All posts by Jmoo

Attila as the hero?

The ending of the short story “Attila,” in R.K. Narayan’s collection Malgudi Days, does not seen to “fit” with the rest of the story. In the last scene, when the young man (original dog owner) sees Attila walking on the street with the thief, his and his family’s feelings for the dog instantly shift. Previously, the family was disappointed by and ashamed of their dog’s passive and friendly temperament. An individual even suggested that they should “change his name to Blind Worm” (99). The mother of the household remarked, “Please lock him up in a room at night, otherwise he may call in a burglar and show him round” (99). I am not sure if Narayan intended for this comment to be sarcastic, or was a literal suggestion, because the dog did in fact welcome the burglar when he licked Ranga’s hand. Later, on page 101, Attila marked the identity of the thief. The family was grateful for Attila: “Attila was the hero of the day. Even the lady of the house softened towards him. She said, ‘Whatever one might say of Attila, one has to admit that he is a very cunning detective. He is too deep for words’” (101). The lady’s praise of Attila surprised me because ultimately the dog did not fulfill the role he was intended for. Essentially, the burglar still intruded the family’s home and was successful in retrieving items of value. It was only by chance that the young man saw the dog on the street accompanied by the burglar. Although the family was thankful to regain their belongings, I expected them to be ashamed of Attila’s stupidity in taking to the burglar as his new trustee owner. I am also confused if the lady’s description of Attila as a “cunning detective” and being “too deep for words” is stated in a sarcastic or appreciative tone.

Narayan, R.K. “Attila.” Malgudi Days. New York: Penguin Classics, 2006. Print. pp 97-101.

The Evolution of Lower Class Speech: Stein, Faulkner, and Hurston

In the novels/novella Melanctha (1909), As I Lay Dying (1930), and Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), respectively, Gertrude Stein, William Faulkner, and Zora Neale Hurston are faced with the task of speaking for characters that are of a lower class than his/her own. The characters in Melanctha do use the correct vernacular dialect. Stein modified black speech to create a unique way of speaking, which many critics refer to as “Steinese.” The aesthetic of the “mask of dialect” appeal to many African American readers; however, some critics argued that the inaccurate portrayal of black life was Stein’s way of compensating for her social distance (white privilege) from her characters. In As I Lay Dying William Faulkner avoids stereotypes associated with a white middle/lower class farming families by using narratives to display each character with a unique way of speaking and thinking. For example, Dewy Dell’s speech may seem uneducated and incorrect, but she is actually using words that are unique to her, not to the lower class. Considering the amount of education and experiences Dewey Dell has been exposed to, she is not unintelligent. Dewey Dell’s older brother’s speak differently than she does, in order to show that every person in the lower/middle class does not speaks the same way and that they have varying levels of ability and knowledge. In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston respectfully incorporates the black vernacular into her writing, like many other writers successfully did in their post World War I works during the Harlem Renaissance. Hurston accurately uses vernacular language tied to gender oppression and conformity. There is an overlap between the narrator’s idiom and the character’s idiom, creating a sympathy between the two, thereby showing that the black vernacular language has expressive power. From 1909 to 1937 there is a gradual evolution of writer’s abilities to give lower class characters language that accurately portrays their ways of social living, yet without abiding by stereotypes.

Narrative Strategies

Throughout the first ten pages of the novel the narrator describes the setting and places two old friends, Janie and Pheoby, in a conversation on a front porch. Pheoby asks Janie about Tea Cake. Janie provides a vague response, but when she realizes that Pheoby is ready to listen and understand Janie begins her life story, starting with a description of her childhood. This narrative strategy is used effectively so readers can understand events of Janie’s life that make her think and behave in certain ways. Chapter two continues mostly in form of Janie’s dialogue. At this point, I was worried that the entire novel was written in Janie’s dialogue, which is not easy to read because of her improper speech patterns. The dialogue is broken into paragraphs based on Janie quoting other people  and the development of new thoughts. Then, on page 11, there are two shifts in narrative voice,  the first shift goes back to the original narrator that described the women sitting on the porch, “Pheoby’s hungry listening helped Janie to tell her story…the night time put on flesh and blackness.” This paragraph is used to once again  show the women sitting on the porch and that the story of Janie’s life continues. Then, the next paragraph shifts to a new narrator, “She thought awhile and declared that her conscious life commenced at Nanny’s gate. On a late afternoon Nanny had called her to come inside the house because she had spied Janie letting Johnny Taylor kiss her over the gatepost.” If this narrator were to be physically present in the novel he/she would be sitting on the porch, listening to the women’s conversation. This narrator does not actually know the events and details of Janie’s past, he/she only knows as much as Janie discloses. The narrator listens to Janie’s story and translates it into a more comprehensive and intelligable writing. It is evident that the narrator does not know what happened in Janie’s past before Janie says so because the narrator says “She thought a while and declared.” Janie is the person who declared that her concious life began  then, not the narrator. The narrator does not have the knowledge or the authority to say, “Janie’s concious life commenced at Nanny’s gate.” Upon reading this paragraph I was relieved that Janie’s story would not be entirely reveled in her dialogue!

 

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006. Print.

Jewel

“Then Jewel is enclosed by a glittering maze of hooves as by an illusion of wings; among them, beneath the upreared chest, he moves with the flashing limberness of a snake. For an instant before the jerk comes onto his arms he sees his whole body earth-free, horizontal, whipping snake-limber, until he finds the horse’s nostrils and touches earth again” (12).

The narrator does not provide an emotional description of Jewel’s reaction to the horse standing up. The narrator is in awe of Jewel’s composed demeanor and competence working with the horse.

Lady Bruton’s Impatience

 

“She was getting impatient; the whole of her being was setting positively, undeniably, domineeringly brushing her aside all this unnecessary trifling (Peter Walsh and his affairs) upon that subject which engaged her attention, and not merely her attention, but that fibre which was the ramrod of her soul, the essential part of her without which Millicent Bruton would not have been Millicent Bruton; that project for emigrating young people of both sexes born of respectable parents and setting them up with a fair prospect of doing well in Canada. She exaggerated. She and perhaps lost her sense of proportion” (108-9).

In this passage the extent of Lady Bruton’s impatience for Hugh Whitebread is expressed by explaining how her impatience let her be successful in the past, and constructs who she is today. This impatience, which is suggested to be a feeling of sublime impatience, was so powerful that she was able to conduct the emigration project. Considering Lady Bruton’s ratio of patience to impatience, her “sense of proportion” is like that of a crazy person.

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. New York: Harcourt, Inc. 1925. Print. p.108-9

 

A Little Affair

“‘Ought to have a look at the proud father. They’re usually the worst sufferers in these little affairs,’ […] He pulled the blanket away from the Indian’s head. His hand came away wet. […] The Indian lay with his face toward the way. HIs throat had been cut from ear to ear. The blood had flowed down into a pool where his body sagged the bunk. His head rested on his left arm. The open razor lay, edge up, in the blankets” (18).

The doctor makes a statement that  generally fathers cannot stand to watch a Caesarian being performed on their wives, and that they experience great pain just by witnessing the event, but then he discovers that the father who was seemingly calm could not bear to live. I think it is interesting how a birth and a death occur in the same room and within minutes of one another. The language used in this passage is “matter of the fact” because there is nothing poetic or flowery about the Indian’s suicide. I thought it was interesting how Nick and Uncle George had names but the Indian characters did not. This may suggest that the “little affair” that occurred in the shanty that night was not unique to that couple. Other Indian fathers had committed suicide, or more generally speaking, other Indians had been suffering.

Hemingway, Ernest. “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife.” In Our Time. New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 2003. 18. Print.

Mr. Thipps’s Nerves

In Dorothy L. Sayers’s novel, Whose Body?, Lord Peter Wimsey visits Mr. Thipps, who is still in shock from discovering a dead body in his bathtub earlier that morning. Mr. Thipp’s describes his experience:

‘But it’s been a terrible shock to me, sir—my lord, I should say, but there! my nerves are      to pieces. Such a thing has never ‘appened—happened to me in all my born days. Such a state I was in this morning—I didn’t know if I was on my head or my heels—I reely didn’t, and my heart not being too strong, I hardly knew how to get out of that horrid room and telephone for the police. […] I’ve hardly known what to do with myself’ (5).

The use of dashes to break Mr. Thipps’s dialogue creates a stuttered speech, which effectively shows the distress and anxiety he was mentally experiencing. Mr. Thipps’ nerves and dialogue were fragmented to pieces. Mr. Thipps describes his experience with a rushed pace of speech, implying that he could still be in the same state he was in this morning.

 

Sayers, Dorothy. Whose Body? 1923. Reprint, New York: Dover, 2009.

Free Indirect Discourse

And yet, perhaps Melanctha really loved him. And then she would know how much it hurt him never any more, any way, to see her, and perhaps she would write a line to tell him. But that was a foolish way for Jeff ever to be thinking. Of course Melanctha never would write a word to him” (114).

Free indirect discourse is used in this passage when the narrator channels Jefferson’s thought process and says, “and perhaps she would write a line to tell him.” This line expresses Jefferson’s hope that Melanctha would write him back. The narrative voice then switches back to the omnicent narrator when he/she states, “But that was a foolish way for Jefff ever to be thinking.”

Mr Kurtz is Breaking Bad

“‘You can’t judge Mr Kurtz as you would an ordinary man. No, no, no! Now–just to give you an idea–I don’t mind telling you, he wanted to shoot me too one day–but I don’t judge him’ […] He declared he would shoot me unless I gave him the ivory and then cleared out of the country, because he could do so, and he had a fancy for it, and there was nothing on earth to prevent him from killing whom he jolly well pleased” (162-3)

The Russian man’s description of Mr Kurtz reminds me of the character Tuco from Breaking Bad Season 2 (Tuco is a powerful drug lord that is seemingly insane. His friend/business associate “dissed” him, so Tuco beat him to death with his bare hands).  Like Mr Kurtz, Tuco is not an ordinary man and does not have the rational of an ordinary man. Both characters use power, intimidation and murder to get the products they desire. Conducting business with Tuco and Mr Kurtz is so dangerous that even their “friends” lives are at risk. This passages suggest that ivory is not the only thing Mr Kurtz fancies, he also fancies power.

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness and Other Tales. “Heart of Darkness”, 162-3. Oxford: Oxford NY, 2002.

A Writer as a Slave

In Virginia Woolf’s article, “The Common Reader,” one passage stood out to me in particular:

“The mind receives a myriad impressions–trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they  come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms; and as they fall, as they shape themselves into the life of Monday or Tuesday, the accent falls differently from the old; the moment of importance came not here but there; so that, if a writer were a free man and not a slave, if he could write what he chose, not what he must, if he could base his work upon his own feeling and not upon convention, there would be no plot, no comedy, no tragedy, no love interest or catastrophe in the accepted style, and perhaps not a single button sewn on as the Bond Street tailors would have it” (150).

I am struggling to understand the connection between impressions on the mind, atoms, and the writer as a slave. Do the conventions of writing force a writer to only write about impressional events, and not his/her own feelings? Are the “Bond Street tailors” referring to tailors in Brooklyn, NY, whom would sew a button with perfection to satisfy customers?

 

Woolf, Virginia. “Modern Fiction.” In The Common Reader, 150. San Diego, CA: Harcourt, 1925.