. Then he sighed. “Me,” he said. Then: “While I was downstairs before, on my way here, listening to that woman sing, it struck me all of a sudden how much suffering she must have had to go through— to sing like that. It’s repulsive to think you have to suffer that much.”

I said: “But there’s no way not to suffer— is there, Sonny?” “I believe not,” he said and smiled, “but that’s never stopped anyone from try-

ing.” He looked at me. “Has it?” I realized, with this mocking look, that there stood between us, forever, beyond the power of time or forgiveness, the fact that I had held silence— so long!— when he had needed human speech to help him. He turned back to the window. “No, there’s no way not to suffer. But you try all kinds of ways to keep from drowning in it, to keep on top of it, and to make it seem— well, like you. Like you did something, all right, and now you’re suffering for it. You know?” I said nothing. “Well you know,” he said, impatiently, “why do people suffer? Maybe it’s better to do something to give it a reason, any reason.”

“But we just agreed,” I said, “that there’s no way not to suffer. Isn’t it better, then, just to— take it?”

“But nobody just takes it,” Sonny cried, “that’s what I’m telling you! Everybody tries not to. You’re just hung up on the way some people try— it’s not your way!”

The hair on my face began to itch, my face felt wet. “That’s not true,” I said, “that’s not true. I don’t give a damn what other people do, I don’t even care how they suffer. I just care how you suffer.” And he looked at me. “Please believe me,” I said, “I don’t want to see you— die—trying not to suffer.”

“I won’t,” he said fl atly, “die trying not to suffer. At least, not any faster than anybody else.”

“But there’s no need,” I said, trying to laugh, “is there? in killing yourself.” I wanted to say more, but I couldn’t. I wanted to talk about will power and how

life could be— well, beautiful. I wanted to say that it was all within; but was it? or, rather, wasn’t that exactly the trouble? And I wanted to promise that I would never fail him again. But it would all have sounded— empty words and lies.

So I made the promise to myself and prayed that I would keep it.

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JAMES BALDWIN Sonny’s Blues 111

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“It’s terrible sometimes, inside,” he said, “that’s what’s the trouble. You walk these streets, black and funky and cold, and there’s not really a living ass to talk to, and there’s nothing shaking, and there’s no way of getting it out— that storm inside. You can’t talk it and you can’t make love with it, and when you fi nally try to get with it and play it, you realize nobody’s listening. So you’ve got to listen. You got to fi nd a way to listen.”

And then he walked away from the window and sat on the sofa again, as though all the wind had suddenly been knocked out of him. “Sometimes you’ll do anything to play, even cut your mother’s throat.” He laughed and looked at me. “Or your brother’s.” Then he sobered. “Or your own.” Then: “Don’t worry. I’m all right now and I think I’ll be all right. But I can’t forget— where I’ve been. I don’t mean just the physical place I’ve been, I mean where I’ve been. And what I’ve been.”

“What have you been, Sonny?” I asked. He smiled— but sat sideways on the sofa, his elbow resting on the back, his

fi ngers playing with his mouth and chin, not looking at me. “I’ve been some- thing I didn’t recognize, didn’t know I could be. Didn’t know anybody could be.” He stopped, looking inward, looking helplessly young, looking old. “I’m not talk- ing about it now because I feel guilty or anything like that— maybe it would be better if I did, I don’t know. Anyway, I can’t really talk about it. Not to you, not to anybody,” and now he turned and faced me. “Sometimes, you know, and it was actually when I was most out of the world, I felt that I was in it, that I was with it, really, and I could play or I didn’t really have to play, it just came out of me, it was there. And I don’t know how I played, thinking about it now, but I know I did awful things, those times, sometimes, to people. Or it wasn’t that I did anything to them— it was that they weren’t real.” He picked up the beer can; it was empty; he rolled it between his palms: “And other times— well, I needed a fi x, I needed to fi nd a place to lean, I needed to clear a space to listen— and I couldn’t fi nd it, and I— went crazy, I did terrible things to me, I was terrible for me.” He began pressing the beer can between his hands, I watched the metal begin to give. It glittered, as he played with it like a knife, and I was afraid he would cut himself, but I said nothing. “Oh well. I can never tell you. I was all by myself at the bottom of something, stinking and sweating and crying and shak- ing, and I smelled it, you know? my stink, and I thought I’d die if I couldn’t get away from it and yet, all the same, I knew that everything I was doing was just locking me in with it. And I didn’t know,” he paused, still fl attening the beer can, “I didn’t know, I still don’t know, something kept telling me that maybe it was good to smell your own stink, but I didn’t think that that was what I’d been try- ing to do— and—who can stand it?” and he abruptly dropped the ruined beer can, looking at me with a small, still smile, and then rose, walking to the win- dow as though it were the lodestone rock. I watched his face, he watched the avenue. “I couldn’t tell you when Mama died— but the reason I wanted to leave Harlem so bad was to get away from drugs. And then, when I ran away, that’s what I was running from— really. When I came back, nothing had changed, I hadn’t changed, I was just— older.” And he stopped, drumming with his fi ngers on the windowpane. The sun had vanished, soon darkness would fall. I watched his face. “It can come again,” he said, almost as though speaking to himself. Then he turned to me. “It can come again,” he repeated. “I just want you to know that.”

“All right,” I said, at last. “So it can come again. All right.”

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He smiled, but the smile was sorrowful. “I had to try to tell you,” he said. “Yes,” I said. “I understand that.” “You’re my brother,” he said, looking straight at me, and not smiling at all. “Yes,” I repeated, “yes. I understand that.” He turned back to the window, looking out. “All that hatred down there,” he

said, “all that hatred and misery and love. It’s a wonder it doesn’t blow the ave- nue apart.”

We went to the only nightclub on a short, dark street, downtown. We squeezed through the narrow, chattering, jampacked bar to the entrance of the big room, where the bandstand was. And we stood there for a moment, for the lights were very dim in this room and we couldn’t see. Then, “Hello, boy,” said the voice and an enormous black man, much older than Sonny or myself, erupted out of all that atmospheric lighting and put an arm around Sonny’s shoulder. “I been sitting right here,” he said, “waiting for you.”

He had a big voice, too, and heads in the darkness turned toward us. Sonny grinned and pulled a little away, and said, “Creole, this is my brother.

I told you about him.” Creole shook my hand. “I’m glad to meet you, son,” he said, and it was clear

that he was glad to meet me there, for Sonny’s sake. And he smiled, “You got a real musician in your family,” and he took his arm from Sonny’s shoulder and slapped him, lightly, affectionately, with the back of his hand.

“Well. Now I’ve heard it all,” said a voice behind us. This was another musi- cian, and a friend of Sonny’s, a coal- black, cheerful- looking man, built close to the ground. He immediately began confi ding to me, at the top of his lungs, the most terrible things about Sonny, his teeth gleaming like a light house and his laugh coming up out of him like the beginning of an earthquake. And it turned out that everyone at the bar knew Sonny, or almost everyone; some were musi- cians, working there, or nearby, or not working, some were simply hangers- on, and some were there to hear Sonny play. I was introduced to all of them and they were all very polite to me. Yet, it was clear that, for them, I was only Son- ny’s brother. Here, I was in Sonny’s world. Or, rather: his kingdom. Here, it was not even a question that his veins bore royal blood.

They were going to play soon and Creole installed me, by myself, at a table in a dark corner. Then I watched them, Creole, and the little black man, and Sonny, and the others, while they horsed around, standing just below the band- stand. The light from the bandstand spilled just a little short of them and, watching them laughing and gesturing and moving about, I had the feeling that they, nevertheless, were being most careful not to step into that circle of light too suddenly; that if they moved into the light too suddenly, without thinking, they would perish in fl ame. Then, while I watched, one of them, the small black man, moved into the light and crossed the bandstand and started fool- ing around with his drums. Then— being funny and being, also, extremely ceremonious— Creole took Sonny by the arm and led him to the piano. A woman’s voice called Sonny’s name and a few hands started clapping. And Sonny, also being funny and being ceremonious, and so touched, I think, that he could have cried, but neither hiding it nor showing it, riding it like a man, grinned, and put both hands to his heart and bowed from the waist.

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JAMES BALDWIN Sonny’s Blues 113

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Creole then went to the bass fi ddle and a lean, very bright- skinned brown man jumped up on the bandstand and picked up his horn. So there they were, and the atmosphere on the bandstand and in the room began to change and tighten. Someone stepped up to the microphone and announced them. Then there were all kinds of murmurs. Some people at the bar shushed others. The waitress ran around, frantically getting in the last orders, guys and chicks got closer to each other, and the lights on the bandstand, on the quartet, turned to a kind of indigo. Then they all looked different there. Creole looked about him for the last time, as though he were making certain that all his chickens were in the coop, and then he— jumped and struck the fi ddle. And there they were.

All I know about music is that not many people ever really hear it. And even then, on the rare occasions when something opens within, and the music enters, what we mainly hear, or hear corroborated, are personal, private, vanishing evo- cations. But the man who creates the music is hearing something else, is deal- ing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air. What is evoked in him, then, is of another order, more terrible because it has no words, and triumphant, too, for that same reason. And his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours. I just watched Sonny’s face. His face was troubled, he was working hard, but he wasn’t with it. And I had the feeling that, in a way, every- one on the bandstand was waiting for him, both waiting for him and pushing him along. But as I began to watch Creole, I realized that it was Creole who held them all back. He had them on a short rein. Up there, keeping the beat with his whole body, wailing on the fi ddle, with his eyes half closed, he was listening to everything, but he was listening to Sonny. He was having a dialogue with Sonny. He wanted Sonny to leave the shoreline and strike out for the deep water. He was Sonny’s witness that deep water and drowning were not the same thing— he had been there, and he knew. And he wanted Sonny to know. He was waiting for Sonny to do the things on the keys which would let Creole know that Sonny was in the water.

And, while Creole listened, Sonny moved, deep within, exactly like some- one in torment. I had never before thought of how awful the relationship must be between the musician and his instrument. He has to fi ll it, this instru- ment, with the breath of life, his own. He has to make it do what he wants it to do. And a piano is just a piano. It’s made out of so much wood and wires and little hammers and big ones, and ivory. While there’s only so much you can do with it, the only way to fi nd this out is to try; to try and make it do everything.

And Sonny hadn’t been near a piano for over a year. And he wasn’t on much better terms with his life, not the life that stretched before him now. He and the piano stammered, started one way, got scared, stopped; started another way, panicked, marked time, started again; then seemed to have found a direc- tion, panicked again, got stuck. And the face I saw on Sonny I’d never seen before. Everything had been burned out of it, and, at the same time, things usually hidden were being burned in, by the fi re and fury of the battle which was occurring in him up there.

Yet, watching Creole’s face as they neared the end of the fi rst set, I had the feeling that something had happened, something I hadn’t heard. Then they

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fi nished, there was scattered applause, and then, without an instant’s warning, Creole started into something else, it was almost sardonic, it was Am I Blue.8 And, as though he commanded, Sonny began to play. Something began to hap- pen. And Creole let out the reins. The dry, low, black man said something awful on the drums, Creole answered, and the drums talked back. Then the horn insisted, sweet and high, slightly detached perhaps, and Creole listened, com- menting now and then, dry, and driving, beautiful and calm and old. Then they all came together again, and Sonny was part of the family again. I could tell this from his face. He seemed to have found, right there beneath his fi ngers, a damn brand- new piano. It seemed that he couldn’t get over it. Then, for a while, just being happy with Sonny, they seemed to be agreeing with him that brand- new pianos certainly were a gas.

Then Creole stepped forward to remind them that what they were playing was the blues. He hit something in all of them, he hit something in me, myself, and the music tightened and deepened, apprehension began to beat the air. Creole began to tell us what the blues were all about. They were not about any- thing very new. He and his boys up there were keeping it new, at the risk of ruin, destruction, madness, and death, in order to fi nd new ways to make us listen. For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness.

And this tale, according to that face, that body, those strong hands on those strings, has another aspect in every country, and a new depth in every genera- tion. Listen, Creole seemed to be saying, listen. Now these are Sonny’s blues. He made the little black man on the drums know it, and the bright, brown man on the horn. Creole wasn’t trying any longer to get Sonny in the water. He was wishing him Godspeed. Then he stepped back, very slowly, fi lling the air with the im mense suggestion that Sonny speak for himself.

Then they all gathered around Sonny and Sonny played. Every now and again one of them seemed to say, amen. Sonny’s fi ngers fi lled the air with life, his life. But that life contained so many others. And Sonny went all the way back, he really began with the spare, fl at statement of the opening phrase of the song. Then he began to make it his. It was very beautiful because it wasn’t hur- ried and it was no longer a lament. I seemed to hear with what burning he had made it his, and what burning we had yet to make it ours, how we could cease lamenting. Freedom lurked around us and I understood, at last, that he could help us to be free if we would listen, that he would never be free until we did. Yet, there was no battle in his face now, I heard what he had gone through, and would continue to go through until he came to rest in earth. He had made it his: that long line, of which we knew only Mama and Daddy. And he was giving it back, as everything must be given back, so that, passing through death, it can live forever. I saw my mother’s face again, and felt, for the fi rst time, how the stones of the road she had walked on must have bruised her feet. I saw the moonlit road where my father’s brother died. And it brought something else back to me, and carried me past it, I saw my little girl again and felt Isabel’s tears again, and I felt my own tears begin to rise. And I was yet aware that this

8. A favorite jazz standard, brilliantly recorded by Billie Holiday.

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EDITH WHARTON Roman Fever 115

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was only a moment, that the world waited outside, as hungry as a tiger, and that trouble stretched above us, longer than the sky.

Then it was over. Creole and Sonny let out their breath, both soaking wet, and grinning. There was a lot of applause and some of it was real. In the dark, the girl came by and I asked her to take drinks to the bandstand. There was a long pause, while they talked up there in the indigo light and after awhile I saw the girl put a Scotch and milk on top of the piano for Sonny. He didn’t seem to notice it, but just before they started playing again, he sipped from it and looked toward me, and nodded. Then he put it back on top of the piano. For me, then, as they began to play again, it glowed and shook above my brother’s head like the very cup of trembling.9

1957

QUESTIONS

1. Sonny’s Blues begins in medias res. What does Baldwin achieve by beginning the story as he does? How does the order in which events are related later in the story affect your experience of reading it and interpreting its meaning?

2. What external confl ict(s) is (or are) depicted in the story? What internal confl ict(s)? How are they resolved?

3. James Baldwin famously avowed that “[i]t is only in his music [. . .] that the Negro in America has been able to tell his story,” and music of various kinds features prominently in Sonny’s Blues. Note all the times when music is mentioned, as well as all the varieties of music. What story seems to be told both through and about music in Sonny’s Blues?

EDITH WHARTON (1862–1937) Roman Fever1

Edith Jones was born into a distinguished New York family. Educated by private tutors and governesses, she published a book of her poems privately but did not begin to write for a public audience until after her marriage, to Edward Wharton, in 1885. The author of more than fi fty volumes of poetry, essays, fi ction,

travelogues, and criticism, she was the fi rst woman to receive an honorary doctorate from Yale University, in 1923. Although she immigrated to France in 1907 (and later was awarded the Legion of Honor for her philanthropic work during World War I), she continued to write about the New En gland of her youth in novels such as the pop u lar

9. See Isaiah 51.17, 22– 23: “Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem, which hast drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of his fury; thou hast drunken the dregs of the cup of trembling, and wrung them out. [. . .] Behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling, even the dregs of the cup of my fury; thou shalt no more drink it again: But I will put it into the hand of them that affl ict thee [. . .].” 1. Type of malaria once thought to be caused by the alternating hot and cool temperatures of the Roman climate. Anglo- American tourists traditionally feared exposure to it at certain times and seasons.

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Ethan Frome (1911), The House of Mirth (1905), and the Pulitzer Prize– winning The Age of Innocence (1920). Primarily remembered as a novelist, Wharton nonetheless ranks as one of America’s greatest short- story writers, publishing almost ninety between 1891 and 1937. Though many offer the realistic dissections of upper- class life for which she is most famous, she also excelled at what one of her narrators calls the ghost story that “isn’t exactly a ghost- story,” including those published in the posthumous collection Ghosts (1937).

I

From the table at which they had been lunching two American ladies of ripe but well- cared- for middle age moved across the lofty terrace of the Roman res- taurant and, leaning on its parapet, looked fi rst at each other, and then down on the outspread glories of the Palatine2 and the Forum,3 with the same expression of vague but benevolent approval.

As they leaned there a girlish voice echoed up gaily from the stairs leading to the court below. “Well, come along, then,” it cried, not to them but to an invisible companion, “and let’s leave the young things to their knitting”; and a voice as fresh laughed back: “Oh, look here, Babs, not actually knitting—” “Well, I mean fi guratively,” rejoined the fi rst. “After all, we haven’t left our poor parents much else to do . . .” and at that point the turn of the stairs engulfed the dialogue.

The two ladies looked at each other again, this time with a tinge of smiling embarrassment, and the smaller and paler one shook her head and colored slightly.

“Barbara!” she murmured, sending an unheard rebuke after the mocking voice in the stairway.

The other lady, who was fuller, and higher in color, with a small determined nose supported by vigorous black eyebrows, gave a good- humored laugh. “That’s what our daughters think of us!”

Her companion replied by a deprecating gesture. “Not of us individually. We must remember that. It’s just the collective modern idea of Mothers. And you see—” Half guiltily she drew from her handsomely mounted black hand- bag a  twist of crimson silk run through by two fi ne knitting needles. “One never knows,” she murmured. “The new system has certainly given us a good deal of time to kill; and sometimes I get tired just looking— even at this.” Her gesture was now addressed to the stupendous scene at their feet.

The dark lady laughed again, and they both relapsed upon the view, contem- plating it in silence, with a sort of diffused serenity which might have been bor- rowed from the spring effulgence of the Roman skies. The luncheon- hour was long past, and the two had their end of the vast terrace to themselves. At its opposite extremity a few groups, detained by a lingering look at the outspread city, were gathering up guide- books and fumbling for tips. The last of them scattered, and the two ladies were alone on the air- washed height.

2. One of the seven hills on which the oldest part of Rome was built. 3. Central plaza of ancient Rome.

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“Well, I don’t see why we shouldn’t just stay here,” said Mrs. Slade, the lady of the high color and energetic brows. Two derelict basket- chairs stood near, and she pushed them into the angle of the parapet, and settled herself in one, her gaze upon the Palatine. “After all, it’s still the most beautiful view in the world.”

“It always will be, to me,” assented her friend Mrs. Ansley, with so slight a stress on the “me” that Mrs. Slade, though she noticed it, wondered if it were not merely accidental, like the random underlinings of old- fashioned letter- writers.

“Grace Ansley was always old- fashioned,” she thought; and added aloud, with a retrospective smile: “It’s a view we’ve both been familiar with for a good many years. When we fi rst met here we were younger than our girls are now. You remember?”

“Oh, yes, I remember,” murmured Mrs. Ansley, with the same undefi nable stress—“There’s that head- waiter wondering,” she interpolated. She was evi- dently far less sure than her companion of herself and of her rights in the world.

“I’ll cure him of wondering,” said Mrs. Slade, stretching her hand toward a bag as discreetly opulent- looking as Mrs. Ansley’s. Signing to the head- waiter, she explained that she and her friend were old lovers of Rome, and would like to spend the end of the afternoon looking down on the view— that is, if it did not disturb the ser vice? The headwaiter, bowing over her gratuity, assured her that the ladies were most welcome, and would be still more so if they would conde- scend to remain for dinner. A full moon night, they would remember . . .

Mrs. Slade’s black brows drew together, as though references to the moon were out- of- place and even unwelcome. But she smiled away her frown as the head- waiter retreated. “Well, why not? We might do worse. There’s no knowing, I suppose, when the girls will be back. Do you even know back from where? I don’t!”

Mrs. Ansley again colored slightly. “I think those young Italian aviators we met at the Embassy invited them to fl y to Tarquinia4 for tea. I suppose they’ll want to wait and fl y back by moonlight.”

“Moonlight—moonlight! What a part it still plays. Do you suppose they’re as sentimental as we were?”

“I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t in the least know what they are,” said Mrs. Ansley. “And perhaps we didn’t know much more about each other.”

“No; perhaps we didn’t.” Her friend gave her a shy glance. “I never should have supposed you were

sentimental, Alida.” “Well, perhaps I wasn’t.” Mrs. Slade drew her lids together in retrospect; and

for a few moments the two ladies, who had been intimate since childhood, refl ected how little they knew each other. Each one, of course, had a label ready to attach to the other’s name; Mrs. Delphin Slade, for instance, would have told herself, or any one who asked her, that Mrs. Horace Ansley, twenty- fi ve years ago, had been exquisitely lovely— no, you wouldn’t believe it, would you? . . . though, of course, still charming, distinguished . . . Well, as a girl she had been exquisite; far more beautiful than her daughter Barbara, though certainly Babs,

4. Now Corneto, Italy, an ancient Etruscan city, ninety kilometers from Rome, the site of well- preserved underground tombs with vivid wall paintings.

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according to the new standards at any rate, was more effective— had more edge, as they say. Funny where she got it, with those two nullities as parents. Yes; Horace Ansley was— well, just the duplicate of his wife. Museum specimens of old New York. Good- looking, irreproachable, exemplary. Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley had lived opposite each other— actually as well as fi guratively— for years. When the drawing-room curtains in No. 20 East 73rd Street were renewed, No. 23, across the way, was always aware of it. And of all the movings, buyings, travels, anniversaries, illnesses— the tame chronicle of an estimable pair. Little of it escaped Mrs. Slade. But she had grown bored with it by the time her hus- band made his big coup in Wall Street, and when they bought in upper Park Avenue had already begun to think: “I’d rather live opposite a speak- easy5 for a change; at least one might see it raided.” The idea of seeing Grace raided was so amusing that (before the move) she launched it at a woman’s lunch. It made a hit, and went the rounds— she sometimes wondered if it had crossed the street, and reached Mrs. Ansley. She hoped not, but didn’t much mind. Those were the days when respectability was at a discount, and it did the irreproachable no harm to laugh at them a little.

A few years later, and not many months apart, both ladies lost their hus- bands. There was an appropriate exchange of wreaths and condolences, and a brief renewal of intimacy in the half- shadow of their mourning; and now, after another interval, they had run across each other in Rome, at the same hotel, each of them the modest appendage of a salient daughter. The similarity of their lot had again drawn them together, lending itself to mild jokes, and the mutual confession that, if in old days it must have been tiring to “keep up” with daugh- ters, it was now, at times, a little dull not to.

No doubt, Mrs. Slade refl ected, she felt her unemployment more than poor Grace ever would. It was a big drop from being the wife of Delphin Slade to being his widow. She had always regarded herself (with a certain conjugal pride) as his equal in social gifts, as contributing her full share to the making of the exceptional couple they were: but the difference after his death was irremedia- ble. As the wife of the famous corporation lawyer, always with an international case or two on hand, every day brought its exciting and unexpected obligation: the impromptu entertaining of eminent colleagues from abroad, the hurried dashes on legal business to London, Paris or Rome, where the entertaining was so handsomely reciprocated; the amusement of hearing in her wake: “What, that handsome woman with the good clothes and the eyes is Mrs. Slade—the Slade’s wife? Really? Generally the wives of celebrities are such frumps.”

Yes; being the Slade’s widow was a dullish business after that. In living up to such a husband all her faculties had been engaged; now she had only her daugh- ter to live up to, for the son who seemed to have inherited his father’s gifts had died suddenly in boyhood. She had fought through that agony because her hus- band was there, to be helped and to help; now, after the father’s death, the thought of the boy had become unbearable. There was nothing left but to mother her daughter; and dear Jenny was such a perfect daughter that she needed no excessive mothering. “Now with Babs Ansley I don’t know that I should be so quiet,” Mrs. Slade sometimes half- enviously refl ected; but Jenny, who was younger

5. Illegal tavern during the period of Prohibition (1919– 31) in the United States.

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than her brilliant friend, was that rare accident, an extremely pretty girl who somehow made youth and prettiness seem as safe as their absence. It was all perplexing— and to Mrs. Slade a little boring. She wished that Jenny would fall in love— with the wrong man, even; that she might have to be watched, out- manoeuvred, rescued. And instead, it was Jenny who watched her mother, kept her out of draughts, made sure that she had taken her tonic . . .

Mrs. Ansley was much less articulate than her friend, and her mental por- trait of Mrs. Slade was slighter, and drawn with fainter touches. “Alida Slade’s awfully brilliant; but not as brilliant as she thinks,” would have summed it up; though she would have added, for the enlightenment of strangers, that Mrs. Slade had been an extremely dashing girl; much more so than her daughter, who was pretty, of course, and clever in a way, but had none of her mother’s— well, “vividness,” someone had once called it. Mrs. Ansley would take up cur- rent words like this, and cite them in quotation marks, as unheard- of audacities. No; Jenny was not like her mother. Sometimes Mrs. Ansley thought Alida Slade was disappointed; on the whole she had had a sad life. Full of failures and mis- takes; Mrs. Ansley had always been rather sorry for her . . .

So these two ladies visualized each other, each through the wrong end of her little telescope.

II

For a long time they continued to sit side by side without speaking. It seemed as though, to both, there was a relief in laying down their somewhat futile activi- ties in the presence of the vast Memento Mori6 which faced them. Mrs. Slade sat quite still, her eyes fi xed on the golden slope of the Palace of the Caesars,7 and after a while Mrs. Ansley ceased to fi dget with her bag, and she too sank into meditation. Like many intimate friends, the two ladies had never before had occasion to be silent together, and Mrs. Ansley was slightly embarrassed by what seemed, after so many years, a new stage in their intimacy, and one with which she did not yet know how to deal.

Suddenly the air was full of that deep clangor of bells which periodically cov- ers Rome with a roof of silver. Mrs. Slade glanced at her wrist- watch. “Five o’clock already,” she said, as though surprised.

Mrs. Ansley suggested interrogatively: “There’s bridge at the Embassy at fi ve.” For a long time Mrs. Slade did not answer. She appeared to be lost in con- templation, and Mrs. Ansley thought the remark had escaped her. But after a while she said, as if speaking out of a dream: “Bridge, did you say? Not unless you want to . . . But I don’t think I will, you know.”

“Oh, no,” Mrs. Ansley hastened to assure her. “I don’t care to at all. It’s so lovely here; and so full of old memories, as you say.” She settled herself in her chair, and almost furtively drew forth her knitting. Mrs. Slade took sideway note of this activity, but her own beautifully cared- for hands remained motion- less on her knee.

“I was just thinking,” she said slowly, “what different things Rome stands for to each generation of travellers. To our grandmothers, Roman fever; to our

6. Reminder of human mortality; literally, “Remember that you must die” (Latin). 7. The palace of the Roman emperors is on the Palatine hill.

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mothers, sentimental dangers— how we used to be guarded!— to our daughters, no more dangers than the middle of Main Street. They don’t know it— but how much they’re missing!”

The long golden light was beginning to pale, and Mrs. Ansley lifted her knit- ting a little closer to her eyes. “Yes; how we were guarded!”

“I always used to think,” Mrs. Slade continued, “that our mothers had a much more diffi cult job than our grandmothers. When Roman fever stalked the streets it must have been comparatively easy to gather in the girls at the danger hour; but when you and I were young, with such beauty calling us, and the spice of disobedience thrown in, and no worse risk than catching cold during the cool hour after sunset, the mothers used to be put to it to keep us in— didn’t they?”

She turned again toward Mrs. Ansley, but the latter had reached a delicate point in her knitting. “One, two, three— slip two; yes, they must have been,” she assented, without looking up.

Mrs. Slade’s eyes rested on her with a deepened attention. “She can knit— in the face of this! How like her . . .”

Mrs. Slade leaned back, brooding, her eyes ranging from the ruins which faced her to the long green hollow of the Forum, the fading glow of the church fronts beyond it, and the outlying immensity of the Colosseum.8 Suddenly she thought: “It’s all very well to say that our girls have done away with sentiment and moonlight. But if Babs Ansley isn’t out to catch that young aviator— the one who’s a Marchese— then I don’t know anything. And Jenny has no chance beside her. I know that too. I wonder if that’s why Grace Ansley likes the two girls to go everywhere together? My poor Jenny as a foil— I” Mrs. Slade gave a hardly audible laugh, and at the sound Mrs. Ansley dropped her knitting.

“Yes—?” “I—oh, nothing. I was only thinking how your Babs carries everything before

her. That Campolieri boy is one of the best matches in Rome. Don’t look so innocent, my dear— you know he is. And I was wondering, ever so respectfully, you understand . . . wondering how two such exemplary characters as you and Horace had managed to produce anything quite so dynamic.” Mrs. Slade laughed again, with a touch of asperity.

Mrs. Ansley’s hands lay inert across her needles. She looked straight out at the great accumulated wreckage of passion and splendor at her feet. But her small profi le was almost expressionless. At length she said: “I think you overrate Babs, my dear.”

Mrs. Slade’s tone grew easier. “No; I don’t. I appreciate her. And perhaps envy you. Oh, my girl’s perfect; if I were a chronic invalid I’d— well, I think I’d rather be in Jenny’s hands. There must be times . . . but there! I always wanted a brilliant daughter . . . and never quite understood why I got an angel instead.”

Mrs. Ansley echoed her laugh in a faint murmur. “Babs is an angel too.” “Of course— of course! But she’s got rainbow wings. Well, they’re wandering

by the sea with their young men; and here we sit . . . and it all brings back the past a little too acutely.”

Mrs. Ansley had resumed her knitting. One might almost have imagined (if one had known her less well, Mrs. Slade refl ected) that, for her also, too many

8. Great Roman amphitheater built in the fi rst century CE, site of lavish spectacles featuring wild animals and mortal combat.

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memories rose from the lengthening shadows of those august ruins. But no; she was simply absorbed in her work. What was there for her to worry about? She knew that Babs would almost certainly come back engaged to the extremely eligible Campolieri. “And she’ll sell the New York house, and settle down near them in Rome, and never be in their way . . . she’s much too tactful. But she’ll have an excellent cook, and just the right people in for bridge and cocktails . . . and a perfectly peaceful old age among her grandchildren.”

Mrs. Slade broke off this prophetic fl ight with a recoil of self- disgust. There was no one of whom she had less right to think unkindly than of Grace Ans- ley. Would she never cure herself of envying her? Perhaps she had begun too long ago.

She stood up and leaned against the parapet, fi lling her troubled eyes with the tranquillizing magic of the hour. But instead of tranquillizing her the sight seemed to increase her exasperation. Her gaze turned toward the Colosseum. Already its golden fl ank was drowned in purple shadow, and above it the sky curved crystal clear, without light or color. It was the moment when afternoon and eve ning hang balanced in mid- heaven.

Mrs. Slade turned back and laid her hand on her friend’s arm. The gesture was so abrupt that Mrs. Ansley looked up, startled.

“The sun’s set. You’re not afraid, my dear?” “Afraid—?” “Of Roman fever or pneumonia? I remember how ill you were that winter. As

a girl you had a very delicate throat, hadn’t you?” “Oh, we’re all right up here. Down below, in the Forum, it does get deathly

cold, all of a sudden . . . but not here.” “Ah, of course you know because you had to be so careful.” Mrs. Slade turned

back to the parapet. She thought: “I must make one more effort not to hate her.” Aloud she said, “Whenever I look at the Forum from up here, I remember that story about a great- aunt of yours, wasn’t she? A dreadfully wicked great- aunt?”

“Oh, yes; Great- aunt Harriet. The one who was supposed to have sent her young sister out to the Forum after sunset to gather a nightblooming fl ower for her album. All our great- aunts and grandmothers used to have albums of dried fl owers.”

Mrs. Slade nodded. “But she really sent her because they were in love with the same man—”

“Well, that was the family tradition. They said Aunt Harriet confessed it years afterward. At any rate, the poor little sister caught the fever and died. Mother used to frighten us with the story when we were children.”

“And you frightened me with it, that winter when you and I were here as girls. The winter I was engaged to Delphin.”

Mrs. Ansley gave a faint laugh. “Oh, did I? Really frightened you? I don’t believe you’re easily frightened.”

“Not often; but I was then. I was easily frightened because I was too happy. I wonder if you know what that means?”

“I—yes . . .” Mrs. Ansley faltered. “Well, I suppose that was why the story of your wicked aunt made such an

impression on me. And I thought: ‘There’s no more Roman fever, but the Forum is deathly cold after sunset— especially after a hot day. And the Colosseum’s even colder and damper.’ ”

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“The Colosseum—?” “Yes. It wasn’t easy to get in, after the gates were locked for the night. Far from

easy. Still, in those days it could be managed; it was managed, often. Lovers met there who couldn’t meet elsewhere. You knew that?”

“I—I daresay. I don’t remember.” “You don’t remember? You don’t remember going to visit some ruins or other

one eve ning, just after dark, and catching a bad chill? You were supposed to have gone to see the moon rise. People always said that expedition was what caused your illness.”

There was a moment’s silence; then Mrs. Ansley rejoined: “Did they? It was all so long ago.”

“Yes. And you got well again— so it didn’t matter. But I suppose it struck your friends— the reason given for your illness, I mean— because everybody knew you were so prudent on account of your throat, and your mother took such care of you . . . You had been out late sight- seeing, hadn’t you, that night?”

“Perhaps I had. The most prudent girls aren’t always prudent. What made you think of it now?”

Mrs. Slade seemed to have no answer ready. But after a moment she broke out: “Because I simply can’t bear it any longer—!”

Mrs. Ansley lifted her head quickly. Her eyes were wide and very pale. “Can’t bear what?”

“Why—your not knowing that I’ve always known why you went.” “Why I went—?” “Yes. You think I’m bluffi ng, don’t you? Well, you went to meet the man I was

engaged to— and I can repeat every word of the letter that took you there.” While Mrs. Slade spoke Mrs. Ansley had risen unsteadily to her feet. Her

bag, her knitting and gloves, slid in a panic- stricken heap to the ground. She looked at Mrs. Slade as though she were looking at a ghost.

“No, no— don’t,” she faltered out. “Why not? Listen, if you don’t believe me. ‘My one darling, things can’t go on

like this. I must see you alone. Come to the Colosseum immediately after dark tomorrow. There will be somebody to let you in. No one whom you need fear will suspect’— but perhaps you’ve forgotten what the letter said?”

Mrs. Ansley met the challenge with an unexpected composure. Steadying herself against the chair she looked at her friend, and replied: “No; I know it by heart too.”

“And the signature? ‘Only your D.S.’ Was that it? I’m right, am I? That was the letter that took you out that eve ning after dark?”

Mrs. Ansley was still looking at her. It seemed to Mrs. Slade that a slow struggle was going on behind the voluntarily controlled mask of her small quiet face. “I shouldn’t have thought she had herself so well in hand,” Mrs. Slade refl ected, almost resentfully. But at this moment Mrs. Ansley spoke. “I don’t know how you knew. I burnt that letter at once.”

“Yes; you would, naturally— you’re so prudent!” The sneer was open now. “And if you burnt the letter you’re wondering how on earth I know what was in it. That’s it, isn’t it?”

Mrs. Slade waited, but Mrs. Ansley did not speak. “Well, my dear, I know what was in that letter because I wrote it!”

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“You wrote it?” “Yes.” The two women stood for a minute staring at each other in the last golden

light. Then Mrs. Ansley dropped back into her chair. “Oh,” she murmured, and covered her face with her hands.

Mrs. Slade waited ner vous ly for another word or movement. None came, and at length she broke out. “I horrify you.”

Mrs. Ansley’s hands dropped to her knee. The face they uncovered was streaked with tears. “I wasn’t thinking of you. I was thinking— it was the only letter I ever had from him!”

“And I wrote it. Yes; I wrote it! But I was the girl he was engaged to. Did you happen to remember that?”

Mrs. Ansley’s head drooped again. “I’m not trying to excuse myself . . . I remembered . . .”

“And still you went?” “Still I went.” Mrs. Slade stood looking down on the small bowed fi gure at her side. The

fl ame of her wrath had already sunk, and she wondered why she had ever thought there would be any satisfaction in infl icting so purposeless a wound on her friend. But she had to justify herself.

“You do understand? I’d found out— and I hated you, hated you. I knew you were in love with Delphin— and I was afraid; afraid of you, of your quiet ways, your sweetness . . . your . . . well, I wanted you out of the way, that’s all. Just for a few weeks; just till I was sure of him. So in a blind fury I wrote that letter . . . I don’t know why I’m telling you now.”

“I suppose,” said Mrs. Ansley slowly, “it’s because you’ve always gone on hat- ing me.”

“Perhaps. Or because I wanted to get the whole thing off my mind.” She paused. “I’m glad you destroyed the letter. Of course I never thought you’d die.”

Mrs. Ansley relapsed into silence, and Mrs. Slade, leaning above her, was conscious of a strange sense of isolation, of being cut off from the warm current of human communion. “You think me a monster!”

“I don’t know . . . It was the only letter I had, and you say he didn’t write it?” “Ah, how you care for him, still!” “I cared for that memory,” said Mrs. Ansley. Mrs. Slade continued to look down on her. She seemed physically reduced by

the blow— as if, when she got up, the wind might scatter her like a puff of dust. Mrs. Slade’s jealousy suddenly leapt up again at the sight. All these years the woman had been living on that letter. How she must have loved him, to trea sure the mere memory of its ashes! The letter of the man her friend was engaged to. Wasn’t it she who was the monster?

“You tried your best to get him away from me, didn’t you? But you failed; and I kept him. That’s all.”

“Yes. That’s all.” “I wish now I hadn’t told you. I’d no idea you’d feel about it as you do; I

thought you’d be amused. It all happened so long ago, as you say; and you must do me the justice to remember that I had no reason to think you’d ever taken it seriously. How could I, when you were married to Horace Ansley two months

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afterward? As soon as you could get out of bed your mother rushed you off to Florence and married you. People were rather surprised— they wondered at its being done so quickly; but I thought I knew. I had an idea you did it out of pique— to be able to say you’d got ahead of Delphin and me. Girls have such silly reasons for doing the most serious things. And your marrying so soon con- vinced me that you’d never really cared.”

“Yes. I suppose it would,” Mrs. Ansley assented. The clear heaven overhead was emptied of all its gold. Dusk spread over it,

abruptly darkening the Seven Hills. Here and there lights began to twinkle through the foliage at their feet. Steps were coming and going on the deserted terrace— waiters looking out of the doorway at the head of the stairs, then reappearing with trays and napkins and fl asks of wine. Tables were moved, chairs straightened. A feeble string of electric lights fl ickered out. Some vases of faded fl owers were carried away, and brought back replenished. A stout lady in a dust- coat suddenly appeared, asking in broken Italian if any one had seen the elastic band which held together her tattered Baedeker.9 She poked with her stick under the table at which she had lunched, the waiters assisting.

The corner where Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley sat was still shadowy and deserted. For a long time neither of them spoke. At length Mrs. Slade began again: “I suppose I did it as a sort of joke—”

“A joke?” “Well, girls are ferocious sometimes, you know. Girls in love especially.

And I remember laughing to myself all that eve ning at the idea that you were waiting around there in the dark, dodging out of sight, listening for every sound, trying to get in—. Of course I was upset when I heard you were so ill afterward.”

Mrs. Ansley had not moved for a long time. But now she turned slowly toward her companion. “But I didn’t wait. He’d arranged everything. He was there. We were let in at once,” she said.

Mrs. Slade sprang up from her leaning position. “Delphin there? They let you in?— Ah, now you’re lying!” she burst out with violence.

Mrs. Ansley’s voice grew clearer, and full of surprise. “But of course he was there. Naturally he came—”

“Came? How did he know he’d fi nd you there? You must be raving!” Mrs. Ansley hesitated, as though refl ecting. “But I answered the letter. I told

him I’d be there. So he came.” Mrs. Slade fl ung her hands up to her face. “Oh, God— you answered! I never

thought of your answering . . .” “It’s odd you never thought of it, if you wrote the letter.” “Yes. I was blind with rage.” Mrs. Ansley rose, and drew her fur scarf about her. “It is cold here. We’d bet-

ter go . . . I’m sorry for you,” she said, as she clasped the fur about her throat. The unexpected words sent a pang through Mrs. Slade. “Yes; we’d better go.”

She gathered up her bag and cloak. “I don’t know why you should be sorry for me,” she muttered.

9. Any one of the very pop u lar tourist guidebooks published by German publisher Karl Baedeker (founded 1827).

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Mrs. Ansley stood looking away from her toward the dusky secret mass of the Colosseum. “Well— because I didn’t have to wait that night.”

Mrs. Slade gave an unquiet laugh. “Yes; I was beaten there. But I oughtn’t to begrudge it to you, I suppose. At the end of all these years. After all, I had everything; I had him for twenty- fi ve years. And you had nothing but that one letter that he didn’t write.”

Mrs. Ansley was again silent. At length she turned toward the door of the terrace. She took a step, and turned back, facing her companion.

“I had Barbara,” she said, and began to move ahead of Mrs. Slade toward the stairway.

1936

QUESTIONS

1. What are the fi rst hints of submerged confl ict between Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley? What details in part 1 bring out the differences in their personalities and their lives? How has their relationship changed by the end, and how do the last six para- graphs of the story show the change?

2. Discuss how dramatic irony plays out in Roman Fever. What is the full story that neither Mrs. Slade nor Mrs. Ansley knows? What prompts the two ladies to reveal what they know to each other?

3. In part 2, Mrs. Slade remembers how earlier generations tried to protect their daughters in Rome. What are the similarities and differences between the older women’s memories and the daughters’ current experiences of courtship in Italy?

JOYCE CAROL OATES (b. 1938)

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

A remarkably, even uniquely, prolifi c writer of short stories, poems, novels, and nonfi ction, Joyce Carol Oates was born in Lockport, New York. Dau gh ter of a tool- and- die designer and his wife, she submitted

her fi rst novel to a publisher at fi fteen and a few years later became the fi rst person in her family to gradu ate from high school, later earning a BA from Syracuse University (1960) and an MA from the University of Wisconsin (1961). The recipient of countless awards, including a National Book Award for the novel them (1969), an O. Henry Spe- cial Award for Continuing Achievement (1970, 1986), a Pushchart Prize (1976), and at least four lifetime achievement awards, Oates taught for over thirty- fi ve years at Prince- ton University, retiring in 2014. Her recent novels include Little Bird of Heaven (2009), Mudwoman (2012), Daddy Love and The Accursed (2013), and Carthage (2014). A new short- story collection, High Crime Area: Tales of Darkness and Dread, came out in 2012, one year after her memoir A Widow’s Story.

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For Bob Dylan

H er name was Connie. She was fi fteen and she had a quick, ner vous gig-gling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors or checking other people’s faces to make sure her own was all right. Her mother, who noticed everything and knew everything and who hadn’t much reason any longer to look at her own face, always scolded Connie about it. “Stop gawking at yourself. Who are you? You think you’re so pretty?” she would say. Connie would raise her eyebrows at these familiar old complaints and look right through her mother, into a shadowy vision of herself as she was right at that moment: she knew she was pretty and that was everything. Her mother had been pretty once too, if you could believe those old snapshots in the album, but now her looks were gone and that was why she was always after Connie.

“Why don’t you keep your room clean like your sister? How’ve you got your hair fi xed— what the hell stinks? Hair spray? You don’t see your sister using that junk.”

Her sister, June, was twenty- four and still lived at home. She was a secretary in the high school Connie attended, and if that wasn’t bad enough— with her in the same building— she was so plain and chunky and steady that Connie had to hear her praised all the time by her mother and her mother’s sisters. June did this, June did that, she saved money and helped clean the house and cooked and Connie couldn’t do a thing, her mind was all fi lled with trashy daydreams. Their father was away at work most of the time and when he came home he wanted supper and he read the newspaper at supper and after supper he went to bed. He didn’t bother talking much to them, but around his bent head Connie’s mother kept picking at her until Connie wished her mother was dead and she herself was dead and it was all over. “She makes me want to throw up some- times,” she complained to her friends. She had a high, breathless, amused voice that made everything she said sound a little forced, whether it was sincere or not.

There was one good thing: June went places with girl friends of hers, girls who were just as plain and steady as she, and so when Connie wanted to do that her mother had no objections. The father of Connie’s best girl friend drove the girls the three miles to town and left them at a shopping plaza so they could walk through the stores or go to a movie, and when he came to pick them up again at eleven he never bothered to ask what they had done.

They must have been familiar sights, walking around the shopping plaza in their shorts and fl at ballerina slippers that always scuffed on the sidewalk, with charm bracelets jingling on their thin wrists; they would lean together to whis- per and laugh secretly if someone passed who amused or interested them. Con- nie had long dark blond hair that drew anyone’s eye to it, and she wore part of it pulled up on her head and puffed out and the rest of it she let fall down her back. She wore a pullover jersey top that looked one way when she was at home and another way when she was away from home. Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home: her walk, which could be childlike and bobbing, or languid enough to make anyone think she was hearing music in her head; her mouth, which was pale and smirking most of the time, but bright and pink on these eve nings out; her laugh, which was cynical and drawling at home—“Ha, ha, very funny,”— but high- pitched and ner vous anywhere else, like the jingling of the charms on her bracelet.

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JOYCE CAROL OATES Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? 127

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Sometimes they did go shopping or to a movie, but sometimes they went across the highway, ducking fast across the busy road, to a drive- in restaurant where older kids hung out. The restaurant was shaped like a big bottle, though squatter than a real bottle, and on its cap was a revolving fi gure of a grinning boy holding a hamburger aloft. One night in midsummer they ran across, breathless with dar- ing, and right away someone leaned out a car window and invited them over, but it was just a boy from high school they didn’t like. It made them feel good to be able to ignore him. They went up through the maze of parked and cruising cars to the bright- lit, fl y- infested restaurant, their faces pleased and expectant as if they were entering a sacred building that loomed up out of the night to give them what haven and blessing they yearned for. They sat at the counter and crossed their legs at the ankles, their thin shoulders rigid with excitement, and listened to the music that made everything so good: the music was always in the background, like music at a church ser vice; it was something to depend upon.

A boy named Eddie came in to talk with them. He sat backward on his stool, turning himself jerkily around in semicircles and then stopping and turning back again, and after a while he asked Connie if she would like something to eat. She said she would so she tapped her friend’s arm on her way out— her friend pulled her face up into a brave, droll look— and Connie said she would meet her at eleven across the way. “I just hate to leave her like that,” Connie said earnestly, but the boy said that she wouldn’t be alone for long. So they went out to his car, and on the way Connie couldn’t help but let her eyes wander over the windshields and faces all around her, her face gleaming with a joy that had nothing to do with Eddie or even this place; it might have been the music. She drew her shoulders up and sucked in her breath with the pure plea sure of being alive, and just at that moment she happened to glance at a face just a few feet away from hers. It was a boy with shaggy black hair, in a convertible jalopy1 painted gold. He stared at her and then his lips widened into a grin. Connie slit her eyes at him and turned away, but she couldn’t help glancing back and there he was, still watching her. He wagged a fi nger and laughed and said, “Gonna get you, baby,” and Connie turned away again without Eddie noticing anything.

She spent three hours with him, at the restaurant where they ate hamburg- ers and drank Cokes in wax cups that were always sweating, and then down an alley a mile or so away, and when he left her off at fi ve to eleven only the movie house was still open at the plaza. Her girl friend was there, talking with a boy. When Connie came up, the two girls smiled at each other and Connie said, “How was the movie?” and the girl said, “You should know.” They rode off with the girl’s father, sleepy and pleased, and Connie couldn’t help but look back at the darkened shopping plaza with its big empty parking lot and its signs that were faded and ghostly now, and over at the drive- in restaurant where cars were still circling tirelessly. She couldn’t hear the music at this distance.

Next morning June asked her how the movie was and Connie said, “So- so.” She and that girl and occasionally another girl went out several times a week,

and the rest of the time Connie spent around the house— it was summer vacation— getting in her mother’s way and thinking, dreaming about the boys she met. But all the boys fell back and dissolved into a single face that was not even a

1. Older car, often in poor condition.

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face but an idea, a feeling, mixed up with the urgent insistent pounding of the music and the humid night air of July. Connie’s mother kept dragging her back to the daylight by fi nding things for her to do or saying suddenly, “What’s this about the Pettinger girl?”

And Connie would say ner vous ly, “Oh, her. That dope.” She always drew thick clear lines between herself and such girls, and her mother was simple and kind enough to believe it. Her mother was so simple, Connie thought, that it was maybe cruel to fool her so much. Her mother went scuffl ing around the house in old bedroom slippers and complained over the telephone to one sister about the other, then the other called up and the two of them complained about the third one. If June’s name was mentioned her mother’s tone was approving, and if Con- nie’s name was mentioned it was disapproving. This did not really mean she disliked Connie, and actually Connie thought that her mother preferred her to June just because she was prettier, but the two of them kept up a pretense of exasperation, a sense that they were tugging and struggling over something of little value to either of them. Sometimes, over coffee, they were almost friends, but something would come up— some vexation that was like a fl y buzzing sud- denly around their heads— and their faces went hard with contempt.

One Sunday Connie got up at eleven— none of them bothered with church— and washed her hair so that it could dry all day long in the sun. Her parents and sister were going to a barbecue at an aunt’s house and Connie said no, she wasn’t interested, rolling her eyes to let her mother know just what she thought of it. “Stay home alone then,” her mother said sharply. Connie sat out back in a lawn chair and watched them drive away, her father quiet and bald, hunched around so that he could back the car out, her mother with a look that was still angry and not at all softened through the windshield, and in the backseat poor old June, all dressed up as if she didn’t know what a barbecue was, with all the running yelling kids and the fl ies. Connie sat with her eyes closed in the sun, dreaming and dazed with the warmth about her as if this were a kind of love, the caresses of love, and her mind slipped over onto thoughts of the boy she had been with the night before and how nice he had been, how sweet it always was, not the way someone like June would suppose but sweet, gentle, the way it was in movies and promised in songs; and when she opened her eyes she hardly knew where she was, the backyard ran off into weeds and a fencelike line of trees and behind it the sky was perfectly blue and still. The asbestos “ranch house”2 that was now three years old startled her— it looked small. She shook her head as if to get awake.

It was too hot. She went inside the house and turned on the radio to drown out the quiet. She sat on the edge of her bed, barefoot, and listened for an hour and a half to a program called XYZ Sunday Jamboree, record after record of hard, fast, shrieking songs she sang along with, interspersed by exclamations from “Bobby King”: “An’ look here, you girls at Napoleon’s— Son and Charley want you to pay real close attention to this song coming up!”

And Connie paid close attention herself, bathed in a glow of slow- pulsed joy that seemed to rise mysteriously out of the music itself and lay languidly about the airless little room, breathed in and breathed out with each gentle rise and fall of her chest.

2. Style of long, one- story houses common in suburban neighborhoods built between the 1940s and 1980s. Asbestos: fi reproof building material once used in roofs and siding, but now known to be toxic.

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JOYCE CAROL OATES Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? 129

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After a while she heard a car coming up the drive. She sat up at once, star- tled, because it couldn’t be her father so soon. The gravel kept crunching all the way in from the road— the driveway was long— and Connie ran to the window. It was a car she didn’t know. It was an open jalopy, painted a bright gold that caught the sunlight opaquely. Her heart began to pound and her fi ngers snatched at her hair, checking it, and she whispered, “Christ, Christ,” wondering how she looked. The car came to a stop at the side door and the horn sounded four short taps, as if this were a signal Connie knew.

She went into the kitchen and approached the door slowly, then hung out the screen door, her bare toes curling down off the step. There were two boys in the car and now she recognized the driver: he had shaggy, shabby black hair that looked crazy as a wig and he was grinning at her.

“I ain’t late, am I?” he said. “Who the hell do you think you are?” Connie said. “Toldja I’d be out, didn’t I?” “I don’t even know who you are.” She spoke sullenly, careful to show no interest or plea sure, and he spoke in

a fast, bright monotone. Connie looked past him to the other boy, taking her time. He had fair brown hair, with a lock that fell onto his forehead. His side- burns gave him a fi erce, embarrassed look, but so far he hadn’t even bothered to glance at her. Both boys wore sunglasses. The driver’s glasses were metallic and mirrored everything in miniature.

“You wanta come for a ride?” he said. Connie smirked and let her hair fall loose over one shoulder. “Don’tcha like my car? New paint job,” he said. “Hey.” “What?” “You’re cute.” She pretended to fi dget, chasing fl ies away from the door. “Don’tcha believe me, or what?” he said. “Look, I don’t even know who you are,” Connie said in disgust. “Hey, Ellie’s got a radio, see. Mine broke down.” He lifted his friend’s arm and

showed her the little transistor radio the boy was holding, and now Connie began to hear the music. It was the same program that was playing inside the house.

“Bobby King?” she said. “I listen to him all the time. I think he’s great.” “He’s kind of great,” Connie said reluctantly. “Listen, that guy’s great. He knows where the action is.” Connie blushed a little, because the glasses made it impossible for her to see

just what this boy was looking at. She couldn’t decide if she liked him or if he was a jerk, and so she dawdled in the doorway and wouldn’t come down or go back inside. She said, “What’s all that stuff painted on your car?”

“Can’tcha read it?” He opened the door very carefully, as if he were afraid it might fall off. He slid out just as carefully, planting his feet fi rmly on the ground, the tiny metallic world in his glasses slowing down like gelatine hardening, and in the midst of it Connie’s bright- green blouse. “This here is my name, to begin with,” he said. ARNOLD FRIEND was written in tarlike black letters on the side, with a drawing of a round, grinning face that reminded Connie of a pumpkin, except it wore sunglasses. “I wanta introduce myself. I’m Arnold Friend and that’s my real name and I’m gonna be your friend, honey, and inside the car’s Ellie

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Oscar, he’s kinda shy.” Ellie brought his transistor radio up to his shoulder and balanced it there. “Now, these numbers are a secret code, honey,” Arnold Friend explained. He read off the numbers 33, 19, 17 and raised his eyebrows at her to see what she thought of that, but she didn’t think much of it. The left rear fender had been smashed and around it was written, on the gleaming gold back- ground: DONE BY CRAZY WOMAN DRIVER. Connie had to laugh at that. Arnold Friend was pleased at her laughter and looked up at her. “Around the other side’s a lot more— you wanta come and see them?”

“No.” “Why not?” “Why should I?” “Don’tcha wanta see what’s on the car? Don’tcha wanta go for a ride?” “I don’t know.” “Why not?” “I got things to do.” “Like what?” “Things.” He laughed as if she had said something funny. He slapped his thighs. He

was standing in a strange way, leaning back against the car as if he were balanc- ing himself. He wasn’t tall, only an inch or so taller than she would be if she came down to him. Connie liked the way he was dressed, which was the way all of them dressed: tight faded jeans stuffed into black, scuffed boots, a belt that pulled his waist in and showed how lean he was, and a white pullover shirt that was a little soiled and showed the hard small muscles of his arms and shoulders. He looked as if he probably did hard work, lifting and carry ing things. Even his neck looked muscular. And his face was a familiar face, somehow; the jaw and chin and cheeks slightly darkened because he hadn’t shaved for a day or two, and the nose long and hawklike, sniffi ng as if she was a treat he was going to gobble up and it was all a joke.

“Connie, you ain’t telling the truth. This is your day set aside for a ride with me and you know it,” he said, still laughing. The way he straightened and recov- ered from his fi t of laughing showed that it had been all fake.

“How do you know what my name is?” she said suspiciously. “It’s Connie.” “Maybe and maybe not.” “I know my Connie,” he said, wagging his fi nger. Now she remembered him

even better, back at the restaurant, and her cheeks warmed at the thought of how she had sucked in her breath just at the moment she passed him— how she must have looked to him. And he had remembered her. “Ellie and I come out here especially for you,” he said. “Ellie can sit in back. How about it?”

“Where?” “Where what?” “Where’re we going?” He looked at her. He took off the sunglasses and she saw how pale the skin

around his eyes was, like holes that were not in shadow but instead in light. His eyes were like chips of broken glass that catch the light in an amiable way. He smiled. It was as if the idea of going for a ride somewhere, to someplace, was a new idea to him.

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“Just for a ride, Connie sweetheart.” “I never said my name was Connie,” she said. “But I know what it is. I know your name and all about you, lots of things,”

Arnold Friend said. He had not moved yet but stood still leaning back against the side of his jalopy. “I took a special interest in you, such a pretty girl, and found out all about you— like I know your parents and sister are gone some- wheres and I know where and how long they’re going to be gone, and I know who you were with last night, and your best girl friend’s name is Betty. Right?”

He spoke in a simple lilting voice, exactly as if he was reciting the words to a song. His smile assured her that everything was fi ne. In the car Ellie turned up the volume on his radio and did not bother to look around at them.

“Ellie can sit in the backseat,” Arnold Friend said. He indicated his friend with a casual jerk of his chin, as if Ellie did not count and she should not bother with him.

“How’d you fi nd out all that stuff?” Connie said. “Listen: Betty Schultz and Tony Fitch and Jimmy Pettinger and Nancy

Pettinger,” he said in a chant. “Raymond Stanley and Bob Hutter—” “Do you know all those kids?” “I know everybody.” “Look, you’re kidding. You’re not from around here.” “Sure.” “But—how come we never saw you before?” “Sure you saw me before,” he said. He looked down at his boots, as if he was

a little offended. “You just don’t remember.” “I guess I’d remember you,” Connie said. “Yeah?” He looked up at this, beaming. He was pleased. He began to mark time

with the music from Ellie’s radio, tapping his fi sts lightly together. Connie looked away from his smile to the car, which was painted so bright it almost hurt her eyes to look at it. She looked at that name, ARNOLD FRIEND. And up at the front fender was an expression that was familiar— MAN THE FLYING SAUCERS. It was an expres- sion kids had used the year before but didn’t use this year. She looked at it for a while as if the words meant something to her that she did not yet know.

“What’re you thinking about? Huh?” Arnold Friend demanded. “Not worried about your hair blowing around in the car, are you?”

“No.” “Think I maybe can’t drive good?” “How do I know?” “You’re a hard girl to handle. How come?” he said. “Don’t you know I’m your

friend? Didn’t you see me put my sign in the air when you walked by?” “What sign?” “My sign.” And he drew an X in the air, leaning out toward her. They were

maybe ten feet apart. After his hand fell back to his side the X was still in the air, almost visible. Connie let the screen door close and stood perfectly still inside it, listening to the music from her radio and the boy’s blend together. She stared at Arnold Friend. He stood there so stiffl y relaxed, pretending to be relaxed, with one hand idly on the door handle as if he was keeping himself up that way and had no intention of ever moving again. She recognized most things about him, the tight jeans that showed his thighs and buttocks and the greasy

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leather boots and the tight shirt, and even that slippery friendly smile of his, that sleepy dreamy smile that all the boys used to get across ideas they didn’t want to put into words. She recognized all this and also the singsong way he talked, slightly mocking, kidding, but serious and a little melancholy, and she recog- nized the way he tapped one fi st against the other in homage to the perpetual music behind him. But all these things did not come together.

She said suddenly, “Hey, how old are you?” His smile faded. She could see then that he wasn’t a kid, he was much

older— thirty, maybe more. At this knowledge her heart began to pound faster. “That’s a crazy thing to ask. Can’tcha see I’m your own age?” “Like hell you are.” “Or maybe a coupla years older. I’m eigh teen.” “Eigh teen?” she said doubtfully. He grinned to reassure her and lines appeared at the corners of his mouth.

His teeth were big and white. He grinned so broadly his eyes became slits and she saw how thick the lashes were, thick and black as if painted with a black tar- like material. Then, abruptly, he seemed to become embarrassed and looked over his shoulder at Ellie. “Him, he’s crazy,” he said. “Ain’t he a riot? He’s a nut, a real character.” Ellie was still listening to the music. His sunglasses told nothing about what he was thinking. He wore a bright- orange shirt unbuttoned halfway to show his chest, which was a pale, bluish chest and not muscular like Arnold Friend’s. His shirt collar was turned up all around and the very tips of the collar pointed out past his chin as if they were protecting him. He was pressing the transistor radio up against his ear and sat there in a kind of daze, right in the sun.

“He’s kinda strange,” Connie said. “Hey, she says you’re kinda strange! Kinda strange!” Arnold Friend cried. He

pounded on the car to get Ellie’s attention. Ellie turned for the fi rst time and Connie saw with shock that he wasn’t a kid either— he had a fair, hairless face, cheeks reddened slightly as if the veins grew too close to the surface of his skin, the face of a forty- year- old baby. Connie felt a wave of dizziness rise in her at this sight and she stared at him as if waiting for something to change the shock of the moment, make it all right again. Ellie’s lips kept shaping words, mum- bling along with the words blasting in his ear.

“Maybe you two better go away,” Connie said faintly. “What? How come?” Arnold Friend cried. “We come out here to take you for

a ride. It’s Sunday.” He had the voice of the man on the radio now. It was the same voice, Connie thought. “Don’tcha know it’s Sunday all day? And honey, no matter who you were with last night, today you’re with Arnold Friend and don’t you forget it! Maybe you better step out here,” he said, and this last was in a dif- ferent voice. It was a little fl atter, as if the heat was fi nally getting to him.

“No. I got things to do.” “Hey.” “You two better leave.” “We ain’t leaving until you come with us.” “Like hell I am—” “Connie, don’t fool around with me. I mean— I mean, don’t fool around,” he

said, shaking his head. He laughed incredulously. He placed his sunglasses on top of his head, carefully, as if he was indeed wearing a wig, and brought the

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stems down behind his ears. Connie stared at him, another wave of dizziness and fear rising in her so that for a moment he wasn’t even in focus but was just a blur standing there against his gold car, and she had the idea that he had driven up the driveway all right but had come from nowhere before that and belonged nowhere and that everything about him and even about the music that was so familiar to her was only half real.

“If my father comes and sees you—” “He ain’t coming. He’s at a barbecue.” “How do you know that?” “Aunt Tillie’s. Right now they’re— uh—they’re drinking. Sitting around,” he

said vaguely, squinting as if he was staring all the way to town and over to Aunt Tillie’s backyard. Then the vision seemed to get clear and he nodded energetically. “Yeah. Sitting around. There’s your sister in a blue dress, huh? And high heels, the poor sad bitch— nothing like you, sweetheart! And your mother’s helping some fat woman with the corn, they’re cleaning the corn— husking the corn—”

“What fat woman?” Connie cried. “How do I know what fat woman, I don’t know every goddamn fat woman in

the world!” Arnold Friend laughed. “Oh, that’s Mrs. Hornsby. . . . Who invited her?” Connie said. She felt a little

light- headed. Her breath was coming quickly. “She’s too fat. I don’t like them fat. I like them the way you are, honey,” he

said, smiling sleepily at her. They stared at each other for a while through the screen door. He said softly, “Now, what you’re going to do is this: you’re going to come out that door. You’re going to sit up front with me and Ellie’s going to sit in the back, the hell with Ellie, right? This isn’t Ellie’s date. You’re my date. I’m your lover, honey.”

“What? You’re crazy—” “Yes. I’m your lover. You don’t know what that is but you will,” he said. “I know

that too. I know all about you. But look: it’s real nice and you couldn’t ask for nobody better than me, or more polite. I always keep my word. I’ll tell you how it is, I’m always nice at fi rst, the fi rst time. I’ll hold you so tight you won’t think you have to try to get away or pretend anything because you’ll know you can’t. And I’ll come inside you where it’s all secret and you’ll know you can’t. And I’ll come inside you where it’s all secret and you’ll give in to me and you’ll love me—”

“Shut up! You’re crazy!” Connie said. She backed away from the door. She put her hands up against her ears as if she’d heard something terrible, some- thing not meant for her. “People don’t talk like that, you’re crazy,” she muttered. Her heart was almost too big now for her chest and its pumping made sweat break out all over her. She looked out to see Arnold Friend pause and then take a step toward the porch, lurching. He almost fell. But, like a clever drunken man, he managed to catch his balance. He wobbled in his high boots and grabbed hold of one of the porch posts.

“Honey?” he said. “You still listening?” “Get the hell out of here!” “Be nice, honey. Listen.” “I’m going to call the police—” He wobbled again and out of the side of his mouth came a fast spat curse, an

aside not meant for her to hear. But even this “Christ!” sounded forced. Then he

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began to smile again. She watched this smile come, awkward as if he was smil- ing from inside a mask. His whole face was a mask, she thought wildly, tanned down to his throat but then running out as if he had plastered makeup on his face but had forgotten about his throat.

“Honey—? Listen, here’s how it is. I always tell the truth and I promise you this: I ain’t coming in that house after you.”

“You better not! I’m going to call the police if you— if you don’t—” “Honey,” he said, talking right through her voice, “honey. I’m not coming in

there but you are coming out here. You know why?” She was panting. The kitchen looked like a place she had never seen before,

some room she had run inside but that wasn’t good enough, wasn’t going to help her. The kitchen window had never had a curtain, after three years, and there were dishes in the sink for her to do— probably—and if you ran your hand across the table you’d probably feel something sticky there.

“You listening, honey? Hey?” “—going to call the police—” “Soon as you touch the phone I don’t need to keep my promise and can come

inside. You won’t want that.” She rushed forward and tried to lock the door. Her fi ngers were shaking. “But

why lock it,” Arnold Friend said gently, talking right into her face. “It’s just a screen door. It’s just nothing.” One of his boots was at a strange angle, as if his foot wasn’t in it. It pointed out to the left, bent at the ankle. “I mean, anybody can break through a screen door and glass and wood and iron or anything else if he needs to, anybody at all, and specially Arnold Friend. If the place got lit up with a fi re, honey, you’d come runnin’ our into my arms, right into my arms an’ safe at home— like you knew I was your lover and’d stopped fooling around. I don’t mind a nice shy girl but I don’t like no fooling around.” Part of those words were spoken with a slight rhythmic lilt, and Connie somehow recognized them— the echo of a song from last year, about a girl rushing into her boyfriend’s arms and coming home again—

Connie stood barefoot on the linoleum fl oor, staring at him. “What do you want?” she whispered.

“I want you,” he said. “What?” “Seen you that night and thought, that’s the one, yes sir. I never needed to

look anymore.” “But my father’s coming back. He’s coming to get me. I had to wash my hair

fi rst—” She spoke in a dry, rapid voice, hardly raising it for him to hear. “No, your daddy is not coming and yes, you had to wash your hair and you

washed it for me. It’s nice and shining and all for me. I thank you, sweetheart,” he said with a mock bow, but again he almost lost his balance. He had to bend and adjust his boots. Evidently his feet did not go all the way down; the boots must have been stuffed with something so that he would seem taller. Connie stared out at him and behind him at Ellie in the car, who seemed to be looking off toward Con- nie’s right, into nothing. Then Ellie said, pulling the words out of the air one after another as if he were just discovering them, “You want me to pull out the phone?”

“Shut your mouth and keep it shut,” Arnold Friend said, his face red from bending over or maybe from embarrassment because Connie had seen his boots. “This ain’t none of your business.”

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“What—what are you doing? What do you want?” Connie said. “If I call the police they’ll get you, they’ll arrest you—”

“Promise was not to come in unless you touch that phone, and I’ll keep that promise,” he said. He resumed his erect position and tried to force his shoulders back. He sounded like a hero in a movie, declaring something important. But he spoke too loudly and it was as if he was speaking to someone behind Connie. “I ain’t made plans for coming in that house where I don’t belong but just for you to come out to me, the way you should. Don’t you know who I am?”

“You’re crazy,” she whispered. She backed away from the door but did not want to go into another part of the house, as if this would give him permission to come through the door. “What do you . . . you’re crazy, you . . .”

“Huh? What’re you saying, honey?” Her eyes darted everywhere in the kitchen. She could not remember what it

was, this room. “This is how it is, honey: you come out and we’ll drive away, have a nice ride.

But if you don’t come out we’re gonna wait till your people come home and then they’re all going to get it.”

“You want that telephone pulled out?” Ellie said. He held the radio away from his ear and grimaced, as if without the radio the air was too much for him.

“I toldja shut up, Ellie,” Arnold Friend said, “you’re deaf, get a hearing aid, right? Fix yourself up. This little girl’s no trouble and’s gonna be nice to me, so Ellie keep to yourself, this ain’t your date— right? Don’t hem in on me, don’t hog, don’t crush, don’t bird dog, don’t trail me,” he said in a rapid, meaningless voice, as if he were running through all the expressions he’d learned but was no longer sure which of them was in style, then rushing on to new ones, making them up with his eyes closed. “Don’t crawl under my fence, don’t squeeze in my chip- munk hole, don’t sniff my glue, suck my Popsicle, keep your own greasy fi ngers on yourself!” He shaded his eyes and peered in at Connie, who was backed against the kitchen table. “Don’t mind him, honey, he’s just a creep. He’s a dope. Right? I’m the boy for you and like I said, you come out here nice like a lady and give me your hand, and nobody else gets hurt, I mean, your nice old bald- headed daddy and your mummy and your sister in her high heels. Because listen: why bring them in this?”

“Leave me alone,” Connie whispered. “Hey, you know that old woman down the road, the one with the chickens

and stuff— you know her?” “She’s dead!” “Dead? What? You know her?” Arnold Friend said. “She’s dead—” “Don’t you like her?” “She’s dead— she’s—she isn’t here anymore—” “But don’t you like her, I mean, you got something against her? Some grudge

or something?” Then his voice dipped as if he was conscious of a rudeness. He touched the sunglasses perched up on top of his head as if to make sure they were still there. “Now, you be a good girl.”

“What are you going to do?” “Just two things, or maybe three,” Arnold Friend said. “But I promise it won’t

last long and you’ll like me the way you get to like people you’re close to. You

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will. It’s all over for you here, so come on out. You don’t want your people in any trouble, do you?”

She turned and bumped against a chair or something, hurting her leg, but she ran into the back room and picked up the telephone. Something roared in her ear, a tiny roaring, and she was so sick with fear that she could do nothing but listen to it— the telephone was clammy and very heavy and her fi ngers groped down to the dial but were too weak to touch it. She began to scream into the phone, into the roaring. She cried out, she cried for her mother, she felt her breath start jerk- ing back and forth in her lungs as if it was something Arnold Friend was stabbing her with again and again with no tenderness. A noisy sorrowful wailing rose all about her and she was locked inside it the way she was locked inside this house.

After a while she could hear again. She was sitting on the fl oor with her wet back against the wall.

Arnold Friend was saying from the door, “That’s a good girl. Put the phone back.”

She kicked the phone away from her. “No, honey. Pick it up. Put it back right.” She picked it up and put it back. The dial tone stopped. “That’s a good girl. Now, you come outside.” She was hollow with what had been fear but what was now just an empti-

ness. All that screaming had blasted it out of her. She sat, one leg cramped under her, and deep inside her brain was something like a pin- point of light that kept going and would not let her relax. She thought, I’m not going to see my mother again. She thought, I’m not going to sleep in my bed again. Her bright- green blouse was all wet.

Arnold Friend said, in a gentle- loud voice that was like a stage voice, “The place where you came from ain’t there anymore, and where you had in mind to go is canceled out. This place you are now— inside your daddy’s house— is nothing but a cardboard box I can knock down anytime. You know that and always did know it. You hear me?”

She thought, I have got to think. I have got to know what to do. “We’ll go out to a nice fi eld, out in the country here where it smells so nice

and it’s sunny,” Arnold Friend said. “I’ll have my arms tight around you so you won’t need to try to get away and I’ll show you what love is like, what it does. The hell with this house! It looks solid all right,” he said. He ran his fi ngernail down the screen and the noise did not make Connie shiver, as it would have the day before. “Now, put your hand on your heart, honey. Feel that? That feels solid too but we know better. Be nice to me, be sweet like you can because what else is there for a girl like you but to be sweet and pretty and give in?— and get away before her people get back?”

She felt her pounding heart. Her hand seemed to enclose it. She thought for the fi rst time in her life that it was nothing that was hers, that belonged to her, but just a pounding, living thing inside this body that wasn’t really hers either.

“You don’t want them to get hurt,” Arnold Friend went on. “Now, get up, honey. Get up all by yourself.”

She stood. “Now, turn this way. That’s right. Come over here to me.— Ellie, put that

away, didn’t I tell you? You dope. You miserable creepy dope,” Arnold Friend said.

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PLOT 137

His words were not angry but only part of an incantation. The incantation was kindly. “Now, come out through the kitchen to me, honey, and let’s see a smile, try it, you’re a brave, sweet little girl and now they’re eating corn and hot dogs cooked to bursting over an outdoor fi re, and they don’t know one thing about you and never did and honey, you’re better than them because not a one of them would have done this for you.”

Connie felt the linoleum under her feet; it was cool. She brushed her hair back out of her eyes. Arnold Friend let go of the post tentatively and opened his arms for her, his elbows pointing in toward each other and his wrists limp, to show that this was an embarrassed embrace and a little mocking, he didn’t want to make her self- conscious.

She put out her hand against the screen. She watched herself push the door slowly open as if she was back safe somewhere in the other doorway, watching this body and this head of long hair moving out into the sunlight where Arnold Friend waited.

“My sweet little blue- eyed girl,” he said in a half- sung sigh that had nothing to do with her brown eyes but was taken up just the same by the vast sunlit reaches of the land behind him and on all sides of him— so much land that Connie had never seen before and did not recognize except to know that she was going to it.

1966

QUESTIONS

1. At what specifi c points in the story do your expectations about “where you are going” change? Why and how so? How might these shifts in your expectations relate to Connie’s?

2. To what extent is the major confl ict in Oates’s story external (between Connie and Arnold, Connie and her family, Connie and her milieu)? To what extent is it internal (within Connie herself)? Why might she act as she does at the story’s end? What happens next, or does it matter?

3. Both Connie and Arnold Friend more than once suggest that he is, or should be, familiar to her. Aside from the fact she has seen him at least once before, why and how does he seem familiar? Why might that familiarity be signifi cant, or how might it shape your sense of who Arnold is or what he might represent in the story?

AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK JOYCE CAROL OATES (b. 1938)

From “ ‘Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?’ and Smooth Talk: Short Story into Film” (1986)*

Some years ago in the American Southwest there surfaced a tabloid psychopath known as “The Pied Piper of Tucson.” I have forgotten his name, but his spe- cialty was the seduction and occasional murder of teen- aged girls. He may or may not have had actual accomplices, but his bizarre activities were known among a circle of teenagers in the Tucson area; for some reason they kept his secret, deliberately did not inform parents or police. (316)

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• • •

It was not after all the mass murderer himself who intrigued me, but the dis- turbing fact that a number of teenagers— from “good” families— aided and abet- ted his crimes. This is the sort of thing authorities and responsible citizens invariably call “inexplicable” because they can’t fi nd explanations for it. They would not have fallen under this maniac’s spell, after all.

An early draft [. . .] had the rather too explicit title “Death and the Maiden.” It was cast in a mode of fi ction to which I am still partial— indeed, every third or fourth story of mine is probably in this mode— “realistic allegory,” it might be called. It is Hawthornean, romantic, shading into parable. Like the medieval German engraving from which my title was taken, the story was minutely detailed yet clearly an allegory of the fatal attractions of death (or the devil). An innocent young girl is seduced by way of her own vanity; she mistakes death for erotic romance of a particularly American/trashy sort.

In subsequent drafts the story changed its tone, its focus, its language, its title. It became “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” Written at a time when the author was intrigued by the music of Bob Dylan, particularly the hauntingly elegiac song “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” it was dedicated to Bob Dylan. The charismatic mass murderer drops into the background and his inno- cent victim, a fi fteen- year- old moves into the foreground. She becomes the true protagonist of the tale [. . .]. (317–18)

*“ ‘Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?’ and Smooth Talk: Short Story into Film.” ( Woman) Writer: Occasions and Opportunities, Dutton, 1988, pp. 316–21.

SUGGESTIONS FOR WRITING

1. Write an essay comparing the way any two of the stories in this chapter handle the traditional elements of plot: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, conclu- sion. Consider especially how plot elements contribute to the overall artistic effect.

2. Many stories depict events out of chronological order. For example, Sonny’s Blues makes liberal use of fl ashbacks. Select any story from this anthology, and write an essay discussing the signifi cance of sequence.

3. Re-read Roman Fever and record the instances when the story prompts you to form expectations that may or may not be borne out by the events to follow. Write an essay in which you analyze the way Wharton has rearranged the chronology of events in order to build suspense and stimulate reader engagement with the text.

4. Write an essay comparing Connie’s encounter with Arnold Friend in Oates’s Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? to that between the Grandmother and the Misfi t in Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find.

5. Write an essay that explores the central confl ict in any one of the stories in this chapter. What is the nature of the confl ict? When, where, and how does it develop or become more complicated as the story unfolds? How is it resolved at the end of the story? Why and how is that resolution satisfying?

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SAMPLE WRITING: RESEARCH ESSAY

The following essay demonstrates one way to write about plot. In it, student writer Ann Warren analyzes William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily. Focusing on the sequencing of the action and the story’s division into numbered parts or sections, she illuminates both the story’s tragic plot pattern and its similarities to one par- tic u lar and particularly famous tragedy— William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Because Warren draws on the arguments of other literary critics to develop her own, her paper is also a critical- contexts research essay. (To learn more about this type of essay, see chs. 9 and 32.)

Warren 1

Ann Warren Mr. Jeffreys ENG 3011: The Short Story 15 March 2017

The Tragic Plot of “A Rose for Emily”

In “The Structure of ‘A Rose for Emily,’ ” Floyd C. Watkins says that “[i]f analyses in periodicals and inclusion in anthologies are a dependable criterion for a short story,” then this Faulkner story is “not only his best story, but also one of the best written by any modern American writer” (46). The amount of attention the story has gotten does not seem surprising. It’s defi nitely the only story I’ve ever read about someone who sleeps with the dead body of a man she poisoned! A lot of criticism on the story focuses on fi guring out why Emily does it, how we should feel about her and what she does, and what we’re supposed to take away from the story. In terms of how we should feel about her, there are two opposite points of view. On one side, Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren declare she’s a tragic hero, and her “refusal to accept the herd values carries with it a dignity and courage” that are admirable (28). On the other side, T. J. Stafford says that Miss Emily’s actions are simply “abnormal, degenerate, and meaningless” and “unworthy of [. . .] pride” (87).

As far as I know, only Floyd Watkins has paid attention to how the plot is structured. His article shows it is important that Faulkner “divided the story into fi ve parts and based them on incidents of isolation and intrusion” (46). Because the one part that doesn’t include incidents like this is the middle one (pt. 3),

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it helps give the story “a perfect symmetry” and shows “the indomitableness of the de cadent Southern aristocrat” (46, 47). While I think Watkins’s argument is good, I also think he and other writers have missed something about the fi ve- part structure and the third part that shows that Miss Emily is a tragic hero. Specifi cally, she’s like Hamlet.

As Watkins says, parts 1, 2, 4 and 5 of the story show how “adherents of the new order in the town” invade her house (46). In part 1, Miss Emily dies, and the neighbors come to the funeral and to look in her house. Then we hear about how earlier the “deputation” from the Board of Aldermen of a younger “generation” came to tell her she had to pay taxes that an earlier generation (specifi cally, Col o nel Sartoris) had told her she never had to pay (10). Part 2 also has two invasions. Four men from the Board of Aldermen spread lime to try to get rid of the smell at Miss Emily’s house. Then, after Miss Emily’s father’s death (which is actually earlier in time), people from the town come in to “offer condolence and aid” and then “to persuade her to let them dispose of the body” (12). As Watkins writes, part 4 “contains two forced entrances” by a minister and then Miss Emily’s relatives, who are trying to make her break up with Homer Barron (46). Then in part 5 everyone comes to Miss Emily’s house for the funeral and then to force open the room upstairs that no one except her has been in for forty years.

Part 3 is different. Watkins says, “The inviolability of Miss Emily’s isolation is maintained in the central division, part three, in which no outsider enters her home. Her triumph is further revealed in this part when she buys the arsenic without telling what she plans to use it for” (47). But there’s more to it than that. It’s not just that no one “enters her home”; it’s that she leaves it for the fi rst time in the story! In fact, we hear about her leaving it twice just like people invade her home twice in other sections. First Homer Barron arrives in town, and the neighbors “began to see him and Miss Emily on Sunday afternoons driving in the yellow- wheeled buggy” (12). Then she buys the poison to kill Homer, and we know she goes to the drugstore to do that because the narrator says, “she opened the package at home” later (13; emphasis added).

At fi rst, I thought that this was the only section where we see Miss Emily go out, but then I noticed that in the next section the narrator says she “had been to the jeweler’s” and “bought a complete outfi t of men’s clothing” (14). Still, part 3 is the real turning point because it’s the only time where she has the chance for love and a real life of her own (the fi rst time or reason she leaves the house) and where she reacts to losing that chance by buying rat poison to kill Homer with.

Before and after this, the story is more about everybody else doing things to Emily, even in a way trying to kill her or at least to kill her chance of having any real life of her own, if only by judging and talking about her all the time. Even the moments when she seems strong are more about her not doing or saying things, saying “no” to other people, and just holing up in her house and not letting people

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in, just like her father started all this by not letting in the young men she might have married. As the narrator says it in part 2, she “vanquished” (11) the tax deputation in part I just by the fact that “[s]he did not ask them to sit” and “just stood in the door and listened quietly” (10). In part 2, she just “sat . . . motionless as . . . an idol” inside her house while the “four men slunk about the house like burglars” (11). Then when her father dies she won’t let people in and just “told them that her father was not dead” for three days before “she broke down” (12). In part 4, she “did not appear on the streets” and “closed” the door of her house “for good” after opening it up for Homer and then some painting students (because she needed the money) (15). In part 5, again, she’s dead (like in the fi rst part) and can’t do anything.

But she still surprises and even “vanquishes” them in this last part— because of the active thing she did in part 3 by going out of the house to buy the poison. In that section she takes things into her own hands. Having gone out with Homer, it’s like if she can’t keep going out with him (literally!), she’ll make sure he can’t go out either. It’s after that (in time and in the story) that she stops going out at all, but at least she has made sure that she is not the only one buried in that “tomb” of a house from then on (16). The thing she does might be “abnormal” and “degenerate.” I’m not saying it is right, but it doesn’t seem “meaningless” either (Stafford 87). It’s like she is literally backed into a corner. She doesn’t have any money, just that house, which is what she retreats to and takes Homer home with her. Part 3 is the turning point where Emily takes the action that decides what happens at the end.

How Faulkner mixes up the chronology to divide the story into fi ve parts makes the plot and story even more perfect (and diffi cult to explain!). In addition to everything else, this makes the story like a tragedy like Hamlet, which also has fi ve acts and the turning point in the third. Other plays besides Hamlet have fi ve acts, and their turning points also might come in the third act, but there are other connections to Hamlet. First, what happens in act 3 of Hamlet is that Hamlet kills Polonius when he hides behind a curtain to spy on Hamlet and his mother. Hamlet doesn’t mean to kill Polonius (he thinks it’s the king hiding), but he does mean to kill someone, as Miss Emily apparently gets ready to do in the third part of her story.

Also, Hamlet calls Polonius “a rat” after he kills him (3.4.26), which Polonius is. He may not be a little brown furry animal, but he is “a contemptible person” and an “informer” (“Rat,” def. 2). In “A Rose for Emily,” Homer is also “a sneaky, contemptible person,” though not exactly “an informer,” for seeing what Miss Emily’s life is like and taking her out of it (literally!) and then just dumping her. (Also, he sneaks into her house at night, which seems to be when he dies, even though it’s not the main character he’s hiding from like in Hamlet.) Homer is also called a “rat,” but indirectly because of the way his murder is mistaken for a rat’s three times: Judge Stevens says that the smell at the house is “probably just a snake or a rat” that the servant “killed in the yard” when it’s really Homer that was killed in the house by Miss Emily (11), and when Miss Emily goes to

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the druggist for poison, he says to her it’s “For rats” and then writes it on the box she sees when she gets home (13).

Noticing these details made me see deeper similarities in the characters and confl icts of Emily and Hamlet. Both spend a lot of time not doing much very active, both are being watched by other people, and both are seen by those people as crazy and maybe they even plan to be seen as crazy (at least Hamlet). What’s more important is that both of them become murderers, if not crazy, because they are haunted by their fathers. In Hamlet, there is an actual ghost. “A Rose for Emily” has a symbolic or psychological ghost. Her father is like a ghost in the story because his death is mentioned so many times:1 “the death of her father” (9), “her father’s death” (11, 12), “her father died” (12). He is like a ghost in her actual house because “[o]n a tarnished gilt easel before the fi replace stood a crayon portrait of Miss Emily’s father” (9). This portrait is fi rst shown in the fi rst section (like the ghost appears in the fi rst act of Hamlet). And the story is also or ga nized so that all the other quotations about Emily’s father’s death above are in the fi rst three parts, and the last two parts don’t say anything about her father until in the last one where she’s dead and “the crayon face of her father mus[es] profoundly above the bier” (15). The picture being in the fi rst and last sections is another kind of “symmetry,” and it might be more evidence that the third part is a turning point and that in a way Homer’s ghost replaces her father’s once she’s killed him.

Maybe she even kills Homer because of her father. The narrator, author, and critics strongly blame him. The narrator says, “her father had driven away” “all the young men” and “robbed her” (12) and “thwarted her woman’s life so many times” and was “too virulent and too furious to die” (14). Faulkner said so when someone asked him why he wrote the story:

In this case there was the young girl with a young girl’s normal aspirations to fi nd love and then a husband and a family, who was brow- beaten and kept down by her father, a selfi sh man who didn’t want her to leave home because he wanted a house keeper, and it was a natural instinct . . . — you can’t repress it— you can mash it down but it comes up somewhere else and very likely in a tragic form, and that was simply another manifestation of man’s injustice to man. . . . (“Comments” 22)

Ray B. West, Jr., says, “She does not resist change completely . . . until she has known two separate betrayals, the fi rst by her father (traditional decorum)” (36). William Van O’Connor writes, “The severity of Miss Emily’s father was the cause of her frustrations and her retreat” (45). Irving Malin argues, “Emily’s attachment to the will of the father— it is said that he had driven all the young men away— has stunted her growth” (48).

These writers don’t associate Miss Emily and Hamlet. But I think all this still supports the view that Miss Emily is like a tragic hero and especially like Hamlet. The two characters are obviously not exactly alike, and Faulkner didn’t necessarily intend the comparison. But Hamlet is the most famous tragic hero, and I do think that Faulkner meant to portray Miss Emily as a tragic hero,

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someone we pity even if we don’t like her (he says he might not have) or even if she is sort of perversely happy. Faulkner even says above that her “normal aspirations to fi nd love” come out in “a tragic form” because of how she’s made to “mash them down.” The plot is one thing Faulkner uses to make the story and Miss Emily tragic.

Warren 6

Note 1. In his recent article, Thomas Klein backs me up when he says that

Faulkner “described ‘A Rose for Emily’ as a ‘ghost story,’ ” but the only “candidates” for the ghost position that he mentions are Miss Emily, Homer, Tobe, and the “pervasive, shape- shifting, haunting” “voice of the town” that narrates the story (231).

Warren 7

Works Cited

Brooks, Cleanth, and Robert Penn Warren. “An Interpretation of ‘A Rose for Emily.’ ” Inge, pp. 25- 29.

Faulkner, William. “Comments on ‘A Rose for Emily.’ ” Inge, pp. 20- 22. —. “A Rose for Emily.” Inge, pp. 9- 16. Inge, M. Thomas, editor. William Faulkner: A Rose for Emily. Merrill, 1970. Merrill

Literary Casebook Series. Klein, Thomas. “The Ghostly Voice of Gossip in Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily.’ ”

The Explicator, vol. 65, no. 4, 2007, pp. 299- 32. Malin, Irving. “Miss Emily’s Perversion.” Inge, pp. 48- 49. O’Connor, William Van. “History in ‘A Rose for Emily.’ ” Inge, pp. 44- 45. “Rat.” Merriam- Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed., 2003. Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Washington Square, 1992. Stafford, T. J. “Tobe’s Signifi cance in ‘A Rose for Emily.’ ” Inge, pp. 87- 89. Watkins, Floyd C. “The Structure of ‘A Rose for Emily.’ ” Inge, pp. 46- 47. West, Ray B., Jr. “Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily.’ ” Inge, pp. 36- 37.

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Initiation Stories A N A L B U M

It may be true that most people’s lives mainly consist of the “middle”— a long, stable passage of adult years— instead of the promising start, the turning point or crisis, the eventual catastrophe or triumph. Nevertheless, a great deal of fi c-tion (as well as movies, tele vi sion, and other media) focuses on the more momen- tous changes that we associate with youth. This album features a common kind of short fi ction, the initiation story, also known as the coming- of- age story—the story of what happens as we defi ne ourselves and set our own course toward the future. The short story, which often focuses on a brief, momentous occasion, is a form well suited to telling this sort of story.

Across cultures, social groups have various initiation rites to mark the coming of age of their youths— from “sweet sixteen” parties, bar and bat mitzvahs, debutante balls, and the quinceañera, to the laws that permit twenty- one- year- olds to inherit property and buy alcohol. These practices may feature prominently in stories that explore the transformation from childhood to adulthood, but such fi ction doesn’t have to include an obvious initiation rite like a fraternity hazing or a birthday party.

Initiation stories usually have common characteristics related to the “plot” of growing up. They always feature at least one young person, a child, an adolescent, or a young adult, who undergoes some sort of transformation. This character learns a signifi cant truth about the world, society, people, or himself or herself. The nature of this knowledge differs widely in such stories, as does the character’s response, but the plot of the story must culminate in a change of status or awareness that is more adult. The protagonist may struggle to fi nd a place in society, but more often the challenge is to adjust his or her ideals to actual circumstances. Initiation sto- ries may zoom in on such moments as when a child loses the protection of adults, a teenager sees a fellow creature die, or a young person faced with rejection or disappointment is suddenly made aware of a separate, lonely identity and an unknown future. Sometimes newfound freedom can lead to a joyful, if frighten- ing, sense of possibility. At other times, the response of the young protagonist may be disbelief, denial, or retreat from the truth. Often the reader can only guess how the character will adapt to the hard- won, still- confusing knowledge gained in the experience.

Naturally there are countless such stories to tell, from the tragic to the euphoric and everything in between. Innumerable novels, fi lms, and tele vi sion shows— J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), Twilight (2008), to name a few— center on the trials and adventures of teens, often with pain, whimsy, humor, embarrassment, nostalgia, sympathy, and insight. Here we offer a variety of initiation stories that have some common features as well as very different visions of initiation. Which characters undergo initiation in each of these stories? What general or specifi c social conditions is each character initiated into, and how does each respond? Is there something about the passage of time and growing up that is both necessary and cruel? Can you recognize common elements in this selection of stories? in your own experience?

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TONI CADE BAMBARA (1939–95) The Lesson

Born in New York City, Toni Cade Bambara grew up in Harlem and Bedford- Stuyvesant, two of New York’s poorest neighborhoods. She began writing as a child and took her last name from a signature on a sketchbook she found in a trunk belonging to her great- grandmother. (The Bambara are a people of

northwest Africa.) After graduating from Queens College, she wrote fi ction in “the predawn in- betweens” while studying for her MA at the City College of New York and working at a variety of jobs: dancer, social worker, recreation director, psychiatric coun- selor, college En glish teacher, literary critic, and fi lm producer. Bambara began to pub- lish her stories in 1962. Her fi ction includes two collections of stories, Gorilla, My Love (1972) and The Sea Birds Are Still Alive (1977), as well as two novels, The Salt Eaters (1980) and If Blessing Comes (1987). Bambara also edited two anthologies, The Black Woman (1970) and Stories for Black Folks (1971).

B ack in the days when everyone was old and stupid or young and foolish and me and Sugar were the only ones just right, this lady moved on our block with nappy1 hair and proper speech and no makeup. And quite naturally we laughed at her, laughed the way we did at the junk man who went about his business like he was some big- time president and his sorry- ass horse his secre- tary. And we kinda hated her too, hated the way we did the winos who clut- tered up our parks and pissed on our handball walls and stank up our hallways and stairs so you couldn’t halfway play hide- and- seek without a goddamn gas mask. Miss Moore was her name. The only woman on the block with no fi rst name. And she was black as hell, cept for her feet, which were fi sh- white and spooky. And she was always planning these boring- ass things for us to do, us being my cousin, mostly, who lived on the block cause we all moved North the same time and to the same apartment then spread out gradual to breathe. And our parents would yank our heads into some kinda shape and crisp up our clothes so we’d be presentable for travel with Miss Moore, who always looked like she was going to church, though she never did. Which is just one of the things the grown- ups talked about when they talked behind her back like a dog. But when she came calling with some sachet she’d sewed up or some gin- gerbread she’d made or some book, why then they’d all be too embarrassed to turn her down and we’d get handed over all spruced up. She’d been to college and said it was only right that she should take responsibility for the young ones’ education, and she not even related by marriage or blood. So they’d go for it. Specially Aunt Gretchen. She was the main gofer in the family. You got some ole  dumb shit foolishness you want somebody to go for, you send for Aunt

1. Untreated and unstraightened, naturally curly or coiled.

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TONI CADE BAMBARA The Lesson 147

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Gretchen. She been screwed into the go- along for so long, it’s a blood- deep natu ral thing with her. Which is how she got saddled with me and Sugar and Ju nior in the fi rst place while our mothers were in a la- de-da apartment up the block having a good ole time.

So this one day Miss Moore rounds us all up at the mailbox and it’s puredee hot and she’s knockin herself out about arithmetic. And school suppose to let up in summer I heard, but she don’t never let up. And the starch in my pina fore scratching the shit outta me and I’m really hating this nappy- head bitch and her goddamn college degree. I’d much rather go to the pool or to the show where it’s cool. So me and Sugar leaning on the mailbox being surly, which is a Miss Moore word. And Flyboy checking out what everybody brought for lunch. And Fat Butt already wasting his peanut- butter- and- jelly sandwich like the pig he is. And Junebug punchin on Q.T.’s arm for potato chips. And Rosie Giraffe shifting from one hip to the other waiting for somebody to step on her foot or ask her if she from Georgia so she can kick ass, preferably Mercedes’. And Miss Moore asking us do we know what money is, like we a bunch of retards. I mean real money, she say, like it’s only poker chips or mono poly papers we lay on the gro- cer. So right away I’m tired of this and say so. And would much rather snatch Sugar and go to the Sunset and terrorize the West Indian kids and take their hair ribbons and their money too. And Miss Moore fi les that remark away for next week’s lesson on brotherhood, I can tell. And fi nally I say we oughta get to the subway cause it’s cooler and besides we might meet some cute boys. Sugar done swiped her mama’s lipstick, so we ready.

So we heading down the street and she’s boring us silly about what things cost and what our parents make and how much goes for rent and how money ain’t divided up right in this country. And then she gets to the part about we all poor and live in the slums, which I don’t feature. And I’m ready to speak on that, but she steps out in the street and hails two cabs just like that. Then she hustles half the crew in with her and hands me a fi ve- dollar bill and tells me to calculate 10  percent tip for the driver. And we’re off. Me and Sugar and Junebug and Flyboy hangin out the win dow and hollering to everybody, putting lipstick on each other cause Flyboy a faggot anyway, and making farts with our sweaty armpits. But I’m mostly trying to fi gure how to spend this money. But they all fascinated with the meter ticking and Junebug starts laying bets as to how much it’ll read when Flyboy can’t hold his breath no more. Then Sugar lays bets as to how much it’ll be when we get there. So I’m stuck. Don’t nobody want to go for my plan, which is to jump out at the next light and run off to the fi rst bar- b- que we can fi nd. Then the driver tells us to get the hell out cause we there already. And the meter reads eighty- fi ve cents. And I’m stalling to fi gure out the tip and Sugar say give him a dime. And I decide he don’t need it bad as I do, so later for him. But then he tries to take off with Junebug foot still in the door so we talk about his mama something ferocious. Then we check out that we on Fifth Ave- nue2 and everybody dressed up in stockings. One lady in a fur coat, hot as it is. White folks crazy.

“This is the place,” Miss Moore say, presenting it to us in the voice she uses at the museum. “Let’s look in the windows before we go in.”

2. Major Manhattan street famous for its expensive, exclusive shops.

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“Can we steal?” Sugar asks very serious like she’s getting the ground rules squared away before she plays. “I beg your pardon,” say Miss Moore, and we fall out. So she leads us around the windows of the toy store and me and Sugar screa- min, “This is mine, that’s mine, I gotta have that, that was made for me, I was born for that,” till Big Butt drowns us out.

“Hey, I’m goin to buy that there.” “That there? You don’t even know what it is, stupid.” “I do so,” he say punchin on Rosie Giraffe. “It’s a microscope.” “Whatcha gonna do with a microscope, fool?” “Look at things.” “Like what, Ronald?” ask Miss Moore. And Big Butt ain’t got the fi rst notion.

So here go Miss Moore gabbing about the thousands of bacteria in a drop of water and the somethinorother in a speck of blood and the million and one liv- ing things in the air around us is invisible to the naked eye. And what she say that for? Junebug go to town on that “naked” and we rolling. Then Miss Moore ask what it cost. So we all jam into the win dow smudgin it up and the price tag say $300. So then she ask how long’d take for Big Butt and Junebug to save up their allowances. “Too long,” I say. “Yeh,” adds Sugar, “outgrown it by that time.” And Miss Moore say no, you never outgrow learning instruments. “Why, even medical students and interns and,” blah, blah, blah. And we ready to choke Big Butt for bringing it up in the fi rst damn place.

“This here costs four hundred eighty dollars,” say Rosie Giraffe. So we pile up all over her to see what she pointin out. My eyes tell me it’s a chunk of glass cracked with something heavy, and different- color inks dripped into the splits, then the whole thing put into a oven or something. But for $480 it don’t make sense.

“That’s a paperweight made of semi- precious stones fused together under tremendous pressure,” she explains slowly, with her hands doing the mining and all the factory work.

“So what’s a paperweight?” asks Rosie Giraffe. “To weigh paper with, dumbbell,” say Flyboy, the wise man from the East.3

“Not exactly,” say Miss Moore, which is what she say when you warm or way off too. “It’s to weigh paper down so it won’t scatter and make your desk untidy.” So right away me and Sugar curtsy to each other and then to Mercedes who is more the tidy type.

“We don’t keep paper on top of the desk in my class,” say Junebug, fi guring Miss Moore crazy or lyin one.

“At home, then,” she say. “Don’t you have a calendar and a pencil case and a blotter4 and a letter- opener on your desk at home where you do your homework?” And she know damn well what our homes look like cause she nosys around in them every chance she gets.

“I don’t even have a desk,” say Junebug. “Do we?” “No. And I don’t get no homework neither,” say Big Butt. “And I don’t even have a home,” say Flyboy like he do at school to keep the

white folks off his back and sorry for him. Send this poor kid to camp posters, is his specialty.

3. Allusion to the biblical story of the three wise men who traveled from the East to visit the newborn Christ. 4. Framed sheet or pad of paper designed to protect a desktop from excess ink.

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TONI CADE BAMBARA The Lesson 149

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“I do,” says Mercedes. “I have a box of stationery on my desk and a picture of my cat. My godmother bought the stationery and the desk. There’s a big rose on each sheet and the envelopes smell like roses.”

“Who wants to know about your smelly- ass stationery,” say Rosie Giraffe fore I can get my two cents in.

“It’s im por tant to have a work area all your own so that . . .” “Will you look at this sailboat, please,” say Flyboy, cuttin her off and pointin

to the thing like it was his. So once again we tumble all over each other to gaze at this magnifi cent thing in the toy store which is just big enough to maybe sail two kittens across the pond if you strap them to the posts tight. We all start reciting the price tag like we in assembly. “Handcrafted sailboat of fi berglass at one thousand one hundred ninety- fi ve dollars.”

“Unbelievable,” I hear myself say and am really stunned. I read it again for myself just in case the group recitation put me in a trance. Same thing. For some reason this pisses me off. We look at Miss Moore and she lookin at us, waiting for I dunno what.

“Who’d pay all that when you can buy a sailboat set for a quarter at Pop’s, a tube of glue for a dime, and a ball of string for eight cents? “It must have a motor and a whole lot else besides,” I say. “My sailboat cost me about fi fty cents.”

“But will it take water?” say Mercedes with her smart ass. “Took mine to Alley Pond Park once,” say Flyboy. “String broke, Lost it. Pity.” “Sailed mine in Central Park and it keeled over and sank. Had to ask my

father for another dollar.” “And you got the strap,” laugh Big Butt. “The jerk didn’t even have a string on

it. My old man wailed on his behind.” Little Q.T. was staring hard at the sailboat and you could see he wanted it

bad. But he too little and somebody’d just take it from him. So what the hell. “This boat for kids, Miss Moore?”

“Parents silly to buy something like that just to get all broke up,” say Rosie Giraffe.

“That much money it should last forever,” I fi gure. “My father’d buy it for me if I wanted it.” “Your father, my ass,” say Rosie Giraffe getting a chance to fi nally push

Mercedes. “Must be rich people shop here,” say Q.T. “You are a very bright boy,” say Flyboy. “What was your fi rst clue?” And he

rap him on the head with the back of his knuckles, since Q.T. the only one he could get away with. Though Q.T. liable to come up behind you years later and get his licks in when you half expect it.

“What I want to know is,” I says to Miss Moore though I never talk to her, I wouldn’t give the bitch that satisfaction, “is how much a real boat costs? I fi gure a thousand’d get you a yacht any day.”

“Why don’t you check that out,” she says, “and report back to the group?” Which really pains my ass. If you gonna mess up a perfectly good swim day least you could do is have some answers. “Let’s go in,” she say like she got something up her sleeve. Only she don’t lead the way. So me and Sugar turn the corner to where the entrance is, but when we get there I kinda hang back. Not that I’m scared, what’s there to be afraid of, just a toy store. But I feel funny, shame. But what I got to be shamed about? Got as much right to go in as anybody. But somehow I can’t

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seem to get hold of the door, so I step away for Sugar to lead. But she hangs back too. And I look at her and she looks at me and this is ridiculous. I mean, damn, I have never ever been shy about doing nothing or going nowhere. But then Mer- cedes steps up and then Rosie Giraffe and Big Butt crowd in behind and shove, and next thing we all stuffed into the doorway with only Mercedes squeezing past us, smoothing out her jumper and walking right down the aisle. Then the rest of us tumble in like a glued- together jigsaw done all wrong. And people lookin at us. And it’s like the time me and Sugar crashed into the Catholic church on a dare. But once we got in there and everything so hushed and holy and the candles and the bowin and the handkerchiefs on all the drooping heads, I just couldn’t go through with the plan. Which was for me to run up to the altar and do a tap dance while Sugar played the nose fl ute and messed around in the holy water. And Sugar kept givin me the elbow. Then later teased me so bad I tied her up in the shower and turned it on and locked her in. And she’d be there till this day if Aunt Gretchen hadn’t fi nally fi gured I was lyin about the boarder5 takin a shower.

Same thing in the store. We all walkin on tiptoe and hardly touchin the games and puzzles and things. And I watched Miss Moore who is steady watchin us like she waitin for a sign. Like Mama Drewery watches the sky and sniffs the air and takes note of just how much slant is in the bird formation. Then me and Sugar bump smack into each other, so busy gazing at the toys, ’specially the sailboat. But we don’t laugh and go into our fat- lady bump- stomach routine. We just stare at that price tag. Then Sugar run a fi n ger over the whole boat. And I’m jealous and want to hit her. Maybe not her, but I sure want to punch somebody in the mouth.

“Watcha bring us here for, Miss Moore?” “You sound angry, Sylvia. Are you mad about something?” Givin me one of

them grins like she tellin a grown-up joke that never turns out to be funny. And she’s lookin very closely at me like maybe she plannin to do my portrait from memory. I’m mad, but I won’t give her that satisfaction. So I slouch around the store bein very bored and say, “Let’s go.”

Me and Sugar at the back of the train watchin the tracks whizzin by large then small then gettin gobbled up in the dark. I’m thinkin about this tricky toy I saw in the store. A clown that somersaults on a bar then does chin- ups just cause you yank lightly at his leg. Cost $35. I could see me askin my mo ther for a $35 birthday clown. “You wanna who that costs what?” she’d say, cocking her head to the side to get a better view of the hole in my head. Thirty- fi ve dollars could buy new bunk beds for Ju nior and Gretchen’s boy. Thirty- fi ve dollars and the whole house hold could go visit Granddaddy Nelson in the country. Thirty- fi ve dollars would pay for the rent and the piano bill too. Who are these people that spend that much for performing clowns and $1,000 for toy sailboats? What kinda work they do and how they live and how come we ain’t in on it? Where we are is who we are, Miss Moore always pointin out. But it don’t necessarily have to be that way, she always adds then waits for somebody to say that poor people have to wake up and demand their share of the pie and don’t none of us know what kind of pie she talkin about in the fi rst damn place. But she ain’t so smart cause I still got her four dollars from the taxi and she sure ain’t gettin it. Messin up my day with this shit. Sugar nudges me in my pocket and winks.

5. Tenant in another person’s house.

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TONI CADE BAMBARA The Lesson 151

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Miss Moore lines us up in front of the mailbox where we started from, seem like years ago, and I got a headache for thinkin so hard. And we lean all over each other so we can hold up under the draggy- ass lecture she always fi nishes us off with at the end before we thank her for borin us to tears. But she just looks at us like she readin tea leaves. Finally she say, “Well, what did you think of F.A.O. Schwarz?”6

Rosie Giraffe mumbles, “White folks crazy.” “I’d like to go there again when I get my birthday money,” says Mercedes, and

we shove her out the pack so she has to lean on the mailbox by herself. “I’d like a shower. Tiring day,” say Flyboy. Then Sugar surprises me by sayin, “You know, Miss Moore, I don’t think all

of us here put together eat in a year what that sailboat costs.” And Miss Moore lights up like somebody goosed her. “And?” she say, urging Sugar on. Only I’m standin on her foot so she don’t continue.

“Imagine for a minute what kind of society it is in which some people can spend on a toy what it would cost to feed a family of six or seven. What do you think?”

“I think,” say Sugar pushing me off her feet like she never done before, cause I whip her ass in a minute, “that this is not much of a democracy if you ask me. Equal chance to pursue happiness means an equal crack at the dough, don’t it?” Miss Moore is besides herself and I am disgusted with Sugar’s treachery. So I stand on her foot one more time to see if she’ll shove me. She shuts up, and Miss Moore looks at me, sorrowfully I’m thinkin. And somethin weird is goin on, I can feel it in my chest.

“Anybody else learn anything today?” lookin dead at me. I walk away and Sugar has to run to catch up and don’t even seem to notice

when I shrug her arm off my shoulder. “Well, we got four dollars anyway,” she says. “Uh hunh.” “We could go to Hascombs and get half a choco late layer and then go to the

Sunset and still have plenty money for potato chips and ice- cream sodas.” “Uh hunh.” “Race you to Hascombs,” she say. We start down the block and she gets ahead which is O.K. by me cause I’m goin

to the West End and then over to the Drive to think this day through. She can run if she want to and even run faster. But ain’t nobody gonna beat me at nuthin.

1972

QUESTIONS

1. How does Sylvia feel about Miss Moore, and why? How do you know? Do her feel- ings change over the course of the story?

2. What lesson does Miss Moore seem to want the children to learn? What lesson does Sylvia seem to learn?

3. In terms of these lessons and The Lesson as a whole, what might be interest ing and signifi cant about the fact that the children visit a toy store? about each of the three specifi c and expensive items they encounter there?

6. Manhattan toy store (founded 1862), one of the world’s largest and oldest, known for its expensive, one- of- a- kind offerings.

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AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK TONI CADE BAMBARA (1939– 95)

From “How She Came By Her Name” (1996)*

I went to the library and read a bunch of [short- story] collections and noticed that the voice was consistent, but it was a boring and monotonous voice. Oh, your voice is supposed to be consistent in a collection, I fi gured. Then I pulled out a lot of stories that had a young protagonist- narrator because that voice is kind of consistent— a young, tough, compassionate girl.

The book [Gorilla, My Love] came out, and I never dreamed that such a big fuss would be made. “Oh, Gorilla, My Love, what a radical use of dialect! What a bold, po liti cal angle on linguistics!” At fi rst I felt like a fraud. It didn’t have any- thing to do with a po liti cal stance. I just thought people lived and moved around in this par tic u lar language system. It is also the language system I tend to remember childhood in. This is the language many of us speak. It just seemed polite to handle the characters in this mode.

*“How She Came by Her Name: An Interview with Louis Massiah.” Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions: Fiction, Essays, and Conversations, edited by Toni Morrison, Pantheon Books, 1996, pp. 201–45.

ALICE MUNRO (b. 1931) Boys and Girls

Described by novelist Jonathan Franzen as having “a strong claim to being the best fi ction writer now working in North America” and by the committee that awarded her the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature as a “master of the contemporary short story,” Alice Munro today enjoys an enviably high reputation.

That was long in coming and unexpected for a girl raised during the Great Depression and World War II, on a farm in southwestern Ontario— that unglamorous terrain she has since so vividly memorialized in her fi ction. She began publishing stories while attending the University of Western Ontario. But when her two- year scholarship ran out, she left the university, married James Munro, and moved fi rst to Vancouver and then to Victoria, where the couple raised three daughters. Though her stories appeared sporadically during the 1950s, it was not until 1968 that then- thirty-eight- year- old Munro published her fi rst book and with it won the fi rst of multiple Governor General’s Awards, Canada’s highest literary prize. Divorced and remarried, Munro returned to Ontario and began regularly publishing collections including Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You (1974), The Progress of Love (1986), Open Secrets (1994), the Booker Prize– winning View

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ALICE MUNRO Boys and Girls 153

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from Castle Rock (2006), and Dear Life (2012). One reason Munro has not achieved the wide fame many believe she merits is her focus on short fi ction: The one work she pub- lished as a novel, Lives of Girls and Women (1971), is in fact a series of interlinked stories.

M y father was a fox farmer. That is, he raised silver foxes, in pens; and in the fall and early winter, when their fur was prime, he killed them and skinned them and sold their pelts to the Hudson’s Bay Company or the Mon- treal Fur Traders. These companies supplied us with heroic calendars to hang, one on each side of the kitchen door. Against a background of cold blue sky and black pine forests and treacherous northern rivers, plumed adventurers planted the fl ags of En gland or of France; magnifi cent savages bent their backs to the portage.

For several weeks before Christmas, my father worked after supper in the cel- lar of our house. The cellar was white- washed, and lit by a hundred- watt bulb over the worktable. My brother Laird and I sat on the top step and watched. My father removed the pelt inside- out from the body of the fox, which looked sur- prisingly small, mean and rat- like, deprived of its arrogant weight of fur. The naked, slippery bodies were collected in a sack and buried at the dump. One time the hired man, Henry Bailey, had taken a swipe at me with this sack, say- ing, “Christmas present!” My mother thought that was not funny. In fact she disliked the whole pelting operation— that was what the killing, skinning, and preparation of the furs was called— and wished it did not have to take place in the house. There was the smell. After the pelt had been stretched inside- out on a long board my father scraped away delicately, removing the little clotted webs of blood vessels, the bubbles of fat; the smell of blood and animal fat, with the strong primitive odour of the fox itself, penetrated all parts of the house. I found it reassuringly seasonal, like the smell of oranges and pine needles.

Henry Bailey suffered from bronchial troubles. He would cough and cough until his narrow face turned scarlet, and his light blue, derisive eyes fi lled up with tears; then he took the lid off the stove, and, standing well back, shot out a great clot of phlegm— hsss—straight into the heart of the fl ames. We admired him for this per for mance and for his ability to make his stomach growl at will, and for his laughter, which was full of high whistlings and gurglings and involved the whole faulty machinery of his chest. It was sometimes hard to tell what he was laughing at, and always possible that it might be us.

After we had been sent to bed we could still smell fox and still hear Henry’s laugh, but these things, reminders of the warm, safe, brightly lit downstairs world, seemed lost and diminished, fl oating on the stale cold air upstairs. We were afraid at night in the winter. We were not afraid of outside though this was the time of year when snowdrifts curled around our house like sleeping whales and the wind harassed us all night, coming up from the buried fi elds, the frozen swamp, with its old bugbear chorus of threats and misery. We were afraid of inside, the room where we slept. At this time the upstairs of our house was not fi nished. A brick chimney went up one wall. In the middle of the fl oor was a square hole, with a wooden railing around it; that was where the stairs came up. On the other side of the stairwell were the things that nobody had any use for any

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more— a soldiery roll of linoleum, standing on end, a wicker baby carriage, a fern basket, china jugs and basins with cracks in them, a picture of the Battle of Balaclava,1 very sad to look at. I had told Laird, as soon as he was old enough to understand such things, that bats and skeletons lived over there; whenever a man escaped from the county jail, twenty miles away, I imagined that he had somehow let himself in the window and was hiding behind the linoleum. But we had rules to keep us safe. When the light was on, we were safe as long as we did not step off the square of worn carpet which defi ned our bedroom- space; when the light was off no place was safe but the beds themselves. I had to turn out the light kneeling on the end of my bed, and stretching as far as I could to reach the cord.

In the dark we lay on our beds, our narrow life rafts, and fi xed our eyes on the faint light coming up the stairwell, and sang songs. Laird sang “Jingle Bells,” which he would sing any time, whether it was Christmas or not, and I sang “Danny Boy.” I loved the sound of my own voice, frail and supplicating, rising in the dark. We could make out the tall frosted shapes of the windows now, gloomy and white. When I came to the part, When I am dead, as dead I well may be— a fi t of shivering caused not by the cold sheets but by pleas ur able emotion almost silenced me. You’ll kneel and say, an Ave there above me— What was an Ave? Every day I forgot to fi nd out.

Laird went straight from singing to sleep. I could hear his long, satisfi ed, bub- bly breaths. Now for the time that remained to me, the most perfectly private and perhaps the best time of the whole day, I arranged myself tightly under the covers and went on with one of the stories I was telling myself from night to night. These stories were about myself, when I had grown a little older; they took place in a world that was recognizably mine, yet one that presented opportunities for courage, boldness and self- sacrifi ce, as mine never did. I rescued people from a bombed building (it discouraged me that the real war2 had gone on so far away from Jubilee). I shot two rabid wolves who were menacing the schoolyard (the teachers cowered terrifi ed at my back). I rode a fi ne horse spiritedly down the main street of Jubilee, acknowledging the townspeople’s gratitude for some yet- to- be- worked- out piece of heroism (nobody ever rode a horse there, except King Billy in the Orangemen’s Day3 parade). There was always riding and shooting in these stories, though I had only been on a horse twice— bareback because we did not own a saddle— and the second time I had slid right around and dropped under the horse’s feet; it had stepped placidly over me. I really was learning to shoot, but I could not hit anything yet, not even tin cans on fence posts.

Alive, the foxes inhabited a world my father made for them. It was surrounded by a high guard fence, like a medieval town, with a gate that was padlocked at night. Along the streets of this town were ranged large, sturdy pens. Each of them had a real door that a man could go through, a wooden ramp along the wire, for the foxes to run up and down on, and a kennel— something like a clothes chest with airholes— where they slept and stayed in winter and had their

1. Indecisive Crimean War battle fought on October 25, 1854, famous for the Charge of the Light Brigade. 2. World War II (1939–45). 3. The Orange Society is an Irish Protestant group named after William of Orange, who, as King Wil- liam III of En gland, defeated the Catholic James II. The society sponsors an annual pro cession on July 12 to commemorate the victory of William III at the Battle of the Boyne (1690).

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young. There were feeding and watering dishes attached to the wire in such a way that they could be emptied and cleaned from the outside. The dishes were made of old tin cans, and the ramps and kennels of odds and ends of old lumber. Everything was tidy and ingenious; my father was tirelessly inventive and his favourite book in the world was Robinson Crusoe.4 He had fi tted a tin drum on a wheelbarrow, for bringing water down to the pens. This was my job in summer, when the foxes had to have water twice a day. Between nine and ten o’clock in the morning, and again after supper, I fi lled the drum at the pump and trundled it down through the barnyard to the pens, where I parked it, and fi lled my water- ing can and went along the streets. Laird came too, with his little cream and green gardening can, fi lled too full and knocking against his legs and slopping water on his canvas shoes. I had the real watering can, my father’s, though I could only carry it three- quarters full.

The foxes all had names, which were printed on a tin plate and hung beside their doors. They were not named when they were born, but when they survived the fi rst year’s pelting and were added to the breeding stock. Those my father had named were called names like Prince, Bob, Wally and Betty. Those I had named were called Star or Turk, or Maureen or Diana. Laird named one Maud after a hired girl we had when he was little, one Harold after a boy at school, and one Mexico, he did not say why.

Naming them did not make pets out of them, or anything like it. Nobody but my father ever went into the pens, and he had twice had blood- poisoning from bites. When I was bringing them their water they prowled up and down on the paths they had made inside their pens, barking seldom— they saved that for nighttime, when they might get up a chorus of community frenzy— but always watching me, their eyes burning, clear gold, in their pointed, malevolent faces. They were beautiful for their delicate legs and heavy, aristocratic tails and the bright fur sprinkled on dark down their backs— which gave them their name— but especially for their faces, drawn exquisitely sharp in pure hostility, and their golden eyes.

Besides carry ing water I helped my father when he cut the long grass, and the lamb’s quarter and fl owering money- musk, that grew between the pens. He cut with the scythe and I raked into piles. Then he took a pitchfork and threw freshcut grass all over the top of the pens, to keep the foxes cooler and shade their coats, which were browned by too much sun. My father did not talk to me unless it was about the job we were doing. In this he was quite different from my mother, who, if she was feeling cheerful, would tell me all sorts of things— the name of a dog she had had when she was a little girl, the names of boys she had gone out with later on when she was grown up, and what certain dresses of hers had looked like— she could not imagine now what had become of them. What ever thoughts and stories my father had were private, and I was shy of him and would never ask him questions. Nevertheless I worked willingly under his eyes, and with a feeling of pride. One time a feed salesman came down into the pens to talk to him and my father said, “Like to have you meet my new hired man.” I turned away and raked furiously, red in the face with plea sure.

“Could of fooled me,” said the salesman. “I thought it was only a girl.”

4. Novel (1719) by Daniel Defoe about a man shipwrecked on a desert island; it goes into great detail about the ingenious contraptions he fashions from simple materials.

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After the grass was cut, it seemed suddenly much later in the year. I walked on stubble in the earlier eve ning, aware of the reddening skies, the entering silences, of fall. When I wheeled the tank out of the gate and put the padlock on, it was almost dark. One night at this time I saw my mother and father standing talking on the little rise of ground we called the gangway, in front of the barn. My father had just come from the meat house; he had his stiff bloody apron on, and a pail of cut- up meat in his hand.

It was an odd thing to see my mother down at the barn. She did not often come out of the house unless it was to do something— hang out the wash or dig pota- toes in the garden. She looked out of place, with her bare lumpy legs, not touched by the sun, her apron still on and damp across the stomach from the supper dishes. Her hair was tied up in a kerchief, wisps of it falling out. She would tie her hair up like this in the morning, saying she did not have time to do it properly, and it would stay tied up all day. It was true, too; she really did not have time. These days our back porch was piled with baskets of peaches and grapes and pears, bought in town, and onions and tomatoes and cucumbers grown at home, all waiting to be made into jelly and jam and preserves, pickles and chili sauce. In the kitchen there was a fi re in the stove all day, jars clinked in boiling water, some- times a cheesecloth bag was strung on a pole between two chairs, straining blue- black grape pulp for jelly. I was given jobs to do and I would sit at the table peeling peaches that had been soaked in the hot water, or cutting up onions, my eyes smarting and streaming. As soon as I was done I ran out of the house, trying to get out of earshot before my mother thought of what she wanted me to do next. I hated the hot dark kitchen in summer, the green blinds and the fl ypapers, the same old oilcloth table and wavy mirror and bumpy linoleum. My mother was too tired and preoccupied to talk to me, she had no heart to tell about the Normal School Graduation Dance; sweat trickled over her face and she was always count- ing under her breath, pointing at jars, dumping cups of sugar. It seemed to me that work in the house was endless, dreary and peculiarly depressing; work done out of doors, and in my father’s ser vice, was ritualistically important.

I wheeled the tank up to the barn, where it was kept, and I heard my mother saying, “Wait till Laird gets a little bigger, then you’ll have a real help.”

What my father said I did not hear. I was pleased by the way he stood listen- ing, politely as he would to a salesman or a stranger, but with an air of wanting to get on with his real work. I felt my mother had no business down here and I wanted him to feel the same way. What did she mean about Laird? He was no help to anybody. Where was he now? Swinging himself sick on the swing, going around in circles, or trying to catch caterpillars. He never once stayed with me till I was fi nished.

“And then I can use her more in the house,” I heard my mother say. She had a dead- quiet, regretful way of talking about me that always made me uneasy. “I just get my back turned and she runs off. It’s not like I had a girl in the family at all.”

I went and sat on a feed bag in the corner of the barn, not wanting to appear when this conversation was going on. My mother, I felt, was not to be trusted. She was kinder than my father and more easily fooled, but you could not depend on her, and the real reasons for the things she said and did were not to be known. She loved me, and she sat up late at night making a dress of the diffi cult style I

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wanted, for me to wear when school started, but she was also my enemy. She was always plotting. She was plotting now to get me to stay in the house more, although she knew I hated it (because she knew I hated it) and keep me from working for my father. It seemed to me she would do this simply out of perversity, and to try her power. It did not occur to me that she could be lonely, or jealous. No grown- up could be; they were too fortunate. I sat and kicked my heels monoto- nously against a feed bag, raising dust, and did not come out till she was gone.

At any rate, I did not expect my father to pay any attention to what she said. Who could imagine Laird doing my work— Laird remembering the padlock and cleaning out the watering- dishes with a leaf on the end of a stick, or even wheel- ing the tank without it tumbling over? It showed how little my mother knew about the way things really were.

I have forgotten to say what the foxes were fed. My father’s bloody apron reminded me. They were fed horse meat. At this time most farmers still kept horses, and when a horse got too old to work, or broke a leg or got down and would not get up, as they sometimes did, the own er would call my father, and he and Henry went out to the farm in the truck. Usually they shot and butchered the horse there, paying the farmer from fi ve to twelve dollars. If they had already too much meat on hand, they would bring the horse back alive, and keep it for a few days or weeks in our stable, until the meat was needed. After the war the farmers were buying tractors and gradually getting rid of horses altogether, so it sometimes happened that we got a good healthy horse, that there was just no use for any more. If this happened in the winter we might keep the horse in our stable till spring, for we had plenty of hay and if there was a lot of snow— and the plow did not always get our road cleared— it was con ve nient to be able to go to town with a horse and cutter.5

The winter I was eleven years old we had two horses in the stable. We did not know what names they had had before, so we called them Mack and Flora. Mack was an old black work horse, sooty and indifferent. Flora was a sorrel mare, a driver. We took them both out in the cutter. Mack was slow and easy to handle. Flora was given to fi ts of violent alarm, veering at cars and even at other horses, but we loved her speed and high- stepping, her general air of gallantry and abandon. On Saturdays we went down to the stable and as soon as we opened the door on its cosy, animal- smelling darkness Flora threw up her head, rolled her eyes, whinnied despairingly and pulled herself through a crisis of nerves on the spot. It was not safe to go into her stall; she would kick.

This winter also I began to hear a great deal more on the theme my mother had sounded when she had been talking in front of the barn. I no longer felt safe. It seemed that in the minds of the people around me there was a steady undercur- rent of thought, not to be defl ected, on this one subject. The word girl had for- merly seemed to me innocent and unburdened, like the world child; now it appeared that it was no such thing. A girl was not, as I had supposed, simply what I was; it was what I had to become. It was a defi nition, always touched with emphasis, with reproach and disappointment. Also it was a joke on me. Once Laird and I were fi ghting, and for the fi rst time ever I had to use all my strength against him; even so, he caught and pinned my arm for a moment, really hurting

5. Small, light sleigh.

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me. Henry saw this, and laughed, saying, “Oh, that there Laird’s gonna show you, one of these days!” Laird was getting a lot bigger. But I was getting bigger too.

My grandmother came to stay with us for a few weeks and I heard other things. “Girls don’t slam doors like that.” “Girls keep their knees together when they sit down.” And worse still, when I asked some questions, “That’s none of girls’ business.” I continued to slam the doors and sit as awkwardly as possible, thinking that by such mea sures I kept myself free.

When spring came, the horses were let out in the barnyard. Mack stood against the barn wall trying to scratch his neck and haunches, but Flora trotted up and down and reared at the fences, clattering her hooves against the rails. Snow drifts dwindled quickly, revealing the hard grey and brown earth, the familiar rise and fall of the ground, plain and bare after the fantastic land- scape of winter. There was a great feeling of opening- out, of release. We just wore rubbers now, over our shoes; our feet felt ridiculously light. One Saturday we went out to the stable and found all the doors open, letting in the unaccus- tomed sunlight and fresh air. Henry was there, just idling around looking at his collection of calendars which were tacked up behind the stalls in a part of the stable my mother had probably never seen.

“Come to say goodbye to your old friend Mack?” Henry said. “Here, you give him a taste of oats.” He poured some oats into Laird’s cupped hands and Laird went to feed Mack. Mack’s teeth were in bad shape. He ate very slowly, patiently shifting the oats around in his mouth, trying to fi nd a stump of a molar to grind it on. “Poor old Mack,” said Henry mournfully. “When a horse’s teeth’s gone, he’s gone. That’s about the way.”

“Are you going to shoot him today?” I said. Mack and Flora had been in the stable so long I had almost forgotten they were going to be shot.

Henry didn’t answer me. Instead he started to sing in a high, trembly, mocking- sorrowful voice, Oh, there’s no more work, for poor Uncle Ned, he’s gone where the good darkies go.6 Mack’s thick, blackish tongue worked diligently at Laird’s hand. I went out before the song was ended and sat down on the gangway.

I had never seen them shoot a horse, but I knew where it was done. Last sum- mer Laird and I had come upon a horse’s entrails before they were buried. We had thought it was a big black snake, coiled up in the sun. That was around in the fi eld that ran up beside the barn. I thought that if we went inside the barn, and found a wide crack or knothole to look through we would be able to see them do it. It was not something I wanted to see; just the same, if a thing really hap- pened, it was better to see it, and know.

My father came down from the house, carry ing the gun. “What are you doing here?” he said. “Nothing.” “Go on up and play around the house.” He sent Laird out of the stable. I said to Laird, “Do you want to see them

shoot Mack?” and without waiting for an answer led him around to the front door of the barn, opened it carefully, and went in. “Be quiet or they’ll hear us,” I said. We could hear Henry and my father talking in the stable, then the heavy, shuffl ing steps of Mack being backed out of his stall.

6. Lines from the Stephen Foster (1826–64) song “Old Uncle Ned.”

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In the loft it was cold and dark. Thin, crisscrossed beams of sunlight fell through the cracks. The hay was low. It was a rolling country, hills and hollows, slipping under our feet. About four feet up was a beam going around the walls. We piled hay up in one corner and I boosted Laird up and hoisted myself. The beam was not very wide; we crept along it with our hands fl at on the barn walls. There were plenty of knotholes, and I found one that gave me the view I wanted— a corner of the barnyard, the gate, part of the fi eld. Laird did not have a knothole and began to complain.

I showed him a widened crack between two boards. “Be quiet and wait. If they hear you you’ll get us in trouble.”

My father came in sight carry ing the gun. Henry was leading Mack by the halter. He dropped it and took out his cigarette papers and tobacco; he rolled cigarettes for my father and himself. While this was going on Mack nosed around in the old, dead grass along the fence. Then my father opened the gate and they took Mack through. Henry led Mack way from the path to a patch of ground and they talked together, not loud enough for us to hear. Mack again began searching for a mouthful of fresh grass, which was not to be found. My father walked away in a straight line, and stopped short at a distance which seemed to suit him. Henry was walking away from Mack too, but sideways, still negligently holding on to the halter. My father raised the gun and Mack looked up as if he had noticed something and my father shot him.

Mack did not collapse at once but swayed, lurched sideways and fell, fi rst on his side; then he rolled over on his back and, amazingly, kicked his legs for a few seconds in the air. At this Henry laughed, as if Mack had done a trick for him. Laird, who had drawn a long, groaning breath of surprise when the shot was fi red, said out loud, “He’s not dead.” And it seemed to me it might be true. But his legs stopped, he rolled on his side again, his muscles quivered and sank. The two men walked over and looked at him in a businesslike way; they bent down and examined his forehead where the bullet had gone in, and now I saw his blood on the brown grass.

“Now they just skin him and cut him up,” I said. “Let’s go.” My legs were a little shaky and I jumped gratefully down into the hay. “Now you’ve seen how they shoot a horse,” I said in a congratulatory way, as if I had seen it many times before. “Let’s see if any barn cat’s had kittens in the hay.” Laird jumped. He seemed young and obedient again. Suddenly I remembered how, when he was little, I had brought him into the barn and told him to climb the ladder to the top beam. That was in the spring, too, when the hay was low. I had done it out of a need for excitement, a desire for something to happen so that I could tell about it. He was wearing a little bulky brown and white checked coat, made down from one of mine. He went all the way up, just as I told him, and sat down on the top beam with the hay far below him on one side, and the barn fl oor and some old machinery on the other. Then I ran screaming to my father, “Laird’s up on the top beam!” My father came, my mother came, my father went up the ladder talking very quietly and brought Laird down under his arm, at which my mother leaned against the ladder and began to cry. They said to me, “Why weren’t you watching him?” but nobody ever knew the truth. Laird did not know enough to tell. But whenever I saw the brown and white checked coat hanging in the closet, or at the bottom of the rag bag, which was where it ended up, I felt a weight in my stomach, the sadness of unexorcized guilt.

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I looked at Laird who did not even remember this, and I did not like the look on this thin, winter- pale face. His expression was not frightened or upset, but remote, concentrating. “Listen,” I said, in an unusually bright and friendly voice, “you aren’t going to tell, are you?”

“No,” he said absently. “Promise.” “Promise,” he said. I grabbed the hand behind his back to make sure he was

not crossing his fi ngers. Even so, he might have a nightmare; it might come out that way. I decided I had better work hard to get all thoughts of what he had seen out of his mind— which, it seemed to me, could not hold very many things at a time. I got some money I had saved and that afternoon we went into Jubilee and saw a show, with Judy Canova,7 at which we both laughed a great deal. After that I thought it would be all right.

Two weeks later I knew they were going to shoot Flora. I knew from the night before, when I heard my mother ask if the hay was holding out all right, and my father said, “Well, after to- morrow there’ll just be the cow, and we should be able to put her out to grass in another week.” So I knew it was Flora’s turn in the morning.

This time I didn’t think of watching it. That was something to see just one time. I had not thought about it very often since, but sometimes when I was busy, working at school, or standing in front of the mirror combing my hair and wondering if I would be pretty when I grew up, the whole scene would fl ash into my mind: I would see the easy, practised way my father raised the gun, and hear Henry laughing when Mack kicked his legs in the air. I did not have any great feeling of horror and opposition, such as a city child might have had; I was too used to seeing the death of animals as a necessity by which we lived. Yet I felt a little ashamed, and there was a new wariness, a sense of holding- off, in my attitude to my father and his work.

It was a fi ne day, and we were going around the yard picking up tree branches that had been torn off in winter storms. This was something we had been told to do, and also we wanted to use them to make a teepee. We heard Flora whinny, and then my father’s voice and Henry’s shouting, and we ran down to the barnyard to see what was going on.

The stable door was open. Henry had just brought Flora out, and she had broken away from him. She was running free in the barnyard, from one end to the other. We climbed up on the fence. It was exciting to see her running, whin- nying, going up on her hind legs, prancing and threatening like a horse in a Western movie, an unbroken ranch horse, though she was just an old driver, an old sorrel mare. My father and Henry ran after her and tried to grab the dangling halter. They tried to work her into a corner, and they had almost succeeded when she made a run between them, wild- eyed, and disappeared around the corner of the barn. We heard the rails clatter down as she got over the fence, and Henry yelled, “She’s into the fi eld now!”

That meant she was in the long L-shaped fi eld that ran up by the house. If she got around the center, heading towards the lane, the gate was open; the truck had been driven into the fi eld this morning. My father shouted to me, because I was on the other side of the fence, nearest the lane, “Go shut the gate!”

7. American comedian (1913– 83) best known for her yodeling in hillbilly movies of the 1940s.

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I could run very fast. I ran across the garden, past the tree where our swing was hung, and jumped across a ditch into the lane. There was the open gate. She had not got out, I could not see her up on the road; she must have run to the other end of the fi eld. The gate was heavy. I lifted it out of the gravel and carried it across the roadway. I had it half- way across when she came in sight, galloping straight towards me. There was just time to get the chain on. Laird came scrambling through the ditch to help me.

Instead of shutting the gate, I opened it as wide as I could. I did not make any decision to do this, it was just what I did. Flora never slowed down; she gal- loped straight past me, and Laird jumped up and down, yelling, “Shut it, shut it!” even after it was too late. My father and Henry appeared in the fi eld a moment too late to see what I had done. They only saw Flora heading for the township road. They would think I had not got there in time.

They did not waste any time asking about it. They went back to the barn and got the gun and the knives they used, and put these in the truck; then they turned the truck around and came bouncing up the fi eld toward us. Laird called to them, “Let me go too, let me go too!” and Henry stopped the truck and they took him in. I shut the gate after they were all gone.

I supposed Laird would tell. I wondered what would happen to me. I had never disobeyed my father before, and I could not understand why I had done it. Flora would not really get away. They would catch up with her in the truck. Or if they did not catch her this morning somebody would see her and telephone us this afternoon or tomorrow. There was no wild country here for her to run to, only farms. What was more, my father had paid for her, we needed the meat to feed the foxes, we needed the foxes to make our living. All I had done was make more work for my father who worked hard enough already. And when my father found out about it he was not going to trust me any more, he would know that I was not entirely on his side. I was on Flora’s side, and that made me no use to anybody, not even to her. Just the same, I did not regret it; when she came run- ning at me and I held the gate open, that was the only thing I could do.

I went back to the house, and my mother said, “What’s all the commotion?” I told her that Flora had kicked down the fence and got away. “Your poor father,” she said, “now he’ll have to go chasing over the countryside. Well, there isn’t any use planning dinner before one.” She put up the ironing board. I wanted to tell her, but thought better of it and went upstairs and sat on my bed.

Lately I had been trying to make my part of the room fancy, spreading the bed with old lace curtains, and fi xing myself a dressing- table with some leftovers of cretonne for a skirt. I planned to put up some kind of barricade between my bed and Laird’s, to keep my section separate from his. In the sunlight, the lace cur- tains were just dusty rags. We did not sing at night any more. One night when I was singing Laird said, “You sound silly,” and I went right on but the next night I did not start. There was not so much need to anyway, we were no longer afraid. We knew it was just old furniture over there, old jumble and confusion. We did not keep to the rules. I still stayed awake after Laird was asleep and told myself stories, but even in these stories something different was happening, mysterious alterations took place. A story might start off in the old way, with a spectacular danger, a fi re or wild animals, and for a while I might rescue people; then things would change around, and instead, somebody would be rescuing me. It might

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be a boy from our class at school, or even Mr. Campbell, our teacher, who tick- led girls under the arms. And at this point the story concerned itself at great length with what I looked like— how long my hair was, and what kind of dress I had on; by the time I had these details worked out the real excitement of the story was lost.

It was later than one o’clock when the truck came back. The tarpaulin was over the back, which meant there was meat in it. My mother had to heat dinner up all over again. Henry and my father had changed from their bloody overalls into ordinary working overalls in the barn, and they washed their arms and necks and faces at the sink, and splashed water on their hair and combed it. Laird lifted his arm to show off a streak of blood. “We shot old Flora,” he said, “and cut her up in fi fty pieces.”

“Well I don’t want to hear about it,” my mother said. “And don’t come to my table like that.”

My father made him go and wash the blood off. We sat down and my father said grace and Henry pasted his chewing- gum on

the end of his fork, the way he always did; when he took it off he would have us admire the pattern. We began to pass the bowls of steaming, overcooked vege- tables. Laird looked across the table at me and said proudly, distinctly, “Anyway it was her fault Flora got away.”

“What?” my father said. “She could of shut the gate and she didn’t. She just open’ it up and Flora

run out.” “Is that right?” my father said. Everybody at the table was looking at me. I nodded, swallowing food with

great diffi culty. To my shame, tears fl ooded my eyes. My father made a curt sound of disgust. “What did you do that for?” I did not answer. I put down my fork and waited to be sent from the table,

still not looking up. But this did not happen. For some time nobody said anything, then Laird

said matter- of- factly, “She’s crying.” “Never mind,” my father said. He spoke with resignation, even good humour,

the words which absolved and dismissed me for good. “She’s only a girl,” he said. I didn’t protest that, even in my heart. Maybe it was true.

1968

QUESTIONS

1. Since there is only one girl character (the narrator) and one boy character (the nar- rator’s younger brother) in Boys and Girls, why do you think Alice Munro uses plural words in the title?

2. Find the two occurrences of the phrase “only a girl.” Why and how does the mean- ing of the phrase change in each case?

3. Why does the narrator choose not to shut the gate on Flora? What role does this act play in her initiation?

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JOHN UPDIKE (1932–2009) A & P1

The man The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Lit- erature dubs “perhaps America’s most versatile, pro- lifi c, and distinguished man of letters of the second half of the twentieth century” spent the early years of his life in Reading and rural Shillington, Pennsylva- nia. John Updike went on to study En glish literature

at Harvard, where he also contributed cartoons and articles to the famous Lampoon. Marrying a Radcliffe fi ne- arts student in 1953, Updike the next year graduated summa cum laude and sold both his fi rst poem and his fi rst story to the New Yorker, whose staff he joined in 1955. Though he would continue to contribute essays, poems, and fi ction to the New Yorker for the rest of his life, in 1957 Updike moved with his young family from Manhattan to rural Massachusetts. In the two years following the move, he pub- lished both his fi rst book, a collection of poems (1958), and his fi rst novel (1959). Updike went on to publish some twenty-one novels, thirteen short- story collections, seven volumes of poetry (including Collected Poems, 1953– 1993 [1993]), as well as seven collections of essays, a play, and a memoir. He is best known for the tetralogy tracing the life of high- school basketball star turned car salesman Harry C. Rabbit Angstrom. Begun with Rabbit, Run in 1960, the series of novels includes Rabbit Is Rich (1981) and Rabbit at Rest (1990), both of which were awarded Pulitzer Prizes.

In walks these three girls in nothing but bathing suits. I’m in the third check-out slot, with my back to the door, so I don’t see them until they’re over by the bread. The one that caught my eye fi rst was the one in the plaid green two- piece. She was a chunky kid, with a good tan and a sweet broad soft- looking can with those two crescents of white just under it, where the sun never seems to hit, at the top of the backs of her legs. I stood there with my hand on a box of HiHo crackers trying to remember if I rang it up or not. I ring it up again and the customer starts giving me hell. She’s one of these cash- register- watchers, a witch about fi fty with rouge on her cheekbones and no eyebrows, and I know it made her day to trip me up. She’d been watching cash registers for fi fty years and probably never seen a mistake before.

By the time I got her feathers smoothed and her goodies into a bag— she gives me a little snort in passing, if she’d been born at the right time they would have burned her over in Salem2— by the time I get her on her way the girls had circled around the bread and were coming back, without a pushcart, back my

1. The Great Atlantic and Pacifi c Tea Company, so named in 1859, became by the 1930s the leading national chain of supermarkets. The A&P Corporation today has more than 300 stores under various names. 2. The store is located not far from Salem, Massachusetts, where in 1692 nineteen women and men were hanged after being convicted of witchcraft.

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way along the counters, in the aisle between the checkouts and the Special bins. They didn’t even have shoes on. There was this chunky one, with the two- piece—it was bright green and the seams on the bra were still sharp and her belly was still pretty pale so I guessed she just got it (the suit)— there was this one, with one of those chubby berry- faces, the lips all bunched together under her nose, this one, and a tall one, with black hair that hadn’t quite frizzed right, and one of these sunburns right across under the eyes, and a chin that was too long— you know, the kind of girl other girls think is very “striking” and “attrac- tive” but never quite makes it, as they very well know, which is why they like her so much— and then the third one, that wasn’t quite so tall. She was the queen. She kind of led them, the other two peeking around and making their shoulders round. She didn’t look around, not this queen, she just walked straight on slowly, on these long white prima- donna legs. She came down a little hard on her heels, as if she didn’t walk in her bare feet that much, putting down her heels and then letting the weight move along to her toes as if she was testing the fl oor with every step, putting a little deliberate extra action into it. You never know for sure how girls’ minds work (do you really think it’s a mind in there or just a little buzz like a bee in a glass jar?) but you got the idea she had talked the other two into com- ing in here with her, and now she was showing them how to do it, walk slow and hold yourself straight.

She had on a kind of dirty- pink—beige maybe, I don’t know— bathing suit with a little nubble all over it and, what got me, the straps were down. They were off her shoulders looped loose around the cool tops of her arms, and I guess as a result the suit had slipped a little on her, so all around the top of the cloth there was this shining rim. If it hadn’t been there you wouldn’t have known there could have been anything whiter than those shoulders. With the straps pushed off, there was nothing between the top of the suit and the top of her head except just her, this clean bare plane of the top of her chest down from the shoulder bones like a dented sheet of metal tilted in the light. I mean, it was more than pretty.

She had sort of oaky hair that the sun and salt had bleached, done up in a bun that was unravelling, and a kind of prim face. Walking into the A & P with your straps down, I suppose it’s the only kind of face you can have. She held her head so high her neck, coming up out of those white shoulders, looked kind of stretched, but I didn’t mind. The longer her neck was, the more of her there was.

She must have felt in the corner of her eye me and over my shoulder Stokesie in the second slot watching, but she didn’t tip. Not this queen. She kept her eyes moving across the racks, and stopped, and turned so slow it made my stomach rub the inside of my apron, and buzzed to the other two, who kind of huddled against her for relief, and then they all three of them went up the cat- and- dog- food- breakfast- cereal- macaroni- rice- raisins- seasonings- spreads- spaghetti- soft- drinks- crackers- and- cookies aisle. From the third slot I look straight up this aisle to the meat counter, and I watched them all the way. The fat one with the tan sort of fumbled with the cookies, but on second thought she put the pack- age back. The sheep pushing their carts down the aisle— the girls were walking against the usual traffi c (not that we have one- way signs or anything)— were pretty hilarious. You could see them, when Queenie’s white shoulders dawned on them, kind of jerk, or hop, or hiccup, but their eyes snapped back to their own baskets and on they pushed. I bet you could set off dynamite in an A & P and the people would by and large keep reaching and checking oatmeal off their lists and

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muttering “Let me see, there was a third thing, began with A, asparagus, no, ah, yes, applesauce!” or what ever it is they do mutter. But there was no doubt, this jiggled them. A few house slaves in pin curlers even looked around after pushing their carts past to make sure what they had seen was correct.

You know, it’s one thing to have a girl in a bathing suit down on the beach, where what with the glare nobody can look at each other much anyway, and another thing in the cool of the A & P, under the fl uorescent lights, against all those stacked packages, with her feet paddling along naked over our checker- board green- and- cream rubber- tile fl oor.

“Oh Daddy,” Stokesie said beside me. “I feel so faint.” “Darling,” I said. “Hold me tight.” Stokesie’s married, with two babies chalked

up on his fuselage already, but as far as I can tell that’s the only difference. He’s twenty- two, and I was nineteen this April.

“Is it done?” he asks, the responsible married man fi nding his voice. I forgot to say he thinks he’s going to be manager some sunny day, maybe in 1990 when it’s called the Great Alexandrov and Petrooshki Tea Company or something.

What he meant was, our town is fi ve miles from a beach, with a big summer colony out on the Point, but we’re right in the middle of town, and the women generally put on a shirt or shorts or something before they get out of the car into the street. And anyway these are usually women with six children and varicose veins mapping their legs and nobody, including them, could care less. As I say, we’re right in the middle of town, and if you stand at our front doors you can see two banks and the Congregational church and the newspaper store and three real- estate offi ces and about twenty- seven old freeloaders tearing up Central Street because the sewer broke again. It’s not as if we’re on the Cape; we’re north of Boston and there’s people in this town haven’t seen the ocean for twenty years.

The girls had reached the meat counter and were asking McMahon some- thing. He pointed, they pointed, and they shuffl ed out of sight behind a pyramid of Diet Delight peaches. All that was left for us to see was old McMahon patting his mouth and looking after them sizing up their joints. Poor kids, I began to feel sorry for them, they couldn’t help it.

• • •

Now here comes the sad part of the story, at least my family says it’s sad, but I don’t think it’s so sad myself. The store’s pretty empty, it being Thursday after- noon, so there was nothing much to do except lean on the register and wait for the girls to show up again. The whole store was like a pinball machine and I didn’t know which tunnel they’d come out of. After a while they come around out of the far aisle, around the light bulbs, rec ords at discount of the Ca rib be an Six or Tony Martin Sings3 or some such gunk you wonder they waste the wax on, sixpacks of candy bars, and plastic toys done up in cellophane that fall apart when a kid looks at them anyway. Around they come, Queenie still leading the way, and holding a little gray jar in her hand. Slots Three through Seven are unmanned and I could see her wondering between Stokes and me, but Stokesie with his usual luck draws an old party in baggy gray pants who stumbles up with

3. Typical titles of record albums at the time of the story (1962). Tony Martin (1913–2012), a pop u lar singer and actor, was featured on radio and tele vi sion in the 1940s and 1950s.

10

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four giant cans of pineapple juice (what do these bums do with all that pineapple juice? I’ve often asked myself) so the girls come to me. Queenie puts down the jar and I take it into my fi ngers icy cold. Kingfi sh Fancy Herring Snacks in Pure Sour Cream: 49¢. Now her hands are empty, not a ring or a bracelet, bare as God made them, and I wonder where the money’s coming from. Still with that prim look she lifts a folded dollar bill out of the hollow at the center of her nubbled pink top. The jar went heavy in my hand. Really, I thought that was so cute.

Then everybody’s luck begins to run out. Lengel comes in from haggling with a truck full of cabbages on the lot and is about to scuttle into that door marked manager behind which he hides all day when the girls touch his eye. Lengel’s pretty dreary, teaches Sunday school and the rest, but he doesn’t miss that much. He comes over and says, “Girls, this isn’t the beach.”

Queenie blushes, though maybe it’s just a brush of sunburn I was noticing for the fi rst time, now that she was so close. “My mother asked me to pick up a jar of herring snacks.” Her voice kind of startled me, the way voices do when you see the people fi rst, coming out so fl at and dumb yet kind of tony, too, the way it ticked over “pick up” and “snacks.” All of a sudden I slid right down her voice into her living room. Her father and the other men were standing around in ice- cream coats and bow ties and the women were in sandals picking up her- ring snacks on toothpicks off a big glass plate and they were all holding drinks the color of water with olives and sprigs of mint in them. When my parents have somebody over they get lemonade and if it’s a real racy affair Schlitz in tall glasses with “They’ll Do It Every Time” cartoons stencilled on.4

“That’s all right,” Lengel said. “But this isn’t the beach.” His repeating this struck me as funny, as if it had just occurred to him, and he had been thinking all these years the A & P was a great big dune and he was the head lifeguard. He didn’t like my smiling— as I say he doesn’t miss much— but he concentrates on giving the girls that sad Sunday- school- superintendent stare.

Queenie’s blush is no sunburn now, and the plump one in plaid, that I liked better from the back— a really sweet can— pipes up, “We weren’t doing any shopping. We just came in for the one thing.”

“That makes no difference,” Lengel tells her, and I could see from the way his eyes went that he hadn’t noticed she was wearing a two- piece before. “We want you decently dressed when you come in here.”

“We are decent,” Queenie says suddenly, her lower lip pushing, getting sore now that she remembers her place, a place from which the crowd that runs the A & P must look pretty crummy. Fancy Herring Snacks fl ashed in her very blue eyes.

“Girls, I don’t want to argue with you. After this come in here with your shoulders covered. It’s our policy.” He turns his back. That’s policy for you. Pol- icy is what the kingpins want. What the others want is juvenile delinquency.

All this while, the customers had been showing up with their carts but, you know, sheep, seeing a scene, they had all bunched up on Stokesie, who shook open a paper bag as gently as peeling a peach, not wanting to miss a word. I could feel in the silence everybody getting ner vous, most of all Lengel, who asks me, “Sammy, have you rung up their purchase?”

4. Schlitz is an inexpensive brand of beer. The cheap glasses are decorated with a pop u lar saying derived from a syndicated series of single- panel cartoons printed between 1929 and 2008.

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I thought and said “No” but it wasn’t about that I was thinking. I go through the punches, 4, 9, groc, tot— it’s more complicated than you think, and after you do it often enough, it begins to make a little song, that you hear words to, in my case “Hello (bing) there, you (gung) hap- py pee- pul (splat)!”— the splat being the drawer fl ying out. I uncrease the bill, tenderly as you may imagine, it just hav- ing come from between the two smoothest scoops of vanilla I had ever known were there, and pass a half and a penny into her narrow pink palm, and nestle the herrings in a bag and twist its neck and hand it over, all the time thinking.

The girls, and who’d blame them, are in a hurry to get out, so I say “I quit” to Lengel quick enough for them to hear, hoping they’ll stop and watch me, their unsuspected hero. They keep right on going, into the electric eye; the door fl ies open and they fl icker across the lot to their car, Queenie and Plaid and Big Tall Goony- Goony (not that as raw material she was so bad), leaving me with Lengel and a kink in his eyebrow.

“Did you say something, Sammy?” “I said I quit.” “I thought you did.” “You didn’t have to embarrass them.” “It was they who were embarrassing us.” I started to say something that came out “Fiddle- de- doo.” It’s a saying of my

grandmother’s, and I know she would have been pleased. “I don’t think you know what you’re saying,” Lengel said. “I know you don’t,” I said. “But I do.” I pull the bow at the back of my apron

and start shrugging it off my shoulders. A couple customers that had been head- ing for my slot begin to knock against each other, like scared pigs in a chute.

Lengel sighs and begins to look very patient and old and gray. He’s been a friend of my parents for years. “Sammy, you don’t want to do this to your Mom and Dad,” he tells me. It’s true, I don’t. But it seems to me that once you begin a gesture it’s fatal not to go through with it. I fold the apron, “Sammy” stitched in red on the pocket, and put it on the counter, and drop the bow tie on top of it. The bow tie is theirs, if you’ve ever wondered. “You’ll feel this for the rest of your life,” Lengel says, and I know that’s true, too, but remembering how he made that pretty girl blush makes me so scrunchy inside I punch the No Sale tab and the machine whirs “pee- pul” and the drawer splats out. One advantage to this scene taking place in summer, I can follow this up with a clean exit, there’s no fumbling around getting your coat and galoshes, I just saunter into the electric eye in my white shirt that my mother ironed the night before, and the door heaves itself open, and outside the sunshine is skating around on the asphalt.

I look around for my girls, but they’re gone, of course. There wasn’t anybody but some young married screaming with her children about some candy they didn’t get by the door of a powder- blue Falcon station wagon. Looking back in the big windows, over the bags of peat moss and aluminum lawn furniture stacked on the pavement, I could see Lengel in my place in the slot, checking the sheep through. His face was dark gray and his back stiff, as if he’d just had an injection of iron, and my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter.

1962

25

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QUESTIONS

1. The narrator of A & P announces the turning point or climax of the action, “the sad part of the story” (par. 12), adding, “[t]hen everybody’s luck begins to run out” (par. 13). Is the climax of the story as signifi cant as this sounds? Does the tone of Sam- my’s telling of the story match the events?

2. This brief incident at the grocery store involves both younger and older females and males, married or not. Compare the male employees and female customers of dif- ferent ages and status. How does Sammy’s view of these people suggest the theme of growing up or predict the options in life of the various people?

3. How does the setting of the story shape the initiation and its meaning? How do details about the merchandise or space contribute to the story?

AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK JOHN UPDIKE (1932– 2009)

From “An Interview with John Updike” (1995)*

There is always some ambiguity or some room for various responses to a story. But I certainly see him [Sammy] as a typical, well- intentioned American male trying to fi nd his way in the society and full of good impulses. I think that he quit his job on a good impulse. [. . .] A kind of feminist protest, in a way, is what he does here. Who knows what his adult life will bring, but I think for the moment he’s a boy who’s tried to reach out of his immediate environment toward something bigger and better.

*“An Interview with John Updike.” Interview by Donald M. Murray, directed by Bruce Schwartz (1995), posted by Murray. Spike, 2001.

JAMES JOYCE (1882–1941) Araby

In 1902, after graduating from University College, Dublin, James Joyce left Ireland for Paris, returning a year later. In October 1904, he eloped with Nora Barnacle and settled in Trieste, where he taught En glish for the Berlitz school. Though he lived as an expatriate for the rest of his life, all of his fi ction is

set in his native Dublin. Joyce had more than his share of diffi culties with publication and censorship. His volume of short stories, Dubliners, completed in 1905, was not published until 1914. His novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, dated “Dublin 1904, Trieste 1914,” appeared fi rst in America, in 1916. His great novel Ulysses (1921) was banned for a dozen years in the United States and as long or longer elsewhere. In

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addition, Joyce published a play, Exiles (1918); two collections of poetry, Chamber Music (1907) and Pomes Penyeach (1927); and the monumental, experimental, and puzzling novel Finnegans Wake (1939).

North Richmond Street, being blind,1 was a quiet street except at the hour when the Christian Brothers’ School set the boys free. An uninhabited house of two storeys stood at the blind end, detached from its neighbours in a square ground. The other houses of the street, conscious of decent lives within them, gazed at one another with brown imperturbable faces.

The former tenant of our house, a priest, had died in the back drawing- room. Air, musty from having been long enclosed, hung in all the rooms, and the waste room behind the kitchen was littered with old useless papers. Among these I found a few paper- covered books, the pages of which were curled and damp: The Abbot, by Walter Scott, The Devout Communicant and The Memoirs of Vidocq.2 I liked the last best because its leaves were yellow. The wild garden behind the house contained a central apple- tree and a few straggling bushes under one of which I found the late tenant’s rusty bicycle- pump. He had been a very charitable priest; in his will he had left all his money to institutions and the furniture of his house to his sister.

When the short days of winter came dusk fell before we had well eaten our dinners. When we met in the street the houses had grown sombre. The space of sky above us was the colour of ever- changing violet and towards it the lamps of the street lifted their feeble lanterns. The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed. Our shouts echoed in the silent street. The career of our play brought us through the dark muddy lanes behind the houses where we ran the gantlet of the rough tribes from the cottages, to the back doors of the dark dripping gardens where odours arose from the ashpits,3 to the dark odorous stables where a coachman smoothed and combed the horse or shook music from the buckled harness. When we returned to the street light from the kitchen windows had fi lled the areas. If my uncle was seen turning the corner we hid in the shadow until we had seen him safely housed. Or if Mangan’s sister came out on the door- step to call her brother in to his tea we watched her from our shadow peer up and down the street. We waited to see whether she would remain or go in and, if she remained, we left our shadow and walked up to Mangan’s steps resignedly. She was waiting for us, her fi gure defi ned by the light from the half- opened door. Her brother always teased her before he obeyed and I stood by the railings look- ing at her. Her dress swung as she moved her body and the soft rope of her hair tossed from side to side.

1. That is, a dead- end street. 2. The “memoirs” were probably not written by François Vidocq (1775– 1857), a French criminal who became chief of detectives and died poor and disgraced for his part in a crime that he solved. The Abbot: the 1820 novel by Sir Walter Scott (1771– 1834) is a romance about the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots (1542– 87), who was beheaded. The Devout Communicant: or Pious Meditations and Aspirations for the Three Days Before and Three Days after Receiving the Holy Eucharist (1813) is a Catholic religious tract. 3. Where fi replace ashes and other house hold refuse were dumped.

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Every morning I lay on the fl oor in the front parlour watching her door. The blind was pulled down to within an inch of the sash so that I could not be seen. When she came out on the door- step my heart leaped. I ran to the hall, seized my books and fol- lowed her. I kept her brown fi gure always in my eye and, when we came near the point at which our ways diverged, I quickened my pace and passed her. This hap- pened morning after morning. I had never spoken to her, except for a few casual words, and yet her name was like a summons to all my foolish blood.

Her image accompanied me even in places the most hostile to romance. On Saturday eve nings when my aunt went marketing I had to go to carry some of the par- cels. We walked through the fl ar- ing streets, jostled by drunken

men and bargaining women, amid the curses of labourers, the shrill litanies of shop- boys who stood on guard by the barrels of pigs’ cheeks, the nasal chanting of street- singers, who sang a come- all- you about O’Donovan Rossa,4 or a ballad about the troubles in our native land. These noises converged in a single sensation of life for me: I imagined that I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes. Her name sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers and praises which I myself did not understand. My eyes were often full of tears (I could not tell why) and at times a fl ood from my heart seemed to pour itself out into my bosom. I thought little of the future. I did not know whether I would ever speak to her or not or, if I spoke to her, how I could tell her of my confused adoration. But my body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fi ngers running upon the wires.

One eve ning I went into the back drawing- room in which the priest had died. It was a dark rainy eve ning and there was no sound in the house. Through one of the broken panes I heard the rain impinge upon the earth, the fi ne inces- sant needles of water playing in the sodden beds. Some distant lamp or lighted window gleamed below me. I was thankful that I could see so little. All my senses seemed to desire to veil themselves and, feeling that I was about to slip from them, I pressed the palms of my hands together until they trembled, murmuring: O love! O love! many times.

At last she spoke to me. When she addressed the fi rst words to me I was so confused that I did not know what to answer. She asked me was I going to Ara-

4. Jeremiah O’Donovan (1831– 1915) was a militant Irish nationalist who fought on despite prison terms and banishment. Come- all- you: a song, of which there were many, that began “Come, all you Irishmen.”

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by.5 I forget whether I answered yes or no. It would be a splendid bazaar, she said; she would love to go.

—And why can’t you? I asked. While she spoke she turned a silver bracelet round and round her wrist. She

could not go, she said, because there would be a retreat6 that week in her convent. Her brother and two other boys were fi ghting for their caps and I was alone at the railings. She held one of the spikes, bowing her head towards me. The light from the lamp opposite our door caught the white curve of her neck, lit up her hair that rested there and, falling, lit up the hand upon the railing. It fell over one side of her dress and caught the white border of a petticoat, just visible as she stood at ease.

—It’s well for you, she said. —If I go, I said, I will bring you something. What innumerable follies laid waste my waking and sleeping thoughts after

that eve ning! I wished to annihilate the tedious intervening days. I chafed against the work of school. At night in my bedroom and by day in the classroom her image came between me and the page I strove to read. The syllables of the word Araby were called to me through the silence in which my soul luxuriated and cast an Eastern enchantment over me. I asked for leave to go to the bazaar on Saturday night. My aunt was surprised and hoped it was not some Freema- son7 affair. I answered few questions in class. I watched my master’s face pass from amiability to sternness; he hoped I was not beginning to idle. I could not call my wandering thoughts together. I had hardly any patience with the serious work of life which, now that it stood between me and my desire, seemed to me child’s play, ugly monotonous child’s play.

On Saturday morning I reminded my uncle that I wished to go to the bazaar in the eve ning. He was fussing at the hall- stand, looking for the hat- brush, and answered me curtly:

—Yes, boy, I know. As he was in the hall I could not go into the front parlour and lie at the win-

dow. I left the house in bad humour and walked slowly towards the school. The air was pitilessly raw and already my heart misgave me.

When I came home to dinner my uncle had not yet been home. Still it was early. I sat staring at the clock for some time and, when its ticking began to irritate me, I left the room. I mounted the staircase and gained the upper part of the house. The high cold empty gloomy rooms liberated me and I went from room to room singing. From the front window I saw my companions playing below in the street. Their cries reached me weakened and indistinct and, lean- ing my forehead against the cool glass, I looked over at the dark house where she lived. I may have stood there for an hour, seeing nothing but the brown- clad fi gure cast by my imagination, touched discreetly by the lamplight at the curved neck, at the hand upon the railings and at the border below the dress.

When I came downstairs again I found Mrs Mercer sitting at the fi re. She was an old garrulous woman, a pawnbroker’s widow, who collected used stamps for some pious purpose. I had to endure the gossip of the tea- table. The meal was

5. Charity bazaar billed as a “Grand Oriental Fete,” Dublin, May 1894. 6. Period of withdrawal dedicated to prayer and religious study. 7. Freemasons— members of an infl uential, secretive, and highly ritualistic fraternal organization— were considered enemies of Catholics.

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prolonged beyond an hour and still my uncle did not come. Mrs Mercer stood up to go: she was sorry she couldn’t wait any longer, but it was after eight o’clock and she did not like to be out late, as the night air was bad for her. When she had gone I began to walk up and down the room, clenching my fi sts. My aunt said:

—I’m afraid you may put off your bazaar for this night of Our Lord. At nine o’clock I heard my uncle’s latchkey in the halldoor. I heard him talk-

ing to himself and heard the hallstand rocking when it had received the weight of his overcoat. I could interpret these signs. When he was midway through his dinner I asked him to give me the money to go to the bazaar. He had forgotten.

—The people are in bed and after their fi rst sleep now, he said. I did not smile. My aunt said to him energetically: — Can’t you give him the money and let him go? You’ve kept him late enough

as it is. My uncle said he was very sorry he had forgotten. He said he believed in the

old saying: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. He asked me where I was going and, when I had told him a second time he asked me did I know The Arab’s Farewell to his Steed.8 When I left the kitchen he was about to recite the open- ing lines of the piece to my aunt.

I held a fl orin9 tightly in my hand as I strode down Buckingham Street towards the station. The sight of the streets thronged with buyers and glaring with gas recalled to me the purpose of my journey. I took my seat in a third- class carriage of a deserted train. After an intolerable delay the train moved out of the station slowly. It crept onward among ruinous houses and over the twin- kling river. At Westland Row Station a crowd of people pressed to the carriage doors; but the porters moved them back, saying that it was a special train for the bazaar. I remained alone in the bare carriage. In a few minutes the train drew up beside an improvised wooden platform. I passed out on to the road and saw by the lighted dial of a clock that it was ten minutes to ten. In front of me was a large building which displayed the magical name.

I could not fi nd any sixpenny entrance and, fearing that the bazaar would be closed, I passed in quickly through a turnstile, handing a shilling to a weary- looking man. I found myself in a big hall girdled at half its height by a gallery. Nearly all the stalls were closed and the greater part of the hall was in dark- ness. I recognized a silence like that which pervades a church after a ser vice. I walked into the centre of the bazaar timidly. A few people were gathered about the stalls which were still open. Before a curtain, over which the words Café Chantant1 were written in coloured lamps, two men were counting money on a salver. I listened to the fall of the coins.

Remembering with diffi culty why I had come I went over to one of the stalls and examined porcelain vases and fl owered tea- sets. At the door of the stall a young lady was talking and laughing with two young gentlemen. I remarked their En glish accents and listened vaguely to their conversation.

—O, I never said such a thing! —O, but you did!

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172 INITIATION STORIES: AN ALBUM

8. Or The Arab’s Farewell to His Horse, a sentimental nineteenth- century poem by Caroline Norton. The speaker has sold the horse. 9. A two- shilling piece, thus four times the “sixpenny entrance” fee. 1. Café with music (French).

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SUGGESTIONS FOR WRITING 173

—O, but I didn’t! —Didn’t she say that? —Yes. I heard her. —O, there’s a . . . fi b! Observing me the young lady came over and asked me did I wish to buy any-

thing. The tone of her voice was not encouraging; she seemed to have spoken to me out of a sense of duty. I looked humbly at the great jars that stood like east- ern guards at either side of the dark entrance to the stall and murmured:

—No, thank you. The young lady changed the position of one of the vases and went back to the

two young men. They began to talk of the same subject. Once or twice the young lady glanced at me over her shoulder.

I lingered before her stall, though I knew my stay was useless, to make my interest in her wares seem the more real. Then I turned away slowly and walked down the middle of the bazaar. I allowed the two pennies to fall against the sixpence in my pocket. I heard a voice call from one end of the gallery that the light was out. The upper part of the hall was now completely dark.

Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.

1914

QUESTIONS

1. How do the fi rst three paragraphs of Araby characterize the environment in which the narrator lives? How might that environment inspire and shape his fascination with Mangan’s sister? with Araby?

2. What kind of “vanity” does the narrator attribute to himself at the story’s end? Why is he fi lled with “anguish and anger”?

3. How might Araby work as a sort of quest narrative (see “Common Plot Types” in ch. 1)? In these terms, what is the signifi cance of the narrator’s reference to “romance,” his vision of himself carry ing a “chalice safely through a throng of foes” (par. 5), and Araby’s “Eastern” theme (par. 12)?

SUGGESTIONS FOR WRITING

1. Initiation stories often concern a choice to abandon or join a family, group, or com- munity. Write an essay in which you examine the choices made by one or more of the main characters in these stories. How do such choices shape the plot of each story or the changes characters go through?

2. A child, teenager, or adult will have different perspectives on the same situations, and initiation stories often dramatically reveal such differences in the way charac- ters and narrators respond. Write an essay on the way the narrator’s age affects your understanding of the “initiation” in one of the stories in this album.

3. Traditional cultures like that of the Masai people of East Africa have highly ritual- ized methods of inducting young people into adulthood. Might developed Western societies also be said to have ritual forms of initiation? Drawing evidence from at least two stories in this album, write an essay exploring how young people in mod- ern Western societies are initiated into adulthood.

4. Choose a story from any other chapter of this book and write an essay explaining why it should be considered an initiation story.

5. Using any story in this album as a model, write a fi rst- person narrative of an actual or fi ctional initiation into adulthood.

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When we read fi ction, our sense of who is telling us the story is as important as what happens. Unlike drama, in which events are acted out in front of us, fi ction is always mediated or represented to us by someone else, a narrator. Often a reader is very aware of the voice of a narrator telling the story, as if the words are being spoken aloud. Commonly, stories also reveal a distinct angle of vision or perspective from which the characters, events, and other aspects are viewed. Just as the verbal quality of narration is called the voice, the visual angle is called the focus. Focus acts much as a camera does, choosing the direction of our gaze, the framework in which we see things. Both voice and focus are generally considered together in the term point of view. To understand how a story is narrated, you need to recognize both voice and focus. These in turn shape what we know and care about as the plot unfolds, and they determine how close we feel to each character.

A story is said to be from a character’s point of view, or a character is said to be a focal or focalizing character, if for the most part the action centers on that char- acter, as if we see with that character’s eyes or we watch that character closely. But the effects of narration certainly involve more than attaching a video camera to a character’s head or tracking wherever the character moves. What about the spo- ken and unspoken words? In some stories, the narrator is a character, and we may feel as if we are overhearing his or her thoughts, whereas in other stories the nar- rator takes a very distant or critical view of the characters. At times a narrator seems more like a disembodied, unidentifi ed voice. Prose fi ction has many ways to convey speech and thought, so it is important to consider voice as well as focus when we try to understand the narration of a story.

Besides focus and voice, point of view encompasses more general matters of value. A story’s narrator may explicitly endorse or subtly support what ever a certain character values, knows, or seeks, even when the character is absent or silent or unaware. Other narrators may treat characters and their interests with far more detachment. At the same time, the style and tone of the narrator’s voice— from echoing the characters’ feelings to mocking their pretentious speech or thoughts to stating their actions in formal diction— may convey clues that a character or a nar- rator’s perspective is limited. Such discrepancies or gaps between vision and voice, intentions and understandings, or expectations and outcomes generate irony.

Sometimes the point of view shifts over the course of a narrative. Or the style of narration itself may even change dramatically from one section to another. Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula (1897), for example, is variously narrated through charac- ters’ journals and letters, as well as newspaper articles.

The point of view varies according to the narrator’s position in the story and the grammatical person (for example, fi rst or third) the narrative voice assumes.

NARRATION AND POINT OF VIEW2

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These elements determine who is telling the story, whom it is about, and what information the reader has access to.

TYPES OF NARRATION

Third- Person Narration

A third- person narrator tells an unidentifi ed listener or reader what happened, referring to all characters using the pronouns he, she, or they. Third- person narra- tion is virtually always external, meaning that the narrator is not a character in the story and does not participate in its action. Even so, different types of third- person narration— omniscient, limited, and objective— provide the reader with various amounts and kinds of information about the characters.

An omniscient or unlimited narrator has access to the thoughts, perceptions, and experiences of more than one character (often of several), though such narra- tors usually focus selectively on a few important characters. A limited narrator is an external, third- person narrator who tells the story from a distinct point of view, usually that of a single character, revealing that character’s thoughts and relating the action from his or her perspective. This focal character is also known as a central consciousness. Sometimes a limited narrator will reveal the thoughts and feelings of a small number of the characters in order to enhance the story told about the central consciousness. (Jane Austen’s novel Emma [1815] includes a few episodes from Mr. Knightley’s point of view to show what he thinks about Emma Wood house, the focal character, and her relationships.) Finally, an objective narra- tor does not explicitly report the characters’ thoughts and feelings but may obliquely suggest them through the characters’ speech and actions. Stories with objective narrators consist mostly of dialogue interspersed with minimal description.

First- Person Narration

Instead of using third- person narration, an author might choose to tell a story from the point of view of a fi rst- person narrator. Most common is fi rst- person sin- gular narration, in which the narrator uses the pronoun I. The narrator may be a major or minor character within the story and therefore is an internal narrator. Notice that the fi rst- person narrator may be telling a story mainly about someone else or about his or her own experience. Sometimes the fi rst- person narrator addresses an auditor, a listener within the fi ction whose possible reaction is part of the story.

One kind of narrator that is especially effective at producing irony is the unreli- able narrator. First- person narrators may unintentionally reveal their fl aws as they try to impress. Or narrators may make claims that other characters or the audience know to be false or distorted. Some fi ctions are narrated by villains, insane people, fools, liars, or hypocrites. When we resist a narrator’s point of view and judge his or her fl aws or misperceptions, we call that narrator unreliable. This does not mean that you should dismiss everything such a narrator says, but you should be on the alert for ironies.

Less common is the fi rst- person plural, where the narrator uses the pronoun we. The plural may be used effectively to express the shared perspective of a community, particularly one that is isolated, unusually close- knit, or highly regulated. Eliza- beth Gaskell’s classic short novel Cranford (1853) is a good example. The narrator

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is a young woman who visits a community of genteel widows and spinsters in the En glish village of Cranford and describes their customs. At one point, a visitor arrives, Lady Glenmire, and all of Cranford society is in awe of her aristocratic rank and title. At an eve ning party, “We were all very silent at fi rst. We were think- ing what we could talk about, that should be high enough to interest My Lady. There had been a rise in the price of sugar, which, as preserving- time was near, was a piece of intelligence to all our house keeping hearts, and would have been the natural topic if Lady Glenmire had not been by. But we were not sure if the Peerage ate preserves” (that is, whether aristocrats ate fruit jam). The high price of sugar doesn’t seem “high enough” in another sense for a high- ranked guest to talk about.

The narrator of Cranford does refer to herself as “I” and sometimes addresses the reader as “you.” The narrative perspective and voice is rather similar in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (2005), a novel that also portrays an isolated group that follows regulated customs. At a boarding school, a student, Polly, suddenly ques- tions one of the rules: “We all went silent. Miss Lucy [the teacher] didn’t often get cross, but when she did, you certainly knew about it, and we thought for a second Polly was for it [would be punished]. But then we saw Miss Lucy wasn’t angry, just deep in thought. I remember feeling furious at Polly for so stupidly breaking the unwritten rule, but at the same time, being terribly excited about what answer Miss Lucy might give” (emphasis added). Ishiguro’s narrator, like Gaskell’s, resorts to different narrative perspectives and voices to represent the experience of both a community and an individual in it.

Second- Person Narration

Like narrators who refer to themselves as “we” throughout a work of fi ction, second- person narrators who consistently speak to you are unusual. This technique has the effect of turning the reader into a character in the story. Jay McInerney, for example, in his novel Bright Lights, Big City (1984) employs the second- person voice, creating an effect similar to conversational anecdotes. But second- person narratives can instead sound much like instructional manuals or “how- to” books or like parents or other elders speaking to children.

TENSE

Along with the grammatical “person,” the verb tense used has an effect on the narration of a story. Since narrative is so wrapped up in memory, most stories rely on the past tense. In contemporary fi ction, however, the present tense is also fre- quently used. The present tense can lend an impression of immediacy, of frequent repetition, or of a dreamlike or magical state in which time seems suspended. An author might also use the present tense to create a conversational tone. Rarely, for a strange prophetic outlook, a narrator may even use the future tense, predicting what will happen.

NARRATOR VERSUS IMPLIED AUTHOR

As you discover how a story is being narrated, by whom, and from what point of view, how should you respond to the shifting points of view, tones of voice, and hints of critical distance or irony toward characters? Who is really shaping the story, and how do you know what is intended? Readers may answer the question

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NARRATION AND POINT OF VIEW 177

“Who is telling this story?” with the name of the author. It is more accurate and practical, however, to distinguish between the narrator who presents the story and the fl esh- and- blood author who wrote it, even when the two are hard to tell apart. If you are writing an essay about a short story, you do not need to research the biography of the author or fi nd letters or interviews in which the author comments on the writing pro cess or the intended themes of the work. This sort of biographi- cal information may enrich your study of the story (it can be a good critical approach), but it is not necessary to an understanding of the text. And yet if you only consider the narrator when you interpret a story, you may fi nd it diffi cult to account for the effects of distance and irony that come from a narrator’s or a char- acter’s limitations. Many critics rely on the concept of the implied author, not to be confused with either the fl esh- and- blood person who wrote the work or the narrator who relates the words to us. Most of the time, when we ask questions about the “author” of a work, we are asking about its implied author, the perspec- tive and values that govern the whole work, including the narrator.

Why not ignore the idea of the narrator or the implied author? What’s wrong with writing an essay about Great Expectations (1860– 61) in which you refer only to the author, Charles Dickens? After all, his name is on the title page, and we know that Pip’s coming- of- age story has some autobiographical aspects. Yet from the fi rst sentence of the novel it is clear that someone besides Charles Dickens is telling the story: Pip, the fi rst- person narrator. “My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.” The reader sympathizes with Pip, the focal character- narrator, as an abused child, but he is also fl awed and makes mistakes, as Pip himself realizes when he has grown up and tells the story of his own life. The reader understands Pip’s errors through the subtle guidance of the implied author who created the narrator and shaped the plot and other characters. How useful or accurate would it be to attribute Pip’s character and experience to the real Charles Dickens? The facts of the fl esh- and- blood author’s life and his actual personality differ widely from the novel’s character, which in turn may differ from what Charles Dickens himself consciously intended. Hence the value of referring to a narrator and an implied author of a work of fi ction. In critical essays, these concepts help us discover what even the most detailed biography might never pin down: Who in fact was Charles Dickens, and what did he actually intend in Great Expectations?

Reading a story, we know that it consists of words on a page, but we imagine the narrator speaking to us, giving shape, focus, and voice to a par tic u lar history. At the same time, we recognize that the reader should not take the narrator’s words as absolute truth, but rather as effects shaped by an implied author. The concept of the implied author helps keep the particulars of the real author’s (natu- rally imperfect) personality and life out of the picture. But it also reminds us to distinguish between the act of writing the work and the imaginary utterance of “telling” the story: The narrator is neither the real nor the implied author.

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• • •

Because our responses to a work of fi ction are largely guided by the designs and values implied in a certain way of telling the story, questions about narration and point of view can often lead to good essay topics. You might start by considering any other choices the implied author might have made and how these would change your reading of the story. As you read the stories in this chapter, imagine different voices and visions, different narrative techniques, in order to assess the specifi c effects of the par tic u lar types of narration and point of view. How would each story’s meaning and effects change if its narrative voice or focus were differ- ent? Can you show the reader of your essay how the specifi c narration and point of view of a story contribute to its signifi cant effects?

EDGAR ALLAN POE (1809– 49) The Cask of Amontillado

Orphaned before he was three, Edgar Poe was adopted by John Allan, a wealthy Richmond busi- nessman. Poe received his early schooling in Rich- mond and in En gland before a brief, unsuccessful stint at the University of Virginia. After serving for two years in the army, he was appointed to West

Point in 1830 but expelled within the year for cutting classes. Living in Baltimore with his grandmother, aunt, and cousin Virginia (whom he married in 1835, when she was thirteen), Poe eked out a precarious living as an editor; his keen- edged reviews earned him numerous literary enemies. His two- volume Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque received little critical attention when published in 1839, but his poem “The Raven”

Questions about Narration and Point of View

• Does the narrator speak in the fi rst, second, or third person? • Is the story narrated in the past or present tense? Does the verb tense affect

your reading of it in any way? • Does the narrator use a distinctive vocabulary, style, and tone, or is the lan-

guage more standard and neutral? • Is the narrator identifi ed as a character, and if so, how much does he or she

participate in the action? • Does the narrator ever seem to speak to the reader directly (addressing “you”)

or explicitly state opinions or values? • Do you know what every character is thinking, or only some characters, or

none? • Does the narrative voice or focus shift during the story or remain

consistent? • Do the narrator, the characters, and the reader all perceive matters in the

same way, or are there differences in levels of understanding?

178 CH. 2 | NARRATION AND POINT OF VIEW

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EDGAR ALLAN POE The Cask of Amontillado 179

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(1845) made him a literary celebrity. After his wife’s death of tuberculosis in 1847, Poe, already an alcoholic, became increasingly erratic; two years later he died mysteriously in Baltimore.

The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point defi nitively settled— but the very defi nitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribu- tion overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.

It must be understood that neither by word nor deed had I given Fortunato cause to doubt my good will. I continued, as was my wont, to smile in his face, and he did not perceive that my smile now was at the thought of his immolation.

He had a weak point— this Fortunato— although in other regards he was a man to be respected and even feared. He prided himself upon his connoisseur- ship in wine. Few Italians have the true virtuoso spirit. For the most part their enthusiasm is adopted to suit the time and opportunity, to practice imposture upon the British and Austrian millionaires. In painting and gemmary, Fortu- nato, like his countrymen, was a quack, but in the matter of old wines he was sincere. In this respect I did not differ from him materially;— I was skilful in the Italian vintages myself, and bought largely whenever I could.

It was about dusk, one eve ning during the supreme madness of the carnival season, that I encountered my friend. He accosted me with excessive warmth, for he had been drinking much. The man wore motley. He had on a tight- fi tting parti- striped dress,1 and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells. I was so pleased to see him that I should never have done wringing his hand.

I said to him—“My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met. How remarkably well you are looking to- day. But I have received a pipe2 of what passes for Amon- tillado, and I have my doubts.”

“How?” said he. “Amontillado? A pipe? Impossible! And in the middle of the carnival!”

“I have my doubts,” I replied; “and I was silly enough to pay the full Amontil- lado price without consulting you in the matter. You were not to be found, and I was fearful of losing a bargain.”

“Amontillado!” “I have my doubts.” “Amontillado!” “And I must satisfy them.” “Amontillado!”

1. Fortunato wears a jester’s costume (i.e., motley), not a woman’s dress. 2. Large cask.

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“As you are engaged, I am on my way to Luchresi. If any one has a critical turn it is he. He will tell me——”

“Luchresi cannot tell Amontillado from Sherry.” “And yet some fools will have it that his taste is a match for your own.” “Come, let us go.” “Whither?” “To your vaults.” “My friend, no; I will not impose upon your good nature. I perceive you have

an engagement. Luchresi——” “I have no engagement;— come.” “My friend, no. It is not the engagement, but the severe cold with which I

perceive you are affl icted. The vaults are insufferably damp. They are encrusted with nitre.”3

“Let us go, nevertheless. The cold is merely nothing. Amontillado! You have been imposed upon. And as for Luchresi, he cannot distinguish Sherry from Amontillado.”

Thus speaking, Fortunato possessed himself of my arm; and putting on a mask of black silk and drawing a roquelaire4 closely about my person, I suffered him to hurry me to my palazzo.

There were no attendants at home; they had absconded to make merry in honour of the time. I had told them that I should not return until the morning, and had given them explicit orders not to stir from the house. These orders were suffi cient, I well knew, to insure their immediate disappearance, one and all, as soon as my back was turned.

I took from their sconces two fl ambeaux,5 and giving one to Fortunato, bowed him through several suites of rooms to the archway that led into the vaults. I passed down a long and winding staircase, requesting him to be cau- tious as he followed. We came at length to the foot of the descent, and stood together upon the damp ground of the catacombs of the Montresors.

The gait of my friend was unsteady, and the bells upon his cap jingled as he strode.

“The pipe,” said he. “It is farther on,” said I; “but observe the white web- work which gleams from

these cavern walls.” He turned towards me, and looked into my eyes with two fi lmy orbs that

distilled the rheum of intoxication. “Nitre?” he asked, at length. “Nitre,” I replied. “How long have you had that cough?” “Ugh! ugh! ugh!— ugh! ugh! ugh!— ugh! ugh! ugh!— ugh! ugh! ugh!— ugh!

ugh! ugh!” My poor friend found it impossible to reply for many minutes. “It is nothing,” he said, at last.

3. Potassium nitrate (saltpeter), a white mineral often found on the walls of damp caves and used in gunpowder. 4. Man’s heavy, knee- length cloak. 5. That is, two torches from their wall brackets.

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EDGAR ALLAN POE The Cask of Amontillado 181

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“Come,” I said, with decision, “we will go back; your health is precious. You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as once I was. You are a man to be missed. For me it is no matter. We will go back; you will be ill, and I cannot be responsible. Besides, there is Luchresi——”

“Enough,” he said; “the cough is a mere nothing; it will not kill me. I shall not die of a cough.”

“True—true,” I replied; “and, indeed, I had no intention of alarming you unnecessarily— but you should use all proper caution. A draught of this Medoc6 will defend us from the damps.”

Here I knocked off the neck of a bottle which I drew from a long row of its fellows that lay upon the mould.

“Drink,” I said, presenting him the wine. He raised it to his lips with a leer. He paused and nodded to me familiarly,

while his bells jingled. “I drink,” he said, “to the buried that repose around us.” “And I to your long life.” He again took my arm, and we proceeded. “These vaults,” he said, “are extensive.” “The Montresors,” I replied, “were a great and numerous family.” “I forget your arms.” “A huge human foot d’or,7 in a fi eld azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant

whose fangs are imbedded in the heel.” “And the motto?” “Nemo me impune lacessit.” 8

“Good!” he said. The wine sparkled in his eyes and the bells jingled. My own fancy grew

warm with the Medoc. We had passed through long walls of piled skeletons, with casks and puncheons9 intermingling, into the inmost recesses of the cata- combs. I paused again, and this time I made bold to seize Fortunato by an arm above the elbow.

“The nitre!” I said; “see, it increases. It hangs like moss upon the vaults. We are below the river’s bed. The drops of moisture trickle among the bones. Come, we will go back ere it is too late. Your cough——”

“It is nothing,” he said; “let us go on. But fi rst, another draught of the Medoc.” I broke and reached him a fl açon of De Grâve. He emptied it at a breath. His

eyes fl ashed with a fi erce light. He laughed and threw the bottle upwards with a gesticulation I did not understand.

I looked at him in surprise. He repeated the movement— a grotesque one. “You do not comprehend?” he said. “Not I,” I replied. “Then you are not of the brotherhood.” “How?”

6. Like De Grâve (below), a French wine. 7. Of gold. 8. No one provokes me with impunity (Latin). 9. Large casks.

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“You are not of the masons.”1

“Yes, yes,” I said; “yes, yes.” “You? Impossible! A mason?” “A mason,” I replied. “A sign,” he said, “a sign.” “It is this,” I answered, producing from beneath the folds of my roquelaire a

trowel. “You jest,” he exclaimed, recoiling a few paces. “But let us proceed to the

Amontillado.” “Be it so,” I said, replacing the tool beneath the cloak and again offering him

my arm. He leaned upon it heavily. We continued our route in search of the Amontillado. We passed through a range of low arches, descended, passed on, and descending again, arrived at a deep crypt, in which the foulness of the air caused our fl ambeaux rather to glow than fl ame.

At the most remote end of the crypt there appeared another less spacious. Its walls had been lined with human remains, piled to the vault overhead, in the fashion of the great catacombs of Paris. Three sides of this interior crypt were still ornamented in this manner. From the fourth side the bones had been thrown down, and lay promiscuously upon the earth, forming at one point a mound of some size. Within the wall thus exposed by the displacing of the bones, we perceived a still interior crypt or recess, in depth about four feet, in width three, in height six or seven. It seemed to have been constructed for no especial use within itself, but formed merely the interval between two of the colossal supports of the roof of the catacombs, and was backed by one of their circumscribing walls of solid granite.

It was in vain that Fortunato, uplifting his dull torch, endeavoured to pry into the depth of the recess. Its termination the feeble light did not enable us to see.

“Proceed,” I said; “herein is the Amontillado. As for Luchresi——” “He is an ignoramus,” interrupted my friend, as he stepped unsteadily for-

ward, while I followed immediately at his heels. In an instant he had reached the extremity of the niche, and fi nding his progress arrested by the rock, stood stupidly bewildered. A moment more and I had fettered him to the granite. In its surface were two iron staples, distant from each other about two feet, hori- zontally. From one of these depended a short chain, from the other a padlock. Throwing the links about his waist, it was but the work of a few seconds to secure it. He was too much astounded to resist. Withdrawing the key I stepped back from the recess.

“Pass your hand,” I said, “over the wall; you cannot help feeling the nitre. Indeed, it is very damp. Once more let me implore you to return. No? Then I must positively leave you. But I will fi rst render you all the little attentions in my power.”

“The Amontillado!” ejaculated my friend, not yet recovered from his astonishment.

1. Masons or Freemasons, an international secret society condemned by the Catholic Church. Mon- tresor means by mason one who builds with stone, brick, etc.

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EDGAR ALLAN POE The Cask of Amontillado 183

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“True,” I replied; “the Amontillado.” As I said these words I busied myself among the pile of bones of which I have

before spoken. Throwing them aside, I soon uncovered a quantity of building stone and mortar. With these materials and with the aid of my trowel, I began vigorously to wall up the entrance of the niche.

I had scarcely laid the fi rst tier of the masonry when I discovered that the intoxication of Fortunato had in great mea sure worn off. The earliest indica- tion I had of this was a low moaning cry from the depth of the recess. It was not the cry of a drunken man. There was then a long and obstinate silence. I laid the second tier, and the third, and the fourth; and then I heard the furious vibration of the chain. The noise lasted for several minutes, during which, that I might hearken to it with the more satisfaction, I ceased my labours and sat down upon the bones. When at last the clanking subsided, I resumed the trowel, and fi nished without interruption the fi fth, the sixth, and the seventh tier. The wall was now nearly upon a level with my breast. I again paused, and holding the fl ambeaux over the mason- work, threw a few feeble rays upon the fi gure within.

A succession of loud and shrill screams, bursting suddenly from the throat of the chained form, seemed to thrust me violently back. For a brief moment I hesitated, I trembled. Unsheathing my rapier, I began to grope with it about the recess; but the thought of an instant reassured me. I placed my hand upon the solid fabric of the catacombs and felt satisfi ed. I reapproached the wall. I replied to the yells of him who clamoured. I re- echoed, I aided, I surpassed them in volume and in strength. I did this, and the clamourer grew still.

It was now midnight, and my task was drawing to a close. I had completed the eighth, the ninth and the tenth tier. I had fi nished a portion of the last and the eleventh; there remained but a single stone to be fi tted and plastered in. I struggled with its weight; I placed it partially in its destined position. But now there came from out the niche a low laugh that erected the hairs upon my head. It was succeeded by a sad voice, which I had diffi culty in recognizing as that of the noble Fortunato. The voice said—

“Ha! ha! ha!— he! he! he!— a very good joke, indeed— an excellent jest. We will have many a rich laugh about it at the palazzo— he! he! he!— over our wine— he! he! he!”

“The Amontillado!” I said. “He! he! he!— he! he! he!— yes, the Amontillado. But is it not getting late?

Will not they be awaiting us at the palazzo— the Lady Fortunato and the rest? Let us be gone.”

“Yes,” I said, “let us be gone.” “For the love of God, Montresor!” “Yes,” I said, “for the love of God!” But to these words I hearkened in vain for a reply. I grew impatient. I called

aloud— “Fortunato!” No answer. I called again— “Fortunato!” No answer still. I thrust a torch through the remaining aperture and let it fall

within. There came forth in return only a jingling of the bells. My heart grew

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sick; it was the dampness of the catacombs that made it so. I hastened to make an end of my labour. I forced the last stone into its position; I plastered it up. Against the new masonry I re- erected the old rampart of bones. For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them. In pace requiescat!2

1846

QUESTIONS

1. What can the reader infer about Montresor’s social position and character from hints in the text? What evidence does the text provide that Montresor is an unreli- able narrator?

2. Who is the auditor, the “You,” addressed in the fi rst paragraph of The Cask of Amontillado? When is the story being told? Why is it being told? How does your knowledge of the auditor and the occasion infl uence the effect the story has on you?

3. What devices does Poe use to create and heighten the suspense in the story? Is the outcome ever in doubt?

JAMAICA KINCAID (b. 1949) Girl

Raised in poverty by her homemaker mother and car- penter stepfather on the small Ca rib be an island of Antigua, Elaine Potter Richardson was sent to the United States to earn her own living at age seven- teen, much like the protagonists of her fi rst novels, Annie John (1983) and Lucy (1990). Working as an au

pair and receptionist, she earned her high- school equivalency degree and studied pho- tography at the New School for Social Research in New York and, briefl y, Franconia College in New Hampshire. Returning to New York, she took the name of a character in a George Bernard Shaw play, at least in part out of resentment toward her mother, with whom she had once been very close. After a short stint as a freelance journalist, Kincaid worked as a regular contributor to the New Yorker from 1976 until 1995, in 1979 marry- ing its editor’s son, composer Allen Shawn, with whom she would eventually move to Bennington, Vermont and raise two children. “Girl,” her fi rst published story, appeared in the New Yorker in 1978 and was later republished in her fi rst collection, At the Bottom of the River (1983). Subsequent novels include The Autobiography of My Mother (1996), paradoxically the least autobiographical of her books; Mr. Potter (2002), a fi ctionalized account of her efforts to understand the biological father she never knew; and See Now Then (2013). Kincaid’s equally impressive nonfi ction includes My Brother (1997), a mem- oir inspired by her youn gest brother’s death from AIDS, and A Small Place (1988), an essay exploring the profound economic and psychological impact of Antigua’s depen- dence on tourism. Divorced in 2002, Kincaid is currently Professor of African and Afri- can American Studies in Residence at Harvard.

2. May he rest in peace (Latin).

184 CH. 2 | NARRATION AND POINT OF VIEW

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JAMAICA KINCAID Girl 185

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Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap; wash the color clothes on Tuesday and put them on the clothesline to dry; don’t walk barehead in the hot sun; cook pumpkin fritters in very hot sweet oil; soak your little cloths right after you take them off; when buying cotton to make yourself a nice blouse, be sure that it doesn’t have gum on it, because that way it won’t hold up well after a wash; soak salt fi sh overnight before you cook it; is it true that you sing benna1 in Sunday school?; always eat your food in such a way that it won’t turn someone else’s stomach; on Sundays try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming; don’t sing benna in Sunday school; you mustn’t speak to wharf- rat boys, not even to give direc- tions; don’t eat fruits on the street— fl ies will follow you; but I don’t sing benna on Sundays at all and never in Sunday school; this is how to sew on a button; this is how to make a buttonhole for the button you have just sewed on; this is how to hem a dress when you see the hem coming down and so to prevent yourself from looking like the slut I know you are so bent on becoming; this is how you iron your father’s khaki shirt so that it doesn’t have a crease; this is how you iron your father’s khaki pants so that they don’t have a crease; this is how you grow okra— far from the house, because okra tree harbors red ants; when you are growing dasheen, make sure it gets plenty of water or else it makes your throat itch when you are eating it; this is how you sweep a corner; this is how you sweep a whole house; this is how you sweep a yard; this is how you smile to someone you don’t like too much; this is how you smile to someone you don’t like at all; this is how you smile to someone you like completely; this is how you set a table for tea; this is how you set a table for dinner; this is how you set a table for dinner with an important guest; this is how you set a table for lunch; this is how you set a table for breakfast; this is how to behave in the presence of men who don’t know you very well, and this way they won’t recognize imme- diately the slut I have warned you against becoming; be sure to wash every day, even if it is with your own spit; don’t squat down to play marbles— you are not a boy, you know; don’t pick people’s fl owers— you might catch something; don’t throw stones at blackbirds, because it might not be a blackbird at all; this is how to make a bread pudding; this is how to make doukona;2 this is how to make pepper pot; this is how to make a good medicine for a cold; this is how to make a good medicine to throw away a child before it even becomes a child; this is how to catch a fi sh; this is how to throw back a fi sh you don’t like, and that way something bad won’t fall on you; this is how to bully a man; this is how a man bullies you; this is how to love a man, and if this doesn’t work there are other ways, and if they don’t work don’t feel too bad about giving up; this is how to spit up in the air if you feel like it, and this is how to move quick so that it doesn’t fall on you; this is how to make ends meet; always squeeze bread to make sure it’s fresh; but what if the baker won’t let me feel the bread?; you mean to say that after all you are really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won’t let near the bread?

1983

1. Ca rib be an folk- music style. 2. Spicy pudding, often made from plantain and wrapped in a plantain or banana leaf.

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QUESTIONS

1. Describe the focus, or focalization, in Girl. Do we see what one person sees or observe one person in par tic u lar? Describe the voice of the narrator in Girl. Who is the “you”? How do the focus and voice contribute to the reader’s response to the story?

2. Look closely at the indications of time in the story. What actions take place at cer- tain times? Does any event or action happen only once? Is there a plot in Girl? If so, how would you summarize it?

3. The instructions in Girl have different qualities, as if they come from different people or have different purposes. Why are two phrases in italics? Can you pick out the phrases that are more positive from the girl’s point of view? Are there some that seem humorous or ironic?

GEORGE SAUNDERS (b. 1958)

Puppy

When he described early- twentieth- century Ameri- can novelist Thomas Wolfe as “broken- hearted [. . .] emotional, and in love with the world,” George Saunders might have been talking about himself. A MacArthur “genius grant” recipient, Saunders is often compared to Kurt Vonnegut for his extraordinary

ability to capture life’s tragedy while simultaneously making readers laugh. Saunders’ fi ction includes intricately plotted social satires set in bizarre worlds. The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil (2005), for instance, takes place in Inner and Outer Horner, the former a place “so small that only one Inner Hornerite at a time could fi t inside.” For all its fantastical, humorous elements, however, his work often concerns a very down- to- earth issue: compassion and the lack thereof.

Born in Amarillo, Texas, Saunders recalls that his fi rst story, written when he was in third grade, depicted “a third- grade kid [. . .] who, in the face of an extreme manpower shortage, gets drafted by the Marines and goes to fi ght in WWII.” Despite such precocious beginnings, Saunders took a circuitous path to his career as a writer, earning a degree in geophysical engineering from the Colorado School of Mines (1981) and working as every- thing from a slaughter house knuckle- puller in Texas to an oil- exploration crewman in Sumatra before entering the creative-writing program at Syracuse University (MA, 1988), where he now teaches. This diverse experience informs the short stories, novellas, and essays collected in Civil Warland in Bad Decline (1996), Pastoralia (2000), In Persuasion Nation (2006), The Braindead Megaphone (2007) and Tenth of December (2013).

Twice already Marie had pointed out the brilliance of the autumnal sun on the perfect fi eld of corn, because the brilliance of the autumnal sun on the perfect fi eld of corn put her in mind of a haunted house— not a haunted house she had ever actually seen but the mythical one that sometimes appeared in

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GEORGE SAUNDERS Puppy 187

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her mind (with adjacent graveyard and cat on a fence) whenever she saw the brilliance of the autumnal sun on the perfect etc. etc., and she wanted to make sure that, if the kids had a corresponding mythical haunted house that appeared in their minds whenever they saw the brilliance of the etc. etc., it would come up now, so that they could all experience it together, like friends, like college friends on a road trip, sans pot, ha ha ha!

But no. When she, a third time, said, “Wow, guys, check that out,” Abbie said, “O.K., Mom, we get it, it’s corn,” and Josh said, “Not now, Mom, I’m Leavening my Loaves,” which was fi ne with her; she had no problem with that, Noble Baker being preferable to Bra Stuffer, the game he’d asked for.

Well, who could say? Maybe they didn’t even have any mythical vignettes in their heads. Or maybe the mythical vignettes they had in their heads were totally different from the ones she had in her head. Which was the beauty of it, because, after all, they were their own little people! You were just a caretaker. They didn’t have to feel what you felt; they just had to be supported in feeling what they felt.

Still, wow, that cornfi eld was such a classic. “Whenever I see a fi eld like that, guys?” she said. “I somehow think of a

haunted house!” “Slicing Knife! Slicing Knife!” Josh shouted. “You nimrod machine! I chose

that!” Speaking of Halloween, she remembered last year, when their cornstalk col-

umn had tipped their shopping cart over. Gosh, how they’d laughed at that! Oh, family laughter was golden; she’d had none of that in her childhood, Dad being so dour and Mom so ashamed. If Mom and Dad’s cart had tipped, Dad would have given the cart a despairing kick and Mom would have stridden purposefully away to reapply her lipstick, distancing herself from Dad, while she, Marie, would have ner vous ly taken that horrid plastic Army man she’d named Brady into her mouth.

Well, in this family laughter was encouraged! Last night, when Josh had goosed her with his GameBoy, she’d shot a spray of toothpaste across the mirror and they’d all cracked up, rolling around on the fl oor with Goochie, and Josh had said, such nostalgia in his voice, “Mom, remember when Goochie was a puppy?” Which was when Abbie had burst into tears, because, being only fi ve, she had no memory of Goochie as a puppy.

Hence this Family Mission. And as far as Robert? Oh, God bless Robert! There was a man. He would have no problem whatsoever with this Family Mis- sion. She loved the way he had of saying “Ho HO!” whenever she brought home something new and unexpected.

“Ho HO!” Robert had said, coming home to fi nd the iguana. “Ho HO!” he had said, coming home to fi nd the ferret trying to get into the iguana cage. “We appear to be the happy operators of a menagerie!”

She loved him for his playfulness— you could bring home a hippo you’d put on a credit card (both the ferret and the iguana had gone on credit cards) and he’d just say “Ho HO!” and ask what the creature ate and what hours it slept and what the heck they were going to name the little bugger.

In the back seat, Josh made the git- git- git sound he always made when his Baker was in Baking Mode, trying to get his Loaves into the oven while fi ghting off various Hungry Denizens, such as a Fox with a distended stomach; such as

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a fey Robin that would improbably carry the Loaf away, speared on its beak, whenever it had succeeded in dropping a Clonking Rock on your Baker— all of which Marie had learned over the summer by studying the Noble Baker manual while Josh was asleep.

And it had helped, it really had. Josh was less withdrawn lately, and when she came up behind him now while he was playing and said, like, “Wow, honey, I didn’t know you could do Pumpernickel,” or “Sweetie, try Serrated Blade, it cuts quicker. Try it while doing Latch the Window,” he would reach back with his non- controlling hand and swat at her affectionately, and yesterday they’d shared a good laugh when he’d accidentally knocked off her glasses.

So her mother could go right ahead and claim that she was spoiling the kids. These were not spoiled kids. These were well- loved kids. At least she’d never left one of them standing in a blizzard for two hours after a junior- high dance. At least she’d never drunkenly snapped at one of them, “I hardly consider you college material.” At least she’d never locked one of them in a closet (a closet!) while entertaining a literal ditchdigger in the parlor.

Oh, God, what a beautiful world! The autumn colors, that glinting river, that lead- colored cloud pointing down like a rounded arrow at that half- remodelled McDonald’s standing above I-90 like a castle.

This time would be different, she was sure of it. The kids would care for this pet themselves, since a puppy wasn’t scaly and didn’t bite. (“Ho HO!” Robert had said the fi rst time the iguana bit him. “I see you have an opinion on the matter!”)

Thank you, Lord, she thought, as the Lexus fl ew through the cornfi eld. You have given me so much: struggles and the strength to overcome them; grace, and new chances every day to spread that grace around. And in her mind she sang out, as she sometimes did when feeling that the world was good and she had at last found her place in it, “Ho HO, ho HO!”

Callie pulled back the blind. Yes. Awesome. It was still solved so perfect. There was plenty for him to do back there. A yard could be a whole world,

like her yard when she was a kid had been a whole world. From the three holes in her wood fence she’d been able to see Exxon (Hole One) and Accident Cor- ner (Hole Two), and Hole Three was actually two holes that if you lined them up right your eyes would do this weird crossing thing and you could play Oh My God I Am So High by staggering away with your eyes crossed, going “Peace, man, peace.”

When Bo got older, it would be different. Then he’d need his freedom. But now he just needed not to get killed. Once they found him way over on Testament. And that was across I-90. How had he crossed I-90? She knew how. Darted. That’s how he crossed streets. Once a total stranger called them from Hightown Plaza. Even Dr. Brile had said it: “Callie, this boy is going to end up dead if you don’t get this under control. Is he taking the medication?”

Well, sometimes he was and sometimes he wasn’t. The meds made him grind his teeth and his fi st would suddenly pound down. He’d broken plates that way, and once a glass tabletop and got four stitches in his wrist.

Today he didn’t need the medication because he was safe in the yard, because she’d fi xed it so perfect.

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GEORGE SAUNDERS Puppy 189

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He was out there practicing pitching by fi lling his Yankees helmet with peb- bles and winging them at the tree.

He looked up and saw her and did the thing where he blew a kiss. Sweet little man. Now all she had to worry about was the pup. She hoped the lady who’d

called would actually show up. It was a nice pup. White, with brown around one eye. Cute. If the lady showed up, she’d defi nitely want it. And if she took it Jimmy was off the hook. He’d hated doing it that time with the kittens. But if no one took the pup he’d do it. He’d have to. Because his feeling was, when you said you were going to do a thing and didn’t do it, that was how kids got into drugs. Plus, he’d been raised on a farm, or near a farm anyways, and anybody raised on a farm knew that you had to do what you had to do in terms of sick animals or extra animals— the pup being not sick, just extra.

That time with the kittens, Jessi and Mollie had called him a murderer, get- ting Bo all worked up, and Jimmy had yelled, “Look, you kids, I was raised on a farm and you got to do what you got to do!” Then he’d cried in bed, saying how the kittens had mewed in the bag all the way to the pond, and how he wished he’d never been raised on a farm, and she’d almost said, “You mean near a farm” (his dad had run a car wash outside Cortland1), but sometimes when she got too smart- assed he would do this hard pinching thing on her arm while waltzing her around the bedroom, as if the place where he was pinching were like her han- dle, going, “I’m not sure I totally heard what you just said to me.”

So, that time after the kittens, she’d only said, “Oh, honey, you did what you had to do.”

And he’d said, “I guess I did, but it’s sure not easy raising kids the right way.” And then, because she hadn’t made his life harder by being a smart- ass, they

had lain there making plans, like why not sell this place and move to Arizona and buy a car wash, why not buy the kids “Hooked on Phonics,” why not plant tomatoes, and then they’d got to wrestling around and (she had no idea why she remembered this) he had done this thing of, while holding her close, bursting this sudden laugh/despair snort into her hair, like a sneeze, or like he was about to start crying.

Which had made her feel special, him trusting her with that. So what she would love, for to night? Was getting the pup sold, putting the

kids to bed early, and then, Jimmy seeing her as all or ga nized in terms of the pup, they could mess around and afterward lie there making plans, and he could do that laugh/snort thing in her hair again.

Why that laugh/snort meant so much to her she had no freaking idea. It was just one of the weird things about the Wonder That Was Her, ha ha ha.

Outside, Bo hopped to his feet, suddenly curious, because (here we go) the lady who’d called had just pulled up?

Yep, and in a nice car, too, which meant too bad she’d put “Cheap” in the ad.

Abbie squealed, “I love it, Mommy, I want it!,” as the puppy looked up dimly from its shoebox and the lady of the house went trudging away and one- two- three- four plucked up four dog turds from the rug.

1. City in upstate New York, between Binghamton and Syracuse.

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Well, now, what a super fi eld trip for the kids, Marie thought, ha ha (the fi lth, the mildew smell, the dry aquarium holding the single encyclopedia volume, the pasta pot on the bookshelf with an infl atable candy cane inexplicably sticking out of it), and although some might have been disgusted (by the spare tire on the dining- room table, by the way the glum mother dog, the presumed in- house pooper, was dragging its rear over the pile of clothing in the corner, in a sitting position, splay- legged, a moronic look of plea sure on her face), Marie realized (resisting the urge to rush to the sink and wash her hands, in part because the sink had a basketball in it) that what this really was was deeply sad.

Please do not touch anything, please do not touch, she said to Josh and Abbie, but just in her head, wanting to give the children a chance to observe her being demo cratic and accepting, and afterward they could all wash up at the half- remodelled McDonald’s, as long as they just please please kept their hands out of their mouths, and God forbid they should rub their eyes.

The phone rang, and the lady of the house plodded into the kitchen, placing the daintily held, paper- towel- wrapped turds on the counter.

“Mommy, I want it,” Abbie said. “I will defi nitely walk him like twice a day,” Josh said. “Don’t say ‘like,’ ” Marie said. “I will defi nitely walk him twice a day,” Josh said. O.K., then, all right, they would adopt a white- trash dog. Ha ha. They could

name it Zeke, buy it a little corncob pipe and a straw hat. She imagined the puppy, having crapped on the rug, looking up at her, going, Cain’t hep it. But no. Had she come from a perfect place? Everything was transmutable. She imagined the puppy grown up, entertaining some friends, speaking to them in a British accent: My family of origin was, um, rather not, shall we say, of the most respectable . . .

Ha ha, wow, the mind was amazing, always cranking out these— Marie stepped to the window and, anthropologically pulling the blind aside,

was shocked, so shocked that she dropped the blind and shook her head, as if trying to wake herself, shocked to see a young boy, just a few years younger than Josh, harnessed and chained to a tree, via some sort of doohickey by which— she pulled the blind back again, sure she could not have seen what she thought she had—

When the boy ran, the chain spooled out. He was running now, looking back at her, showing off. When he reached the end of the chain, it jerked and he dropped as if shot.

He rose to a sitting position, railed against the chain, whipped it back and forth, crawled to a bowl of water, and, lifting it to his lips, took a drink: a drink from a dog’s bowl.

Josh joined her at the window. She let him look. He should know that the world was not all lessons and iguanas and Nintendo. It was also this muddy simple boy tethered like an animal.

She remembered coming out of the closet to fi nd her mother’s scattered lin- gerie and the ditchdigger’s metal hanger full of orange fl ags. She remembered waiting outside the ju nior high in the bitter cold, the snow falling harder, as she counted over and over to two hundred, promising herself each time that when she reached two hundred she would begin the long walk back—

God, she would have killed for just one righ teous adult to confront her mother, shake her, and say, “You idiot, this is your child, your child you’re—”

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GEORGE SAUNDERS Puppy 191

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“So what were you guys thinking of naming him?” the woman said, coming out of the kitchen.

The cruelty and ignorance just radiated from her fat face, with its little smear of lipstick.

“I’m afraid we won’t be taking him after all,” Marie said coldly. Such an uproar from Abbie! But Josh— she would have to praise him later,

maybe buy him the Italian Loaves Expansion Pak— hissed something to Abbie, and then they were moving out through the trashed kitchen (past some kind of crankshaft on a cookie sheet, past a partial red pepper afl oat in a can of green paint) while the lady of the house scuttled after them, saying, wait, wait, they could have it for free, please take it— she really wanted them to have it.

No, Marie said, it would not be possible for them to take it at this time, her feeling being that one really shouldn’t possess something if one wasn’t up to properly caring for it.

“Oh,” the woman said, slumping in the doorway, the scrambling pup on one shoulder.

Out in the Lexus, Abbie began to cry softly, saying, “Really, that was the perfect pup for me.”

And it was a nice pup, but Marie was not going to contribute to a situation like this in even the smallest way.

Simply was not going to do it. The boy came to the fence. If only she could have said to him, with a single

look, Life will not necessarily always be like this. Your life could suddenly blossom into something wonderful. It can happen. It happened to me.

But secret looks, looks that conveyed a world of meaning with their subtle blah blah blah— that was all bullshit. What was not bullshit was a call to Child Welfare, where she knew Linda Berling, a very no- nonsense lady who would snatch this poor kid away so fast it would make that fat mother’s thick head spin.

Callie shouted, “Bo, back in a sec!,” and, swiping the corn out of the way with her non- pup arm, walked until there was nothing but corn and sky.

It was so small it didn’t move when she set it down, just sniffed and tumped over.

Well, what did it matter, drowned in a bag or starved in the corn? This way Jimmy wouldn’t have to do it. He had enough to worry about. The boy she’d fi rst met with hair to his waist was now this old man shrunk with worry. As far as the money, she had sixty hidden away. She’d give him twenty of that and go, “The people who bought the pup were super- nice.”

Don’t look back, don’t look back, she said in her head as she raced away through the corn.

Then she was walking along Teallback Road like a sportwalker, like some lady who walked every night to get slim, except that she was nowhere near slim, she knew that, and she also knew that when sportwalking you did not wear jeans and unlaced hiking boots. Ha ha! She wasn’t stupid. She just made bad choices. She remembered Sister Carol saying, “Callie, you are bright enough but you incline toward that which does not benefi t you.” Yep, well, Sister, you got that right, she said to the nun in her mind. But what the hell. What the heck. When things got easier moneywise, she’d get some decent tennis shoes and

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start walking and get slim. And start night school. Slimmer. Maybe medical technology. She was never going to be really slim. But Jimmy liked her the way she was, and she liked him the way he was, which maybe that’s what love was, liking someone how he was and doing things to help him get even better.

Like right now she was helping Jimmy by making his life easier by killing something so he— no. All she was doing was walking, walking away from—

Pushing the words killing puppy out of her head, she put in her head the words beautiful sunny day wow I’m loving this beautiful sunny day so much—

What had she just said? That had been good. Love was liking someone how he was and doing things to help him get better.

Like Bo wasn’t perfect, but she loved him how he was and tried to help him get better. If they could keep him safe, maybe he’d mellow out as he got older. If he mellowed out, maybe he could someday have a family. Like there he was now in the yard, sitting quietly, looking at fl owers. Tapping with his bat, happy enough. He looked up, waved the bat at her, gave her that smile. Yesterday he’d been stuck in the house, all miserable. He’d ended the day screaming in bed, so frustrated. Today he was looking at fl owers. Who was it that thought up that idea, the idea that had made today better than yesterday? Who loved him enough to think that up? Who loved him more than anyone else in the world loved him?

Her. She did.

2007

QUESTIONS

1. At what point in Puppy do you begin to realize that Saunders’s third- person narrator might be speaking like or using the voice of his two main characters— fi rst Marie, then Callie, and so on? How is your initial response and attitude to the characters different than it would be if one or both of these characters actually narrated the story (in the fi rst- person) or if the third- person narrator’s voice were consistent throughout the story? What are the most distinctive features of each voice, and what do they tell us about the characters?

2. How does each of the subsequent shifts in both focus and voice affect the way you interpret and feel about the characters and their situations? What is the effect of Saunders’s choice to end the story with Callie’s point of view?

3. What is the effect of the way the narrator refers to real consumer products by using their brand names (Game Boy) and discusses (in some detail) entirely fi ctional ones like the games “Noble Baker” and “Bra Stuffer”? What do these details contribute to the story, especially in terms of our attitudes toward the various characters and their world (or our own)?

AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK GEORGE SAUNDERS (b. 1958)

From “ ‘Knowable in the Smallest Fragment’: An Interview with George Saunders” (n.d.)*

MV: While your short stories always have interesting plots [. . .] it’s the voices of these stories [. . .] that make them so memorable. In fact, when I remember your

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192 CH. 2 | NARRATION AND POINT OF VIEW

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JENNIFER EGAN Black Box 193

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stories, I remember the voices: the rhythms, the repetition, the idiosyncratic logic, the corporate- babble, the exuberance, the wisecracks. Can you talk a bit about the importance of voice in your fi ction, and how you come to discover the voices of your characters?

GS: Basically, I work at voice through constant anal- retentive revising. The criteria is basically ear- driven—I keep changing it until it sounds right and it surprises me in some way. I think it has something to do with a thing we did in Chicago back when I was a kid, this constant mimicking of other people, invented people, famous people. [. . .] And then of course voice and plot get all tangled up— a certain plot point is interesting, or attainable, or believable, in and only in a certain voice. The belief of the reader is engaged with the voice [. . .] So it’s all tied up together somehow. A character whose voice expresses limited intelligence, for example, we are more likely to believe him getting duped by somebody. That sort of thing.

*“ ‘Knowable in the Smallest Fragment’: An Interview with George Saunders.” Interview by Matthew Vollmer. GutCult, vol. 1, no. 2, 2003, gutcult . com / litjourn2 / html / GS1 . html.

JENNIFER EGAN (b. 1962) Black Box1

Best known for A Visit from the Goon Squad, the 2010 book that earned both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, Jennifer Egan was born in Chicago and grew up in San Francisco, where she lived with her mo ther after her parents’ divorce. After graduating with a BA in

En glish from the University of Pennsylvania (while dating Apple cofounder Steve Jobs), Egan spent two years at Cambridge University and then traveled widely across Eu rope and Asia, living mainly out of her backpack and gathering the experiences that would ultimately inform her early work— the novels Invisible Circus (1995), Look at Me (2001), and The Keep (2006), as well as the collection Emerald City and Other Stories (1993, 1996). Egan is no stranger to genre- bending forms of narrative experimentation: Si mul- ta neously a novel and a series of interlinked short stories set in times ranging from the 1970s to the near- future, A Visit from the Goon Squad includes one chapter/story com- posed entirely of Power Point slides; “Black Box,” which features a character from Goon Squad, was originally conceived and published as a series of tweets.

1. Broadly, any complicated electronic device with a hidden internal mechanism mysterious to its user; narrowly, a device for recording in- fl ight data and cockpit conversations on airplanes, designed to survive a crash and to help investigators determine its cause.

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1

People rarely look the way you expect them to, even when you’ve seen pictures.

The fi rst thirty seconds in a person’s presence are the most im por tant.

If you’re having trou ble perceiving and projecting, focus on projecting.

Necessary ingredients for a successful projection: giggles; bare legs; shyness.

The goal is to be both irresistible and invisible.

When you succeed, a certain sharpness will go out of his eyes.

5

Even a power ful man will be briefl y self- conscious when he fi rst disrobes to his bathing suit.

It is technically impossible for a man to look better in a Speedo than in swim trunks.

If you love someone with dark skin, white skin looks drained of something vital.

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2

Some power ful men actually call their beauties “Beauty.”

Counter to reputation, there is a deep camaraderie among beauties.

If your Designated Mate is widely feared, the beauties at the house party where you’ve gone under- cover to meet him will be espe- cially kind.

Kindness feels good, even when it’s based on a false notion of your identity and purpose.

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3

Posing as a beauty means not reading what you would like to read on a rocky shore in the South of France.

Sunlight on bare skin can be as nourishing as food.

4

When you know that a person is violent and ruthless, you will see violent ruthlessness in such basic things as his swim stroke.

“What are you doing?” from your Designated Mate amid choppy waves after he has followed you into the sea may or may not betray suspicion.

Your reply— “Swimming”— may or may not be perceived as sarcasm.

“Shall we swim together toward those rocks?” may or may not be a question.

“All that way?” will, if spoken correctly, sound ingenuous.

“We’ll have privacy there” may sound unexpectedly ominous.

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5

A hundred feet of blue- black Mediterranean will allow you ample time to deliver a strong self- lecture.

At such moments, it may be useful to explicitly recall your training:

“You will be infi ltrating the lives of criminals.

“You will be in constant danger. 25

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JENNIFER EGAN Black Box 195

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“Some of you will not survive, but those who do will be heroes.

“A few of you will save lives and even change the course of history.

“We ask of you an impossible combination of traits: ironclad scruples and a willingness to violate them;

“An abiding love for your country and a willingness to consort with individuals who are working actively to destroy it;

“The instincts and intuition of experts, and the blank rec ords and true freshness of ingénues.

“You will each perform this ser vice only once, after which you will return to your lives.

“We cannot promise that your lives will be exactly the same when you go back to them.”

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“You don’t sound sure” indicates insuffi cient gusto.

“I’m not sure” is acceptable only when followed, coyly, with “You’ll have to convince me.”

Throwing back your head and closing your eyes allows you to give the appearance of sexual readiness while concealing revulsion.

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6

Eagerness and pliability can be expressed even in the way you climb from the sea onto chalky yellow rocks.

“You’re a very fast swimmer,” uttered by a man who is still submerged, may not be intended as praise.

Giggling is sometimes better than answering.

“You are a lovely girl” may be meant straightforwardly.

Ditto “I want to fuck you now.”

“Well? What do you think about that?” suggests a preference for direct verbal responses over giggling.

“I like it” must be uttered with enough gusto to compensate for a lack of declarative color.

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Being alone with a violent and ruthless man, surrounded by water, can make the shore seem very far away.

You may feel solidarity, at such a time, with the beauties just visible there in their bright bikinis.

You may appreciate, at such a time, why you aren’t being paid for this work.

Your voluntary ser vice is the highest form of patriotism.

Remind yourself that you aren’t being paid when he climbs out of the water and lumbers toward you.

Remind yourself that you aren’t being paid when he leads you behind a boulder and pulls you onto his lap.

The Dissociation Technique is like a parachute— you must pull the cord at the correct time.

Too soon, and you may hinder your ability to function at a crucial moment;

Too late, and you will be lodged too deeply inside the action to wriggle free.

You will be tempted to pull the cord when he surrounds you with arms whose bulky strength reminds you, fl eetingly, of your husband’s.

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You will be tempted to pull it when you feel him start to move against you from below.

You will be tempted to pull it when his smell envelops you: metallic, like a warm hand clutching pennies.

The directive “Relax” suggests that your discomfort is palpable.

“No one can see us” suggests that your discomfort has been under- stood as fear of physical exposure.

“Relax, relax,” uttered in rhyth- mic, throaty tones, suggests that your discomfort is not unwelcome.

55

A blue sky is as depthless as the sea.

The sound of waves against rocks existed millennia before there were creatures who could hear it.

Spurs and gashes of stone narrate a vio lence that the earth itself has long forgotten.

Your mind will rejoin your body when it is safe to do so.

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2. Located in eastern New York State, roughly 130 miles north of the borough of Manhattan in New York City.

8

Begin the Dissociation Technique only when physical violation is imminent.

Close your eyes and slowly count backward from ten.

With each number, imagine yourself rising out of your body and moving one step farther away from it.

By eight, you should be hovering just outside your skin.

By fi ve, you should be fl oating a foot or two above your body, feeling only vague anxiety over what is about to happen to it.

By three, you should feel fully detached from your physical self.

By two, your body should be able to act and react without your participation.

By one, your mind should drift so free that you lose track of what is happening below.

White clouds spin and curl.

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9

Return to your body carefully, as if you were reëntering your home after a hurricane.

Resist the impulse to reconstruct what has just happened.

Focus instead on gauging your Designated Mate’s reaction to the new intimacy between you.

In some men, intimacy will prompt a more callous, indifferent attitude.

In others, intimacy may awaken problematic curiosity about you.

“Where did you learn to swim like that?,” uttered lazily, while supine, with two fi ngers in your hair, indicates curiosity.

Tell the truth without precision.

“I grew up near a lake” is both true and vague.

“Where was the lake?” conveys dissatisfaction with your vagueness.

“Columbia County,2 New York” suggests precision while avoiding it.

“Manhattan?” betrays unfamiliar- ity with the geography of New York State.

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JENNIFER EGAN Black Box 197

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Never contradict your Designated Mate.

“Where did you grow up?,” asked of a man who has just asked you the same thing, is known as “mirroring.”

Mirror your Designated Mate’s attitudes, interests, desires, and tastes.

Your goal is to become part of his atmosphere: a source of comfort and ease.

Only then will he drop his guard when you are near.

Only then will he have signifi cant conversations within your earshot.

Only then will he leave his possessions in a porous and unattended state.

Only then can you begin to gather information systematically.

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Be friendly to other beauties, but not solicitous.

When you are in conversation with a beauty, it is essential that you be perceived as no more or less than she is.

Be truthful about every aspect of your life except marriage (if any).

If married, say that you and your spouse have divorced, to give an impression of unfettered freedom.

“Oh, that’s sad!” suggests that the beauty you’re chatting with would like to marry.

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10

“Come. Let’s go back,” uttered brusquely, suggests that your Designated Mate has no more wish to talk about himself than you do.

Avoid the temptation to analyze his moods and whims.

Salt water has a cleansing effect.

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12

If your Designated Mate abruptly veers toward the villa, follow him.

Taking his hand and smiling congenially can create a sense of low- key accompaniment.

An abstracted smile in return, as if he’d forgotten who you are, may be a sign of pressing concerns.

The concerns of your Designated Mate are your concerns.

The room assigned to a power ful man will be more lavish than the one you slept in while awaiting his arrival.

Never look for hidden cameras: the fact that you’re looking will give you away.

Determine whether your Desig- nated Mate seeks physical intimacy; if not, feign the wish for a nap.

Your pretense of sleep will allow him to feel that he is alone.

Curling up under bedclothes, even those belonging to an enemy subject, may be soothing.

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11

You will see knowledge of your new intimacy with your Desig- nated Mate in the eyes of every beauty on shore.

“We saved lunch for you” may or may not be an allusion to the reason for your absence.

Cold fi sh is unappealing, even when served in a good lemon sauce.

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You’re more likely to hear his handset vibrate if your eyes are closed.

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If your subject is angry, you may leave your camoufl age position and move as close to him as possi ble to improve recording quality.

You may feel afraid as you do this.

Your pounding heartbeat will not be recorded.

If your Designated Mate is standing on a balcony, hover in the doorway just behind him.

If he pivots and discovers you, pretend that you were on the verge of approaching him.

Anger usually trumps suspicion.

If your subject brushes past you and storms out of the room, slamming the door, you have eluded detection.

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13

A door sliding open signals his wish to take the call on the balcony.

Your Designated Mate’s im por tant conversations will take place outdoors.

If you are within earshot of his conversation, rec ord it.

Since beauties carry neither pocketbooks nor timepieces, you cannot credibly transport record- ing devices.

A microphone has been implanted just beyond the fi rst turn of your right ear canal.

Activate the microphone by pressing the triangle of cartilage across your ear opening.

You will hear a faint whine as recording begins.

In extreme quiet, or to a person whose head is adjacent to yours, this whine may be audible.

Should the whine be detected, swat your ear as if to defl ect a mosquito, hitting the on/off cartilage to deactivate the mike.

You need not identify or compre- hend the language your subject is using.

Your job is proximity; if you are near your Designated Mate, recording his private speech, you are succeeding.

Profanity sounds the same in every language.

An angry subject will guard his words less carefully.

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15

If your Designated Mate leaves your com pany a second time, don’t follow him again.

Deactivate your ear mike and resume your “nap.”

A moment of repose may be a good time to reassure your loved ones.

Nuanced communication is too easily monitored by the enemy.

Your Subcutaneous Pulse System issues pings so generic that detection would reveal neither source nor intent.

A button is embedded behind the inside ligament of your right knee (if right- handed).

Depress twice to indicate to loved ones that you are well and thinking of them.

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198 CH. 2 | NARRATION AND POINT OF VIEW

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JENNIFER EGAN Black Box 199

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You may send this signal only once each day.

A continuous depression of the button indicates an emergency.

You will debate, each day, the best time to send your signal.

You will refl ect on the fact that your husband, coming from a culture of tribal allegiance, understands and applauds your patriotism.

You will refl ect on the enclosed and joyful life that the two of you have shared since gradu ate school.

You will refl ect on the fact that Ame rica is your husband’s chosen country, and that he loves it.

You will refl ect on the fact that your husband’s rise to prominence would have been unimaginable in any other nation.

You will refl ect on your joint conviction that your ser vice had to be undertaken before you had children.

You will refl ect on the fact that you are thirty- three, and have spent your professional life fomenting musical trends.

You will refl ect on the fact that you must return home the same person you were when you left.

You will refl ect on the fact that you’ve been guaranteed you will not be the same person.

You will refl ect on the fact that you had stopped being that person even before leaving.

You will refl ect on the fact that too much refl ection is pointless.

You will refl ect on the fact that these “instructions” are becoming less and less instructive.

Your Field Instructions, stored in a chip beneath your hairline, will

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serve as both a mission log and a guide for others undertaking this work.

Pressing your left thumb (if right- handed) against your left middle fi ngertip begins recording.

For clearest results, mentally speak the thought, as if talking to yourself.

Always fi lter your observations and experience through the lens of their didactic value.

Your training is ongoing; you must learn from each step you take.

When your mission is complete, you may view the results of the download before adding your Field Instructions to your mission fi le.

Where stray or personal thoughts have intruded, you may delete them.

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16

Pretend sleep can lead to actual sleep.

Sleep is restorative in almost every circumstance.

The sound of showering likely indicates the return of your Designated Mate.

As a beauty, you will be expected to return to your room and change clothes often; a fresh appearance at mealtimes is essential.

The goal is to be a lovely, innocu- ous, evolving surprise.

A crisp white sundress against tanned skin is widely viewed as attractive.

Avoid overbright colors; they are attention- seeking and hinder camoufl age.

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White is not technically speaking, a bright color.

White is, nevertheless, bright.

Gold spike- heeled sandals may compromise your ability to run or jump, but they look good on tanned feet.

Thirty- three is still young enough to register as “young.”

Registering as “young” is especially welcome to those who may not register as “young” much longer.

If your Designated Mate leads you to dinner with an arm at your waist, assume that your attire change was successful.

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“Nice” hints at personal experience.

“Yes. It is nice” contradicts one’s alleged divorce. “Was nice” is a reasonable correction.

“But not nice enough?” with laughter, indicates friendly intimacy. Especially when followed by “Or too nice!”

3. Young domestic pigeon, a delicacy typically served whole.

17

When men begin serious talk, beauties are left to themselves.

“How long have you been divorced?” suggests the wish to resume a prior conversation.

“A few months,” when untrue, should be uttered without eye contact.

“What was he like, your husband?” may be answered honestly.

“From Africa. Kenya” will satisfy your wish to talk about your husband.

“Black?,” with eyebrows raised, may indicate racism.

“Yes. Black,” in mea sured tones, should deliver a gentle reprimand.

“How black?” suggests that it did not.

“Very black” is somewhat less gentle, especially when accompa- nied by a pointed stare.

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18

House- party hosts are universally eager to make guests eat.

For most beauties, the lure of food is a hazard; as a beauty of limited tenure, you may eat what you want.

Squab3 can be consumed by ripping the bird apart with your hands and sucking the meat from the bones.

A stunned expression reveals that your host expected the use of utensils.

A host who caters to violent guests will understand implicitly the need for discretion.

The adjacency of your host’s chair to your own may presage a confi dence.

If your job is to appear simple- minded, a confi dence may mean that you have failed.

Everyone should brush his teeth before dinner.

Turning your ear toward your host’s mouth will prevent you from having to smell the breath coming from it.

Ears must be kept clean at all times.

If your host warns you that your Designated Mate may pose an immediate danger to you, assume that your Designated Mate has left the room.

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JENNIFER EGAN Black Box 201

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19

Going to the rest room is the most effi cient means of self- jettisoning.

Never betray urgency, not even in an empty hallway.

If you have no idea in which direction your Designated Mate has gone, hold still.

If you fi nd yourself hovering beside a pair of glass doors, you may open them and step outside.

Nights in the South of France are a strange, dark, piercing blue.

A bright moon can astonish, no matter how many times you have seen it.

If you were a child who loved the moon, looking at the moon will forever remind you of childhood.

Fatherless girls may invest the moon with a certain paternal promise.

Everyone has a father.

A vague story like “Your father died before you were born” may satisfy a curious child for an unlikely number of years.

The truth of your paternity, discovered in adulthood, will make the lie seem retroactively ludicrous.

Publicists occasionally have fl ings with their movie- star clients.

Discovering that you are a movie star’s dau gh ter is not necessarily a comfort.

It is especially not a comfort when the star in question has seven other children from three different marriages.

Discovering that you are a movie star’s dau gh ter may prompt you to

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watch upward of sixty movies, dating from the beginning of his career.

You may think, watching said movies, You don’t know about me, but I am here.

You may think, watching said movies, I’m invisible to you, but I am here.

A sudden reconfi guration of your past can change the fi t and feel of your adulthood.

It may cleave you, irreparably, from the mo ther whose single goal has been your happiness.

If your husband has transformed greatly in his own life, he will understand your transformation.

Avoid excessive self- refl ection; your job is to look out, not in.

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20

“There you are,” whispered from behind by your Designated Mate, suggests that he has been looking for you.

Holding still can sometimes prove more effective than actively searching.

“Come,” uttered softly, may communicate a renewed wish for intimate contact.

The moon’s calm face can make you feel, in advance, that you are understood and forgiven.

The sea is audible against the rocks well before you see it.

Even at night, the Mediterranean is more blue than black.

If you wish to avoid physical intimacy, the sight of a speedboat will bring relief, despite the myriad new problems it pre sents.

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If no words are exchanged between your Designated Mate and the speedboat’s captain, their meeting was likely prearranged.

A man known for his cruelty may still show great care in guiding his beauty into a rocking speedboat.

He may interpret her hesitation to board as a fear of falling in.

Resist the impulse to ask where you are going.

Try, when anxious, to summon up a goofy giggle.

Locate your Personal Calming Source and use it.

If your Personal Calming Source is the moon, be grateful that it is dark and that the moon is especially bright.

Refl ect on the many reasons you can’t yet die:

You need to see your husband.

You need to have children.

You need to tell the movie star that he has an eighth child, and that she is a hero.

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The Mediterranean is vast enough to have once seemed infi nite.

A beauty should require no more context than the presence of her Designated Mate.

A beauty must appear to enjoy any journey he initiates.

Simulate said enjoyment by putting an affectionate arm around him and nestling your head close to his.

A beauty whose head is aligned with her Designated Mate’s can share in his navigation and thus calculate the route.

At night, far from shore, stars pulse with a strength that is impossible to conceive of in the proximity of light.

Your whereabouts will never be a mystery; you will be visible at all times as a dot of light on the screens of those watching over you.

You are one of hundreds, each a potential hero.

Technology has afforded ordinary people a chance to glow in the cosmos of human achievement.

Your lack of espionage and language training is what makes your rec ord clean and neutral.

You are an ordinary person undertaking an extraordinary task.

You need not be remarkable for your credentials or skill sets, only for your bravery and equilibrium.

Knowing that you are one of hundreds shouldn’t feel belittling.

In the new heroism, the goal is to merge with something larger than yourself.

In the new heroism, the goal is to throw off generations of self- involvement.

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The moon may appear to move, but really it is you who are moving.

At high velocity, a speedboat slams along the tops of waves.

Fear and excitement are some- times indistinguishable.

When the captain of a boat adjusts his course in response to commands from your Designated Mate, he may not know where he is taking you.

If your Designated Mate keeps looking up, he’s probably using the stars for navigation.

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202 CH. 2 | NARRATION AND POINT OF VIEW

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JENNIFER EGAN Black Box 203

—-1 —0 —+1

In the new heroism, the goal is to renounce the American fi xation with being seen and recognized.

In the new heroism, the goal is to dig beneath your shiny persona.

You’ll be surprised by what lies under it: a rich, deep crawl space of possibilities.

Some liken this discovery to a dream in which a familiar home acquires new wings and rooms.

The power of individual magnetism is nothing against the power of combined selfl ess effort.

You may accomplish astonishing personal feats, but citizen agents rarely seek individual credit.

They liken the need for personal glory to cigarette addiction: a habit that feels life- sustaining even as it kills you.

Childish attention- seeking is usually satisfi ed at the expense of real power.

An enemy of the state could not have connived a better way to declaw and distract us.

Now our notorious narcissism is our camoufl age.

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Knowing your latitude and longitude is not the same as knowing where you are.

A new remote and unfamiliar place can make the prior remote and unfamiliar place seem like home.

Imagining yourself as a dot of light on a screen is oddly reassuring.

Because your husband is a visionary in the realm of national security, he occasionally has access to that screen.

If it calms you to imagine your husband tracking your dot of light, then imagine it.

Do not however, close your eyes while ascending a rocky path in darkness.

At Latitude X, Longitude Y, the fl ora is dry and crumbles under your feet.

A voice overhead suggests that your arrival was expected and observed.

An empty shore is not necessarily unpatrolled.

The best patrols are imperceptible.

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After a juddering ride of several hours, you may not notice at fi rst that the boat is approaching ashore.

A single lighted structure stands out strongly on a deserted coastline.

Silence after a roaring motor is a sound of its own.

The speedboat’s immediate departure signals that you won’t be making a return trip anytime soon.

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A formal handshake between your new host and your Designated Mate implies that this is their fi rst meeting.

A formal handshake followed by a complex and stylized hand gesture implies a shared allegiance.

So does the immediate use of a language you don’t recognize.

In certain rich, power ful men, physical slightness will seem a source of strength.

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The failure of your new host to acknowledge you may indicate that women do not register in his fi eld of vision.

Being invisible means that you won’t be closely watched.

Your job is to be forgotten yet still pre sent.

A white, sparkling villa amid so much scrabbly darkness will appear miragelike.

A man to whom women are invisible may still have many beauties in his domain.

These neglected beauties will vie for his scant attention.

Among neglected beauties, there is often an alpha beauty who assumes leadership.

As you enter the house, her cool scrutiny will ripple through the other beauties and surround you.

The sensation will remind you of going as a child with your mo ther to visit families with two parents and multiple children.

At fi rst, the knot of unfamiliar kids would seem impenetrable.

You would wish, keenly, that you had a sibling who could be your ally.

Feeling at the mercy of those around you prompted a seismic internal response.

The will to dominate was deeper than yourself.

You were never childish, even as a child.

Your unchildishness is something your husband has always loved in you.

Once the new children were under your control, it was crushing to leave their midst.

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A small table and chairs carved into a spindly clifftop promontory are doubtless designed for private conversation.

If your Designated Mate brings you with him to this place, it may mean that he feels less than perfectly at ease with your new host.

When your new host dismisses his own alpha beauty, im por tant business may be under way.

An alpha4 beauty will not tolerate her own exclusion if another beauty is included.

If your new host makes a motion of dismissal at you, look to your Designated Mate.

Take orders from no one but your Designated Mate.

If your Designated Mate keeps an arm around you in the face of your new host’s dismissal, you have become the object of a power play.

If your new host moves close to your face and speaks directly into it, he is likely testing your ignorance of his language.

If your Designated Mate stiffens beside you, your new host’s words are probably offensive.

When you become an object of contention, try to neutralize the confl ict.

A giggle and a look of incompre- hension are a beauty’s most reliable tools.

If the men relax into their chairs, neutralization has been successful.

Your new host has insulted you and, by extension, your Desig- nated Mate.

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204 CH. 2 | NARRATION AND POINT OF VIEW

4. First or lead, most power ful or dominant.

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JENNIFER EGAN Black Box 205

—-1 —0 —+1

Your Designated Mate has prevailed in his claim that you’re too harmless to bother sending away.

Congratulate yourself on preserv- ing your adjacency and activate your ear mike.

goal, you’ll have helped to perpetuate American life as you know it.

A wave of joy can make it diffi cult to sit still.

Beware of internal states— positive or negative— that obscure what is happening around you.

When two subjects begin making sketches, concrete planning may have commenced.

The camera implanted in your left eye is operated by pressing your left tear duct.

In poor light, a fl ash may be activated by pressing the outside tip of your left eyebrow.

When using the fl ash, always cover your non- camera eye to shield it from temporary blindness occasioned by the fl ash.

Never deploy fl ash photography in the presence of other people.

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Springing from your seat with a gasp and peering toward the house will focus the attention of others in that direction.

Having heard something inaudible to others puts you in an immediate position of authority.

“What? What did you hear?,” uttered close to your face by your Designated Mate, means that your diversion was successful.

Wait until their eagerness to know verges on anger, evidenced by the shaking of your shoulders.

Then tell them, faintly, “I heard screaming.”

Men with a history of vio lence live in fear of retribution.

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In the presence of business conversation, pro ject an utter lack of interest or curiosity.

Notice where you are at all times.

On a high, narrow promontory at Latitude X, Longitude Y, the ocean and heavens shimmer in all directions.

There will be moments in your mission, perhaps very few, when you’ll sense the imminence of critical information.

It may come in the form of a rush of joy.

This joy may arise from your discovery that the moon, hard and radiant, is still aloft.

It may arise from the knowledge that, when your task is complete, you will return to the husband you adore.

It may arise from the extremity of the natu ral beauty around you, and the recognition that you are alive in this moment.

It may arise from your knowledge that you have accomplished every goal you’ve set for yourself since childhood.

It may arise from the knowledge that at long last you’ve found a goal worthy of your considerable energies.

It may arise from the knowledge that, by accomplishing this

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Your new host will be the fi rst to depart in the direction of alleged screaming.

Your Designated Mate’s glance toward the dock, far below, may reveal that his interests are not fully aligned with your new host’s.

His attention to his handset may portend that your diversion has run amok, undermining the transaction you meant to capture.

Among the violent, there is always a plan for escape.

340

A distant buzz presages an approaching speedboat.

Cooler air and a downward slope indicate that you are now below the cliff’s edge.

Trying to negotiate a crumbling wooded path in a state of blind- ness (and heels) will soon lead to tripping and collapsing.

Receding downhill footfalls indicate that you’ve overtaxed your limited value to your Designated Mate.

A sense of helpless disorientation may prevent you from doing much more than sitting there in the dirt.

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It is reasonable to hope that a backlit screen will distract its user from a camera fl ash at some slight distance.

Move close to the sketches you wish to photograph, allow- ing them to fi ll your fi eld of vision.

Hold very still.

A fl ash is far more dramatic in total darkness.

An epithet in another language, followed by “What the fuck was that?,” means you overestimated your Designated Mate’s, handset absorption.

A bright, throbbing total blindness means that you neglected to cover your non- camera eye.

Distance yourself from agency in the fl ash by crying out, truthfully, “I can’t see!”

It is hard to safely navigate a clifftop promontory at high speed while blind.

It is hard to defer said navigation when your Designated Mate is forcefully yanking your hand.

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Variegation in the textures around you is a fi rst sign that your temporary blindness has begun to fade.

Temporary blindness sharpens one’s appreciation for not being blind.

In the aftermath of blindness, the accretion of objects around you may have an almost sensual quality.

A boat departing at high speed will send a vibration trembling up through the soil.

The knowledge that you are alone, without your Designated Mate, will settle upon you slowly and coldly.

Each new phase of aloneness reveals that you were previously less alone than you thought.

This more profound isolation may register, at fi rst, as paralysis.

If it soothes you to lie back in the dirt, then lie back.

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206 CH. 2 | NARRATION AND POINT OF VIEW

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JENNIFER EGAN Black Box 207

—-1 —0 —+1

The moon shines everywhere.

The moon can seem as expressive as a face.

Human beings are fi ercely, primordially resilient.

In uneasy times, draw on the resilience you carry inside you.

Recall that the mythical feats you loved to read about as a child are puny beside the accomplishments of human beings on earth.

365

Sympathy from an unexpected source can prompt a swell of emotion.

Mea sure the potential liability of shedding tears before you let them fall.

The perfumed arm of a beauty may pour strength and hope directly into your skin.

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The presence of another person can be sensed, even when not directly perceived.

The discovery of another person at close range, when you thought you were alone, may occasion fear.

Leaping from a supine into a standing posture will induce a head rush.

“I see you. Come out” must be uttered calmly, from the Readi- ness Position.

If you show fear, make sure that it isn’t the fear you actually feel.

When you’ve expected a man, the appearance of a woman may be shocking.

Despite all that you know and are, you may experience that shock as a relief.

“Why are you here?,” uttered by your new host’s alpha beauty, is likely hostile.

Respond to abstract questions on the most literal level: “He left without me.”

“Bastard,” muttered bitterly, suggests familiarity with the phenomenon of being left behind.

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30

A lavish clifftop villa may look even more miragelike on a second approach.

Sustaining an atmosphere of luxury in a remote place requires an enormous amount of money.

So does coördinated vio lence.

Your job is to follow money to its source.

A power ful man whose associate has fl ed the premises after a false alarm is unlikely to be cheerful.

The reappearance of the vanished associate’s stranded beauty will likely startle him.

Astonishment is satisfying to witness on any face.

“Where the fuck did he go?” is remarkably easy to decipher, even in a language you don’t recognize.

A shrug is comprehensible to everyone.

An alpha beauty’s complete indifference to the consternation of her mate may mean that he’s easily moved to consternation.

It may also mean that he’s not her mate.

As a beauty, you will sometimes be expected to change hands.

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Generally, you will pass from the hands of a less power ful man to those of a more power ful man.

Greater proximity to the source of money and control is progress.

Your job is identical regardless of whose hands you are in.

If your vulnerability and help- lessness have drawn the interest of an enemy subject, accentuate them.

Scraped and dirty legs may accentuate your vulnerability to the point of disgust.

They might get you a hot shower, though.

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If you feel, on returning to your body, that much time has passed, don’t dwell on how much.

If your limbs are sore and your forehead scraped and raw, don’t dwell on why.

When you emerge from a warm, churning bath where you’ve spent an indeterminate period of time, expect to feel shaky and weak.

Remind yourself that you are receiving no payment, in currency or kind, for this or any act you have engaged in.

These acts are forms of sacrifi ce.

An abundance of diaphanous bathrobes suggests that the occupants of this bathroom are often female.

A soiled and tattered white sundress can seem oddly precious when it’s all you have.

Keep with you the things that matter— you won’t come back for them later.

The stationing of a male attendant outside the bathroom means that you haven’t been forgotten.

If he shows you to a tiny room containing a very large bed, your utility to your new host may not have been exhausted.

A tray containing a meat pie, grapes, and a pitcher of water suggests that visits such as yours are routine.

At times, you may wish to avoid the moon.

At times, the moon may appear like a surveillance device, tracking your movements.

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Homes of the violent rich have excellent fi rst- aid cabinets.

If, after tending to your scrapes, you are shown to a bathing area with a stone- encrusted waterfall, assume you won’t be alone for long.

The fact that a man has ignored and then insulted you does not mean that he won’t want to fuck you.

Slim, power ful men often move with catlike swiftness.

Begin your countdown early—as he lowers himself into the tub.

By the time he seizes your arm, you should be at fi ve.

By the time your forehead is jammed against a rock, you should perceive your body only vaguely, from above.

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208 CH. 2 | NARRATION AND POINT OF VIEW

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JENNIFER EGAN Black Box 209

—-1 —0 —+1

The ability to sleep in stressful conditions is essential to this work.

Sleep whenever you can safely do so.

420

An alpha beauty who has appeared to have no tie to your new host may turn out to be his intimate, after all.

Their sleeping entanglement may contradict everything you have witnessed between them.

A small crib near the bed may indicate the presence of a baby.

Avoid indulging your own amazement; it wastes time.

Master bedrooms in lavish homes often divide into “his” and “hers” areas.

A beauty’s closet is unmistakable, like a quiver of bright arrows.

The closet of a slight, catlike man will usually be compact.

Having penetrated a man’s personal space; immediately seek out his Sweet Spot.

The Sweet Spot is where he empties his pockets at the end of the day and stores the essen- tials he needs to begin the next.

The Sweet Spot of a secretive, catlike man will most often be inside a cupboard or a drawer.

When you fi nd it, consider using a Data Surge to capture the contents of his handset.

A Data Surge must be deployed with extreme caution, and only if you feel confi dent of an excep- tional yield.

The quantity of information captured will require an enor- mous amount of manpower to tease apart.

Its transmission will register on any monitoring device.

We can guarantee its effectiveness only once.

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33

Your abrupt awakening may feel like a reaction to a sound.

In moments of extreme solitude, you may believe you’ve heard your name.

We reassure ourselves by summon- ing, in our dreams, those we love and miss.

Having awakened to fi nd them absent, we may be left with a sense of having spoken with them.

Even the most secure houses achieve, in deep night, a state of relative unconsciousness.

A beauty in a diaphanous lavender bathrobe can go anywhere, as long as she appears to be delivering herself to someone.

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A universal princi ple of home construction makes it possi ble to guess which door will lead to the master bedroom.

Linen closets, with doors closed, can resemble master bedrooms.

So can bathrooms.

Bare feet are virtually soundless on a stone fl oor.

Even a slim, catlike man may snore.

When trespassing in a sleeping man’s bedroom, go straight to his bed, as if you were seeking him out.

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35

Reach between your right fourth and pinky toes (if right- handed) and remove the Data Plug from your Universal Port.

Attached to the plug is a cable with a connection pin at one end for insertion into the handset’s data port.

Sit on the fl oor, away from sharp surfaces, and brace your back against a wall.

A red ribbon has been tucked inside your Universal Port; enclose this in one of your palms.

Spread apart your toes and gently reinsert the plug, now fused to your subject’s handset, into your Universal Port.

You will feel the surge as the data fl ood your body.

The surge may contain feeling, memory, heat, cold, longing, pain, even joy.

Although the data are alien, the memories dislodged will be your own:

Peeling an orange for your husband in bed on a Sunday, sunlight splashing the sheets;

The smoky earthen smell of the fur of your childhood cat;

The fl avor of the peppermints your mo ther kept for you inside her desk.

The impact of a Data Surge may prompt unconsciousness or short- term memory loss.

The purpose of the red ribbon is to orient you; if you awaken to fi nd yourself clutching one, look to your foot.

When your body is quiet, unplug the handset and return it to its original location.

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A Data Surge leaves a ringing in your ears that may obscure the sound of another person’s arrival.

A face that brought you relief once may trigger relief a second time.

When an alpha beauty accosts you at high volume in an unfamiliar language, it may mean she’s too sleepy to remember who you are.

It may also mean she’s calling someone else.

Beauty status will not excuse, for another beauty, your appearance where you are not supposed to be.

Should you be perceived as an enemy, prepare to defend yourself at the fi rst sign of physical encroachment.

Your new host lunging at you, shouting. “What the fuck are you doing?,” constitutes physical encroachment.

Thrust your elbow upward into the tender socket underneath his jaw, sending him backward onto the fl oor.

The wails of a newborn will lure its mo ther away from almost anything, including the physical travails of her mate.

A man disabled by an elbow blow will have little reaction to infant cries.

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At the revelation of martial- arts expertise, a man who has per- ceived you as merely a beauty will recalculate your identity and purpose.

Watch his eyes: he’ll be mea sur ing the distance to his nearest fi rearm.

210 CH. 2 | NARRATION AND POINT OF VIEW

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JENNIFER EGAN Black Box 211

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An immediate exit is advisable.

A slim, catlike man may well rebound before a hasty exit can be made.

Obstructing the path of a violent man to his fi rearm will nearly always result in another encroachment.

Kicking him in the foreneck, even barefoot, will temporarily occlude his windpipe.

The alpha beauty of a violent man will know where his fi rearm is kept, and how to use it.

A woman holding a gun and a baby no longer qualifi es as a beauty.

No beauty is really a beauty.

Disabling a gun holder is likely to hurt the baby she is holding, too.

When self- preservation requires that you harm the innocent, we can provide no more than guidelines.

As Americans, we value human rights above all else and cannot sanction their violation.

When someone threatens our human rights, however, a wider leeway becomes necessary.

Follow your instincts while bearing in mind that we must, and will, hew to our principles.

A woman holding a thrashing baby in one arm may have trou ble aiming a fi rearm with the other.

Bullets do actually whistle in an enclosed space.

If a person has shot at you and missed, incapacitate her before she can fi re again.

We are most reluctant to hurt those who remind us of ourselves.

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A lag time exists between getting shot and knowing that you have been shot.

Assuming there is no artery involvement, wounds to the upper limbs are preferable.

Bony, tendony body parts bleed less, but are harder to reconstruct if shattered.

The right shoulder is a bony, tendony part.

When shots have been fi red in a power ful man’s home, you have minutes, if not seconds, before the arrival of security.

Your physical person is our Black Box; without it, we have no rec ord of what has happened on your mission.

It is imperative that you remove yourself from enemy possession.

When you fi nd yourself cornered and outnumbered, you may unleash, as a last resort, your Primal Roar.

The Primal Roar is the human equivalent of an explosion, a sound that combines screaming, shrieking, and howling.

The Roar must be accompanied by facial contortions and frenetic body movement, suggesting a feral,5 unhinged state.

The Primal Roar must transform you from a beauty into a monster.

The goal is to horrify your opponent the way trusted fi gures, turned evil, are horrifying in movies and in nightmares.

Deploy your camera fl ash repeat- edly while Roaring.

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5. Wild, undomesticated.

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When approached by a howling, spasmodic, fl ashing monster, most women holding newborns will step aside.

Discontinue Roaring the instant you’re free from immediate danger.

Those stampeding to the aid of a power ful man will barely notice a dishevelled beauty they pass in a hallway.

If you’re lucky, this will buy you time to fl ee his house.

Resume your beauty role while running: smooth your hair and cover your bleeding wound with the sundress scrunched in your pocket.

The fact that you can’t hear alarms doesn’t mean you haven’t set them off.

505

Lying with girlfriends on a still- warm dock in upstate New York, watching shooting stars, is a sensation you remember after many years.

Hindsight creates the illusion that your life has led you inevitably to the pre sent moment.

It’s easier to believe in a fore- gone conclusion than to accept that our lives are governed by chance.

Showing up for a robotics course by accident, because of a class- room mixup, is chance.

Finding an empty seat beside a boy with very dark skin and beautiful hands is chance.

When someone has become essential to you, you will marvel that you could have lain on a warm dock and not have known him yet.

Expect reimmersion in your old life to be diffi cult.

Experience leaves a mark, regardless of the reasons and principles behind it.

What our citizen agents most often require is simply for time to pass.

Our counsellors are available around the clock for the fi rst two weeks of your reimmersion and during business hours thereafter.

We ask that you allow our Thera- peutic Agents, rather than those in the general population, to address your needs.

Secrecy is the basis of what we do, and we require your extreme discretion.

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39

After vio lence in a closed room, cool night air will have a clarify- ing effect.

Get to the bottom of a hill any way you can, including sliding and rolling.

In residences of the violent rich, there will be at least one guard at each port of egress.6

In deep night, if you are extremely lucky (and quiet), that guard will be asleep.

Assume, as well as you can, the air of a beauty larkishly gambolling.7

If running barefoot onto a dock transports you back to your childhood, pain may be making you hallucinate.

510

6. Exit. 7. Lively running or jumping. Larkishly: happily and mischievously, like a lark.

212 CH. 2 | NARRATION AND POINT OF VIEW

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JENNIFER EGAN Black Box 213

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40

Even preternatural swimming strength cannot propel you across a blue- black sea.

Staring with yearning ferocity from the end of a dock cannot propel you across a blue- black sea.

When your body has been granted exceptional powers, it is jarring to encounter a gulf between your desires and your abilities.

For millennia, engineers have empowered human beings to accomplish mythical feats.

Your husband is an engineer.

Children raised among wild animals learn to detect irregular movements in their landscape.

That par tic u lar awareness, coupled with scientifi c genius, has made your husband a national- security hero.

Intimacy with another human can allow you to scrutinize your surroundings as he would.

Along a rocky, moonlit shore, the irregular movement is the one that is lurching in time with the water beneath an overhang of brush.

A speedboat has most likely been hidden by your new host as a means of emergency escape.

The key will be inside it.

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Fluff up your hair with your functional arm and essay a wide, carefree smile.

A smile is like a shield; it freezes your face into a mask of muscle that you can hide behind.

A smile is like a door that is both open and closed.

Turn the key and gun the motor once before aiming into the blue- black sea and jamming the accelerator.

Wave and giggle loudly at the stunned, sleepy guard.

Steer in a zigzag motion until you are out of gunshot range.

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The exultation of escape will be followed almost immediately by a crushing onslaught of pain.

The house, its occupants, even the gunshots will seem like phantoms beside this clanging immediacy.

If the pain makes thought impossible, concentrate solely on navigation.

Only in specifi c Geographic Hotspots can we intervene.

While navigating toward a Hotspot, indicate an emergency by pressing the button behind your knee for sixty continuous seconds.

You must remain conscious.

If it helps, imagine yourself in the arms of your husband.

If it helps, imagine yourself in your apartment, where his grand father’s hunting knife is displayed inside a Plexiglas box.

If it helps, imagine harvesting the small tomatoes you grow on your fi re escape in summer.

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Slither between branches and board the boat; untie it and lower its motor into the water.

Be grateful for the lakes in upstate New York where you learned to pi lot motorboats.

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If it helps, imagine that the contents of the Data Surge will help thwart an attack in which thousands of American lives would have been lost.

Even without enhancements, you can pi lot a boat in a semi- conscious state.

Human beings are superhuman.

Let the moon and the stars direct you.

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When you reach the approximate location of a Hotspot, cut the engine.

You will be in total darkness, in total silence.

If you wish, you may lie down at the bottom of the boat.

The fact that you feel like you’re dying doesn’t mean that you will die.

Remember that, should you die, your body will yield a crucial trove of information.

Remember that, should you die, your Field Instructions will provide a rec ord of your mission and lessons for those who follow.

Remember that, should you die, you will have triumphed merely by delivering your physical person into our hands.

The boat’s movement on the sea will remind you of a cradle.

You’ll recall your mo ther rocking you in her arms when you were a baby.

You’ll recall that she has always loved you fi ercely and entirely.

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You’ll discover that you have forgiven her.

You’ll understand that she concealed your paternity out of faith that her own inexhaustible love would be enough.

The wish to tell your mo ther that you forgive her is yet another reason you must make it home alive.

You will not be able to wait, but you will have to wait.

We can’t tell you in advance what direction relief will come from.

We can only reassure you that we have never yet failed to recover a citizen agent, dead or alive, who managed to reach a Hotspot.

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Hotspots are not hot.

Even a warm night turns frigid at the bottom of a wet boat.

The stars are always there, scattered and blinking.

Looking up at the sky from below can feel like fl oating, suspended, and looking down.

The universe will seem to hang beneath you in its milky glittering mystery.

Only when you notice a woman like yourself, crumpled and bleeding at the bottom of a boat, will you realize what has happened.

You’ve deployed the Dissociation Technique without meaning to.

There is no harm in this.

Released from pain, you can waft free in the night sky.

575

580

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JENNIFER EGAN Black Box 215

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Released from pain, you can enact the fantasy of fl ying that you nurtured as a child.

Keep your body in view at all times; if your mind loses track of your body, it may be hard— even impossible—to re unite the two.

As you waft free in the night sky, you may notice a steady rhythmic churning in the gusting wind.

He li cop ter noise is inherently menacing.

A he li cop ter without lights is like a mixture of bat, bird, and monstrous insect.

Resist the urge to fl ee this appari- tion; it has come to save you.

585

45

Know that in returning to your body you are consenting to be racked, once again, by physical pain.

Know that in returning to your body you are consenting to undertake a jarring reimmersion into an altered life.

Some citizen agents have chosen not to return.

They have left their bodies behind, and now they shimmer sublimely in the heavens.

In the new heroism, the goal is to transcend individual life, with its petty pains and loves, in favor of the dazzling collective.

You may picture the pulsing stars as the heroic spirits of former agent beauties.

590

595

46

If you wish to return to your body, it is essential that you reach it before the he li cop ter does.

If it helps, count backward.

By eight, you should be close enough to see your bare and dirty feet.

By fi ve, you should be close enough to see the bloody dress wrapped around your shoulder.

By three, you should be close enough to see the dimples you were praised for as a child.

By two, you should hear the shallow bleating of your breath.

600

47

Having returned to your body, witness the chopper’s slow, throbbing descent.

It may appear to be the instru- ment of a purely mechanical realm.

It may look as if it had come to wipe you out.

It may be hard to believe that there are human beings inside it.

You won’t know for sure until you see them crouching above you, their faces taut with hope, ready to jump.

605

You may imagine Heaven as a vast screen crowded with their dots of light.

2012

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QUESTIONS

1. In addition to unfolding in tweetable (140- character- long) segments, Black Box is presented as a sort of manual- or rulebook- in- progress narrated (like many such books) in the second person. How might each of these two distinct aspects of narra- tion affect the story’s tone and your responses both to the story and to its protago- nist? How might each shape the way the story handles each of the traditional elements of plot— exposition, rising action, and so on?

2. Narrated via a relatively new technology, Egan’s story is arguably also about technol- ogy (among other things). What technologies, real and imagined, appear in the story? What— through them— might the story suggest about how such technologies— including Twitter— are changing or might change us?

3. How does the story defi ne “the new heroism”? What makes it “new”? What makes it necessary? What confl icts does that version of heroism create for the narrator? How is that confl ict resolved? To what extent does and/or doesn’t the narrator become a “new hero”?

AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK JENNIFER EGAN (b. 1962)

From “Coming Soon: Jennifer Egan’s ‘Black Box’ ” (2012)*

Several of my long- standing fi ctional interests converged in the writing of “Black Box.” One involves fi ction that takes the form of lists; stories that appear to be told inadvertently, using a narrator’s notes to him or herself. My working title for this story was “Lessons Learned,” and my hope was to tell a story whose shape would emerge from the lessons the narrator derived from each step in the action, rather than from descriptions of the action itself. Another long- term goal of mine has been to take a character from a naturalis- tic story and travel with her into a different genre. [. . .] I wondered whether I could do [that] with a character from my novel “A Visit From the Goon Squad”[. . .]. I’d also been wondering about how to write fi ction whose struc- ture would lend itself to serialization on Twitter. This is not a new idea, of course, but it’s a rich one— because of the intimacy of reaching people through their phones, and because of the odd poetry that can happen in a hundred and forty characters. I found myself imagining a series of terse mental dispatches from a female spy of the future, working undercover by the Mediterranean Sea. I wrote these bulletins by hand in a Japa nese notebook that had eight rectangles on each page. The story was originally nearly twice its pre sent length; it took me a year, on and off, to control and calibrate the material into what is now “Black Box.”

*“Coming Soon: Jennifer Egan’s ‘Black Box.’ ” The New Yorker Blog, 23 May 2012, www . newyorker . com / books / page – turner / coming – soon – jennifer – egans – black – box.

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SUGGESTIONS FOR WRITING 217

SUGGESTIONS FOR WRITING

1. Write an essay analyzing the worldview and values of the narrator of Girl, as they are implied by her instructions to the girl. What, to her, does it mean to be a good “girl,” and why is it so im por tant to be one?

2. Write a response paper or essay exploring the potential gap between the way one of the focal characters in Puppy perceives herself and her family and the way the story as a whole encourages us to perceive them. What specifi c techniques or details cre- ate that gap?

3. Write a response paper or essay refl ecting on the way Black Box might comment on traditional “spy- thrillers,” especially by virtue of its narration.

4. Choose any story in this anthology and write a response paper exploring how its effect and meaning are shaped by its narration.

5. Write a parody of The Cask of Amontillado set in modern times, perhaps on a college campus (“A Keg of Bud”?). Or write your own short story, “Boy,” modeled on Jamaica Kincaid’s Girl. Use either your own point of view or that of an unwel- come adviser.

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218

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In the unfi nished watercolor Dickens’ Dream, the nineteenth- century writer peacefully dozes while above and around him fl oat ghostly images of the hundreds of characters that people his novels and, apparently, his dreams. This image cap- tures the undeniable fact that characters loom large in the experience of fi ction, for both its writers and its readers. Speaking for the former, Elie Wiesel describes a novelist like himself as practically possessed by characters who “force the writer to tell their stories” because “they want to get out.” As readers of fi ction, we care about what happens and how mainly because it happens to someone. Indeed, without a “someone,” it is unlikely that anything would happen at all.

It is also often a “someone,” or the who of a story, that sticks with us long after we have forgotten the details of what, where, and how. In this way, characters sometimes seem to take on a life of their own, to fl oat free of the texts where we

CHARACTER3

Robert Buss, Dickens’ Dream (1870)

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fi rst encounter them, and even to haunt us. You may know almost nothing about Charles Dickens, but you probably have a vivid sense of his characters Ebenezer Scrooge and Tiny Tim from A Christmas Carol (1843).

A character is any personage in a literary work who acts, appears, or is referred to as playing a part. Though personage usually means a human being, it doesn’t have to. Whole genres or subgenres of fi ction are distinguished, in part, by the specifi c kinds of nonhuman characters they conventionally feature, whether alien species and intelligent machines (as in science fi ction), animals (as in fables), or elves and monsters (as in traditional fairy tales and modern fantasy). All charac- ters must have at least some human qualities, however, such as the ability to think, to feel pain, or to fall in love.

Evidence to Consider in Analyzing a Character: A Checklist

• the character’s name • the character’s physical appearance • objects and places associated with the character • the character’s actions • the character’s thoughts and speech, including

° content (what he or she thinks or says) ° timing (when he or she thinks or says it) ° phrasing (how he or she thinks or says it)

• other characters’ thoughts about the character • other characters’ comments to and about the character • the narrator’s comments about the character

HEROES AND VILLAINS VERSUS PROTAGONISTS AND ANTAGONISTS

A common term for the character with the leading male role is hero, the “good guy,” who opposes the villain, or “bad guy.” The leading female character is the heroine. Heroes and heroines are usually larger than life, stronger or better than most human beings, sometimes almost godlike. They are characters that a text encour- ages us to admire and even to emulate, so that the words hero and heroine can also be applied to especially admirable characters who do not play leading roles.

In most modern fi ction, however, the leading character is much more ordinary, not so clearly or simply a “good guy.” For that reason, it is usually more appropriate to use the older and more neutral terms protagonist and antagonist for the leading character and his or her opponent. These terms do not imply either the presence or the absence of outstanding virtue or vice.

The claim that a par tic u lar character either is or is not heroic might well make a good thesis for an essay, whereas the claim that he is or is not the protagonist generally won’t. You might argue, for instance, that Montresor (in Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado) or Ebenezer Scrooge (in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol) is a hero,

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but most readers would agree that each is his story’s protagonist. Like most rules, however, this one admits of exceptions. Some stories do leave open to debate the question of which character most deserves to be called the protagonist. In Sonny’s Blues, for example, Sonny and his brother are equally central.

Controversial in a different way is a par tic u lar type of protagonist known as an antihero. Found mainly in fi ction written since around 1850, an antihero, as the name implies, possesses traits that make him or her the opposite of a traditional hero. An antihero may be diffi cult to like or admire. One early and infl uential exam- ple of an antihero is the narrator- protagonist of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s 1864 Russian- language novella Notes from the Underground— a man utterly paralyzed by his own hypersensitivity. More familiar and recent examples are Homer and Bart Simpson.

It would be a mistake to see the quality of a work of fi ction as dependent on whether we fi nd its characters likable or admirable, just as it would be wrong to assume that an author’s outlook or values are the same as those of the protagonist. Often, the characters we initially fi nd least likable or admirable may ultimately move and teach us the most.

MAJOR VERSUS MINOR CHARACTERS

The major or main characters are those we see more of over time; we learn more about them, and we think of them as more complex and, frequently, as more “real- istic” than the minor characters, the fi gures who fi ll out the story. These major characters can grow and change, too, sometimes defying our expectations.

Yet even though minor characters are less prominent and may seem less com- plex, they are ultimately just as indispensable to a story as major characters. Minor characters often play a key role in shaping our interpretations of, and attitudes toward, the major characters, and also in precipitating the changes that major characters undergo. For example, a minor character might function as a foil— a character that helps by way of contrast to reveal the unique qualities of another (especially main) character.

Questions about minor characters can lead to good essay topics precisely because such characters’ signifi cance to a story is not immediately apparent. Rather, we often have to probe the details of the story to formulate a persuasive interpretation of their roles.

FLAT VERSUS ROUND AND STATIC VERSUS DYNAMIC CHARACTERS

Characters that act from varied, often confl icting motives, impulses, and desires, and who seem to have psychological complexity, are said to be round characters; they can “surprise convincingly,” as one critic puts it. Simple, one- dimensional characters that behave and speak in predictable or repetitive (if sometimes odd) ways are called fl at. Sometimes characters seem round to us because our impres- sion of them evolves as a story unfolds. Other times, the characters themselves— not just our impression of them— change as a result of events that occur in the story. A character that changes is dynamic; one that doesn’t is static. Roundness and dynamism tend to go together. But the two qualities are distinct, and one does not require the other: Not all round characters are dynamic; not all dynamic char- acters are round.

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Terms like fl at and round or dynamic and static are useful so long as we do not let them harden into value judgments. Because fl at characters are less complex than round ones, it is easy to assume they are artistically inferior; however, we need only to think of the characters of Charles Dickens, many of whom are fl at, to realize that this is not always the case. A truly original fl at character with only one or two very distinctive traits or behavioral or verbal tics will often prove more memorable than a round one. Unrealistic as such characters might seem, in real life you probably know at least one or two people who can always be counted on to say or do pretty much the same thing every time you see them. Exaggeration can provide insight, as well as humor. Dickens’s large gallery of lovable fl at characters includes a middle- aged man who constantly pulls himself up by his own hair and an old one who must continually be “fl uffed up” by others because he tends to slide right out of his chair. South Park’s Kenny is little more than a hooded orange snowsuit and a habit of dying in ever more outrageous ways only to come back to life over and over again.

STOCK CHARACTERS AND ARCHETYPES

Flat characters who represent a familiar, frequently recurring type— the dumb blond, the mad scientist, the inept sidekick, the plain yet ever- sympathetic best friend— are called stock characters because they seem to be pulled out of a stock- room of familiar, prefabricated fi gures. Characters that recur in the myths and literature of many different ages and cultures are instead called archetypes, though this term also applies to recurring elements other than characters (such as actions or symbols). One archetypal character is the trickster fi gure that appears in the guise of Brer Rabbit in the Uncle Remus stories, the spider Anansi in cer- tain African and Afro- Caribbean folktales, the coyote in Native American folk- lore, and, perhaps, Bugs Bunny. Another such character is the scapegoat.

READING CHARACTER IN FICTION AND LIFE

On the one hand, we get to know characters in a work of fi ction and try to under- stand them much as we do people in real life. We observe what they own and wear, what they look like and where they live, how they carry themselves and what expressions fl it across their faces, how they behave in various situations, what they say and how they say it, what they don’t say, what others say about them, and how others act in their presence. Drawing on all that evidence and on our own past experience of both literature and life, we try to deduce characters’ motives and desires, their values and beliefs, their strengths and weaknesses— in short, to fi g- ure out what makes them tick and how they might react if circumstances changed. In our daily lives, being able to “read” other people in this way is a vital skill, one that we may well hone by reading fi ction. The skills of observation and interpreta- tion, the enlarged experience and capacity for empathy, that we develop in reading fi ction can help us better navigate our real world.

On the other hand, however, fi ctional characters are not real people; they are imaginary personages crafted by authors. Fiction offers us a more orderly and expansive world than the one we inhabit every day— one in which each person, gesture, and word is a meaningful part of a coherent, purposeful design— one in which our responses to people are guided by a narrator and, ultimately, an author; one in which we can sometimes crawl inside other people’s heads and know their

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thoughts; one in which we can get to know murderers and ministers, monsters and miracle workers— the sorts of people (or personages) we might be afraid, unwilling, or simply unable to meet or spend time with in real life.

In other words, fi ctional characters are the products not of nature, chance, or God, but of careful, deliberate characterization— the art and technique of repre- senting fi ctional personages. In analyzing character, we thus need to consider not only who a character is and what precisely are his or her most important traits, motivations, and values, but also precisely how the text shapes our interpretation of, and degree of sympathy or admiration for, the character; what function the character serves in the narrative; and what the character might represent.

This last issue is important because all characters, no matter how individual- ized and idiosyncratic, ultimately become meaningful to us only if they represent something beyond the story, something bigger than themselves— a type of person, a par tic u lar set of values or way of looking at the world, a human tendency, a demographic group. When you set out to write about a character, consider how the story would be different without the character and what the author says or shows us through the character.

Direct and Indirect Characterization: An Example and an Exercise

The following conversation appears in the pages of a well- known nineteenth- century novel. Even without being familiar with this novel, you should be able to discern a great deal about the two characters that converse in this scene simply by carefully attending to what each says and how each says it. As you will see, one of the things that differentiates the two speakers is that they hold confl icting views of “character” itself:

“In what order you keep these rooms, Mrs Fairfax!” said I. “No dust, no canvas coverings: except that the air feels chilly, one would think they were inhabited daily.”

“Why, Miss Eyre, though Mr Rochester’s visits here are rare, they are always sudden and unexpected; and as I observed that it put him out to fi nd everything swathed up, and to have a bustle of arrange- ment on his arrival, I thought it best to keep the rooms in readiness.”

“Is Mr Rochester an exacting, fastidious sort of man?” “Not particularly so; but he has a gentleman’s tastes and habits,

and he expects to have things managed in conformity to them.” “Do you like him? Is he generally liked?” “O yes; the family have always been respected here. Almost all the

land in this neighbourhood, as far as you can see, has belonged to the Rochesters time out of mind.”

“Well, but leaving his land out of the question, do you like him? Is he liked for himself?”

“I have no cause to do otherwise than like him; and I believe he is considered a just and liberal landlord by his tenants: but he has never lived much amongst them.”

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“But has he no peculiarities? What, in short, is his character?” “Oh! his character is unimpeachable, I suppose. He is rather pecu-

liar, perhaps: he has travelled a great deal, and seen a great deal of the world, I should think. I daresay he is clever: but I never had much conversation with him.”

“In what way is he peculiar?” “I don’t know— it is not easy to describe— nothing striking, but you

feel it when he speaks to you: you cannot be always sure whether he is in jest or earnest, whether he is pleased or the contrary; you don’t thoroughly understand him, in short— at least, I don’t: but it is of no consequence, he is a very good master.”

• What facts about the two speakers can you glean from this conver- sation? What do you infer about their individual outlooks, person- alities, and values?

• What different defi nitions of the word character emerge here? How would you describe each speaker’s view of what matters most in the assessment of character?

This scene— from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847)— demonstrates the fi rst of the two major methods of presenting character—indirect character- ization or showing (as opposed to direct characterization or telling). In this passage Brontë simply shows us what Jane (the narrator) and Mrs. Fairfax say and invites us to infer from their words who each character is (including the absent Mr. Rochester), how each looks at the world, and what each cares about.

Sometimes, however, authors present characters more directly, having narrators tell us what makes a character tick and what we are to think of him or her. Charlotte Brontë engages in both direct and indirect character- ization in the paragraph of Jane Eyre that immediately follows the passage above. Here, Jane (the narrator) tells the reader precisely what she thinks this conversation reveals about Mrs. Fairfax, even as she reveals more about herself in the pro cess:

This was all the account I got from Mrs Fairfax of her employer and mine. There are people who seem to have no notion of sketching a character, or observing and describing salient points, either in per- sons or things: the good lady evidently belonged to this class; my que- ries puzzled, but did not draw her out. Mr Rochester was Mr Rochester in her eyes; a gentleman, a landed proprietor— nothing more: she inquired and searched no further, and evidently wondered at my wish to gain a more defi nite notion of his identity.

• How does Jane’s interpretation of Mrs. Fairfax compare to yours? • How and why might this paragraph corroborate or complicate your

view of Jane herself?

CHARACTER 223

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Characters, Conventions, and Beliefs

Just as fi ction and the characters that inhabit it operate by somewhat different rules than do the real world and real people, so the rules that govern par tic u lar fi ctional worlds and their characters differ from one another. As the critic James Wood argues,

our hunger for the par tic u lar depth or reality level of a character is tutored by each writer, and adapts to the internal conventions of each book. This is how we can read W. G. Sebald one day and Virginia Woolf or Philip Roth the next, and not demand that each resemble the other. [. . . Works of fi ction] tend to fail not when the charac- ters are not vivid or “deep” enough, but when the [work] in question has failed to teach us how to adapt to its conventions, has failed to manage a specifi c hunger for its own characters, its own reality level.

Works of fi ction in various subgenres differ widely in how they handle character- ization. Were a folktale, for example, to depict more than a few, mainly fl at, arche- typal characters; to make us privy to its characters’ thoughts; or to offer up detailed descriptions of their physiques and wardrobes, it would cease both to be a folktale and to yield the par tic u lar sorts of pleasures and insights that only a folktale can. By the same token, readers of a folktale miss out on its pleasures and insights if they expect the wrong things of its characters and modes of characterization.

But even within the same fi ctional subgenre, the treatment of character varies over time and across cultures. Such variations sometimes refl ect profound differ- ences in the way people understand human nature. Individuals and cultures hold confl icting views of what produces personality, whether innate factors such as genes, environmental factors such as upbringing, supernatural forces, uncon- scious impulses or drives, or a combination of some or all of these. Views differ as well as to whether character is simply an unchanging given or something that can change through experience, conversion, or an act of will. Some works of fi ction tackle such issues head on. But many others— especially from cultures or eras dif- ferent from our own— may raise these questions for us simply because their modes of characterization imply an understanding of the self different from the one we take for granted.

We can thus learn a lot about our own values, prejudices, and beliefs by read- ing a wide array of fi ction. Similarly, we learn from encountering a wide array of fi ctional characters, including those whose values, beliefs, and ways of life are vastly different from our own.

• • •

The stories in this chapter differ widely in terms of the number and types of char- acters they depict and the techniques they use to depict them. In their pages, you will meet a range of diverse individuals— some complex and compelling, some utterly ordinary— struggling to make sense of the people around them just as you work to make sense of them and, through them, yourself.

224 CH. 3 | CHARACTER

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WILLIAM FAULKNER Barn Burning 225

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WILLIAM FAULKNER (1897–1962) Barn Burning

A native of Oxford, Mississippi, William Faulkner left high school without graduating, joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1918, and in the mid- 1920s lived briefl y in New Orleans, where he was encour- aged as a writer by Sherwood Anderson. He then spent a few miserable months as a clerk in a New York bookstore, published a collection of poems, The

Marble Faun, in 1924, and took a long walking tour of Eu rope in 1925 before returning to Mississippi. With the publication of Sartoris in 1929, Faulkner began a cycle of works, featuring recurrent characters and set in fi ctional Yoknapatawpha County, including The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), Light in August (1932), Absalom, Absalom! (1936), The Hamlet (1940), and Go Down, Moses (1942). He spent time in Hollywood, writing screenplays for The Big Sleep and other fi lms, and lived his last years in Charlottesville, Virginia. Faulkner received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950.

Questions about Character

• Who is the protagonist, or might there be more than one? Why and how so? Which other characters, if any, are main or major characters? Which are minor characters?

• What are the protagonist’s most distinctive traits, and what is most distinc- tive about his or her outlook and values? What motivates the character? What is it about the character that creates internal and/or external confl ict?

• Which textual details and moments reveal most about this character? Which are most surprising or might complicate your interpretation of this character? How is your view of the character affected by what you don’t know about him or her?

• What are the roles of other characters? Which, if any, functions as an antago- nist? Which, if any, serves as a foil? Why and how so? How would the story as a whole (not just its action or plot) be different if any of these characters dis- appeared? What points might the author be raising or illustrating through each character?

• Which of the characters, or which aspects of the characters, does the text encourage us to sympathize with or to admire? to view negatively? Why and how so?

• Does your view of any character change over the course of the story, or do any of the characters themselves change? If so, when, how, and why?

• Does characterization tend to be indirect or direct in the story? What kinds of information do and don’t we get about the characters, and how does the story tend to give us that information?

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The store in which the Justice of the Peace’s court was sitting smelled of cheese. The boy, crouched on his nail keg at the back of the crowded room, knew he smelled cheese, and more: from where he sat he could see the ranked shelves close- packed with the solid, squat, dynamic shapes of tin cans whose labels his stomach read, not from the lettering which meant nothing to his mind but from the scarlet dev ils and the silver curve of fi sh— this, the cheese which he knew he smelled and the hermetic meat which his intestines believed he smelled coming in intermittent gusts momentary and brief between the other constant one, the smell and sense just a little of fear because mostly of despair and grief, the old fi erce pull of blood. He could not see the table where the Jus- tice sat and before which his father and his father’s enemy (our enemy he thought in that despair; ourn! mine and hisn both! He’s my father!) stood, but he could hear them, the two of them that is, because his father had said no word yet:

“But what proof have you, Mr. Harris?” “I told you. The hog got into my corn. I caught it up and sent it back to him.

He had no fence that would hold it. I told him so, warned him. The next time I put the hog in my pen. When he came to get it I gave him enough wire to patch up his pen. The next time I put the hog up and kept it. I rode down to his house and saw the wire I gave him still rolled on to the spool in his yard. I told him he could have the hog when he paid me a dollar pound fee. That eve ning a nigger came with the dollar and got the hog. He was a strange nigger. He said, ‘He say to tell you wood and hay kin burn.’ I said, ‘What?’ ‘That whut he say to tell you,’ the nigger said. ‘Wood and hay kin burn.’ That night my barn burned. I got the stock out but I lost the barn.”

“Where is the nigger? Have you got him?” “He was a strange nigger, I tell you. I don’t know what became of him.” “But that’s not proof. Don’t you see that’s not proof?” “Get that boy up here. He knows.” For a moment the boy thought too that

the man meant his older brother until Harris said, “Not him. The little one. The boy,” and, crouching, small for his age, small and wiry like his father, in patched and faded jeans even too small for him, with straight, uncombed, brown hair and eyes gray and wild as storm scud, he saw the men between himself and the table part and become a lane of grim faces, at the end of which he saw the Jus- tice, a shabby, collarless, graying man in spectacles, beckoning him. He felt no fl oor under his bare feet; he seemed to walk beneath the palpable weight of the grim turning faces. His father, stiff in his black Sunday coat donned not for the trial but for the moving, did not even look at him. He aims for me to lie, he thought, again with that frantic grief and despair. And I will have to do hit.

“What’s your name, boy?” the Justice said. “Col o nel Sartoris Snopes,” the boy whispered. “Hey?” the Justice said. “Talk louder. Col o nel Sartoris? I reckon anybody

named for Col o nel Sartoris in this country can’t help but tell the truth, can they?” The boy said nothing. Enemy! Enemy! he thought; for a moment he could not even see, could not see that the Justice’s face was kindly nor discern that his voice was troubled when he spoke to the man named Harris: “Do you want me to question this boy?” But he could hear, and during those subsequent long sec- onds while there was absolutely no sound in the crowded little room save that of quiet and intent breathing it was as if he had swung outward at the end of a

5

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grape vine, over a ravine, and at the top of the swing had been caught in a pro- longed instant of mesmerized gravity, weightless in time.

“No!” Harris said violently, explosively. “Damnation! Send him out of here!” Now time, the fl uid world, rushed beneath him again, the voices coming to him again through the smell of cheese and sealed meat, the fear and despair and the old grief of blood:

“This case is closed. I can’t fi nd against you, Snopes, but I can give you advice. Leave this country and don’t come back to it.”

His father spoke for the fi rst time, his voice cold and harsh, level, without emphasis: “I aim to. I don’t fi gure to stay in a country among people who . . .” he said something unprintable and vile, addressed to no one.

“That’ll do,” the Justice said. “Take your wagon and get out of this country before dark. Case dismissed.”

His father turned, and he followed the stiff black coat, the wiry fi gure walk- ing a little stiffl y from where a Confederate provost’s man’s1 musket ball had taken him in the heel on a stolen horse thirty years ago, followed the two backs now, since his older brother had appeared from somewhere in the crowd, no taller than the father but thicker, chewing tobacco steadily, between the two lines of grim- faced men and out of the store and across the worn gallery and down the sagging steps and among the dogs and half- grown boys in the mild May dust, where as he passed a voice hissed:

“Barn burner!” Again he could not see, whirling; there was a face in a red haze, moonlike,

bigger than the full moon, the own er of it half again his size, he leaping in the red haze toward the face, feeling no blow, feeling no shock when his head struck the earth, scrabbling up and leaping again, feeling no blow this time either and tasting no blood, scrabbling up to see the other boy in full fl ight and himself already leaping into pursuit as his father’s hand jerked him back, the harsh, cold voice speaking above him: “Go get in the wagon.”

It stood in a grove of locusts and mulberries across the road. His two hulking sisters in their Sunday dresses and his mother and her sister in calico and sun- bonnets were already in it, sitting on and among the sorry residue of the dozen and more movings which even the boy could remember— the battered stove, the broken beds and chairs, the clock inlaid with mother- of- pearl, which would not run, stopped at some fourteen minutes past two o’clock of a dead and forgotten day and time, which had been his mother’s dowry. She was crying, though when she saw him she drew her sleeve across her face and began to descend from the wagon. “Get back,” the father said.

“He’s hurt. I got to get some water and wash his . . .” “Get back in the wagon,” his father said. He got in too, over the tail- gate. His

father mounted to the seat where the older brother already sat and struck the gaunt mules two savage blows with the peeled willow, but without heat. It was not even sadistic; it was exactly that same quality which in later years would cause his descendants to overrun the engine before putting a motor car into motion, striking and reining back in the same movement. The wagon went on, the store with its quiet crowd of grimly watching men dropped behind; a curve

1. Military policeman’s.

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in the road hid it. Forever he thought. Maybe he’s done satisfi ed now, now that he has . . . stopping himself, not to say it aloud even to himself. His mother’s hand touched his shoulder.

“Does hit hurt?” she said. “Naw,” he said. “Hit don’t hurt. Lemme be.” “Can’t you wipe some of the blood off before hit dries?” “I’ll wash to- night,” he said. “Lemme be, I tell you.” The wagon went on. He did not know where they were going. None of them

ever did or ever asked, because it was always somewhere, always a house of sorts waiting for them a day or two days or even three days away. Likely his father had already arranged to make a crop on another farm before he . . . Again he had to stop himself. He (the father) always did. There was something about his wolf- like in de pen dence and even courage when the advantage was at least neutral which impressed strangers, as if they got from his latent ravening ferocity not so much a sense of dependability as a feeling that his ferocious conviction in the right- ness of his own actions would be of advantage to all whose interest lay with his.

That night they camped, in a grove of oaks and beeches where a spring ran. The nights were still cool and they had a fi re against it, of a rail lifted from a nearby fence and cut into lengths— a small fi re, neat, niggard almost, a shrewd fi re; such fi res were his father’s habit and custom always, even in freezing weather. Older, the boy might have remarked this and wondered why not a big one; why should not a man who had not only seen the waste and extravagance of war, but who had in his blood an inherent voracious prodigality with material not his own, have burned everything in sight? Then he might have gone a step farther and thought that that was the reason: that niggard blaze was the living fruit of nights passed during those four years in the woods hiding from all men, blue or gray,2 with his strings of horses (captured horses, he called them). And older still, he might have divined the true reason: that the element of fi re spoke to some deep mainspring of his father’s being, as the element of steel or of pow- der spoke to other men, as the one weapon for the preservation of integrity, else breath were not worth the breathing, and hence to be regarded with respect and used with discretion.

But he did not think this now and he had seen those same niggard blazes all his life. He merely ate his supper beside it and was already half asleep over his iron plate when his father called him, and once more he followed the stiff back, the stiff and ruthless limp, up the slope and on to the starlit road where, turn- ing, he could see his father against the stars but without face or depth— a shape black, fl at, and bloodless as though cut from tin in the iron folds of the frockcoat which had not been made for him, the voice harsh like tin and without heat like tin:

“You were fi xing to tell them. You would have told him.” He didn’t answer. His father struck him with the fl at of his hand on the side of the head, hard but with- out heat, exactly as he had struck the two mules at the store, exactly as he would strike either of them with any stick in order to kill a horse fl y, his voice still with- out heat or anger: “You’re getting to be a man. You got to learn. You got to learn to stick to your own blood or you ain’t going to have any blood to stick to you. Do

2. Colors of Union and Confederate Civil War (1861– 65) uniforms, respectively.

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you think either of them, any man there this morning, would? Don’t you know all they wanted was a chance to get at me because they knew I had them beat? Eh?” Later, twenty years later, he was to tell himself, “If I had said they wanted only truth, justice, he would have hit me again.” But now he said nothing. He was not crying. He just stood there. “Answer me,” his father said.

“Yes,” he whispered. His father turned. “Get on to bed. We’ll be there tomorrow.” Tomorrow they were there. In the early afternoon the wagon stopped before

a paintless two- room house identical almost with the dozen others it had stopped before even in the boy’s ten years, and again, as on the other dozen occasions, his mother and aunt got down and began to unload the wagon, although his two sisters and his father and brother had not moved.

“Likely hit ain’t fi tten for hawgs,” one of the sisters said. “Nevertheless, fi t it will and you’ll hog it and like it,” his father said. “Get out

of them chairs and help your Ma unload.” The two sisters got down, big, bovine, in a fl utter of cheap ribbons; one of

them drew from the jumbled wagon bed a battered lantern, the other a worn broom. His father handed the reins to the older son and began to climb stiffl y over the wheel. “When they get unloaded, take the team to the barn and feed them.” Then he said, and at fi rst the boy thought he was still speaking to his brother: “Come with me.”

“Me?” he said. “Yes,” his father said. “You.” “Abner,” his mother said. His father paused and looked back— the harsh level

stare beneath the shaggy, graying, irascible brows. “I reckon I’ll have a word with the man that aims to begin to- morrow owning

me body and soul for the next eight months.” They went back up the road. A week ago— or before last night, that is— he

would have asked where they were going, but not now. His father had struck him before last night but never before had he paused afterward to explain why; it was as if the blow and the following calm, outrageous voice still rang, repercussed, divulging nothing to him save the terrible handicap of being young, the light weight of his few years, just heavy enough to prevent his soaring free of the world as it seemed to be ordered but not heavy enough to keep him footed solid in it, to resist it and try to change the course of its events.

Presently he could see the grove of oaks and cedars and the other fl owering trees and shrubs, where the house would be, though not the house yet. They walked beside a fence massed with honeysuckle and Cherokee roses and came to a gate swinging open between two brick pillars, and now, beyond a sweep of drive, he saw the house for the fi rst time and at that instant he forgot his father and the terror and despair both, and even when he remembered his father again (who had not stopped) the terror and despair did not return. Because, for all the twelve movings, they had sojourned until now in a poor country, a land of small farms and fi elds and houses, and he had never seen a house like this before. Hit’s big as a court house he thought quietly, with a surge of peace and joy whose reason he could not have thought into words, being too young for that: They are safe from him. People whose lives are a part of this peace and dignity are beyond his touch, he no more to them than a buzzing wasp: capable of stinging for a little

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moment but that’s all; the spell of this peace and dignity rendering even the barns and stable and cribs which belong to it impervious to the puny fl ames he might contrive . . . this, the peace and joy, ebbing for an instant as he looked again at the stiff black back, the stiff and implacable limp of the fi gure which was not dwarfed by the house, for the reason that it had never looked big anywhere and which now, against the serene columned backdrop, had more than ever that impervious quality of something cut ruthlessly from tin, depthless, as though, sidewise to the sun, it would cast no shadow. Watching him, the boy remarked the absolutely undeviating course which his father held and saw the stiff foot come squarely down in a pile of fresh droppings where a horse had stood in the drive and which his father could have avoided by a simple change of stride. But it ebbed only for a moment, though he could not have thought this into words either, walking on in the spell of the house, which he could even want but with- out envy, without sorrow, certainly never with that ravening and jealous rage which unknown to him walked in the ironlike black coat before him: Maybe he will feel it too. Maybe it will even change him now from what maybe he couldn’t help but be.

They crossed the portico. Now he could hear his father’s stiff foot as it came down on the boards with clocklike fi nality, a sound out of all proportion to the displacement of the body it bore and which was not dwarfed either by the white door before it, as though it had attained to a sort of vicious and ravening minimum not to be dwarfed by anything— the fl at, wide, black hat, the formal coat of broadcloth which had once been black but which had now that friction- glazed greenish cast of the bodies of old house fl ies, the lifted sleeve which was too large, the lifted hand like a curled claw. The door opened so promptly that the boy knew the Negro must have been watching them all the time, an old man with neat grizzled hair, in a linen jacket, who stood barring the door with his body, saying, “Wipe yo foots, white man, fo you come in here. Major ain’t home nohow.”

“Get out of my way, nigger,” his father said, without heat too, fl inging the door back and the Negro also and entering, his hat still on his head. And now the boy saw the prints of the stiff foot on the doorjamb and saw them appear on the pale rug behind the machinelike deliberation of the foot which seemed to bear (or transmit) twice the weight which the body compassed. The Negro was shouting “Miss Lula! Miss Lula!” somewhere behind them, then the boy, del- uged as though by a warm wave by a suave turn of carpeted stair and a pendant glitter of chandeliers and a mute gleam of gold frames, heard the swift feet and saw her too, a lady— perhaps he had never seen her like before either— in a gray, smooth gown with lace at the throat and an apron tied at the waist and the sleeves turned back, wiping cake or biscuit dough from her hands with a towel as she came up the hall, looking not at his father at all but at the tracks on the blond rug with an expression of incredulous amazement.

“I tried,” the Negro cried. “I tole him to . . .” “Will you please go away?” she said in a shaking voice. “Major de Spain is not

at home. Will you please go away?” His father had not spoken again. He did not speak again. He did not even

look at her. He just stood stiff in the center of the rug, in his hat, the shaggy iron- gray brows twitching slightly above the pebble- colored eyes as he appeared

45

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to examine the house with brief deliberation. Then with the same deliberation he turned; the boy watched him pivot on the good leg and saw the stiff foot drag round the arc of the turning, leaving a fi nal long and fading smear. His father never looked at it, he never once looked down at the rug. The Negro held the door. It closed behind them, upon the hysteric and indistinguishable woman- wail. His father stopped at the top of the steps and scraped his boot clean on the edge of it. At the gate he stopped again. He stood for a moment, planted stiffl y on the stiff foot, looking back at the house. “Pretty and white, ain’t it?” he said. “That’s sweat. Nigger sweat. Maybe it ain’t white enough yet to suit him. Maybe he wants to mix some white sweat with it.”

Two hours later the boy was chopping wood behind the house within which his mother and aunt and the two sisters (the mother and aunt, not the two girls, he knew that; even at this distance and muffl ed by walls the fl at loud voices of the two girls emanated an incorrigible idle inertia) were setting up the stove to prepare a meal, when he heard the hooves and saw the linen- clad man on a fi ne sorrel mare, whom he recognized even before he saw the rolled rug in front of the Negro youth following on a fat bay carriage horse— a suffused, angry face vanishing, still at full gallop, beyond the corner of the house where his father and brother were sitting in the two tilted chairs; and a moment later, almost before he could have put the axe down, he heard the hooves again and watched the sorrel mare go back out of the yard, already galloping again. Then his father began to shout one of the sisters’ names, who presently emerged backward from the kitchen door dragging the rolled rug along the ground by one end while the other sister walked behind it.

“If you ain’t going to tote, go on and set up the wash pot,” the fi rst said. “You, Sarty!” the second shouted. “Set up the wash pot!” His father appeared at

the door, framed against that shabbiness, as he had been against that other bland perfection, impervious to either, the mother’s anxious face at his shoulder.

“Go on,” the father said. “Pick it up.” The two sisters stooped, broad, lethar- gic; stooping, they presented an incredible expanse of pale cloth and a fl utter of tawdry ribbons.

“If I thought enough of a rug to have to git hit all the way from France I wouldn’t keep hit where folks coming in would have to tromp on hit,” the fi rst said. They raised the rug.

“Abner,” the mother said. “Let me do it.” “You go back and git dinner,” his father said. “I’ll tend to this.” From the woodpile through the rest of the afternoon the boy watched them,

the rug spread fl at in the dust beside the bubbling wash- pot, the two sisters stooping over it with that profound and lethargic reluctance, while the father stood over them in turn, implacable and grim, driving them though never raising his voice again. He could smell the harsh homemade lye they were using; he saw his mother come to the door once and look toward them with an expression not anxious now but very like despair; he saw his father turn, and he fell to with the axe and saw from the corner of his eye his father raise from the ground a fl attish fragment of fi eld stone and examine it and return to the pot, and this time his mother actually spoke: “Abner. Abner. Please don’t. Please, Abner.”

Then he was done too. It was dusk; the whippoorwills had already begun. He could smell coffee from the room where they would presently eat the cold food remaining from the mid- afternoon meal, though when he entered the house he

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realized they were having coffee again probably because there was a fi re on the hearth, before which the rug now lay spread over the backs of the two chairs. The tracks of his father’s foot were gone. Where they had been were now long, water- cloudy scoriations resembling the sporadic course of a Lilliputian mowing machine.

It still hung there while they ate the cold food and then went to bed, scattered without order or claim up and down the two rooms, his mother in one bed, where his father would later lie, the older brother in the other, himself, the aunt, and the two sisters on pallets on the fl oor. But his father was not in bed yet. The last thing the boy remembered was the depthless, harsh silhouette of the hat and coat bending over the rug and it seemed to him that he had not even closed his eyes when the silhouette was standing over him, the fi re almost dead behind it, the stiff foot prodding him awake. “Catch up the mule,” his father said.

When he returned with the mule his father was standing in the black door, the rolled rug over his shoulder. “Ain’t you going to ride?” he said.

“No. Give me your foot.” He bent his knee into his father’s hand, the wiry, surprising power fl owed

smoothly, rising, he rising with it, on to the mule’s bare back (they had owned a saddle once; the boy could remember it though not when or where) and with the same effortlessness his father swung the rug up in front of him. Now in the star- light they retraced the afternoon’s path, up the dusty road rife with honeysuckle, through the gate and up the black tunnel of the drive to the lightless house, where he sat on the mule and felt the rough warp of the rug drag across his thighs and vanish.

“Don’t you want me to help?” he whispered. His father did not answer and now he heard again that stiff foot striking the hollow portico with that wooden and clocklike deliberation, that outrageous overstatement of the weight it car- ried. The rug, hunched, not fl ung (the boy could tell that even in the darkness) from his father’s shoulder struck the angle of wall and fl oor with a sound unbe- lievably loud, thunderous, then the foot again, unhurried and enormous; a light came on in the house and the boy sat, tense, breathing steadily and quietly and just a little fast, though the foot itself did not increase its beat at all, descending the steps now; now the boy could see him.

“Don’t you want to ride now?” he whispered. “We kin both ride now,” the light within the house altering now, fl aring up and sinking. He’s coming down the stairs now, he thought. He had already ridden the mule up beside the horse block; presently his father was up behind him and he doubled the reins over and slashed the mule across the neck, but before the animal could begin to trot the hard, thin arm came round him, the hard, knotted hand jerking the mule back to a walk.

In the fi rst red rays of the sun they were in the lot, putting plow gear on the mules. This time the sorrel mare was in the lot before he heard it at all, the rider collarless and even bareheaded, trembling, speaking in a shaking voice as the woman in the house had done, his father merely looking up once before stooping again to the hame he was buckling, so that the man on the mare spoke to his stooping back:

“You must realize you have ruined that rug. Wasn’t there anybody here, any of your women . . .” he ceased, shaking, the boy watching him, the older brother

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leaning now in the stable door, chewing, blinking slowly and steadily at nothing apparently. “It cost a hundred dollars. But you never had a hundred dollars. You never will. So I’m going to charge you twenty bushels of corn against your crop. I’ll add it in your contract and when you come to the commissary you can sign it. That won’t keep Mrs. de Spain quiet but maybe it will teach you to wipe your feet off before you enter her house again.”

Then he was gone. The boy looked at his father, who still had not spoken or even looked up again, who was now adjusting the logger- head in the hame.

“Pap,” he said. His father looked at him— the inscrutable face, the shaggy brows beneath which the gray eyes glinted coldly. Suddenly the boy went toward him, fast, stopping as suddenly. “You done the best you could!” he cried. “If he wanted hit done different why didn’t he wait and tell you how? He won’t git no twenty bushels! He won’t git none! We’ll gether hit and hide hit! I kin watch . . .”

“Did you put the cutter back in that straight stock like I told you?” “No, sir,” he said. “Then go do it.” That was Wednesday. During the rest of that week he worked steadily, at

what was within his scope and some which was beyond it, with an industry that did not need to be driven nor even commanded twice; he had this from his mother, with the difference that some at least of what he did he liked to do, such as splitting wood with the half- size axe which his mother and aunt had earned, or saved money somehow, to present him with at Christmas. In company with the two older women (and on one afternoon, even one of the sisters), he built pens for the shoat and the cow which were a part of his father’s contract with the landlord, and one afternoon, his father being absent, gone somewhere on one of the mules, he went to the fi eld.

They were running a middle buster3 now, his brother holding the plow straight while he handled the reins, and walking beside the straining mule, the rich black soil shearing cool and damp against his bare ankles, he thought Maybe this is the end of it. Maybe even that twenty bushels that seems hard to have to pay for just a rug will be a cheap price for him to stop forever and always from being what he used to be; thinking, dreaming now, so that his brother had to speak sharply to him to mind the mule: Maybe he even won’t collect the twenty bushels. Maybe it will all add up and balance and vanish— corn, rug, fi re; the terror and grief, the being pulled two ways like between two teams of horses— gone, done with for ever and ever.

Then it was Saturday; he looked up from beneath the mule he was harness- ing and saw his father in the black coat and hat. “Not that,” his father said. “The wagon gear.” And then, two hours later, sitting in the wagon bed behind his father and brother on the seat, the wagon accomplished a fi nal curve, and he saw the weathered paintless store with its tattered tobacco- and patent- medicine post- ers and the tethered wagons and saddle animals below the gallery. He mounted the gnawed steps behind his father and brother, and there again was the lane of quiet, watching faces for the three of them to walk through. He saw the man in spectacles sitting at the plank table and he did not need to be told this was a Justice of the Peace; he sent one glare of fi erce, exultant, partisan defi ance at the man in collar and cravat now, whom he had seen but twice before in his life,

3. Double moldboard plow that throws a ridge of earth both ways.

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and that on a galloping horse, who now wore on his face an expression not of rage but of amazed unbelief which the boy could not have known was at the incredible circumstance of being sued by one of his own tenants, and came and stood against his father and cried at the Justice: “He ain’t done it! He ain’t burnt . . .”

“Go back to the wagon,” his father said. “Burnt?” the Justice said. “Do I understand this rug was burned too?” “Does anybody here claim it was?” his father said. “Go back to the wagon.”

But he did not, he merely retreated to the rear of the room, crowded as that other had been, but not to sit down this time, instead, to stand pressing among the motionless bodies, listening to the voices:

“And you claim twenty bushels of corn is too high for the damage you did to the rug?”

“He brought the rug to me and said he wanted the tracks washed out of it. I washed the tracks out and took the rug back to him.”

“But you didn’t carry the rug back to him in the same condition it was in before you made the tracks on it.”

His father did not answer, and now for perhaps half a minute there was no sound at all save that of breathing, the faint, steady suspiration of complete and intent listening.

“You decline to answer that, Mr. Snopes?” Again his father did not answer. “I’m going to fi nd against you, Mr. Snopes. I’m going to fi nd that you were responsible for the injury to Major de Spain’s rug and hold you liable for it. But twenty bushels of corn seems a little high for a man in your circumstances to have to pay. Major de Spain claims it cost a hundred dollars. October corn will be worth about fi fty cents. I fi gure that if Major de Spain can stand a ninety- fi ve dollar loss on something he paid cash for, you can stand a fi ve- dollar loss you haven’t earned yet. I hold you in damages to Major de Spain to the amount of ten bushels of corn over and above your contract with him, to be paid to him out of your crop at gathering time. Court adjourned.”

It had taken no time hardly, the morning was but half begun. He thought they would return home and perhaps back to the fi eld, since they were late, far behind all other farmers. But instead his father passed on behind the wagon, merely indicating with his hand for the older brother to follow with it, and crossed the road toward the blacksmith shop opposite, pressing on after his father, overtaking him, speaking, whispering up at the harsh, calm face beneath the weathered hat: “He won’t git no ten bushels neither. He won’t git one. We’ll . . .” until his father glanced for an instant down at him, the face abso- lutely calm, the grizzled eyebrows tangled above the cold eyes, the voice almost pleasant, almost gentle:

“You think so? Well, we’ll wait till October anyway.” The matter of the wagon— the setting of a spoke or two and the tightening

of the tires— did not take long either, the business of the tires accomplished by driving the wagon into the spring branch behind the shop and letting it stand there, the mules nuzzling into the water from time to time, and the boy on the seat with the idle reins, looking up the slope and through the sooty tunnel of the shed where the slow hammer rang and where his father sat on an upended cypress bolt, easily, either talking or listening, still sitting there

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when the boy brought the dripping wagon up out of the branch and halted it before the door.

“Take them on to the shade and hitch,” his father said. He did so and returned. His father and the smith and a third man squatting on his heels inside the door were talking, about crops and animals; the boy, squatting too in the ammoniac dust and hoof- parings and scales of rust, heard his father tell a long and unhurried story out of the time before the birth of the older brother even when he had been a professional horse trader. And then his father came up beside him where he stood before a tattered last year’s circus poster on the other side of the store, gazing rapt and quiet at the scarlet horses, the incredible poisings and convolutions of tulle and tights and the painted leers of comedi- ans, and said, “It’s time to eat.”

But not at home. Squatting beside his brother against the front wall, he watched his father emerge from the store and produce from a paper sack a seg- ment of cheese and divide it carefully and deliberately into three with his pocket knife and produce crackers from the same sack. They all three squatted on the gallery and ate, slowly, without talking; then in the store again, they drank from a tin dipper tepid water smelling of the cedar bucket and of living beech trees. And still they did not go home. It was a horse lot this time, a tall rail fence upon and along which men stood and sat and out of which one by one horses were led, to be walked and trotted and then cantered back and forth along the road while the slow swapping and buying went on and the sun began to slant westward, they— the three of them— watching and listening, the older brother with his muddy eyes and his steady, inevitable tobacco, the father com- menting now and then on certain of the animals, to no one in par tic u lar.

It was after sundown when they reached home. They ate supper by lamplight, then, sitting on the doorstep, the boy watched the night fully accomplish, listen- ing to the whippoorwills and the frogs, when he heard his mother’s voice: “Abner! No! No! Oh, God. Oh, God. Abner!” and he rose, whirled, and saw the altered light through the door where a candle stub now burned in a bottle neck on the table and his father, still in the hat and coat, at once formal and burlesque as though dressed carefully for some shabby and ceremonial violence, emptying the reservoir of the lamp back into the fi ve- gallon kerosene can from which it had been fi lled, while the mother tugged at his arm until he shifted the lamp to the other hand and fl ung her back, not savagely or viciously, just hard, into the wall, her hands fl ung out against the wall for balance, her mouth open and in her face the same quality of hopeless despair as had been in her voice. Then his father saw him standing in the door.

“Go to the barn and get that can of oil we were oiling the wagon with,” he said. The boy did not move. Then he could speak.

“What . . .” he cried. “What are you . . .” “Go get that oil,” his father said. “Go.” Then he was moving, running, outside the house, toward the stable: this the

old habit, the old blood which he had not been permitted to choose for himself, which had been bequeathed him willy nilly and which had run for so long (and who knew where, battening on what of outrage and savagery and lust) before it came to him. I could keep on, he thought. I could run on and on and never look back, never need to see his face again. Only I can’t. I can’t, the rusted can in his

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hand now, the liquid sploshing in it as he ran back to the house and into it, into the sound of his mother’s weeping in the next room, and handed the can to his father.

“Ain’t you going to even send a nigger?” he cried. “At least you sent a nigger before!”

This time his father didn’t strike him. The hand came even faster than the blow had, the same hand which had set the can on the table with almost excru- ciating care fl ashing from the can toward him too quick for him to follow it, gripping him by the back of his shirt and on to tiptoe before he had seen it quit the can, the face stooping at him in breathless and frozen ferocity, the cold, dead voice speaking over him to the older brother, who leaned against the table, chewing with that steady, curious, sidewise motion of cows:

“Empty the can into the big one and go on. I’ll catch up with you.” “Better tie him up to the bedpost,” the brother said. “Do like I told you,” the father said. Then the boy was moving, his bunched

shirt and the hard, bony hand between his shoulder- blades, his toes just touch- ing the fl oor, across the room and into the other one, past the sisters sitting with spread heavy thighs in the two chairs over the cold hearth, and to where his mother and aunt sat side by side on the bed, the aunt’s arms about his mother’s shoulders.

“Hold him,” the father said. The aunt made a startled movement. “Not you,” the father said. “Lennie. Take hold of him. I want to see you do it.” His mother took him by the wrist. “You’ll hold him better than that. If he gets loose don’t you know what he is going to do? He will go up yonder.” He jerked his head toward the road. “Maybe I’d better tie him.”

“I’ll hold him,” his mother whispered. “See you do then.” Then his father was gone, the stiff foot heavy and mea-

sured upon the boards, ceasing at last. Then he began to struggle. His mother caught him in both arms, he jerking

and wrenching at them. He would be stronger in the end, he knew that. But he had no time to wait for it. “Lemme go!” he cried. “I don’t want to have to hit you!”

“Let him go!” the aunt said. “If he don’t go, before God, I am going up there myself!”

“Don’t you see I can’t?” his mother cried. “Sarty! Sarty! No! No! Help me, Lizzie!”

Then he was free. His aunt grasped at him but it was too late. He whirled, running, his mother stumbled forward on to her knees behind him, crying to the nearer sister: “Catch him, Net! Catch him!” But that was too late too, the sister (the sisters were twins, born at the same time, yet either of them now gave the impression of being, encompassing as much living meat and volume and weight as any other two of the family) not yet having begun to rise from the chair, her head, face, alone merely turned, presenting to him in the fl ying instant an astonishing expanse of young female features untroubled by any surprise even, wearing only an expression of bovine interest. Then he was out of the room, out of the house, in the mild dust of the starlit road and the heavy rifeness of honeysuckle, the pale ribbon unspooling with terrifi c slowness under his running feet, reaching the gate at last and turning in, running, his heart and lungs drumming, on up the drive toward the lighted house, the lighted door. He

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100

236 CH. 3 | CHARACTER

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WILLIAM FAULKNER Barn Burning 237

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did not knock, he burst in, sobbing for breath, incapable for the moment of speech; he saw the astonished face of the Negro in the linen jacket without knowing when the Negro had appeared.

“De Spain!” he cried, panted. “Where’s . . .” then he saw the white man too emerging from a white door down the hall. “Barn!” he cried. “Barn!”

“What?” the white man said. “Barn?” “Yes!” the boy cried. “Barn!” “Catch him!” the white man shouted. But it was too late this time too. The Negro grasped his shirt, but the entire

sleeve, rotten with washing, carried away, and he was out that door too and in the drive again, and had actually never ceased to run even while he was scream- ing into the white man’s face.

Behind him the white man was shouting, “My horse! Fetch my horse!” and he thought for an instant of cutting across the park and climbing the fence into the road, but he did not know the park nor how high the vine- massed fence might be and he dared not risk it. So he ran on down the drive, blood and breath roar- ing; presently he was in the road again though he could not see it. He could not hear either: the galloping mare was almost upon him before he heard her, and even then he held his course, as if the very urgency of his wild grief and need must in a moment more fi nd his wings, waiting until the ultimate instant to hurl himself aside and into the weed- choked roadside ditch as the horse thundered past and on, for an instant in furious silhouette against the stars, the tranquil early summer night sky which, even before the shape of the horse and rider vanished, stained abruptly and violently upward: a long, swirling roar incredible and soundless, blotting the stars, and he springing up and into the road again, running again, knowing it was too late yet still running even after he heard the shot and, an instant later, two shots, pausing now without knowing he had ceased to run, crying “Pap! Pap!”, running again before he knew he had begun to run, stumbling, tripping over something and scrabbling up again without ceas- ing to run, looking backward over his shoulder at the glare as he got up, running on among the invisible trees, panting, sobbing, “Father! Father!”

At midnight he was sitting on the crest of a hill. He did not know it was mid- night and he did not know how far he had come. But there was no glare behind him now and he sat now, his back toward what he had called home for four days anyhow, his face toward the dark woods which he would enter when breath was strong again, small, shaking steadily in the chill darkness, hugging himself into the remainder of his thin, rotten shirt, the grief and despair now no longer ter- ror and fear but just grief and despair. Father. My father, he thought. “He was brave!” he cried suddenly, aloud but not loud, no more than a whisper: “He was! He was in the war! He was in Col o nel Sartoris’ cav’ry!” not knowing that his father had gone to that war a private in the fi ne old Eu ro pe an sense, wearing no uniform, admitting the authority of and giving fi delity to no man or army or fl ag, going to war as Malbrouck4 himself did: for booty— it meant nothing and less than nothing to him if it were enemy booty or his own.

4. John Churchill, the fi rst duke of Marlborough (1650– 1722), an En glish general whose name became distorted as Malbrough and Malbrouch in En glish and French pop u lar songs celebrating his exploits.

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The slow constellations wheeled on. It would be dawn and then sun- up after a while and he would be hungry. But that would be to- morrow and now he was only cold, and walking would cure that. His breathing was easier now and he decided to get up and go on, and then he found that he had been asleep because he knew it was almost dawn, the night almost over. He could tell that from the whippoorwills. They were everywhere now among the dark trees below him, constant and infl ectioned and ceaseless, so that, as the instant for giving over to the day birds drew nearer and nearer, there was no interval at all between them. He got up. He was a little stiff, but walking would cure that too as it would the cold, and soon there would be the sun. He went on down the hill, toward the dark woods within which the liquid silver voices of the birds called unceasing— the rapid and urgent beating of the urgent and quiring heart of the late spring night. He did not look back.

1939

QUESTIONS

1. At one point in Barn Burning, Sarty thinks that “maybe” his father “ couldn’t help but be” what he is (par. 40). What is Abner Snopes? What desires, motives, values, and views— especially of justice— seem to drive and explain him? What does the story imply about how and why he has become the man he is? What might be admi- rable, as well as abhorrent, about him? How does the narrative point of view shape your understanding of, and attitude toward, Abner?

2. How is Sarty characterized? How is this characterization affected by the multiple fl ashforwards in the story and by the way Sarty’s thoughts are presented? Does Sarty change over the course of the story? How and why does he change or not change?

3. What do each of the minor characters contribute to the story, especially Sarty’s mother, sisters, and older brother?

TONI MORRISON (b. 1931) Recitatif1

Born in Lorain, Ohio, a steel town on the shores of Lake Erie, Chloe Anthony Wofford was the fi rst member of her family to go to college, graduating from Howard University in 1953 and earning an MA from Cornell. She taught at both Texas Southern University and at Howard before becoming an editor at Random

House, where she worked for nearly twenty years. In such novels as The Bluest Eye (1969), Sula (1973), Song of Solomon (1977), Beloved (1987), and Paradise (1998), Mor- rison traces the problems and possibilities faced by black Americans struggling with slavery and its aftermath in the United States. More recent work includes her eighth novel, Love (2003); two picture books for children co- authored with her son, Slade—The Bog Box (1999) and Book of Mean People (2002); a book for young adults, Remember:

1. In classical music such as opera, a vocal passage that is sung in a speechlike manner.

238 CH. 3 | CHARACTER

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The Journey to School Integration (2004); and What Moves at the Margin: Selected Non- fi ction (2008). In 1993, Morrison became the fi rst African American author to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

My mother danced all night and Roberta’s was sick. That’s why we were taken to St. Bonny’s. People want to put their arms around you when you tell them you were in a shelter, but it really wasn’t bad. No big long room with one hundred beds like Bellevue.2 There were four to a room, and when Roberta and me came, there was a shortage of state kids, so we were the only ones assigned to 406 and could go from bed to bed if we wanted to. And we wanted to, too. We changed beds every night and for the whole four months we were there we never picked one out as our own permanent bed.

It didn’t start out that way. The minute I walked in and the Big Bozo intro- duced us, I got sick to my stomach. It was one thing to be taken out of your own bed early in the morning— it was something else to be stuck in a strange place with a girl from a whole other race. And Mary, that’s my mother, she was right. Every now and then she would stop dancing long enough to tell me something important and one of the things she said was that they never washed their hair and they smelled funny. Roberta sure did. Smell funny, I mean. So when the Big Bozo (nobody ever called her Mrs. Itkin, just like nobody ever said St. Bonaventure)— when she said, “Twyla, this is Roberta. Roberta, this is Twyla. Make each other welcome.” I said, “My mother won’t like you putting me in here.”

“Good,” said Bozo. “Maybe then she’ll come and take you home.” How’s that for mean? If Roberta had laughed I would have killed her, but she

didn’t. She just walked over to the window and stood with her back to us. “Turn around,” said the Bozo. “Don’t be rude. Now Twyla. Roberta. When

you hear a loud buzzer, that’s the call for dinner. Come down to the fi rst fl oor. Any fi ghts and no movie.” And then, just to make sure we knew what we would be missing, “The Wizard of Oz.”

Roberta must have thought I meant that my mother would be mad about my being put in the shelter. Not about rooming with her, because as soon as Bozo left she came over to me and said, “Is your mother sick too?”

“No,” I said. “She just likes to dance all night.” “Oh,” she nodded her head and I liked the way she understood things so fast.

So for the moment it didn’t matter that we looked like salt and pepper standing there and that’s what the other kids called us sometimes. We were eight years old and got F’s all the time. Me because I couldn’t remember what I read or what the teacher said. And Roberta because she couldn’t read at all and didn’t even listen to the teacher. She wasn’t good at anything except jacks, at which she was a killer: pow scoop pow scoop pow scoop.

We didn’t like each other all that much at fi rst, but nobody else wanted to play with us because we weren’t real orphans with beautiful dead parents in the sky. We were dumped. Even the New York City Puerto Ricans and the upstate Indians ignored us. All kinds of kids were in there, black ones, white ones, even

5

2. Large New York City hospital best known for its psychiatric wards.

TONI MORRISON Recitatif 239

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two Koreans. The food was good, though. At least I thought so. Roberta hated it and left whole pieces of things on her plate: Spam, Salisbury steak— even jello with fruit cocktail in it, and she didn’t care if I ate what she wouldn’t. Mary’s idea of supper was popcorn and a can of Yoo- Hoo. Hot mashed potatoes and two weenies was like Thanksgiving for me.

It really wasn’t bad, St. Bonny’s. The big girls on the second fl oor pushed us around now and then. But that was all. They wore lipstick and eyebrow pencil and wobbled their knees while they watched TV. Fifteen, sixteen, even, some of them were. They were put- out girls, scared runaways most of them. Poor little girls who fought their uncles off but looked tough to us, and mean. God did they look mean. The staff tried to keep them separate from the younger chil- dren, but sometimes they caught us watching them in the orchard where they played radios and danced with each other. They’d light out after us and pull our hair or twist our arms. We were scared of them, Roberta and me, but neither of us wanted the other one to know it. So we got a good list of dirty names we could shout back when we ran from them through the orchard. I used to dream a lot and almost always the orchard was there. Two acres, four maybe, of these little apple trees. Hundreds of them. Empty and crooked like beggar women when I fi rst came to St. Bonny’s but fat with fl owers when I left. I don’t know why I dreamt about that orchard so much. Nothing really happened there. Nothing all that important, I mean. Just the big girls dancing and playing the radio. Roberta and me watching. Maggie fell down there once. The kitchen woman with legs like parentheses. And the big girls laughed at her. We should have helped her up, I know, but we were scared of those girls with lipstick and eyebrow pencil. Maggie couldn’t talk. The kids said she had her tongue cut out, but I think she was just born that way: mute. She was old and sandy- colored and she worked in the kitchen. I don’t know if she was nice or not. I just remember her legs like parentheses and how she rocked when she walked. She worked from early in the morning till two o’clock, and if she was late, if she had too much cleaning and didn’t get out till two- fi fteen or so, she’d cut through the orchard so she wouldn’t miss her bus and have to wait another hour. She wore this really stupid little hat— a kid’s hat with ear fl aps— and she wasn’t much taller than we were. A really awful little hat. Even for a mute, it was dumb— dressing like a kid and never saying anything at all.

“But what about if somebody tries to kill her?” I used to wonder about that. “Or what if she wants to cry? Can she cry?”

“Sure,” Roberta said. “But just tears. No sounds come out.” “She can’t scream?” “Nope. Nothing.” “Can she hear?” “I guess.” “Let’s call her,” I said. And we did. “Dummy! Dummy!” She never turned her head. “Bow legs! Bow legs!” Nothing. She just rocked on, the chin straps of her

baby- boy hat swaying from side to side. I think we were wrong. I think she could hear and didn’t let on. And it shames me even now to think there was somebody in there after all who heard us call her those names and couldn’t tell on us.

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240 CH. 3 | CHARACTER

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We got along all right, Roberta and me. Changed beds every night, got F’s in civics and communication skills and gym. The Bozo was disappointed in us, she said. Out of 130 of us state cases, 90 were under twelve. Almost all were real orphans with beautiful dead parents in the sky. We were the only ones dumped and the only ones with F’s in three classes including gym. So we got along— what with her leaving whole pieces of things on her plate and being nice about not asking questions.

I think it was the day before Maggie fell down that we found out our mothers were coming to visit us on the same Sunday. We had been at the shelter twenty- eight days (Roberta twenty- eight and a half) and this was their fi rst visit with us. Our mothers would come at ten o’clock in time for chapel, then lunch with us in the teachers’ lounge. I thought if my dancing mother met her sick mother it might be good for her. And Roberta thought her sick mother would get a big bang out of a dancing one. We got excited about it and curled each other’s hair. After breakfast we sat on the bed watching the road from the window. Roberta’s socks were still wet. She washed them the night before and put them on the radiator to dry. They hadn’t, but she put them on anyway because their tops were so pretty— scalloped in pink. Each of us had a purple construction- paper basket that we had made in craft class. Mine had a yellow crayon rabbit on it. Roberta’s had eggs with wiggly lines of color. Inside were cellophane grass and just the jelly beans because I’d eaten the two marshmallow eggs they gave us. The Big Bozo came herself to get us. Smiling she told us we looked very nice and to come downstairs. We were so surprised by the smile we’d never seen before, neither of us moved.

“Don’t you want to see your mommies?” I stood up fi rst and spilled the jelly beans all over the fl oor. Bozo’s smile dis-

appeared while we scrambled to get the candy up off the fl oor and put it back in the grass.

She escorted us downstairs to the fi rst fl oor, where the other girls were lining up to fi le into the chapel. A bunch of grown- ups stood to one side. Viewers mostly. The old biddies who wanted servants and the fags who wanted company looking for children they might want to adopt. Once in a while a grandmother. Almost never anybody young or anybody whose face wouldn’t scare you in the night. Because if any of the real orphans had young relatives they wouldn’t be real orphans. I saw Mary right away. She had on those green slacks I hated and hated even more now because didn’t she know we were going to chapel? And that fur jacket with the pocket linings so ripped she had to pull to get her hands out of them. But her face was pretty— like always, and she smiled and waved like she was the little girl looking for her mother— not me.

I walked slowly, trying not to drop the jelly beans and hoping the paper handle would hold. I had to use my last Chiclet because by the time I fi nished cutting everything out, all the Elmer’s was gone. I am left- handed and the scissors never worked for me. It didn’t matter, though; I might just as well have chewed the gum. Mary dropped to her knees and grabbed me, mashing the basket, the jelly beans, and the grass into her ratty fur jacket.

“Twyla, baby. Twyla, baby!” I could have killed her. Already I heard the big girls in the orchard the next

time saying, “Twyyyyyla, baby!” But I couldn’t stay mad at Mary while she was

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TONI MORRISON Recitatif 241

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smiling and hugging me and smelling of Lady Esther dusting powder. I wanted to stay buried in her fur all day.

To tell the truth I forgot about Roberta. Mary and I got in line for the traipse into chapel and I was feeling proud because she looked so beautiful even in those ugly green slacks that made her behind stick out. A pretty mother on earth is better than a beautiful dead one in the sky even if she did leave you all alone to go dancing.

I felt a tap on my shoulder, turned, and saw Roberta smiling. I smiled back, but not too much lest somebody think this visit was the biggest thing that ever happened in my life. Then Roberta said, “Mother, I want you to meet my room- mate, Twyla. And that’s Twyla’s mother.”

I looked up it seemed for miles. She was big. Bigger than any man and on her chest was the biggest cross I’d ever seen. I swear it was six inches long each way. And in the crook of her arm was the biggest Bible ever made.

Mary, simple- minded as ever, grinned and tried to yank her hand out of the pocket with the raggedy lining— to shake hands, I guess. Roberta’s mother looked down at me and then looked down at Mary too. She didn’t say anything, just grabbed Roberta with her Bible- free hand and stepped out of line, walking quickly to the rear of it. Mary was still grinning because she’s not too swift when it comes to what’s really going on. Then this light bulb goes off in her head and she says “That bitch!” really loud and us almost in the chapel now. Organ music whining; the Bonny Angels singing sweetly. Everybody in the world turned around to look. And Mary would have kept it up— kept calling names if I hadn’t squeezed her hand as hard as I could. That helped a little, but she still twitched and crossed and uncrossed her legs all through ser vice. Even groaned a couple of times. Why did I think she would come there and act right? Slacks. No hat like the grandmothers and viewers, and groaning all the while. When we stood for hymns she kept her mouth shut. Wouldn’t even look at the words on the page. She actually reached in her purse for a mirror to check her lipstick. All I could think of was that she really needed to be killed. The sermon lasted a year, and I knew the real orphans were looking smug again.

We were supposed to have lunch in the teachers’ lounge, but Mary didn’t bring anything, so we picked fur and cellophane grass off the mashed jelly beans and ate them. I could have killed her. I sneaked a look at Roberta. Her mother had brought chicken legs and ham sandwiches and oranges and a whole box of chocolate- covered grahams. Roberta drank milk from a thermos while her mother read the Bible to her.

Things are not right. The wrong food is always with the wrong people. Maybe that’s why I got into waitress work later— to match up the right people with the right food. Roberta just let those chicken legs sit there, but she did bring a stack of grahams up to me later when the visit was over. I think she was sorry that her mother would not shake my mother’s hand. And I liked that and I liked the fact that she didn’t say a word about Mary groaning all the way through the ser vice and not bringing any lunch.

Roberta left in May when the apple trees were heavy and white. On her last day we went to the orchard to watch the big girls smoke and dance by the radio. It didn’t matter that they said, “Twyyyyyla, baby.” We sat on the ground and breathed. Lady Esther. Apple blossoms. I still go soft when I smell one or the

30

242 CH. 3 | CHARACTER

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other. Roberta was going home. The big cross and the big Bible was coming to get her and she seemed sort of glad and sort of not. I thought I would die in that room of four beds without her and I knew Bozo had plans to move some other dumped kid in there with me. Roberta promised to write every day, which was really sweet of her because she couldn’t read a lick so how could she write any- body. I would have drawn pictures and sent them to her but she never gave me her address. Little by little she faded. Her wet socks with the pink scalloped tops and her big serious- looking eyes— that’s all I could catch when I tried to bring her to mind.

I was working behind the counter at the Howard Johnson’s on the Thruway just before the Kingston exit. Not a bad job. Kind of a long ride from New- burgh,3 but okay once I got there. Mine was the second night shift— eleven to seven. Very light until a Greyhound checked in for breakfast around six- thirty. At that hour the sun was all the way clear of the hills behind the restaurant. The place looked better at night— more like shelter— but I loved it when the sun broke in, even if it did show all the cracks in the vinyl and the speckled fl oor looked dirty no matter what the mop boy did.

It was August and a bus crowd was just unloading. They would stand around a long while: going to the john, and looking at gifts and junk- for- sale machines, reluctant to sit down so soon. Even to eat. I was trying to fi ll the coffee pots and get them all situated on the electric burners when I saw her. She was sitting in a booth smoking a cigarette with two guys smothered in head and facial hair. Her own hair was so big and wild I could hardly see her face. But the eyes. I would know them anywhere. She had on a powder- blue halter and shorts outfi t and ear- rings the size of bracelets. Talk about lipstick and eyebrow pencil. She made the big girls look like nuns. I couldn’t get off the counter until seven o’clock, but I kept watching the booth in case they got up to leave before that. My replacement was on time for a change, so I counted and stacked my receipts as fast as I could and signed off. I walked over to the booth, smiling and wondering if she would remember me. Or even if she wanted to remember me. Maybe she didn’t want to be reminded of St. Bonny’s or to have anybody know she was ever there. I know I never talked about it to anybody.

I put my hands in my apron pockets and leaned against the back of the booth facing them.

“Roberta? Roberta Fisk?” She looked up. “Yeah?” “Twyla.” She squinted for a second and then said, “Wow.” “Remember me?” “Sure. Hey. Wow.” “It’s been a while,” I said, and gave a smile to the two hairy guys. “Yeah. Wow. You work here?” “Yeah,” I said. “I live in Newburgh.” “Newburgh? No kidding?” She laughed then a private laugh that included the

guys but only the guys, and they laughed with her. What could I do but laugh too and wonder why I was standing there with my knees showing out from

35

40

45

3. City on the Hudson River north of New York City.

TONI MORRISON Recitatif 243

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under that uniform. Without looking I could see the blue and white triangle on my head, my hair shapeless in a net, my ankles thick in white oxfords. Nothing could have been less sheer than my stockings. There was this silence that came down right after I laughed. A silence it was her turn to fi ll up. With introduc- tions, maybe, to her boyfriends or an invitation to sit down and have a Coke. Instead she lit a cigarette off the one she’d just fi nished and said, “We’re on our way to the Coast. He’s got an appointment with Hendrix.” She gestured casually toward the boy next to her.

“Hendrix? Fantastic,” I said. “Really fantastic. What’s she doing now?” Roberta coughed on her cigarette and the two guys rolled their eyes up at the

ceiling. “Hendrix. Jimi Hendrix, asshole. He’s only the biggest— Oh, wow. Forget it.” I was dismissed without anyone saying goodbye, so I thought I would do it for

her. “How’s your mother?” I asked. Her grin cracked her whole face. She swal-

lowed. “Fine,” she said. “How’s yours?” “Pretty as a picture,” I said and turned away. The backs of my knees were

damp. Howard Johnson’s really was a dump in the sunlight.

James is as comfortable as a house slipper. He liked my cooking and I liked his big loud family. They have lived in Newburgh all of their lives and talk about it the way people do who have always known a home. His grandmother is a porch swing older than his father and when they talk about streets and avenues and buildings they call them names they no longer have. They still call the A & P4 Rico’s because it stands on property once a mom and pop store owned by Mr. Rico. And they call the new community college Town Hall because it once was. My mother- in- law puts up jelly and cucumbers and buys butter wrapped in cloth from a dairy. James and his father talk about fi shing and baseball and I can see them all together on the Hudson in a raggedy skiff. Half the population of Newburgh is on welfare now, but to my husband’s family it was still some upstate paradise of a time long past. A time of ice houses and vegetable wagons, coal furnaces and children weeding gardens. When our son was born my mother- in- law gave me the crib blanket that had been hers.

But the town they remembered had changed. Something quick was in the air. Magnifi cent old houses, so ruined they had become shelter for squatters and rent risks, were bought and renovated. Smart IBM5 people moved out of their suburbs back into the city and put shutters up and herb gardens in their backyards. A brochure came in the mail announcing the opening of a Food Emporium. Gourmet food it said— and listed items the rich IBM crowd would want. It was located in a new mall at the edge of town and I drove out to shop there one day— just to see. It was late in June. After the tulips were gone and the Queen Elizabeth roses were open everywhere. I trailed my cart along the aisle tossing in smoked oysters and Robert’s sauce and things I knew would sit in my cupboard for years. Only when I found some Klondike ice cream bars did

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4. Supermarket, part of a chain originally known as the Great Atlantic and Pacifi c Tea Company. 5. The International Business Machine Corporation, which had its executive headquarters in Pough- keepsie, New York.

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I feel less guilty about spending James’s fi reman’s salary so foolishly. My father- in- law ate them with the same gusto little Joseph did.

Waiting in the check- out line I heard a voice say, “Twyla!” The classical music piped over the aisles had affected me and the woman

leaning toward me was dressed to kill. Diamonds on her hand, a smart white summer dress. “I’m Mrs. Benson,” I said.

“Ho. Ho. The Big Bozo,” she sang. For a split second I didn’t know what she was talking about. She had a bunch

of asparagus and two cartons of fancy water. “Roberta!” “Right.” “For heaven’s sake. Roberta.” “You look great,” she said. “So do you. Where are you? Here? In Newburgh?” “Yes. Over in Annandale.” I was opening my mouth to say more when the cashier called my attention to

her empty counter. “Meet you outside.” Roberta pointed her fi nger and went into the express line. I placed the groceries and kept myself from glancing around to check Rober-

ta’s progress. I remembered Howard Johnson’s and looking for a chance to speak only to be greeted with a stingy “wow.” But she was waiting for me and her huge hair was sleek now, smooth around a small, nicely shaped head. Shoes, dress, everything lovely and summery and rich. I was dying to know what happened to her, how she got from Jimi Hendrix to Annandale, a neighborhood full of doc- tors and IBM executives. Easy, I thought. Everything is so easy for them. They think they own the world.

“How long,” I asked her. “How long have you been here?” “A year. I got married to a man who lives here. And you, you’re married too,

right? Benson, you said.” “Yeah. James Benson.” “And is he nice?” “Oh, is he nice?” “Well, is he?” Roberta’s eyes were steady as though she really meant the

question and wanted an answer. “He’s wonderful, Roberta. Wonderful.” “So you’re happy.” “Very.” “That’s good,” she said and nodded her head. “I always hoped you’d be happy.

Any kids? I know you have kids.” “One. A boy. How about you?” “Four.” “Four?” She laughed. “Step kids. He’s a widower.” “Oh.” “Got a minute? Let’s have a coffee.” I thought about the Klondikes melting and the incon ve nience of going all the

way to my car and putting the bags in the trunk. Served me right for buying all that stuff I didn’t need. Roberta was ahead of me.

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“Put them in my car. It’s right here.” And then I saw the dark blue limousine. “You married a Chinaman?” “No,” she laughed. “He’s the driver.” “Oh, my. If the Big Bozo could see you now.” We both giggled. Really giggled. Suddenly, in just a pulse beat, twenty years

disappeared and all of it came rushing back. The big girls (whom we called gar girls— Roberta’s misheard word for the evil stone faces described in a civics class) there dancing in the orchard, the ploppy mashed potatoes, the double weenies, the Spam with pineapple. We went into the coffee shop holding on to one another and I tried to think why we were glad to see each other this time and not before. Once, twelve years ago, we passed like strangers. A black girl and a white girl meeting in a Howard Johnson’s on the road and having nothing to say. One in a blue and white triangle waitress hat— the other on her way to see Hen- drix. Now we were behaving like sisters separated for much too long. Those four short months were nothing in time. Maybe it was the thing itself. Just being there, together. Two little girls who knew what nobody else in the world knew— how not to ask questions. How to believe what had to be believed. There was politeness in that reluctance and generosity as well. Is your mother sick too? No, she dances all night. Oh— and an understanding nod.

We sat in a booth by the window and fell into recollection like veterans. “Did you ever learn to read?” “Watch.” She picked up the menu. “Special of the day. Cream of corn soup.

Entrées. Two dots and a wriggly line. Quiche. Chef salad, scallops . . .” I was laughing and applauding when the waitress came up. “Remember the Easter baskets?” “And how we tried to introduce them?” “Your mother with that cross like two telephone poles.” “And yours with those tight slacks.” We laughed so loudly heads turned and made the laughter harder to suppress. “What happened to the Jimi Hendrix date?” Roberta made a blow- out sound with her lips. “When he died I thought about you.” “Oh, you heard about him fi nally?” “Finally. Come on, I was a small- town country waitress.” “And I was a small- town country dropout. God, were we wild. I still don’t know

how I got out of there alive.” “But you did.” “I did. I really did. Now I’m Mrs. Kenneth Norton.” “Sounds like a mouthful.” “It is.” “Servants and all?” Roberta held up two fi ngers. “Ow! What does he do?” “Computers and stuff. What do I know?” “I don’t remember a hell of a lot from those days, but Lord, St. Bonny’s is as

clear as daylight. Remember Maggie? The day she fell down and those gar girls laughed at her?”

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Roberta looked up from her salad and stared at me. “Maggie didn’t fall,” she said.

“Yes, she did. You remember.” “No, Twyla. They knocked her down. Those girls pushed her down and tore

her clothes. In the orchard.” “I don’t— that’s not what happened.” “Sure it is. In the orchard. Remember how scared we were?” “Wait a minute. I don’t remember any of that.” “And Bozo was fi red.” “You’re crazy. She was there when I left. You left before me.” “I went back. You weren’t there when they fi red Bozo.” “What?” “Twice. Once for a year when I was about ten, another for two months when

I was fourteen. That’s when I ran away.” “You ran away from St. Bonny’s?” “I had to. What do you want? Me dancing in that orchard?” “Are you sure about Maggie?” “Of course I’m sure. You’ve blocked it, Twyla. It happened. Those girls had

behavior problems, you know.” “Didn’t they, though. But why can’t I remember the Maggie thing?” “Believe me. It happened. And we were there.” “Who did you room with when you went back?” I asked her as if I would

know her. The Maggie thing was troubling me. “Creeps. They tickled themselves in the night.” My ears were itching and I wanted to go home suddenly. This was all very

well but she couldn’t just comb her hair, wash her face and pretend everything was hunky- dory. After the Howard Johnson’s snub. And no apology. Nothing.

“Were you on dope or what that time at Howard Johnson’s?” I tried to make my voice sound friendlier than I felt.

“Maybe, a little. I never did drugs much. Why?” “I don’t know; you acted sort of like you didn’t want to know me then.” “Oh, Twyla, you know how it was in those days: black— white. You know how

everything was.” But I didn’t know. I thought it was just the opposite. Busloads of blacks and

whites came into Howard Johnson’s together. They roamed together then: stu- dents, musicians, lovers, protesters. You got to see everything at Howard John- son’s and blacks were very friendly with whites in those days. But sitting there with nothing on my plate but two hard tomato wedges wondering about the melting Klondikes it seemed childish remembering the slight. We went to her car, and with the help of the driver, got my stuff into my station wagon.

“We’ll keep in touch this time,” she said. “Sure,” I said. “Sure. Give me a call.” “I will,” she said, and then just as I was sliding behind the wheel, she leaned

into the window. “By the way. Your mother. Did she ever stop dancing?” I shook my head. “No. Never.” Roberta nodded. “And yours? Did she ever get well?” She smiled a tiny sad smile. “No. She never did. Look, call me, okay?”

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“Okay,” I said, but I knew I wouldn’t. Roberta had messed up my past somehow with that business about Maggie. I wouldn’t forget a thing like that. Would I?

Strife came to us that fall. At least that’s what the paper called it. Strife. Racial strife. The word made me think of a bird— a big shrieking bird out of 1,000,000,000 b.c. Flapping its wings and cawing. Its eye with no lid always bearing down on you. All day it screeched and at night it slept on the rooftops. It woke you in the morning and from the Today show to the eleven o’clock news it kept you an awful company. I couldn’t fi gure it out from one day to the next. I knew I was supposed to feel something strong, but I didn’t know what, and James wasn’t any help. Joseph was on the list of kids to be transferred from the ju nior high school to another one at some far- out- of- the- way place and I thought it was a good thing until I heard it was a bad thing. I mean I didn’t know. All the schools seemed dumps to me, and the fact that one was nicer looking didn’t hold much weight. But the papers were full of it and then the kids began to get jumpy. In August, mind you. Schools weren’t even open yet. I thought Joseph might be frightened to go over there, but he didn’t seem scared so I forgot about it, until I found myself driving along Hudson Street out there by the school they were trying to integrate and saw a line of women marching. And who do you suppose was in line, big as life, holding a sign in front of her bigger than her mother’s cross? mothers have rights too! it said.

I drove on, and then changed my mind. I circled the block, slowed down, and honked my horn.

Roberta looked over and when she saw me she waved. I didn’t wave back, but I didn’t move either. She handed her sign to another woman and came over to where I was parked.

“Hi.” “What are you doing?” “Picketing. What’s it look like?” “What for?” “What do you mean, ‘What for?’ They want to take my kids and send them

out of the neighborhood. They don’t want to go.” “So what if they go to another school? My boy’s being bussed too, and I don’t

mind. Why should you?” “It’s not about us, Twyla. Me and you. It’s about our kids.” “What’s more us than that?” “Well, it is a free country.” “Not yet, but it will be.” “What the hell does that mean? I’m not doing anything to you.” “You really think that?” “I know it.” “I wonder what made me think you were different.” “I wonder what made me think you were different.” “Look at them,” I said. “Just look. Who do they think they are? Swarming all

over the place like they own it. And now they think they can decide where my child goes to school. Look at them, Roberta. They’re Bozos.”

Roberta turned around and looked at the women. Almost all of them were standing still now, waiting. Some were even edging toward us. Roberta looked

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at me out of some refrigerator behind her eyes. “No, they’re not. They’re just mothers.”

“And what am I? Swiss cheese?” “I used to curl your hair.” “I hated your hands in my hair.” The women were moving. Our faces looked mean to them of course and they

looked as though they could not wait to throw themselves in front of a police car, or better yet, into my car and drag me away by my ankles. Now they sur- rounded my car and gently, gently began to rock it. I swayed back and forth like a sideways yo- yo. Automatically I reached for Roberta, like the old days in the orchard when they saw us watching them and we had to get out of there, and if one of us fell the other pulled her up and if one of us was caught the other stayed to kick and scratch, and neither would leave the other behind. My arm shot out of the car window but no receiving hand was there. Roberta was look- ing at me sway from side to side in the car and her face was still. My purse slid from the car seat down under the dashboard. The four policemen who had been drinking Tab in their car fi nally got the message and strolled over, forcing their way through the women. Quietly, fi rmly they spoke. “Okay, ladies. Back in line or off the streets.”

Some of them went away willingly; others had to be urged away from the car doors and the hood. Roberta didn’t move. She was looking steadily at me. I was fumbling to turn on the ignition, which wouldn’t catch because the gearshift was still in drive. The seats of the car were a mess because the swaying had thrown my grocery coupons all over it and my purse was sprawled on the fl oor.

“Maybe I am different now, Twyla. But you’re not. You’re the same little state kid who kicked a poor old black lady when she was down on the ground. You kicked a black lady and you have the nerve to call me a bigot.”

The coupons were everywhere and the guts of my purse were bunched under the dashboard. What was she saying? Black? Maggie wasn’t black.

“She wasn’t black,” I said. “Like hell she wasn’t, and you kicked her. We both did. You kicked a black

lady who couldn’t even scream.” “Liar!” “You’re the liar! Why don’t you just go on home and leave us alone, huh?” She turned away and I skidded away from the curb. The next morning I went into the garage and cut the side out of the carton

our portable TV had come in. It wasn’t nearly big enough, but after a while I had a decent sign: red spray- painted letters on a white background—and so do children ****. I meant just to go down to the school and tack it up somewhere so those cows on the picket line across the street could see it, but when I got there, some ten or so others had already assembled— protesting the cows across the street. Police permits and everything. I got in line and we strutted in time on our side while Roberta’s group strutted on theirs. That fi rst day we were all dignifi ed, pretending the other side didn’t exist. The second day there was name calling and fi nger gestures. But that was about all. People changed signs from time to time, but Roberta never did and neither did I. Actually my sign didn’t make sense without Roberta’s. “And so do children what?” one of the women on my side asked me. Have rights, I said, as though it was obvious.

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Roberta didn’t acknowledge my presence in any way and I got to thinking maybe she didn’t know I was there. I began to pace myself in the line, jostling people one minute and lagging behind the next, so Roberta and I could reach the end of our respective lines at the same time and there would be a moment in our turn when we would face each other. Still, I couldn’t tell whether she saw me and knew my sign was for her. The next day I went early before we were scheduled to assemble. I waited until she got there before I exposed my new creation. As soon as she hoisted her mothers have rights too I began to wave my new one, which said, how would you know? I know she saw that one, but I had gotten addicted now. My signs got crazier each day, and the women on my side decided that I was a kook. They couldn’t make heads or tails out of my bril- liant screaming posters.

I brought a painted sign in queenly red with huge black letters that said, is your mother well? Roberta took her lunch break and didn’t come back for the rest of the day or any day after. Two days later I stopped going too and couldn’t have been missed because nobody understood my signs anyway.

It was a nasty six weeks. Classes were suspended and Joseph didn’t go to anybody’s school until October. The children— everybody’s children— soon got bored with that extended vacation they thought was going to be so great. They looked at TV until their eyes fl attened. I spent a couple of mornings tutoring my son, as the other mothers said we should. Twice I opened a text from last year that he had never turned in. Twice he yawned in my face. Other mothers or ga- nized living room sessions so the kids would keep up. None of the kids could concentrate so they drifted back to The Price Is Right and The Brady Bunch.6 When the school fi nally opened there were fi ghts once or twice and some sirens roared through the streets every once in a while. There were a lot of photogra- phers from Albany. And just when ABC was about to send up a news crew, the kids settled down like nothing in the world had happened. Joseph hung my how would you know? sign in his bedroom. I don’t know what became of and so do children ****. I think my father- in- law cleaned some fi sh on it. He was always puttering around in our garage. Each of his fi ve children lived in New- burgh and he acted as though he had fi ve extra homes.

I couldn’t help looking for Roberta when Joseph graduated from high school, but I didn’t see her. It didn’t trouble me much what she had said to me in the car. I mean the kicking part. I know I didn’t do that, I couldn’t do that. But I was puzzled by her telling me Maggie was black. When I thought about it I actually couldn’t be certain. She wasn’t pitch- black, I knew, or I would have remembered that. What I remember was the kiddie hat, and the semicircle legs. I tried to reassure myself about the race thing for a long time until it dawned on me that the truth was already there, and Roberta knew it. I didn’t kick her; I didn’t join in with the gar girls and kick that lady, but I sure did want to. We watched and never tried to help her and never called for help. Maggie was my dancing mother. Deaf, I thought, and dumb. Nobody inside. Nobody who would hear you if you cried in the night. Nobody who could tell you anything impor- tant that you could use. Rocking, dancing, swaying as she walked. And when

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6. Tele vi sion sitcom pop u lar in the 1970s. The Price Is Right: tele vi sion game show pop u lar in the 1970s.

250 CH. 3 | CHARACTER

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the gar girls pushed her down, and started roughhousing, I knew she wouldn’t scream, couldn’t— just like me— and I was glad about that.

We decided not to have a tree, because Christmas would be at my mother- in- law’s house, so why have a tree at both places? Joseph was at suny New Paltz and we had to economize, we said. But at the last minute, I changed my mind. Nothing could be that bad. So I rushed around town looking for a tree, some- thing small but wide. By the time I found a place, it was snowing and very late. I dawdled like it was the most important purchase in the world and the tree man was fed up with me. Finally I chose one and had it tied onto the trunk of the car. I drove away slowly because the sand trucks were not out yet and the streets could be murder at the beginning of a snowfall. Downtown the streets were wide and rather empty except for a cluster of people coming out of the Newburgh Hotel. The one hotel in town that wasn’t built out of cardboard and Plexiglas. A party, probably. The men huddled in the snow were dressed in tails and the women had on furs. Shiny things glittered from underneath their coats. It made me tired to look at them. Tired, tired, tired. On the next corner was a small diner with loops and loops of paper bells in the window. I stopped the car and went in. Just for a cup of coffee and twenty minutes of peace before I went home and tried to fi nish everything before Christmas Eve.

“Twyla?” There she was. In a silvery eve ning gown and dark fur coat. A man and another

woman were with her, the man fumbling for change to put in the cigarette machine. The woman was humming and tapping on the counter with her fi nger- nails. They all looked a little bit drunk.

“Well. It’s you.” “How are you?” I shrugged. “Pretty good. Frazzled. Christmas and all.” “Regular?” called the woman from the counter. “Fine,” Roberta called back and then, “Wait for me in the car.” She slipped into the booth beside me. “I have to tell you something, Twyla. I

made up my mind if I ever saw you again, I’d tell you.” “I’d just as soon not hear anything, Roberta. It doesn’t matter now, anyway.” “No,” she said. “Not about that.” “Don’t be long,” said the woman. She carried two regulars to go and the man

peeled his cigarette pack as they left. “It’s about St. Bonny’s and Maggie.” “Oh, please.” “Listen to me. I really did think she was black. I didn’t make that up. I really

thought so. But now I can’t be sure. I just remember her as old, so old. And because she couldn’t talk— well, you know, I thought she was crazy. She’d been brought up in an institution like my mother was and like I thought I would be too. And you were right. We didn’t kick her. It was the gar girls. Only them. But, well, I wanted to. I really wanted them to hurt her. I said we did it, too. You and me, but that’s not true. And I don’t want you to carry that around. It was just that I wanted to do it so bad that day— wanting to is doing it.”

Her eyes were watery from the drinks she’d had, I guess. I know it’s that way with me. One glass of wine and I start bawling over the littlest thing.

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“We were kids, Roberta.” “Yeah. Yeah. I know, just kids.” “Eight.” “Eight.” “And lonely.” “Scared, too.” She wiped her cheeks with the heel of her hand and smiled. “Well, that’s all

I wanted to say.” I nodded and couldn’t think of any way to fi ll the silence that went from the

diner past the paper bells on out into the snow. It was heavy now. I thought I’d better wait for the sand trucks before starting home.

“Thanks, Roberta.” “Sure.” “Did I tell you? My mother, she never did stop dancing.” “Yes. You told me. And mine, she never got well.” Roberta lifted her hands

from the tabletop and covered her face with her palms. When she took them away she really was crying. “Oh shit, Twyla. Shit, shit, shit. What the hell hap- pened to Maggie?”

1983

QUESTIONS

1. At the end of Recitatif, how do Twyla’s and Roberta’s explorations of the “truth” of what they had seen at St. Bonny’s many years earlier affect your sense of the “truth” of later episodes in the story? Is either Twyla or Roberta more reliable than the other?

2. At what point in the story do you fi rst begin to make assumptions about the race and class of the two main characters, Twyla and Roberta? Why? Do you change your mind later in the story? When and why so— or not? What is the signifi cance of Mor- rison’s choice both to withhold information about the characters’ race and class and to have Twyla narrate the story?

3. How does the relationship between Twyla and Roberta evolve over the course of the story?

AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK TONI MORRISON (b. 1931)

From “Toni Morrison: The Art of Fiction CXXXIV” (1993)*

morrison: Faulkner in Absalom, Absalom! spends the entire book tracing race, and you can’t fi nd it. No one can see it, even the character who is black can’t see it. [. . .] Do you know how hard it is to withhold that kind of information but hinting, pointing all of the time? And then to reveal it in order to say that it is not the point anyway? It is technically just astonishing. As a reader you have been forced to hunt for a drop of black blood that means everything and noth- ing. The insanity of racism.

• • •

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morrison: [. . .] I wrote a story entitled “Recitatif,” in which there are two little girls in an orphanage, one white and one black. But the reader doesn’t know which is white and which is black. I use class codes, but no racial codes.

interviewer: Is this meant to confuse the reader?

morrison: Well, yes. But to provoke and enlighten. I did that as a lark. What was exciting was to be forced as a writer not to be lazy and rely on obvious codes. Soon as I say, “Black woman . . .” I can rest on or provoke predictable responses, but if I leave it out then I have to talk about her in a complicated way— as a person.

*“Toni Morrison: The Art of Fiction CXXXIV.” Interview by Elisa Schappell with Claudia Brodsky Lacour. The Paris Review, no. 128, Fall 1993, www . theparisreview . org / interviews / 1888 / the – art – of – fi ction – no – 134 – toni – morrison.

DAVID FOSTER WALLACE (1962–2008)

Good People

Born in Ithaca, New York, to a philosophy professor and an En glish teacher, David Foster Wallace has been dubbed an “outrageously gifted novelist” and “the genius of his generation,” as well as a “recovering smart aleck” and “a decent, decent man.” A philosophy and En glish major at Amherst College, he contem-

plated a career in math before— at age twenty-four— earning an MFA from the Univer- sity of Arizona and publishing his fi rst novel, The Broom of the System (1987). His subsequent work includes short- story collections like Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (1999) and Oblivion (2006), as well as wide- ranging nonfi ction, some of which appears in A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (1997) and Consider the Lobster and Other Essays (2006). At over a thousand pages and with almost four hundred footnotes, his most famous novel, Infi nite Jest (1996), intertwines several narratives set in a near- future in which years are named by their corporate sponsors (“Year of the Whopper”) and New En gland is a giant toxic- waste dump. Included on Time’s list of the hundred best novels published since 1923, it also helped earn Wallace a MacArthur “genius grant.”

Wallace described his own goal as “morally passionate, passionately moral fi ction” that might help readers “become less alone inside.” Though admired as much for its humor as its bulk and complexity, his fi ction often dwells on what he called “an ineluc- table part of being a human”—“suffering.” Though Wallace long battled depression, his 2008 suicide shocked and saddened fans and fellow writers around the world. The story “Good People,” fi rst published in 2007, ultimately became part of The Pale King (2011), the unfi nished novel he left behind.

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They were up on a picnic table at that park by the lake, by the edge of the lake, with part of a downed tree in the shallows half hidden by the bank. Lane A. Dean, Jr., and his girlfriend, both in bluejeans and button- up shirts. They sat up on the table’s top portion and had their shoes on the bench part that people sat on to picnic or fellowship together in carefree times. They’d gone to different high schools but the same ju nior college, where they had met in campus ministries. It was springtime, and the park’s grass was very green and the air suffused with honeysuckle and lilacs both, which was almost too much. There were bees, and the angle of the sun made the water of the shal- lows look dark. There had been more storms that week, with some downed trees and the sound of chainsaws all up and down his parents’ street. Their postures on the picnic table were both the same forward kind with their shoulders rounded and elbows on their knees. In this position the girl rocked slightly and once put her face in her hands, but she was not crying. Lane was very still and immobile and looking past the bank at the downed tree in the shallows and its ball of exposed roots going all directions and the tree’s cloud of branches all half in the water. The only other individual nearby was a dozen spaced tables away, by himself, standing upright. Looking at the torn- up hole in the ground there where the tree had gone over. It was still early yet and all the shadows wheeling right and shortening. The girl wore a thin old checked cotton shirt with pearl- colored snaps with the long sleeves down and always smelled very good and clean, like someone you could trust and care about even if you weren’t in love. Lane Dean had liked the smell of her right away. His mother called her down to earth and liked her, thought she was good people, you could tell— she made this evident in little ways. The shallows lapped from different directions at the tree as if almost teething on it. Sometimes when alone and thinking or struggling to turn a matter over to Jesus Christ in prayer, he would fi nd himself putting his fi st in his palm and turning it slightly as if still playing and pound- ing his glove to stay sharp and alert in center. He did not do this now; it would be cruel and indecent to do this now. The older individual stood beside his picnic table— he was at it but not sitting— and looked also out of place in a suit coat or jacket and the kind of men’s hat Lane’s grandfather wore in photos as a young insurance man. He appeared to be looking across the lake. If he moved, Lane didn’t see it. He looked more like a picture than a man. There were not any ducks in view.

One thing Lane Dean did was reassure her again that he’d go with her and be there with her. It was one of the few safe or decent things he could really say. The second time he said it again now she shook her head and laughed in an unhappy way that was more just air out her nose. Her real laugh was different. Where he’d be was the waiting room, she said. That he’d be thinking about her and feeling bad for her, she knew, but he couldn’t be in there with her. This was so obviously true that he felt like a ninny that he’d kept on about it and now knew what she had thought every time he went and said it— it hadn’t brought her comfort or eased the burden at all. The worse he felt, the stiller he sat. The whole thing felt balanced on a knife or wire; if he moved to put his arm up or touch her the whole thing could tip over. He hated himself for sitting so frozen. He could almost visualize himself tiptoeing past something explosive. A big stupid- looking tiptoe, like in a cartoon. The whole last black week had been this

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way and it was wrong. He knew it was wrong, knew something was required of him that was not this terrible frozen care and caution, but he pretended to him- self he did not know what it was that was required. He pretended it had no name. He pretended that not saying aloud what he knew to be right and true was for her sake, was for the sake of her needs and feelings. He also worked dock and routing at UPS, on top of school, but had traded to get the day off after they’d decided together. Two days before, he had awakened very early and tried to pray but could not. He was freezing more and more solid, he felt like, but he had not thought of his father or the blank frozenness of his father, even in church, which had once fi lled him with such pity. This was the truth. Lane Dean, Jr., felt sun on one arm as he pictured in his mind an image of himself on a train, waving mechanically to something that got smaller and smaller as the train pulled away. His father and his mother’s father had the same birthday, a Cancer. Sheri’s hair was colored an almost corn blond, very clean, the skin through her central part pink in the sunlight. They’d sat here long enough that only their right side was shaded now. He could look at her head, but not at her. Different parts of him felt unconnected to each other. She was smarter than him and they both knew it. It wasn’t just school— Lane Dean was in accounting and business and did all right; he was hanging in there. She was a year older, twenty, but it was also more— she had always seemed to Lane to be on good terms with her life in a way that age could not account for. His mother had put it that she knew what it is she wanted, which was nursing and not an easy pro- gram at Peoria Ju nior College, and plus she worked hostessing at the Embers and had bought her own car. She was serious in a way Lane liked. She had a cousin that died when she was thirteen, fourteen, that she’d loved and been close with. She only talked about it that once. He liked her smell and her downy arms and the way she exclaimed when something made her laugh. He had liked just being with her and talking to her. She was serious in her faith and values in a way that Lane had liked and now, sitting here with her on the table, found himself afraid of. This was an awful thing. He was starting to believe that he might not be serious in his faith. He might be somewhat of a hypocrite, like the Assyrians in Isaiah,1 which would be a far graver sin than the appointment— he had decided he believed this. He was desperate to be good people, to still be able to feel he was good. He rarely before now had thought of damnation and Hell— that part of it didn’t speak to his spirit— and in worship ser vices he more just tuned himself out and tolerated Hell when it came up, the same way you tolerate the job you’ve got to have to save up for what it is you want. Her tennis shoes had little things doodled on them from sitting in her class lectures. She stayed looking down like that. Little notes or reading assignments in Bic in her neat round hand on the rubber elements around the sneaker’s rim. Lane A. Dean, looking now at her inclined head’s side’s barrettes in the shape of blue ladybugs. The appointment was for afternoon, but when the doorbell had rung so early and his mother’d called to him up the stairs, he had known, and a ter- rible kind of blankness had commenced falling through him.

1. Perhaps a reference to Isaiah 36, in which the Assyrians promise to save the kingdom of Judah if its king will trust and surrender to them rather than relying on God. Later chapters describe Assyria’s fall as punishment for their hubris.

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He told her that he did not know what to do. That he knew if he was the salesman of it and forced it upon her that was awful and wrong. But he was try- ing to understand— they’d prayed on it and talked it through from every differ- ent angle. Lane said how sorry she knew he was, and that if he was wrong in believing they’d truly decided together when they decided to make the appoint- ment she should please tell him, because he thought he knew how she must have felt as it got closer and closer and how she must be so scared, but that what he couldn’t tell was if it was more than that. He was totally still except for mov- ing his mouth, it felt like. She did not reply. That if they needed to pray on it more and talk it through, then he was here, he was ready, he said. The appoint- ment could get moved back; if she just said the word they could call and push it back to take more time to be sure in the decision. It was still so early in it— they both knew that, he said. This was true, that he felt this way, and yet he also knew he was also trying to say things that would get her to open up and say enough back that he could see her and read her heart and know what to say to get her to go through with it. He knew this without admitting to himself that this was what he wanted, for it would make him a hypocrite and liar. He knew, in some locked- up little part of him, why it was that he’d gone to no one to open up and seek their life counsel, not Pastor Steve or the prayer partners at campus ministries, not his UPS friends or the spiritual counselling available through his parents’ old church. But he did not know why Sheri herself had not gone to Pastor Steve— he could not read her heart. She was blank and hidden. He so fervently wished it never happened. He felt like he knew now why it was a true sin and not just a leftover rule from past society. He felt like he had been brought low by it and humbled and now did believe that the rules were there for a reason. That the rules were concerned with him personally, as an individual. He promised God he had learned his lesson. But what if that, too, was a hollow promise, from a hypocrite who repented only after, who promised submission but really only wanted a reprieve? He might not even know his own heart or be able to read and know himself. He kept thinking also of 1 Timothy and the hypocrite therein who disputeth over words.2 He felt a terrible inner re sis tance but could not feel what it was that it resisted. This was the truth. All the differ- ent angles and ways they had come at the decision together did not ever include it— the word— for had he once said it, avowed that he did love her, loved Sheri Fisher, then it all would have been transformed. It would not be a different stance or angle, but a difference in the very thing they were praying and deciding on together. Sometimes they had prayed together over the phone, in a kind of half code in case anybody accidentally picked up the extension. She continued to sit as if thinking, in the pose of thinking, like that one statue. They were right up next to each other on the table. He was looking over past her at the tree in the water. But he could not say he did: it was not true.

But neither did he ever open up and tell her straight out he did not love her. This might be his lie by omission. This might be the frozen resistance— were he to look right at her and tell her he didn’t, she would keep the appointment and

2. See 1 Timothy 6.3– 4: “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, rail- ings, evil surmisings.”

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go. He knew this. Something in him, though, some terrible weakness or lack of values, could not tell her. It felt like a muscle he did not have. He didn’t know why; he just could not do it, or even pray to do it. She believed he was good, serious in his values. Part of him seemed willing to more or less just about lie to someone with that kind of faith and trust, and what did that make him? How could such a type of individual even pray? What it really felt like was a taste of the reality of what might be meant by Hell. Lane Dean had never believed in Hell as a lake of fi re or a loving God consigning folks to a burning lake of fi re— he knew in his heart this was not true. What he believed in was a living God of compassion and love and the possibility of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through whom this love was enacted in human time. But sitting here beside this girl as unknown to him now as outer space, waiting for what ever she might say to unfreeze him, now he felt like he could see the edge or outline of what a real vision of Hell might be. It was of two great and terrible armies within himself, opposed and facing each other, silent. There would be battle but no vic- tor. Or never a battle— the armies would stay like that, motionless, looking across at each other, and seeing therein something so different and alien from themselves that they could not understand, could not hear each other’s speech as even words or read anything from what their face looked like, frozen like that, opposed and uncomprehending, for all human time. Two- hearted, a hypocrite to yourself either way.

When he moved his head, a part of the lake further out fl ashed with sun— the water up close wasn’t black now, and you could see into the shallows and see that all the water was moving but gently, this way and that— and in this same way he besought to return to himself as Sheri moved her leg and started to turn beside him. He could see the man in the suit and gray hat standing motionless now at the lake’s rim, holding something under one arm and looking across at the opposite side where a row of little forms on camp chairs sat in a way that meant they had lines in the water for crappie— which mostly only your blacks from the East Side ever did— and the little white shape at the row’s end a Styrofoam creel. In his moment or time at the lake now just to come, Lane Dean fi rst felt he could take this all in whole: everything seemed distinctly lit, for the circle of the pin oak’s shade had rotated off all the way, and they sat now in sun with their shadow a two- headed thing in the grass before them. He was looking or gazing again at where the downed tree’s branches seemed to all bend so sharply just under the shallows’ surface when he was given to know that through all this frozen silence he’d despised he had, in truth, been praying, or some little part of his heart he could not hear had, for he was answered now with a type of vision, what he would later call within his own mind a vision or moment of grace. He was not a hypocrite, just broken and split off like all men. Later on, he believed that what happened was he’d had a moment of almost seeing them both as Jesus saw them— as blind but groping, wanting to please God despite their inborn fallen nature. For in that same given moment he saw, quick as light, into Sheri’s heart, and was made to know what would occur here as she fi nished turning to him and the man in the hat watched the fi shing and the downed elm shed cells into the water. This down- to- earth girl that smelled good and wanted to be a nurse would take and hold one of his hands in both of hers to unfreeze him and make him look at her, and she would say that she cannot do it. That

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she is sorry she did not know this sooner, that she hadn’t meant to lie— she agreed because she’d wanted to believe that she could, but she cannot. That she will carry this and have it; she has to. With her gaze clear and steady. That all night last night she prayed and searched inside herself and decided this is what love commands of her. That Lane should please please sweetie let her fi nish. That listen— this is her own decision and obliges him to nothing. That she knows he does not love her, not that way, has known it all this time, and that it’s all right. That it is as it is and it’s all right. She will carry this, and have it, and love it and make no claim on Lane except his good wishes and respecting what she has to do. That she releases him, all claim, and hopes he fi nishes up at P.J.C. and does so good in his life and has all joy and good things. Her voice will be clear and steady, and she will be lying, for Lane has been given to read her heart. To see through her. One of the opposite side’s blacks raises his arm in what may be greeting, or waving off a bee. There is a mower cutting grass some- place off behind them. It will be a terrible, last- ditch gamble born out of the desperation in Sheri Fisher’s soul, the knowledge that she can neither do this thing today nor carry a child alone and shame her family. Her values blocked the way either way, Lane could see, and she has no other options or choice— this lie is not a sin. Galatians 4:16, Have I then become your enemy?3 She is gambling that he is good. There on the table, neither frozen nor yet moving, Lane Dean, Jr., sees all this, and is moved with pity, and also with something more, some- thing without any name he knows, that is given to him in the form of a question that never once in all the long week’s thinking and division had even so much as occurred— why is he so sure he doesn’t love her? Why is one kind of love any different? What if he has no earthly idea what love is? What would even Jesus do? For it was just now he felt her two small strong soft hands on his, to turn him. What if he was just afraid, if the truth was no more than this, and if what to pray for was not even love but simple courage, to meet both her eyes as she says it and trust his heart?

2007

QUESTIONS

1. How would you summarize or characterize Lane Dean, Jr.’s confl icts, both internal and external? How does his faith intensify or even create those confl icts and help him resolve them?

2. How is your interpretation of Lane Dean, Jr.’s character and confl icts shaped by all that the story withholds from us, including dialogue; Sheri’s point of view or thoughts; explicit information about the nature of Sheri’s “appointment” or of the “it” he “wished [. . .] never happened” (par. 3); a description of what actually hap- pens at the end rather than Lane Dean’s “vision” of what would happen and/or his later “belie[f]” about what happened?

3. What different defi nitions of “good people” or of a “good person” are implied here, or how might Lane Dean, Jr.’s understanding of what it means to be “good people”

3. “Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?” (Gal. 4.16). Earlier in this letter, Paul exhorts the Galatians to understand that when they “knew not God,” they inevitably served “them which by nature are no gods,” but now that they know God such “bondage” is instead a choice. At the same time, he reminds them that he is, like them, fallible, and that despite that “temptation which was in my fl esh ye despised [me] not, nor rejected.”

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SUGGESTIONS FOR WRITING 259

change over the course of the story? What part does the idea of hypocrisy play in those defi nitions?

SUGGESTIONS FOR WRITING

1. Choose any story in this anthology in which a character changes because of the events that occur in the story. Write an essay exploring exactly how, when, and why the character changes.

2. Choose any story in this chapter and write an essay analyzing its handling of char- acter and methods of characterization. Do the story’s characters tend to be more fl at or round, static or dynamic, highly individualized or nearly indistinguishable? Is indirect or direct characterization more important? How important is each type of evidence listed on the checklist that appears earlier in this chapter? Why and how is this treatment of character appropriate to the story?

3. Imagine that you are a lawyer with the job of defending Abner Snopes. He is undoubt- edly guilty of the crime of burning Major de Spain’s barn, but how might you per- suade the court that he deserves leniency? Write an essay in which you lay out your argument to a jury, making sure both to support your claims with facts from the story and to anticipate the portrayal of Abner Snopes’s character and behavior that the prosecution will likely put forward.

4. Write an essay comparing how the adult lives and personalities of the two central characters in Recitatif are shaped by their experience in the orphanage. Why and how is this experience so traumatic? How does each character understand and cope with this experience over time? In these terms, how are Twyla and Roberta both similar and different, and what role does Maggie play in their efforts to come to terms with their past?

5. Write an essay exploring how plotting— especially sequence and pace— and narration— including focus, voice, tense, and (biblical) allusion— contribute to the characterization of Lane Dean, Jr., in Good People.

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Monsters A N A L B U M

I used to wonder why he looked familiar Then I realized it was a mirror. Oh, and now it is plain to see, The whole time the monster was me. —Gnarls Barkley, “The Boogie Monster”

The world’s oldest work of fi ction is a story about monsters. Known as The Epic of Gilgamesh, it depicts the unlikely friendship between the wise but ruthless king of Uruk (in modern Iraq) and his opposite, Enkidu. A hairy (and, by some accounts, horned and hooved) creature of the forest who runs naked with the animals, knowing “nothing of land or peoples” until he is taught how to speak, eat, and clothe himself like a man, Enkidu clearly counts as a monster in the term’s most literal sense—“a mythical creature which is part animal and part human, or combines elements of two or more animal forms, and is frequently of great size and ferocious appearance” (Oxford En glish Dictionary). Yet Enkidu ultimately accompanies Gilgamesh deep into the Cedar Forest in order to slay its far more monstrous guardian— the dreaded, fi re- breathing giant Humbaba the Terrible. Even before that, Enkidu stops Gilgamesh from exercising his “right” to be the fi rst to enjoy the sexual favors of every newly married bride in his kingdom— precisely the sort of behavior that makes the king seem, at least to his people, the real monster in that term’s more fi gurative or moral sense—“A per- son [. . .] exhibiting such extreme cruelty or wickedness as to appear inhuman.” Like many of the greatest “monster stories” to come, the world’s oldest provokes us to ponder just who “the monster” truly is and whether it just might be us.

Though human beings and their stories have obviously changed enormously in the thousands of years since someone etched Gilgamesh onto clay tablets, one thing that hasn’t changed is their fascination with creatures who cross borders we like to consider stable and impermeable— between human and animal, civi- lized and savage, good and evil, even life and death. Strange as it may seem, Ste- phenie Meyer’s Edward Cullen and Jacob Black, J. K. Rowling’s Professor Lupin and J. R. R. Tolkien’s hobbits and dragon, even Disney’s Beast, are as much Enkidu and Humbaba’s descendants as are Beowulf ’s Grendel, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Mr. Hyde. If one of fi ction’s basic goals is simply to help us imagine what it is like either to be, or to cope with, someone who appears utterly different from ourselves, the “monster” may well be the ultimate fi ctional character. As outsiders, outcasts, and sometimes scapegoats, such char- acters have also, at least since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), served as a means through which authors explore a variety of specifi c social prejudices, norms, and forms of exclusion and oppression. Often, they do so by allowing us to perceive the world from the point of view of the monster itself— precisely that point of view with which conventional horror fi ction and fi lm often have little sympathy.

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262 MONSTERS: AN ALBUM

Though different, all of the stories in this album do precisely that, taking us into a deliberately fantastic world in order to give us new insight into our own. As you read them, think about how each story depicts its protagonist’s peculiar char- acter and situation. In what different senses is and is not each of these characters a “monster”? To what real people and situations do the stories encourage us to compare their fantastical ones? Or how might they help us to better understand our own distinctly human way of experiencing the world, ourselves, even time itself, by imagining an utterly alien way?

MARGARET ATWOOD (b. 1939) Lusus Naturae1

Margaret Atwood spent her fi rst eleven years in sparsely populated areas of northern Ontario and Que- bec, where her father worked as an entomologist— an upbringing that may help explain her enduring con- cern with humanity’s often- destructive relationship with the natural world. Educated at the University of

Toronto and Harvard, the woman now widely regarded as Canada’s preeminent woman of letters published her fi rst poem at nineteen and the fi rst of numerous poetry collec- tions, Double Persephone, three years later. An equally gifted short- story writer who counts Edgar Allan Poe among her early inspirations, Atwood is best known for her novels. Translated into over thirty languages and often, like her poetry, exploring the unique experiences and perspectives of women, past, present, and future, her novels include straightforwardly realistic narratives like The Edible Woman (1969) and Bodily Harm (1982), at least one modernized fairy tale (The Robber Bride [1993]), multilayered historical fi ctions such as Alias Grace (1996) and the Booker Prize– winning The Blind Assassin (2000), and the futuristic dystopias Atwood herself prefers to call “speculative” rather than “science fi ction”—Oryx and Crake (2003), The Year of the Flood (2009), MaddAdam (2013), and The Handmaid’s Tale (1986), which inspired both a Danish opera and a Hollywood movie.

What could be done with me, what should be done with me? These were the same question. The possibilities were limited. The family discussed them all, lugubriously, endlessly, as they sat around the kitchen table at night, with the shutters closed, eating their dry whiskery sausages and their potato soup. If I was in one of my lucid phases I would sit with them, entering into the conversation as best I could while searching out the chunks of potato in my bowl. If not, I’d be off in the darkest corner, mewing to myself and listening to the twittering voices nobody else could hear.

1. Freak of nature (Latin).

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MARGARET ATWOOD Lusus Naturae 263

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“She was such a lovely baby,” my mother would say. “There was nothing wrong with her.” It saddened her to have given birth to an item such as myself: it was like a reproach, a judgment. What had she done wrong?

“Maybe it’s a curse,” said my grandmother. She was as dry and whiskery as the sausages, but in her it was natural because of her age.

“She was fi ne for years,” said my father. “It was after that case of measles, when she was seven. After that.”

“Who would curse us?” said my mother. My grandmother scowled. She had a long list of candidates. Even so, there

was no one she could single out. Our family had always been respected, and even liked, more or less. It still was. It still would be, if something could be done about me. Before I leaked out, so to say.

“The doctor says it’s a disease,” said my father. He liked to claim he was a rational man. He took the newspapers. It was he who insisted that I learn to read, and he’d persisted in his encouragement, despite everything. I no longer nestled into the crook of his arm, however. He sat me on the other side of the table. Though this enforced distance pained me, I could see his point.

“Then why didn’t he give us some medicine?” said my mother. My grand- mother snorted. She had her own ideas, which involved puffballs and stump water. Once she’d held my head under the water in which the dirty clothes were soaking, praying while she did it. That was to eject the demon she was con- vinced had fl own in through my mouth and was lodged near my breastbone. My mother said she had the best of intentions, at heart.

Feed her bread, the doctor had said. She’ll want a lot of bread. That, and pota- toes. She’ll want to drink blood. Chicken blood will do, or the blood of a cow. Don’t let her have too much. He told us the name of the disease, which had some Ps and Rs in it and meant nothing to us.2 He’d only seen a case like me once before, he’d said, looking at my yellow eyes, my pink teeth, my red fi nger- nails, the long dark hair that was sprouting on my chest and arms. He wanted to take me away to the city, so other doctors could look at me, but my family refused. “She’s a lusus naturae,” he’d said.

“What does that mean?” said my grandmother. “Freak of nature,” the doctor said. He was from far away: we’d summoned

him. Our own doctor would have spread rumors. “It’s Latin. Like a monster.” He thought I couldn’t hear, because I was mewing. “It’s nobody’s fault.”

“She’s a human being,” said my father. He paid the doctor a lot of money to go away to his foreign parts and never come back.

“Why did God do this to us?” said my mother. “Curse or disease, it doesn’t matter,” said my older sister. “Either way, no one

will marry me if they fi nd out.” I nodded my head: true enough. She was a pretty girl, and we weren’t poor, we were almost gentry. Without me, her coast would be clear.

2. Porphyria, a group of usually incurable ge ne tic disorders disrupting the body’s production of hemo- globin (the protein that makes blood red); symptoms of the disease’s more acute forms include insom- nia, hallucinations, light sensitivity, excess body hair, reddish teeth, painful skin conditions, even disfi gurement. Such symptoms, as well as certain blood- related treatments, have led some to propose porphyria as an inspiration for vampire legends, though such theories have been repeatedly debunked.

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In the daytimes I stayed shut up in my darkened room: I was getting beyond a joke. That was fi ne with me, because I couldn’t stand sunlight. At night, sleep- less, I would roam the house, listening to the snores of the others, their yelps of nightmare. The cat kept me company. He was the only living creature who wanted to be close to me. I smelled of blood, old dried- up blood: perhaps that was why he shadowed me, why he would climb up onto me and start licking.

They’d told the neighbors I had a wasting illness, a fever, a delirium. The neighbors sent eggs and cabbages; from time to time they visited, to scrounge for news, but they weren’t eager to see me: what ever it was might be catching.

It was decided that I should die. That way I would not stand in the way of my sister, I would not loom over her like a fate. “Better one happy than both miser- able,” said my grandmother, who had taken to sticking garlic cloves around my door frame. I agreed to this plan, as I wanted to be helpful.

The priest was bribed; in addition to that, we appealed to his sense of com- passion. Everyone likes to think they are doing good while at the same time pocketing a bag of cash, and our priest was no exception. He told me God had chosen me as a special girl, a sort of bride, you might say. He said I was called on to make sacrifi ces. He said my sufferings would purify my soul. He said I was lucky, because I would stay innocent all my life, no man would want to pol- lute me, and then I would go straight to Heaven.

He told the neighbors I had died in a saintly manner. I was put on display in a very deep coffi n in a very dark room, in a white dress with a lot of white veil- ing over me, fi tting for a virgin and useful in concealing my whis kers. I lay there for two days, though of course I could walk around at night. I held my breath when anyone entered. They tiptoed, they spoke in whispers, they didn’t come close, they were still afraid of my disease. To my mother they said I looked just like an angel.

My mother sat in the kitchen and cried as if I really had died; even my sister managed to look glum. My father wore his black suit. My grandmother baked. Everyone stuffed themselves. On the third day they fi lled the coffi n with damp straw and carted it off to the cemetery and buried it, with prayers and a modest headstone, and three months later my sister got married. She was driven to the church in a coach, a fi rst in our family. My coffi n was a rung on her ladder.

Now that I was dead, I was freer. No one but my mother was allowed into my room, my former room as they called it. They told the neighbors they were keep- ing it as a shrine to my memory. They hung a picture of me on the door, a pic- ture made when I still looked human. I didn’t know what I looked like now. I avoided mirrors.

In the dimness I read Pushkin,3 and Lord Byron, and the poetry of John Keats. I learned about blighted love, and defi ance, and the sweetness of death. I found these thoughts comforting. My mother would bring me my potatoes and bread, and my cup of blood, and take away the chamber pot. Once she used to

3. Rus sian poet (1799– 1837) associated, like Lord Byron and John Keats, with the Romantic move- ment; his verse- novel Eugene Onegin (1825– 32) describes the ill- fated romance of a young aristocrat, who travels the world out of both boredom with high society and guilt over killing his friend in a duel.

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MARGARET ATWOOD Lusus Naturae 265

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brush my hair, before it came out in handfuls; she’d been in the habit of hug- ging me and weeping; but she was past that now. She came and went as quickly as she could. However she tried to hide it, she resented me, of course. There’s only so long you can feel sorry for a person before you come to feel that their affl iction is an act of malice committed by them against you.

At night I had the run of the house, and then the run of the yard, and after that the run of the forest. I no longer had to worry about getting in the way of other people and their futures. As for me, I had no future. I had only a present, a present that changed— it seemed to me— along with the moon. If it weren’t for the fi ts, and the hours of pain, and the twittering of the voices I couldn’t understand, I might have said I was happy.

My grandmother died, then my father. The cat became el der ly. My mother sank further into despair. “My poor girl,” she would say, though I was no longer exactly a girl. “Who will take care of you when I’m gone?”

There was only one answer to that: it would have to be me. I began to explore the limits of my power. I found I had a great deal more of it when unseen than when seen, and most of all when partly seen. I frightened two children in the woods, on purpose: I showed them my pink teeth, my hairy face, my red fi nger- nails, I mewed at them, and they ran away screaming. Soon people avoided our end of the forest. I peered into a window at night, and caused hysterics in a young woman. “A thing! I saw a thing!” she sobbed. I was a thing, then. I con- sidered this. In what way is a thing not a person?

A stranger made an offer to buy our farm. My mother wanted to sell and move in with my sister and her gentry husband and her healthy growing family, whose portraits had just been painted; she could no longer manage; but how could she leave me?

“Do it,” I told her. By now my voice was a sort of growl. “I’ll vacate my room. There’s a place I can stay.” She was grateful, poor soul. She had an attachment to me, as if to a hangnail, a wart: I was hers. But she was glad to be rid of me. She’d done enough duty for a lifetime.

During the packing- up and the sale of our furniture I spent the days inside a hayrick. It was suffi cient, but it would not do for winter. Once the new people had moved in, it was no trouble to get rid of them. I knew the house better than they did, its entrances, its exits. I could make my way around it in the dark. I became an apparition, then another one; I was a red- nailed hand touching a face in the moonlight; I was the sound of a rusted hinge that I made despite myself. They took to their heels, and branded our place as haunted. Then I had it to myself.

I lived on stolen potatoes dug by moonlight, on eggs fi lched from hen houses. Once in a while I’d purloin a hen— I’d drink the blood fi rst. There were guard dogs, but though they howled at me, they never attacked: they didn’t know what I was. Inside our house, I tried a mirror. They say dead people can’t see their own refl ections, and it was true; I could not see myself. I saw something, but that something was not myself: it looked nothing like the innocent, pretty girl I knew myself to be, at heart.

But now things are coming to an end. I’ve become too visible. This is how it happened.

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I was picking blackberries in the dusk, at the verge where the meadow met the trees, and I saw two people approaching, from opposite sides. One was a young man, the other a girl. His clothing was better than hers. He had shoes.

The two of them looked furtive. I knew that look— the glances over the shoulder, the stops and starts— as I was unusually furtive myself. I crouched in the brambles to watch. They met, they twined together, they fell to the ground. Mewing noises came from them, growls, little screams. Perhaps they were having fi ts, both of them at once. Perhaps they were— oh, at last!— beings like myself. I crept closer to see better. They did not look like me— they were not hairy, for instance, except on their heads, and I could tell this because they had shed most of their clothing— but then, it had taken me some time to grow into what I was. They must be in the preliminary stages, I thought. They know they are changing, they have sought out each other for the company, and to share their fi ts.

They appeared to derive plea sure from their fl ailings about, even if they occasionally bit each other. I knew how that could happen. What a consolation it would be to me if I, too, could join in! Through the years I had hardened myself to loneliness; now I found that hardness dissolving. Still, I was too timo- rous to approach them.

One eve ning the young man fell asleep. The girl covered him with his cast- off shirt and kissed him on the forehead. Then she walked carefully away.

I detached myself from the brambles and came softly toward him. There he was, asleep in an oval of crushed grass, as if laid out on a platter. I’m sorry to say I lost control. I laid my red- nailed hands on him. I bit him on the neck. Was it lust or hunger? How could I tell the difference? He woke up, he saw my pink teeth, my yellow eyes; he saw my black dress fl uttering; he saw me running away. He saw where.

He told the others in the village, and they began to speculate. They dug up my coffi n and found it empty, and feared the worst. Now they’re marching toward this house, in the dusk, with long stakes, with torches. My sister is among them, and her husband, and the young man I kissed. I meant it to be a kiss.

What can I say to them, how can I explain myself? When demons are required someone will always be found to supply the part, and whether you step forward or are pushed is all the same in the end. “I am a human being,” I could say. But what proof do I have of that? “I am a lusus naturae! Take me to the city! I should be studied!” No hope there. I’m afraid it’s bad news for the cat. What- ever they do to me, they’ll do to him as well.

I am of a forgiving temperament, I know they have the best of intentions at heart. I’ve put on my white burial dress, my white veil, as befi ts a virgin. One must have a sense of occasion. The twittering voices are very loud: it’s time for me to take fl ight. I’ll fall from the burning rooftop like a comet, I’ll blaze like a bonfi re. They’ll have to say many charms over my ashes, to make sure I’m really dead this time. After a while I’ll become an upside- down saint; my fi nger bones will be sold as dark relics. I’ll be a legend, by then.

Perhaps in Heaven I’ll look like an angel. Or perhaps the angels will look like me. What a surprise that will be, for everyone else! It’s something to look for- ward to.

2004

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K AREN RUSSELL St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves 267

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QUESTIONS

1. How and why does the protagonist’s attitude toward her own situation change over the course of the story? How and why does she paradoxically become more alive and powerful after she “dies” and as she becomes more and more “invisible”?

2. Why does she nonetheless choose to make herself “visible” at the story’s conclusion (par. 30)? What new insight might this episode provide into both her character and situation, on the one hand, and “normal” human behavior, on the other? How, for example, might the conclusion complicate the idea that the story is exclusively about illness or disability and our attitudes toward it?

3. What confl icts does the protagonist’s condition create for the story’s other charac- ters? How do they each understand that condition? How might the story encourage us to view their attitudes and behaviors?

KAREN RUSSELL (b. 1981) St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

Karen Russell’s fi rst novel, Swamplandia! (2011), details the lives of a family of alligator wrestlers in what she calls “the most bizarre place” on Earth— her childhood home of

South Florida. After leaving Florida, Russell attended Northwestern University and toyed with the idea of becoming a veterinarian. Deciding that “loving animals and removing defl ated basketballs from the intestinal tracts of animals are two very differ- ent skill sets,” she instead turned to writing, earning an MFA from Columbia Univer- sity. Just twenty-six when she published her fi rst short- story collection, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (2006), Russell is almost as renowned for her youth as for her remarkable fi ction; both ensured her inclusion on New York Magazine’s list of twenty- seven impressive New Yorkers under the age of twenty-six (2005), Granta’s Best Young American Novelists (2007), the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” (2009), and the New Yorker’s “20 under 40” (2010). Since winning a 2013 MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” Russell has published Vampires in the Lemon Grove: Stories (2013) and Sleep Donation: A Novella (2014). Often blending realism with the totally outlandish, her work has been compared to “slipstream,” a genre- bending form of fi ction with roots in magical realism. Russell herself, however, often cites “George Saunders’s sad/funny ratio” and his work’s “deep humility” as her inspirations.

Stage 1: The initial period is one in which everything is new, exciting, and interesting for your students. It is fun for your students to explore their new environment. —From The Jesuit Handbook on Lycanthropic Culture Shock

A t fi rst, our pack was all hair and snarl and fl oor- thumping joy. We forgot the barked cautions of our mothers and fathers, all the promises we’d made

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to be civilized and ladylike, couth and kempt. We tore through the austere rooms, overturning dresser drawers, pawing through the neat piles of the Stage 3 girls’ starched underwear, smashing lightbulbs with our bare fi sts. Things felt less foreign in the dark. The dim bedroom was windowless and odorless. We remedied this by spraying exuberant yellow streams all over the bunks. We jumped from bunk to bunk, spraying. We nosed each other midair, our bodies buckling in kinetic laughter. The nuns watched us from the corner of the bed- room, their tiny faces pinched with dis plea sure.

“Ay caramba,” Sister Maria de la Guardia sighed. “Que barbaridad!”1 She made the Sign of the Cross. Sister Maria came to St. Lucy’s from a halfway home in Copacabana. In Copacabana, the girls are fat and languid and eat pink slivers of guava right out of your hand. Even at Stage 1, their pelts are silky, sun- bleached to near invisibility. Our pack was hirsute and sinewy and mostly bru- nette. We had terrible posture. We went knuckling along the wooden fl oor on the calloused pads of our fi sts, baring row after row of tiny, wood- rotted teeth. Sister Josephine sucked in her breath. She removed a yellow wheel of fl oss from under her robes, looping it like a miniature lasso.

“The girls at our facility are backwoods.’ ” Sister Josephine whispered to Sister Maria de la Guardia with a beatifi c smile. “You must be patient with them.” I clamped down on her ankle, straining to close my jaws around the woolly XXL sock. Sister Josephine tasted like sweat and freckles. She smelled easy to kill.

We’d arrived at St. Lucy’s that morning, part of a pack fi fteen- strong. We were accompanied by a mousy, nervous- smelling social worker; the baby- faced deacon; Bartholomew, the blue wolfhound; and four burly woodsmen. The dea- con handed out some stale cupcakes and said a quick prayer. Then he led us through the woods. We ran past the wild apiary, past the felled oaks, until we could see the white steeple of St. Lucy’s rising out of the forest. We stopped short at the edge of a muddy lake. Then the deacon took our brothers. Bar- tholomew helped him to herd the boys up the ramp of a small ferry. We girls ran along the shore, tearing at our new jumpers in a plaid agitation. Our brothers stood on the deck, looking small and confused.

Our mothers and fathers were werewolves. They lived an outsider’s existence in caves at the edge of the forest, threatened by frost and pitchforks. They had been ostracized by the local farmers for eating their silled fruit pies and terror- izing the heifers. They had ostracized the local wolves by having sometimes- thumbs, and regrets, and human children. (Their condition skips a generation.) Our pack grew up in a green purgatory. We couldn’t keep up with the purebred wolves, but we never stopped crawling. We spoke a slab- tongued pidgin2 in the cave, infl ected with frequent howls. Our parents wanted something better for us; they wanted us to get braces, use towels, be fully bilingual. When the nuns showed up, our parents couldn’t refuse their offer. The nuns, they said, would make us naturalized citizens of human society. We would go to St. Lucy’s to study a better culture. We didn’t know at the time that our parents were send- ing us away for good. Neither did they.

1. What barbarity (Spanish). Ay Caramba: good grief (Spanish). 2. Simplifi ed speech used for communication between speakers of different languages.

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K AREN RUSSELL St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves 269

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That fi rst afternoon, the nuns gave us free rein of the grounds. Everything was new, exciting, and interesting. A low granite wall surrounded St. Lucy’s, the blue woods humming for miles behind it. There was a stone fountain full of delectable birds. There was a statue of St. Lucy.3 Her marble skin was colder than our mother’s nose, her pupil- less eyes rolled heavenward. Doomed squir- rels gamboled around her stony toes. Our diminished pack threw back our heads in a celebratory howl— an exultant and terrible noise, even without a chorus of wolf brothers in the background. There were holes everywhere!

We supplemented these holes by digging some of our own. We interred sticks, and our itchy new jumpers, and the bones of the friendly, unfortunate squirrels. Our noses ached beneath an invisible assault. Everything was smudged with a human odor: baking bread, petrol, the nuns’ faint woman- smell sweating out beneath a dark perfume of tallow and incense. We smelled one another, too, with the same astounded fascination. Our own scent had become foreign in this strange place.

We had just sprawled out in the sun for an afternoon nap, yawning into the warm dirt, when the nuns reappeared. They conferred in the shadow of the juniper tree, whispering and pointing. Then they started towards us. The oldest sister had spent the past hour twitching in her sleep, dreaming of fatty and infi rm elk. (The pack used to dream the same dreams back then, as naturally as we drank the same water and slept on the same red scree.4) When our oldest sister saw the nuns approaching, she instinctively bristled. It was an improvised bristle, given her new, human limitations. She took clumps of her scraggly, nut- brown hair and held it straight out from her head.

Sister Maria gave her a brave smile. “And what is your name?” she asked. The oldest sister howled something awful and inarticulable, a distillate of

hurt and panic, half- forgotten hunts and eclipsed moons. Sister Maria nodded and scribbled on a yellow legal pad. She slapped on a name tag: hello, my name is ________! “Jeanette it is.”

The rest of the pack ran in a loose, uncertain circle, torn between our instinct to help her and our new fear. We sensed some subtler danger afoot, written in a language we didn’t understand.

Our littlest sister had the quickest refl exes. She used her hands to fl atten her ears to the side of her head. She backed towards the far corner of the garden, snarling in the most menacing register that an eight- year- old wolf- girl can mus- ter. Then she ran. It took them two hours to pin her down and tag her: hello, my name is mirabella!

“Stage 1,” Sister Maria sighed, taking careful aim with her tranquilizer dart. “It can be a little overstimulating.”

Stage 2: After a time, your students realize that they must work to adjust to the new culture. This work may be stressful and students may experience a strong sense of dislocation. They may miss certain foods. They may spend a

3. Patron saint of the blind, St. Lucy (283– 304) either took out her own eyes or was blinded by others, according to legend, defending her vow to remain a virgin and dedicate her life and fortune to God rather than marry a pagan. 4. Loose stones or rocky debris.

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lot of time daydreaming during this period. Many students feel isolated, irri- tated, bewildered, depressed, or generally uncomfortable.

Those were the days when we dreamed of rivers and meat. The full- moon nights were the worst! Worse than cold toilet seats and boiled tomatoes, worse than trying to will our tongues to curl around our false new names. We would snarl at one another for no reason. I remember how disorienting it was to look down and see two square- toed shoes instead of my own four feet. Keep your mouth shut, I repeated during our walking drills, staring straight ahead. Keep your shoes on your feet. Mouth shut, shoes on feet. Do not chew on your new penny loafers. Do not. I stumbled around in a daze, my mouth black with shoe polish. The whole pack was irritated, bewildered, depressed. We were all uncomfortable, and between languages. We had never wanted to run away so badly in our lives; but who did we have to run back to? Only the curled black grimace of the mother. Only the father, holding his tawny head between his paws. Could we betray our parents by going back to them? After they’d given us the choicest part of the woodchuck, loved us at our hairless worst, nosed us across the ice fl oes and abandoned us at St. Lucy’s for our own betterment?

Physically, we were all easily capable of clearing the low stone walls. Sister Josephine left the wooden gates wide open. They unslatted the windows at night so that long fi ngers of moonlight beckoned us from the woods. But we knew we couldn’t return to the woods; not till we were civilized, not if we didn’t want to break the mother’s heart. It all felt like a sly, human taunt.

It was impossible to make the blank, chilly bedroom feel like home. In the beginning, we drank gallons of bathwater as part of a collaborative effort to mark our territory. We puddled up the yellow carpet of old newspapers. But later, when we returned to the bedroom, we were dismayed to fi nd all trace of the pack musk had vanished. Someone was coming in and erasing us. We sprayed and sprayed every morning; and every night, we returned to the same ammonia eradication. We couldn’t make our scent stick here; it made us feel invisible. Eventually we gave up. Still, the pack seemed to be adjusting on the same timetable. The advanced girls could already alternate between two speeds: “slouch” and “amble.” Almost everybody was fully bipedal.

Almost. The pack was worried about Mirabella. Mirabella would rip foamy chunks out of the church pews and replace them

with ham bones and girl dander. She loved to roam the grounds wagging her invisible tail. (We all had a hard time giving that up. When we got excited, we would fall to the ground and start pumping our backsides. Back in those days we could pump at rabbity velocities. Que horror! Sister Maria frowned, looking more than a little jealous.) We’d give her scolding pinches. “Mirabella,” we hissed, imitating the nuns. “No.” Mirabella cocked her ears at us, hurt and confused.

Still, some things remained the same. The main commandment of wolf life is Know Your Place, and that translated perfectly. Being around other humans had awakened a slavish- dog affection in us. An abasing, belly- to- the- ground desire to please. As soon as we realized that someone higher up in the food chain was watching us, we wanted only to be pleasing in their sight. Mouth shut, I repeated, shoes on feet. But if Mirabella had this latent instinct, the

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K AREN RUSSELL St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves 271

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nuns couldn’t fi gure out how to activate it. She’d go bounding around, gleefully spraying on their gilded statue of St. Lucy, mad- scratching at the virulent fl eas that survived all of their powders and baths. At Sister Maria’s tearful insistence, she’d stand upright for roll call, her knobby, oddly muscled legs quivering from the effort. Then she’d collapse right back to the ground with an ecstatic oomph! She was still loping around on all fours (which the nuns had taught us to see looked unnatural and ridiculous— we could barely believe it now, the shame of it, that we used to locomote like that!), her fi sts blue- white from the strain. As if she were holding a secret tight to the ground. Sister Maria de la Guardia would sigh every time she saw her. “Caramba!” She’d sit down with Mirabella and pry her fi ngers apart. “You see?” she’d say softly, again and again. “What are you holding on to? Nothing, little one. Nothing.”

Then she would sing out the standard chorus, “Why can’t you be more like your sister Jeanette?”

The pack hated Jeanette. She was the most successful of us, the one furthest removed from her origins. Her real name was GWARR!, but she wouldn’t respond to this anymore. Jeanette spiffed her penny loafers until her very shoes seemed to gloat. (Linguists have since traced the colloquial origins of “goody two- shoes” back to our facilities.) She could even growl out a demonic- sounding precursor to “Pleased to meet you.” She’d delicately extend her former paws to visitors, wearing white kid gloves.

“Our little wolf, disguised in sheep’s clothing!” Sister Ignatius liked to joke with the visiting deacons, and Jeanette would surprise everyone by laughing along with them, a harsh, inhuman, barking sound. Her hearing was still twig- snap sharp. Jeanette was the fi rst among us to apologize; to drink apple juice out of a sippy cup; to quit eyeballing the cleric’s jugular in a disconcerting fash- ion. She curled her lips back into a cousin of a smile as the traveling barber cut her pelt into bangs. Then she swept her coarse black curls under the rug. When we entered a room, our nostrils fl ared beneath the new odors: onion and bleach, candle wax, the turnipy smell of unwashed bodies. Not Jeanette. Jeanette smiled and pretended like she couldn’t smell a thing.

I was one of the good girls. Not great and not terrible, solidly middle of the pack. But I had an ear for languages, and I could read before I could adequately wash myself. I probably could have vied with Jeanette for the number- one spot, but I’d seen what happened if you gave in to your natural aptitudes. This wasn’t like the woods, where you had to be your fastest and your strongest and your brav- est self. Different sorts of calculations were required to survive at the home.

The pack hated Jeanette, but we hated Mirabella more. We began to avoid her, but sometimes she’d surprise us, curled up beneath the beds or gnawing on a scapula in the garden. It was scary to be ambushed by your sister. I’d bristle and growl, the way that I’d begun to snarl at my own refl ection as if it were a stranger.

“What ever will become of Mirabella?” we asked, gulping back our own fear. We’d heard rumors about former wolf- girls who never adapted to their new culture. It was assumed that they were returned to our native country, the vanish- ing woods. We liked to speculate about this before bedtime, scaring ourselves with stories of catastrophic bliss. It was the disgrace, the failure that we all guiltily hoped for in our hard beds. Twitching with the shadow question: What- ever will become of me?

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We spent a lot of time daydreaming during this period. Even Jeanette. Some- times I’d see her looking out at the woods in a vacant way. If you interrupted her in the midst of one of these reveries, she would lunge at you with an elder- sister ferocity, momentarily forgetting her human catechism. We liked her better then, startled back into being foamy old Jeanette.

In school, they showed us the St. Francis of Assisi5 slide show, again and again. Then the nuns would give us bags of bread. They never announced these things as a test; it was only much later that I realized that we were under con- stant examination. “Go feed the ducks,” they urged us. “Go practice compassion for all God’s creatures.” Don’t pair me with Mirabella, I prayed, anybody but Mirabella. “Claudette”— Sister Josephine beamed—“why don’t you and Mira- bella take some pumpernickel down to the ducks?”

“Ohhkaaythankyou,” I said. (It took me a long time to say anything; fi rst I had to translate it in my head from the Wolf.) It wasn’t fair. They knew Mirabella couldn’t make bread balls yet. She couldn’t even undo the twist tie of the bag. She was sure to eat the birds; Mirabella didn’t even try to curb her desire to kill things— and then who would get blamed for the dark spots of duck blood on our Peter Pan collars? Who would get penalized with negative Skill Points? Exactly.

As soon as we were beyond the wooden gates, I snatched the bread away from Mirabella and ran off to the duck pond on my own. Mirabella gave chase, nipping at my heels. She thought it was a game. “Stop it,” I growled. I ran faster, but it was Stage 2 and I was still unsteady on my two feet. I fell sideways into a leaf pile, and then all I could see was my sister’s blurry form, bounding towards me. In a moment, she was on top of me, barking the old word for tug- of- war. When she tried to steal the bread out of my hands, I whirled around and snarled at her, pushing my ears back from my head. I bit her shoulder, once, twice, the only language she would respond to. I used my new motor skills. I threw dirt, I threw stones. “Get away!” I screamed, long after she had made a cringing retreat into the shadows of the purple saplings. “Get away, get away!”

Much later, they found Mirabella wading in the shallows of a distant river, trying to strangle a mallard with her rosary beads. I was at the lake; I’d been sitting there for hours. Hunched in the long cattails, my yellow eyes fl ashing, shoving ragged hunks of bread into my mouth.

I don’t know what they did to Mirabella. Me they separated from my sisters. They made me watch another slide show. This one showed images of former wolf- girls, the ones who had failed to be rehabilitated. Long- haired, sad- eyed women, limping after their former wolf packs in white tennis shoes and pleated culottes. A wolf- girl bank teller, her makeup smeared in oily rainbows, eating a raw steak on the deposit slips while her colleagues looked on in disgust. Our parents. The fi nal slide was a bolded sentence in St. Lucy’s prim script: do you want to end up shunned by both species?

After that, I spent less time with Mirabella. One night she came to me, hold- ing her hand out. She was covered with splinters, keening a high, whining noise through her nostrils. Of course I understood what she wanted; I wasn’t that far

5. In one of many legends illustrating his special relationship with animals, St. Francis (1181– 1226) fi rst talks a village out of killing a wolf that has been attacking them and convinces the wolf to stop killing; the villagers then make a pet of the wolf.

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K AREN RUSSELL St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves 273

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removed from our language (even though I was reading at a fi fth- grade level, halfway into Jack London’s The Son of the Wolf.)6

“Lick your own wounds,” I said, not unkindly. It was what the nuns had instructed us to say; wound licking was not something you did in polite com- pany. Etiquette was so confounding in this country. Still, looking at Mirabella— her fi sts balled together like small, white porcupines, her brows knitted in animal confusion— I felt a throb of compassion. How can people live like they do? I wondered. Then I congratulated myself. This was a Stage 3 thought.

Stage 3: It is common that students who start living in a new and different culture come to a point where they reject the host culture and withdraw into themselves. During this period, they make generalizations about the host cul- ture and wonder how the people can live like they do. Your students may feel that their own culture’s lifestyle and customs are far superior to those of the host country.

The nuns were worried about Mirabella, too. To correct a failing, you must fi rst be aware of it as a failing. And there was Mirabella, shucking her plaid jumper in full view of the visiting cardinal. Mirabella, battling a raccoon under the dinner table while the rest of us took dainty bites of peas and borscht. Mira- bella, doing belly fl ops into compost.

“You have to pull your weight around here,” we overheard Sister Josephine saying one night. We paused below the vestry window and peered inside.

“Does Mirabella try to earn Skill Points by shelling walnuts and polishing Saint- in- the- Box? No. Does Mirabella even know how to say the word walnut? Has she learned how to say anything besides a sinful ‘HraaaHA!’ as she com- mits frottage7 against the organ pipes? No.”

There was a long silence. “Something must be done,” Sister Ignatius said fi rmly. The other nuns nod-

ded, a sea of thin, colorless lips and kettle- black brows. “Something must be done,” they intoned. That ominously passive construction; a something so awful that nobody wanted to assume responsibility for it.

I could have warned her. If we were back home, and Mirabella had come under attack by territorial beavers or snow- blind bears, I would have warned her. But the truth is that by Stage 3 I wanted her gone. Mirabella’s inability to adapt was taking a visible toll. Her teeth were ground down to nubbins; her hair was falling out. She hated the spongy, long- dead foods we were served, and it showed— her ribs were poking through her uniform. Her bright eyes had dulled to a sour whiskey color. But you couldn’t show Mirabella the slightest kindness anymore— she’d never leave you alone! You’d have to sit across from her at meals, shoving her away as she begged for your scraps. I slept fi tfully during that period, unable to forget that Mirabella was living under my bed, gnawing on my loafers.

It was during Stage 3 that we met our fi rst purebred girls. These were girls raised in captivity, volunteers from St. Lucy’s School for Girls. The apple- cheeked

6. Short story (1900) about a white settler in the Yukon whose determination to marry an indigenous woman over the objections of her people results in the death of two tribesmen. 7. Rubbing against a person or object for sexual stimulation.

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fourth- grade class came to tutor us in playing. They had long golden braids or short, severe bobs. They had frilly- duvet names like Felicity and Beulah; and pert, bunny noses; and terrifi ed smiles. We grinned back at them with genuine ferocity. It made us ner vous to meet new humans. There were so many things that we could do wrong! And the rules here were different depending on which humans we were with: dancing or no dancing, checkers playing or no checkers playing, pumping or no pumping.

The purebred girls played checkers with us. “These girl- girls sure is dumb,” my sister Lavash panted to me between

games. “I win it again! Five to none.” She was right. The purebred girls were making mistakes on purpose, in order

to give us an advantage. “King me,” I growled, out of turn. “I say king me!” and Felicity meekly complied. Beulah pretended not to mind when we got frus- trated with the oblique, fussy movement from square to square and shredded the board to ribbons. I felt sorry for them. I wondered what it would be like to be bred in captivity, and always homesick for a dimly sensed forest, the trees you’ve never seen.

Jeanette was learning how to dance. On Holy Thursday, she mastered a rudi- mentary form of the Charleston. “Brava!” The nuns clapped. “Brava!”

Every Friday, the girls who had learned how to ride a bicycle celebrated by going on chaperoned trips into town. The purebred girls sold seven hundred rolls of gift- wrap paper and used the proceeds to buy us a yellow fl eet of bicycles built for two. We’d ride the bicycles uphill, a sanctioned pumping, a grim- faced nun pedaling behind each one of us. “Congratulations!” the nuns would huff. “Being human is like riding this bicycle. Once you’ve learned how, you’ll never forget.” Mirabella would run after the bicycles, growling out our old names. HWRAA! GWARR! TRRRRRRR! We pedaled faster.

At this point, we’d had six weeks of lessons, and still nobody could do the Sau- salito but Jeanette. The nuns decided we needed an inducement to dance. They announced that we would celebrate our successful rehabilitations with a Debu- tante Ball. There would be brothers, ferried over from the Home for Man- Boys Raised by Wolves. There would be a photographer from the Gazette Sophisticate. There would be a three- piece jazz band from West Toowoomba, and root beer in tiny plastic cups. The brothers! We’d almost forgotten about them. Our invisible tails went limp. I should have been excited; instead, I felt a low mad anger at the nuns. They knew we weren’t ready to dance with the brothers; we weren’t even ready to talk to them. Things had been so much simpler in the woods. That night I waited until my sisters were asleep. Then I slunk into the closet and practiced the Sausalito two- step in secret, a private mass of twitch and foam. Mouth shut— shoes on feet! Mouth shut— shoes on feet! Mouthshutmouthshut . . .

One night I came back early from the closet and stumbled on Jeanette. She was sitting in a patch of moonlight on the windowsill, reading from one of her library books. (She was the fi rst of us to sign for her library card, too.) Her cheeks looked dewy.

“Why you cry?” I asked her, instinctively reaching over to lick Jeanette’s cheek and catching myself in the nick of time.

Jeanette blew her nose into a nearby curtain. (Even her mistakes annoyed us— they were always so well intentioned.) She sniffl ed and pointed to a line in

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her book: “The lake- water was reinventing the forest and the white moon above it, and wolves lapped up the cold refl ection of the sky.” But none of the pack besides me could read yet, and I wasn’t ready to claim a common language with Jeanette.

The following day, Jeanette golfed. The nuns set up a miniature putt- putt course in the garden. Sister Maria dug four sandtraps and got old Walter, the groundskeeper, to make a windmill out of a lawn mower engine. The eigh teenth hole was what they called a “doozy,” a minuscule crack in St. Lucy’s marble dress. Jeanette got a hole in one.

On Sundays, the pretending felt almost as natural as nature. The chapel was our favorite place. Long before we could understand what the priest was saying, the music instructed us in how to feel. The choir director— aggressively per- fumed Mrs. Valuchi, gold necklaces like pineapple rings around her neck— taught us more than the nuns ever did. She showed us how to pattern the old hunger into arias. Clouds moved behind the frosted oculus of the nave, glass shadows that reminded me of my mother. The mother, I’d think, struggling to conjure up a picture. A black shadow, running behind the watery screen of pines.

We sang at the chapel annexed to the home every morning. We understood that this was the humans’ moon, the place for howling beyond purpose. Not for mating, not for hunting, not for fi ghting, not for anything but the sound itself. And we’d howl along with the choir, hurling every pitted thing within us at the stained glass. “Sotto voce.”8 The nuns would frown. But you could tell that they were pleased.

Stage 4: As a more thorough understanding of the host culture is acquired, your students will begin to feel more comfortable in their new environment. Your students feel more at home, and their self- confi dence grows. Everything begins to make sense.

“Hey, Claudette,” Jeanette growled to me on the day before the ball. “Have you noticed that everything’s beginning to make sense?”

Before I could answer, Mirabella sprang out of the hall closet and snapped through Jeanette’s homework binder. Pages and pages of words swirled around the stone corridor, like dead leaves off trees.

“What about you, Mirabella?” Jeanette asked politely, stooping to pick up her erasers. She was the only one of us who would still talk to Mirabella; she was high enough in the rankings that she could afford to talk to the scruggliest wolf- girl. “Has everything begun to make more sense, Mirabella?”

Mirabella let out a whimper. She scratched at us and scratched at us, raking her nails along our shins so hard that she drew blood. Then she rolled belly- up on the cold stone fl oor, squirming on a bed of spelling- bee worksheets. Above us, small pearls of light dotted the high, tinted window.

Jeanette frowned. “You are a late bloomer, Mirabella! Usually, everything’s begun to make more sense by Month Twelve at the latest.” I noticed that she stumbled on the word bloomer. HraaaHA! Jeanette could never fully shake our accent. She’d talk like that her whole life, I thought with a gloomy satisfaction, each word winced out like an apology for itself.

8. In a low voice (Italian).

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“Claudette, help me,” she yelped. Mirabella had closed her jaws around Jea- nette’s bald ankle and was dragging her towards the closet. “Please. Help me to mop up Mirabella’s mess.”

I ignored her and continued down the hall. I had only four more hours to perfect the Sausalito. I was worried only about myself. By that stage, I was no longer certain of how the pack felt about anything.

At seven o’clock on the dot, Sister Ignatius blew her whistle and frog- marched us into the ball. The nuns had transformed the rectory into a very scary place. Purple and silver balloons started popping all around us. Black streamers swooped down from the eaves and got stuck in our hair like bats. A full yellow moon smirked outside the window. We were greeted by blasts of a saxophone, and fi zzy pink drinks, and the brothers.

The brothers didn’t smell like our brothers anymore. They smelled like pomade and cold, sterile sweat. They looked like little boys. Someone had washed behind their ears and made them wear suspendered dungarees. Kyle used to be a blustery alpha male, BT WWWR!, chewing through rattlesnakes, spooking badgers, snatching a live trout out of a grizzly’s mouth. He stood by the punch bowl, looking pained and out of place.

“My stars!” I growled. “What lovely weather we’ve been having!” “Yeees,” Kyle growled back. “It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” All

around the room, boys and girls raised by wolves were having the same conver- sation. Actually, it had been an unseasonably warm and brown winter, and just that morning a freak hailstorm had sent Sister Josephina to an early grave. But we had only gotten up to Unit 7: Party Dialogue; we hadn’t yet learned the vocabu- lary for Unit 12: How to Tactfully Acknowledge Disaster. Instead, we wore pink party hats and sucked olives on little sticks, inured to our own strangeness.

The nuns swept our hair back into high, bouffant hairstyles. This made us look more girlish and less inclined to eat people, the way that squirrels are saved from looking like rodents by their poofy tails. I was wearing a white organdy dress with orange polka dots. Jeanette was wearing a mauve organdy dress with blue polka dots. Linette was wearing a red organdy dress with white polka dots. Mirabella was in a dark corner, wearing a muzzle. Her party culottes were duct- taped to her knees. The nuns had tied little bows on the muzzle to make it more festive. Even so, the jazz band from West Toowoomba kept glancing ner vous ly her way.

“You smell astoooounding!” Kyle was saying, accidentally stretching the diphthong into a howl and then blushing. “I mean—”

“Yes, I know what it is that you mean,” I snapped. (That’s probably a little narrative embellishment on my part; it must have been months before I could really “snap” out words.) I didn’t smell astounding. I had rubbed a pumpkin muffi n all over my body earlier that morning to mask my natural, feral scent. Now I smelled like a purebred girl, easy to kill. I narrowed my eyes at Kyle and fl attened my ears, something I hadn’t done for months. Kyle looked panicked, trying to remember the words that would make me act like a girl again. I felt hot, oily tears squeezing out of the red corners of my eyes. Shoesonfeet! I barked at myself. I tried again. “My! What lovely weather—”

The jazz band struck up a tune. “The time has come to do the Sausalito,” Sister Maria announced, beaming

into the microphone. “Every sister grab a brother!” She switched on Walter’s

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K AREN RUSSELL St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves 277

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industrial fl ashlight, struggling beneath its weight, and aimed the beam in the center of the room.

Uh- oh. I tried to skulk off into Mirabella’s corner, but Kyle pushed me into the spotlight. “No,” I moaned through my teeth, “noooooo.” All of a sudden the only thing my body could remember how to do was pump and pump. In a fl ash of white- hot light, my months at St. Lucy’s had vanished, and I was just a terrifi ed animal again. As if of their own accord, my feet started to wiggle out of my shoes. Mouth shut, I gasped, staring down at my naked toes, mouthshutmouthshut.

“Ahem. The time has come,” Sister Maria coughed, “to do the Sausalito.” She paused. “The Sausalito,” she added helpfully, “does not in any way resemble the thing that you are doing.”

Beads of sweat stood out on my forehead. I could feel my jaws gaping open, my tongue lolling out of the left side of my mouth. What were the steps? I looked frantically for Jeanette; she would help me, she would tell me what to do.

Jeanette was sitting in the corner, sipping punch through a long straw and watching me pant. I locked eyes with her, pleading with the mute intensity that I had used to beg her for weasel bones in the forest. “What are the steps?” I mouthed.

“The steps!” “The steps?” Then Jeanette gave me a wide, true wolf smile. For an instant,

she looked just like our mother. “Not for you,” she mouthed back. I threw my head back, a howl clawing its way up my throat. I was about to

lose all my Skill Points, I was about to fail my Adaptive Dancing test. But before the air could burst from my lungs, the wind got knocked out of me. Oomph! I fell to the ground, my skirt falling softly over my head. Mirabella had inter- cepted my eye- cry for help. She’d chewed through her restraints and tackled me from behind, barking at unseen cougars, trying to shield me with her tiny body. “Caramba!” Sister Maria squealed, dropping the fl ashlight. The music ground to a halt. And I have never loved someone so much, before or since, as I loved my littlest sister at that moment. I wanted to roll over and lick her ears, I wanted to kill a dozen spotted fawns and let her eat fi rst.

But everybody was watching; everybody was waiting to see what I would do. “I wasn’t talking to you,” I grunted from underneath her. “I didn’t want your help. Now you have ruined the Sausalito! You have ruined the ball!” I said more loudly, hoping the nuns would hear how much my enunciation had improved.

“You have ruined it!” my sisters panted, circling around us, eager to close ranks. “Mirabella has ruined it!” Every girl was wild- eyed and itching under her polka dots, punch froth dribbling down her chin. The pack had been waiting for this moment for some time. “Mirabella cannot adapt! Back to the woods, back to the woods!”

The band from West Toowoomba had quietly packed their instruments into black suitcases and were sneaking out the back. The boys had fl ed back towards the lake, bow ties spinning, snapping suspenders in their haste. Mirabella was still snarling in the center of it all, trying to fi gure out where the danger was so that she could defend me against it. The nuns exchanged glances.

In the morning, Mirabella was gone. We checked under all the beds. I pre- tended to be surprised. I’d known she would have to be expelled the minute I

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felt her weight on my back. Walter came and told me this in secret after the ball, “So you can say yer good- byes.” I didn’t want to face Mirabella. Instead, I packed a tin lunch pail for her: two jelly sandwiches on saltine crackers, a chloroformed squirrel, a gilt- edged placard of St. Bolio. I left it for her with Sister Ignatius, with a little note: “Best wishes!” I told myself I’d done everything I could.

“Hooray!” the pack crowed. “Something has been done!” We raced outside into the bright sunlight, knowing full well that our sister

had been turned loose, that we’d never fi nd her. A low roar rippled through us and surged up and up, disappearing into the trees. I listened for an answering howl from Mirabella, heart thumping— what if she heard us and came back? But there was nothing.

We graduated from St. Lucy’s shortly thereafter. As far as I can recollect, that was our last communal howl.

Stage 5: At this point your students are able to interact effectively in the new cultural environment. They fi nd it easy to move between the two cultures.

One Sunday, near the end of my time at St. Lucy’s, the sisters gave me a spe- cial pass to go visit the parents. The woodsman had to accompany me; I couldn’t remember how to fi nd the way back on my own. I wore my best dress and brought along some prosciutto and dill pickles in a picnic basket. We crunched through the fall leaves in silence, and every step made me sadder. “I’ll wait out here,” the woodsman said, leaning on a blue elm and lighting a cigarette.

The cave looked so much smaller than I remembered it. I had to duck my head to enter. Everybody was eating when I walked in. They all looked up from the bull moose at the same time, my aunts and uncles, my sloe- eyed, lolling cousins, the parents. My uncle dropped a thighbone from his mouth. My littlest brother, a cross- eyed wolf- boy who has since been successfully rehabilitated and is now a dour, balding children’s book author, started whining in terror. My mother recoiled from me, as if I was a stranger. TRRR? She sniffed me for a long moment. Then she sank her teeth into my ankle, looking proud and sad. After all the tail wagging and perfunctory barking had died down, the parents sat back on their hind legs. They stared up at me expectantly, panting in the cool gray envelope of the cave, waiting for a display of what I had learned.

“So,” I said, telling my fi rst human lie. “I’m home.” 2006

QUESTIONS

1. How and why does the protagonist change over the course of the story? How might those changes be refl ected in the way she shifts, as a narrator, between fi rst- person plural and singular?

2. At one point in the story, the narrator remarks, “This wasn’t like the woods, where you had to be your fastest and your strongest and your bravest self. Different sorts of calculations were required to survive [. . .]” (par. 25). What do you think she means? How might this comment help us to understand both her later behavior and the roles that Jeanette and Mirabella play in her life and in the story?

3. To what extent do you think this story is simply about growing up, making the tran- sition from childhood to adulthood? about schooling or education? about the expe- rience of those who are bilingual or even bicultural? What might the story suggest

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JORGE LUIS BORGES The House of Asterion 279

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about the diffi culties of those experiences? their benefi ts and costs? In these terms, what role is played by the quotations from the (fi ctional) Jesuit Handbook on Lycan- thropic Culture Shock?

JORGE LUIS BORGES (1899–1986)

The House of Asterion1

Widely considered Latin America’s foremost author, Jorge Luis Borges was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The son of a lawyer and would- be writer who also taught in an En glish school, the young Borges reportedly learned to speak En glish before Spanish and read avidly and widely; his early favorites included The

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Arabian Nights, and the novels of H. G. Wells and Charles Dickens. While traveling in Eu rope, his family was trapped in Geneva at the outbreak of World War I, and Borges attended the Collège de Genève, where he added French, German, and Latin to his linguistic arsenal. He then spent two years in Spain, where he wrote his fi rst poems, before returning to Argentina in 1921. Despite his per- sis tent, outspoken opposition to the military dictatorship of Juan Perón, Borges became the director of Argentina’s national library in 1955. The very same year, Borges lost his long battle against encroaching  blindness; ordered by doctors never to read or write again, he abandoned fi ction for poetry for the last thirty years of his life, taking comfort in the example of the great blind poets Homer and Milton. Though he thus began and ended his writing life as a poet, Borges— who never wrote a novel— is best known as both a writer of short fi cciones (“fi ctions”), a label he preferred to cuentos (“stories”), and as a pioneer of magical realism.

And the queen gave birth to a son named Asterion. Apollodorus,2 Library, Ill:i

I know that I am accused of arrogance and perhaps of misanthropy, and per-haps even of madness. These accusations (which I shall punish in due time) are ludicrous. It is true that I never leave my house, but it is also true that its doors (whose number is infi nite3) stand open night and day to men and also to animals. Anyone who wishes to enter may do so. Here, no womanly splendors, no palatial ostentation shall be found, but only calm and solitude. Here shall be found a house like none other on the face of the earth. (Those who say

1. Translated by Andrew Hurley. 2. Greek scholar (d. after 120 BCE); a librarian at the renowned library in Alexandria, Egypt, and author of works on history, philosophy, my thol ogy, and geography. Though long attributed to him, the infl uen- tial compendium of Greek myths known as The Library was in fact composed long after his death. 3. The original reads “fourteen,” but there is more than enough cause to conclude that when spoken by Asterion that number stands for “infi nite” [Borges’s note].

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there is a similar house in Egypt speak lies.) Even my detractors admit that there is not a single piece of furniture in the house. Another absurd tale is that I, Asterion, am a prisoner. Need I repeat that the door stands open? Need I add that there is no lock? Furthermore, one after noon I did go out into the streets; if I returned before nightfall, I did so because of the terrible dread inspired in me by the faces of the people— colorless faces, as fl at as the palm of one’s hand. The sun had already gone down, but the helpless cry of a babe and the crude supplications of the masses were signs that I had been recognized. The people prayed, fl ed, fell prostrate before me; some climbed up onto the stylo- bate4 of the temple of the Axes, others gathered stones. One, I believe, hid in the sea. Not for nothing was my mo ther a queen; I cannot mix with common- ers, even if my modesty should wish it.

The fact is, I am unique. I am not interested in what a man can publish abroad to other men; like the phi los o pher, I think that nothing can be commu- nicated by the art of writing. Vexatious and trivial minutiæ fi nd no refuge in my spirit, which has been formed for greatness; I have never grasped for long the difference between one letter and another. A certain generous impatience has prevented me from learning to read. Sometimes I regret that, because the nights and the days are long.

Of course I do not lack for distractions. Sometimes I run like a charging ram through the halls of stone until I tumble dizzily to the ground; sometimes I crouch in the shadow of a wellhead or at a corner in one of the corridors and pretend I am being hunted. There are rooftops from which I can hurl myself until I am bloody. I can pretend anytime I like that I am asleep, and lie with my eyes closed and my breathing heavy. (Sometimes I actually fall asleep; some- times by the time I open my eyes, the color of the day has changed.) But of all the games, the one I like best is pretending that there is another Asterion. I pretend that he has come to visit me, and I show him around the house. Bowing majestically, I say to him: Now let us return to our previous intersection or Let us go this way, now, out into another courtyard or I knew that you would like this rain gutter or Now you will see a cistern that has fi lled with sand or Now you will see how the cellar forks. Sometimes I make a mistake and the two of us have a good laugh over it.

It is not just these games I have thought up— I have also thought a great deal about the house. Each part of the house occurs many times; any par tic u lar place is another place. There is not one wellhead, one courtyard, one drinking trough, one manger; there are fourteen [an infi nite number of] mangers, drink- ing troughs, courtyards, wellheads. The house is as big as the world—or rather, it is the world. Nevertheless, by making my way through every single courtyard with its wellhead and every single dusty gallery of gray stone, I have come out onto the street and seen the temple of the Axes and the sea. That sight, I did not understand until a night vision revealed to me that there are also fourteen [an infi nite number of] seas and temples. Everything exists many times, fourteen times, but there are two things in the world that apparently exist but once—on high, the intricate sun, and below, Asterion. Perhaps I have created the stars and the sun and this huge house, and no longer remember it.

4. In classical architecture, the base or pavement supporting a row of columns.

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Every nine years, nine men come into the house so that I can free them from all evil.5 I hear their footsteps or their voices far away in the galleries of stone, and I run joyously to fi nd them. The ceremony lasts but a few minutes. One after another, they fall, without my ever having to bloody my hands. Where they fall, they remain, and their bodies help distinguish one gallery from the others. I do not know how many there have been, but I do know that one of them pre- dicted as he died that someday my redeemer would come. Since then, there has been no pain for me in solitude, because I know that my redeemer lives, and in the end he will rise and stand above the dust.6 If my ear could hear every sound in the world, I would hear his footsteps. I hope he takes me to a place with fewer galleries and fewer doors. What will my redeemer be like, I won der. Will he be bull or man? Could he possibly be a bull with the face of a man? Or will he be like me?

The morning sun shimmered on the bronze sword. Now there was not a trace of blood left on it.

“Can you believe it, Ariadne?” said Theseus. “The Minotaur7 scarcely defended itself.”

For Maria Mosquera Eastman 1949

QUESTIONS

1. In reading or re- reading the story, when and how might you start to suspect or know that its narrator is the mythical Minotaur and/or that its setting is a labyrinth or maze?

2. What is the effect and signifi cance of point of view in the story? of the title and epi- graph, especially the fact that both use the name Asterion rather than Minotaur?

3. What vari ous things might the labyrinth and the Minotaur symbolize in the story? In these terms, what might be the signifi cance of the biblical allusions? the narra- tor’s insistence that he is not “a prisoner” (par. 1)?

5. Possibly, an echo of the Lord’s Prayer, which ends, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen” (Matt. 6.13). 6. Compare Job 19.25–26: “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: / And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my fl esh shall I see God”; “But ye should say, Why persecute we him [. . .] / Be ye afraid of the sword: for wrath bringeth the punishments of the sword, that ye may know there is a judgment.” 7. Literally, the bull of Minos, also called Asterion or Asterius, meaning “the starry one” (Greek); in classical my thol ogy, the creature born of the union between Queen Pasiphae of Crete (wife of King Minos and dau gh ter of the sun god and a sea nymph) and a white bull sent by the sea god, Poseidon. To quote The Library from which Borges takes his epigraph, “Asterius, who was called the Minotaur,” “had the face of a bull, but the rest of him was human; and Minos, in compliance with certain oracles, shut him up and guarded him in the Labyrinth” made by the great Athenian artifi cer Daedalus. By Minos’s order, every year or every nine years Athens had to send seven young men and seven young women to be devoured by the Minotaur. Eventually, however, the Athenian hero Theseus volunteers to go and— with the help of a thread given to him by Minos and Pasiphaë’s dau gh ter (and thus also Aste- rion’s half sister), Ariadne— succeeds in killing Asterion and escaping the labyrinth.

5

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AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK JORGE LUIS BORGES (1899–1986)

From “An Interview with Jorge Luis Borges” (1970)*

A[nswer:] [. . . ] when people tell me that they’re down- to- earth and they tell me that I should be down- to- earth and think of reality, I won der why a dream or an idea should be less real than this table for example, or why Macbeth should be less real than today’s newspaper. I cannot quite understand this. [. . .] I’m not sure I have to defi ne myself. I’d rather go on wondering and puzzling about things, for I fi nd that very enjoyable.

Q[uestion:] That reminds me of the image of the labyrinth that recurs through- out your work.

a[nswer:] Yes, it keeps cropping up all the time. It’s the most obvious symbol of feeling puzzled and baffl ed, isn’t it? It came to me through an engraving when I was a boy, an engraving of the seven wonders of the world, and there was one of the labyrinth. [. . . ] I thought that if I looked into it, if I peered into it very closely, perhaps I might make out the minotaur at the center. Somehow I was rather frightened of that engraving [. . . ]. I was afraid of the minotaur coming out. (317)

• • •

[G. K.] Chesterton said, “What a man is really afraid of is a maze without a center.” I suppose he was thinking of a godless universe, but I was thinking of the labyrinth without a minotaur, I mean, if anything is terrible, it is terrible because it is meaningless. (318)

[. . . I]f there’s no minotaur, then the whole thing’s incredible. You have a monstrous building built round a monster, and that in a sense is logical. But if there is no monster, then the whole thing is senseless, and that would be the case for the universe, for all we know. (318)

*“An Interview with Jorge Luis Borges.” Interview by L. S. Dembo. Contemporary Lit erature, vol. 11, no. 3, Summer 1970, pp. 315–23, www . jstor . org / stable / 1207790.

SUGGESTIONS FOR WRITING

1. Which of the monsters in these stories do you identify with most? least? Write an informal paper refl ecting on your responses to at least two of these characters and the way those responses are shaped both by specifi cs in the story and by your per- sonal experience.

2. Write a response paper or essay refl ecting on the use of humor in at least one of the stories in this album. What kinds of humor do you see in the story? How does humor shape your response to the story and its characters?

3. Write an essay comparing how any two characters in these stories understand and cope (or not) with their deviation from the human norm and what each gains or loses as a result.

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SUGGESTIONS FOR WRITING 283

4. Write an essay comparing the confl icts experienced by the families in Lusus Naturae and St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. Though we might not approve of the way some or all of these characters ultimately choose to resolve those confl icts, how and why might the stories encourage us to view these characters at least some- what sympathetically?

5. Like Maggie in Toni Morrison’s Recitatif, both the protagonist of Atwood’s Lusus Naturae and Mirabella, in St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, could be described as scapegoats (another archetype), which simply means a person or group of people whom a community harshly punishes, casts out, or even kills in the hope of preserving its own unity, purity, and strength. Why are these characters singled out? What do the other characters in each story hope to gain by treating the “mon- sters” as they do? Write an essay in which you explore what at least one of these stories suggests about whom we tend to treat as scapegoats, when and why we do so, and what the consequences tend to be.

6. In the library or on the Internet, research traditional repre sen ta tions (literary and/ or visual) of the Minotaur myth, as well as some authoritative interpretations of it. Then write an essay in which you draw on these sources and on Borges’s story to explore how it reworks and perhaps comments on these traditions.

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SETTING

If plot and action are the way fi ctional works answer the question What happened? and characters are the who, setting is the where and when. All action in fi ction, as in the real world, takes place in a context or setting— a time and place and a social environment or milieu.

TEMPORAL AND PHYSICAL, GENERAL AND PAR TIC U LAR SETTING

The time— a work’s temporal setting or plot time— can be roughly the same as that in which the work was written (its author time); or it can be much later, as in most science fi ction; or much earlier, as in most historical fi ction. Especially in short stories, which tend not to cover as much time or space as novels do, time may be very restricted, involving only a few hours or even minutes. Yet even in short sto- ries, the action may span years or even de cades.

Similarly, the place— a work’s geo graph i cal or physical setting— might be limited to a single locale, or it might encompass several disparate ones. Those places might be common and ordinary, unique and extraordinary, or fantastic and even impos- sible according to the laws of our world (as in modern fantasy or magic realism).

Even when a story’s action takes place in multiple times and places, we still sometimes refer to its setting (singular). By this, we indicate what we might call the entire story’s general setting— the year(s) and the region, country, or even world in which the story unfolds and which often provides a historical and cultural context for the action. The general setting of Margaret Mitchell’s historical novel Gone with the Wind (1936), for instance, is the Civil War– era South. But this novel, like many, has numerous par tic u lar settings; it opens, for instance, on an April morning on the porch of a north Georgia mansion called Tara, where Scarlett O’Hara fl irts with two beaus and ignores their talk of a possible war to come. To fully appreciate the nature and role of setting, we thus need to consider the specifi c time of day and year as well as the specifi c locales in which the action unfolds.

Some stories merely offer hints about setting; others describe setting in great sensory detail. Especially in the latter case, we might be tempted to skim through what seems like mere “scenery” or “background information” to fi nd out what happens next or how things turn out. But in good fi ction, setting always functions as an integral part of the whole.

FUNCTIONS OF SETTING

Fiction often relies on setting to establish mood, situation, and character. The fi rst sentence of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839), for example, quickly sets the tone:

4

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During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horse back, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the eve ning drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.

This sentence aims to instill in the reader the same fear, “melancholy,” and “sense of insufferable gloom” the narrator feels. With it, Poe prepares the reader emo- tionally, as well as mentally, for the sad and eerie tale that is about to unfold. He also generates suspense and certain expectations about just what might happen, as well as empathy with the narrator- protagonist.

Here, as in other fi ction, specifi c details prove crucial to setting’s emotional effect and meaning precisely because, as Poe’s narrator himself observes,

there are combinations of very simple natural objects which have the power of thus affecting us [. . .]. It was possible, I refl ected, that a mere different arrangement of the particulars of the scene, of the details of the picture, would be suffi cient to modify [. . .] its [. . .] impression.

In addition to creating such emotional impressions, setting can reveal or even shape a character’s personality, outlook, and values; it can occasionally be an actor in the plot; and it often prompts characters’ actions. (Who might you become and what might you do if you lived in the isolated, gloomy House of Usher?) Descriptions of setting may even (as in the fi rst boxed example below) suggest a key confl ict or theme. To gloss over descriptions of setting would thus mean not only missing much of the plea sure fi ction affords but also potentially misreading its meanings. Setting is one of the many ways we learn about characters and the chief means by which characters and plots take on a larger historical, social, or even universal signifi cance.

VAGUE AND VIVID SETTINGS

Not all stories, of course, rely so heavily on setting as Poe’s does. In some indi- vidual works and in some subgenres, the general time, place, or both may be so vague as to seem, at fi rst glance, unimportant. Many folktales and fairy tales take place in archetypal settings: “A long time ago,” in “the forest” or “a village” or “a cottage,” “in a land far, far away.” By offering little, if any, specifi c information about their settings— neither locating the “forest” or “village” or faraway land in a place we can fi nd on a map or a time we can locate on a calendar or clock, nor describing it in any detail— these works implicitly urge us to see the confl icts and aspects of human experience they depict (death, grief, a mother’s relationship to her child, the danger and incomprehensibility of the unknown) as timeless and universal. Here, the very lack of attention to setting paradoxically turns out to be all- important.

At the opposite extreme are works and subgenres of fi ction in which setting generates the confl icts, defi nes the characters, and gives the story purpose and meaning— so much so that there would be little, if any, story left if all the details about setting were removed or the characters and plot were somehow transported to a different time, place, and social milieu. Without their settings, what would remain of historical novels like Gone with the Wind or Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850)? An even more extreme example is Italo Calvino’s fantasy novel Invisible Cities, which consists almost entirely of a series of descriptions of impossible, yet often hauntingly beautiful places like the following one.

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ITALO CALVINO From Invisible Cities

What makes Argia different from other cities is that it has earth instead of air. The streets are completely fi lled with dirt, clay packs the rooms to the ceiling, on every stair another stairway is set in negative, over the roofs of the houses hang layers of rocky terrain like skies with clouds. We do not know if the inhabitants can move about the city, widening the worm tunnels and the crevices where roots twist: the dampness destroys people’s bodies and they have scant strength; everyone is better off remaining still, prone; anyway, it is dark.

From up here, nothing of Argia can be seen; some say, “It’s down below there,” and we can only believe them. The place is deserted. At night, putting your ear to the ground, you can sometimes hear a door slam.

1972

• • •

Most fi ction, of course, occupies a middle ground between the extremes of Calvi- no’s novel or historical fi ction (with their highly particularized settings) versus folklore (with its generic, archetypal setting). Though all fi ction may ultimately deal with some types of people, aspects of human experience, and confl icts that can crop up in some form or fashion anywhere or any time, much fi ction also draws our attention to the way people, their experience, and their confl icts are twisted into a par tic u lar “form and fashion” by specifi c contexts.

Analyzing Descriptions of Setting: An Example and an Exercise

The novel Gone with the Wind, like the movie, opens on the front porch of Tara, where a carefree Scarlett O’Hara fl irts with the Tarleton twins and studiously ignores the fi rst rumors of war. Then the narrator pulls back to show us, with great detail, both the time of year and the landscape in which that porch is situated. After you read the following description, write a para- graph or two that draws on details from the passage to explain the feelings and impressions it conjures up, the functions it might serve at the beginning of the novel, and the way it achieves its effects. How, for example, might this description foreshadow and even help explain subsequent events? Why else might the novel need all this detail?

Spring had come early that year, with warm quick rains and sudden frothing of pink peach blossoms and dogwood dappling with white stars the dark river swamp and far- off hills. Already the plowing was nearly fi nished, and the bloody glory of the sunset colored the fresh- cut furrows of red Georgia clay to even red- der hues. The moist hungry earth, waiting upturned for the cotton seeds, showed

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pinkish on the sandy tops of furrows, vermilion and scarlet and maroon where shadows lay along the sides of the trenches. The whitewashed brick plantation house seemed an island set in a wild red sea, a sea of spiraling, curving, crescent billows petrifi ed suddenly at the moment when the pink- tipped waves were breaking into surf. For here were no long, straight furrows, such as could be seen in the yellow clay fi elds of the fl at middle Georgia country or in the lush black earth of the coastal plantations. The rolling foothill country of north Georgia was plowed in a million curves to keep the rich earth from washing down into the river bottoms.

It was a savagely red land, blood- colored after rains, brick dust in droughts, the best cotton land in the world. It was a pleasant land of white houses, peaceful plowed fi elds and sluggish yellow rivers, but a land of contrasts, of bright sun glare and densest shade. The plantation clearings and miles of cotton fi elds smiled up to a warm sun, placid, complacent. At their edges rose the virgin for- ests, dark and cool even in the hottest noons, mysterious, a little sinister, the soughing pines seem to wait with an age- old patience, to threaten with soft sighs: “Be careful! Be careful! We had you once. We can take you back again.”

TRADITIONAL EXPECTATIONS OF TIME AND PLACE

The effects and meanings evoked by setting depend on our traditional associa- tions with, and often unconscious assumptions about, par tic u lar times, places, and even such factors as weather conditions— autumn, eve ning, a deserted coun- try road, a house grand enough to have a name, a sky full of low and lowering clouds (to refer back to the Poe example).

Traditional associations derive, in part, from literature and myth, and some are culturally specifi c. (To someone unfamiliar with the Old Testament, an apple orchard would simply be an apple orchard, without any suggestion of evil or sin. Likewise, to someone who knows little about the U.S. Civil War, a big white house in the middle of a cotton fi eld might seem like nothing more than a very beautiful place full of lucky, wealthy, happy people.) These associations also come from our learning, our experience, our own specifi c social and historical context, and even our primal instincts and physical condition as human beings. Almost all of us are more vulnerable in the dark and in inclement weather. And people do behave dif- ferently and expect different things to happen in different times and places— on a Saturday versus a Sunday versus a Monday, during spring break versus midse- mester or mid week, at a posh beach resort we are just visiting versus the grocery store in our own neighborhood, and so on.

Often, however, authors draw on such associations precisely in order to reverse and question them. John Updike has said that he was initially inspired to write A & P because a suburban grocery store seemed just the sort of mundane place no reader would expect either heroism or a story to take place. (“Why don’t you ever read a story set in an A & P?” he reportedly asked his wife.) By reversing expecta- tions in this way, stories not only deepen their emotional effect but also encourage us to rethink our assumptions about par tic u lar times and places and the people who inhabit them.

SETTING 287

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Connecting Setting, Point of View, and Character: An Example and an Exercise

For the purpose of analysis, we distinguish setting from other elements such as character, plot, point of view, and language. Perhaps paradoxically, we need to do so precisely in order to understand how these elements work together. The following passage from Alice Randall’s controversial novel The Wind Done Gone (2002), for example, paints a dramatically different picture of the ante- bellum South than do earlier novels and fi lms like Gone with the Wind, in part because it looks at that time and place from a very different point of view.

After you read the passage, write a paragraph or two about how its effect and meaning are shaped by point of view and fi gurative language or imag- ery. What might the passage tell us about Randall’s narrator? How does the passage encourage us to rethink traditional views of the antebellum South?

Alternatively, compare this passage to the one from Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind in this chapter’s fi rst “Example and Exercise,” focusing on how each passage differently depicts the same time and place and how each passage’s

This early scene from Gone with the Wind (1939) takes place on the porch of a mansion in Georgia, just before the start of the Civil War.

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effect and meaning derive from its point of view and from its distinctive use of somewhat similar language and images.

Mammy worked from can’t-see in the morning to can’t-see at night, in that great whitewashed wide- columned house surrounded by curvy furrowed fi elds. The mud, the dirt, was so red, when you looked at the cotton blooming in a fi eld it brought to mind a sleeping gown after childbirth— all soft white cotton and blood.

If it was mine to be able to paint pictures, if I possessed the gift of painting, I would paint a cotton gown balled up and thrown into a corner waiting to be washed, and I would call it “Georgia.”

• • •

Setting is key to each of the stories gathered in this chapter. The settings in these stories range from the United States to Rus sia and China; from the late- nineteenth century to the late- twentieth; from coastal resorts to crowded, cosmopolitan cit- ies. The stories take place in just about every season and all kinds of weather, but regardless of the specifi c setting each paints a revealing portrait of a time and place. Just as our own memories of important experiences include complex impres- sions of when and where they occurred— the weather, the shape of the room, the music that was playing, even the fashions or the events in the news back then— so stories rely on setting to evoke emotion and generate meaning.

Questions about Setting

General Setting

• What is the general temporal and geo graph i cal setting of this work of fi ction? How do you know?

• How important does the general setting seem to be? In what ways is it impor- tant? What about the plot and characters would remain the same if they were magically transported to a different setting? What wouldn’t? For example, how does the setting ° create or shape confl ict? ° affect characters’ personalities, outlooks, and actions? ° shape our impressions of who the characters are and what they represent? ° establish mood?

Par tic u lar Settings

• Does all the action occur in one time and place, or in more than one? If the latter, what are those times and places?

• What patterns do you notice regarding where and when things happen? Which characters are associated with each setting? How do different char acters

SETTING 289

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ANTON CHEKHOV (1860 –1904) The Lady with the Dog1

The grandson of an emancipated serf, Anton Chek- hov was born in the Rus sian town of Taganrog. In 1875, his father, a grocer facing bankruptcy and imprisonment, fl ed to Moscow, and soon the rest of the family lost their house to a former friend and lodger, a situation that Chekhov would revisit in his

play The Cherry Orchard (1904). In 1884, Chekhov received his MD from the Univer- sity of Moscow. He purchased an estate near Moscow in the early 1890s and became both an industrious landowner and doctor to the local peasants. After contributing stories to magazines and journals throughout the 1880s, he began writing for the stage in 1887, the same year he published his fi rst collection of fi ction. Chekhov himself once declared that fi ction is “a lawful wife, but the Stage is a noisy, fl ashy, and insolent mis- tress.” Forced by tuberculosis to winter on the coast after 1897, Chekhov married the actress Olga Knipper in 1901, but the couple had no children.

I

It was said that a new person had appeared on the sea- front: a lady with a little dog. Dmitri Dmitritch Gurov, who had by then been a fortnight at Yalta,2 and so was fairly at home there, had begun to take an interest in new arrivals. Sitting in Verney’s pavilion, he saw, walking on the sea- front, a fair- haired young lady of medium height, wearing a béret; a white Pomeranian dog was running behind her.

And afterwards he met her in the public gardens and in the square several times a day. She was walking alone, always wearing the same béret, and always with the same white dog; no one knew who she was, and every one called her simply “the lady with the dog.”

1. Translated by Constance Garnett. 2. Rus sian city on the Black Sea; a resort.

relate to the same setting? When, how, and why do characters move from one setting to another? Are there signifi cant deviations from these patterns?

• Are par tic u lar settings described in detail, or merely sketched? If the former, what seems signifi cant about the details? How might they establish mood, reveal character, and affect individual characters and their interactions with one another?

290 CH. 4 | SETTING

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ANTON CHEKHOV The Lady with the Dog 291

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“If she is here alone without a husband or friends, it wouldn’t be amiss to make her acquaintance,” Gurov refl ected.

He was under forty, but he had a daughter already twelve years old, and two sons at school. He had been married young, when he was a student in his second year, and by now his wife seemed half as old again as he. She was a tall, erect woman with dark eyebrows, staid and dignifi ed, and, as she said of herself, intel- lectual. She read a great deal, used phonetic spelling, called her husband, not Dmitri, but Dimitri, and he secretly considered her unintelligent, narrow, inel- egant, was afraid of her, and did not like to be at home. He had begun being unfaithful to her long ago— had been unfaithful to her often, and, probably on that account, almost always spoke ill of women, and when they were talked about in his presence, used to call them “the lower race.”

It seemed to him that he had been so schooled by bitter experience that he might call them what he liked, and yet he could not get on for two days together without “the lower race.” In the society of men he was bored and not himself, with them he was cold and uncommunicative; but when he was in the company of women he felt free, and knew what to say to them and how to behave; and he was at ease with them even when he was silent. In his appearance, in his char- acter, in his whole nature, there was something attractive and elusive which allured women and disposed them in his favour; he knew that, and some force seemed to draw him, too, to them.

Experience often repeated, truly bitter experience, had taught him long ago that with decent people, especially Moscow people— always slow to move and irresolute— every intimacy, which at fi rst so agreeably diversifi es life and appears a light and charming adventure, inevitably grows into a regular problem of extreme intricacy, and in the long run the situation becomes unbearable. But at every fresh meeting with an interesting woman this experience seemed to slip out of his memory, and he was eager for life, and everything seemed simple and amusing.

One eve ning he was dining in the gardens, and the lady in the béret came up slowly to take the next table. Her expression, her gait, her dress, and the way she did her hair told him that she was a lady, that she was married, that she was in Yalta for the fi rst time and alone, and that she was dull there. . . . The stories told of the immorality in such places as Yalta are to a great extent untrue; he despised them, and knew that such stories were for the most part made up by persons who would themselves have been glad to sin if they had been able; but when the lady sat down at the next table three paces from him, he remembered these tales of easy conquests, of trips to the mountains, and the tempting thought of a swift, fl eeting love affair, a romance with an unknown woman, whose name he did not know, suddenly took possession of him.

He beckoned coaxingly to the Pomeranian, and when the dog came up to him he shook his fi nger at it. The Pomeranian growled: Gurov shook his fi nger at it again.

The lady looked at him and at once dropped her eyes. “He doesn’t bite,” she said, and blushed. “May I give him a bone?” he asked; and when she nodded he asked courte-

ously, “Have you been long in Yalta?” “Five days.”

5

10

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“And I have already dragged out a fortnight here.” There was a brief silence. “Time goes fast, and yet it is so dull here!” she said, not looking at him. “That’s only the fashion to say it is dull here. A provincial will live in Belyov

or Zhidra and not be dull, and when he comes here it’s ‘Oh, the dulness! Oh, the dust!’ One would think he came from Grenada.”3

She laughed. Then both continued eating in silence, like strangers, but after dinner they walked side by side; and there sprang up between them the light jesting conversation of people who are free and satisfi