Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Is The Ballad of the Sad Café an Embellished Fable? (Annotation G3-10/Goddard)

Aside from the obvious themes in Carson McCuller’s The Ballad of a Sad Café, the novella’s structure is solely in flashback. The introduction to the setting, and the story of what was lends itself to the anecdotes the like of Aesop. In deconstructing this novella’s structure, is it an embellished fable?
In cinema-graphic detail McCuller’s opens the story on a wide shot of the town, present day. “The town itself is dreary,” (McCullers 3),setting the scene in these first five words. The mid-shot is on the house in such a state of disrepair it would seem a tragic condition especially considering the town. Then comes the close up, with the exception of one window on the second floor all the others are boarded up. Then, as dismal as the scene is of this small Georgian Mill town is, the reader discovers, the state of affairs once were very different. The boarded house was once the café, and Miss Amelia the proprietor. In the spirit of the fable, the set-up on the opening pages are what the place has become, then comes the why of it.
As the story unfolds, the ballad, Miss Amelia develops love for a “long lost cousin” and the two of them develop the café from the former general store. As a fable, the theme may be of love gained. Almost everyone wants to be the lover.
And the curt truth is that, in a deep secret way, the state of being loved is intolerable to many. The beloved fears and hates the lover, and with the best of reasons, (McCullers 27).
The love between Miss Amelia and cousin Lymon described as lover and beloved is apt if nothing more than in their mere physical descriptions. Miss Amelia is 6’2” and weighing nearly 160 pounds, whereas cousin Lymon is a hunchbacked sickly dwarf of undeterminable age. In sheer physical stature, Miss Amelia appears as a mother to Lymon. As the two of these characters develop their café, they also develop a comfortable life together, each needing the other. The complication in the plot is bound to Marvin Macy, Miss Amelia’s former husband.
The foreshadowing return of Marvin Macy is prevails throughout the book. This character is obviously evil, and dangerous, which the reader expects with the building of his inevitable return. The insidious return of Marvin Macy makes the reader question the true disaster of the situation. Under the fable model here, the return is for revenge, and everyone knows it, including the characters.
Vengeance comes not in the way of murder, although it is tried on the side of Miss Amelia. Marvin Macy gets his revenge by stealing the affections of the dwarf, cousin Lymon. A feeling of the love triangle appears here, as Miss Amelia wants to maintain her love with Lymon and thwart her enemy. The ultimate ruin of their relationship is the fist fight over the dwarf where the two men overtake the more powerful Miss Amelia. After the defeat, the men physically destroy her house, which may have been her sole outward source of power. Once left alone the fable returns to the beginning.
What is in the beginning is what is in the end, “yes, the town is dreary,” (McCullers , 70). The circular way of telling the story is as a fable, nothing learned, exactly, but something to consider. Lastly, a fable will have a short lesson at the end, a brief statement about what should have been learn. McCullers has done the same thing with the curious end of “Twelve Mortal Men,” her depiction of a chain gang singing while working on the roads. As puzzling as it may seem, this little vignette pulls a lesson, “just twelve mortal men who are together,” (McCullers 72). These twelve men are together unlike Miss Amelia, leaving a fabled story of loneliness.

McCullers, Carson. The Ballard of a Sad Café. Bantam Books: New York, 1958.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Traits, Dialog, and Colors of O’Conner (Annotation G3-9/Goddard)

The sampling of Flannery O’Conner’s stories: “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” “The Artificial Nigger,” and “Good Country People,” a haunting picture of the Southern United States is painted often in yellow. Thematically, the traits of characters, reveling dialog and the use of color are the shared aspects of these three stories.
Family relationships are important aspects of these stories. Within the family relationships of each story, generations, and breaches in generational understandings is the basis of each character’s trait. “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” begins simply with “The Grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida,” (O’Conner 9). The Grandmother inevitably goes to Florida with her son and his family. The Grandmother holds fast to the traditions she was born into, pride for their state of Georgia and a condescending racial view of black people. Her grandchildren, conversely, have nothing positive to say about Georgia and have irreverence to their grandmother. As the family wheels southward to Florida the rising tensions are shifted from the escaped murder (the Misfit) to the Grandmother’s childhood home. As the Grandmother persists on the detour, the father acquiesces, which is when the accident occurs.
The accident to occur in the second story “The Artificial Nigger,” is the shift between the two main characters, Mr. Head, the grandfather, and Nelson the child. O’Connor’s use of physical description of these two lend to the potency of their dialog, “for Mr. head had a youthful expression by daylight, while the boy’s look was ancient,” (O’Conner 105). Their banter is paradoxical, especially as the boy gives the old man a reprimand after he has forgotten lunch and gotten the two of them lost in the city. The young boy comes around during an accident with an old woman who claims he has broken her ankle. The old man denies relation with the boy and causally leaves him on the street.
Effects of dialog are as important in the third piece, “Good Country People.” The like the other two stories, O’Connor has extracted the title of each story from a character’s statement. When Mrs. Hopewell meets the young bible salesman she states: “Why, she cried, good country people are the salt of the earth,” (O’Conner 179). Much as the tradition of the three stories, “Good Country People,’ has a fitting if not ironical ending with the young bible salesman being the opposite of a good country person when he steals the daughter’s artificial limb.
The use of the color yellow is in every story, and numerous times. If exposed only to these three stories as Flanner O’Conner’s canon, or the larger scheme of Southern literature, a reader may ascertain the only color of Dixie is the color yellow. Yellow shirts of “A Man is Hard to Find,” yellow dresses of Negro women in “The Artificial Nigger,” the yellow socks of the bible salesman and the yellow sweatshirt of the daughter in “Good Country People,” are the fair indications of yellow throughout the south.
The connections in each story hold true to the voice of the writer, the dialog written in vernacular and traits of characters. Case studies of southern archetypes are clear, the domineering older generation, the changing world of the impetuous youth set down alive in the yellowing dialog of each.


O’Connor, Flannery. A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories. New York: Harvest Books, 1981.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Twenty-Century Death for Grendel (Annotation G3-8/Goddard)

John Gardner’s Grendel, published in 1971, is a great case study of plot, and use of the first person narrative. Grendel tells his side of the Beowulf story, and the plot is a generous use of Fictean Curve Gardner discusses in his Art of Fiction. Aside from being a well crafted and exciting novel, Gardner successfully places Grendel in the hands of twentieth century readers. In this accessibility, Grendel and his thanes have a bit of the twentieth century to them. The peasant and Hrothulf, the conversation between the priests, and the ultimate death of Grendel are the superimposed examples of the modern world on an old story.
Hrothulf, the nephew of King Hrothgar, finds himself talking angrily to an old peasant. The old peasant yells in disgust at the state of affairs: “The total ruin of institutions and morals is an act of creation,” (Gardner 118). A cultural anthropologist would be able to ascertain the level of social and political thought in the days of middle Earth, perhaps the old peasant is fashionably accepted in his day. However, the thought of abolishing the system is strikingly apt in the climate of United States of America during Gardner’s day in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Later, the old peasant claims:
“What is the state in of domestic or foreign crisis? What is the state when the chips are down? The answer is obvious and clear! Oh yes! If a few men quit work, the police move in. If the borders are threatened, the army rolls out. The state is an organization of violence, a monopoly in what it is pleased to call legitimate violence,” (Gardner 119).
How different are the rants of the old peasant to the subversive thought of youth during the height of the Vietnam conflict during the publication of Grendel?
Slight digs at the “state” are not all the social thought in the book. Religion comes into question too. Later, during the dark nights of December, Grendel lurks on the outskirts of town in the circle of idols. When the monster is joined by Ork, the eldest priest a conversation of theology develops between them. The old priest falls to his knees and tells Grendel the basis of current spiritual beliefs. The degradation of religion in the novel comes clear when the other priests join Ork. Gardner makes use of a chorus-type, or play punctuation and gives the priest numbers. Priest number one is dogmatic, believes Ork should follow protocol and get out of the night. Priest number two only has concern for the physical well-being of the old priest. Priest number three worries about what others think of the group of them, and knows ravings of old priests is not favorable financially. Whereas the actions of the three priest are human, they each represent a view of the organization of religion tightly wound to a modern world where priests are more concerned with market share rather than the spiritual wellbeing of parishioners.
Moving from government to religion and lastly to literature, the death of Grendel comes at the end of Gardner’s novel. The gruesome death at the hands of the Geats in the final chapter is erroneous. Grendel, who has admired the Shaper, the king of the poets, knows his death is tightly wrapped in the death of the poet. Grendel feels fear when the strangers come, because he foresees his death in the pyre of the poet in the previous chapter. Books and heroes as well as monsters die when people no longer care to read or think about them. By no means does Gardner accept the death of Grendel as a violent end, perhaps in the Shaper he alludes to lack of readership Beowulf is essentially dead.
Grendel is well worth the read as the unique shift in point of view, or as a modern introduction, preamble or prerequisite reading to Beowulf.

Gardner, John. Grendel. New York: Vintage Books, 1989.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Absurdistan: the Timely and the Dated (Annotation G3-7)

Adding Gary Shteyngart’s Absurdistan to a syllabus of a course on Russian literature is possibility the best use for his book. Although only an ethnic Russian Shteyngart is an American by training and culture. In the first third of his book Shteyngart either mentions or alludes to most of the writers of the Russian canon. While the first third is a treasure hunt for the next literary reference, the last two thirds are a different beast altogether. Absurdistan has summed up the late summer and fall of 2001, and will always be there. The timeliness of the novel is a joy to read in light of the political climate in the world today. Knowing the world of today, Shteyngart’s novel will make little or no sense a generation from now. Whereas the timeliness is impressive to privy readers today, the pitfalls are clear: Absurdistan has an expiration date.
The importance of adding this book to the Russian canon, an American novel, written in English is because it is a much more hip introduction to Russian literary heroes and it is more readable for a younger generation. The only warning here, his book will only be pertinent for a very short time. The hip hop references as well as the vernacular of Rouenna are assets to hook young readers should this book be the first on the course’s reading list. As the characters read like movie actors: Misha in a Puma track suit, and Rouenna looking very inner-city sheik, they will appeal to young readers. However, to an older more privy reader such details are nearly as impressive. For instance, this reader was left more puzzled by the track suit than the title of chapter nine as reference to Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
Absurdistan is horribly dated already, the mention of automobile model numbers, web addresses and price tags. “porkyrussianlover@heartache.com” the chapter ten title is modern speak in the form of an e-mail transmission between the two lovers Misha and Rouenna. Getting to know these characters by their electronic transmissions is nearly insulting. The characters certainly speak in their own voices, but the language of modern day text messaging and e-mail is a language all it’s own. Phonetically speaking there is nothing wrong with this chapter. As the modern world becomes more abbreviated and more illiterate Misha’s e-note of love may become a masterpiece. If details such as this portion of character development attracts young readers to the story, what will it do to older readers?
As for Misha’s time in the Absurdi capital, Shteyngart has captured all too well the CNN world of the late 20th century. Putting the story into context with real events helps here too. The book begins on July 15, 2001 “The night in question” and ends with the narrator’s exodus on the tenth of September 2001. If we are able to use Absurdistan today as a primer in Russian literature due to its hip hop genius then a generation from now it will be the primer of the world’s state of affairs in 2001. By 2025 Shtenyngart’s references to Tolstoy will be just as illusive as a reference to Golly Burton and Dick Chenney.


Shtyengart, Gary. Absurdistan. New York: Random House, 2006.  

Monday, February 4, 2008

Gardner’s Plotting, Kafka’s Story (Annotation G3-6/Goddard)

In the quest to gain a better understanding of plot, and plotting techniques in John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, he mentions Franz Kafka’s “A Country Doctor.” Kafka’s piece is puzzling, and more puzzling still, why does John Gardner reference it? It’s conceivable to a reader of Gardner’s chapter seven: “Plotting” that he means Kafka’s smaller chapter of the same name. The vignette, “A Country Doctor” is the second short story in the larger work of the same name. Kafka’s piece as a whole has no continuous plot, each vignette, or story is completely removed from the one before it. Leaving all others aside, what does “A Country Doctor,” have to tell us about plot?
We sense at once some mysterious logic in Kafka’s “A Country Doctor,” and our first impulse is to attribute this mysterious coherence to some ingenious penetration of the nature of things, (Gardner 167).

The narrative begins simply: “I was in great perplexity,” (Kafka 136). At once the reader is right there on the dark and stormy night with the Doctor, great perplexity is correct. Kafka chooses wisely beginning the plot in the middle of the conflict. This doctor has an errand of utmost importance, he has patient to see some miles off, it’s snowing and his horse is dead. The plot? The doctor must see his patient. Under Gardner’s model of the Fichtean curve, diagramed as a triangle, side a is the normal course of action: Kafka’s doctor leaves his home to get to the home of his patient. Line b represents the course he actually takes: the doctor’s lack of livery, the snowy path there, and a crazed farm family with a dying son. Lastly, line c the denouement: despite the worms oozing from his patient’s open wound, the doctor has lost everything by simply leaving things unattended at home.
Gardner uses this example perhaps because the plot points build one after another, and the increased tension in Kafka’s short piece is exciting. In his final summation Gardner assumes the piece is allegorical and as readers: “we may begin to find it thin and too obviously contrived,” (Gardner 167).
In the comparison of plot, what Kafka gives to readers and the subsequent analysis, “A Country Doctor,” remains to be a story read on a sunny day. The plot points are clear, the conflicts horrifying the outcome of Kafka’s little allegorical piece is best summed up in his own words. “There is an excellent idiom: to fight one’s way through the thick of things this is what I have done, I have fought through the thick of things,” (Kafka 183).


Gardner, John. The Art of Fiction. New York: Vintage Books, 1991

Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony, and Other Stories. New York: Schocken Books, 1995

Friday, February 1, 2008

Process Paper G3-1/Goddard

Contents:
Annotation #2: Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer
Annotation #3: Eudora Welty’s The Optimist’s Daughter
Annotation #4: W Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge
Notes and outlines for creative manuscript
Chapter’s: “Lightning in the Upstairs Room,” and “Window in Düsseldorf”
Teaching Practicum dates and schedule
Workshop exercise: “The Tokidoki Staller”

Dear John,

It was a real pleasure working with you at the residency; I must admit I was a little nervous to change advisors. It’s just a fear of change, I suppose. I regret not making it to your sense of place workshop. I read the packet, but I was too tired to make it. In looking at the material, you submitted for consideration in that workshop, I‘d suggest the first chapter of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. I bring it up only because I’ve it on the docket for the workshops in my practicum.

Packet number one: I valued the annotation exercise in our group advisory at the residency. I found it useful, of course because it gave me an idea of what to expect from you. It also gave me a way to gauge what others are doing with their annotations. I kept that in mind as I wrote mine for this packet. I enjoyed the Miller and the Welty annotations, they were great reads too. Maugham’s book as well as the annotation was a little bit more difficult. I was put off in the opening chapter when he compared himself to Henry James. I hated reading Henry James when I was in college. I had a professor then who told me that I was too young for James and to reread it at forty. I’m thirty-five, and just knowing I’ll be forty is frightening enough, never minding the inevitable chore of having to read Henry James again. Nonetheless, I found plenty in The Razor’s Edge to keep me going.

I’ve found a renewed interest in my manuscript. As I told you in your office on our first meeting, I was feeling tired and frustrated with it. It may not be the book I ultimately want to write, but I know there is more time for more novels. Some of the difficulties I was feeling I have resolved. The idea of an extended amount of time on one project was the biggest problem for me. Since I started the program at Goddard, I haven’t written anything else. This manuscript has been getting all my attention. In the fall, I really put it aside to work on other projects, a grip of short stories and even older novels. I seem to remember telling you about these. Basically, I spent hours transcribing thousands of handwritten pages into a computer format with the idea of working on publications. I guess I was looking for another, more tangible release of energy. After all, I thought, what the hell prevented me from submitting stories for publications all these years. Another issue plaguing me was a feeling of not producing enough. In this packet process, we put together 40 pages every three weeks. Before Goddard, I just wrote in notebooks, story after story. I don’t have a number of pages I would write in three-week intervals, but I felt like I was writing so much more. I digress. After our initial conversation, I started thinking about my manuscript very differently. At the residency I was struggling to think about what my story is ultimately about, why would anyone care to read it, etc. I think I came up with the answer, at least enough of an answer to keep me motivated. In this packet, I’ve included “outlines and notes,” which is giving me a greater understanding of where I am and what I need to do. Additionally, I hope it will give you some insight to my project. At the residency, I printed the entire manuscript, and I was horrified to find 335 pages in front of me. I mean, that’s nearly an entire tree, right? So far, I’ve dropped just under 200 pages of the piece. Most of that were pieces or unusable drafts of existing chapters. So, starting at a base of about 150 pages, all of which I was excited about, I feel like I’m in a good spot to continue work.

Lightning in the Upstairs Room” and “Window in Düsseldorf” are both new chapters. Although pieces of the latter is a reworking of a rogue chapter left over from my first semester. I feel confident in this new work, even in the rough draft form they are in currently. My plans now are simply to produce more new material to be the cohesive glue in the manuscript. In looking at the schedule of events for this semester and for the following, I believe I will have a complete draft of this manuscript ready by August 25. I’m in good shape.

The Teaching Practicum: I was very allusive when we talked about this during our meetings. I didn’t have an accurate picture about it during the residency. I had four solid maybes, two long shots, and one hell-no going for me when I left Denver in January. Oddly enough, it was one of the long shots that worked out and everything else just fell into place. As you’ll see on the initial schedule, I’ve left things a little vague. It was important to get all the workshop information on one page. In short, Crystal Sharp, owner and operator of the Holiday Chalet Bed and Breakfast has agreed to sponsor my workshop. We meet in her Tea Room (The breakfast portion) of her hotel. Her hotel is on central east Colfax Avenue here in Denver, Jack Kerouac and his buddies used to drink at the bar across the street, isn’t that fun? So, we have the place on Monday nights for the workshop. Crystal has been a great help with the promotion, and two of my eleven participants came because of her urging. The first workshop was last Monday, and I was absolutely terrified. I started the session with a little quiz, which was the best icebreaker I’ve ever done. It was a twenty question literary quiz (What is a catch-22? Who is big brother?) and it got lots of laughs. I guess, I’ll tell you more in the teaching essay. I was amazed at how calm I was once we got going and how receptive and excited these eleven people were. Needless to say, I’ve very excited about session number two. Is there anything else you need to know about this practicum? I’m following all the guidelines, and again, I feel confident in the fulfilling of this requirement.


Process Paper G3-1/Goddard

Contents:
Annotation #2: Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer
Annotation #3: Eudora Welty’s The Optimist’s Daughter
Annotation #4: W Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge
Notes and outlines for creative manuscript
Chapter’s: “Lightning in the Upstairs Room,” and “Window in Düsseldorf”
Teaching Practicum dates and schedule
Workshop exercise: “The Tokidoki Staller”

Dear John,

It was a real pleasure working with you at the residency; I must admit I was a little nervous to change advisors. It’s just a fear of change, I suppose. I regret not making it to your sense of place workshop. I read the packet, but I was too tired to make it. In looking at the material, you submitted for consideration in that workshop, I‘d suggest the first chapter of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. I bring it up only because I’ve it on the docket for the workshops in my practicum.

Packet number one: I valued the annotation exercise in our group advisory at the residency. I found it useful, of course because it gave me an idea of what to expect from you. It also gave me a way to gauge what others are doing with their annotations. I kept that in mind as I wrote mine for this packet. I enjoyed the Miller and the Welty annotations, they were great reads too. Maugham’s book as well as the annotation was a little bit more difficult. I was put off in the opening chapter when he compared himself to Henry James. I hated reading Henry James when I was in college. I had a professor then who told me that I was too young for James and to reread it at forty. I’m thirty-five, and just knowing I’ll be forty is frightening enough, never minding the inevitable chore of having to read Henry James again. Nonetheless, I found plenty in The Razor’s Edge to keep me going.

I’ve found a renewed interest in my manuscript. As I told you in your office on our first meeting, I was feeling tired and frustrated with it. It may not be the book I ultimately want to write, but I know there is more time for more novels. Some of the difficulties I was feeling I have resolved. The idea of an extended amount of time on one project was the biggest problem for me. Since I started the program at Goddard, I haven’t written anything else. This manuscript has been getting all my attention. In the fall, I really put it aside to work on other projects, a grip of short stories and even older novels. I seem to remember telling you about these. Basically, I spent hours transcribing thousands of handwritten pages into a computer format with the idea of working on publications. I guess I was looking for another, more tangible release of energy. After all, I thought, what the hell prevented me from submitting stories for publications all these years. Another issue plaguing me was a feeling of not producing enough. In this packet process, we put together 40 pages every three weeks. Before Goddard, I just wrote in notebooks, story after story. I don’t have a number of pages I would write in three-week intervals, but I felt like I was writing so much more. I digress. After our initial conversation, I started thinking about my manuscript very differently. At the residency I was struggling to think about what my story is ultimately about, why would anyone care to read it, etc. I think I came up with the answer, at least enough of an answer to keep me motivated. In this packet, I’ve included “outlines and notes,” which is giving me a greater understanding of where I am and what I need to do. Additionally, I hope it will give you some insight to my project. At the residency, I printed the entire manuscript, and I was horrified to find 335 pages in front of me. I mean, that’s nearly an entire tree, right? So far, I’ve dropped just under 200 pages of the piece. Most of that were pieces or unusable drafts of existing chapters. So, starting at a base of about 150 pages, all of which I was excited about, I feel like I’m in a good spot to continue work.

Lightning in the Upstairs Room” and “Window in Düsseldorf” are both new chapters. Although pieces of the latter is a reworking of a rogue chapter left over from my first semester. I feel confident in this new work, even in the rough draft form they are in currently. My plans now are simply to produce more new material to be the cohesive glue in the manuscript. In looking at the schedule of events for this semester and for the following, I believe I will have a complete draft of this manuscript ready by August 25. I’m in good shape.

The Teaching Practicum: I was very allusive when we talked about this during our meetings. I didn’t have an accurate picture about it during the residency. I had four solid maybes, two long shots, and one hell-no going for me when I left Denver in January. Oddly enough, it was one of the long shots that worked out and everything else just fell into place. As you’ll see on the initial schedule, I’ve left things a little vague. It was important to get all the workshop information on one page. In short, Crystal Sharp, owner and operator of the Holiday Chalet Bed and Breakfast has agreed to sponsor my workshop. We meet in her Tea Room (The breakfast portion) of her hotel. Her hotel is on central east Colfax Avenue here in Denver, Jack Kerouac and his buddies used to drink at the bar across the street, isn’t that fun? So, we have the place on Monday nights for the workshop. Crystal has been a great help with the promotion, and two of my eleven participants came because of her urging. The first workshop was last Monday, and I was absolutely terrified. I started the session with a little quiz, which was the best icebreaker I’ve ever done. It was a twenty question literary quiz (What is a catch-22? Who is big brother?) and it got lots of laughs. I guess, I’ll tell you more in the teaching essay. I was amazed at how calm I was once we got going and how receptive and excited these eleven people were. Needless to say, I’ve very excited about session number two. Is there anything else you need to know about this practicum? I’m following all the guidelines, and again, I feel confident in the fulfilling of this requirement.