All posts by MMK

Thematic Humor

“The compartment built to seat ‘8 passengers; 4 British Troops, or 6 Indian Troops’ now carried only nine.”

I laughed when I read this.  It’s humorous, and it also succinctly demonstrates an aspect of social inequality right in the opening paragraphs.  It really sets up a major theme of the story, which deals with different perceptions of societal inequality and bullying.

Narayan, R.K. “Fellow-Feeling.” Malgudi Days. New York: Penguin Classics, 2006. Print. p.40

Specificity of Setting

The four novels Heart of Darkness (1899), Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), Whose Body? (1923), and Untouchable (1935) are all very specifically set in a particular place, time, and society.  Through abundance of detail, the authors  make the specific setting of each integral.  It would be nearly impossible to give one of these books a different setting without destroying them.  Imagine trying to set Heart of Darkness in France or Untouchable in modern day.  It could never work.


An interesting continuity which lends itself to this trait is that they are all set at or near the time they were written.  The authors were writing about the world around them, and could draw detail from real-life observation and experience.

Homesickness and Loneliness

“Far was Italy and the white houses and the room where her sisters sat making hats, and the streets crowded every evening with people walking, laughing out loud, not half alive like people here, huddled up in Bath chairs, looking at a few ugly flowers stuck in pots!

‘For you should see the Milan gardens,’ she said aloud.  But to whom?

There was nobody.  Her words faded” (23).

I think that this passage conveys the feelings of homesickness and isolation really well.  It is terrible to feel like there is nobody who you can talk to, who would want to listen to you, and that your words mean nothing to anyone and disappear.

Woolf, Virginia.  Mrs. Dalloway. San Diego: Harcourt, 1925. Print.

Passage of Time

“In the old days Hortons Bay was a lumbering town.  No one who lived in it was out of sound of the big saws in the mill by the lake.  Then one year there were no more logs to make lumber.  The lumber schooners came into the bay and were laded with the cut of the mill that stood stacked in the yard.  All the piles of lumber were carried away.  The big mill building had all its machinery that was removable taken out and hoisted on board one of the schooners by the men who had worked in the mill … the sails of the schooner filled and it moved out into the open lake, carrying with it everything that had made the mill a mill and Hortons Bay a town.

Ten years later there was nothing of the mill left except the broken white limestone of its foundations showing through the swampy second growth as Nick and Marjorie rowed along the shore” (31).

There’s a lot of dealing with the passage of time and the cycles of life in this book.  Here, more than ten years pass in less than a page as Hemingway concisely represents the town in its noisy heyday down to when there is nothing at all left of it.  I was struck by how all of that life was stripped down both by time and by his description of it.


Hemingway, Ernest. “The End of Something.” In Our Time. New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 2003. Print.


“The body which lay in the bath was that of a tall, stout man of about fifty.  The hair, which was thick and black and naturally curly, had been cut and parted by a master hand, and exuded a faint violet perfume, perfectly recognizable in the close air of the bathroom.  The features were thick, fleshy and strongly marked, with prominent dark eyes, and a long nose curving down to a heavy chin.  The clean-shaven lips were full and sensual, and the dropped jaw showed teeth stained with tobacco” (8).

This description is clearly of a British stereotype of a Jewish man.  Even before I got to the point where the characters are explicit about it, and before reading their anti-Semitic remarks, I was pretty confident that the dead man in the tub was Jewish.  Introducing stereotype through detailed physical description is a very different tactic from the one Gertrude Stein employs in Malanctha.  Rather than take advantage of a reader’s response to physical description, Stein mostly sticks to describing behaviors and thought patterns to communicate stereotype.  Sayers and Stein use call on different parts of the reader’s probable internalization of stereotype to advance their stories.

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

Power of Relationships in Melanctha

“But Melanctha Herbert was ready now herself to do teaching.  Melanctha could could do anything now that she wanted.  Melanctha knew now what everybody wanted.”

I like this paragraph because it so concisely conveys what it’s like to feel knowledgeable and powerful.  It also demonstrates something that is a recurring theme in the story, the power of relationships to change a person and to help them develop.

Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” Three lives. Dover Publications, New York. 1994. 61. Print.

Fictional Characters

“The only real people are the people who never existed, and if a novelist is base enough to go to life for his personages he should at least pretend that they are creations, and not boast of them as copies.  The justification of a character in a novel is not that other persons are what they are, but that the author is what he is.  Otherwise the novel is not a work of art.”

-from page 14 of The Decay of Lying by Oscar Wilde, edition published in 1905 by Brentano’s in New York.  Retrieved from digital copy at:

I think it’s impossible for a fictional character to truly be a “copy”, even when inspired by a real person.  The best it can be is a representation of how the author imagines that person, or a lie.  The character is still a person who never existed.