The Norton Introduction to Literature (Shorter Thirteenth Edition) [13 ed.] 0393664945, 9780393664942 - EBIN.PUB

The Norton Introduction to Literature (Shorter Thirteenth Edition) [13 ed.] 0393664945, 9780393664942

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Table of contents :
The Norton Introduction to Literature, Shorter 13E
Title Page
Copyright
Brief Table of Contents
Contents
Preface for Instructors
Introduction
What Is Literature?
What Does Literature Do?
JOHN KEATS, On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer
What Are the Genres of Literature?
Why Read Literature?
Why Study Literature?
HAI-DANG PHAN, My Father’s “Norton Introduction to Literature,” Third Edition (1981)
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Hai-Dang Phan
JOHN CROWE RANSOM, Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter
PART ONE. Fiction
1. Fiction: Reading, Responding, Writing
ANONYMOUS, The Elephant in the Village of the Blind
Reading and Responding to Fiction
LINDA BREWER, 20/20
SAMPLE WRITING: Annotation and Notes on “20/20”
Reading and Responding to Graphic Fiction
JULES FEIFFER, Superman
Writing about Fiction
RAYMOND CARVER, Cathedral
SAMPLE WRITING: Reading Notes on “Cathedral”
SAMPLE WRITING: Response Paper on “Cathedral”
SAMPLE WRITING: Essay on “Cathedral”
Telling Stories: An Album
GRACE PALEY, A Conversation with My Father
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Grace Paley
ANTON CHEKHOV, Gooseberries
TIM O’BRIEN, The Lives of the Dead
UNDERSTANDING THE TEXT
2. Plot
Plot versus Action, Sequence, and Subplot
Pace
Conflicts
GARY TRUDEAU, Doonesbury
JACOB AND WILHELM GRIMM, The Shroud
The Five Parts of Plot
Common Plot Types
RALPH ELLISON, King of the Bingo Game
JAMES BALDWIN, Sonny’s Blues
JOYCE CAROL OATES, Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Joyce Carol Oates
VIET THANH NGUYEN, I’d Love You to Want Me
SAMPLE WRITING: Essay on “King of the Bingo Game"
Initiation Stories: An Album
TONI CADE BAMBARA, The Lesson
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Toni Cade Bambara
ALICE MUNRO, Boys and Girls
JOHN UPDIKE, A & P
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: John Updike
3. Narration and Point of View
Types of Narration
Tense
Narrator versus Implied Author
EDGAR ALLAN POE, The Cask of Amontillado
GEORGE SAUNDERS, Puppy
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: George Saunders
VIRGINIA WOOLF, The Mark on the Wall
ADAM JOHNSON, Interesting Facts
4. Character
Heroes and Villains versus Protagonists and Antagonists
Major versus Minor Characters
Flat versus Round and Static versus Dynamic Characters
Stock Characters and Archetypes
Reading Character in Fiction and Life
WILLIAM FAULKNER, Barn Burning
TONI MORRISON, Recitatif
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Toni Morrison
DAVID FOSTER WALLACE, Good People
ALISSA NUTTING, Model’s Assistant
Monsters: An Album
MARGARET ATWOOD, Lusus Naturae
KAREN RUSSELL, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves
JORGE LUIS BORGES, The House of Asterion
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Jorge Luis Borges
5. Setting
Temporal and Physical, General and Particular Setting
Functions of Setting
Vague and Vivid Settings
ITALO CALVINO, from Invisible Cities
MARGARET MITCHELL, from Gone with the Wind
Traditional Expectations of Time and Place
ALICE RANDALL, from The Wind Done Gone
JAMES JOYCE, Araby
AMY TAN, A Pair of Tickets
JUDITH ORTIZ COFER, Volar
ANNIE PROULX, Job History
SAMPLE WRITING: Annotation and Close Reading on “Araby"
The Future: An Album
WILLIAM GIBSON, The Gernsback Continuum
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: William Gibson
RAY BRADBURY, The Veldt
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Ray Bradbury
OCTAVIA E. BUTLER, Bloodchild
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Octavia E. Butler
JENNIFER EGAN, Black Box
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Jennifer Egan
6. Symbol and Figurative Language
Literary Symbolism
Figures of Speech
Interpreting Symbolism and Figurative Language
NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE, The Birth-Mark
A. S. BYATT, The Thing in the Forest
EDWIDGE DANTICAT, A Wall of Fire Rising
SAMPLE WRITING: Comparative Essay on “The Birth-Mark” and “The Thing in the Forest"
7. Theme
AESOP, The Two Crabs
Theme(s): Singular or Plural?
Be Specific: Theme as Idea versus Topic or Subject
Don’t Be Too Specific: Theme as General Idea
Theme versus Moral
STEPHEN CRANE, The Open Boat
GABRIEL GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ, A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings: A Tale for Children
YASUNARI KAWABATA, The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket
JUNOT DÍAZ, Wildwood
Cross-Cultural Encounters: An Album
BHARATI MUKHERJEE, The Management of Grief
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Bharati Mukherjee
JHUMPA LAHIRI, Interpreter of Maladies
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Jhumpa Lahiri
DAVID SEDARIS, Jesus Shaves
EXPLORING CONTEXTS
8. The Author’s Work as Context: Flannery O’Connor
Biographical Approaches to Literature
Implied Author or Narrator
Style and Tone
Three Stories by Flannery O’Connor
A Good Man Is Hard to Find
Good Country People
Everything That Rises Must Converge
Passages from Flannery O’Connor’s Essays and Letters
Critical Excerpts
MARY GORDON, from Flannery’s Kiss
ANN E. REUMAN, from Revolting Fictions: Flannery O’Connor’s Letter to Her Mother
EILEEN POLLACK, from Flannery O’Connor and the New Criticism
9. Cultural and Historical Contexts: Women in Turn-of-the-Century America
Women at the Turn of the Century: An Overview
Women Writers in a Changing World
KATE CHOPIN, The Story of an Hour
CHARLOTTE PERKINS GILMAN, The Yellow Wallpaper
SUSAN GLASPELL, A Jury of Her Peers
Contextual Excerpts
CHARLOTTE PERKINS GILMAN, from Similar Cases
from Women and Economics
BARBARA BOYD, from Heart and Home Talks: Politics and Milk
MRS. ARTHUR LYTTELTON, from Women and Their Work
RHETA CHILDE DORR, from What Eight Million Women Want
The New York Times, from Mrs. Delong Acquitted
The Washington Post, from The Chances of Divorce
CHARLOTTE PERKINS GILMAN, from Why I Wrote “The Yellow Wall-paper”
The Washington Post, The Rest Cure
The Washington Post, from Egotism of the Rest Cure
10. Critical Contexts: Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried"
TIM O’BRIEN, The Things They Carried
Critical Excerpts
STEVEN KAPLAN, from The Undying Uncertainty of the Narrator in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried
LORRIE N. SMITH, from “The Things Men Do”: The Gendered Subtext in Tim O’Brien’s Esquire Stories
SUSAN FARRELL, from Tim O’Brien and Gender: A Defense of The Things They Carried
READING MORE FICTION
LOUISE ERDRICH, Love Medicine
WILLIAM FAULKNER, A Rose for Emily
ERNEST HEMINGWAY, Hills Like White Elephants
FRANZ KAFKA, A Hunger Artist
JAMAICA KINCAID, Girl
BOBBIE ANN MASON, Shiloh
GUY DE MAUPASSANT, The Jewelry
HERMAN MELVILLE, Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street
EUDORA WELTY, Why I Live at the P.O
PART TWO. Poetry
11. Poetry: Reading, Responding, Writing
Defining Poetry
LYDIA DAVIS, Head, Heart
AUTHORS ON THEIR CRAFT: Billy Collins
Poetic Subgenres and Kinds
EDWIN ARLINGTON ROBINSON, Richard Cory
ROBERT FROST, “Out, Out—"
THOMAS HARDY, The Ruined Maid
WILLIAM WORDSWORTH, I wandered lonely as a cloud
FRANK O’HARA, Poem [Lana Turner has collapsed!]
PHILLIS WHEATLEY, On Being Brought from Africa to America
EMILY DICKINSON, The Sky is low—the Clouds are mean
BILLY COLLINS, Divorce
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, Nebraska
ROBERT HAYDEN, A Letter from Phillis Wheatley
Responding to Poetry
APHRA BEHN, On Her Loving Two Equally
Writing about Poetry
SAMPLE WRITING: Response Paper on “On Her Loving Two Equally"
SAMPLE WRITING: Essay on “On Her Loving Two Equally"
The Art of (Reading) Poetry: An Album
HOWARD NEMEROV, Because You Asked about the Line between Prose and Poetry
ARCHIBALD MACLEISH, Ars Poetica
CZESLAW MILOSZ, Ars Poetica?
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Czeslaw Milosz
ELIZABETH ALEXANDER, Ars Poetica #100: I Believe
MARIANNE MOORE, Poetry
JULIA ALVAREZ, “Poetry Makes Nothing Happen"?
BILLY COLLINS, Introduction to Poetry
UNDERSTANDING THE TEXT
12. Speaker: Whose Voice Do We Hear?
Narrative Poems and Their Speakers
ETHERIDGE KNIGHT, Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane
Speakers in the Dramatic Monologue
A. E. STALLINGS, Hades Welcomes His Bride
The Lyric and Its Speaker
MARGARET ATWOOD, Death of a Young Son by Drowning
AUTHORS ON THEIR CRAFT: Billy Collins and Sharon Olds
WILLIAM WORDSWORTH, She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways
DOROTHY PARKER, A Certain Lady
Poems for Further Study
WALT WHITMAN, I celebrate myself, and sing myself
LANGSTON HUGHES, Ballad of the Landlord
E. E. CUMMINGS, next to of course god america i
GWENDOLYN BROOKS, We Real Cool
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Gwendolyn Brooks
LUCILLE CLIFTON, cream of wheat
Exploring Gender: An Album
RICHARD LOVELACE, Song: To Lucasta, Going to the Wars
MARY, LADY CHUDLEIGH, To the Ladies
WILFRED OWEN, Disabled
ELIZABETH BISHOP, Exchanging Hats
DAVID WAGONER, My Father’s Garden
JUDITH ORTIZ COFER, The Changeling
MARIE HOWE, Practicing
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Marie Howe
BOB HICOK, O my pa-pa
TERRANCE HAYES, Mr. T—
STACEY WAITE, The Kind of Man I Am at the DMV
13. Situation and Setting: What Happens? Where? When?
Situation
RITA DOVE, Daystar
DENISE DUHAMEL, Humanity 101
TRACY K. SMITH, Sci-Fi
Setting
MATTHEW ARNOLD, Dover Beach
One Poem, Multiple Situations and Settings
LI-YOUNG LEE, Persimmons
One Situation and Setting, Multiple Poems
CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE, The Passionate Shepherd to His Love
SIR WALTER RALEIGH, The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd
The Occasional Poem
MARTÍN ESPADA, Litany at the Tomb of Frederick Douglass
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Martín Espada
The Carpe Diem Poem
JOHN DONNE, The Flea
ANDREW MARVELL, To His Coy Mistress
The Aubade
JOHN DONNE, The Sun Rising
JAMES RICHARDSON, Late Aubade
Poems for Further Study
TERRANCE HAYES, Carp Poem
NATASHA TRETHEWEY, Pilgrimage
MAHMOUD DARWISH, Identity Card
YEHUDA AMICHAI, On Yom Kippur in 1967 . . .
YUSEF KOMUNYAKAA, Tu Do Street
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Yusef Komunyakaa
Homelands: An Album
MAYA ANGELOU, Africa
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Maya Angelou
DEREK WALCOTT, A Far Cry from Africa
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Derek Walcott
JUDITH ORTIZ COFER, The Latin Deli: An Ars Poetica
CATHY SONG, Heaven
AGHA SHAHID ALI, Postcard from Kashmir
ADRIENNE SU, Escape from the Old Country
14. Theme and Tone
Tone
W. D. SNODGRASS, Leaving the Motel
Theme
MAXINE KUMIN, Woodchucks
ADRIENNE RICH, Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Adrienne Rich
Theme and Conflict
ADRIENNE SU, On Writing
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Adrienne Su
Poems for Further Study
PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR, Sympathy
W. H. AUDEN, Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone
KAY RYAN, Repulsive Theory
MAYA ANGELOU, Still I Rise
SAMPLE WRITING: Response Paper on Auden’s “Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone"
Family: An Album
SIMON J. ORTIZ, My Father’s Song
ROBERT HAYDEN, Those Winter Sundays
ELLEN BRYANT VOIGT, My Mother
MARTÍN ESPADA, Of the Threads That Connect the Stars
EMILY GROSHOLZ, Eden
PHILIP LARKIN, This Be the Verse
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Philip Larkin
JIMMY SANTIAGO BACA, Green Chile
PAUL MARTÍNEZ POMPA, The Abuelita Poem
CHARLIE SMITH, The Business
ANDREW HUDGINS, Begotten
15. Language: Word Choice and Order
Precision and Ambiguity
SARAH CLEGHORN, The golf links lie so near the mill
MARTHA COLLINS, Lies
Denotation and Connotation
WALTER DE LA MARE, Slim Cunning Hands
THEODORE ROETHKE, My Papa’s Waltz
Word Order and Placement
SHARON OLDS, Sex without Love
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Sharon Olds
Poems for Further Study
WILLIAM BLAKE, London
GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS, Pied Beauty
WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS, The Red Wheelbarrow
This Is Just to Say
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: William Carlos Williams
KAY RYAN, Blandeur
MARTHA COLLINS, white paper #24
A. E. STALLINGS, Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda
16. Visual Imagery and Figures of Speech
DAVID BOTTOMS, Hubert Blankenship
CLAUDE MCKAY, The Harlem Dancer
LYNN POWELL, Kind of Blue
Simile and Analogy
TODD BOSS, My Love for You Is So Embarrassingly
Metaphor
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, That time of year thou mayst in me behold
LINDA PASTAN, Marks
Personification
EMILY DICKINSON, Because I could not stop for Death—
Metonymy and Synecdoche
WILLIAM WORDSWORTH, London, 1802
TRACY K. SMITH, Ash
EMMA BOLDEN, House Is an Enigma
Allusion
AMIT MAJMUDAR, Dothead
PATRICIA LOCKWOOD, What Is the Zoo for What
Poems for Further Study
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
ANONYMOUS, The Twenty-Third Psalm
JOHN DONNE, Batter my heart, three-personed God
RANDALL JARRELL, The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner
JOY HARJO, The Woman Hanging from the Thirteenth Floor Window
JOHN BREHM, Sea of Faith
17. Symbol
The Invented Symbol
JAMES DICKEY, The Leap
The Traditional Symbol
EDMUND WALLER, Song
DOROTHY PARKER, One Perfect Rose
The Symbolic Poem
WILLIAM BLAKE, The Sick Rose
Poems for Further Study
JOHN KEATS, Ode to a Nightingale
ROBERT FROST, The Road Not Taken
HOWARD NEMEROV, The Vacuum
ADRIENNE RICH, Diving into the Wreck
ROO BORSON, After a Death
BRIAN TURNER, Jundee Ameriki
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Brian Turner
SHARON OLDS, Bruise Ghazal
18. The Sounds of Poetry
Rhyme
Other Sound Devices
ALEXANDER POPE, from The Rape of the Lock
Sound Poems
HELEN CHASIN, The Word Plum
ALEXANDER POPE, Sound and Sense
Poetic Meter
SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE, Metrical Feet
ANONYMOUS, There was a young girl from St. Paul
ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON, from The Charge of the Light Brigade
JANE TAYLOR, The Star
ANNE BRADSTREET, To My Dear and Loving Husband
JESSIE POPE, The Call
WILFRED OWEN, Dulce et Decorum Est
Poems for Further Study
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore
GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS, The Windhover
AMIT MAJMUDAR, Ode to a Drone
WALT WHITMAN, A Noiseless Patient Spider
KEVIN YOUNG, Ode to Pork
Word and Music: An Album
THOMAS CAMPION, When to Her Lute Corinna Sings
ANONYMOUS, Sir Patrick Spens
DUDLEY RANDALL, Ballad of Birmingham
AUGUSTUS MONTAGUE TOPLADY, A Prayer, Living and Dying
ROBERT HAYDEN, Homage to the Empress of the Blues
BOB DYLAN, The Times They Are A-Changin’
LINDA PASTAN, Listening to Bob Dylan, 2005
MOS DEF, Hip Hop
JOSE B. GONZALEZ, Elvis in the Inner City
19. Internal Structure
Dividing Poems into “Parts"
PAT MORA, Sonrisas
Internal versus External or Formal “Parts"
GALWAY KINNELL, Blackberry Eating
Lyrics as Internal Dramas
SEAMUS HEANEY, Punishment
SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE, Frost at Midnight
SHARON OLDS, The Victims
Making Arguments about Structure
Poems without “Parts"
WALT WHITMAN, I Hear America Singing
Poems for Further Study
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, Th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame
PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY, Ode to the West Wind
PHILIP LARKIN, Church Going
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Philip Larkin
KATIE FORD, Still-Life
KEVIN YOUNG, Greening
SAMPLE WRITING: Essay in Progresson “Church Going”
20. External Form
Stanzas
Traditional Stanza Forms
ROBERT FROST, Acquainted with the Night
RICHARD WILBUR, Terza Rima
Traditional Verse Forms
Fixed Forms or Form-Based Subgenres
Traditional Forms: Poems for Further Study
DYLAN THOMAS, Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night
NATASHA TRETHEWEY, Myth
ELIZABETH BISHOP, Sestina
A. E. STALLINGS, Sestina: Like
The Way a Poem Looks
E. E. CUMMINGS, l(a
Buffalo Bill’s
Concrete Poetry
GEORGE HERBERT, Easter Wings
MAY SWENSON, Women
The Sonnet: An Album
FRANCESCO PETRARCH, Upon the breeze she spread her golden hair
HENRY CONSTABLE, My lady’s presence makes the roses red
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun
Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
JOHN MILTON, When I consider how my light is spent
WILLIAM WORDSWORTH, Nuns Fret Not
The world is too much with us
ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING, How Do I Love Thee?
CHRISTINA ROSSETTI, In an Artist’s Studio
EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY, What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why
Women have loved before as I love now
I, being born a woman and distressed
I will put Chaos into fourteen lines
GWENDOLYN BROOKS, First Fight. Then Fiddle.
GWEN HARWOOD, In the Park
JUNE JORDAN, Something Like a Sonnet for Phillis Miracle Wheatley
BILLY COLLINS, Sonnet
HARRYETTE MULLEN, Dim Lady
Haiku: An Album
Traditional Japanese Haiku
CHIYOJO, Whether astringent
BASHŌ, A village without bells—
This road—
BUSON, Coolness—
Listening to the moon
One Haiku, Four Translations
LAFCADIO HEARN, Old pond
CLARA A. WALSH, An old-time pond
EARL MINER, The still old pond
ALLEN GINSBERG, The old pond
Contemporary English-Language Haiku
EZRA POUND, In a Station of the Metro
ALLEN GINSBERG, Looking over my shoulder
RICHARD WRIGHT, In the falling snow
ETHERIDGE KNIGHT, Eastern guard tower
The falling snow flakes
Making jazz swing in
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Etheridge Knight
MARK JARMAN, Haiku
SONIA SANCHEZ, from 9 Haiku (for Freedom’s Sisters)
SUE STANDING, Diamond Haiku
LINDA PASTAN, In the Har-Poen Tea Garden
Twaiku
EXPLORING CONTEXTS
21. The Author’s Work as Context: Adrienne Rich
The Poetry of Adrienne Rich
Poems by Adrienne Rich
At a Bach Concert
Storm Warnings
Living in Sin
Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Adrienne Rich
Planetarium
For the Record
My mouth hovers across your breasts
History
Transparencies
Tonight No Poetry Will Serve
Passages from Rich’s Essays
From When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision
From A Communal Poetry
From Why I Refused the National Medal for the Arts
From Poetry and the Forgotten Future
A Poem for Adrienne Rich
Joy HARJO, By the Way
SAMPLE WRITING: Comparative Essay on Sonnets by Shakespeare and Millay
Emily Dickinson: An Album
Poems by Emily Dickinson
Wild Nights—Wild Nights!
“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
After great pain, a formal feeling comes—
I heard a Fly buzz—when I died
My Life had stood—a Loaded Gun—
I stepped from Plank to Plank
Tell all the truth but tell it slant—
Poems about Emily Dickinson
WENDY COPE, Emily Dickinson
HART CRANE, To Emily Dickinson
BILLY COLLINS, Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes
W. B. Yeats: An Album
Poems by W. B. Yeats
The Lake Isle of Innisfree
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: W. B. Yeats
All Things Can Tempt Me
Easter 1916
The Second Coming
Leda and the Swan
Sailing to Byzantium
A Poem about W. B. Yeats
W. H. AUDEN, In Memory of W. B. Yeats
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: W. H. Auden
Pat Mora: An Album
Elena
Gentle Communion
Mothers and Daughters
La Migra
Ode to Adobe
22. The Author’s Work as Context: William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience
Color Insert: Facsimile Pages from Songs of Innocence and of Experience William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience
Songs of Innocence
Introduction
The Ecchoing Green
Holy Thursday
The Lamb
The Chimney Sweeper
Songs of Experience
Introduction
The Tyger
The Garden of Love
The Chimney Sweeper
Holy Thursday
23. Cultural and Historical Contexts: The Harlem Renaissance
Poems of the Harlem Renaissance
ARNA BONTEMPS, A Black Man Talks of Reaping
COUNTEE CULLEN, Yet Do I Marvel
Saturday’s Child
From the Dark Tower
ANGELINA GRIMKÉ, The Black Finger
Tenebris
LANGSTON HUGHES, Harlem
The Weary Blues
The Negro Speaks of Rivers
I, Too
HELENE JOHNSON, Sonnet to a Negro in Harlem
CLAUDE MCKAY, Harlem Shadows
If We Must Die
The Tropics in New York
America
The White House
Contextual Excerpts
JAMES WELDON JOHNSON, from the preface to The Book of American Negro Poetry
ALAIN LOCKE, from The New Negro
RUDOLPH FISHER, from The Caucasian Storms Harlem
W. E. B. DU BOIS, from Two Novels
ZORA NEALE HURSTON, How It Feels to Be Colored Me
LANGSTON HUGHES, from The Big Sea
SAMPLE WRITING: Research Essay on “I, Too"
24. Critical Contexts: Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy”
SYLVIA PLATH, Daddy
Critical Excerpts
GEORGE STEINER, from Dying Is an Art
A. ALVAREZ, from Sylvia Plath
IRVING HOWE, from The Plath Celebration: A Partial Dissent
JUDITH KROLL, from Rituals of Exorcism: “Daddy"
MARY LYNN BROE, from Protean Poetic: The Poetry of Sylvia Plath
MARGARET HOMANS, from A Feminine Tradition
PAMELA J. ANNAS, from A Disturbance in Mirrors: The Poetry of Sylvia Plath
STEVEN GOULD AXELROD, from Sylvia Plath: The Wound and the Cure of Words
LISA NARBESHUBER, from The Poetics of Torture: The Spectacle of Sylvia Plath’s Poetry
READING MORE POETRY
W. H. AUDEN, Musée des Beaux Arts
ROBERT BROWNING, My Last Duchess
KELLY CHERRY,, Alzheimer’s
SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE, Kubla Khan
E. E. CUMMINGS, in Just-
JOHN DONNE, Death, be not proud
The Good-Morrow
Song
A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR, We Wear the Mask
T. S. ELIOT, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
ROBERT FROST, Fire and Ice
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
SEAMUS HEANEY, Digging
GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS, God’s Grandeur
Spring and Fall
BEN JONSON, On My First Son
JOHN KEATS, Ode on a Grecian Urn
To Autumn
YUSEF KOMUNYAKAA, Facing It
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Yusef Komunyakaa
LINDA PASTAN, To a Daughter Leaving Home
MARGE PIERCY, Barbie Doll
SYLVIA PLATH, Lady Lazarus
Morning Song
EDGAR ALLAN POE, The Raven
EZRA POUND, The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter
CHRISTINA ROSSETTI, Goblin Market
WALLACE STEVENS, Anecdote of the Jar
The Emperor of Ice-Cream
ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON, Ulysses
WALT WHITMAN, Facing West from California’s Shores
RICHARD WILBUR, Love Calls Us to the Things of This World
Biographical Sketches: Poets
PART THREE. Drama
25. Drama: Reading, Responding, Writing
Reading Drama
Thinking Theatrically
SUSAN GLASPELL, Trifles
Responding to Drama
SAMPLE WRITING: Annotation of Trifles
SAMPLE WRITING: Reading Notes on Trifles
Writing about Drama
SAMPLE WRITING: Response Paper on Trifles
SAMPLE WRITING: Essay on Trifles
UNDERSTANDING THE TEXT
26. Elements of Drama
Character
Plot and Structure
Stages, Sets, and Setting
Tone, Language, and Symbol
Theme
AUGUST WILSON, Fences
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: August Wilson
QUIARA ALEGRÍA HUDES, Water by the Spoonful
EXPLORING CONTEXTS
27. The Author’s Work as Context: William Shakespeare
The Life of Shakespeare: A Biographical Mystery
Exploring Shakespeare’s Work: A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Hamlet
28. Cultural and Historical Contexts: Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun
The Historical Significance of A Raisin in the Sun
The Great Migration
Life in the “Black Metropolis"
The Civil Rights Movement
African Americans and Africa
The “Americanness” of A Raisin in the Sun
LORRAINE HANSBERRY, A Raisin in the Sun
AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK: Lorraine Hansberry
Contextual Excerpts
RICHARD WRIGHT, from Twelve Million Black Voices
ROBERT GRUENBERG, from Chicago Fiddles While Trumbull Park Burns
GERTRUDE SAMUELS, from Even More Crucial Than in the South
WILMA DYKEMAN AND JAMES STOKELY, from New Southerner: The Middle-Class Negro
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., from Letter from Birmingham Jail
ROBERT C. WEAVER, from “The Negro as an American”: The Yearning for Human Dignity
EARL E. THORPE, from Africa in the Thought of Negro Americans
PHAON GOLDMAN, from The Significance of African Freedom for the Negro American
BRUCE NORRIS, from Clybourne Park
29. Critical Contexts: Sophocles’s Antigone
Sophocles, Antigone
Critical Excerpts
RICHARD C. JEBB, from the introduction to The Antigone of Sophocles
MAURICE BOWRA, from Sophoclean Tragedy
BERNARD KNOX, from the introduction to Antigone (1982
MARTHA C. NUSSBAUM, from Sophocles’ Antigone: Conflict, Vision, and Simplification
PHILIP HOLT, from Polis and Tragedy in the Antigone
SAMPLE WRITING: Research Essay on Antigone
READING MORE DRAMA
ANTON CHEKHOV, The Cherry Orchard
HENRIK IBSEN, A Doll House
JANE MARTIN, from Talking With . . .
SOPHOCLES, Oedipus the King
OSCAR WILDE, The Importance of Being Earnest
TENNESSEE WILLIAMS, A Streetcar Named Desire
PART FOUR. Writing about Literature
30. Basic Moves: Paraphrase, Summary, and Description
31. The Literature Essay
32. The Writing Process
33. The Literature Research Essay
34. Quotation, Citation, and Documentation
35. Sample Research Essay
SARAH ROBERTS, “ ‘Only a Girl’? Gendered Initiation in Alice Munro’s ‘Boys and Girls"
Critical Approaches
Permissions Acknowledgments
Index of Authors
Index of Titles and First Lines
Glossary/Index of Literary Terms
20161213_9780393639735_WEB_BLAKE.pdf
The Norton Introduction to Literature, Shorter 12e
Half Title
Title Page
Copyright Information
Contents
Preface for Instructors
Features of the Norton Introduction to Literature
New to the Twelfth Edition
Student Resources
Instructor Resources
Acknowledgments
Introduction
What Is Literature?
What Does Literature Do?
John Keats, On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer
What Are the Genres of Literature?
Why Read Literature?
Why Study Literature?
Fiction
Fiction: Reading, Responding, Writing
Anonymous, The Elephant in the Village of the Blind
Reading and Responding to Fiction
Linda Brewer, 20/20
Sample Writing: Annotation and Notes on “20/20"
Marjane Satrapi, The Shabbat (from Persepolis)
Writing about Fiction
Raymond Carver, Cathedral
Sample Writing: Wesley Rupton, Notes on Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral"
Sample Writing: Wesley Rupton, Response Paper on Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral"
Sample Writing: Bethany Qualls, A Narrator’s Blindness in Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral"
Telling Stories: An Album
Sherman Alexie, Flight Patterns
Grace Paley, A Conversation with My Father
Authors on their Work: Grace Paley
Tim O’Brien, The Lives of the Dead
Understanding the Text
1. Plot
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Shroud
James Baldwin, Sonny’s Blues
Edith Wharton, Roman Fever
Joyce Carol Oates, Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?
Authors on their Work: Joyce Carol Oates
Sample Writing: Ann Warren, The Tragic Plot of “A Rose for Emily"
Initiation Stories: An Album
Toni Cade Bambara, The Lesson
Authors on their Work: Toni Cade Bambara
Alice Munro, Boys and Girls
John Updike, A & P
Authors on their Work: John Updike
James Joyce, Araby
2. Narration and Point of View
Edgar Allan Poe, The Cask of Amontillado
Jamaica Kincaid, Girl
George Saunders, Puppy
Authors on their Work: George Saunders
Jennifer Egan, Black Box
Authors on their Work: Jennifer Egan
3. Character
William Faulkner, Barn Burning
Toni Morrison, Recitatif
Authors on their Work: Toni Morrison
David Foster Wallace, Good People
Monsters: An Album
Margaret Atwood, Lusus Naturae
Karen Russell, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves
Jorge Luis Borges, The House of Asterion
Authors on their Work: Jorge Luis Borges
4. Setting
Italo Calvino, from Invisible Cities
Margaret Mitchell, from Gone with the Wind
Alice Randall, from The Wind Done Gone
Anton Chekhov, The Lady with the Dog
Amy Tan, A Pair of Tickets
Judith Ortiz Cofer, Volar
William Gibson, The Gernsback Continuum
Authors on their Work: William Gibson
Sample Writing: Steven Matview, How Setting Reflects Emotions in Anton Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Dog"
5. Symbol and Figurative Language
Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Birth-Mark
A. S. Byatt, The Thing in the Forest
Edwidge Danticat, A Wall of Fire Rising
Sample Writing: Charles Collins, Symbolism in “The Birth-Mark” and “The Thing in the Forest"
6. Theme
Aesop, The Two Crabs
Stephen Crane, The Open Boat
Gabriel García Márquez, A Very Old Man with Enormous
Wings: A Tale for Children
Yasunari Kawabata, The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket
Junot Díaz, Wildwood
Cross-Cultural Encounters: An Album
Bharati Mukherjee, The Management of Grief
Authors on their Work: Bharati Mukherjee
Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies
Authors on their Work: Jhumpa Lahiri
David Sedaris, Jesus Shaves
Exploring Contexts
7. The Author’s Work as Context: Flannery O’Connor
Three Stories by Flannery O’Connor
A Good Man Is Hard to Find
Good Country People
Everything That Rises Must Converge
Passages from Flannery O’Connor’s Essays and Letters
Critical Excerpts
Mary Gordon, from Flannery’s Kiss
Ann E. Reuman, from Revolting Fictions: Flannery O’Connor’s Letter to Her Mother
Eileen Pollack, from Flannery O’Connor and the New Criticism
8. Cultural and Historical Contexts: Women in Turn-of-the-Century America
Kate Chopin, The Story of an Hour
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Yellow Wallpaper
Susan Glaspell, A Jury of Her Peers
Contextual Excerpts
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, from Similar Cases
from Women and Economics
Barbara Boyd, from Heart and Home Talks: Politics and Milk
Mrs. Arthur Lyttelton, from Women and Their Work
Rheta Childe Dorr, from What Eight Million Women Want
The New York Times, from Mrs. Delong Acquitted
The Washington Post, from The Chances of Divorce
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, from Why I Wrote “The Yellow Wall-paper"
The Washington Post, The Rest Cure
from Egotism of the Rest Cure
9. Critical Contexts: Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried"
Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried
Critical Excerpts
Steven Kaplan, The Undying Uncertainty of the Narrator in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried
Lorrie N. Smith, “The Things Men Do”: The Gendered Subtext in Tim O’Brien’s Esquire Stories
Susan Farrell, Tim O’Brien and Gender: A Defense of The Things They Carried
Reading More Fiction
Ambrose Bierce, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
Ralph Ellison, King of the Bingo Game
Louise Erdrich, Love Medicine
William Faulkner, A Rose for Emily
Ernest Hemingway, Hills Like White Elephants
Franz Kafka, A Hunger Artist
Bobbie Ann Mason, Shiloh
Guy de Maupassant, The Jewelry
Herman Melville, Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street
Eudora Welty, Why I Live at the P.O.
Poetry
Poetry: Reading, Responding, Writing
Defining Poetry
Lydia Davis, Head, Heart
Authors on their Craft: Billy Collins
Poetic Subgenres and Kinds
Edwin Arlington Robinson, Richard Cory
Thomas Hardy, The Ruined Maid
William Wordsworth, [I wandered lonely as a cloud]
Frank O’Hara, Poem [Lana Turner has collapsed]
Phillis Wheatley, On Being Brought from Africa to America
Emily Dickinson, [The Sky is low—the Clouds are mean]
Billy Collins, Divorce
Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska
Robert Hayden, A Letter from Phillis Wheatley
Responding to Poetry
Aphra Behn, On Her Loving Two Equally
Writing about Poetry
Sample Writing: Names in “On Her Loving Two Equally"
Sample Writing: Multiplying by Dividing in Aphra Behn’s “On Her Loving Two Equally"
The Art of (Reading) Poetry: An Album
Emily Dickinson, [I dwell in Possibility—]
Archibald MacLeish, Ars Poetica
Czeslaw Milosz, Ars Poetica?
Authors on their Work: Czeslaw Milosz
Elizabeth Alexander, Ars Poetica #100: I Believe
Marianne Moore, Poetry
Julia Alvarez, “Poetry Makes Nothing Happen"?
Billy Collins, Introduction to Poetry
Understanding the Text
10. Speaker: Whose Voice do we Hear?
Narrative Poems and their Speakers
X. J. Kennedy, In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus One Day
Speakers in the Dramatic Monologue
Robert Browning, Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister
The Lyric and its Speaker
Margaret Atwood, Death of a Young Son by Drowning
Authors on their Craft: Billy Collins and Sharon Olds
William Wordsworth, She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways
Dorothy Parker, A Certain Lady
Poems for Further Study
Walt Whitman, [I celebrate myself, and sing myself]
Langston Hughes, Ballad of the Landlord
E. E. Cummings, [next to of course god america i]
Gwendolyn Brooks, We Real Cool
Authors on their Work: Gwendolyn Brooks
Lucille Clifton, cream of wheat
Exploring Gender: An Album
Richard Lovelace, Song: To Lucasta, Going to the Wars
Mary, Lady Chudleigh, To the Ladies
Wilfred Owen, Disabled
Elizabeth Bishop, Exchanging Hats
David Wagoner, My Father’s Garden
Judith Ortiz Cofer, The Changeling
Marie Howe, Practicing
Authors on their Work: Marie Howe
Terrance Hayes, Mr. T—
Bob Hicok, O my pa-pa
Stacey Waite, The Kind of Man I Am at the DMV
11. Situation and Setting: What Happens? Where? When?
Situation
Rita Dove, Daystar
Linda Pastan, To a Daughter Leaving Home
The Carpe Diem Poem
John Donne, The Flea
Andrew Marvell, To His Coy Mistress
Setting
Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach
The Occasional Poem
Martín Espada, Litany at the Tomb of Frederick Douglass
Authors on their Work: Martín Espada
The Aubade
John Donne, The Good-Morrow
Jonathan Swift, A Description of the Morning
One Poem, Multiple Situations and Settings
Li-Young Lee, Persimmons
One Situation and Setting, Multiple Poems
Christopher Marlowe, The Passionate Shepherd to His Love
Sir Walter Raleigh, The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd
Anthony Hecht, The Dover Bitch
Poems for Further Study
Natasha Trethewey, Pilgrimage
Kelly Cherry, Alzheimer’s
Mahmoud Darwish, Identity Card
Yehuda Amichai, [On Yom Kippur in 1967 ...]
Yusef Komunyakaa, Tu Do Street
Authors on their Work: Yusef Komunyakaa
Homelands: An Album
Maya Angelou, Africa
Authors on their Work: Maya Angelou
Derek Walcott, A Far Cry from Africa
Authors on their Work: Derek Walcott
Judith Ortiz Cofer, The Latin Deli: An Ars Poetica
Cathy Song, Heaven
Agha Shahid Ali, Postcard from Kashmir
Adrienne Su, Escape from the Old Country
12. Theme and Tone
Tone
W. D. Snodgrass, Leaving the Motel
Theme
Maxine Kumin, Woodchucks
Adrienne Rich, Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers
Authors on their Work: Adrienne Rich
Theme and Conflict
Adrienne Su, On Writing
Authors on their Work: Adrienne Su
Poems for Further Study
William Blake, London
Paul Laurence Dunbar, Sympathy
W. H. Auden, [Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone]
Sharon Olds, Last Night
Kay Ryan, Repulsive Theory
Terrance Hayes, Carp Poem
C. K. Williams, The Economy Rescued by My Mother Returning to Shop
Sample Writing: Stephen Bordland, Response Paper on W. H. Auden’s “Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone"
Family: An Album
Simon J. Ortiz, My Father’s Song
Robert Hayden, Those Winter Sundays
Ellen Bryant Voigt, My Mother
Martín Espada, Of the Threads That Connect the Stars
Emily Grosholz, Eden
Philip Larkin, This Be the Verse
Authors on their Work: Philip Larkin
Jimmy Santiago Baca, Green Chile
Paul Martinez Pompa, The Abuelita Poem
Charlie Smith, The Business
Andrew Hudgins, Begotten
13. Language: Word Choice and Order
Precision and Ambiguity
Sarah Cleghorn, [The golf links lie so near the mill]
Martha Collins, Lies
Denotation and Connotation
Walter de la Mare, Slim Cunning Hands
Theodore Roethke, My Papa’s Waltz
Word Order and Placement
Sharon Olds, Sex without Love
Authors on their Work: Sharon Olds
Poems for Further Study
Gerard Manley Hopkins, Pied Beauty
William Carlos Williams, The Red Wheelbarrow
This Is Just to Say
Authors on their Work: William Carlos Williams
Kay Ryan, Blandeur
Martha Collins, [white paper #24]
A. E. Stallings, Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda
14. Visual Imagery and Figures of Speech
Richard Wilbur, The Beautiful Changes
Lynn Powell, Kind of Blue
Metaphor
William Shakespeare, [That time of year thou mayst in me behold]
Linda Pastan, Marks
Personification
Emily Dickinson, [Because I could not stop for Death—]
Simile and Analogy
Robert Burns, A Red, Red Rose
Todd Boss, My Love for You Is So Embarrassingly
Allusion
Amit Majmudar, Dothead
Patricia Lockwood, What Is the Zoo for What
Poems for Further Study
William Shakespeare, [Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?]
Anonymous, The Twenty-Third Psalm
John Donne, [Batter my heart, three-personed God]
Randall Jarrell, The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner
John Brehm, Sea of Faith
15. Symbol
The Invented Symbol
James Dickey, The Leap
The Traditional Symbol
Edmund Waller, Song
Dorothy Parker, One Perfect Rose
The Symbolic Poem
William Blake, The Sick Rose
Poems for Further Study
John Keats, Ode to a Nightingale
Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken
Howard Nemerov, The Vacuum
Adrienne Rich, Diving into the Wreck
Roo Borson, After a Death
Brian Turner, Jundee Ameriki
Authors on their Work: Brian Turner
Sharon Olds, Bruise Ghazal
16. The Sounds of Poetry
Rhyme
Onomatopoeia, Alliteration, Assonance, and Consonance
Alexander Pope, from The Rape of the Lock
Sound Poems
Helen Chasin, The Word Plum
Kenneth Fearing, Dirge
Alexander Pope, Sound and Sense
Poetic Meter
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Metrical Feet
Anonymous, [There was a young girl from St. Paul]
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, from The Charge of the Light Brigade
Jane Taylor, The Star
Anne Bradstreet, To My Dear and Loving Husband
Jessie Pope, The Call
Wilfred Owen, Dulce et Decorum Est
Poems for Further Study
William Shakespeare, [Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore]
Gerard Manley Hopkins, Spring and Fall
Walt Whitman, Beat! Beat! Drums!
Kevin Young, Ode to Pork
Word and Music: An Album
Thomas Campion, When to Her Lute Corinna Sings
Anonymous, Sir Patrick Spens
Dudley Randall, Ballad of Birmingham
Augustus Montague Toplady, A Prayer, Living and Dying
Robert Hayden, Homage to the Empress of the Blues
Michael Harper, Dear John, Dear Coltrane
Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin’
Linda Pastan, Listening to Bob Dylan, 2005
Mos Def, Hip Hop
Jose B. Gonzalez, Elvis in the Inner City
17. Internal Structure
Dividing Poems into “Parts"
Pat Mora, Sonrisas
Internal Versus External or Formal “Parts"
Galway Kinnell, Blackberry Eating
Lyrics as Internal Dramas
Seamus Heaney, Punishment
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Frost at Midnight
Sharon Olds, The Victims
Making Arguments about Structure
Poems without “Parts"
Walt Whitman, I Hear America Singing
Poems for Further Study
William Shakespeare, [Th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame]
Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ode to the West Wind
Philip Larkin, Church Going
Authors on their Work: Philip Larkin
Katie Ford, Still-Life
Kevin Young, Greening
Sample Writing: Lindsay Gibson, Philip Larkin’s “Church Going"
18. External Form
Stanzas
Traditional Stanza Forms
Richard Wilbur, Terza Rima
Traditional Verse Forms
Fixed Forms or Form-Based Subgenres
Traditional Forms: Poems for Further Study
Dylan Thomas, Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night
Natasha Trethewey, Myth
Elizabeth Bishop, Sestina
Ciara Shuttleworth, Sestina
E. E. Cummings, [l(a)]
E. E. Cummings, [Buffalo Bill’s]
Concrete Poetry
George Herbert, Easter Wings
May Swenson, Women
The Sonnet: An Album
Francesco Petrarch, [Upon the breeze she spread her golden hair]
Henry Constable, [My lady’s presence makes the roses red]
William Shakespeare, [My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun]
[Not marble, nor the gilded monuments]
[Let me not to the marriage of true minds]
John Milton, [When I consider how my light is spent]
William Wordsworth, Nuns Fret Not
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, How Do I Love Thee?
Christina Rossetti, In an Artist’s Studio
Edna St. Vincent Millay, [What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why]
[Women have loved before as I love now]
[I, being born a woman and distressed]
[I will put Chaos into fourteen lines]
Robert Frost, Range-Finding
Design
Gwendolyn Brooks, First Fight. Then Fiddle.
Gwen Harwood, In the Park
June Jordan, Something Like a Sonnet for Phillis Miracle Wheatley
Billy Collins, Sonnet
Harryette Mullen, Dim Lady
Sherman Alexie, The Facebook Sonnet
Haiku: An Album
Chiyojo, [Whether astringent]
Bashō, [A village without bells—]
[This road—]
Buson, [Coolness—]
[Listening to the moon]
Lafcadio Hearn, [Old pond—]
Clara A. Walsh, [An old-time pond]
Earl Miner, [The still old pond]
Allen Ginsberg, [The old pond]
Ezra Pound, In a Station of the Metro
Allen Ginsberg, [Looking over my shoulder]
Richard Wright, [In the falling snow]
Etheridge Knight, from [Eastern guard tower]
[The falling snow flakes]
[Making jazz swing in]
Authors on their Work: Etheridge Knight
Mark Jarman, Haiku
Sonia Sanchez, from 9 Haiku
Sue Standing, Diamond Haiku
Linda Pastan, In the Har-Poen Tea Garden
Exploring Contexts
19. The Author’s Work as Context: Adrienne Rich
Poems by Adrienne Rich
At a Bach Concert
Storm Warnings
Living in Sin
Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law
Authors on their Work: Adrienne Rich
Planetarium
For the Record
[My mouth hovers across your breasts]
History
Transparencies
Tonight No Poetry Will Serve
Passages from Rich’s Essays
from When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision
from A Communal Poetry
from Why I Refused the National Medal for the Arts
from Poetry and the Forgotten Future
Sample Writing: Melissa Makolin, Out-Sonneting Shakespeare: An Examination of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Use of the Sonnet Form
Emily Dickinson: An Album
[Tell all the truth but tell it slant—]
[I stepped from Plank to Plank]
[Wild Nights—Wild Nights!]
[My Life had stood—a Loaded Gun—]
[After great pain, a formal feeling comes—]
[A narrow Fellow in the Grass]
Wendy Cope, Emily Dickinson
Hart Crane, To Emily Dickinson
Billy Collins, Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes
W. B. Yeats: An Album
The Lake Isle of Innisfree
Authors on their Work: W. B. Yeats
All Things Can Tempt Me
Easter 1916
The Second Coming
Leda and the Swan
Sailing to Byzantium
W. H. Auden, In Memory of W. B. Yeats
Authors on their Work: W. H. Auden
Pat Mora: An Album
Elena
Gentle Communion
Mothers and Daughters
La Migra
Ode to Adobe
20. The Author’s Work as Context: William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience
Color Insert: Images from Songs of Innocence and of Experience
William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience
Songs of Innocence, Introduction
The Ecchoing Green
Holy Thursday
The Lamb
The Chimney Sweeper
Songs of Experience, Introduction
The Tyger
The Garden of Love
The Chimney Sweeper
Holy Thursday
21. Cultural and Historical Contexts: The Harlem Renaissance
Poems of the Harlem Renaissance
Arna Bontemps, A Black Man Talks of Reaping
Countee Cullen, Yet Do I Marvel
Saturday’s Child
From the Dark Tower
Angelina Grimké, The Black Finger
Tenebris
Langston Hughes, Harlem
The Weary Blues
The Negro Speaks of Rivers
I, Too
Helene Johnson, Sonnet to a Negro in Harlem
Claude McKay, Harlem Shadows
If We Must Die
The Tropics in New York
The Harlem Dancer
The White House
Contextual Excerpts
James Weldon Johnson, from the preface to The Book of American Negro Poetry
Alain Locke, from The New Negro
Rudolph Fisher, from The Caucasian Storms Harlem
W. E. B. Du Bois, from Two Novels
Zora Neale Hurston, How It Feels to Be Colored Me
Langston Hughes, from The Big Sea
Sample Writing: Irene Morstan, “They’ll See How Beautiful I Am”: “I, Too” and the Harlem Renaissance
22. Critical Contexts: Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy"
Sylvia Plath, Daddy
Critical Excerpts
George Steiner, from Dying Is an Art
A. Alvarez, from Sylvia Plath
Irving Howe, from The Plath Celebration: A Partial Dissent
Judith Kroll, from Rituals of Exorcism: “Daddy"
Mary Lynn Broe, from Protean Poetic
Margaret Homans, from A Feminine Tradition
Pamela J. Annas, from A Disturbance in Mirrors
Steven Gould Axelrod, from Sylvia Plath: The Wound and the Cure of Words
Laura Frost, from “Every Woman Adores a Fascist”: Feminist Visions of Fascism from Three Guineas to Fear of Flying
Reading More Poetry
W. H. Auden, Musée des Beaux Arts
Robert Browning, My Last Duchess
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Kubla Khan
E. E. Cummings, [in Just-]
John Donne, [Death, be not proud]
Song
The Sun Rising
A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
Paul Laurence Dunbar, We Wear the Mask
T. S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Robert Frost, Home Burial
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Seamus Heaney, Digging
Gerard Manley Hopkins, God’s Grandeur
The Windhover
Ben Jonson, On My First Son
John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn
To Autumn
Etheridge Knight, Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane
Yusef Komunyakaa, Facing It
Authors on their Work: Yusef Komunyakaa
Linda Pastan, love poem
Marge Piercy, Barbie Doll
Sylvia Plath, Lady Lazarus
Morning Song
Edgar Allan Poe, The Raven
Ezra Pound, The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter
Wallace Stevens, Anecdote of the Jar
The Emperor of Ice-Cream
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Tears, Idle Tears
Ulysses
Walt Whitman, Facing West from California’s Shores
A Noiseless Patient Spider
Richard Wilbur, Love Calls Us to the Things of This World
William Carlos Williams, The Dance
William Wordsworth, [The world is too much with us]
Biographical Sketches: Poets
Drama
Drama: Reading, Responding, Writing
Reading Drama
Susan Glaspell, Trifles
Responding to Drama
Sample Writing: Annotation of Trifles
Sample Writing: Reading Notes
Writing about Drama
Sample Writing: Jessica Zezulka, Trifles Plot Response Paper
Sample Writing: Stephanie Ortega, A Journey of Sisterhood
Understanding the Text
23. Elements of Drama
August Wilson, Fences
Authors on their Work: August Wilson
Quiara Alegría Hudes, Water by the Spoonful
Exploring Contexts
24. The Author’s Work as Context: William Shakespeare
The Life of Shakespeare: A Biographical Mystery
Exploring Shakespeare’s Work: A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Hamlet
25. Cultural and Historical Contexts: Lorraine Hansberry’s Raisin in the Sun
Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun
Authors on their Work: Lorraine Hansberry
Contextual Excerpts
Richard Wright, from Twelve Million Black Voices
Robert Gruenberg, from Chicago Fiddles While Trumbull Park Burns
Gertrude Samuels, from Even More Crucial Than in the South
Wilma Dykeman and James Stokely, from New Southerner: The Middle-Class Negro
Martin Luther King, Jr., from Letter from Birmingham Jail
Robert C. Weaver, from The Negro as an American
Earl E. Thorpe, from Africa in the Thought of Negro Americans
Phaon Goldman, from The Significance of African Freedom for the Negro American
Bruce Norris, from Clybourne Park
26. Critical Contexts: Sophocles’s Antigone
Sophocles, Antigone
Critical Excerpts
Richard C. Jebb, from The Antigone of Sophocles
Maurice Bowra, from Sophoclean Tragedy
Bernard Knox, from Introduction to Antigone
Martha C. Nussbaum, from Sophocles’ Antigone: Conflict, Vision, and Simplification
Philip Holt, from Polis and the Tragedy in the Antigone
Sample Writing: Jackie Izawa, The Two Faces of Antigone
Reading More Drama
Anton Chekhov, The Cherry Orchard
Henrik Ibsen, A Doll House
Jane Martin, Two Monologues from Talking With ...
Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman
Authors on their Work: Arthur Miller
Sophocles, Oedipus the King
Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire
Writing about Literature
27. Basic Moves: Paraphrase, Summary, and Description
28. The Literature Essay
29. The Writing Process
30. The Literature Research Essay
31. Quotation, Citation, and Documentation
32. Sample Research Essay
Sarah Roberts, “Only a Girl”? Gendered Initiation in Alice Munro’s “Boys and Girls"
Critical Approaches
Glossary
Permissions Acknowledgments
Index of Authors
Index of Titles and First Lines
Index of Literary Terms
Resources for Writers
Recommend Papers

The Norton Introduction to Literature (Shorter Thirteenth Edition) [13 ed.]
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TH E N O RTO N I NTRO DUC TIO N TO

Literature SHORTER THIRTEENTH EDITION

nintrlit13esht_9pp_ch00_i-xxxiv.indd 1

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TH E N O RTO N I NTRO DUC TIO N TO

Literature SHORTER THIRTEENTH EDITION

Kelly J. Mays U N I V E R S I T Y O F N E VA D A , L A S V E G A S

B

W. W. N O R TO N & CO M PA N Y N e w Yo r k , L o n d o n

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Brief Table of Contents Preface for Instructors Introduction 1

PART ONE

xxviii

Fiction

1 Fiction: Reading, Responding, Writing

UNDERSTANDING THE TEXT 2 Plot

16

75

75

3 Narration and Point of View 4 Character 5 Setting

169

210

282

6 Symbol and Figurative Language 7 Theme

380

429

EXPLORING CONTEXTS

512

8 The Author’s Work as Context: Flannery O’Connor 9 Cultural and Historical Contexts: Women in Turn-of-the- Century America 564

512

10 Critical Contexts: Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried”

READING MORE FICTION

607

643

v

nintrlit13esht_9pp_ch00_i-xxxiv.indd 5

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vi

BRIEF TA BLE OF CONTENTS

PART T WO

Poetry

11 Poetry: Reading, Responding, Writing

UNDERSTANDING THE TEXT

730

769

12 Speaker: Whose Voice Do We Hear?

769

13 Situation and Setting: What Happens? Where? When? 14 Theme and Tone

830

15 Language: Word Choice and Order

854

16 Visual Imagery and Figures of Speech 17 Symbol

795

866

884

18 The Sounds of Poetry 19 Internal Structure 20 External Form

899

930

951

EXPLORING CONTEXTS

984

21 The Author’s Work as Context: Adrienne Rich 22 The Author’s Work as Context: William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience 1055 23 Cultural and Historical Contexts: The Harlem Renaissance 1065 24 Critical Contexts: Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy”

READING MORE POETRY

nintrlit13esht_9pp_ch00_i-xxxiv.indd 6

986

1102

1131

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BRIEF TA BLE OF CONTENTS

v ii

Drama

PART THREE

25 Drama: Reading, Responding, Writing

UNDERSTANDING THE TEXT 26 Elements of Drama

1194

1221

1221

EXPLORING CONTEXTS

1332

27 The Author’s Work as Context: William Shakespeare 1332 28 Cultural and Historical Contexts: Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun 1496 29 Critical Contexts: Sophocles’s Antigone

READING MORE DR AMA

PART FOUR

1600

1665

Writing about Liter ature

30 Basic Moves: Paraphrase, Summary, Description 31 The Literature Essay

1918

32 The Writing Process

1938

33 The Literature Research Essay

1951

34 Quotation, Citation, and Documentation 35 Sample Research Essay

1914

1962

1992

Critical Approaches A1 Permissions Acknowledgments A27 Index of Authors A45 Index of Titles and First Lines A52 Glossary/Index of Literary Terms A61

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Contents Preface for Instructors xxviii 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? 9

Hai- Dang Phan, My Father’s “Norton Introduction to Literature,” Third Edition (1981)

10

AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : Hai-Dang Phan

12

John Crowe R ansom , Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter

PART ONE

13

Fiction

1 Fiction: Reading, Responding, Writing 16 anonymous , The Elephant in the Village of the Blind Reading and Responding to Fiction linda brewer , 20/20 20

17

20

SAM PLE WR ITING: Annotation and Notes on “20/20”

Reading and Responding to Graphic Fiction jules feiffer , Superman 23 Writing about Fiction 27 r aymond carver , Cathedral 28

SAM PLE WR ITING: Reading Notes on “Cathedral”

39

SAM PLE WR ITING: Response Paper on “Cathedral” SAM PLE WR ITING: Essay on “Cathedral”

AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : Grace Paley

42

45

Telling Stories: An Album 49 gr ace paley , A Conversation with My Father anton chekhov, Gooseberries 55 tim o’brien, The Lives of the Dead

21

23

50

54

63

ix

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x

CONTENTS

UNDERSTANDING THE TEXT 2 Plot

75

75

Plot versus Action, Sequence, and Subplot 75 Pace 76 Conflicts 76 gary trudeau, Doonesbury 77 jacob and wilhelm grimm , The Shroud 77 The Five Parts of Plot 78 Common Plot Types 82 r alph ellison, King of the Bingo Game 83 james baldwin, Sonny’s Blues 91 joyce carol oates , Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? 114 AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : Joyce Carol Oates

126

viet thanh Nguyen, I’d Love You to Want Me

127

SAM PLE WR ITING: Essay on “King of the Bingo Game”

Initiation Stories: An Album 144 toni cade bambar a , The Lesson

146

AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : Toni Cade Bambara

alice munro, Boys and Girls john updike , A & P 163

168

169

Types of Narration 170 Tense 171 Narrator versus Implied Author 171 edgar allan poe , The Cask of Amontillado george saunders , Puppy 179 AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : George Saunders

virginia woolf, The Mark on the Wall adam johnson, Interest ing Facts 192

4 Character

152

152

AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : John Updike

3 Narration and Point of View

173

186

186

210

Heroes and Villains versus Protagonists and Antagonists Major versus Minor Characters 212 Flat versus Round and Static versus Dynamic Characters Stock Characters and Archetypes 213 Reading Character in Fiction and Life 213 william faulkner , Barn Burning 217 toni morrison, Recitatif 230

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141

211 212

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CONTENTS

AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : Toni Morrison

xi

244

david foster wallace , Good People 245 alissa nut ting , Model’s Assistant 250

Monsters: An Album 259 margaret at wood, Lusus Naturae 260 k aren russell , St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves jorge luis borges , The House of Asterion 277 AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : Jorge Luis Borges

5 Setting

265

280

282

Temporal and Physical, General and Par ticular Setting Functions of Setting 282 Vague and Vivid Settings 283 italo calvino, from Invisible Cities 284 margaret mitchell , from Gone with the Wind Traditional Expectations of Time and Place 285 alice r andall , from The Wind Done Gone 286 james joyce , Araby 288 amy tan, A Pair of Tickets 293 judith ortiz cofer , Volar 306 annie proulx , Job History 308

282

284

SAM PLE WR ITING: Annotation and Close Reading on “Araby”

The Future: An Album 317 william gibson, The Gernsback Continuum AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : William Gibson

r ay br adbury , The Veldt

318

327

328

AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : Ray Bradbury

octavia E. butler , Bloodchild

339

340

AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : Octavia E. Butler

jennifer egan, Black Box

314

354

355

AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : Jennifer Egan

6 Symbol and Figurative Language

378

380

Literary Symbolism 381 Figures of Speech 382 Interpreting Symbolism and Figurative Language 383 nathaniel haw thorne , The Birth-Mark 385 a. s. byat t, The Thing in the Forest 397 edwidge danticat, A Wall of Fire Rising 412 SAM PLE WR ITING: Comparative Essay on “The Birth-Mark” and

“The Thing in the Forest” 425

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CONTENTS

7 Theme 429 aesop, The Two Crabs

429

Theme(s): Singular or Plural? 430 Be Specific: Theme as Idea versus Topic or Subject 430 Don’t Be Too Specific: Theme as General Idea 431 Theme versus Moral 431 stephen cr ane , The Open Boat 433 gabriel garcÍa mÁrquez , A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings: A Tale for Children 451 yasunari k awabata , The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket 456 junot dÍaz , Wildwood 459

Cross- Cultural Encounters: An Album 477 bhar ati mukherjee , The Management of Grief AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : Bharati Mukherjee

jhumpa lahiri , Interpreter of Maladies

491

AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : Jhumpa Lahiri

507

david sedaris , Jesus Shaves

EXPLORING CONTEXTS

478

491

508

512

8 The Author’s Work as Context: Flannery O’Connor

512

Biographical Approaches to Literature 513 Implied Author or Narrator 514 Style and Tone 515 Three Stories by Flannery O’Connor 516 A Good Man Is Hard to Find 516 Good Country People 527 Every thing That Rises Must Converge 540 Passages from Flannery O’Connor’s Essays and Letters 550 Critical Excerpts 554 mary gordon, from Flannery’s Kiss 554 ann e. reuman, from Revolting Fictions: Flannery O’Connor’s Letter to Her Mother 557 eileen pollack , from Flannery O’Connor and the New Criticism 560

9 Cultural and Historical Contexts: Women in Turn-of-the- Century America 564 Women at the Turn of the Century: An Overview 565 Women Writers in a Changing World 567 k ate chopin, The Story of an Hour 568 charlot te perkins gilman, The Yellow Wallpaper

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CONTENTS

susan glaspell , A Jury of Her Peers Contextual Excerpts

x iii

582

599

charlot te perkins gilman, from Similar Cases from Women and Economics

599

600

barbar a boyd, from Heart and Home Talks: Politics and Milk mrs. arthur ly t telton, from Women and Their Work 601 rheta childe dorr , from What Eight Million Women Want

601 602

The New York Times, from Mrs. Delong Acquitted 603 The Washington Post, from The Chances of Divorce 603 charlot te perkins gilman, from Why I Wrote “The Yellow Wall-paper” 604 The Washington Post, The Rest Cure 604 The Washington Post, from Egotism of the Rest Cure 604

10 Critical Contexts: Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” tim o’brien, The Things They Carried 609 Critical Excerpts

607

622

steven k aplan, from The Undying Uncertainty of the Narrator in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried

622

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

627

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

READING MORE FICTION

637

643

louise erdrich , Love Medicine 643 william faulkner , A Rose for Emily 658 ernest hemingway, Hills Like White Elephants 665 fr anz k afk a , A Hunger Artist 669 jamaica kincaid, Girl 675 bobbie ann mason, Shiloh 677 guy de maupassant, The Jewelry 687 herman melville, Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street eudor a welt y, Why I Live at the P.O. 719

PART T WO

Poetry

11 Poetry: Reading, Responding, Writing Defining Poetry 731 lydia davis , Head, Heart Poetic Subgenres and Kinds

730

732

AUTH O R S O N TH EIR CR AF T: Billy Collins

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693

733

734

8/29/18 1:04 PM

x iv

CONTENTS

edwin arlington robinson, Richard Cory 735 robert frost, “Out, Out—” 736 thomas hardy, The Ruined Maid 737 william words worth , I wandered lonely as a cloud 738 fr ank o’har a , Poem [Lana Turner has collapsed!] 739 phillis wheatley , On Being Brought from Africa to Amer ica emily dickinson, The Sky is low— the Clouds are mean 742 billy collins , Divorce 742 bruce springsteen, Nebraska 743 robert hayden, A Letter from Phillis Wheatley 744 Responding to Poetry 746 aphr a behn, On Her Loving Two Equally Writing about Poetry 753

741

746

SAM PLE WR ITING: Response Paper on “On Her Loving Two Equally” SAM PLE WR ITING: Essay on “On Her Loving Two Equally”

755

757

The Art of (Reading) Poetry: An Album 761 howard nemerov, Because You Asked about the Line between Prose and Poetry

761

archibald macleish , Ars Poetica czeslaw milosz , Ars Poetica? 763

762

AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : Czeslaw Milosz

764

elizabeth alex ander , Ars Poetica #100: I Believe 764 marianne moore , Poetry 765 julia alvarez , “Poetry Makes Nothing Happen”? 766 billy collins , Introduction to Poetry 767

UNDERSTANDING THE TEXT

769

12 Speaker: Whose Voice Do We Hear?

769

Narrative Poems and Their Speakers 769 etheridge knight, Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane 769 Speakers in the Dramatic Monologue 771 a. e. stallings , Hades Welcomes His Bride 771 The Lyric and Its Speaker 773 margaret at wood, Death of a Young Son by Drowning 773 AUTH O R S O N TH EIR CR AF T: Billy Collins and Sharon Olds

775

william words worth , She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways dorothy parker , A Certain Lady 776 Poems for Further Study 777 walt whitman, I celebrate myself, and sing myself

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776

777

8/29/18 1:04 PM

CONTENTS

langston hughes , Ballad of the Landlord 778 e. e. cummings , next to of course god amer ica i gwendolyn brooks , We Real Cool 779 AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : Gwendolyn Brooks

lucille clifton, cream of wheat

779

780

781

Exploring Gender: An Album 783 richard lovelace , Song: To Lucasta, Going to the Wars mary, lady chudleigh , To the Ladies 784 wilfred owen, Disabled 785 elizabeth bishop, Exchanging Hats 786 david wagoner , My Father’s Garden 787 judith ortiz cofer , The Changeling 788 marie howe , Practicing 789 AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : Marie Howe

793

13 Situation and Setting: What Happens? Where? When?

795

796

rita dove , Daystar 796 denise duhamel , Humanity 101 tr acy k. smith , Sci-Fi 798 Setting

784

790

bob hicok , O my pa-pa 791 terr ance hayes , Mr. T— 792 stacey waite , The Kind of Man I Am at the DMV

Situation

797

799

mat thew arnold, Dover Beach

799

One Poem, Multiple Situations and Settings 801 li- young lee, Persimmons 801 One Situation and Setting, Multiple Poems 803 christopher marlowe , The Passionate Shepherd to His Love sir walter r aleigh , The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd 804 The Occasional Poem 805 martÍn espada , Litany at the Tomb of Frederick Douglass 806 AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : Martín Espada

The Carpe Diem Poem 807 john donne , The Flea 807 andrew marvell , To His Coy Mistress The Aubade 809 john donne , The Sun Rising 810 james richardson, Late Aubade 811 Poems for Further Study 811 terr ance hayes , Carp Poem 811 natasha trethewey, Pilgrimage 812

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xv

803

807

808

8/29/18 1:04 PM

xvi

CONTENTS

mahmoud darwish , Identity Card 814 yehuda amichai , On Yom Kippur in 1967 . . . yusef komunyak a a , Tu Do Street 817 AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : Yusef Komunyakaa

Homelands: An Album maya angelou, Africa

816

818

821 821

AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : Maya Angelou

822

derek walcot t, A Far Cry from Africa

822

AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : Derek Walcott

824

judith ortiz cofer , The Latin Deli: An Ars Poetica cathy song , Heaven 826 agha shahid ali , Postcard from Kashmir 827 adrienne su, Escape from the Old Country 828

14 Theme and Tone Tone

825

830

830

w. d. snodgr ass , Leaving the Motel Theme

831

832

ma xine kumin, Woodchucks 832 adrienne rich , Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers

833

AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : Adrienne Rich

Theme and Conflict 834 adrienne su, On Writing

835

AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : Adrienne Su

Poems for Further Study

834

836

836

paul laurence dunbar , Sympathy 836 w. h. auden, Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone k ay ryan, Repulsive Theory 838 maya angelou, Still I Rise 838

837

SAM PLE WR ITING: Response Paper on Auden’s “Stop all the clocks,

cut off the telephone” 841

Family: An Album 845 simon j. ortiz , My Father’s Song 845 robert hayden, Those Winter Sundays 846 ellen bryant voigt, My Mother 846 mart í n espada , Of the Threads That Connect the Stars emily grosholz , Eden 848 philip larkin, This Be the Verse 849 AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : Philip Larkin

jimmy santiago baca , Green Chile

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848

850

850

8/29/18 1:04 PM

CONTENTS

paul martínez pompa , The Abuelita Poem charlie smith , The Business 852 andrew hudgins , Begotten 853

15 Language: Word Choice and Order

851

854

Precision and Ambiguity 854 sar ah cleghorn, The golf links lie so near the mill martha collins , Lies 855 Denotation and Connotation 855 walter de la mare , Slim Cunning Hands 856 theodore roethke , My Papa’s Waltz 857 Word Order and Placement 857 sharon olds , Sex without Love 859 AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : Sharon Olds

x v ii

854

860

Poems for Further Study 860 william blake , London 860 ger ard manley hopkins , Pied Beauty 861 william carlos williams , The Red Wheelbarrow This Is Just to Say 862 AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : William Carlos Williams

k ay ryan, Blandeur 863 martha collins , white paper #24 864 a. e. stallings , Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda

861

862

865

16 Visual Imagery and Figures of Speech 866 david bot toms , Hubert Blankenship 867 claude mck ay, The Harlem Dancer 868 lynn powell , Kind of Blue 868 Simile and Analogy 869 todd boss , My Love for You Is So Embarrassingly 869 Metaphor 870 william shakespeare , That time of year thou mayst in me behold 870 linda pastan, Marks 871 Personification 871 emily dickinson, Because I could not stop for Death— 872 Metonymy and Synecdoche 872 william words worth , London, 1802 873 tr acy k. smith , Ash 874 emma bolden, House Is an Enigma 874 Allusion 875 amit majmudar , Dothead 875 patricia lockwood, What Is the Zoo for What 876

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CONTENTS

Poems for Further Study

878

william shakespeare , Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? 878 anonymous , The Twenty-Third Psalm 878 john donne , Batter my heart, three-personed God 879 r andall jarrell , The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner 879 joy harjo, The Woman Hanging from the Thirteenth Floor Window 880 john brehm , Sea of Faith 882

17 Symbol

884

The Invented Symbol 884 james dickey, The Leap 885 The Traditional Symbol 887 edmund waller , Song 887 dorothy parker , One Perfect Rose 888 The Symbolic Poem 889 william blake , The Sick Rose 889 Poems for Further Study 890 john keats , Ode to a Nightingale 890 robert frost, The Road Not Taken 892 howard nemerov, The Vacuum 893 adrienne rich , Diving into the Wreck 894 roo borson, After a Death 896 brian turner , Jundee Ameriki 896 AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : Brian Turner

sharon olds , Bruise Ghazal

18 The Sounds of Poetry

897

898

899

Rhyme 899 Other Sound Devices 901 alex ander pope , from The Rape of the Lock 902 Sound Poems 903 helen chasin, The Word Plum 903 alex ander pope , Sound and Sense 903 Poetic Meter 905 samuel taylor coleridge , Metrical Feet 907 anonymous , There was a young girl from St. Paul 910 alfred, lord tennyson, from The Charge of the Light Brigade jane taylor , The Star 911 anne br adstreet, To My Dear and Loving Husband 911 jessie pope , The Call 912

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CONTENTS

wilfred owen, Dulce et Decorum Est Poems for Further Study

xix

913

914

william shakespeare , Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore

914

ger ard manley hopkins , The Windhover amit majmudar , Ode to a Drone 915 walt whitman, A Noiseless Patient Spider kevin young , Ode to Pork 916

914 915

Word and Music: An Album 919 thomas campion, When to Her Lute Corinna Sings 920 anonymous , Sir Patrick Spens 920 dudley r andall , Ballad of Birmingham 922 augustus montague toplady, A Prayer, Living and Dying robert hayden, Homage to the Empress of the Blues 924 bob dylan, The Times They Are A- Changin’ 924 linda pastan, Listening to Bob Dylan, 2005 925 mos def, Hip Hop 926 jose b. gonzalez , Elvis in the Inner City 928 19 Internal Structure

923

930

Dividing Poems into “Parts” 930 pat mor a , Sonrisas 930 Internal versus External or Formal “Parts” 932 galway kinnell , Blackberry Eating 932 Lyrics as Internal Dramas 932 seamus heaney, Punishment 933 samuel taylor coleridge , Frost at Midnight 935 sharon olds , The Victims 937 Making Arguments about Structure 938 Poems without “Parts” 938 walt whitman, I Hear Amer ica Singing 938 Poems for Further Study 939 william shakespeare , Th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame 939 percy bysshe shelley, Ode to the West Wind 940 philip larkin, Church Going 942 AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : Philip Larkin

944

k atie ford, Still-Life 945 kevin young , Greening 945 SAM PLE WR ITING: Essay in Pro gress on “Church Going”

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8/29/18 1:04 PM

xx

CONTENTS

20 External Form

951

Stanzas 951 Traditional Stanza Forms 951 robert frost, Acquainted with the Night 952 richard wilbur , Terza Rima 952 Traditional Verse Forms 953 Fixed Forms or Form- Based Subgenres 954 Traditional Forms: Poems for Further Study 955 dylan thomas , Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night natasha trethewey, Myth 956 elizabeth bishop, Sestina 957 a. e. stallings , Sestina: Like 958 The Way a Poem Looks 959 e. e. cummings , l(a 959 Buffalo Bill’s 960 Concrete Poetry 960 george herbert, Easter Wings 961 may swenson, Women 962

955

The Sonnet: An Album 965 fr ancesco petr arch , Upon the breeze she spread her golden hair

966

henry constable , My lady’s presence makes the roses red 966 william shakespeare , My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun Not marble, nor the gilded monuments 967 Let me not to the marriage of true minds 968 john milton, When I consider how my light is spent 968 william words worth , Nuns Fret Not 969 The world is too much with us 969 elizabeth barret t browning , How Do I Love Thee? 970 christina rosset ti , In an Artist’s Studio 970 edna st. vincent millay , What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why 971 Women have loved before as I love now 971 I, being born a woman and distressed 972 I will put Chaos into fourteen lines 972 gwendolyn brooks , First Fight. Then Fiddle. 973 gwen harwood, In the Park 973 june jordan, Something Like a Sonnet for Phillis Miracle Wheatley billy collins , Sonnet 974 harryet te mullen, Dim Lady 975

nintrlit13esht_9pp_ch00_i-xxxiv.indd 20

967

974

8/29/18 1:04 PM

CONTENTS

Haiku: An Album

xxi

977

Traditional Japanese Haiku 977 chiyojo, Whether astringent 977 bash ō, A village without bells— 978 This road— 978 buson, Coolness— 978 Listening to the moon 978 One Haiku, Four Translations 978 lafcadio hearn, Old pond— 978 clar a a. walsh , An old-time pond 978 earl miner , The still old pond 979 allen ginsberg , The old pond 979 Contemporary English- Language Haiku 979 ezr a pound, In a Station of the Metro 979 allen ginsberg , Looking over my shoulder 979 richard wright, In the falling snow 979 etheridge knight, Eastern guard tower 980 The falling snow flakes 980 Making jazz swing in 980 AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : Etheridge Knight

980

mark jarman, Haiku 981 sonia sanchez , from 9 Haiku (for Freedom’s Sisters) sue standing , Diamond Haiku 981 linda pastan, In the Har-Poen Tea Garden 982 Twaiku

983

EXPLORING CONTEXTS

984

21 The Author’s Work as Context: Adrienne Rich The Poetry of Adrienne Rich 987 Poems by Adrienne Rich 990 At a Bach Concert 990 Storm Warnings 990 Living in Sin 991 Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law

986

991

AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : Adrienne Rich

Planetarium 996 For the Record 997 My mouth hovers across your breasts History 998 Transparencies 999

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981

995

998

8/29/18 1:04 PM

x x ii

CONTENTS

Tonight No Poetry Will Serve 1000 Passages from Rich’s Essays 1001 From When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision From A Communal Poetry 1002 From Why I Refused the National Medal for the Arts From Poetry and the Forgotten Future 1006 A Poem for Adrienne Rich Joy HARJO, By the Way 1010

1001 1003

SAM PLE WR ITING: Comparative Essay on Sonnets by Shakespeare

and Millay 1015

Emily Dickinson: An Album

1021

Poems by Emily Dickinson 1022 Wild Nights—Wild Nights! 1022 “Hope” is the thing with feathers— 1023 After great pain, a formal feeling comes— 1023 I heard a Fly buzz— when I died 1024 My Life had stood— a Loaded Gun— 1024 I stepped from Plank to Plank 1025 Tell all the truth but tell it slant— 1025 Poems about Emily Dickinson 1026 wendy cope , Emily Dickinson 1026 hart cr ane , To Emily Dickinson 1026 billy collins , Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes

W. B. Yeats: An Album

1031

Poems by W. B. Yeats 1033 The Lake Isle of Innisfree

1033

AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : W. B. Yeats

1034

All Things Can Tempt Me 1034 Easter 1916 1035 The Second Coming 1037 Leda and the Swan 1038 Sailing to Byzantium 1038 A Poem about W. B. Yeats 1040 w. h. auden, In Memory of W. B. Yeats AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : W. H. Auden

Pat Mora: An Album Elena 1048 Gentle Communion

nintrlit13esht_9pp_ch00_i-xxxiv.indd 22

1027

1040 1042

1047

1049

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CONTENTS

Mothers and Daughters La Migra 1050 Ode to Adobe 1051

x x iii

1049

22 The Author’s Work as Context: William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience 1055

Color Insert: Facsimile Pages from Songs of Innocence and of Experience William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience Songs of Innocence 1057 Introduction 1057 The Ecchoing Green 1057 Holy Thursday 1058 The Lamb 1058 The Chimney Sweeper 1059 Songs of Experience 1059 Introduction 1059 The Tyger 1060 The Garden of Love 1061 The Chimney Sweeper 1061 Holy Thursday 1061

23 Cultural and Historical Contexts: The Harlem Renaissance 1065 Poems of the Harlem Renaissance 1070 arna bontemps, A Black Man Talks of Reaping 1070 countee cullen, Yet Do I Marvel 1071 Saturday’s Child 1071 From the Dark Tower 1072 angelina grimkÉ, The Black Finger 1072 Tenebris 1073 langston hughes, Harlem 1073 The Weary Blues 1073 The Negro Speaks of Rivers 1074 I, Too 1075 helene johnson, Sonnet to a Negro in Harlem 1076 claude mck ay, Harlem Shadows 1076 If We Must Die 1077 The Tropics in New York 1077 Amer ica 1077 The White House 1078 Contextual Excerpts 1078 james weldon johnson, from the preface to The Book of American Negro Poetry 1078

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CONTENTS

alain locke, from The New Negro 1080 rudolph fisher, from The Caucasian Storms Harlem 1084 w. e. b. du bois, from Two Novels 1088 zor a neale hurston, How It Feels to Be Colored Me 1089 langston hughes, from The Big Sea 1092 SAM PLE WR ITING: Research Essay on “I, Too”

24 Critical Contexts: Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” sylvia plath, Daddy 1103 Critical Excerpts

1097

1102

1107

george steiner, from Dying Is an Art 1107 a. alvarez, from Sylvia Plath 1110 irving howe, from The Plath Celebration: A Partial Dissent 1111 judith kroll, from Rituals of Exorcism: “Daddy” 1113 mary lynn broe, from Protean Poetic: The Poetry of Sylvia Plath 1114 margaret homans, from A Feminine Tradition 1116 pamela j. annas, from A Disturbance in Mirrors: The Poetry of Sylvia Plath

1117

steven gould a xelrod, from Sylvia Plath: The Wound and the Cure of Words

1119

lisa narbeshuber, from The Poetics of Torture: The Spectacle of Sylvia Plath’s Poetry

1125

READING MORE POETRY

1131

w. h. auden, Musée des Beaux Arts 1131 robert browning, My Last Duchess 1132 kelly cherry, Alzheimer’s 1133 samuel taylor coleridge, Kubla Khan 1134 e. e. cummings, in Just- 1135 john donne, Death, be not proud 1136 The Good-Morrow 1137 Song 1137 A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning 1138 paul laurence dunbar, We Wear the Mask 1139 t. s. eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock 1139 robert frost, Fire and Ice 1143 Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening 1143 seamus heaney, Digging 1144 ger ard manley hopkins, God’s Grandeur 1145 Spring and Fall 1145 ben jonson, On My First Son 1146

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CONTENTS

john keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn To Autumn

1146

1148

yusef komunyak a a, Facing It

1149

AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : Yusef Komunyakaa

1150

linda pastan, To a Daughter Leaving Home marge piercy, Barbie Doll 1151 sylvia plath, Lady Lazarus 1152 Morning Song

1151

1154

edgar allan poe, The Raven 1155 ezr a pound, The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter christina rosset ti, Goblin Market 1158 wallace stevens, Anecdote of the Jar 1171 The Emperor of Ice- Cream

1157

1172

alfred, lord tennyson, Ulysses 1172 walt whitman, Facing West from California’s Shores 1174 richard wilbur, Love Calls Us to the Things of This World Biographical Sketches: Poets

PART THREE

xxv

1174

1176

Drama

25 Drama: Reading, Responding, Writing Reading Drama 1194 Thinking Theatrically 1196 susan glaspell, Trifles Responding to Drama 1208

1194

1197

SAM PLE WR ITING: Annotation of Trifles

1208

SAM PLE WR ITING: Reading Notes on Trifles

Writing about Drama

1211

1214

SAM PLE WR ITING: Response Paper on Trifles SAM PLE WR ITING: Essay on Trifles

UNDERSTANDING THE TEXT 26 Elements of Drama

1216

1218

1221

1221

Character 1221 Plot and Structure 1223 Stages, Sets, and Setting 1225 Tone, Language, and Symbol 1228 Theme 1229 august wilson, Fences 1230 AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : August Wilson

1282

quiar a alegr í a hudes, Water by the Spoonful

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CONTENTS

EXPLORING CONTEXTS

1332

27 The Author’s Work as Context: William Shakespeare

1332

The Life of Shakespeare: A Biographical Mystery 1332 Exploring Shakespeare’s Work: A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet 1334 A Midsummer Night’s Dream 1338 Hamlet 1396

28 Cultural and Historical Contexts: Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun 1496 The Historical Significance of A Raisin in the Sun The Great Migration 1498 Life in the “Black Metropolis” 1499 The Civil Rights Movement 1503 African Americans and Africa 1504 The “Americanness” of A Raisin in the Sun 1505 lorr aine hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun AUTH O R S O N TH EIR WO R K : Lorraine Hansberry

Contextual Excerpts

1497

1506 1570

1573

richard wright, from Twelve Million Black Voices . . . 1573 robert gruenberg, from Chicago Fiddles While Trumbull Park Burns

1577

gertrude samuels, from Even More Crucial Than in the South

1579

wilma dykeman and james stokely, from New Southerner: The Middle- Class Negro

1582

martin luther king, jr., from Letter from Birmingham Jail 1584 robert c. weaver, from “The Negro as an American”: The Yearning for Human Dignity 1586 earl e. thorpe, from Africa in the Thought of Negro Selection is not included Americans 1590 for permissions reasons. phaon goldman, from The Significance of African Freedom for the Selection is not included Negro American 1592 for permissions reasons. bruce norris, from Clybourne Park 1594

29 Critical Contexts: Sophocles’s Antigone Sophocles, Antigone 1602 Critical Excerpts

1600

1635

richard c. jebb, from the introduction to The Antigone of Sophocles

1635

maurice bowr a, from Sophoclean Tragedy 1636 bernard knox, from the introduction to Antigone (1982)

1638

CONTENTS

x x v ii

martha C. nussbaum, from Sophocles’ Antigone: Conflict, Vision, and Simplification

1645

philip holt, from Polis and Tragedy in the Antigone SAM PLE WR ITING: Research Essay on Antigone

READING MORE DR AMA

1650

1660

1665

anton chekhov, The Cherry Orchard 1665 henrik ibsen, A Doll House 1703 Jane martin, from Talking With . . . 1753 sophocles, Oedipus the King 1758 oscar wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest 1798 tennessee williams, A Streetcar Named Desire 1843

PART FOUR

Writing about Liter ature

30 Basic Moves: Paraphrase, Summary, and Description 31

The Literature Essay

1918

32 The Writing Process

1938

33 The Literature Research Essay

1914

1951

34 Quotation, Citation, and Documentation

1962

35 Sample Research Essay 1992 sar ah roberts, “ ‘Only a Girl’? Gendered Initiation in Alice Munro’s ‘Boys and Girls’ ”

1992

Critical Approaches A1 Permissions Acknowledgments A27 Index of Authors A45 Index of Titles and First Lines A52 Glossary/Index of Literary Terms A61

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ike its predecessors, this Thirteenth Edition of The Norton Introduction to Literature 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 questions typically faced by students and instructors, The Norton Introduction to Literature offers practical advice to help students transform their first 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 providing a book that is as flexible and as useful as possible—adaptable to many different teaching styles and individual preferences—and that also conveys the excitement at the heart of literature itself.

NEW TO THE THIRTEENTH EDITION Thirty-three new selections This lucky Thirteenth Edition of The Norton Introduction to Literature features nine new stories, over twenty new poems, and one new play. These include new selections from popular and canonical writers including Ray Bradbury, Octavia Butler, Annie Proulx, Oscar Wilde, and Virginia Woolf (in Fiction and Drama), Maya Angelou, Emily Dickinson, Joy Harjo, and Claude McKay (in Poetry). We invite you to feast on Christina Rossetti’s delicious Goblin Market and a refreshed collection of Robert Frost poems complete with the oft-taught “Out, Out—” and “Fire and Ice.” But you will also find here work by exciting new authors such as Alissa Nutting, A. E. Stallings, and Pulitzer Prize winners Adam Johnson, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Tracy K. Smith. Prompting the reintroduction of John Crowe Ransom’s “Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter,” which it appears alongside, Hai-Dang Phan’s moving “My Father’s ‘Norton Introduction to Literature,’ Third Edition (1981)” reminds us just how much new works and new voices renew and reanimate, rather than replace, classic ones.

A new science-fiction album One of the more popular features of recent editions of The Norton Introduction to Literature are the albums that invite students to consider and compare works linked by author, subgenre, subject matter, or setting, and so on. You will find fifteen such albums in the Thirteenth Edition, including an entirely new one featuring science fiction by Octavia Butler, Ray Bradbury, William Gibson, and Jennifer Egan.

Improved writing pedagogy Recent editions of The Norton Introduction to Lit erature greatly expanded and improved the resources for student writers, including thorough introductions to each xxviii

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genre, broadened online materials, and new student writing. The Thirteenth Edition offers an enlarged and revamped chapter on “Quotation, Citation, and Documentation.” In keeping with the latest (8th edition) MLA guidelines, it explains the elements that comprise the works-cited entry and the principles by which any entry is assembled rather than presenting a dizzying menu of entry types for student writers to pore through and copy. Here, as throughout “Writing about Literature,” we demonstrate with brief examples, often drawn from the work of student or professional writers. A new student essay on Ralph Ellison’s “King of the Bingo Game” brings the total of complete writing samples to nineteen, including notes, response papers, essays analyzing one work or comparing several, and research essays exploring critical and/or historical contexts. As always, by including more and more lengthy extracts from published literary criticism than any other textbook of its kind, The Norton Introduction to Literature offers student writers both a trove of sources to draw on in articulating their own responses to particular works and models of the sorts of questions, strategies, and “moves” that power effective reading and writing about literature.

A new design and expanded photo program A contemporary new design invites greater enjoyment and even greater use of the book’s many special features. The photo program has been enriched and expanded with new author photos throughout as well as contextual illustrations, such as the frontispiece for the first edition of Goblin Market by the poet’s brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti, an advertising poster for Buffalo Bill alongside the poem by E. E. Cummings, a movie still from The Black Panther to accompany the new Futures album, and many more.

Enhanced and updated Shakespeare To make Shakespeare more accessible and enjoyable, every page of Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream features new in-line glossing of challenging words or allusions. The versions of both plays are adopted from the acclaimed new third edition of The Norton Shakespeare, edited by Stephen Greenblatt. In addition, students encountering Shakespeare for the first time will appreciate the rich links, videos, and recordings available within the ebook.

New combined glossary and index A new combined Glossary and Index makes it easier for students to review key literary terms and find examples within the book.

Unmatched support for students, with new close reading workshops New to our popular LitWeb site are twenty-five Close Reading Workshops. Providing step-by-step guidance in literary analysis and interpretation drawing on works in the anthology, many of which are enhanced with audio, these interactive workshops help students learn how to observe, contextualize, analyze, and create an argument based on a close reading of text. The workshops are easily assignable with class reports that allow you to see how students’ close reading skills improve over the course of the semester.

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Unmatched support for instructors The new Interactive Instructor’s Guide by Jason Snart features hundreds of teaching resources in one searchable, sortable site to help you enrich your classes and save course-prep time, including: - Teaching notes, discussion questions, suggestions for writing, and inclass activities for every work in the anthology - Hundreds of downloadable images for in-class presentation - The Writing about Literature video series - Lecture PowerPoints for the most-taught works in the anthology

HALLMARK FEATURES OF THE NORTON INTRODUCTION TO LITER ATURE Although this Thirteenth 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 literary works. Among the 61 stories, 300 poems, and 12 plays in The Norton Introduction to Literature, readers will find 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 dictating any par ticular 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 concepts to specific readings in order to develop, articulate, refine, 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 fiction, poetry, and drama is to open up a complex field 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,

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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 encourage student engagement with individual authors and their perspectives in “Authors on Their Work” features as well as single-author chapters and albums.

Thoughtful guidance for writing about literature The Thirteenth Edition integrates opportunities for student writing at each step of the course, highlighting the mastery of skills for students at every level. “Reading, Responding, Writing” chapters at the beginning of each genre 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 particular 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 organized critical argument. New examples of student writing bring the total number to nineteen. The constructive, step-by-step approach to the writing process is thoroughly demonstrated in the “Writing about Literature” section. As in the chapters introducing concepts and literary selections, the first steps presented in the writing section are simple and straightforward, outlining the basic formal elements 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 process: 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. Also featured is a sample research essay 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.

A comprehensive approach to the contexts of literature The Thirteenth Edition not only offers expanded resources for interpreting and writing about literature but also extends the perspectives from which students can view particular authors and works. One of the greatest strengths of The Norton Introduction to Literature has been its exploration of the relation between literary texts and a variety of contexts. “Author’s Work as Context,” “Cultural and Historical Contexts,” and “Critical Contexts” chapters serve as mini-casebooks containing a wealth of material for in-depth, context-focused reading and writing assignments. The “Critical Approaches” section provides an overview of contemporary critical theory and its terminology and is useful as an introduction, a refresher, or a preparation for further exploration.

A sensible and teachable organization 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 the chapter

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“Fiction: Reading, Responding, Writing,” which treats the purpose and nature of fiction, the reading experience, and the steps one takes to begin writing about fiction. This feature is followed by the six-chapter section called “Understanding the Text,” which concentrates on the genre’s key elements. Appearing throughout are albums that build on the chapters they follow, inviting students to compare stories narrated by protagonists whom others deem monsters, featuring initiation plots or futuristic settings, and so on. 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 final component in the Fiction section, is a reservoir of additional readings for independent study or a different approach. The Poetry and Drama sections, in turn, follow exactly the same organizational format as Fiction. The book’s arrangement allows movement from narrower to broader frameworks, 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, I have worked hard to ensure that no section, chapter, or album depends on any other, allowing individual teachers to pick and choose which to assign and in what order.

Deep representation of select authors The Norton Introduction to Literature offers a range of opportunities for in-depth study of noted authors. “Author’s Work” chapters and albums—on Flannery O’Connor, Adrienne Rich, William Blake, Emily Dickinson, Pat Mora, W. B. Yeats, and William Shakespeare—encourage students to make substantive connections among works from different phases of a writer’s career, guiding them to ask both what binds such works together into a distinctive oeuvre and how a writer’s approach and outlook evolves in and over time. But throughout the volume, students will encounter, too, at least two works each by a diverse array of other authors including William Faulkner, Tim O’Brien, Joy Harjo, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Tracy K. Smith, and the fiftythree other poets whose biographies appear at the end of the Poetry section. “Critical Contexts” chapters on “The Things They Carried” (and The Things They Carried), on “Daddy,” and on Antigone encourage students to delve deeper into specific works by Tim O’Brien, Sylvia Plath, and Sophocles by considering the rich and varied commentary, even controversy, those authors’ works have inspired. “Cultural and Historical Context” chapters—featuring stories by Susan Glaspell, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Kate Chopin; poetry and prose of the Harlem Renaissance; and Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun— remind students that authors and their works also both emerge out of and shape the contours and controversies of par ticular moments and milieus, even as they speak to ours.

AC KNOW LEDG MENTS In working on this book, I have been guided by teachers and students in my own and other English 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 collaborative effort.

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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 former co-editors 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. Their intelligence, erudition, grace, and humor have had a profound effect on me, and their stamp will endure on this and all future editions of this book. So, too, will that of Spencer Richardson-Jones, my Norton editorial partner on the last two (eleventh and twelfth) editions. For the wisdom and wit he brought to that partnership, for the all-new life he breathed into this book, and for his laser-like attention to—and indefatigable championship of—it, I am forever grateful. The book’s new in-house editor, Sarah Touborg, has proved a worthy successor under much less than ideal circumstances. And I am thankful—as I think all users of the Thirteenth Edition will be—for the new perspective and insight she has brought to this project. With admirable skill and great energy, assistant editor Madeline Rombes managed myriad manuscript details. I am grateful to project editor Christine D’Antonio and copyeditor Rebecca Caine, photo editor Ted Szczepanski and researcher Julie Tesser, production managers Ashley Horna and Stephen Sajdak, and media editor Carly Frasier Doria who brought together the innovative array of web resources and other pedagogical tools. Huge, heartfelt thanks, too, to Kimberly Bowers, the very best, brightest, and most tireless of marketing managers. In putting together the Thirteenth Edition, I have accrued debts to many friends and colleagues including Frederic Svoboda, of the University of Michigan–Flint; his student, Megan Groeneveld; and other users of the Twelfth Edition who generously reached out to point out its errors, as well as successes. Special thanks to the talented Francis Moi Moi, for permission to use his essay on “King of the Bingo Game”; to Darren Lone-Fight, for introducing me to the work of Indigenous Futurist Steven Paul Judd; to Jane Hafen, Molly O’Donnell, Emily Setina, and Anne Stevens, for sage advice on literary selections and much else; to my sister, Nelda Mays, and to my UNLV students, whose open-mindedness, strong-mindedness, perseverance, and passion inspire me every day; and, as always, to Hugh Jackson, my in-house editor in the most literal of senses. The Norton Introduction to Literature continues to thrive because so many teachers and students generously take the time to provide valuable feedback and suggestions. 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 immensely helpful. Thank you to those who provided extensive written commentary: Julianne Altenbernd (Cypress College), Troy Appling (Florida Gateway 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 (Methodist 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 Technical College), Heidi

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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 for the Thirteenth edition: Beth Anish (Community College of Rhode Island), Eric Ash (Wayland Baptist University), Matthew Ayres (County College of Morris), Suzanne Barnett (Francis Marion University), Stuart Bartow (SUNY Adirondack), Jon Brooks (Northwest Florida State College), Akilah Brown (Santa Fe College), Rachel Brunner (Sauk Valley Community College), Lisa Buchanan (Northeast State Community College), David Clark (Suffolk County Community College), Jim Compton (Muscatine Community College), Susan Dauer (Valencia College), Alexandra DeLuise (University of New Haven), Amber Durfield (Citrus College), Michelle Fernandes (Paramus High School), Africa Fine (Palm Beach State College), Christine Fisher (Trinity Valley Community College), Jeffrey Foster (University of New Haven), James Glickman (Community College of Rhode Island), Kathy Harrison (Alief Independent School District, Kerr High School), Joan Hartman (William Paterson University), Spring Hyde (Lincoln College), Tina Iraca (Dutchess Community College), Jack Kelnhofer (Ocean County College), Ellen Knodt (Pennsylvania State University–Penn State Abington), Liz Langemak (La Salle University), Rachel Luckenbill (Southeastern University), Sarah Maitland (Bryant University), Cassandra Makela (Concordia University), Brtini Mastria (Ocean County College), Marion McAvey (Becker College), Lizzie McCormick (Suffolk County Community College), Deborah Nester (Northwest Florida State College), Amy Oneal-Self (Wor-Wic Community College), Keith O’Neill (Dutchess Community College), Natala Orobello (Florida SouthWestern State College), Michele Oster (Suffolk County Community College), Matthew Parry (Bishop England High School), Barri Piner (University of North Carolina Wilmington), Joshua Rafael Rodriguez (East Los Angeles College), Kathy Romack (University of West Florida), Shelbey Rosengarten (St. Petersburg College), Jennifer Royal (Santa Rosa Junior College), John Sauls (East Arkansas Community College), Richard Sears (Oklahoma State University– Stillwater), Bonnie Spears (Chaffey College), Camilla Stastny (SouthLake Christian Academy), Jason Stuff (Alfred State College), Donna Jane Terry (St. Johns River State College), Filiz Turhan (Suffolk County Community College), Roger Vaccaro (St. Johns River State College), Tammy Verkamp (Arkansas Tech University–Ozark), Bente Videbaek (Stony Brook University), Stephanie Webster (Ivy Tech Community College), and Kelli Wilkes (Columbus Technical College).

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Introduction

I

n 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 define 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” student of this “model” school, Bitzer gives exactly the kind of definition to satisfy Mr. Gradgrind: Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely, twenty-four grinders, four eyeteeth, 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 picture of that animal and against the “Gradgrind” view of reality. As these first 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 English 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 English Language offers a number of definitions 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 definition by focusing on fictional stories, poems, and plays—the three major kinds (or genres)1 of “imaginative or creative writing” that form the heart of literature 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 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 1. Throughout this book, terms included in the glossary appear in bold font. 1

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INTRODUCTION

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 that matter, what makes a published, canonical story like Herman Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener 2 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 folktales 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, television shows, and the stories you collaborate in making when you play a video game? Likewise, how is Shakespeare’s poem My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun both like and unlike a verse you might find in a Hallmark card or even a jingle in a mouthwash commercial? Today, literature departments offer courses in many of these forms of expression, expanding the realm of literature far beyond the limits of the dictionary definition. 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

2. Titles of poems, stories, and other literary selections included in this book are formatted in small caps when those titles first appear in the body of any chapter and whenever they appear in a question or writing suggestion. Other wise, all titles are formatted in accordance with MLA guidelines.

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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 reaching a destination and one that is just as much about fully experiencing the ride. In the pages of this book, you will find cartoons, 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 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 analyzing 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 writes a poem about your experience when you get back home. You may or may not have taken literature 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 giving 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 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 faculty, 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 participate in their life; it is Shakespeare [. . .] Wordsworth [. . .] Keats.” To test Arnold’s theory, compare the American Heritage Dictionary’s rather dry definition of literature with the following poem, in which John Keats describes his first encounter with a specific literary work— George Chapman’s translation of the Iliad and the Odyssey, two epics by the ancient Greek poet Homer.

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JOHN KEATS On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer13

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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 Apollo24 hold. Oft of one wide expanse had I been told That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne; Yet did I never breathe its pure serene35 Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold: Then felt I like some watcher of the skies When a new planet swims into his ken;46 Or like stout Cortez57 when with eagle eyes He stared at the Pacific— 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 metaphor and complementing it with similes likening reading to the sighting of a “new planet” and the first 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 dizzying exhilaration of discovery; the sense of power, accomplishment, and pride that comes of achieving something difficult; 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 definitions 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 particular 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 final lines, just as Cortez and his men are when they reach the edge of the known world and peer into the vastness that lies beyond.

What Are the Genres of Literature? The conversation that is literature, like the conversation about literature, invites all comers, requiring neither a visa nor a special license of any kind. Yet literary 3. George Chapman’s were among the most famous Renaissance 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. 4. Greek god of poetry and music. Fealty: literally, the loyalty owed by a vassal to his feudal lord. 5. Atmosphere. 6. Range of vision; awareness. 7. Actually, Balboa; he first viewed the Pacific from Darien, in Panama.

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studies, like all disciplines, has developed its own terminology and its own systems of classification. Helping you understand and effectively use both is a major purpose of this book. 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 connotations 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 process of interpreting and commenting on literature and the result of that process. 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. By writing the essay, you’ve become a literary critic. Similarly, when we classify works of literature, we use terms that may be familiar to you but have specific meanings in a literary context. All academic disciplines have systems of classification, or taxonomies, as well as jargon. Biologists, for example, classify all organisms into a series of ever-smaller, more specific categories: kingdom, phylum or division, class, order, family, genus, and species. Classification 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. If we know, further, that the poem was first 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 fiction. 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 nineteenthcentury literature, the literature of the Harlem Renaissance, American literature, or African American literature)— and (2) on the basis of formal textual features. For the latter type of classification, the one we focus on in this book, the key term is genre, which simply means, as the Oxford English Dictionary tells us, “A par ticular style or category of works of art; esp. a type of literary work characterized by a particular form, style, or purpose.” Applied rigorously, genre refers to the largest categories around which this book is organized—fiction, poetry, and drama (as well as nonfiction prose). The word subgenre applies to smaller divisions within a genre, and the word kind to divisions within a subgenre. Subgenres of fiction include the novel, the novella, and the short story. Kinds of novels, in turn, include the bildungsroman and the epistolary novel. Similarly, important subgenres of nonfiction include the essay, as well as biography and autobiography; a memoir is a par ticular kind of autobiography, and so on. However, the terms of literary criticism are not so fixed or so consistently, rigorously 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 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 fiction, 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 fictional subgenres— detective fiction, gothic fiction, historical fiction, science fiction, 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, fiction, drama, and nonfiction. A prime example is satire—any literary work (whether poem, play, fiction, or nonfiction) “in which prevailing vices and follies are held up to ridicule” (Oxford English Dictionary). Examples of satire include poems such as Alexander Pope’s Dunciad (1728); plays, movies, and television shows, from Molière’s Tartuffe (1664) to Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (1964) to South Park; works of fiction like Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) and Voltaire’s Candide (1759); and works of nonfiction such as Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” (1729) and Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary (1906). Three other major genres that cross the borders between fiction, poetry, drama, and nonfiction 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 English 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 fiction 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, classification 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 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 ticular 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 influential eighteenth-century philosopher 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 ticular brand of literature called the novel. Today, many Americans express their sense of literature’s insignificance by simply not reading it: According to a 2016 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) report, only 43% of U.S. adults read at least one work of imaginative literature in the previous year, the lowest percentage since NEA began its yearly surveys in 1982. Though the report also demonstrates that women are significantly more likely to read literature than men, as are college graduates, the drops in the literary reading rate occurred across the board, among people of all ages, races, and educational levels. Even if they very much enjoy reading on their own, many

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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. Yet millions of people continue to find both reading literature and discussing it with others to be enjoyable, meaningful, even essential activities. English thrives as a major at most colleges and universities, 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 students to take literature courses than they were in past decades, and they continue to welcome literature majors as applicants, as do many corporations. (As former Google and Twitter executive Santosh Jayaram told the Wall Street Journal in 2012, “English majors are exactly the people I’m looking for.”) 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 that imaginative literature provides a unique brand of “instruction and delight.” John Keats’s On First 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 difficult to read and understand than a Harry Potter or Twilight novel offers escape of a different and potentially more instructive sort, liberating us from the confines 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 party-hop with a model. We can travel back into the past, experiencing 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 knowledge 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 comprehensively” and “put himself in the place of another and of many othe[r]” people as one has to 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. Numerous recent studies by cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists endorse and expand on Shelley’s argument, demonstrating that while we read our brains respond to fictional events and characters precisely as they would to real ones. Perhaps as a result, readers—particularly of literary, as opposed to popular, fiction or nonfiction—perform better on tests measuring their ability to infer or even predict, to understand, and to empathize with others’ thoughts and emotions. Reading a poem, as opposed to a prose translation, sparks more activity in more areas of the brain, including those associated with personal memory and emotion, as well as language. As a result, scientists posit, poetry triggers “reappraisal mechanisms,” making us reflect and rethink our own experiences. Reading literature of various genres thus, as one review of a decade’s worth of research concludes, “enables us to better understand people, better cooperate with them.”

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Such abilities have great pragmatic and even economic, as well as personal, moral, even political value. 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 depicting various places, times, experiences, and feelings will give you some understanding of how others’ lives and worldviews may differ from your own—and how very much the same they may be. Such understanding is ever more in demand in an age when business success— according to many a venture capitalist, marketing consultant, and Silicon Valley entrepreneur— often depends less on technical know-how than on both a grasp of the whys and hows of human behav ior within and across cultures (markets), and the ability to tell compelling stories to potential funders and consumers alike. Similarly, our rapidly changing world and economy require intellectual flexibility, adaptability, and ingenuity, making ever more essential the human knowledge, general skills, and habits of mind developed through the study of literature. Literature explores issues and questions relevant in any walk of life. Yet rather than offering us neat or comforting solutions and answers, literature enables us to experience difficult situations and human conundrums in all their complexity and to look at them from various points of view. In so doing, it invites us sometimes to question conventional thinking and sometimes to see the wisdom of such thinking, even as it helps us imagine 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 others’ joy, pain, love, rage, or laughter, we begin to recognize the vast range of possibilities for expression. Writing and discussion in turn give us invaluable practice in discovering, expressing, and defending our own nuanced, often contradictory 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 crucial in our information age. By learning to appreciate and articulate what the language of a story, a 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 first; 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 figure out a coherent pattern that explains the text as it stands.

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

Why Study Literature? You may already feel the power and pleasure to be gained from a sustained encounter with challenging reading. Then why not simply enjoy it in solitude, on your own time? Why take a course in literature? Literary study, like all disciplines, has developed its own terminology and its own techniques. Some knowledge 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 pleasure and insight you derive from literature. By reading 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 disliked or misunderstood if you did. 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 process 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 conversation in which we most fully participate when we enter into actual conversation 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 suggest 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 understanding 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 process of interpretation, you will find that the work has changed when you read it again. What we do with literature alters what it does to us. •





To help you think further about how literature operates as a vast, never-ending, ever-expanding conversation that outlives— even as it invites and potentially works through and on— all of us, we close this chapter with two poems, Hai-Dang Phan’s My Father’s “Norton Introduction to Literature,” Third Edition (1981) and Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter, by another American poet, John Crowe Ransom. Phan’s 2015 poem responds in a wonderfully personal way to an array of literary texts published decades, even centuries, before his own birth (in 1980), including Ransom’s elegy and a Shakespeare play that elegy echoes. But as his title suggests, Phan responds to these texts by means of another one—the traces of his

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own still-living father’s responses to them, as recorded many years ago on the pages of his father’s copy of an earlier edition of the very book you are now reading and, we hope, literally leaving your own distinctive marks on. What answers might these poems offer to the questions Why read literature? Why study it?

HAI- DANG PHAN My Father’s “Norton Introduction to Literature,” Third Edition (1981)

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Certain words give him trouble: cannibals, puzzles, sob, bosom, martyr, deteriorate, shake, astonishes, vexed, ode . . . These he looks up and studiously annotates in Vietnamese. Ravish means cướp đoạt; shits is like when you have to đi ỉa; mourners are those whom we say are full of buôn râu. For “even the like precurse of feared events”8 think báo trước. Its thin translucent pages are webbed with his marginalia, graphite ghosts of a living hand, and the notes often sound just like him: “All depend on how look at thing,” he pencils after “I first surmised the Horses’ Heads / Were toward Eternity—”9 His slanted handwriting is generally small, but firm and clear. His pencil is a No. 2, his preferred Hi-Liter, arctic blue. I can see my father trying out the tools of literary analysis. He identifies the “turning point” of “The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber”; underlines the simile in “Both the old man and the child stared ahead as if they were awaiting an apparition.”1 My father, as he reads, continues to notice relevant passages and to register significant reactions, but increasingly sorts out his ideas in English, shaking off those Vietnamese glosses. 1981 was the same year we vưọt biển2 and came to America, where my father took Intro Lit (“for fun”), Comp Sci (“for job”). “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,”3 he murmurs something about the “dark side of life how awful it can be” as I begin to track silence and signal to a cold source. Reading Ransom’s “Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter,” a poem about a “young girl’s death,” as my father notes, how could he not have been “vexed at her brown study / Lying so primly propped,” since he never properly observed (I realize this just now) his own daughter’s wake. Lãy làm ngạc nhiên vê is what it means to be astonished.

8. Hamlet 1.1.121 (p. 1399); the line (spoken by Horatio) immediately precedes the second appearance of Hamlet’s father’s ghost. 9. Final lines (23–24) of Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death—” (p. 872). 1. From Flannery O’Connor’s short story “The Artificial Nigger” (1955). “The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber”: short story (1936) by Ernest Hemingway. Turning point: see chapter 1. 2. Crossed the border (Vietnamese). 3. Poem (1923) by Robert Frost (p. 1143).

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H A I- DA NG PH A N My Father’s “Norton Introduction to Liter ature”

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Hai-Dang Phan’s father’s annotations in his Norton Introduction to Literature

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Her name was Ðông Xưa, Ancient Winter, but at home she’s Bebe. “There was such speed in her little body, / And such lightness in her footfall, / It is no wonder her brown study / Astonishes us all.” In the photo of her that hangs in my parents’ house she is always fourteen months old and staring into the future. In “reeducation camp”4 he had to believe she was alive because my mother on visits “took arms against her shadow.” Did the memory of those days sweep over him like a leaf storm from the pages of a forgotten autumn? Lost in the margins, I’m reading the way I discourage my students from reading. But this is “how we deal with death,” his black pen replies. Assume there is a reason for everything, instructs a green asterisk.5 Then between pp. 896–97, opened to Stevens’ “Sunday Morning,”6 I pick out a newspaper clipping, small as a stamp, an old listing from the 404-Employment Opps State of Minnesota, and read: For current job opportunities dial (612) 297-3180. Answered 24 hrs. When I dial, the automated female voice on the other end tells me I have reached a non-working number. 2015

4. Prison camp used for the indoctrination or ideological retraining of political dissidents; such camps were common in Communist-ruled postwar Vietnam (1975–86). 5. See above, “What We Do with Literature: Three Tips.” 6. Poem (1915, 1923) by Wallace Stevens.

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What does Phan’s poem suggest about what his father gained from reading and studying literature? about how his father’s practices as a reader shaped what literature did for him? What does the speaker seem to gain from reading the traces of his own father’s reading experiences?

AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK

HAI- DANG PHAN (b. 1980) From The Best American Poetry 2016 (2016)* [“My Father’s ‘Norton Introduction to Literature,’ Third Edition (1981)” i]s a found poem, artifice meets accident, sourced from the literary works and reader’s notes of my father’s textbook. I wanted to convey the uniquely tactile, sensuous, and material experience of reading and responding to a printed book, alongside the intimate thrill of handwriting. It’s a poem-quilt made of well-worn texts [. . .]. It’s a capsule biography, a portrait of my father (who served during the war as an officer in the South Vietnamese Navy, mostly on a small patrol boat unit in the Mekong Delta); as an immigrant trying to learn the language and literature of his adopted country; as a father trying to come to terms with the loss of his first child, whom he only ever saw alive once, and while he was in reeducation camp. I feel compelled to note that it’s my mother’s grief, briefly acknowledged and secreted inside a borrowed metaphor, which haunts the margins of the poem when I return to it now. After all, she was the one who had to deal with the death of her daughter while her husband was imprisoned, her private sorrow its own prison house. It’s also a self-portrait because my life is bound up with this family trauma, and the historical trauma surrounding it. Insofar as I grapple with these legacies, as a writer I’m interested in the formal problems and possibilities they pose. Given the intense emotional response my father’s marginalia provoked in me and what became the concerns of the poem, I needed a distancing strategy to combat the threat of cheap sentiment, false immediacy, and unknowing appropriation. Hence, the professorial persona and voice of the detached academic. In October  2012, when I came across my father’s Norton while visiting my parents in Wisconsin, I had just started teaching at Grinnell College and entered a period of uncertainty about the course of my writing life. It’s a reconciliation between two selves, the poet and the professor, that I, too, often see as conflictual, not to mention the age-old wars between fathers and sons, the present and the past. It’s my marginalia on his marginalia, a double-annotation and translation, of what words, memories, people, and events mean as they change contexts, of the unknowable. It’s a record and reenactment of reading, between the lines, behind the words, for the lives we’ve missed, others’ and our own. (186–87) * The Best American Poetry 2016. Edited by Edward Hirsch, Scribner Poetry, 2016. The Best American Poetry Series, edited by Dennis Lehman.

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JOHN CROW E R A NSOM Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter

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JOHN CROWE R ANSOM Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter There was such speed in her little body, And such lightness in her footfall, It is no wonder her brown study7 Astonishes us all. 5

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Her wars were bruited8 in our high window. We looked among orchard trees and beyond Where she took arms against her shadow,9 Or harried unto the pond The lazy geese, like a snow cloud Dripping their snow on the green grass, Tricking and stopping, sleepy and proud, Who cried in goose, Alas, For the tireless heart within the little Lady with rod that made them rise From their noon apple-dreams and scuttle Goose-fashion under the skies! But now go the bells,1 and we are ready, In one house we are sternly stopped To say we are vexed at her brown study, Lying so primly propped. 1924 •

What can you surmise from the poem about the speaker’s relationship to the dead girl? Why might it matter that the poem uses the first-person plural (we), not the singular (I)? that it never explicitly mentions death? Why exactly are “we [. . .] vexed” and “[a]stonishe[d]” (lines 19, 4)?

7. State of intense contemplation or reverie. 8. Heard, but also suggesting “noise,” “clamor.” 9. Compare Hamlet 3.1.56–60 (p. 1438), in which Hamlet asks, “Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer / The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, / Or to take arms against a sea of troubles.” 1. Perhaps alluding to John Donne’s Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation 17 (1624): “Any Mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde, And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee” (spelling original).

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PART ONE

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 encounter daily, from jokes to online games to television sitcoms to novels and films, are intended to be fiction— that is, stories or narratives about imaginary persons and events. The difference between fact and fiction is obviously crucial. But every story, whether a news story, sworn testimony, idle gossip, or a fairy tale, is a version of events told from a particular perspective (or several) and is inevitably incomplete. As we listen to others’ stories, we keep alert to the details, which make the stories rich and entertaining. 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 that 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:

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The report’s appearance in a reliable newspaper; its identification of date, location, and other information; and the legalistic adjectives “accused” and “alleged” suggest that it strives to be accurate and objective. And it fundamentally is. But this news story is still a story. Note that certain points of view are better represented than others, and certain details are highlighted, just as in a work of fiction. 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, obviously has no chance to speak in his own defense. Presumably, the article reports accurately the husband’s accusation of adultery and the wife’s accusation 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, the Internet, television, newspapers, and ads—has much in common with the interpretation of short stories such as those in this anthology. The processes of reading, responding to, and writing 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 find out more about any matters of fact that seem mysterious, 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 its telling? These and other questions from our experience of everyday storytelling are equally relevant in reading fiction. 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.

T E L L I N G S TO R I E S: I N T E R PR E TAT I O N Everyone has a unique story to tell. In fact, many stories are about this difference or divergence among people’s interpretations of reality. 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

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nce there was a village high in the mountains in which everyone was born blind. One day a traveler arrived from far away with many fine 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 it breathing and munching on hay, and feel its slow, swaying movements

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disturbing the air around them. First one elder reached out and felt its flapping ear. “An elephant is soft but tough, and flexible, 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 field, and others determined that its head was an overturned washing tub attached to the water pipe. At first each villager argued with the others on the definition 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 elephant, 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 versions 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 insufficiency 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 understanding of the wonder in their midst. Similarly, listening to others’ different interpretations 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 meanings vary 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 first time, your response will be informed by other stories you have heard and read as well as by 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 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 first sentence or paragraph? after the first events or interactions of characters? as the conflict is resolved? What happens in the story? (See ch. 2.) ° 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. 3.) ° Is the narrator identified as a character? ° Is it narrated in the past or present tense? ° Is it narrated in the first, second, or third person? ° Do you know what every character is thinking, or only some characters, or none? Who are the characters? (See ch. 4.) ° Who is (or are) the protagonist(s) (hero, heroine)? ° Who is (or are) 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. 5.) ° 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, figures of speech, or symbols? (See ch. 6.) ° 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. 7.) ° 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. ° ° °













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R E A D I N G A N D R E S P O N D I N G TO F I C T I O N 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 fiction, whether oral or written, is relayed to us by someone. Reading it is more like hearing what happened after the fact than witnessing it with our very eyes. The teller, or narrator, of fiction 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 someone telling a story out loud. This means limiting distractions and interruptions; you should take a break from social media and obtrusive music. Literary prose, like poetry, works with the sounds as well as meanings of words, just as film 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 dictionary on hand or on screen so that you can look up any unfamiliar terms. One excellent resource is the Oxford English 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 English always have a long story to tell because over the centuries so many languages have contributed to ours. 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 information, 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 and such clues as the title; the characters’ statements and behavior; specifics 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

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y 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 evening out, Bill rested his eyes while she cruised along making the occasional announcement. “Indian paintbrush. A golden eagle.” Miles later he frowned. There was no Indian paintbrush, that he knew of, near Chicago.

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The next evening, 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—reflectors nailed to a tree stump. “Ruthie, I’ll drive,” he said. She stopped the car and they changed places in the light of the evening 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.

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1996 •





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

Now re-read the story, along with the brief notes one reader made in the margins, based on the “Questions about the Elements of Fiction” that appear on page 19. The reader then expanded these annotations into longer, more detailed notes. These notes could be organized 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. 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.

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 evening out, Bill rested his eyes while she cruised along making the occasional announcement. “Indian paintbrush. A golden eagle.”

Repetition, like a folktale: 2nd sunset drive, 3rd time she speaks. Not much dialogue in story.

Miles later he frowned. There was no Indian paintbrush, that he knew of, near Chicago. The next evening, driving, Ruthie said, “I never thought I’d see a Bigfoot in real life.” Bill turned and looked at the side of the road

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streaming innocently out behind them. Two red spots winked back— reflectors nailed to a tree stump. “Ruthie, I’ll drive,” he said. She stopped the car and they changed places in the light of the evening star.

Bill’s only speech. Turning point: Bill sees something he doesn’t already know.

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

Repetition, like a joke, in 3 things Ruthie sees.

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.

Story begins and ends in the middle of things: “By the time,” “let it ride.”

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 easygoing, 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 first specific time given in the story, the “third evening”: 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. 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” personifies the road, and the reflectors on the stump wink like the monster; Bill is finally 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 first time notices a romantic detail of scenery that Ruthie doesn’t point out (the evening star).

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JULES FEIFFER Superman

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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.

R E A D I N G A N D R E S P O N D I N G TO G R A PH I C F I C T I O N You may approach any narrative with the same kinds of questions that have been applied to 20/20. Try it on the following piece by Jules Feiffer. Originally published in the Village Voice, Superman made legendary Maus creator Art Spiegelman’s 2016 list of eleven shorts whose “subject matter” or “resonance” earned them the right to be considered “one-page graphic novels.” As you read “Superman,” carefully consider the interplay between word and image and the role each plays, especially in characterization and plot. How would the strip mean differently if it depended wholly on words? on images? How, if at all, might graphic fiction change the way we ask or answer the “Questions about the Elements of Fiction” on page 19?

JULES FEIFFER (b. 1929)

Superman New Yorker Jules Feiffer got his professional start at age 16, assisting revered cartoonist Will Eisner, who reportedly thought little of Feiffer’s drawing skills but came to respect his talent as a writer with a special gift for characterization and dialogue. After a stint in the army during the Korean War, Feiffer landed a job (initially unpaid) at the Village Voice, the nation’s first alternative newspaper. Here his nationally syndicated, Pulitzer Prize–winning satirical strip appeared weekly for four decades, from 1956 to 1997, when the New York Times hired Feiffer as its first op-ed cartoonist. Also a playwright, screenwriter, children’s book author, and book illustrator, whose credits include The Phantom Tollbooth (1961), Feiffer penned the first history of comic-book superheroes in 1965. Sometimes credited with helping to invent “graphic novels” with his “novel-inpictures” Tantrum (1979), Feiffer himself reserves the label “graphic novels” for the noir trilogy he launched at age 85, with Kill My Mother (2014) and Cousin Joseph (2016). An illustrated memoir, Backing into Forward, appeared in 2010.

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1960

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K E Y CO N CE P T S As you read, respond to, and write about fiction, some key terms and concepts will 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 general 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.

Narratives in Daily Life Narrative plays an important role in our lives beyond the telling of fictional 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 ethnic conflict through official hearings of testimony by victims as well as defendants. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is an example of this use of stories.

OR AL NARR ATIVE AN D 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 English 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 fluid than printed ones. Traditionally oral tales such as fairy tales or folktales may endure for a very long time yet take different forms in various countries and eras. And it’s often difficult 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

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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.

FICTION AND NONFICTION The word fiction comes from the Latin root fingere “to fashion or form.” The earliest definitions concern the act of making something artificial to imitate something else. In the past two centuries, fiction has become more narrowly defined 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 fiction of about forty thousand words or more. The form arose in the seventeenth and early eighteenth 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 fiction 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 concentrated than a long novel, while focusing on the inner workings of a character. A short story is broadly defined 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 midnineteenth century, in part because of the growing popularity of magazines. A short short story, sometimes called “flash fiction” or “micro-fiction,” is generally not much longer than one thousand words and sometimes much shorter. There have always been very short fictions, including parables and fables, but the short short story is an invention of recent decades.

In contrast with fiction, nonfiction usually refers to factual prose narrative. Some major nonfiction genres are history, biography, and autobiography. In film, documentaries and “biopics,” or biographical feature films, similarly attempt to represent real people, places, and events. The boundary between fiction and creative nonfiction is porous. So-called true crime novels such as Truman Capote’s In

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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 fiction writing to narrate actual events. Graphic novels, with a format derived from comic books, have become an increasingly popular medium for memoirs. (Four famous examples are Art Spiegelman’s Maus [1986, 1991], Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis [2003], Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home [2006], and Congressman John Lewis’s March [2013–16].) Some Hollywood movies and TV shows dramatize real people in everyday situations or contexts, or real events such as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In contrast, historical fiction, developed by Sir Walter Scott around 1815, comprises prose narratives that present history in imaginative ways. Such works of prose fiction adhere closely to the facts of history and actual lives, just as many “true”-life stories are more or less fictionalized. •





The fiction chapters in this volume present a collection of prose works—mostly short stories. Even as you read the short prose fiction 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 fiction may take.

WRITING ABOUT FICTION During your first reading of any story, you may want to read without stopping to address each of the questions on page 19. 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 fiction 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 find interesting, important, or confusing. Then look at the notes and response paper by Wesley Rupton and the essay by Bethany Qualls, which illustrate two different ways of writing about “Cathedral.”

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R AYMOND 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 published his first story in 1961 and graduated from Humboldt State College in 1963. He published his first book, Near Klamath, a collection 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 influential 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, loneliness.” The author himself labeled them the sort of “good people,” “doing the best they could,” who “filled” America. Dubbed a “minimalist” due to his spare style and low-key plots, Carver himself suffered an early death, of lung cancer, at age fifty. 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).

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his 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 Connecticut. He called my wife from his in-laws’. Arrangements were made. He would come by train, a five-hour trip, and my wife would meet him at the station. 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. Sometimes 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 officers’ training 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. She read stuff to him, case studies, reports, that sort of thing. She helped him organize his little office in the county social-service department. They’d become

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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 office, the blind man asked if he could touch her face. She agreed to this. She told me he touched his fingers 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 important had happened to her. When we first started going out together, she showed me the poem. In the poem, she recalled his fingers 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 first thing I reach for when I pick up something to read. Anyway, this man who’d first enjoyed her favors, the officer-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 officer, and she moved away from Seattle. But they’d kept in touch, she and the blind man. She made the first 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 officer’s wife. The poem wasn’t finished 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 officer was posted to one base and then another. She sent tapes from Moody AFB, McGuire, McConnell, and finally 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 officer—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 officer 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 everything, 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

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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 flipped or something?” She picked up a potato. I saw it hit the floor, 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 filled 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 first 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 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

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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 streaming 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 finished 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 carrying 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, anyway. Do I look distinguished, my dear?” the blind man said to my wife. “You look distinguished, Robert,” she said. “Robert,” she said. “Robert, it’s just so good to see you.”

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My wife finally 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 carried 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 first glance, his eyes looked like anyone else’s eyes. But if you looked close, there was something different 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 pleasure? 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 fingers 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 fine,” 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 flight from the West Coast to Connecticut, we covered that. Then from Connecticut 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 filled 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 buttered 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 lowered 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 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

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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 fingers once in a while, either. We finished 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 feeling 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 operator. He talked in his loud voice about conversations he’d had with fellow operators 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 blackand-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. “I want you to feel comfortable in this house,” she said. “I am comfortable,” the blind man said.

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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 fingers. He took it and inhaled. “Hold it as long as you can,” I said. I could tell he didn’t know the first 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 first 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 fingers. 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. 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

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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 flipped 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 evening.” 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 first channel and apologized. “Bub, it’s all right,” the blind man said. “It’s fine with me. Whatever you want to watch is okay. I’m always learning something. Learning never ends. It won’t hurt me to learn something tonight. 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 fingers into his beard and tugged, like he was thinking about something he was hearing on the television. On the screen, a group of men wearing cowls was being set upon and tormented by men dressed in skeleton costumes and men dressed as devils. The men dressed as devils wore devil masks, horns, and long tails. This pageant was part of a procession. The Englishman 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 flying 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 Englishman 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 fields walking behind oxen. I waited as long as I could. Then I felt I had to say something. I said, “They’re

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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 question. 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 fifty 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 different 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 Germany. The Englishman’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 flipped 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. “I’m not doing so good, am I?” I said. He stopped nodding and leaned forward on the edge of the sofa. As he listened to me, he was running his fingers 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

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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 Englishman 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. Nothing. 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 find 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 fingers over the paper. He went up and down the sides of the paper. The edges, even the edges. He fingered 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 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. “Terrific. You’re doing fine,” he said. “Never thought anything 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.”

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CH. 1 | FICTION: REA DING, RESPONDING, W RITING

I put in windows with arches. I drew flying 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 fingers. The blind man felt around over the paper. He moved the tips of his fingers over the paper, all over what I had drawn, and he nodded. “Doing fine,” 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 fingers rode my fingers 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. 19). 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 first 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 him to 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 comfortable” 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 evening 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 final scene, the two men try to describe and draw cathedrals that are on the TV show. Why cathedrals? 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 first 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, first saying the blind man was coming, then filling in the background about his wife and the blind man, and then telling what happens after the guest arrives. 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.

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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 first husband). I don’t think we ever know the husband’s or wife’s names. The blind man, Robert, 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 nervous habits (alcohol, cigarettes, drugs; insomnia; suicide attempt; divorce).

What is the setting of the story? •





Mostly in the house the evening the blind man arrives. But after the intro there’s a kind of flashback 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 flashback in paragraph 16. In paragraph 17, “the time rolled around” to the story’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 (five 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 first 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 stereotypes. 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 first enjoyed her favors,” “So okay. I’m saying . . . married her childhood etc.” (par. 4). His style is almost funny. Things he repeats: Paragraphs 2 and 3: “She told me” (3 times), “he could touch her face . . . he touched his fingers 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 first, and at the end he closes his eyes on purpose.

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RE A DING NOTES



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I think it makes a difference that the two men imagine and try to draw a cathedral, not a flower 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 finished, but the buildings last for centuries. It’s not like the narrator is saved or becomes a great guy, but he gets past whatever 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.

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SAMPLE WRITING: R E S P O N S E PA P E R A response paper may use a less formal organization 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 by making reference to some specifies. 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 quotations or details from the text to support claims about the story’s effects and meaning. (For ease of reference, we have altered the citations in this paper to refer to paragraph numbers. Unless your instructor indicates otherwise, you should always follow convention by instead citing page numbers when writing about fiction.)

Rupton 1 Wesley Rupton Professor Suarez English 170 6 January 2019

Response Paper on Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” Not much happens in Raymond Carver’s short story “Cathedral,” and at first I wondered what it was about and why it was called “Cathedral.” The narrator, the unnamed husband, seems to be telling someone about the evening 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 fills us in about his wife’s first marriage and her relationship with the blind man, he describes what the three characters do that evening: 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 definitely important. He is sort of funny, but also irritating. As he makes jokes about stereotypes, you start to dislike or distrust him. When he hears about Robert’s wife, Beulah, he asks,

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RESPONSE PA PER

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Rupton 2 “Was his wife a Negro?” (par. 12) just because her name sounds like a black woman’s name to him. In three paragraphs, he flashes 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 fingers to every part of her face. . . . She even tried to write a poem about it. . . . . . . In the poem, she recalled his fingers . . . 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 that. 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 European 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 first 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 Robert (par. 84). The cooperation between the two men is the turning point. The narrator is disgusted by blind people at first, 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 fine” (pars. 115, 118; emphasis added). I think it makes a difference that they imagine and draw a cathedral, not a flower or a cow or an airplane. It’s something made by human beings, and it’s religious. I don’t think the men are converted to believing in God at the end, but this narrow-minded guy gets past whatever he’s afraid of at night and finds 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.

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Rupton 3 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.

Rupton 4

W or k C i t e d Carver, Raymond. “Cathedral.” The Norton Introduction to Literature, edited by Kelly J. Mays, shorter 13th ed., W. W. Norton, 2019, pp. 28-38.

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S A M P L E W R I T I N G : E S S AY Because it focuses on both narration and character in Raymond Carver’s Cathedral, the following essay would be an appropriate response to essay assignments involving either of these elements. More specifically, Bethany Qualls here tackles a series of interesting, interlinked questions: How does narration contribute to characterization in the story? How, if at all, might the story’s central character develop over its course? Read this essay as you would one of your peers’ drafts, looking for opportunities for the writer to improve her argument and presentation in revision. How effectively does the draft answer the questions it poses? Are there claims that might be developed further? other evidence that should be considered? How might the conclusion be strengthened? (For one critique and revision of the conclusion, see ch. 31, “The Literature Essay.”) For ease of reference, we have altered the citations in this essay to refer to paragraph numbers. Unless your instructor indicates other wise, you should always follow convention by instead citing page numbers when writing about fiction. For more on citation, see chapter 34.

Qualls 1 Bethany Qualls Professor Netherton English 301 16 January 2019

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

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Qualls 2 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 significant. Referring to his wife’s “officer,” he 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 finds 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 first husband, the narrator says it was he “who’d first 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 first 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 stereotypes about that category that he has learned “from the movies” (par. 1). He confides 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

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ESSAY

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Qualls 3 other. “Who’d want to go to such a wedding in the first 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 thinking about are physical ones (par. 16). Interestingly, when faced with a name that is specific (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 process 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 first 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 fitting 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 difficult 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 final 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 filled 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.

Qualls 4

W or k C i t e d Carver, Raymond. “Cathedral.” The Norton Introduction to Literature, edited by Kelly J. Mays, shorter 13th ed., W. W. Norton, 2019, pp. 28-38.

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Telling Stories AN AL BU M

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s it human nature or human culture? Is it hardwired in our brains or inspired by our need to live with others in a community? Whatever 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 decades. Online forums and organizations around the world are dedicated to a revival of oral storytelling. Educators, religious leaders, 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 storytelling might benefit 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 ordinary 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 Congress. 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 fiction have often reflected on the irresistible appeal of stories by making storytelling part of the plot or action within their fiction. 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, according to the characters in these stories? How might the sorts of choices we make in telling a story resemble those a fiction 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”? When and why does (or doesn’t) the truthfulness of a story matter?

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GR ACE PALEY (1922–2007)

A Conversation with My Father Like many of her fictional characters, Grace Goodside Paley was a lifelong New Yorker and the child of immigrants—in her case, Ukrainian Jewish socialists exiled by the czar for their political activities. By the time Grace was born, her working-class father had completed his medical studies and become a doctor. Paley thus grew up in a comfortable middle-class Bronx home that also included her two much older siblings and her father’s mother and sister. Thanks to them, Russian and Yiddish were her first languages, animated conversation and political engagement second nature. Being, by her own account, too busy reading and writing, Paley attended college without earning a degree. But a night class with poet W. H. Auden provided the seventeen-year-old what she styled her “first” and greatest “lesson as a writer”—to eschew conventional literary language in order to write truthfully, in the way she and those around her actually spoke. As her Begin Again: Collected Poems (2000) demonstrates, that lesson transformed Paley’s poetry, just as it shapes the essays, reviews, and lectures collected in Just as I Thought (1998). But its richest fruits are the short stories she began to write only in her thirties and for which she is today hailed as “among the earliest American writers to explore the lives of women—mostly Jewish, mostly New Yorkers—in all their dailiness.” A twice-married mother of two and self-described “somewhat combative pacifist and cooperative anarchist,” Paley was also a dedicated activist, participating avidly in campaigns on behalf of women’s and Palestinians’ rights and against nuclear proliferation and the Vietnam and Iraq wars.

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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 floods his head with brainy light. But it won’t let his legs carry the weight of his body around the house. Despite my metaphors, 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?”

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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 fifteen became a

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GR ACE PA LEY A Conversation with My Father

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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 purpose. 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 Russian 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 first 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?” “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 goodlooking, 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 decades and then an artist for a couple of decades 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.”

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1. Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev (1818– 83); his best-known novel, Fathers and Sons, deals with intergenerational conflict.

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“Aren’t you talking silly, now?” he asked. “Start again,” he said. “It so happens I’m not going out this evening. Tell the story again. See what you can do this time.” “O.K.,” I said. “But it’s not a five-minute job.” Second attempt:

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Once, across the street from us, there was a fine 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 fist of adolescence, 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 scientific and revolutionary like Leary.4 Although she was often high herself, certain good mothering reflexes 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 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 film, 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 interested once more in his muscles, his arteries, and nerve connections. In fact he began to love them, treasure them, praise them with funny little songs in Man Does Live . . . the fingers of my flesh 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. 2. Horse is slang for heroin. 3. Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834), English Romantic poet, claimed that his poem “Kubla Khan” (p. 1134) recorded what he remembered of a dream stimulated by opium. 4. Timothy Leary (1920–96), American psychologist, promoted the use of psychedelic drugs. 5. Michelangelo Antonioni (1912–2007), Italian film director (Blow-Up, Zabriskie Point). Nodding: a slang term referring to the narcotic effect of heroin.

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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 evening, 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, timeconsuming tears. The End.

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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.” 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 recognize 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 five,” 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.”

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6. Medicine for certain heart conditions.

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“No, Pa, it could really happen that way, it’s a funny world nowadays.” “No,” he said. “Truth first. 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 first? Why does her father still reject the story? 3. Why does the narrator’s father object so strongly to the jokes in her stories, even though he compliments her “nice sense of humor” (par. 36)? Are jokes out of place in a story about someone facing death?

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 paragraph 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.

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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.

ANTON CHEKHOV (1860–1904)

Gooseberries1 The grandson of a serf who purchased his family’s freedom, Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was born in the Russian port city of Taganrog, where he apparently learned from his mother how to read, write, and spin a good yarn. In 1875, his devoutly religious and somewhat tyrannical father, a grocer facing imprisonment for debt, fled to Moscow; shortly thereafter, the family lost its house to a former friend, a misfortune that Chekhov would revisit in his last play, The Cherry Orchard (1904). Chekhov would not begin writing for the stage until 1887, three years after earning his MD from Moscow University. Throughout the 1880s, he supported his family, financed his studies, and began to make a name for himself by instead writing short stories and sketches for newspapers and magazines. His first collection appeared in 1884, the same year he experienced the first symptoms of the tuberculosis that would eventually kill him. Declaring, “If I’m a doctor, I need patients and a hospital; if I’m a littérateur, I need to live among the folk,” Chekhov in 1892 moved his family into a newly purchased estate near Moscow; here he would live for the next seven years, becoming both an industrious landowner and an unpaid doctor to the peasants of his own and surrounding districts. Though theater was Chekhov’s primary focus after 1895, he continued until the end of his life to write fiction, including the 1898 trilogy of which “Gooseberries” forms a part. Each of the three stories in this, Chekhov’s only, sequence or cycle (the others are “Man in a Case” and “About Love”) features a story told either by or to the veterinarian Ivan Ivanych and his friend, the schoolteacher Burkin, during their trip into the countryside.

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he sky had been overcast with rain clouds since early morning. The weather was mild, and not hot and oppressive as it can be on dull grey days when storm clouds lie over the fields for ages and you wait for rain which never comes. Ivan Ivanych, the vet, and Burkin, a teacher at the high school, were tired of walking and thought they would never come to the end of the fields. They could just make out the windmills at the village of Mironositskoye in the far distance—a range of hills stretched away to the right and disappeared far beyond it. They both knew that the river was there, with meadows, green willows and farmsteads, and that if they climbed one of the hills they would see yet another vast 1. Translated by Ronald Wilks.

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expanse of fields, telegraph wires and a train resembling a caterpillar in the distance. In fine weather they could see even as far as the town. And now, in calm weather, when the whole of nature had become gentle and dreamy, Ivan Ivanych and Burkin were filled with love for those open spaces and they both thought what a vast and beautiful country it was. “Last time we were in Elder Prokofy’s barn, you were going to tell me a story,” Burkin said. “Yes, I wanted to tell you about my brother.” Ivan Ivanych heaved a long sigh and lit his pipe before beginning his narrative; but at that moment down came the rain. Five minutes later it was simply teeming. Ivan Ivanych and Burkin were in two minds as to what they should do. The dogs were already soaked through and stood with their tails drooping, looking at them affectionately. “We must take shelter,” Burkin said. “Let’s go to Alyokhin’s, it’s not very far.” “All right, let’s go there.” They changed direction and went across mown fields, walking straight on at first, and then bearing right until they came out on the high road. Before long, poplars, a garden, then the red roofs of barns came into view. The river glinted, and then they caught sight of a wide stretch of water and a white bathing-hut. This was Sofino, where Alyokhin lived. The mill was turning and drowned the noise of the rain. The wall of the dam shook. Wet horses with downcast heads were standing by some carts and peasants went around with sacks on their heads. Every thing was damp, muddy and bleak, and the water had a cold, malevolent look. Ivan Ivanych and Burkin felt wet, dirty and terribly uncomfortable. Their feet were weighed down by mud and when they crossed the dam and walked up to the barns near the manor house they did not say a word and seemed to be angry with each other. A winnowing fan was droning away in one of the barns and dust poured out of the open door. On the threshold stood the master himself, Alyokhin, a man of about forty, tall, stout, with long hair, and he looked more like a professor or an artist than a landowner. He wore a white shirt that hadn’t been washed for a very long time, and it was tied round with a piece of rope as a belt. Instead of trousers he was wearing underpants; mud and straw clung to his boots. His nose and eyes were black with dust. He immediately recognized Ivan Ivanych and Burkin, and was clearly delighted to see them. “Please come into the house, gentlemen,” he said, smiling, “I’ll be with you in a jiffy.” It was a large house, with two storeys. Alyokhin lived on the ground floor in the two rooms with vaulted ceilings and small windows where his estate managers used to live. They were simply furnished and smelled of rye bread, cheap vodka and harness. He seldom used the main rooms upstairs, reserving them for guests. Ivan Ivanych and Burkin were welcomed by the maid, who was such a beautiful young woman that they both stopped and stared at each other. “You can’t imagine how glad I am to see you, gentlemen,” Alyokhin said as he followed them into the hall. “A real surprise!” Then he turned to the maid and said, “Pelageya, bring some dry clothes for the gentlemen. I suppose I’d better change too. But I must have a wash first, or you’ll think I haven’t had one since spring. Would you like to come to the bathing-hut while they get things ready in the house?”

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The beautiful Pelageya, who had such a dainty look and gentle face, brought soap and towels, and Alyokhin went off with his guests to the bathing-hut. “Yes, it’s ages since I had a good wash,” he said as he undressed. “As you can see, it’s a nice hut. My father built it, but I never find time these days for a swim.” He sat on one of the steps and smothered his long hair and neck with soap; the water turned brown. “Yes, I must confess . . .” Ivan Ivanych muttered, with a meaningful look at his head. “Haven’t had a wash for ages,” Alyokhin repeated in his embarrassment and soaped himself again; the water turned a dark inky blue. Ivan Ivanych came out of the cabin, dived in with a loud splash and swam in the rain, making broad sweeps with his arms and sending out waves with white lilies bobbing about on them. He swam right out to the middle of the reach and dived. A moment later he popped up somewhere else and swam on, continually trying to dive right to the bottom. “Oh, good God,” he kept saying with great relish. “Good God . . .” He reached the mill, said a few words to the peasants, then he turned and floated on his back in the middle with his face under the rain. Burkin and Alyokhin were already dressed and ready to leave, but he kept on swimming and diving. “Oh, dear God,” he said. “Oh, God!” “Now that’s enough,” Burkin shouted. They went back to the house. Only when the lamp in the large upstairs drawing-room was alight and Burkin and Ivan Ivanych, wearing silk dressinggowns and warm slippers, were sitting in armchairs and Alyokhin, washed and combed now and with a new frock-coat on, was walking up and down, obviously savouring the warmth, cleanliness, dry clothes and light shoes, while his beautiful Pelageya glided silently over the carpet and gently smiled as she served tea and jam on a tray— only then did Ivan Ivanych begin his story. It seemed that Burkin and Alyokhin were not the only ones who were listening, but also the ladies (young and old) and the officers, who were looking down calmly and solemnly from their gilt frames on the walls. “There are two of us brothers,” he began, “myself—Ivan Ivanych—and Nikolay Ivanych, who’s two years younger. I studied to be a vet, while Nikolay worked in the district tax office from the time he was nineteen. Chimsha-Gimalaysky, our father, had served as a private, but when he was promoted to officer we became hereditary gentlemen and owners of a small estate. After he died, this estate was sequestrated to pay off his debts, but despite this we spent our boyhood in the country free to do what we wanted. Just like any other village children, we stayed out in the fields and woods for days and nights, minded horses, stripped bark, went fishing, and so on . . . As you know very well, anyone who has ever caught a ruff 2 or watched migrating thrushes swarming over his native village on cool clear autumn days can never live in a town afterwards and he’ll always hanker after the free and open life until his dying day. My brother was miserable in the tax office. The years passed, but there he stayed, always at the same old desk, copying out the same old documents and obsessed

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2. Medium-sized wading bird common to northern European wetlands.

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with this longing for the country. And gradually this longing took the form of a definite wish, a dream of buying a nice little estate somewhere in the country, beside a river or a lake. “He was a kind, gentle man and I was very fond of him, but I could never feel any sympathy for him in this longing to lock himself away in a country house for the rest of his life. They say a man needs only six feet of earth,3 but surely they must mean a corpse—not a man! These days they seem to think that it’s very good if our educated classes want to go back to the land and set their hearts on a country estate. But in reality these estates are only that same six feet all over again. To leave the town and all its noise and hubbub, to go and shut yourself away on your little estate—that’s no life! It’s selfishness, laziness, a peculiar brand of monasticism that achieves nothing. A man needs more than six feet of earth and a little place in the country, he needs the whole wide world, the whole of nature, where there’s room for him to display his potential, all the manifold attributes of his free spirit. “As he sat there in his office, my brother Nikolay dreamt of soup made from his own home-grown cabbages, soup that would fill the whole house with a delicious smell; eating meals on the green grass; sleeping in the sun; sitting on a bench outside the main gates for hours on end and looking at the fields and woods. Booklets on agriculture and words of wisdom from calendars were his joy, his favourite spiritual nourishment. He liked newspapers as well, but he only read property adverts4 —for so many acres of arable land and meadows, with ‘house, river, garden, mill, and ponds fed by running springs.’ And he had visions of garden paths, flowers, fruit, nesting-boxes for starlings, ponds teeming with carp—you know the kind of thing. These visions varied according to the adverts he happened to see, but for some reason, in every single one, there had to be gooseberry bushes. ‘Life in the country has its comforts,’ he used to say. ‘You can sit drinking tea on your balcony, while your ducks are swimming in the pond . . . it all smells so good and um . . . there’s your gooseberries growing away!’ “He drew up a plan for his estate and it turned out exactly the same every time: (a) manor house; (b) servants’ quarters; (c) kitchen garden; (d) gooseberry bushes. He lived a frugal life, economizing on food and drink, dressing any-old-how—just like a beggar—and putting every penny he saved straight into the bank. He was terribly mean.5 It was really painful to look at him, so I used to send him a little money on special occasions. But he would put that in the bank too. Once a man has his mind firmly made up there’s nothing you can do about it. “Years passed and he was transferred to another province. He was now in his forties, still reading newspaper adverts and still saving up. Then I heard that he’d got married. So that he could buy a country estate with gooseberry bushes, he married an ugly old widow, for whom he felt nothing and only because she had a little money tucked away. He made her life miserable too, half-starved her and banked her money into his own account. She’d been married to a postmaster and was used to pies and fruit liqueurs, but with her second husband she didn’t even 3. In Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy’s story “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” (1886), the answer turns out to be the six feet required for a grave. 4. Advertisements. 5. Mainly in the sense of “stingy.”

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have enough black bread. This kind of life made her wither away, and within three years she’d gone to join her maker. Of course, my brother didn’t think that he was to blame—not for one minute! Like vodka, money can make a man do the most peculiar things. There was once a merchant living in our town who was on his deathbed. Just before he died, he asked for some honey, stirred it up with all his money and winning lottery tickets, and swallowed the lot to stop anyone else from laying their hands on it. And another time, when I was inspecting cattle at some railway station, a dealer fell under a train and had his leg cut off. We took him to the local casualty department.6 The blood simply gushed out, a terrible sight, but all he did was ask for his leg back and was only bothered about the twenty roubles he had tucked away in the boot. Scared he might lose them, I dare say!” “But that’s neither here nor there,” Burkin said. “When his wife died,” Ivan continued, after a pause for thought, “my brother started looking for an estate. Of course, you can look around for five years and still make the wrong choice and you finish up with something you never even dreamt of. So brother Nikolay bought about three hundred acres, with manor house, servants’ quarters and a park, on a mortgage through an estate agent. But there wasn’t any orchard, gooseberries or duck pond. There was a river, but the water was always the colour of coffee because of the brickworks on one side of the estate and a bone-ash7 factory on the other. But my dear Nikolay didn’t seem to care. He ordered twenty gooseberry bushes, planted them out and settled down to a landowner’s life. “Last year I visited him, as I wanted to see what was going on. In his letter my brother had called his estate ‘Chumbaroklov Patch’ or ‘Gimalaysky’s.’ One afternoon I turned up at ‘Gimalaysky’s.’ It was a hot day. Everywhere there were ditches, fences, hedges, rows of small fir trees and there seemed no way into the yard or anywhere to leave my horse. I went up to the house, only to be welcomed by a fat ginger dog that looked rather like a pig. It wanted to bark, but it was too lazy. Then a barefooted, plump cook—she resembled a pig as well—came out of the kitchen and told me the master was having his after-lunch nap. So I went to my brother’s room and there he was sitting up in bed with a blanket over his knees. He’d aged, put on weight and looked very flabby. His cheeks, nose and lips stuck out and I thought any moment he was going to grunt into his blanket, like a pig. “We embraced and wept for joy, and at the sad thought that once we were young and now both of us were grey, and that our lives were nearly over. He got dressed and led me on a tour of the estate. “ ‘Well, how’s it going?’ I asked. “ ‘A ll right, thank God. It’s a good life.’ “No longer was he the poor, timid little clerk of before, but a real squire, a gentleman. He felt quite at home, being used to country life by then and he was enjoying himself. He ate a great deal, took proper baths, and he was putting on weight. Already he was suing the district council and both factories, and he got very peeved when the villagers didn’t call him ‘sir.’ He paid great attention to his spiritual wellbeing (as a gentleman should) and he couldn’t dispense charity nice and quietly, but had to make a great show of it. And what did it all add up

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6. Equivalent to the modern ER or emergency room. 7. Ash, made from animal bones, used in pottery and glassmaking.

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to? He doled out bicarbonate of soda or castor oil to his villagers—regardless of what they were suffering from—and on his name-day held a thanksgiving service in the village, supplying vodka in plenty, as he thought this was the right thing to do. Oh, those horrid pints of vodka! Nowadays your fat squire drags his villagers off to court for letting their cattle stray on his land and the very next day (if it’s a high holiday) stands them all a few pints of vodka. They’ll drink it, shout hurray and fall at his feet in a drunken stupor. Better standards of living, plenty to eat, idleness—all this makes us Russians terribly smug. Back in his office, Nikolay had been too scared even to voice any opinions of his own, but now he was expounding the eternal verities in true ministerial style: ‘Education is essential, but premature as far as the common people are concerned’ or ‘Corporal punishment, generally speaking, is harmful, but in certain cases it can be useful and irreplaceable.’ And he’d say, ‘I know the working classes and how to handle them. They like me, I only have to lift my little finger and they’ll do anything for me.’ “And he said all this, mark you, with a clever, good-natured smile. Time after time he’d say ‘we gentlemen’ or ‘speaking as one of the gentry.’ He’d evidently forgotten that our grandfather had been a peasant and our father a common soldier. Even our absolutely ridiculous surname, Chimsha-Gimalaysky, was melodious, distinguished and highly agreeable to his ears now. “But it’s myself I’m concerned with, not him. I’d like to tell you about the change that came over me during the few hours I spent on his estate. Later, when we were having tea, his cook brought us a plateful of gooseberries. They weren’t shop gooseberries, but home-grown, the first fruits of the bushes he’d planted. Nikolay laughed and stared at them for a whole minute, with tears in his eyes. He was too deeply moved for words. Then he popped one in his mouth, looked at me like an enraptured child that has finally been given a long-awaited toy and said, ‘Absolutely delicious!’ He ate some greedily and kept repeating, ‘So tasty, you must try one!’ “They were hard and sour, but as Pushkin says: ‘Uplifting illusion is dearer to us than a host of truths.’8 This was a happy man whose cherished dreams had clearly come true, who had achieved his life’s purpose, had got what he wanted and was happy with his lot—and himself. My thoughts about human happiness, for some peculiar reason, had always been tinged with a certain sadness. But now, seeing this happy man, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of despondency that was close to utter despair. I felt particularly low that night. They made up a bed for me in the room next to my brother’s. He was wide awake and I could hear him getting up, going over to the plate and helping himself to one gooseberry at a time. And I thought how many satisfied, happy people really do exist in this world! And what a powerful force they are! Just take a look at this life of ours and you will see the arrogance and idleness of the strong, the ignorance and bestiality of the weak. Everywhere there’s unspeakable poverty, overcrowding, degeneracy, drunkenness, hy pocrisy and stupid lies . . . And yet peace and quiet reign in every house and street. Out of fifty thousand people you won’t find one who is prepared to shout out loud and make a strong protest. We see people buying food in the market, eating during the day, sleeping at night-time, talking nonsense, 8. Slightly misquoted line from Alexander Pushkin’s poem “The Hero” (1830).

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marrying, growing old and then contentedly carting their dead off to the cemetery. But we don’t hear or see those who suffer: the real tragedies of life are enacted somewhere behind the scenes. Everything is calm and peaceful and the only protest comes from statistics—and they can’t talk. Figures show that so many went mad, so many bottles of vodka were emptied, so many children died from malnutrition. And clearly this kind of system is what people need. It’s obvious that the happy man feels contented only because the unhappy ones bear their burden without saying a word: if it weren’t for their silence, happiness would be quite impossible. It’s a kind of mass hypnosis. Someone ought to stand with a hammer at the door of every happy contented man, continually banging on it to remind him that there are unhappy people around and that however happy he may be at the time, sooner or later life will show him its claws and disaster will overtake him in the form of illness, poverty, bereavement and there will be no one to hear or see him. But there isn’t anyone holding a hammer, so our happy man goes his own sweet way and is only gently ruffled by life’s trivial cares, as an aspen is ruffled by the breeze. All’s well as far as he’s concerned. “That night I realized that I too was happy and contented,” Ivan Ivanych went on, getting to his feet. “I too had lectured people over dinner—or out hunting—on how to live, on what to believe, on how to handle the common people. And I too had told them that knowledge is a shining lamp, that education is essential, and that plain reading and writing is good enough for the masses, for the moment. Freedom is a blessing, I told them, and we need it like the air we breathe, but we must wait for it patiently.” Ivan Ivanych turned to Burkin and said angrily, “Yes, that’s what I used to say and now I’d like to know what is it we’re waiting for? I’m asking you, what? What is it we’re trying to prove? I’m told that nothing can be achieved in five minutes, that it takes time for any kind of idea to be realized; it’s a gradual process. But who says so? And what is there to prove he’s right? You refer to the natural order of things, to the law of cause and effect. But is there any law or order in a state of affairs where a lively, thinking person like myself should have to stand by a ditch and wait until it’s choked with weeds, or silted up, when I could quite easily, perhaps, leap across it or bridge it? I ask you again, what are we waiting for? Until we have no more strength to live, although we long to and need to go on living? “I left my brother early next morning and ever since then I’ve found town life unbearable. I’m depressed by peace and quiet, I’m scared of peering through windows, nothing makes me more dejected than the sight of a happy family sitting round the table drinking tea. But I’m old now, no longer fit for the fray, I’m even incapable of hating. I only feel sick at heart, irritable and exasperated. At night my head seems to be on fire with so many thoughts crowding in and I can’t get any sleep . . . Oh, if only I were young again!” Ivan Ivanych paced the room excitedly, repeating, “If only I were young again!” Suddenly he went up to Alyokhin and squeezed one hand, then the other. “Pavel Konstantinych,”9 he pleaded, “ don’t go to sleep or be lulled into complacency! While you’re still young, strong and healthy, never stop doing good! Happiness doesn’t exist, we don’t need any such thing. If life has any meaning or

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purpose, you won’t find it in happiness, but in something more rational, in something greater. Doing good!” Ivan Ivanych said all this with a pitiful, imploring smile, as though pleading for himself. Afterwards all three of them sat in armchairs in different parts of the room and said nothing. Ivan Ivanych’s story satisfied neither Burkin nor Alyokhin. It was boring listening to that story about some poor devil of a clerk who ate gooseberries, while those generals and ladies, who seemed to have come to life in the gathering gloom, peered out of their gilt frames. For some reason they would have preferred discussing and hearing about refined people, about ladies. The fact that they were all sitting in a drawing-room where every thing—the draped chandeliers, the armchairs, the carpets underfoot—indicated that those same people who were now looking out of their frames had once walked around, sat down and drunk their tea there . . . and with beautiful Pelageya moving about here without a sound—all this was better than any story. Alyokhin was dying to get to bed. That morning he had been up and about very early (before three) working on the farm, and he could hardly keep his eyes open. However, he was frightened he might miss some interesting story if he left now, so he stayed. He didn’t even try to fathom if every thing that Ivan Ivanych had just been saying was clever, or even true: he was only too glad that his guests did not discuss oats or hay or tar, but things that had nothing to do with his way of life, and he wanted them to continue . . . “But it’s time we got some sleep,” Burkin said, standing up. “May I wish you all a very good night!” Alyokhin bade them good night and went down to his room, while his guests stayed upstairs. They had been given the large room with two old, elaborately carved beds and an ivory crucifix in one corner. These wide, cool beds had been made by the beautiful Pelageya and the linen had a pleasant fresh smell. Ivan Ivanych undressed without a word and got into bed. Then he muttered, “Lord have mercy on us sinners!” and pulled the blankets over his head. His pipe, which was lying on a table, smelt strongly of stale tobacco and Burkin was so puzzled as to where the terrible smell was coming from that it was a long time before he fell asleep. All night long the rain beat against the windows. 1898 QUESTIONS 1. What does Ivanych seem to see as the central theme or lesson of the story he tells? How might the rest of Chekhov’s story reinforce and/or complicate Ivanych’s interpretation? 2. Why exactly do Burkin and Alyokhin find Ivanych’s story unsatisfying? What is their idea of a satisfying story? Do you think they would find Gooseberries itself satisfying? Why or why not? 3. What might be the significance of the final three paragraphs of Gooseberries, especially the details regarding the bedroom, the pipe, and the weather?

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TIM O’BRIEN (b. 1946)

The Lives of the Dead The son of an insurance salesman who fought in World War II 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 find a sketch of “[i]f you look in 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, political 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 government) that he would never finish 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 finalist 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.”

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ut 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 Lavender, 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 afternoon in 1969 the platoon took sniper fire from a filthy 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 1. Part of the Pacific Ocean enclosed by China and Taiwan (to the north), the Philippines (to the east), and Vietnam (to the west). The setting here is Vietnam during the Vietnam War (c. 1954–75).

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only confirmed 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 flies 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 five,” 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 sickness 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. “Be polite now,” he said. “Go introduce yourself. Nothing to be afraid about, just a nice old man. Show a little respect 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 greeting 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 important 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 flicked 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 afternoon, 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 fine. 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, studying the green and red sprinkles on a cookie. “Today—I guess this was your first look at a real body?” I shook my head. All day long I’d been picturing Linda’s face, the way she smiled.

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“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 first 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 decades 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 complexities of mature adult love, and maybe more, because there were not yet words for it, and because it was not yet fixed to comparisons or chronologies or the ways by which adults measure such things. I just loved her. 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 first real date of my life—a double date, actually, with my mother and father. Though I can’t remember the exact sequence, my mother 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 windows, both of us trying to pretend it was nothing special. For me, though, it was very special. Down inside I had important things to tell her, big profound things, but I couldn’t make any words come out. I had trouble 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, basically, 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 find 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 window—she knew what I meant—but my mother 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 parents went first, 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 mother glanced back, making little motions with her hand to speed me up.

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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?” 40

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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 combine to make spirits in the head. There is the illusion of aliveness. In Vietnam, for instance, Ted Lavender had a habit of popping four or five 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. 3. Medical evacuation helicopter, perhaps an acronym for Dedicated Unhesitating Ser vice To Our Fighting Forces.

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“Roger that,” somebody said. “I’m ready to fly.” There was the sound of the wind, the sound of birds and the quiet afternoon, 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 profile 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 fact alone, I know, deeply impressed me. It was a World War Two film: the Allies6 devise a scheme to mislead Germany about the site of the upcoming landings in Europe. They get their hands on a body—a British soldier, I believe; they dress him up in an officer’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 find 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 finally 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 soybeans, everything flat, 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 fierce 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

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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 possible. I had my reputation to think about. I had my pride. And there was also the problem 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 possible. Most of the details I’ve forgotten, or maybe blocked out, but I know it was an afternoon in late spring, and we were taking a spelling test, and halfway into 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 purpose, 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 sharpener 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 halfsecond hesitation. Maybe he was trying to stop himself; maybe then, just briefly, 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.

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Later on, she cried for a while. The teacher helped her put the cap back on, then we finished the spelling test and did some fingerpainting, 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 important 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 first part of September, and then she was dead. But in a story I can steal her soul. I can revive, at least briefly, 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 mother tried to explain to me about brain tumors. Now and then, she said, bad things start growing inside us. Sometimes 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 finally said. “So will she get better now?” “Well, no,” my mother 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 afternoon, during noon recess, Nick Veenhof came up to me on the school playground. “Your girlfriend,” he said, “she kicked the bucket.” At first 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 chocolate milk and then lay down on the sofa in the living room, not really sad, just floating, 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 daydream, 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.

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In the dream, if that’s what it was, she was playing a game of some sort, laughing 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 nineyear-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 absolute 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 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 Vietnamese 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 tranquil 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-ortreating 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 joss9 sticks and a pair of black pajamas and statuettes of the smiling Buddha. That was the story, anyway. Other versions were much more elaborate, full of descriptions and scraps of 7. Flammable jelly used in incendiary bombs. VC: Viet Cong (military acronym/slang), short for Viet Nam Cong San, meaning “Viet namese Communists,” the guerrilla force that fought, with the support of the North Viet namese Army, against both South Vietnam and the United States during the Vietnam War. 8. Hut or small dwelling (slang). 9. Incense.

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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 mamasan.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 whispers, ‘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 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 fifth grader then; I was curious. 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 final confirmation, 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 getaway. Fair enough?” “Okay,” I said. “Or if you start to feel sick or anything—” “I won’t,” I told him. Inside, the first 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 fight 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 first 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

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1. In East Asia, a woman in authority; in Japanese, san is an honorific suffix, a title (not unlike “Mr.” or “Mrs.”) added to names and proper nouns to indicate respect.

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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 embalming fluid or whatever 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 fingers 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 curtains 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 find much to recognize. I tried to pretend she was taking a nap, her hands folded at her stomach, just sleeping away the afternoon. 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.” In the months after Ted Lavender died, there were many other bodies. I never shook hands—not that—but one afternoon I climbed a tree and threw down what was left of Curt Lemon. I watched my friend Kiowa sink into the muck along the Song2 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.3 There were twenty-seven bodies altogether, and parts of several others. The dead were everywhere. 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 invented 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 chocolate cake 2. River (Vietnamese). 3. Killed in action (military acronym/slang).

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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 mother, I remember, finally 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 suppose, 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. 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 remember, we went ice skating late at night, tracing loops and circles under yellow floodlights. 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 terrific. 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

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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 floodlights. 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 fiction, 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? SUGGESTIONS FOR WRITING 1. Citing examples from one or more of the stories in this album, write an essay discussing 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 various 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 a character or characters in one story in this album. 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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Understanding the Text

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At its most basic, every story is an attempt to answer the question What happened? 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 fiction, 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 standing 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 fiction. All fiction, regardless of its subject matter, should make us ask, What will happen next? and How will all this turn out? And responsive readers of fiction will often pause to answer those questions, trying to articulate what their expectations are and how the story has shaped them. But great fiction 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 fictional 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 V E R S U S AC T I O N , S EQ U E N CE , A N D S U B PLOT The term plot is sometimes used to refer to the events recounted in a fictional 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 first sentence focuses on the king first, 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 75

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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 fictional 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 fiction writers have other choices; events need not be recounted in the 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 flashbacks. Conversely, a story might jump forward in time to recount a later episode or event in a flashforward. Foreshadowing 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 fictional work, however, keep in mind that some works, especially longer ones, have two or more. A plot that receives significantly less time and attention than another is called a subplot.

PACE In life, we sometimes have little choice about how long a par ticular event lasts. If you want a driver’s license, you may have to spend a boring hour or two at the motor vehicle office. And much as you might prefer to relax and enjoy your lunch, occasionally you have to scarf it down during your 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 ticular episodes— especially relative to each other and to the time they would take in real life—is a vital tool of storytellers and another important factor to consider in analyzing plots. In all fiction, pace as much as sequence determines focus and emphasis, effect and meaning. And though it can be very helpful to differentiate between “fast-paced” and “slowpaced” fiction, all effective stories contain both faster and slower bits. When an author slows down to home in on a par ticular moment and scene, often introduced by a phrase such as “Later that evening” or “The day before Maggie fell down,” we call this a discriminated occasion. For example, the first paragraph 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 evening out.” That episode or discriminated occasion 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 paragraphs to an incident that occurs “[t]he next evening.” In the last paragraph, Brewer speeds up again, telling us about the series of “wonderful sights” Ruthie sees between Indiana and Spokane, Washington.

CO N F L I C T S Whatever their sequence and pace, all plots hinge on at least one conflict—some sort of struggle—and its resolution. Conflicts may be external or internal. External conflicts arise between characters and something or someone outside themselves.

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Adventure stories and action films often present this sort of conflict in its purest form, keeping us poised on the edge of our seats as James Bond or Jason Bourne struggles to outwit and outfight an archvillain intent on world domination or destruction. Yet external conflicts 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 conflict of the latter type and one you may well see quite differently than the cartoonist does. How would you articulate that conflict?

Internal conflicts 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 conflict is simultaneously 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

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here 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, and she herself worshipped him above everything in the world. Now it so happened

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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 coffin, and with its wreath of flowers 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 coffin, 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 •





T H E F IV E PA RT S O F PLOT Even compact and simple plots, like that of The Shroud, have the same five 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:

g

ac t

llin

fa

ion

climax

n

ris

tio

ing

ac

exposition

conclusion inciting incident

resolution

Freytag’s Pyramid

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Exposition The first part of the plot, called the exposition, introduces the characters, their situations, and, usually, a time and place, giving us all the basic, background information we need to understand what is to come. In longer works of fiction, 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 first panel shows us a teacher (or at least his words), a group of students, and a classroom; the Grimms’ first sentence introduces a mother, her young son, and the powerful love she feels for him. Exposition usually reveals some source or seed of potential conflict in the initial situation, of which the characters may be as yet unaware. In Trudeau’s cartoon, the contrast between the talkative teacher, who expects “independent thought” from those in his class, and the silent, scribbling students suggests a conflict 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 conflict, 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 conflict, as does the death of the little boy in the second sentence of “The Shroud.” Typically, what keeps the action rising is a complication, an event that introduces a new conflict or intensifies 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 question 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

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grapple with longer works of fiction in which much more time and action intervenes between crisis and climax.

Falling Action The falling action brings a release of emotional tension and moves us toward the resolution of the conflict(s). 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 fiction, 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 the 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 conclusion presents us with a new and at least somewhat stable situation— one that gives a sense of closure because the conflicts 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 peacefully sleeps his last sleep. The final 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 happened between the story’s beginning and its end, the final “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 fiction is precisely why, as well as how, things are different. Some fictional works may also include a final 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 conflicts were resolved, and/or provides some sort of commentary on the story’s larger significance. (An epilogue is thus a little like this paragraph, which comes after we have concluded our discussion of the five 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 dénouement (literally, “untying,” as of a knot). In this anthology, however, we generally try to avoid using dénouement because it tends to be used in three different, 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 fiction, 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 define 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 cassette 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 surprised 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 television. 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 Robert instructs the narrator to close his eyes and continue drawing. The narrator reports that this experience was like nothing else in life up to now. (From “Raymond Carver: ‘Cathedral.’ ” Characters in Twentieth Century Literature, book 2, 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, reflect 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 significance? Now repeat the exercise, summarizing the story in a different way and then reflecting on the significance 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 reflecting on the significance of the similarities and differences.

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CO M M O N PLOT T Y PE S If most plots are essentially variations on the same five-part pattern, some plots have even more features in common. As you think back over the fiction 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 find something or someone that seems, at least at first, of tremendous material or spiritual value. Traditionally, that requires a literal journey, the challenge being both to find and acquire the object and 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 fiction—from James Joyce’s Araby to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings to William Gibson’s science-fiction classic Neuromancer (1984)— depend for their full effect on our knowledge of the conventions of traditional quest plots. Many fictional 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 happily, 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 fiction, think about what sets each one apart when it comes to plot; how each uses variations on common plot conventions; how each generates, fulfills, and often frustrates our expectations 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 first few paragraphs and then stop. What potential for conflict 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 conflict that ultimately develops? To what extent is it external, internal, or both? What, if any, complications or secondary conflicts 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?

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R A LPH ELLISON King of the Bingo Game

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What is the climax or turning point? Why and how so? How is the conflict resolved? How and why might this resolution fulfill 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 significant 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?

R ALPH ELLISON (1914–94)

King of the Bingo Game Named after nineteenth-century poet-essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ralph Ellison lost his beloved father, a deliveryman and voracious reader, when he was only three. Ellison’s mother thus had to raise her two sons by doing janitorial and domestic work, ensuring that the family endured “years of shabby rented rooms, hand-me-down clothing, second-rate meals, [and] sneers and slights from people better off,” to quote biographer Arnold Rampersad. Oklahoma City nonetheless afforded Ellison opportunities he might not have had in the Jim Crow South, where his grandparents had once been slaves: He attended good schools; found mentors, both white and black; and learned to play the cornet. A jazz lover, Ellison studied classical music at Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute, where he enrolled in 1933  in hopes of becoming a composer. When he headed to New York three years later, he meant to stay only long enough to make the money necessary to complete his studies. But with the encouragement of Langston Hughes and novelist Richard Wright, Ellison stayed put, publishing short stories, essays, book reviews, and then, in 1952, Invisible Man. The best-selling, National Book Award–winning novel is widely regarded as among the greatest of the twentieth century; it aims to reveal, said Ellison, “the human universals hidden within the plight of one who was both black and American.” Thereafter, Ellison lectured and taught at various institutions, including New York University, and published Shadow and Act (1964), a collection of critical essays on the novelist’s art. Upon his death from cancer in 1994, the literary world learned that he had been working steadily on a second major novel, begun in 1952, seemingly lost in a fire in 1967. The nearly completed manuscript was edited by Ellison’s friend John F. Callahan and published as Juneteenth (1999).

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he woman in front of him was eating roasted peanuts that smelled so good that he could barely contain his hunger. He could not even sleep and wished they’d hurry and begin the bingo game. There, on his right, two fellows were drinking wine out of a bottle wrapped in a paper bag, and he could hear soft gurgling in the dark. His stomach gave a low, gnawing growl. “If this was down South,” he thought, “all I’d have to do is lean over and say, ‘Lady, gimme a few of those peanuts, please ma’am,’ and she’d pass me the bag and never think nothing of it.” Or he could ask the fellows for a drink in the same way. Folks down South stuck together that way; they didn’t even have to know you. But up here it was different. Ask somebody for something, and they’d think you were crazy. Well, I ain’t crazy. I’m just broke, ’cause I got no birth certificate to get a job, and Laura ’bout to die ’cause we got no money for a doctor. But I ain’t crazy. And yet a pinpoint of doubt was focused in his mind as he glanced toward the screen and saw the hero stealthily entering a dark room and sending the beam of a flashlight along a wall of bookcases. This is where he finds the trapdoor, he remembered. The man would pass abruptly through the wall and find the girl tied to a bed, her legs and arms spread wide, and her clothing torn to rags. He laughed softly to himself. He had seen the picture three times, and this was one of the best scenes. On his right the fellow whispered wide-eyed to his companion, “Man, look ayonder!” “Damn!” “Wouldn’t I like to have her tied up like that . . .” “Hey! That fool’s letting her loose!” “Aw, man, he loves her.” “Love or no love!” The man moved impatiently beside him, and he tried to involve himself in the scene. But Laura was on his mind. Tiring quickly of watching the picture he looked back to where the white beam filtered from the projection room above the balcony. It started small and grew large, specks of dust dancing in its whiteness as it reached the screen. It was strange how the beam always landed right on the screen and didn’t mess up and fall somewhere else. But they had it all fixed. Everything was fixed. Now suppose when they showed that girl with her dress torn the girl started taking off the rest of her clothes, and when the guy came in he didn’t untie her but kept her there and went to taking off his own clothes? That would be something to see. If a picture got out of hand like that those guys up there would go nuts. Yeah, and there’d be so many folks in here you couldn’t find a seat for nine months! A strange sensation played over his skin. He shuddered. Yesterday he’d seen a bedbug on a woman’s neck as they walked out into the bright street. But exploring his thigh through a hole in his pocket he found only goose pimples and old scars. The bottle gurgled again. He closed his eyes. Now a dreamy music was accompanying the film and train whistles were sounding in the distance, and he was a boy again walking along a railroad trestle down South, and seeing the train coming, and running back as fast as he could go, and hearing the whistle blowing, and getting off the trestle to solid ground just in time, with the earth trembling

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beneath his feet, and feeling relieved as he ran down the cinder-strewn embankment onto the highway, and looking back and seeing with terror that the train had left the track and was following him right down the middle of the street, and all the white people laughing as he ran screaming. . . . “Wake up there, buddy! What the hell do you mean hollering like that? Can’t you see we trying to enjoy this here picture?” He stared at the man with gratitude. “I’m sorry, old man,” he said. “I musta been dreaming.” “Well, here, have a drink. And don’t be making no noise like that, damn!” His hands trembled as he tilted his head. It was not wine, but whiskey. Cold rye whiskey. He took a deep swoller, decided it was better not to take another, and handed the bottle back to its owner. “Thanks, old man,” he said. Now he felt the cold whiskey breaking a warm path straight through the middle of him, growing hotter and sharper as it moved. He had not eaten all day, and it made him light-headed. The smell of the peanuts stabbed him like a knife, and he got up and found a seat in the middle aisle. But no sooner did he sit than he saw a row of intense-faced young girls, and got up again, thinking, “You chicks musta been Lindy-hopping1 somewhere.” He found a seat several rows ahead as the lights came on, and he saw the screen disappear behind a heavy red and gold curtain; then the curtain rising, and the man with the microphone and a uniformed attendant coming on the stage. He felt for his bingo cards, smiling. The guy at the door wouldn’t like it if he knew about his having five cards. Well, not everyone played the bingo game; and even with five cards he didn’t have much of a chance. For Laura, though, he had to have faith. He studied the cards, each with its different numerals, punching the free center hole in each and spreading them neatly across his lap; and when the lights faded he sat slouched in his seat so that he could look from his cards to the bingo wheel with but a quick shifting of his eyes. Ahead, at the end of the darkness, the man with the microphone was pressing a button attached to a long cord and spinning the bingo wheel and calling out the number each time the wheel came to rest. And each time the voice rang out his finger raced over the cards for the number. With five cards he had to move fast. He became ner vous; there were too many cards, and the man went too fast with his grating voice. Perhaps he should just select one and throw the others away. But he was afraid. He became warm. Wonder how much Laura’s doctor would cost? Damn that, watch the cards! And with despair he heard the man call three in a row which he missed on all five cards. This way he’d never win. . . . When he saw the row of holes punched across the third card, he sat paralyzed and heard the man call three more numbers before he stumbled forward, screaming, “Bingo! Bingo!” “Let that fool up there,” someone called. “Get up there, man!”

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1. Dancing the “Lindy” or “Lindy Hop,” a popular form of the jitterbug that originated in Harlem.

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He stumbled down the aisle and up the steps to the stage into a light so sharp and bright that for a moment it blinded him, and he felt that he had moved into the spell of some strange, mysterious power. Yet it was as familiar as the sun, and he knew it was the perfectly familiar bingo. The man with the microphone was saying something to the audience as he held out his card. A cold light flashed from the man’s finger as the card left his hand. His knees trembled. The man stepped closer, checking the card against the numbers chalked on the board. Suppose he had made a mistake? The pomade on the man’s hair made him feel faint, and he backed away. But the man was checking the card over the microphone now, and he had to stay. He stood tense, listening. “Under the O, forty-four,” the man chanted. “Under the I, seven. Under the G, three. Under the B, ninety-six. Under the N, thirteen!” His breath came easier as the man smiled at the audience. “Yes sir, ladies and gentlemen, he’s one of the chosen people!” The audience rippled with laughter and applause. “Step right up to the front of the stage.” He moved slowly forward, wishing that the light was not so bright. “To win tonight’s jackpot of $36.90 the wheel must stop between the double zero, understand?” He nodded, knowing the ritual from the many days and nights he had watched the winners march across the stage to press the button that controlled the spinning wheel and receive the prizes. And now he followed the instructions as though he’d crossed the slippery stage a million prize-winning times. The man was making some kind of joke, and he nodded vacantly. So tense had he become that he felt a sudden desire to cry and shook it away. He felt vaguely that his whole life was determined by the bingo wheel; not only that which would happen now that he was at last before it, but all that had gone before, since his birth, and his mother’s birth and the birth of his father. It had always been there, even though he had not been aware of it, handing out the unlucky cards and numbers of his days. The feeling persisted, and he started quickly away. I better get down from here before I make a fool of myself, he thought. “Here, boy,” the man called. “You haven’t started yet.” Someone laughed as he went hesitantly back. “Are you all reet?” He grinned at the man’s jive talk, but no words would come, and he knew it was not a convincing grin. For suddenly he knew that he stood on the slippery brink of some terrible embarrassment. “Where are you from, boy?” the man asked. “Down South.” “He’s from down South, ladies and gentlemen,” the man said. “Where from? Speak right into the mike.” “Rocky Mont,” he said. “Rock’ Mont, North Car’lina.” “So you decided to come down off that mountain to the U.S.,” the man laughed. He felt that the man was making a fool of him, but then something cold was placed in his hand, and the lights were no longer behind him.

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Standing before the wheel he felt alone, but that was somehow right, and he remembered his plan. He would give the wheel a short quick twirl. Just a touch of the button. He had watched it many times, and always it came close to double zero when it was short and quick. He steeled himself; the fear had left, and he felt a profound sense of promise, as though he were about to be repaid for all the things he’d suffered all his life. Trembling, he pressed the button. There was a whirl of lights, and in a second he realized with finality that though he wanted to, he could not stop. It was as though he held a high-powered line in his naked hand. His nerves tightened. As the wheel increased its speed it seemed to draw him more and more into its power, as though it held his fate; and with it came a deep need to submit, to whirl, to lose himself in its swirl of color. He could not stop it now. So let it be. The button rested snugly in his palm where the man had placed it. And now he became aware of the man beside him, advising him through the microphone, while behind the shadowy audience hummed with noisy voices. He shifted his feet. There was still that feeling of helplessness within him, making part of him desire to turn back, even now that the jackpot was right in his hand. He squeezed the button until his fist ached. Then, like the sudden shriek of a subway whistle, a doubt tore through his head. Suppose he did not spin the wheel long enough? What could he do, and how could he tell? And then he knew, even as he wondered, that as long as he pressed the button, he could control the jackpot. He and only he could determine whether or not it was to be his. Not even the man with the microphone could do anything about it now. He felt drunk. Then, as though he had come down from a high hill into a valley of people, he heard the audience yelling. “Come down from there, you jerk!” “Let somebody else have a chance. . . .” “Ole Jack thinks he done found the end of the rainbow. . . .” The last voice was not unfriendly, and he turned and smiled dreamily into the yelling mouths. Then he turned his back squarely on them. “Don’t take too long, boy,” a voice said. He nodded. They were yelling behind him. Those folks did not understand what had happened to him. They had been playing the bingo game day in and night out for years, trying to win rent money or hamburger change. But not one of those wise guys had discovered this wonderful thing. He watched the wheel whirling past the numbers and experienced a burst of exaltation: This is God! This is the really truly God! He said it aloud, “This is God!” He said it with such absolute conviction that he feared he would fall fainting into the footlights. But the crowd yelled so loud that they could not hear. These fools, he thought. I’m here trying to tell them the most wonderful secret in the world, and they’re yelling like they gone crazy. A hand fell upon his shoulder. “You’ll have to make a choice now, boy. You’ve taken too long.” He brushed the hand violently away. “Leave me alone, man. I know what I’m doing!”

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The man looked surprised and held on to the microphone for support. And because he did not wish to hurt the man’s feelings he smiled, realizing with a sudden pang that there was no way of explaining to the man just why he had to stand there pressing the button forever. “Come here,” he called tiredly. The man approached, rolling the heavy microphone across the stage. “Anybody can play this bingo game, right?” he said. “Sure, but . . .” He smiled, feeling inclined to be patient with this slick looking white man with his blue shirt and his sharp gabardine suit. “That’s what I thought,” he said. “Anybody can win the jackpot as long as they get the lucky number, right?” “That’s the rule, but after all . . .” “That’s what I thought,” he said. “And the big prize goes to the man who knows how to win it?” The man nodded speechlessly. “Well then, go on over there and watch me win like I want to. I ain’t going to hurt nobody,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to win. I mean to show the whole world how it’s got to be done.” And because he understood, he smiled again to let the man know that he held nothing against him for being white and impatient. Then he refused to see the man any longer and stood pressing the button, the voices of the crowd reaching him like sounds in distant streets. Let them yell. All the Negroes down there were just ashamed because he was black like them. He smiled inwardly, knowing how it was. Most of the time he was ashamed of what Negroes did himself. Well, let them be ashamed for something this time. Like him. He was like a long thin black wire that was being stretched and wound upon the bingo wheel; wound until he wanted to scream; wound, but this time himself controlling the winding and the sadness and the shame, and because he did, Laura would be all right. Suddenly the lights flickered. He staggered backwards. Had something gone wrong? All this noise. Didn’t they know that although he controlled the wheel, it also controlled him, and unless he pressed the button forever and forever and ever it would stop, leaving him high and dry, dry and high on this hard high slippery hill and Laura dead? There was only one chance; he had to do whatever the wheel demanded. And gripping the button in despair, he discovered with surprise that it imparted a ner vous energy. His spine tingled. He felt a certain power. Now he faced the raging crowd with defiance, its screams penetrating his eardrums like trumpets shrieking from a juke-box. The vague faces glowing in the bingo lights gave him a sense of himself that he had never known before. He was running the show, by God! They had to react to him, for he was their luck. This is me, he thought. Let the bastards yell. Then someone was laughing inside him, and he realized that somehow he had forgotten his own name. It was a sad, lost feeling to lose your name, and a crazy thing to do. That name had been given him by the white man who had owned his grandfather a long lost time ago down South. But maybe those wise guys knew his name.

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“Who am I?” he screamed. “Hurry up and bingo, you jerk!” They didn’t know either, he thought sadly. They didn’t even know their own names, they were all poor nameless bastards. Well, he didn’t need that old name; he was reborn. For as long as he pressed the button he was The-manwho-pressed-the-button-who-held-the-prize-who-was-the-King-of-Bingo. That was the way it was, and he’d have to press the button even if nobody understood, even though Laura did not understand. “Live!” he shouted. The audience quieted like the dying of a huge fan. “Live, Laura, baby. I got holt of it now, sugar. Live!” He screamed it, tears streaming down his face. “I got nobody but YOU!” The screams tore from his very guts. He felt as though the rush of blood to his head would burst out in baseball seams of small red droplets, like a head beaten by police clubs. Bending over he saw a trickle of blood splashing the toe of his shoe. With his free hand he searched his head. It was his nose. God, suppose something has gone wrong? He felt that the whole audience had somehow entered him and was stamping its feet in his stomach and he was unable to throw them out. They wanted the prize, that was it. They wanted the secret for themselves. But they’d never get it; he would keep the bingo wheel whirling forever, and Laura would be safe in the wheel. But would she? It had to be, because if she were not safe the wheel would cease to turn; it could not go on. He had to get away, vomit all, and his mind formed an image of himself running with Laura in his arms down the tracks of the subway just ahead of an A train, running desperately vomit with people screaming for him to come out but knowing no way of leaving the tracks because to stop would bring the train crushing down upon him and to attempt to leave across the other tracks would mean to run into a hot third rail as high as his waist which threw blue sparks that blinded his eyes until he could hardly see. He heard singing and the audience was clapping its hands.

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Shoot the liquor to him, Jim, boy! Clap-clap-clap Well a-calla the cop He’s blowing his top! Shoot the liquor to him, Jim, boy!

Bitter anger grew within him at the singing. They think I’m crazy. Well let ’em laugh. I’ll do what I got to do. He was standing in an attitude of intense listening when he saw that they were watching something on the stage behind him. He felt weak. But when he turned he saw no one. If only his thumb did not ache so. Now they were applauding. And for a moment he thought that the wheel had stopped. But that was impossible, his thumb still pressed the button. Then he saw them. Two men in uniform beckoned from the end of the stage. They were coming toward him, walking in step, slowly, like a tap-dance team returning for a third encore. But their shoulders shot forward, and he backed away, looking wildly about. There was nothing to fight them with. He had only the long black cord which led to a plug somewhere back

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stage, and he couldn’t use that because it operated the bingo wheel. He backed slowly, fixing the men with his eyes as his lips stretched over his teeth in a tight, fixed grin; moved toward the end of the stage and realizing that he couldn’t go much further, for suddenly the cord became taut and he couldn’t afford to break the cord. But he had to do something. The audience was howling. Suddenly he stopped dead, seeing the men halt, their legs lifted as in an interrupted step of a slow-motion dance. There was nothing to do but run in the other direction and he dashed forward, slipping and sliding. The men fell back, surprised. He struck out violently going past. “Grab him!” He ran, but all too quickly the cord tightened, resistingly, and he turned and ran back again. This time he slipped them, and discovered by running in a circle before the wheel he could keep the cord from tightening. But this way he had to flail his arms to keep the men away. Why couldn’t they leave a man alone? He ran, circling. “Ring down the curtain,” someone yelled. But they couldn’t do that. If they did the wheel flashing from the projection room would be cut off. But they had him before he could tell them so, trying to pry open his fist, and he was wrestling and trying to bring his knees into the fight and holding on to the button, for it was his life. And now he was down, seeing a foot coming down, crushing his wrist cruelly, down, as he saw the wheel whirling serenely above. “I can’t give it up,” he screamed. Then quietly, in a confidential tone, “Boys, I really can’t give it up.” It landed hard against his head. And in the blank moment they had it away from him, completely now. He fought them trying to pull him up from the stage as he watched the wheel spin slowly to a stop. Without surprise he saw it rest at double-zero. “You see,” he pointed bitterly. “Sure, boy, sure, it’s O.K.,” one of the men said smiling. And seeing the man bow his head to someone he could not see, he felt very, very happy; he would receive what all the winners received. But as he warmed in the justice of the man’s tight smile he did not see the man’s slow wink, nor see the bow-legged man behind him step clear of the swiftly descending curtain and set himself for a blow. He only felt the dull pain exploding in his skull, and he knew even as it slipped out of him that his luck had run out on the stage. 1944

QUESTIONS 1. Re-read the first paragraph of the story: What facts do we learn here about the protagonist, his background, and his situation? Why has he come to the theater, especially if he has already “seen the picture three times”? Does the paragraph introduce an actual or potential conflict? 2. What “wonderful thing” does the protagonist think he has “discovered” once he is onstage (par. 50)? Why can’t or won’t he let go of the button, even when the police arrive?

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3. What is the effect of Ellison’s choice not to give his protagonist a name? How might his namelessness shape your sense of what the story’s central conflict is? What role does race play in that conflict?

JAMES BALDWIN (1924–87)

Sonny’s Blues For much of his life, James Baldwin was a—perhaps even the—leading literary spokesman for civil rights and racial equality. Raised, with his eight younger siblings, in Depression-era Harlem— often, as he once put it, with a child in one hand and a book in the other—he would spend much of his adult life in France. Here, when he first arrived in late 1948, Baldwin would experience poverty so extreme that he had to sell his clothes and typewriter. But only here, he said, could he get “over— and a lot beyond [. . .] all the terms in which Americans identified me—in my own mind.” He first attracted critical attention with two extraordinary novels, Go Tell It on the Mountain (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. In addition to his novels and the short-story collection Going to Meet the Man (1965), Baldwin also had a long flirtation with the theater; his play Blues for Mister Charlie (1964) is based partly on the real-life murder of Emmet Till (1955). But Baldwin is perhaps best remembered today for the essays collected in books such as Notes of a Native Son (1955) and the bestselling The Fire Next Time (1963). Here especially, as Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison avows, her beloved friend Jimmy “made American English honest,” “reshap[ing] it until it was truly modern [. . .] , representative, humane,” “un-gat[ing] it for black people so that in your wake we could enter it, occupy it, restructure it in order to accommodate [. . .] our intricate, difficult, demanding beauty, our tragic, insistent knowledge, our lived reality.”

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

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it hardened 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 specific 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 evening 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 find 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 face gone out, in the condition I’d already seen so many others. Yet it had happened 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 first 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 filled 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 first time. It was not the joyous laughter which— God knows why— one associates with children. It was mocking and insular, its intent was to denigrate. It was disenchanted, 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.

1. Lavatory. 2. Heroin.

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I stood up and walked over to the window and looked down into the courtyard. 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 fifty 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. He sort of shuffled 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 anything. 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.”

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“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 first 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 something 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 finally, “but a long time ago I come to school high and Sonny asked me how it felt.” He paused, I couldn’t bear to 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 filled 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?”

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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 five. “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.” “Sure,” I said. “You do that. So long.” “Be seeing you,” he said. I went on down the steps.

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And I didn’t write Sonny or send him anything for a long time. When I finally 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,

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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 something 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 fine 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 flip 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

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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 whatever 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 flooding back to me. This was because I had begun, finally, to wonder about Sonny, about the life that Sonny lived inside. This life, whatever 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. 55

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“How you been keeping?” he asked me. “All right. And you?” “Just fine.” He was smiling all over his face. “It’s good to see you again.” “It’s good to see you.” The seven years’ difference in our ages lay between us like a chasm: I wondered if these years would ever operate between us as a bridge. I was remembering, and it made it hard to catch my breath, that I had been there when he was born; and I had heard the first 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 first steps he ever took in this world. “How’s Isabel?” “Just fine. She’s dying to see you.” “And the boys?” “They’re fine, 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.

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“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 elegance 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 first 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 separate 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. 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 first heard about Sonny’s trouble, filled 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 popular 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 first night. Everything went fine, the oldest boy remembered him, and the youngest 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

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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 first, faint stiffness. And thank God she was there, for I was filled 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 find 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 fifteen. 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 fighting with him. It doesn’t do any good to fight 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 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.

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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 fills the room, the child is filled with darkness. He knows that every time this happens he’s moved just a little closer to that darkness 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.” “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 window 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 first 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 fine 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 fine voice, and play along with himself on his guitar. Well, this particular Saturday night, him and your father was coming home from some place, and they

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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 flying, and he heard them white men shouting, 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 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 flowers 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 find 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?”

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“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 find 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 finding 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 understand. 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 finished he was laughing again. “For Christ’s sake, Sonny!” He sobered, but with difficulty. “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 floor. It seemed—beneath him,

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somehow. I had never thought about it before, had never been forced to, but I suppose I had always put jazz musicians in a class with what Daddy called “goodtime 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?” “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 records 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. “Everything 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 finish school.” We had 3. New Orleans– born trumpeter and singer (1901–71); by the 1950s, his music would have seemed old-fashioned to a jazz aficionado. 4. Charlie (“Bird”) Parker (1920–55), brilliant saxophonist, jazz innovator, and narcotics addict; working in New York in the mid-1940s, he developed, with Dizzy Gillespie and others, the style of jazz called “bebop.”

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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 fixed 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 defiance, 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.” 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 goddamn 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 finished school. And if you really want to be a musician, 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 narrow 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 fly out, and turned back to me. “And I’m sick of the stink of these garbage cans!”

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“Sonny,” I said, “I know how you feel. But if you don’t finish 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 whatever 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 staring into the fire. But I thought I’d never hear the end of that piano. At first, 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 supposed to be at school, he went straight to that piano and stayed there until suppertime. 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 Sunday. Then he bought a record player and started playing records. He’d play one 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 finally 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 afflicted 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 fire, 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 finally 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

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to scream at him and what came up, once she began—though she denies it to this day—was what sacrifices they were making to give Sonny a decent home and how little he appreciated it. Sonny didn’t play the piano that day. By evening, 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 fingers had been a thousand times more gentle than human fingers 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 presence, 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 records 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 finally sent me a postcard from some place in Greece and that was the first 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. 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 fight, a pretty awful fight, 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 fixing lunch for the two boys when they’d come in from school,

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and she heard Grace fall down in the living room. When you have a lot of children 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 floor, 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, Isabel 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 Isabel 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 courage 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. 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 testified 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 6. Processed: straightened and greased. 7. Publicly professing belief.

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this song for the first 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 filled 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 fleeing back to their first 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, flat 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 collection plate again. The furious man dropped in his coins and vanished, so did 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 disappeared 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 tonight?” 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 leafing through it. “I’m going to sit in with some fellows in a joint in the Village.” “You mean, you’re going to play, tonight?” “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.”

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“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 floor. “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 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 notebook, 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 floor 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 trying.” He looked at me. “Has it?” I realized, with this mocking look, that there

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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 flatly, “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. “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 finally try to get with it and play it, you realize nobody’s listening. So you’ve got to listen. You got to find 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 fingers playing with his mouth and chin, not looking at me. “I’ve been something 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 talking 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;

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it was empty; he rolled it between his palms: “And other times—well, I needed a fix, I needed to find a place to lean, I needed to clear a space to listen—and I couldn’t find 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 shaking, 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 flattening 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 trying 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 window 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 fingers 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.” 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 avenue 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 musician, and a friend of Sonny’s, a coal-black, cheerful-looking man, built close to

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the ground. He immediately began confiding to me, at the top of his lungs, the most terrible things about Sonny, his teeth gleaming like a lighthouse 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 musicians, 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 Sonny’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 bandstand. 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 flame. Then, while I watched, one of them, the small black man, moved into the light and crossed the bandstand and started fooling 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. Creole then went to the bass fiddle 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 fiddle. 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 evocations. But the man who creates the music is hearing something else, is dealing 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, everyone 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

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body, wailing on the fiddle, 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 someone in torment. I had never before thought of how awful the relationship must be between the musician and his instrument. He has to fill it, this instrument, 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 find 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 direction, 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 fire and fury of the battle which was occurring in him up there. Yet, watching Creole’s face as they neared the end of the first set, I had the feeling that something had happened, something I hadn’t heard. Then they finished, 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 happen. 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, commenting 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 fingers, 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 anything very new. He and his boys up there were keeping it new, at the risk of ruin, destruction, madness, and death, in order to find 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. 8. Jazz standard brilliantly recorded by Billie Holiday (1915–59).

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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 generation. 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, filling the air with the immense 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 fingers filled 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, flat statement of the opening phrase of the song. Then he began to make it his. It was very beautiful because it wasn’t hurried 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 first 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 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

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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?

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 afflict thee [. . .].”

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2. What external conflict(s) is (or are) depicted in the story? What internal conflict(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?

JOYCE CAROL OATES (b. 1938)

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? A remarkably prolific writer of short stories, poems, novels, and nonfiction, Joyce Carol Oates was born in Lockport, New York. Daughter of a tool-and-die designer and his wife, she submitted her first novel to a publisher at fifteen and a few years later became the first person in her family to graduate 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 Special Award for Continuing Achievement (1970, 1986), a Pushcart Prize (1976), and at least four lifetime achievement awards, Oates taught for over thirty-five years at Princeton University, retiring in 2014. In addition to the novels Mudwoman (2012), Daddy Love (2013), The Accursed (2013), and Carthage (2014), Oates’s recent works include the collections Black Dahlia & White Rose (2012) and Evil Eye: Four Novellas of Love Gone Wrong (2013), as well as the memoirs A Widow’s Story (2011) and The Lost Landscape: A Writer’s Coming of Age (2015).

For Bob Dylan

H

er name was Connie. She was fifteen and she had a quick, ner vous giggling 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 fixed—what the hell stinks? Hair spray? You don’t see your sister using that junk.”

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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 filled 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 sometimes,” 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 flat ballerina slippers that always scuffed on the sidewalk, with charm bracelets jingling on their thin wrists; they would lean together to whisper and laugh secretly if someone passed who amused or interested them. Connie 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 evenings 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. 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 figure of a grinning boy holding a hamburger aloft. One night in midsummer they ran across, breathless with daring, 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, fly-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.

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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 pleasure 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 finger 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 hamburgers 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 five 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 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 finding things for her to do or saying suddenly, “What’s this about the Pettinger girl?” And Connie would say ner vously, “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 scuffling 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 Connie’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 1. Older car, often in poor condition.

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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 fly buzzing suddenly 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 flies. 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. After a while she heard a car coming up the drive. She sat up at once, startled, 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 fingers 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.

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2. Style of long, one-story houses common in suburban neighborhoods built between the 1940s and 1980s. Asbestos: fireproof building material once used in roofs and siding, but now known to be toxic.

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“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 pleasure, 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 sideburns gave him a fierce, 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 fidget, chasing flies 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 firmly 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 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 background: 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?”

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“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 balancing 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, sniffing 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 recovered from his fit 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 finger. 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. “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 somewheres 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 fine. In the car Ellie turned up the volume on his radio and did not bother to look around at them.

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“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 find 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 fists 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 expression 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 stiffly 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 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 recognized the way he tapped one fist 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.”

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“Or maybe a coupla years older. I’m eighteen.” “Eighteen?” 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 tarlike 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 first 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, mumbling 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 different voice. It was a little flatter, as if the heat was finally 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 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

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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 first, the first 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 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, something 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 began to smile again. She watched this smile come, awkward as if he was smiling 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

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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 fingers 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 fire, honey, you’d come runnin’ out 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 floor, 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 first—” 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 Connie’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.” “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 . . .”

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“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 chipmunk hole, don’t sniff my glue, suck my Popsicle, keep your own greasy fingers 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 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 fingers 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 jerking 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.

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After a while she could hear again. She was sitting on the floor 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 emptiness. 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 brightgreen 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 field, 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 fingernail 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 first 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. 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 fire, 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.

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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 specific 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 conflict 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 significant, 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 specialty 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) •





It was not after all the mass murderer himself who intrigued me, but the disturbing fact that a number of teenagers—from “good” families— aided and abetted his crimes. This is the sort of thing authorities and responsible citizens invariably call “inexplicable” because they can’t find 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 fiction 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

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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 innocent victim, a fifteen-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.

VIET THANH NGUYEN (b. 1971)

I’d Love You to Want Me A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley (BA, 1992; PhD, 1997); a married father of one son; and a professor of English, comparative literature, and American and ethnic studies at the University of Southern California, Viet Thanh Nguyen cannot remember a time before he became the refugee he has, in his words, “never stopped being.” His first memories begin with the boat on which, when he was only four years old, he and his family, like countless others, fled South Vietnam and with the refugee camp, in Pennsylvania, where they found temporary refuge. After a stint in nearby Harrisburg, the family moved in 1978 to San Jose, California, where Nguyen’s parents opened a small grocery store catering to the refugee community. With his brother leaving for college and his parents working twelve- to fourteen-hour days, Nguyen found “refuge in the library,” devouring everything from science fiction to books on the Vietnam War, which fed his “fascination with” all that “had happened to my family” that they couldn’t or wouldn’t speak about. In the years since, that fascination has borne rich and varied fruit. The darkly comic confessions of a North Vietnamese double-agent posing as a South Vietnamese soldier-refugee, Nguyen’s best-selling debut novel, The Sympathizer (2016), garnered six major prizes, including the Pulitzer; a sequel, The Committed, is slated for publication in 2019. Hailed as “a powerful reflection on how we choose to remember and forget,” Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (2016) was a finalist for both the National Book and the National Book Critics Circle awards for nonfiction. Originally titled “I’d Love You to Want Me,” The Refugees (2017) collects stories written between 1997 and 2014.

T

he first time the professor called Mrs. Khanh by the wrong name was at a wedding banquet, the kind of crowded affair they attended often, usually out of obligation. As the bride and groom approached their table, Mrs. Khanh

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noticed the professor reading his palms, where he’d jotted down his toast and the names of the newlyweds, whom they had never met. Leaning close to be heard over the chatter of four hundred guests and the din of the band, she found her husband redolent of well-worn paperbacks and threadbare carpet. It was a comforting mustiness, one that she associated with secondhand bookstores. “Don’t worry,” she said. “ You’ve done this a thousand times.” “Have I?” The professor rubbed his hands on his pants. “I can’t seem to recall.” His fair skin was thin as paper and lined with blue veins. From the precise part of his silver hair to the gleam on his brown oxfords, he appeared to be the same man who’d taught so many students he could no longer count them. During the two minutes the newlyweds visited their table, he didn’t miss a beat, calling the couple by their correct names and bestowing the good wishes expected of him as the eldest among the ten guests. But while the groom tugged at the collar of his Nehru jacket1 and the bride plucked at the skirt of her empire-waist gown, Mrs. Khanh could think only of the night of the diagnosis, when the professor had frightened her by weeping for the first time in their four decades together. Only after the young couple left could she relax, sighing as deeply as she could in the strict confines of her velvet ao dai.2 “The girl’s mother tells me they’re honeymooning for the first week in Paris.” She spooned a lobster claw onto the professor’s plate. “The second week they’ll be on the French Riviera.” “Is that so?” Cracked lobster in tamarind sauce was Professor Khanh’s favorite, but tonight he stared with doubt at the claw pointing toward him. “What did the French call Vung Tau?” “Cap Saint Jacques.”3 “We had a very good time there. Didn’t we?” “That’s when you finally started talking to me.” “Who wouldn’t be shy around you,” the professor murmured. Forty years ago, when she was nineteen and he was thirty-three, they had honeymooned at a beachside hotel on the cape. It was on their balcony, under a full, bright moon, listening to the French singing and shouting on their side of the beach, that the professor had suddenly started talking. “Imagine!” he said, voice filled with wonder as he began speaking about how the volume of the Pacific equaled the moon’s. When he was finished, he went on to talk about the strange fish of deep sea canyons and then the inexplicability of rogue waves. If after a while she lost track of what he said, it hardly mattered, for by then the sound of his voice had seduced her, as reassuring in its measured tones as the first time she’d heard it, eavesdropping from her family’s kitchen as he explained to her father his dissertation on the Kuroshio current’s4 thermodynamics. Now the professor’s memories were gradually stealing away from him, and along with them the long sentences he once favored. When the band swung

1. Tailored coat with a mandarin collar resembling those worn by Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s prime minister from 1947 to 1964. 2. Traditional Vietnamese garment consisting of a long tunic with side slits, worn over pants. 3. Coastal city in South Vietnam. From 1887 to 1954, Vietnam was a French colony. 4. North-flowing current in the North Pacific Ocean, beginning off the east coast of the Philippines and analogous to the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean.

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into “I’d Love You to Want Me,”5 he loosened the fat Windsor knot of his tie and said, “Remember this song?” “What about it?” “We listened to it all the time. Before the children were born.” The song hadn’t been released yet during her first pregnancy, but Mrs. Khanh said, “That’s right.” “Let’s dance.” The professor leaned closer, draping one arm over the back of her chair. A fingerprint smudged one lens of his glasses. “You always insisted we dance when you heard this song, Yen.” “Oh?” Mrs. Khanh took a slow sip from her glass of water, hiding her surprise at being called by someone else’s name. “When did we ever dance?” The professor didn’t answer, for the swelling chorus of the song had brought him to his feet. As he stepped toward the parquet dance floor, Mrs. Khanh seized the tail of his gray pinstripe jacket. “Stop it!” she said, pulling hard. “Sit down!” Giving her a wounded look, the professor obeyed. Mrs. Khanh was aware of the other guests at their table staring at them. She held herself very still, unable to account for any woman named Yen. Perhaps Yen was an old acquaintance whom the professor never saw fit to mention, or the maternal grandmother whom Mrs. Khanh had never met and whose name she couldn’t now recall, or a grade school teacher with whom he’d once been infatuated. Mrs. Khanh had begun preparing for many things, but she wasn’t prepared for unknown people emerging from the professor’s mind. “The song’s almost over,” the professor said. “We’ll dance when we get home. I promise.” Despite his condition, or perhaps because of it, the professor insisted on driving them back. Mrs. Khanh was tense as she watched him handling the car, but he drove in his usual slow and cautious manner. He was quiet until he took a left at Golden West instead of a right, his wrong turn taking them by the community college from where he’d retired last spring. After coming to America, he’d been unable to find work in oceanography, and had settled for teaching Vietnamese. For the last twenty years, he’d lectured under fluorescent lighting to bored students. When Mrs. Khanh wondered if one of those students might be Yen, she felt a jab of pain that she mistook at first for heartburn. Only upon second thought did she recognize it as jealousy. The professor suddenly braked to a stop. Mrs.  Khanh braced herself with one hand against the dashboard and waited to be called by that name again, but the professor made no mention of Yen. He swung the car into a U-turn instead, and as they headed toward home, he asked in a tone of great reproach, “Why didn’t you tell me we were going in the wrong direction?” Watching all the traffic lights on the street ahead of them turn green as if on cue, Mrs. Khanh realized that his was a question for which she had no good answer.

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The next morning, Mrs. Khanh was standing at the stove preparing brunch for their eldest son’s visit when the professor came into the kitchen, freshly bathed and shaved. He took a seat at the kitchen counter, unfolded the newspaper, and

5. Popular song (1972) by Lobo (a.k.a. Roland Kent LaVoie); its refrain begins, “Baby, I’d love you to want me / The way that I want you / The way that it should be.”

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began reading to her from the headlines. Only after he’d finished did she begin telling him about last night’s events. He’d asked her to inform him of those moments when he no longer acted like himself, and she had gotten as far as his lunge for the dance floor when the sag of his shoulders stopped her. “It’s all right,” she said, alarmed. “It’s not your fault.” “But can you see me on the dance floor at my age?” The professor rolled up the newspaper and rapped it against the counter for emphasis. “And in my condition?” Taking out a small blue notebook from his shirt pocket, the professor retreated to the patio, where he was writing down his errors when Vinh arrived. Fresh from his graveyard shift at the county hospital, their son wore a nurse’s green scrubs, which, shapeless as they were, did little to hide his physique. If only he visited his parents as much as he did the gym, Mrs. Khanh thought. The edge of her hand could have fitted into the deep cleft of her son’s chest, and her thighs weren’t quite as thick as his biceps. Under one arm, he was carrying a bulky package wrapped in brown paper, which he propped against the trellis behind his father. The professor slipped the notebook into his pocket and pointed his pen at the package. “What’s the surprise?” he asked. While Mrs. Khanh brought out the eggs Benedict, Vinh stripped off the wrapping to reveal a painting in a heavy gilded frame evocative of nineteenth-century Europe. “It cost me a hundred dollars on Dong Khoi,”6 he said. He had gone to Saigon on vacation last month. “The galleries there can knock off anything, but it was easier to frame it here.” The professor leaned forward to squint at the painting. “There was a time when that street was called Tu Do,” he remarked wistfully. “And before that, Rue Catinat.” “I hoped you’d remember,” Vinh said, sitting down next to his mother at the patio table. Mrs. Khanh could tell that the subject of the painting was a woman, but one whose left eye was green and whose right eye was red, which was nowhere near as odd as the way the artist had flattened her arms and torso, leaving her to look less like a real person and more like a child’s paper doll, cut out and pasted to a three-dimensional chair. “There’s a new study that shows how Picasso’s paintings can stimulate people like Ba.”7 “Is that so?” The professor wiped his glasses with his napkin. Behind him was the scene to which Mrs. Khanh was now accustomed, an entrance ramp rising over their backyard and merging onto the freeway that Vinh would take home to Los Angeles, an hour north of their Westminster neighborhood. Her boys used to pass their afternoons spotting the makes and models of the passing cars, as if they were ornithologists distinguishing between juncos and sparrows. But that was a very long time ago, she thought, and Vinh was now a messenger dispatched by the rest of their six children. “We think you should retire from the library, Ma,” he said, knife and fork in hand. “We can send home enough money every month to cover all the bills. You can have a housekeeper to help you out. And a gardener, too.” 6. Literally, “total revolution” (Vietnamese), a major street in South Vietnam’s most populous city, Ho Chi Minh. Prior to the 1975 North Vietnamese takeover, the street and city were named Tu Do (“Liberty”) and Saigon respectively. Under French rule (1887–1954), the same street was “Rue Catinat.” (In French, “rue” means “street.”) 7. Dad or father (Vietnamese). Picasso: Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), Spanish painter and sculptor.

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Mrs. Khanh had never needed help with the garden, which was entirely of her own design. A horseshoe of green lawn divided a perimeter of persimmon trees from the center of the garden, where pale green cilantro, arrow-leafed basil, and Thai chilies grew abundantly in the beds she’d made for them. She seasoned her eggs Benedict with three dashes of pepper, and when she was certain that she could speak without betraying her irritation, she said, “I like to garden.” “Mexican gardeners come cheap, Ma. Besides, you’ll want all the help you can get. You’ve got to be ready for the worst.” “We’ve seen much worse than you,” the professor snapped. “We’re ready for anything.” “And I’m not old enough for retirement,” Mrs. Khanh added. “Be reasonable.” Vinh sounded nothing like the boy who, upon reaching his teenage years, had turned into someone his parents no longer knew, sneaking out of the house at night to be with his girlfriend, an American who painted her nails black and dyed her hair purple. The professor remedied the situation by nailing the windows shut, a problem Vinh solved by eloping soon after his graduation from Bolsa Grande High. “I’m in love,” Vinh had screamed to his mother over the phone from Las Vegas. “But you wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?” Sometimes Mrs. Khanh regretted ever telling him that her father had arranged her marriage. “You don’t need the money from that job,” Vinh said. “But Ba needs you at home.” Mrs. Khanh pushed away her plate, the eggs barely touched. She wouldn’t take advice from someone whose marriage hadn’t lasted more than three years. “It’s not about the money, Kevin.” Vinh sighed, for his mother used his American name only when she was upset with him. “Maybe you should help Ba,” he said, pointing to the front of his father’s polo shirt, marred by a splash of hollandaise sauce. “Look at this,” the professor said, brushing at the stain with his fingers. “It’s only because you’ve upset me.” Vinh sighed once more, but Mrs. Khanh refused to look at him as she dabbed a napkin in her glass of water. She wondered if he remembered their escape from Vung Tau on a rickety fishing trawler, overloaded with his five siblings and sixty strangers, three years after the war’s end.8 After the fourth day at sea, he and the rest of the children, bleached by the sun, were crying for water, even though there was none to offer but the sea’s. Nevertheless, she had washed their faces and combed their hair every morning, using salt water and spit. She was teaching them that decorum mattered even now, and that their mother’s fear wasn’t so strong that it could prevent her from loving them. “Don’t worry,” she said. “The stain will come out.” As she leaned forward to scrub the professor’s shirt, Mrs.  Khanh had a clear view of the painting. She liked neither the painting nor its gilded frame. It was too ornate for her taste, and seemed too old-fashioned for the painting. The disjuncture between the frame and the painting only exaggerated the painting’s most disturbing feature, the way the woman’s eyes looked forth from one side of her face. The sight of those eyes

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8. What Americans call the Vietnam War ended in 1975 with the defeat of South Vietnamese and U.S. forces by the North Vietnamese.

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made Mrs.  Khanh so uneasy that later that day, after Vinh went home, she moved the painting to the professor’s library, where she left it facing a wall.

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It wasn’t long after their son’s visit that the professor stopped attending Sunday mass. Mrs. Khanh stayed home as well, and gradually they began seeing less and less of their friends. The only times she left the house were to go shopping or to the Garden Grove library, where her fellow librarians knew nothing of the professor’s illness. She enjoyed her part-time job, ordering and sorting the sizable collection of Vietnamese books and movies purchased for the residents of nearby Little Saigon, who, if they came to the library with a question, were directed to her perch behind the circulation desk. Answering those questions, Mrs. Khanh always felt the gratification that made her job worthwhile, the pleasure of being needed, if only for a brief amount of time. When her shift ended at noon and she gathered her things to go home, she always did so with a sense of dread that shamed her. She made up for her shame by bidding goodbye to the other librarians with extra cheer, and by preparing the house for emergencies with great energy, as if she could forestall the inevitable through hard work. She marked a path from bed to bathroom with fluorescent yellow tape, so the professor wouldn’t get lost at night, and on the wall across from the toilet, she taped a sign at eye level that said flush. She composed a series of lists which, posted strategically around the house, reminded the professor in what order to put his clothes on, what to put in his pockets before he left home, and what times of the day he should eat. But it was the professor who hired a handyman to install iron bars on the windows. “You wouldn’t want me sneaking out at night,” the professor said with resignation, leaning his forehead against the bars. “And neither would I.” For Mrs. Khanh, the more urgent problem was the professor coming home as a stranger. Whereas her husband was never one to be romantic, this stranger returned from one of the afternoon walks he insisted on taking by himself with a red rose in a plastic tube. He’d never before bought flowers of any sort, preferring to surprise her with more enduring presents, like the books he gave her every now and again, on topics like how to make friends and influence people, or income tax preparation. Once he had surprised her by giving her fiction, a collection of short stories by an author she had never heard of before. Even this effort was slightly off the mark, for she preferred novels. She never read past the title pages of his gifts, satisfied at seeing her name penned in his elegant hand beneath those of the authors. But if the professor had spent his life practicing calligraphy, he’d never given a thought to presenting roses, and when he bowed while offering her the flower, he appeared to be suffering from a stomach cramp. “Who’s this for?” she asked. “Is there anyone else here?” The professor shook the rose for emphasis, and one of its petals, browning at the edges, fell off. “It’s for you.” “It’s very pretty.” She took the rose reluctantly. “Where did you get it?” “Mr. Esteban. He tried selling me oranges also, but I said we had our own.” “And who am I?” she demanded. “What’s my name?” He squinted at her. “Yen, of course.” “Of course.” Biting her lip, she fought the urge to snap the head off the rose. She displayed the flower in a vase on the dining table for the professor’s sake,

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but by the time she brought out dinner an hour later, he had forgotten he bought it. As he nibbled on blackened tiger shrimp, grilled on skewers, and tofu shimmering in black bean sauce, he talked animatedly instead about the postcard they’d received that afternoon from their eldest daughter, working for American Express in Munich. Mrs.  Khanh examined the picture of the Marienplatz9 before turning over the postcard to read aloud the note, which remarked on the curious absence of pigeons. “Little things stay with you when you travel,” observed the professor, sniffing at the third course, a soup of bitter melon.1 Their children had never acquired the taste for it, but it reminded the professor and Mrs. Khanh of their own childhood. “Such as?” “The price of cigarettes,” the professor said. “When I returned to Saigon after finishing my studies, I couldn’t buy my daily Gauloises2 any longer. The imported price was too much.” She leaned the postcard against the vase, where it would serve as a memento of the plans they’d once made for traveling to all of the world’s great cities after their retirement. The only form of transport Mrs. Khanh had ruled out was the ocean cruise. Open expanses of water prompted fears of drowning, a phobia so strong that she no longer took baths, and even when showering kept her back to the spray. “Now why did you buy that?” the professor asked. “The postcard?” “No, the rose.” “I didn’t buy it.” Mrs. Khanh chose her words carefully, not wanting to disturb the professor too much, and yet wanting him to know what he had done. “You did.” “Me?” The professor was astonished. “Are you certain?” “I am absolutely certain,” she said, surprised to hear the gratification in her voice. The professor didn’t notice. He only sighed and took out the blue notebook from the pocket of his shirt. “Let’s hope that won’t happen again,” he muttered. “I don’t suppose it will.” Mrs. Khanh stood to gather the dishes. She hoped her face didn’t show her anger, convinced as she was that the professor had intended the rose for this other woman. She was carry ing four plates, the tureen, and both their glasses when, at the kitchen’s threshold, the wobbling weight of her load became too much. The sound of silverware clattering on the tiled floor and the smash of porcelain breaking made the professor cry out from the dining room. “What’s that?” he shouted. Mrs. Khanh stared at the remains of the tureen at her feet. Three uneaten green coins of bitter melon, stuffed with pork, lay sodden on the floor among the shards. “It’s nothing,” she said. “I’ll take care of it.”

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9. Literally, “Mary’s Square” (German), major square in Munich, Germany, so-named because of the column, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, at its centre, erected in 1638 to celebrate the end of Swedish occupation. 1. Rough-skinned, green-colored unripe fruit used in Asian cooking. 2. Famous brand of French cigarette.

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After he’d fallen asleep later that evening, she went to his library, where the painting she had propped by his desk was now turned face forward. She sighed. If he kept turning the painting this way, she would at least have to reframe it in something more modern and suitable. She sat down at his desk, flanked on either side by bookshelves that held several hundred volumes in Vietnamese, French, and English. His ambition was to own more books than he could ever possibly read, a desire fueled by having left behind all his books when they had fled Vietnam. Dozens of paperbacks cluttered his desk, and she had to shove them aside to find the notebooks where he’d been tracking his mistakes over the past months. He had poured salt into his coffee and sprinkled sugar into his soup; when a telemarketer had called, he’d agreed to five-year subscriptions to Guns & Ammo and Cosmopolitan; and one day he’d tucked his wallet in the freezer, giving new meaning to the phrase cold, hard cash, or so he’d joked with her when she discovered it. But there was no mention of Yen, and after a moment’s hesitation, underneath his most recent entry, Mrs. Khanh composed the following: “Today I called my wife by the name of Yen,” she wrote. She imitated the flourishes of the professor’s penmanship with great care, pretending that what she was doing was for the professor’s own good. “This mistake must not be repeated.” 65

The following morning, the professor held forth his coffee cup and said, “Please pass me the sugar, Yen.” The next day, as she trimmed his hair in the bathroom, he asked, “What’s on television tonight, Yen?” As he called her by the other woman’s name again and again over the following weeks, the question of who this woman was consumed her days. Perhaps Yen was a childhood crush, or a fellow student of his graduate school years in Marseille,3 or even a second wife in Saigon, someone he’d visited on the way home from the university, during those long early evening hours when he told her he was sitting in his office on campus, correcting student exams. She recorded every incident of mistaken identity in his notebooks, but the next morning he would read her forgeries without reaction, and not long afterward would call her Yen once more, until she thought she might burst into tears if she heard that name again. The woman was most likely a fantasy found by the professor’s wandering mind, or so she told herself after catching him naked from the waist down, kneeling over the bathtub and scrubbing furiously at his pants and underwear under a jet of hot water. Glaring over his shoulder, the professor had screamed, “Get out!” She jumped back, slamming the bathroom door in her haste. Never before had the professor lost such control of himself, or yelled at her, not even in those first days after coming to southern California, when they’d eaten from food stamps, gotten housing assistance, and worn secondhand clothes donated by the parishioners of St. Albans. That was true love, she thought, not giving roses but going to work every day and never once complaining about teaching Vietnamese to so-called heritage learners,4 immigrant and refugee students who already knew the language but merely wanted an easy grade.

3. France’s second-largest city, home to Aix-Marseille Université (founded 1409). 4. Those studying a language of which their family’s cultural heritage gives them some prior knowledge.

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Not even during the most frightening time of her life, when they were lost on the great azure plain of the sea, rolling unbroken to the horizon, did the professor raise his voice. By the fifth evening, the only sounds besides the waves slapping at the hull were children whimpering and adults praying to God, Buddha, and their ancestors. The professor hadn’t prayed. Instead, he had stood at the ship’s bow as if he were at his lectern, the children huddled together at his knees for protection against the evening wind, and told them lies. “You can’t see it even in daylight,” he’d said, “but the current we’re traveling on is going straight to the Philippines, the way it’s done since the dawn of time.” He repeated his story so often even she allowed herself to believe it, until the afternoon of the seventh day, when they saw, in the distance, the rocky landing strip of a foreign coast. Nesting upon it were the huts of a fishing village, seemingly composed of twigs and grass, brooded over by a fringe of mangroves. At the sight of land, she had thrown herself into the professor’s arms, knocking his glasses askew, and sobbed openly for the first time in front of her startled children. She was so seized by the ecstasy of knowing that they would all live that she had blurted out “I love you.” It was something she had never said in public and hardly ever in private, and the professor, embarrassed by their children’s giggles, had only smiled and adjusted his glasses. His embarrassment only deepened once they reached land, which the locals informed them was the north shore of eastern Malaysia.5 For some reason, the professor never spoke of this time at sea, although he referred to so many other things they had done in the past together, including events of which she had no recollection. The more she listened to him, the more she feared her own memory was faltering. Perhaps they really had eaten ice cream flavored with durian6 on the veranda of a tea plantation in the central highlands, reclining on rattan chairs. And was it possible they’d fed bamboo shoots to the tame deer in the Saigon zoo? Or together had beaten off a pickpocket, a scabby refugee from the bombed-out countryside who’d sneaked up on them in the Ben Thanh market?7 As the days of spring lengthened into summer, she answered the phone less and less, eventually turning off the ringer so the professor wouldn’t answer calls either. She was afraid that if someone asked for her, he would say, “Who?” Even more worrying was the prospect of him speaking to their friends or children of Yen. When her daughter phoned from Munich, she said, “Your father’s not doing so well,” but left the details vague. She was more forthcoming with Vinh, knowing that whatever she told him he would e-mail to the other children. Whenever he left a message, she could hear the hiss of grease in a pan, or the chatter of a news channel, or the beeping of horns. He called her on his cell phone only as he did something else. She admitted that as much as she loved her son, she liked him very little, a confession that made her unhappy with herself until the day she called him back and he asked, “Have you decided? Are you going to quit?” “Don’t make me tell you one more time.” She wrapped the telephone cord tightly around her index finger. “I’m never going to quit.”

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5. Since Malaysia lies southwest of Vietnam, across the Gulf of Thailand, while the Philippines are on the South China Sea, to Vietnam’s east, the family has traveled in the opposite direction and much less far than predicted. 6. Large, tasty fruit with a prickly rind. 7. Large, popular market in central Ho Chi Minh City.

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After she hung up the phone, she returned to the task of changing the sheets the professor had bed-wet the previous evening. Her head was aching from lack of sleep, her back was sore from the chores, and her neck was tight with worry. When bedtime came, she was unable to sleep, listening to the professor talk about how gusts of the mistral blew him from one side to the other of the winding narrow streets of Le Panier,8 where he’d lived in a basement apartment during his Marseille years, or about the hypnotic sound made by the scratch of a hundred pens on paper as students took their exams. As he talked, she studied the dim light in their bedroom, cast off from the streetlamps outside, and remembered how the moon over the South China Sea was so bright that even at midnight she could see the fearful expressions on her children’s faces. She was counting the cars passing by outside, listening for the sounds of their engines and hoping for sleep, when the professor touched her hand in the dark. “If you close your eyes,” he said gently, “you might hear the ocean.” Mrs. Khanh closed her eyes.

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September came and went. October passed and the Santa Ana winds came, rushing from the mountains to the east with the force of freeway traffic, breaking the stalks of the Egyptian papyruses she’d planted in ceramic pots next to the trellis. She no longer allowed the professor to walk by himself in the afternoons, but instead followed him discreetly at a distance of ten or twenty feet, clutching her hat against the winds. If the Santa Ana had subsided, they read together on the patio. Over the past few months, the professor had taken to reading out loud, and slowly. Each day he seemed to read even more loudly, and more slowly, until the afternoon in November when he stopped in mid-sentence for so long that the silence shook Mrs. Khanh from the grip of Quynh Dao’s9 latest romance. “What’s the matter?” she asked, closing her book. “I’ve been trying to read this sentence for five minutes,” the professor said, staring at the page. When he looked up, she saw tears in his eyes. “I’m losing my mind, aren’t I?” From then on, she read to him whenever she was free, from books on academic topics she had no interest in whatsoever. She stopped whenever he began reciting a memory—the anxiety he felt on meeting her father for the first time, while she waited in the kitchen to be introduced; the day of their wedding, when he nearly fainted from the heat and the tightness of his cravat; or the day they returned to Saigon three years ago and visited their old house on Phan Than Gian, which they could not find at first because the street had been renamed Dien Bien Phu. Saigon had also changed names after it changed hands, but they couldn’t bring themselves to call it Ho Chi Minh City. Neither could the taxi driver who ferried them from their hotel to the house, even though he was too young to remember a time when the city was officially Saigon. They parked two houses down from their old house, and stayed in the taxi to avoid the revolutionary cadres from the north who had moved in after the 8. Literally, “the basket” (French), one of Marseille’s oldest, most historic neighborhoods. Mistral: strong, cold, dry northerly wind of southern France. 9. Or Chiung Yao (Chinese), pseudonym of the Taiwanese writer (b. 1938) widely regarded as the most popular romance writer in the Chinese-speaking world; her works have been translated into many languages, including Vietnamese.

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Communist takeover. She and the professor were nearly overwhelmed by sadness and rage, fuming as they wondered who these strangers were who had taken such poor care of their house. The solitary alley lamp illuminated tears of rust streaking the walls, washed down from the iron grill of the terrace by the monsoon rain. As the taxi’s wipers squeaked against the windshield, a late-night masseur biked past, announcing his calling with the shake of a glass bottle filled with pebbles. “You told me it was the loneliest sound in the world,” said the professor. Before he started talking, she’d been reading to him from a biography of de Gaulle,1 and her finger was still on the last word she’d read. She didn’t like to think about their lost home, and she didn’t remember having said any such thing. “The wipers or the glass bottle?” she asked. “The bottle.” “It seemed so at the time,” she lied. “I hadn’t heard that sound in years.” “We heard it often. In Dalat.”2 The professor took off his glasses and wiped them with his handkerchief. He had gone once to a resort in the mountains of Dalat for a conference while she stayed in Saigon, pregnant. “You always wanted to eat your ice cream outside in the evenings,” the professor continued. “But it’s hard to eat ice cream in the tropics, Yen. One has no time to savor it. Unless one is indoors, with air conditioning.” “Dairy products give you indigestion.” “If one eats ice cream in a bowl, it rapidly becomes soup. If one eats it in a cone, it melts all over one’s hand.” When he turned to her and smiled, she saw gumdrops of mucus in the corners of his eyes. “You loved those brown sugar cones, Yen. You insisted that I hold yours for you so your hand wouldn’t get sticky.” A breeze rattled the bougainvillea, the first hint, perhaps, of the Santa Ana returning. The sound of her own voice shocked her as well as the professor, who stared at her with his mouth agape when she said, “That’s not my name. I am not that woman, whoever she is, if she even exists.” “Oh?” The professor slowly closed his mouth and put his glasses back on. “Your name isn’t Yen?” “No,” she said. “Then what is it?” She wasn’t prepared for the question, having been worried only about her husband calling her by the wrong name. They rarely used each other’s proper names, preferring endearments like Anh, for him, or Em,3 for her, and when they spoke to each other in front of the children, they called themselves Ba and Ma. Usually she heard her first name spoken only by friends, relatives, or bureaucrats, or when she introduced herself to someone new, as she was, in a sense, doing now. “My name is Sa,” she said. “I am your wife.” “Right.” The professor licked his lips and took out his notebook. That evening, after they had gone to bed and she heard him breathing evenly, she switched on her lamp and reached across his body for the notebook, propped

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1. Charles de Gaulle (1890–1970), French military leader and France’s president from 1959 to 1969. 2. City in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam, a popular tourist destination thanks in part to its relatively cool weather. 3. Vietnamese pet name meaning something like “ little sibling,” often used to refer to the woman in a romantic relationship, just as anh (“big brother”) refers to the man.

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on the alarm clock. His writing had faded into such a scribble that she was forced to read what he wrote twice, following the jags and peaks of his letters down a dog-eared page until she reached the bottom, where she deciphered the following: Matters worsening. Today she insisted I call her by another name. Must keep closer eye on her—here she licked her finger and used it to turn the page— for she may not know who she is anymore. She closed the book abruptly, with a slap of the pages, but the professor, curled up on his side, remained still. A scent of sweat and sulfur emanated from underneath the sheets. If it wasn’t for his quiet breathing and the heat of his body, he might have been dead, and for a moment as fleeting as déjà vu, she wished he really were.

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In the end there was no choice. On her last day at work, her fellow librarians threw her a surprise farewell party, complete with cake and a wrapped gift box that held a set of travel guides for the vacations they knew she’d always wanted to take. She fondled the guides for a while, riffling through their pages, and when she almost wept, her fellow librarians thought she was being sentimental. Driving home with the box of guides in the backseat, next to a package of adult diapers she’d picked up from Sav-On’s that morning, she fought to control the sense that ever so slowly the book of her life was being closed. When she opened the door to their house and called out his name, she heard only bubbling from the fish tank. After not finding him in any of the bedrooms or bathrooms, she left the diapers and box of books in his library. An open copy of Sports Illustrated was on his recliner in the living room, a half-eaten jar of applesauce sat on the kitchen counter, and in the backyard, the chenille throw he wore around his lap in cool weather lay on the ground. Floating in his teacup on the patio table was a curled petal from the bougainvillea, shuttling back and forth. Panic almost made her call the police. But they wouldn’t do anything so soon; they’d tell her to call back when he was missing for a day or two. As for Vinh, she ruled him out, not wanting to hear him say, “I told you so.” Regret swept over her then, a wave of feeling born from her guilt over being so selfish. Her librarian’s instinct for problem solving and orderly research kept her standing under the weight of that regret, and she returned to her car determined to find the professor. She drove around her block first before expanding in everwidening circles, the windows rolled down on both sides. The neighborhood park, where she and the professor often strolled, was abandoned except for squirrels chasing each other through the branches of an oak tree. The sidewalks were empty of pedestrians or joggers, except for a withered man in a plaid shirt standing on a corner, selling roses from plastic buckets and oranges from crates, his eyes shaded by a grimy baseball cap. When she called him Mr. Esteban, his eyes widened; when she asked him if he’d seen the professor, he smiled apologetically and said, “No hablo inglés. Lo siento.”4 Doubling back on her tracks, she drove each street and lane and cul-de-sac a second time. Leaning out the window, she called his name, first in a low voice, shy about making a scene, and then in a shout. “Anh Khanh!” she cried. “Anh Khanh!” A few window curtains twitched, and a couple of passing cars slowed 4. I do not speak English. I’m sorry (Spanish).

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down, their drivers glancing at her curiously. But he didn’t spring forth from behind anyone’s hedges, or emerge from a stranger’s door. Only after it was dark did she return. The moment she walked through the front door, she smelled the gas. A kettle was on the stove, but the burner hadn’t been lit. Both her pace and her pulse quickened from a walk to a sprint. After shutting off the gas, she saw that the glass doors leading to the patio, which she’d closed before her departure, were slightly ajar. There was a heavy, long flashlight in one of the kitchen drawers, and the heft of the aluminum barrel in her hand was comforting as she slowly approached the glass doors. But when she shone the light over the patio and onto the garden, she saw only her persimmon trees and the red glint of the chilies. She was in the hallway when she saw the light spilling out of the professor’s library. When she peeked around the door frame, she saw the professor with his back to the door. At his feet was her box of books, and he stood facing the bookshelf that was reserved for her. Here, she kept her magazines and the books he’d given her over the years. The professor knelt, picked a book from the box, and stood up to shelve it. He repeated the same motion, one book at a time. Hidden Tahiti and French Polynesia. Frommer’s Hawaii. National Geographic Traveler: The Caribbean. With each book, he mumbled something she couldn’t hear, as if he might be trying to read the titles on the spines. Essential Greek Islands. Jerusalem and the Holy Land. World Cultures: Japan. A Romantic’s Guide to Italy. He touched the cover of each book with great care, tenderly, and she knew, not for the first time, that it wasn’t she who was the love of his life. The professor shelved the last book and turned around. The expression on his face when he saw her was the one he’d worn forty years ago at their first meeting, when she’d entered the living room of her father’s house and seen him pale with anxiety, eyes blinking in anticipation. “Who are you?” he cried, raising his hand as if to ward off a blow. Her heart was beating fast and her breathing was heavy. When she swallowed, her mouth was dry, but she could feel a sheen of dampness on her palms. It struck her then that these were the same sensations she’d felt that first time, seeing him in a white linen suit wrinkled by high humidity, straw fedora pinned between hand and thigh. “It’s just me,” she said. “It’s Yen.” “Oh,” the professor said, lowering his hand. He sat down heavily in his armchair, and she saw that his oxfords were encrusted in mud. As she crossed the carpet to the bookshelf, he followed her with a hooded gaze, his look one of exhaustion. She was about to take Les Petites Rues de Paris5 from the bookshelf for the evening’s reading, but when she saw him close his eyes and lean back in his armchair, it was clear that he wouldn’t be traveling anywhere. Neither would she. Having ruled out the travel guides, she decided against the self-help books and the how-to manuals as well. Then she saw the thin and uncracked spine of the book of short stories. A short story, she thought, would be just long enough. Sitting beside him on the carpet, she found herself next to the painting. She turned her back to the woman with the two eyes on one side of her face, and she promised herself that tomorrow she would have the painting reframed.

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5. The Small Streets of Paris (French).

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When she opened the book, she could feel the woman looking over her shoulder at her name, written in his precise hand under that of the author. She wondered what, if anything, she knew about love. Not much, perhaps, but enough to know that what she would do for him now she would do again tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. She would read out loud, from the beginning. She would read with measured breath, to the very end. She would read as if every letter counted, page by page and word by word. 2008, 2017 QUESTIONS 1. What is the significance of the episode (or discriminated occasion) with which the story opens? Why and how is this a destabilizing event? What conflict does it establish? In these terms, what might be meaningful about the setting and other details? 2. How does your sense of the conflict and of Mr.  and Mrs.’s Khanh’s relationship develop over subsequent episodes? In these terms, what does Nguyen gain by introducing the Khanh’s son, Vinh, into the story, as well as glimpses into the Khanh family’s past? How might and might not it matter that they are refugees? that they are Vietnamese? 3. Who is or was Yen, or was she a real person at all? What clues does the story offer? What is the significance of the fact that neither Mrs.  Khanh nor the reader ever know for sure? 4. Why, in the end, does Mrs. Khanh allow her husband to call her Yen? Why and how might this be a satisfactory resolution? 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, conclusion. 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 flashbacks. Select any story from this anthology, and write an essay discussing the significance of sequence. 3. Ralph Ellison described his novel Invisible Man as exploring “the human universals hidden within the plight of one who was both black and American.” Write an essay exploring how this statement might apply to King of the Bingo Game. How does being “both black and American” shape the conflict experienced by the story’s protagonist and its resolution? On the other hand, what might be universal about that conflict? 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 Misfit in Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find. 5. Write an essay that explores the central conflict in any one of the stories in this chapter. What is the nature of the conflict? 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? If you write about Oates’s story, consider how your interpretation of the conflict compares to her comments about it (as excerpted in this chapter).

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S A M P L E W R I T I N G : E S S AY The following essay on Ralph Ellison’s King of the Bingo Game responds to a writing suggestion in the last chapter: Write an essay that explores the central conflict in any one of the stories in this chapter. What is the nature of the conflict? 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?

As you read the essay, remember to approach it critically, much as you would a draft by one of your classmates. What are the essay’s three strongest moments and elements? What are one or two weaknesses? As you will notice, for example, Francis Moi Moi argues that Ellison’s story explores a universal conflict— one related to the human condition generally. Yet the story from the beginning presents its protagonist as specifically “poor, hungry, and black,” as Moi Moi himself put it in an earlier draft of his essay. Might the story’s conflict thus also or instead be race and/or class specific? How might you suggest revising the essay to allow for this possibility or counterargument? Alternatively, how might you craft an essay either defending or rebutting Moi Moi’s argument?

Moi Moi 1 Francis Moi Moi Dr. Kelly Mays ENG 298 24 September 2019

The Button and the Wheel in Ralph Ellison’s “King of the Bingo Game” In Ralph Ellison’s short story “King of the Bingo Game,” the unnamed protagonist presses down on a button, “watche[s] the wheel whirling . . . and experience[s] a burst of exaltation: This is God! This is the really truly God!” (par. 50). In popular culture, having a finger on the button has come to represent godlike power, calling up images of men with unchecked authority determining the fate of thousands with a touch. Fortune’s wheel, on the other hand, is a more traditional symbol, representing a fate or chance beyond human control. Since medieval times, it has assumed the shape of celestial spheres and carnival wheels alike (Ross). Its influence has loomed over the destinies of countless unwitting literary characters, making beggars of kings and kings of bingo players. The plot of “King of the Bingo Game” pits the drive for control against the reality of chance or fate, such that the protagonist’s schemes are constantly trumped by some power outside himself. The namelessness of the protagonist suggests that he could be any man who “felt vaguely that his whole life was determined by the 141

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Moi Moi 2 bingo wheel” (par. 33). The wheel confronts readers with the helplessness that underlies the human condition. Thus, “King of the Bingo Game” is about humans’ attempt to take control of their lives only to realize they have no control. Ellison’s protagonist may have no name, but the expository, opening paragraphs present him as a “have-not” in a theater audience of “haves.” In front of him is a woman with peanuts. Nearby two men share whiskey. But the protagonist, “light-headed” with hunger (par. 16), can find “through a hole in his pocket” only “goose pimples and old scars” (par. 8). He reassures himself, “I ain’t crazy. I’m just broke, ’cause I got no birth certificate to get a job, and Laura ’bout to die ’cause we got no money for a doctor” (par. 1). The inability to present proof of his own identity, which remains a mystery even to the story’s readers, prevents him from applying for employment, without which he cannot afford doctors for Laura. And while we do not know how the protagonist and Laura are related, we are compelled to empathize with the only character who has a name. The stakes are high for the protagonist. He nods off in the theater, having seen the picture three times already, while he waits for what he really came for. He is driven by the desire to keep Laura alive by the only means available to him—the bingo wheel. Existence is here reduced to a kind of game show in which the difference between life and death is just some winning numbers on the wheel. Underlying the protagonist’s drive is the greater conflict between control and chance or fate suggested by both his dream and his thoughts about the movie. He dreams he is a boy again who narrowly escapes an oncoming train, only to look over his shoulder and “se[e] with terror that the train had left the track and was following him right down the middle of the street” (par. 9). The tracks represent control and order, while the derailed train, which runs upon wheels, represents chance or chaos. The bad dream is suggestive of the protagonist’s anxieties and circumstances, which, like the runaway train, have leapt their tracks and are bearing down on him. His thoughts about the movie are similar. He fantasizes about how it might turn out differently this time, getting “out of hand” like the train in his dream (par. 8). “That would be something to see,” he thinks. But “[i]f a picture got out of hand like that,” the projectionists “would go nuts,” he realizes. “Everything was fixed,” its outcome already determined by someone or something behind the scenes. The rest of the story plays out this scenario, as the protagonist’s efforts to “have faith” and exert control over his circumstances (in a way movie characters cannot) repeatedly come up against a chance or fate that sweeps him along regardless (par. 17). Like many classical heroes who try to cheat fate or death, he first tries to gain an edge over improbable odds by playing “five cards” at once, despite knowing that he’s breaking the rules, that “[t]he guy at the door wouldn’t like it if he knew.” But this system immediately descends into chaos. His cards become unmanageable, as he tries and fails to keep up with the quick-paced announcer. After missing several numbers on all five cards, the narrator admits, “This way he’d never win” (par. 18). Just then, however, fate or chance steps in. Despite the failure of his system, the protagonist realizes by chance that he has a bingo on his third card. The bingo is the turning point of the plot. The protagonist steps up onstage with the bingo wheel, feeling “that he had moved into the spell of some strange, mysterious power” (par. 23). The “mysterious power” is fortune or fate. He directly confronts what might be the antagonist of the story, foiling the protagonist while driving him as well. For the first time, he consciously realizes that “[i]t had always been there, even though he had not been aware of it, handing out the unlucky cards and numbers of his days” (par. 33), maybe even deciding who has birth certificates and who does not.

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Moi Moi 3 Once again, he has a plan to beat the odds. He tells himself to “give the wheel a short quick twirl. Just a touch of the button. He had watched it many times, and always it came close to double zero when it was short and quick” (par. 43). His confidence in his strategy makes him feel in control of the situation. But his plan, just like before, immediately goes south. As soon as he presses the button, he finds himself unable to break free of it, and he holds on to it. He admits that “[t]here [is] still that feeling of helplessness within him . . . even now that the jackpot [is] right in his hand” (par. 44). He derives his sense of power over the jackpot as he holds the button; as long as he keeps the wheel spinning, he maintains every possibility of winning. However, this sense of power is not power at all but a powerlessness that paralyzes him. He is aware “that although he control[s] the wheel, it also control[s] him” (par. 66). It always has. The situation quickly spins more and more out of control, winding the growing tension with it. Because his showdown with the wheel is keeping others from trying their luck, they become impatient and angry. But it makes no difference to him because he is in control of “the winding and the sadness and the shame,” and “[h]e [is] running the show” (pars. 66, 67). Whatever power he thinks he has begins to change him, dizzyingly altering his identity. He goes from asserting, “This is me” (par. 67), to desperately asking, “Who am I?” (par. 68), to believing that, because he is “The-man-who-pressed-the-button-whoheld-the-prize-who-was-the-King-of-Bingo,” he does not “need” his “old name” because he is “reborn” (par. 70). One gets a sense of him sitting on a chair fixed to Fortune’s wheel, becoming the “King of Bingo” at the summit of its revolution, and yet, he is not transforming anything at all. The tension and the irony culminate in the police arriving. The protagonist evades them by running around in circles; it is all he can do because he does not want to break the cord that connects the button to the wheel. He essentially becomes a part of a wheel, fixed to it, running with the cord like a radial spoke of a much larger wheel. It is all he can do to maintain control, which is the illusion of his power. For the protagonist, this illusory power is keeping Laura alive, as he suggests by crying out, “Live, Laura, baby. I got holt of it now, sugar. Live!” (par. 73). So convinced or so desperate is he that, even after the police subdue him and stop the wheel, when it lands on the winning numbers, he is “very happy” (par. 86), but not “surprise[d]” (par. 83), believing “he would receive what all the winners received” (par. 86). In an ironic way, maybe he does. The king of bingo receives a violent blow to his head instead of a crown, the pain of which echoes the pangs of hunger with which he started. For all his faith and all his efforts, he is right back where he was to begin with, a “have-not,” having no control or power. The story’s plot comes full circle, turning into a wheel itself. Ultimately, chance and fate expose the ineffectiveness of the protagonist’s schemes. Ellison contradicts the popular image of man exerting power through the button with one of man’s paralyzing powerlessness. The button, according to Ellison, is only a gimmick.

Moi Moi 4

W or k s C i t e d Ellison, Ralph. “King of the Bingo Game.” The Norton Introduction to Literature, edited by Kelly J. Mays, 13th ed., W. W. Norton, 2019, pp. 83-90. Ross, Leslie. “Wheel of Fortune.” Medieval Art: A Topical Dictionary , e-book, Greenwood, 1996, pp. 264-65.

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Initiation Stories AN AL BU M

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t 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 fiction (as well as movies, television, and other media) focuses on the more momentous changes that we associate with youth. This album features a common kind of short fiction, the initiation story, also known as the coming-ofage story—the story of what happens as we define 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 quinceañeras, 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 fiction 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 significant 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 find a place in society, but more often the challenge is to adjust his or her ideals to actual circumstances. Initiation stories 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 frightening, 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, films, and television shows—J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951) and the Harry Potter series, 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 specific 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 BAMBAR A (1939–95)

The Lesson Born in New York City, Toni Cade Bambara grew up in Harlem and BedfordStuyvesant, 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 fiction 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 counselor, college English teacher, literary critic, and film producer. Bambara began to publish her stories in 1962. Her fiction 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 secretary. And we kinda hated her too, hated the way we did the winos who cluttered 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 first name. And she was black as hell, cept for her feet, which were fish-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 gingerbread 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 Gretchen. She been screwed into the go-along for so long, it’s a blood-deep

1. Untreated and unstraightened, naturally curly or coiled.

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natural thing with her. Which is how she got saddled with me and Sugar and Junior in the first 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 pinafore 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 monopoly papers we lay on the grocer. 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 files that remark away for next week’s lesson on brotherhood, I can tell. And finally 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 five-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 window 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 figure 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 first bar-b-que we can find. Then the driver tells us to get the hell out cause we there already. And the meter reads eighty-five cents. And I’m stalling to figure 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 Avenue2 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 screamin, “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 first 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 living 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 window 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 first 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, figuring 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. In the Bible three wise men travel 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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“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 important 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 magnificent 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 fiberglass at one thousand one hundred ninety-five 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 fifty 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 figure. “My father’d buy it for me if I wanted it.” “Your father, my ass,” say Rosie Giraffe getting a chance to finally push Mercedes. “Must be rich people shop here,” say Q.T. “You are a very bright boy,” say Flyboy. “What was your first 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 figure 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

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to be shamed about? Got as much right to go in as anybody. But somehow I can’t 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 Mercedes 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 flute 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 finally figured 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 finger 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 mother 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-five dollars could buy new bunk beds for Junior and Gretchen’s boy. Thirty-five dollars and the whole household could go visit Granddaddy Nelson in the country. Thirtyfive 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 first damn place. But she ain’t so smart 5. Tenant in another person’s house.

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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. 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 finishes 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 chocolate 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.

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1972 QUESTIONS 1. How does Sylvia feel about Miss Moore, and why? How do you know? Do her feelings 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 interesting and significant about the fact that the children visit a toy store? about each of the three 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 figured. 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, political angle on linguistics!” At first I felt like a fraud. It didn’t have anything to do with a political stance. I just thought people lived and moved around in this particular 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 fiction 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 fiction. 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 first 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 first book and won the first 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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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 fiction: The one work she published 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 Montreal 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 flags of England or of France; magnificent savages bent their backs to the portage. For several weeks before Christmas, my father worked after supper in the cellar 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 surprisingly 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, saying, “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 filled 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 flames. We admired him for this performance 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, floating 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 fields, 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 finished. A brick chimney went up one wall. In the middle of the floor 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 defined 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 fixed 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 fit of shivering caused not by the cold sheets but by pleasurable emotion almost silenced me. You’ll kneel and say, an Ave there above me—What was an Ave? Every day I forgot to find out. Laird went straight from singing to sleep. I could hear his long, satisfied, bubbly 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-sacrifice, as mine never did. I rescued people from a bombed building (it discouraged me that the real war 2 had gone on so far away from Jubilee). I shot two rabid wolves who were menacing the schoolyard (the teachers cowered terrified at my back). I rode a fine horse spiritedly down the main street of Jubilee, acknowledging the townspeople’s gratitude for some yetto-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 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 William III of England, defeated the Catholic James II. The society sponsors an annual procession on July 12 to commemorate the victory of William III at the Battle of the Boyne (1690).

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clothes chest with airholes—where they slept and stayed in winter and had their 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 fitted 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 filled the drum at the pump and trundled it down through the barnyard to the pens, where I parked it, and filled my watering can and went along the streets. Laird came too, with his little cream and green gardening can, filled 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 first 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 flowering 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. Whatever 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

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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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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 pleasure. “Could of fooled me,” said the salesman. “I thought it was only a girl.” After the grass was cut, it seemed suddenly much later in the year. I walked on stubble in the earlier evening, 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 meathouse; 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 potatoes 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 fire in the stove all day, jars clinked in boiling water, sometimes a cheesecloth bag was strung on a pole between two chairs, straining blueblack 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 flypapers, 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 counting 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 service, 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 listening, 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 finished. “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

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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 difficult style I 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 monotonously 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 wheeling 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 horsemeat. 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 owner 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 five 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 convenient 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 fits 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 undercurrent of thought, not to be deflected, on this one subject. The word girl had formerly 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 definition, always touched with

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emphasis, with reproach and disappointment. Also it was a joke on me. Once Laird and I were fighting, and for the first time ever I had to use all my strength against him; even so, he caught and pinned my arm for a moment, really hurting 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 measures 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 landscape 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 unaccustomed 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 find 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, mockingsorrowful 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 summer 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 field 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 happened, 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 6. Lines from the Stephen Foster (1826–64) song “Old Uncle Ned.”

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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, shuffling steps of Mack being backed out of his stall. 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 flat 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 field. 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 away 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, first 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 fired, 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 floor 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

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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. 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 fingers. 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 flash 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 fine 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, whinnying, 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 field now!” 7. American comedian (1913– 83) best known for her yodeling in hillbilly movies of the 1940s.

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That meant she was in the long L-shaped field 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 field this morning. My father shouted to me, because I was on the other side of the fence, nearest the lane, “Go shut the gate!” 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 field. 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 galloped 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 field 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 field 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 running 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 fixing 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 curtains 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

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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 fire 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 be a boy from our class at school, or even Mr. Campbell, our teacher, who tickled 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 fifty 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 vegetables. 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 difficulty. To my shame, tears flooded 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 narrator’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 meaning of the phrase change? 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 Literature dubs “perhaps America’s most versatile, prolific, 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, Pennsylvania. John Updike went on to study English literature at Harvard, where he also contributed cartoons and articles to the famous Lampoon. Marrying a Radcliffe fine-arts student in 1953, Updike the next year graduated summa cum laude and sold both his first poem and his first story to the New Yorker, whose staff he joined in 1955. Though he would continue to contribute essays, poems, and fiction to that magazine 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 published both his first book, a collection of poems (1958), and his first 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 won Pulitzer Prizes.

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n walks these three girls in nothing but bathing suits. I’m in the third checkout 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 first was the one in the plaid green twopiece. 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 fifty 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 fifty 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 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 1. The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, so named in 1859, became by the 1930s the leading national chain of supermarkets. 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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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 “attractive” 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 floor 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 coming 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-dogfood-breakfast- cereal-macaroni-rice-raisins-seasonings-spreads-spaghettisoft-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 package back. The sheep pushing their carts down the aisle—the girls were walking against the usual traffic (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 muttering “Let me see, there was a third thing, began with A, asparagus, no, ah, yes, applesauce!” or whatever it is they do mutter. But there

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was no doubt, this jiggled them. A few houseslaves 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 fluorescent lights, against all those stacked packages, with her feet paddling along naked over our checkerboard green-and-cream rubber-tile floor. “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 finding 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 five 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 offices 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 something. He pointed, they pointed, and they shuffled 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. •



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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 afternoon, 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, records at discount of the Caribbean 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 popular singer and actor, was featured on radio and television in the 1940s and 1950s.

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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 fingers icy cold. Kingfish 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 first 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 first, coming out so flat 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 herring 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 flashed 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. Policy 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 popular 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 flying out. I uncrease the bill, tenderly as you may imagine, it just having 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 flies open and they flicker 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 heading 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.

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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 significant as this sounds? Does the tone of Sammy’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 different ages and statuses. 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 find 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.

SUGGESTIONS FOR WRITING 1. Initiation stories often concern a choice to abandon or join a family, group, or community. 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 characters 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 ritualized 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 modern Western societies are initiated into adulthood. 4. Choose a story from any other chapter or album in 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 first-person narrative of an actual or fictional initiation into adulthood.

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3

NARRATION AND POINT OF VIEW

When we read fiction, 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, fiction 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 character, 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 spoken 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 narrator takes a very distant or critical view of the characters. At times a narrator seems more like a disembodied, unidentified voice. Prose fiction 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 whatever 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 narrator’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 change dramatically from one section to another. Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula (1897), for example, is variously narrated through characters’ 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, first or third) the narrative voice assumes. 169

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These elements determine who is telling the story, whom it is about, and what information the reader has access to.

T Y PE S O F N A R R AT I O N

Third-Person Narration A third-person narrator tells an unidentified listener or reader what happened, referring to all characters using the pronouns he, she, or they. Third-person narration 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 narrators 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 exclusively 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 Woodhouse, the focal character, and her relationships.) Finally, an objective narrator 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 first- person narrator. Most common is first-person singular 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 first-person narrator may be telling a story mainly about someone else or about his or her own experience. Sometimes the first-person narrator addresses an auditor, a listener within the fiction whose possible reaction is part of the story. One kind of narrator that is especially effective at producing irony is the unreliable narrator. First-person narrators may unintentionally reveal their flaws as they try to impress. Or narrators may make claims that other characters or the audience know to be false or distorted. Some fictions are narrated by villains, insane people, fools, liars, or hypocrites. When we resist a narrator’s point of view and judge his or her flaws 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 first-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, and/or highly regulated. Elizabeth Gaskell’s classic short novel Cranford (1853) is a good example. The narrator is

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a young woman who visits a community of genteel widows and spinsters in the English 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 evening party, “We were all very silent at first. We were thinking 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 housekeeping 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 sometimes refer to herself as “I” or address the reader as “you.” So, too, does the narrator in Nobel Laureate Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (2005), another novel that portrays an isolated group that follows regulated customs. At a boarding school, a student, Polly, suddenly questions 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 an entire community and one individual within it.

Second-Person Narration Like narrators who refer to themselves as “we” throughout a work of fiction, secondperson 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 fiction, however, the present tense is also frequently 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.

N A R R ATO R V E R S U S I M PL I E D AU T H O R As you consider 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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“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 flesh-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 find letters or interviews in which the author comments on the work. This sort of biographical 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 find it difficult to account for the effects of distance and irony that come from a narrator’s or a character’s limitations. Many critics rely on the concept of the implied author, not to be confused with either the flesh-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 perspective 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 this coming-of-age narrative has some autobiographical aspects. Yet from the first sentence of the novel it is clear that someone besides Charles Dickens is telling the story: Pip, the first-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 characternarrator, as an abused child, but he is also flawed 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 flesh-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 fiction. 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 ticular 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 (naturally 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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Questions about Narration and Point of View • •













Does the narrator speak in the first, 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 language more standard and neutral? Is the narrator identified 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?







Because our responses to a work of fiction 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 specific effects of the par ticular types of narration and point of view. How would each story’s meaning and effects change if its narrative voice or focus were different? Can you show the reader of your essay how the specific narration and point of view of a story contribute to its significant 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 businessman. Poe received his early schooling in Richmond and in England 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” (1845)

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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.

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he 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 definitively settled—but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution 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 connoisseurship 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, Fortunato, 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 evening 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-fitting 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 Amontillado, 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 Amontillado 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 afflicted. 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 sufficient, I well knew, to insure their immediate disappearance, one and all, as soon as my back was turned. I took from their sconces two flambeaux,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 cautious 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 filmy 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.

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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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“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 field 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 catacombs. 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 first, another draught of the Medoc.” I broke and reached him a flaçon of De Grâve. He emptied it at a breath. His eyes flashed with a fierce 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 flambeaux rather to glow than flame. 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 forward, while I followed immediately at his heels. In an instant he had reached the extremity of the niche, and finding 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, horizontally. 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 first render you all the little attentions in my power.” “The Amontillado!” ejaculated my friend, not yet recovered from his astonishment. “True,” I replied; “the Amontillado.”

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1. Masons or Freemasons, an international secret society condemned by the Catholic Church. Montresor means by mason one who builds with stone, brick, etc.

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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 first tier of the masonry when I discovered that the intoxication of Fortunato had in great measure worn off. The earliest indication 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 finished without interruption the fifth, the sixth, and the seventh tier. The wall was now nearly upon a level with my breast. I again paused, and holding the flambeaux over the mason-work, threw a few feeble rays upon the figure 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 satisfied. 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 finished a portion of the last and the eleventh; there remained but a single stone to be fitted 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 difficulty 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 sick; it was the dampness of the catacombs that made it so. I hastened to make

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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 story provide that Montresor is an unreliable narrator? 2. Who is the auditor, the “You,” addressed in the first 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 influence the story’s effect? 3. What devices does Poe use to create and heighten the suspense in the story? Is the outcome ever in doubt?

GEORGE SAUNDERS (b. 1958)

Puppy When he described early-twentieth-century American 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’s fiction 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 fit 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 first 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 fight 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 everything from a slaughterhouse 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 CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (1996), Pastoralia (2000), In Persuasion Nation (2006), The Braindead Megaphone (2007), and Tenth of December (2013). His first novel is Lincoln in the Bardo (2017).

2. May he rest in peace (Latin).

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wice already Marie had pointed out the brilliance of the autumnal sun on the perfect field of corn, because the brilliance of the autumnal sun on the perfect field 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 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 fine 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 cornfield was such a classic. “Whenever I see a field 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 column 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 vously 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 floor 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 five, 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 Mission. 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 find the iguana. “Ho HO!” he had said, coming home to find 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.

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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 fighting off various Hungry Denizens, such as a Fox with a distended stomach; such as 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 first time the iguana bit him. “I see you have an opinion on the matter!”) Thank you, Lord, she thought, as the Lexus flew through the cornfield. 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 Corner (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 fist would suddenly pound down. He’d broken plates that way, and once a glass tabletop and got four stitches in his wrist.

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Today he didn’t need the medication because he was safe in the yard, because she’d fixed it so perfect. He was out there practicing pitching by filling his Yankees helmet with pebbles 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 definitely 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, getting 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 handle, 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 tonight? Was getting the pup sold, putting the kids to bed early, and then, Jimmy seeing her as all organized 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. 1. City in upstate New York, between Binghamton and Syracuse.

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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-twothree-four plucked up four dog turds from the rug. Well, wow, what a super field trip for the kids, Marie thought, ha ha (the filth, the mildew smell, the dry aquarium holding the single encyclopedia volume, the pasta pot on the bookshelf with an inflatable 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 pleasure 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 democratic and accepting, and afterward they could all wash up at the halfremodelled 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 definitely walk him like twice a day,” Josh said. “Don’t say ‘like,’ ” Marie said. “I will definitely 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 find her mother’s scattered lingerie and the ditchdigger’s metal hanger full of orange flags. She remembered waiting outside the junior high in the bitter cold, the snow falling harder, as she

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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 righteous adult to confront her mother, shake her, and say, “You idiot, this is your child, your child you’re—” “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 afloat 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 first 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

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choices. She remembered Sister Carol saying, “Callie, you are bright enough but you incline toward that which does not benefit 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 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 flowers. 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 flowers. 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.

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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— first 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 first-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 fictional 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)?

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AUTHORS ON THEIR WORK

GEORGE SAUNDERS (b. 1958) From “ ‘Knowable in the Smallest Fragment’: An Interview with George Saunders” (2003)* 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 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 fiction, 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.

VIRGINIA WOOLF (1882–1941)

The Mark on the Wall One of the twentieth century’s most revered novelists, Adeline Virginia Stephen was educated at home by her mother and father, a critic and historian best remembered today as founding editor of the Dictionary of National Biography. After their parents’ deaths, she and her siblings moved across London to Bloomsbury— a neighborhood then known mainly for its affordable housing but one they and the “Bloomsbury Group” of writers, artists, and intellectuals that gathered around them would soon make famous. In 1912, Virginia married another member of that circle—political theorist Leonard Woolf. Together, they created the Hogarth Press, which quickly emerged as a foremost publisher of experimental, cutting-edge work by writers ranging from T. S. Eliot to Sigmund Freud. Meanwhile, in 1915, Woolf published The Voyage Out, the first of eight novels including To the Lighthouse (1927)

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and Mrs. Dalloway (1925), the stream-of-consciousness tale of one day in the lives of a society hostess and a traumatized World War I veteran. Woolf’s work as critic and essayist has proven just as influential and enduring: The oft-taught A Room of One’s Own (1929), for example—which famously avows that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write [great] fiction”— arguably pioneered what we now call feminist literary criticism. Though Woolf’s short fiction is less well-known, it was here that she honed her own version of the radically “modern” fictional approach and style also championed in essays such as “Modern Fiction” (1921) and “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown” (1924).

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erhaps it was the middle of January in the present year that I first looked up and saw the mark on the wall. In order to fix a date it is necessary to remember what one saw. So now I think of the fire; the steady film of yellow light upon the page of my book; the three chrysanthemums in the round glass bowl on the mantelpiece. Yes, it must have been the winter time, and we had just finished our tea, for I remember that I was smoking a cigarette when I looked up and saw the mark on the wall for the first time. I looked up through the smoke of my cigarette and my eye lodged for a moment upon the burning coals, and that old fancy of the crimson flag flapping from the castle tower came into my mind, and I thought of the cavalcade of red knights riding up the side of the black rock. Rather to my relief the sight of the mark interrupted the fancy, for it is an old fancy, an automatic fancy, made as a child perhaps. The mark was a small round mark, black upon the white wall, about six or seven inches above the mantelpiece. How readily our thoughts swarm upon a new object, lifting it a little way, as ants carry a blade of straw so feverishly, and then leave it. . . . If that mark was  made by a nail, it can’t have been for a picture, it must have been for a miniature—the miniature of a lady with white powdered curls, powder-dusted cheeks, and lips like red carnations. A fraud of course, for the people who had this house before us would have chosen pictures in that way—an old picture for an old room. That is the sort of people they were—very interesting people, and I think of them so often, in such queer places, because one will never see them again, never know what happened next. They wanted to leave this house because they wanted to change their style of furniture, so he said, and he was in process of saying that in his opinion art should have ideas behind it when we were torn asunder, as one is torn from the old lady about to pour out tea and the young man about to hit the tennis ball in the back garden of the suburban villa as one rushes past in the train. But as for that mark, I’m not sure about it; I don’t believe it was made by a nail after all; it’s too big, too round, for that. I might get up, but if I got up and looked at it, ten to one I shouldn’t be able to say for certain; because once a thing’s done, no one ever knows how it happened. Oh! dear me, the mystery of life! The inaccuracy of thought! The ignorance of humanity! To show how very little control of our possessions we have—what an accidental affair this living is after all our civilisation—let me just count over a few of the things lost in our lifetime, beginning, for that seems always the most mysterious of losses—what cat would gnaw, what rat would nibble—three pale blue canisters of book-binding tools? Then

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there were the bird cages, the iron hoops, the steel skates, the Queen Anne coalscuttle, the bagatelle board, the hand organ1—all gone, and jewels too. Opals and emeralds, they lie about the roots of turnips. What a scraping paring affair it is to be sure! The wonder is that I’ve any clothes on my back, that I sit surrounded by solid furniture at this moment. Why, if one wants to compare life to anything, one must liken it to being blown through the Tube2 at fifty miles an hour—landing at the other end without a single hairpin in one’s hair! Shot out at the feet of God entirely naked! Tumbling head over heels in the asphodel meadows3 like brown paper parcels pitched down a shoot in the post office! With one’s hair flying back like the tail of a racehorse. Yes, that seems to express the rapidity of life, the perpetual waste and repair; all so casual, all so haphazard. . . . But after life. The slow pulling down of thick green stalks so that the cup of the flower, as it turns over, deluges one with purple and red light. Why, after all, should one not be born there as one is born here, helpless, speechless, unable to focus one’s eyesight, groping at the roots of the grass, at the toes of the Giants? As for saying which are trees, and which are men and women, or whether there are such things, that one won’t be in a condition to do for fifty years or so. There will be nothing but spaces of light and dark, intersected by thick stalks, and rather higher up perhaps, rose-shaped blots of an indistinct colour— dim pinks and blues—which will, as time goes on, become more definite, become—I don’t know what. . . . And yet the mark on the wall is not a hole at all. It may even be caused by some round black substance, such as a small rose leaf, left over from the summer, and I, not being a very vigilant housekeeper—look at the dust on the mantelpiece, for example, the dust which, so they say, buried Troy4 three times over, only fragments of pots utterly refusing annihilation, as one can believe. The tree outside the window taps very gently on the pane. . . . I want to think quietly, calmly, spaciously, never to be interrupted, never to have to rise from my chair, to slip easily from one thing to another, without any sense of hostility, or obstacle. I want to sink deeper and deeper, away from the surface, with its hard separate facts. To steady myself, let me catch hold of the first idea that passes. . . . Shakespeare. . . . Well, he will do as well as another. A man who sat himself solidly in an arm-chair, and looked into the fire, so—A shower of ideas fell perpetually from some very high Heaven down through his mind. He leant his forehead on his hand, and people, looking in through the open door—for this scene is supposed to take place on a summer’s evening—But how dull this is, this historical fiction! It doesn’t interest me at all. I wish I could hit upon a pleasant track of thought, a track indirectly reflecting credit upon myself, for those are the pleasantest thoughts, and very frequent even in the minds of modest mouse-coloured people, who believe genuinely that they dislike to hear their own praises. They are not thoughts directly praising oneself; that is the beauty of them; they are thoughts like this: 1. Barrel organ worked by hand crank. Bagatelle: game in which players try to roll balls into holes in a sloping board. Queen Anne coal-scuttle: pail for carry ing coal, in this case designed in the so-called “Queen Anne” style of the late nineteenth century. 2. London Underground or subway system; its first deep-level line opened in 1890. 3. That is, heaven or the afterworld, especially the flower-strewn Elysian fields of Greek my thology. 4. Ancient city-state destroyed by the Greeks in the war chronicled in Homer’s epic The Iliad.

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“And then I came into the room. They were discussing botany. I said how I’d seen a flower growing on a dust heap on the site of an old house in Kingsway.5 The seed, I said, must have been sown in the reign of Charles the First.6 What flowers grew in the reign of Charles the First?” I asked—(but I don’t remember the answer). Tall flowers with purple tassels to them perhaps. And so it goes on. All the time I’m dressing up the figure of myself in my own mind, lovingly, stealthily, not openly adoring it, for if I did that, I should catch myself out, and stretch my hand at once for a book in self-protection. Indeed, it is curious how instinctively one protects the image of oneself from idolatry or any other handling that could make it ridiculous, or too unlike the original to be believed in any longer. Or is it not so very curious after all? It is a matter of great importance. Suppose the looking-glass smashes, the image disappears, and the romantic figure with the green of forest depths all about it is there no longer, but only that shell of a person which is seen by other people—what an airless, shallow, bald, prominent world it becomes! A world not to be lived in. As we face each other in omnibuses and underground railways we are looking into the mirror; that accounts for the vagueness, the gleam of glassiness, in our eyes. And the novelists in future will realise more and more the importance of these reflections, for of course there is not one reflection but an almost infinite number; those are the depths they will explore, those the phantoms they will pursue, leaving the description of reality more and more out of their stories, taking a knowledge of it for granted, as the Greeks did and Shakespeare perhaps—but these generalisations are very worthless. The military sound of the word is enough. It recalls leading articles, cabinet ministers—a whole class of things indeed which as a child one thought the thing itself, the standard thing, the real thing, from which one could not depart save at the risk of nameless damnation. Generalisations bring back somehow Sunday in London, Sunday afternoon walks, Sunday luncheons, and also ways of speaking of the dead, clothes, and habits—like the habit of sitting all together in one room until a certain hour, although nobody liked it. There was a rule for everything. The rule for tablecloths at that particular period was that they should be made of tapestry with little yellow compartments marked upon them, such as you may see in photographs of the carpets in the corridors of the royal palaces. Tablecloths of a different kind were not real tablecloths. How shocking, and yet how wonderful it was to discover that these real things, Sunday luncheons, Sunday walks, country houses, and tablecloths were not entirely real, were indeed half phantoms, and the damnation which visited the disbeliever in them was only a sense of illegitimate freedom. What now takes the place of those things I wonder, those real standard things? Men perhaps, should you be a woman; the masculine point of view which governs our lives, which sets the standard, which establishes Whitaker’s Table of Precedency,7 which has become, I suppose, since the 5. Major road in central London. 6. King of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1625 until his execution, by Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army, in 1649. 7. World War I (1914–18). Whitaker’s Table of Precedency: the annual Whitaker’s Almanack includes a “ Table of Precedency” indicating the order in which various political and social ranks proceed on formal occasions— that is, who ranks below and thus follows whom (see par. 11).

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war half a phantom to many men and women, which soon, one may hope, will be laughed into the dustbin where the phantoms go, the mahogany sideboards and the Landseer prints,8 Gods and Dev ils, Hell and so forth, leaving us all with an intoxicating sense of illegitimate freedom—if freedom exists. . . . In certain lights that mark on the wall seems actually to project from the wall. Nor is it entirely circular. I cannot be sure, but it seems to cast a perceptible shadow, suggesting that if I ran my finger down that strip of the wall it would, at a certain point, mount and descend a small tumulus, a smooth tumulus like those barrows on the South Downs9 which are, they say, either tombs or camps. Of the two I should prefer them to be tombs, desiring melancholy like most English people, and finding it natural at the end of a walk to think of the bones stretched beneath the turf. . . . There must be some book about it. Some antiquary must have dug up those bones and given them a name. . . . What sort of a man is an antiquary, I wonder? Retired Colonels for the most part, I daresay, leading parties of aged labourers to the top here, examining clods of earth and stone, and getting into correspondence with the neighbouring clergy, which, being opened at breakfast time, gives them a feeling of importance, and the comparison of arrowheads necessitates cross-country journeys to the country towns, an agreeable necessity both to them and to their elderly wives, who wish to make plum jam or to clean out the study, and have every reason for keeping that great question of the camp or the tomb in perpetual suspension, while the Colonel himself feels agreeably philosophic in accumulating evidence on both sides of the question. It is true that he does finally incline to believe in the camp; and, being opposed, indites a pamphlet which he is about to read at the quarterly meeting of the local society when a stroke lays him low, and his last conscious thoughts are not of wife or child, but of the camp and that arrowhead there, which is now in the case at the local museum, together with the foot of a Chinese murderess, a handful of Elizabethan nails, a great many Tudor clay pipes, a piece of Roman pottery, and the wine-glass that Nelson1 drank out of—proving I really don’t know what. No, no, nothing is proved, nothing is known. And if I were to get up at this very moment and ascertain that the mark on the wall is really—what shall I say?—the head of a gigantic old nail, driven in two hundred years ago, which has now, owing to the patient attrition of many generations of housemaids, revealed its head above the coat of paint, and is taking its first view of modern life in the sight of a white-walled fire-lit room, what should I gain? Knowledge? Matter for further speculation? I can think sitting still as well as standing up. And what is knowledge? What are our learned men save the descendants of witches and hermits who crouched in caves and in woods brewing herbs, interrogating shrew-mice and writing down the language of the stars? And the less we honour them as our superstitions dwindle and our respect for beauty and health of mind increases . . . Yes, one could imagine a very pleasant world. A quiet spacious world, with the flowers so red and blue in the open fields. A world without professors or specialists or house-keepers with the profiles of policemen, a world 8. Cheap reproductions of animal paintings by Victorian painter Sir Edwin Henry Landseer (1802–73). 9. Range of hills in southeastern England. Barrows: earth or stone mounds erected by prehistoric peoples. 1. Much-revered war hero Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758–1805).

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which one could slice with one’s thought as a fish slices the water with his fin, grazing the stems of the water-lilies, hanging suspended over nests of white sea eggs. . . . How peaceful it is down here, rooted in the centre of the world and gazing up through the grey waters, with their sudden gleams of light, and their reflections—if it were not for Whitaker’s Almanack—if it were not for the Table of Precedency! I must jump up and see for myself what that mark on the wall really is— a nail, a rose-leaf, a crack in the wood? Here is Nature once more at her old game of self-preservation. This train of thought, she perceives, is threatening mere waste of energy, even some collision with reality, for who will ever be able to lift a finger against Whitaker’s Table of Precedency? The Archbishop of Canterbury is followed by the Lord High Chancellor; the Lord High Chancellor is followed by the Archbishop of York. Everybody follows somebody, such is the philosophy of Whitaker; and the great thing is to know who follows whom. Whitaker knows, and let that, so Nature counsels, comfort you, instead of enraging you; and if you can’t be comforted, if you must shatter this hour of peace, think of the mark on the wall. I understand Nature’s game—her prompting to take action as a way of ending any thought that threatens to excite or to pain. Hence, I suppose, comes our slight contempt for men of action—men, we assume, who don’t think. Still, there’s no harm in putting a full stop to one’s disagreeable thoughts by looking at a mark on the wall. Indeed, now that I have fixed my eyes upon it, I feel that I have grasped a plank in the sea; I feel a satisfying sense of reality which at once turns the two Archbishops and the Lord High Chancellor to the shadows of shades. Here is something definite, something real. Thus, waking from a midnight dream of horror, one hastily turns on the light and lies quiescent, worshipping the chest of drawers, worshipping solidity, worshipping reality, worshipping the impersonal world which is proof of some existence other than ours. That is what one wants to be sure of. . . . Wood is a pleasant thing to think about. It comes from a tree; and trees grow, and we don’t know how they grow. For years and years they grow, without paying any attention to us, in meadows, in forests, and by the side of rivers—all things one likes to think about. The cows swish their tails beneath them on hot afternoons; they paint rivers so green that when a moorhen dives one expects to see its feathers all green when it comes up again. I like to think of the fish balanced against the stream like flags blown out; and of water-beetles slowly raising domes of mud upon the bed of the river. I like to think of the tree itself: first the close dry sensation of being wood; then the grinding of the storm; then the slow, delicious ooze of sap. I like to think of it, too, on winter’s nights standing in the empty field with all leaves close-furled, nothing tender exposed to the iron bullets of the moon, a naked mast upon an earth that goes tumbling, tumbling all night long. The song of birds must sound very loud and strange in June; and how cold the feet of insects must feel upon it, as they make laborious progresses up the creases of the bark, or sun themselves upon the thin green awning of the leaves, and look straight in front of them with diamond-cut red eyes. . . . One by one the fibres snap beneath the immense cold pressure of the earth, then the last storm comes and, falling, the

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highest branches drive deep into the ground again. Even so, life isn’t done with; there are a million patient, watchful lives still for a tree, all over the world, in bedrooms, in ships, on the pavement, lining rooms, where men and women sit after tea, smoking cigarettes. It is full of peaceful thoughts, happy thoughts, this tree. I should like to take each one separately—but something is getting in the way. . . . Where was I? What has it all been about? A tree? A river? The Downs? Whitaker’s Almanack? The fields of asphodel? I can’t remember a thing. Everything’s moving, falling, slipping, vanishing. . . . There is a vast upheaval of matter. Someone is standing over me and saying— “I’m going out to buy a newspaper.” “Yes?” “Though it’s no good buying newspapers. . . . Nothing ever happens. Curse this war; God damn this war! . . . All the same, I don’t see why we should have a snail on our wall.” Ah, the mark on the wall! It was a snail. 1917 QUESTIONS 1. Why does Woolf’s narrator become fascinated with the mark on the wall? What does focusing on it seem to do for her? Why does she choose not to get up to investigate? 2. How does the narrator characterize life “since the war” began versus life before it (par. 7)? What role does “Whitaker’s Table of Precedency” play in that contrast? How might this contrast relate to the style of narration? 3. The Mark on the Wall consists almost entirely of interior monologue—the uninterrupted thoughts of a character just as they occur in the mind and voice of that character. Yet near its end we get dialogue. What is the effect of Woolf’s choice to introduce dialogue here? What seems significant about what is said? about who says it?

ADAM JOHNSON (b. 1967)

Interesting Facts Aptly described by the Los Angeles Times as a “gregarious, linebacker-sized guy of mixed Northern European and Native American extraction,” Adam Johnson was born in South Dakota but grew up in the Arizona suburbs. “[A]n only child and latchkey kid, raised mostly by his clinical psychologist mother after his parents divorced” (to again quote the Times), Johnson reports nurturing his “imaginary life” both by biking “the neighborhoods and alleys,” “open[ing] the trash dumpsters and [. . .] try[ing] to figure out who lived in those houses,” and by visiting the Phoenix Zoo, after hours, with his father, then a night watchman: “I developed a sense really early on that there was a behind-the-scenes to everything,” “that just behind the veil of anything was a richer, truer [. . .] story,” he says. For Johnson—who has a BA in journalism, as well as an MFA, and a PhD in English—piercing that veil requires equal parts imagination and research,

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storytelling’s “transformative power” residing in its ability to give us perspective on our own lives and minds by taking us into the most different of others’, especially “those who might other wise go unheard.” Based on years of research, Johnson’s second, Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, The Orphan Master’s Son (2012), offers a searing portrait of life in totalitarian North Korea; his first, Parasites Like Us (2003), imagines an apocalyptic pandemic. Johnson’s darkly funny collections Emporium (2002) and Fortune Smiles (2015), which nabbed the National Book Award, offer the perspectives of characters including a fifteen-year-old employed to kill disgruntled corporate employees; a former East German prison warden; and Mr. Roses, a potential pedophile. Apparently written over the objections of his wife, fellow writer and breast-cancer survivor Stephanie Harrell, “Interesting Facts” is unusual only in being the most autobiographical and metafictional of these tales. Now a Stanford professor, Johnson lives in San Francisco with Harrell and their three children—James Geronimo, Jupiter, and Justice.

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nteresting fact: Toucan cereal bedspread to my plunge and deliver. It’s okay if you can’t make sense of that. I’ve tried and tried, but I can’t grasp it, either. The most vital things we hide even from ourselves. The topic of dead wives actually came up not too long ago. My husband and I talked about it while walking home from a literary reading. It was San Francisco, which means winter rains, and we’d just attended a reading from a local writer’s short-story collection. The local writer was twentysomething and sexy. Her arms were taut, her black hair shimmered. And just so you’re clear, I’m going to discuss the breasts of every woman who crosses my path. Neither hidden nor flaunted behind white satin, her breasts were utterly, excruciatingly normal, and I hated her for that. The story she read was about a man who decides to date again after losing his wife. It’s always an aneurysm, a car accident or the long battle with cancer. Cancer is the worst way for a fictional wife to die. Anyway, the man in the story waits an appropriate amount of time after his wife’s loss—sixteen months!— before deciding to date again. After so much grief, he is exuberant and endearing in his pursuit of a woman. The first chick he talks to is totally game. The man, after all this waiting, is positively frisky, and the sex is, like, wow. The fortysomething widower nails the twentysomething gal on the upturned hull of his fiberglass kayak. And there’s even a moral, subtle and implied: when love blossoms, it’s all the richer when a man has discovered, firsthand, the painful fragility of life. Well, secondhand. Applause, Q&A, more applause. Like I said, it was raining. We had just left the Booksmith on Haight Street. The sidewalk was littered with wet panhandlers. Bastards that we were, we never gave. “What’d you think of the story?” my husband asked. I could tell he liked it. He likes all stories. I said, “I sympathized with the dead wife.” To which my husband, the biggest lunkhead ever to win a Pulitzer Prize, said: “But . . . she wasn’t even a character.” This was a year after my diagnosis, surgery, chemo and the various interventions, injections, indignities and treatments. When I got sick, our youngest

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child turned herself into a horse: silent and untamable, our Horse-child now only whinnies and neighs. Before that, though, she went through a phase we called Interesting Facts. “Interesting fact,” she would announce, and then share a wonder with us: A killer whale has never killed a person in the wild. Insects are high in protein. Hummingbirds have feelings and are often sad. So here are some of my interesting facts. Lupron,1 aside from ceasing ovulation, is used to chemically castrate sexual predators. Vinblastine interrupts cell division. It is a poisonous alkaloid made from the purple blossoms of the periwinkle plant. Tamoxifen makes your hips creak. My eyebrows fell out a year after finishing chemo. And long after your tits are taken, their phantoms remain. They get cold, they ache when you exercise, they feel wet after you shower, and you can towel like a crazy woman, but still they drip. Before my husband won a Pulitzer, we had a kind of deal. I would adore him, even though he packed on a few pounds. And he would adore me, even though I had a double mastectomy. Who else would want us? Who else, indeed. Now his readings are packed with young Dorothy Parkers2 who crowd around my man. The worst part is that the novel he wrote is set in North Korea, so he gets invited to all these functions filled with Korean socialites and Korean donors and Korean activists and Korean writers and various pillars of the Korean community. Did I leave out the words beautiful and female? You’re so sensitive to the Korean experience, the beautiful female Korean socialite says to my husband. Oh, he’s good about it. He always says, And this is my lovely wife. Ignoring me, the beautiful female Korean socialite adds, You must visit our book club. If I could simply press a button every time one of them said that. But I’m just tired. These are the places my mind goes when I’m tired. We’re four blocks from home, where our children are just old enough not to need a sitter. On these nights our eleven-year-old son draws comics of Mongolian invasions and the Civil Rights Movement—his history teacher allows him to write his reports graphically. (San Francisco!) Our daughter, at nine, is a master baker. Hair pulled into a ponytail, she is flour-dusted and kneading away. The Horse-child, who is only seven, does dressage.3 She is the horse who needs no rider. But talk of my children is for another story. I can barely gaze upon them now. Their little outlines, cut like black cameos, are too much to consider. My husband and I walk in the rain. We don’t hold hands. I still feel the itch of vinblastine in my nail beds, one of the places, it turns out, that the body stores toxins. Have you ever had the urge to peel back your fingernails and scratch underneath, to just wrench until the nails snap back so you can go scratch, scratch, scratch? I flex my fingers, rub my nails against the studs on my leather belt. I knew better, but still I asked him: “How long would you wait?” “Wait for what?”

1. Chemotherapy drug, like others mentioned in this paragraph. 2. That is, women resembling the famously witty American poet, satirist, and raconteur (1893–1967). 3. Equestrian sport (as practiced at horse shows) involving precision movements.

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“Until after I was gone. How many months before you went and got some of that twentysomething kayak sex?” I shouldn’t say shit like this, I know. He doesn’t know a teaspoon of the crazy in my head. He thought a moment. “Legally,” he said, “I’d probably need to have a death certificate. Other wise it would be like bigamy or something. So I’d have to wait for the autopsy and a burial and the slow wheels of bureaucracy to issue the paperwork. I bet we’re talking twelve to sixteen weeks.” “Getting a death certificate,” I say. “That has got to be a hassle. But wait— you know a guy at city hall. Keith Whatshisname.” “Yeah, Keith,” he says. “I bet Keith could get me proof of death in no time. The dude owes me. A guy like Keith could walk that death certificate around by hand, getting everyone to sign off in, I don’t know, seven to fourteen days.” “That’s your answer, seven to fourteen days?” “Give or take, of course. There are variables. Things that would be out of Keith’s control. If he moved too fast or pushed too hard—a guy could get in trouble. He could even get fired.” “Poor Keith. Now I feel for him, at the mercy of the universe and all. And all he wanted to do was help a grieving buddy get laid.” My husband eyes me with concern. We turn in to Frank’s Liquors to buy some condoms, even though our house is overflowing with them. It’s his subtle way of saying, For the love of God, give up some sex. My husband hates all condoms, but there’s a brand he hates less than others. I cannot take birth-control pills because my cancer was estrogen-receptive.4 My husband does not believe what the doctors say: that even though Tamoxifen mimics menopause, you can still get pregnant. My husband is forty-six. I am forty-five. He does not think that, in my forties, after cancer, chemotherapy and chemically induced menopause, I can get pregnant again, but sisters, I know my womb. It’s proven. “You think there’d be an autopsy?” I ask as he scans the display case. “I can’t stand the thought of being cut up like that.” He looks at me. “We’re just joking, right? Processing your anxiety with humor and whimsical talk therapy?” “Of course.” He nods. “Sure, I suppose. You’re young and healthy. They’d want to open you up and determine what struck you down.” A small, citrusy ha escapes. I know better than to let these out. He says, “Plus, if I’m dating again in seven to fourteen days—” “Give or take.” “Yes, give or take. Then people would want to rule out foul play.” “You deserve a clean slate,” I say. “No one would want the death taint of a first wife to foul a new relationship. That’s not fair to the new girl.” “I don’t think this game is therapeutic anymore,” he says, and selects his condoms.

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4. That is, triggered by the presence of estrogen, a hormone in birth-control pills.

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Interesting fact: Tamoxifen carries a dreaded class-D birth-defect risk.5 Interesting fact: My husband refuses to get a vasectomy. He makes his purchase from an old woman. Her saggy old-lady breasts flop around under her dress. The cash register drawer rolls out to bump them. My friends say that one day I’ll feel lucky. That I will have been spared this saggy fate. After my bilateral,6 I chose not to reconstruct. So I have nothing, just two diagonal zipper lines where my boobs should be. We turn south and head down Cole Street. The condoms are wishful thinking. We both know I will go to sleep when we get home. Interesting fact: I sleep twelve to thirteen hours a night. Interesting fact: Taxotere turns your urine pink. Interesting fact: Cytoxan is a blister agent related to mustard gas.7 When filtered from the blood, it scars the bladder, which is why I wake, hour after hour, night in and night out, to pee. Can you see why it would be hard for me to tell wake from sleep, how the two could feel reversed? Do you hear me trying to tell you that I have trouble telling the difference? “What about your Native American obligations?” I ask my husband. “Wouldn’t you have to wait a bunch of moons or something?” He is silent, and I cringe to think of what I just said. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” “ You’re just tired,” he says. The rain is more mistlike now. I hated the woman who read tonight. I hated the people who attended. I hated the failed wannabe writers in the crowd. I loathe all failed wannabe writers, especially me. I ask, “Have you thought of never?” “Never what?” “That there’s never another woman.” “Why are you talking like this?” he asks. “You haven’t talked like this in a long time.” “You could just go without,” I say. “You know, just soldier on.” “I really feel bad for what’s going through your head,” he said. Interesting fact: Charles Manson8 used to live in our neighborhood at 636 Cole Street. Manson’s house looms ahead. I always stop and give it my attention. It’s beige now, but long ago, when Manson used this place to recruit his murderous young girls, it was painted blue. I used this house as a location in my last novel, a book no one would publish. Where did all those years of writing go? Where does that book even reside? I gaze at the Manson house. I feel alive right now, though 5. Until 1979, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) used a five-letter system to indicate the risk drugs posed to fetuses; “Category D” drugs were those for which there is “positive evidence of [. . .] risk.” 6. Mastectomy in which both breasts are removed. 7. Toxic gas used in chemical warfare. 8. California cult leader (1934–2017) whose “Family” in 1969 murdered nine people during a fiveweek killing spree.

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looking through the gauze of curtains into darkened inner rooms, I can’t be sure. In researching my novel, I came across crime-scene photos of Sharon Tate, the most famous Manson stabbing victim. Her breasts are heavy and round, milk-laden since she is pregnant, with nipples that are wide and dark. I look up at my husband. He is big and tall, built like a football player. Not the svelte receivers they put on booster calendars. But the clunky linebackers whose bellies hang below their jerseys. “I need to know,” I said. “Just tell me how long you’d wait?” He puts his hand on my shoulder and holds my gaze. It is impossible to look away. “ You’re not going anywhere,” he says. “I won’t let you leave without us. We do every thing together, so if someone has to go, we go together. Our 777 will lose cabin pressure. Better yet, we’ll be in the minivan when it happens. We’re headed to Pacifica,9 hugging the turns on Devil’s Slide, and then we go through the guardrail, all of us, you, me, the kids, the dog, even. There’s no time for fear. There’s no dwelling. We careen. We barrel down. We rocket toward the jagged shore.” He squeezed my shoulder hard, almost too hard. “That’s how it happens, understand? When it comes, it’s all of us. We go together.” Something inside me melts. This kind of talk, it’s what I live on. My husband and kids came with me to the hospital for the first chemo dose. Was that a year ago? Three? What is time to you— a plucking harp string, the fucking do-re-mi of tuning forks? There are twelve IV bays, and our little one doesn’t like any of the interesting facts on the chemo ward. This is the day she stops speaking and turns into Horse-child, galloping around the nursing station, expressing her desires with taps of her hooves. Our son recognized a boy from his middle school. I recognized him, too, from the talent show assembly. The boy had performed an old-timey joke routine, complete with some softshoe.1 Those days were gone. Here he was with his mother, a hagged-out and battered woman beneath her own IV tree. She must have been deep into her treatments, but even I could tell she wasn’t going to make it. I didn’t talk to her. Who would greet a dead woman, who would make small talk with death itself? I didn’t let my eyes drift to her, even as our identical bags of Taxotere dripped angry into our veins. That’s how people would later treat me; it’s exactly the way I’m treated today when I come home to find my husband sitting on the couch with Megumi, a mom from the girls’ grade school. My husband and Megumi are talking in the fog-dampened bay-window light. On the coffee table is chicken katsu in a Pyrex dish. Megumi wears a top that’s trampoline-tight. She has a hand on my husband’s shoulder. Even though she’s a mother of two, her breasts are positively teenybopper. They pop. Her tits do everything but chew bubble gum and make Hello Kitty hearts. “Just what’s going on here?” I ask them. They brazenly, brazenly ignore me.

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9. Town just south of San Francisco, on coast-hugging Highway 1. 1. Tap dance performed in soft-soled shoes.

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I got to know Megumi on playground benches, where we struck up conversations while watching our daughters swing. I loved her Shinjuku2 style, and she loved all things American vintage. We bonded over Tokidoki and Patsy Cline.3 “I love your dress” is the first thing she said to me. It was a rose-patterned myrtle4 with a halter neck. “Interesting fact,” I told her. “I’m from Florida, and Florida is ground zero for vintage wardrobe. Rich women retire there from New York and New Jersey. They bring along a lifetime of fabulous dresses, and then they die.” “This is something I like,” she said in that slightly formal way she spoke. “No one in Tokyo would wear a dead woman’s dress.” Then she apologized, worried that she might have accidentally insulted me. “I have been saying the strangest things since moving to America,” she admitted. Our family was actually headed to Tokyo for the launch of my husband’s book in Japanese. Over the weeks, Megumi used sticks in the sandbox to teach me kanji5 that would help me navigate the Narita airport, the Shinkansen and Marunouchi subway lines. She asked about my husband and his book. “Writers are quite revered in Japan,” she told me. “I’m a writer, too,” I said. She turned from the kanji to regard me anew. “But no one will publish my books,” I added. Perhaps because of this admission, she later confided something in me. It was a cold and foggy afternoon. We were watching a father push his daughter high on a swing, admiring how he savored her delighted squeals in that weightless moment at the top of the arc. “If my life was a novel,” Megumi suddenly said, “I would have to leave my husband. This is a rule in literature, isn’t it? That you must act on your heart. My husband is distant and unemotional,” she declared. “I didn’t know that until I came here. America has taught me this.” I was supposed to reassure her. I was supposed to remind her that her husband was logging long hours and that things would get better. Instead, I asked, “But what about your kids?” Megumi said nothing. And now here I find her, sitting on my couch, hand on my husband’s shoulder! I’m the one who introduced them. Can you believe that? I’m the one who got her a copy of his novel in Japanese. I watch Megumi open her large dark eyes to take him in. And I know when my husband gives someone his full attention. I can’t make out what they are saying, but they are discussing more than fiction, I can tell you that. Something else catches my eye—arrows. There are quivers of arrows everywhere—red feathers, yellow feathers, white. 2. Famously fashionable district of Tokyo. 3. American country music star (1932–63). Tokidoki: Japanese-inspired line of clothes, shoes, and accessories featuring cartoon characters. 4. Fifties or fifties-inspired dress with a cowl or halter neckline and high waist. 5. Characters comprising written Japanese.

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In the kitchen is a casserole dish wrapped in aluminum foil. No, two casserole dishes. I discover a hospital band on my wrist. Have I left it on as a badge of honor? Or a darkly ironic accessory? Is the bracelet some kind of message to myself? Interesting fact: The kanji for irrational, I learned, is a combination of the elements woman and death. There was an episode not long ago that must be placed in the waking-andsleeping-reversed column. I was in the hospital. Nothing unusual there. The beautiful thing was the presence of my family—they were all around me as we stood beside some patient’s bed. The room was filled with Starbucks cups, and there were my brother, my sisters and my parents, and so on, all of us chatting away like old times. The topic was war stories. My great-uncle talked about playing football in the dunes of North Africa after a tank battle with Rommel.6 My father told a sad story about trying to deliver a Vietcong7 baby near Cu Chi. Then my brother looked stricken. He said, “I think it’s happening.” We all turned toward the bed, and that’s when I saw the dying woman. There was a wheeze as her breathing slowed. She seemed to get lighter before our eyes. I’ll admit I bore a resemblance to her. But only a little—that woman was all emaciated and droop-eyed and bald. My sister asked, “Should we call the nurse?” I pictured the crash cart bursting in, with its needles and paddles and intubation sleeve. It was none of my business, but: Leave the poor woman be, I thought. Just let her go. We all looked to my father, a doctor who has seen death many times. He is from Georgia. His eyes are old and wet, permanently pearlescent. He turned to my mother, who was weeping. She shook her head. Maybe you’ve heard of an out-of-body experience. Well, standing in that hospital room, I had an in-the-body experience, a profound sensation that I was leaving the real world and entering that strange woman, just as her eyes lost focus and her lips went slack. Right away, I felt the morphine inside her, the way it traced everything with halos of neon-tetra8 light. I entered the dark tunnel of morphine time, where the past, the present and the future became simultaneously visible. I was a girl again, riding a yellow bicycle. I will soon be in Golden Gate Park, watching archers shoot arrows through the fog. I see that all week long, my parents have been visiting this woman and reading her my favorite Nancy Drew books.9 Their yellow covers fill my vision. The Hidden Staircase. The Whispering Statue. The Clue in the Diary. You know that between-pulse pause when, for a fraction, your heart is stopped? I feel the resonating bass note of this nothingness. Vision is just a black vibration, and your mind is only that bottom-of-the-pool feeling when your air is spent. I

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6. Legendary World War II German commander, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (1891–1944), a.k.a. “The Desert Fox.” 7. Short for Viet Nam Cong San, meaning “Vietnamese Communists,” the guerilla force that fought against South Vietnamese and U.S. forces during the Vietnam War (c. 1955–75). 8. Brightly colored South American fish common in aquar iums. 9. Popular, oft-revised mysteries, published beginning in 1930, featuring an amateur teenage detective; The Hidden Staircase (1930) is a typical title.

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suddenly see the insides of this woman’s body, something cancer teaches you to do. Here is a lumpy chain of dye-blue lymph nodes, there are the endometrial1 tendrils of a thirsty tumor. Everywhere are the calcified Pop Rocks2 of scattergrowth. Your best friend, Kitty, silently appears. She took leave of this world from cancer twelve years earlier. She lifts a finger to her lips. Shh, she says. Then it really hits you that you’re trapped inside a dying woman. You’re being buried alive. Will be turns to is turns to was. You can no longer make out the Republican red of your mother’s St. John3 jacket. You can no longer hear the tremors of your sister’s breathing. Then there’s nothing but the still, the gathering, surrounding still of this woman you’re in. Then pop!—somehow, luckily, you make it out. You’re free again, back in the land of Starbucks cups and pay-by-the-hour parking. It was some serious brain-bending business, the illusion of being in that dead woman. But that’s how power ful cancer is, that’s how bad it can mess with your head. Even now you cannot shake that sense of time—how will you ever know again the difference between what’s past and what’s to come, let alone what is? My husband and kids missed the entire nightmare. They are downstairs eating soup. Interesting facts: The Geary Street Kaiser Permanente Hospital is where breasts are removed. The egg noodle wonton soup in their cafeteria is divine. The wontons are handmade, filled with steamed cabbage and white pepper. The Kaiser on Turk Street is chemo central. This basement cafeteria specializes in huge bowls of Vietnamese pho, made with beef ankles and topped with purple basil. Don’t forget Sriracha. The Kaiser on Divisadero is for when the end is near. Their shio ramen with pork cheeks is simply heaven. Open all night. My Vulcan mind-meld with death has strange effects on our family. Strangest of all is how I find it hard to look at my children. The thought of them moving forward in life without me, the person whose sole mission is to guide them—it’s not tolerable. My arms tremble at how close they came to having their little spirits snuffed out. The idea of them making their way alone in this world makes me want to turn things into sticks, to wield a hatchet and make kindling of everything I see. I’ve never chopped a thing in my life, I’m not a competent person in general, so I would lift the blade in full knowledge that my aim would stray, that the evil and the innocent will fall together. Interesting fact: My best friend, Kitty, died of cancer. Over the years, the doctors took her left leg, her breasts, her throat and her ovaries. In return, they gave her two free helpings of bone marrow. As the end came, I became afraid to go see her. What would I say? What does goodbye even mean? Finally, when she had only a few days left, I mustered the courage for a visit. To save money, I flew to Atlanta and then took a bus. But I got on the wrong one! I didn’t realize this until I got to North Carolina. Kitty died in Florida.

1. The endometrium lines the uterus. 2. Fizzy, carbonated candy introduced in 1975. 3. Upscale fashion brand specializing in women’s knitwear.

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My husband soldiers up. He gives me space and starts getting up early to make the kids’ lunches and trek them off to school. The kids are rattled, too. They take to sleeping with their father in the big bed. With all those arms and legs, there’s no room for yours truly. They’re a pretty glum bunch, but I understand: it’s not easy to almost lose someone. I spend a lot of time in Golden Gate Park, where my senses are newly heightened. I can see a gull soaring past and know exactly where it will land. I develop an uncanny sense of what the weather will be. Just by gazing at a plant, I can tell its effects upon the human body. Interesting fact: The blue cohosh plant grows in the botanical gardens just a short stroll into the park. Its berries are easily ground into a poultice, and from this can be extracted a violet oil that causes the uterus to contract. Coastal Miwok tribes used it to induce abortions. All this is hard on my husband, but he does not start drinking again. I’m proud of him for that, though I would understand if he did. It would be a sign of how wounding it was to nearly lose me. If he hit the bourbon, I’d know how much he needed me. What he does instead is buy a set of kettle bells.4 When the kids are asleep, he descends into the basement and swings these things around for hours, listening to podcasts about bow hunting, Brazilian jiujitsu and Native American folklore. He sheds some weight, which troubles me. The pounds really start to fall off. He gets the kids to music lessons, martial arts, dental appointments. The problem is school, where a cavalcade of chatty moms loiter away their mornings. There’s the Thursday-morning coffee klatsch, the post-drop-off beignets5 at Café Reverie, the book club at Zazie’s. These moms are single, or single enough. Meet Liddi, mother of twins, famous in Cole Valley6 for inventing and marketing the dual-mat yoga backpack. She’s without an ounce of fat, but placed upon her A-cup chest is a pair of perfectly pronounced, fully articulated nipples. There’s rocker mom Sabina, heavy into ink and steampunk chic. Octopus tentacles beckon from Sabina’s cleavage. And don’t forget Salima, a UCSF prof who’s fooling nobody by cloaking her D’s under layers of fabric. Salima will not speak of the husband—alive or dead—whom she left in Lahore.7 How are you getting by? they ask my husband. Let us know if you need anything, they offer. They give our kids lifts to birthday parties and away games. Their ovens are on perpetual preheat. But it’s Megumi who’s always knocking. It’s Megumi who gets inside the door.

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Interesting facts: Chuck Norris tackles seventeen bad guys at once in Missing in Action III. Clint Eastwood takes up the gun again in Unforgiven. George Clooney is hauntingly vulnerable in The Descendants.8 Do you know why? Dead wives. 4. Large round cast-iron weights. 5. Sugar-coated doughnut-like pastries. 6. San Francisco neighborhood, near both the Haight-Ashbury district and Golden Gate Park, full of coffee shops and restaurants such as Zazie’s. 7. Capital of Pakistan’s Punjab province. UCSF: University of California, San Francisco. 8. Film (2011) featuring a man coping with a comatose wife and two troubled daughters. Missing in Action III: 1988 action-adventure film. Unforgiven: revisionist Western (1992).

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Interesting fact: One wife who didn’t die was Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.9 My MFA thesis was a collection of linked stories on Lady Montagu’s strug gles to succeed as a writer despite her demanding children, famous husband and painful illness. I didn’t have much to say about the subject. I just thought she was pretty amazing. Not a single person bothered to read my thesis, not even the female professor who directed it. “Write what you know,” that’s what my professor kept telling me. I never listened. One afternoon, I wander deep into Golden Gate Park, beyond the pot dealers on Hippie Hill and the rust-colored conning tower of the de Young Museum. I pass even the buffalo pens. In the wide meadows near the Pacific Ocean, I discover, by chance, my husband and children at the archery range. What are they doing here? How long have they been coming? They have bows drawn and, without speaking, are solemnly shooting arrows, one after another, downrange into heavy bales. The Horse-child draws a recurve, while my daughter shoots Olympic and my son pulls a longbow with his lean and beautiful arms. My husband strains behind a compound,1 its pulleys and cams creaking under the weight. He has purchased hundreds of arrows, so they rarely pause to retrieve. When the sunset fog rolls in, they fire on faith into a blanket of white. When darkness falls, they place balloons on the targets so they can hear the pop of a well-placed arrow. I have acquired a keen sense of dark trajectory. I stand beside my husband, the power of a full draw bound in his shoulders. I whisper release when his aim is perfect. He obeys. I don’t need to walk through the dark with him to see the arrows stacked up yellow in the bull’s-eye. Later, he doesn’t read books to the children before bed. Instead, on our California king, they gather to hear him repeat a story he has heard podcast by Lakota Sioux2 storytellers. My husband never speaks of his Sioux blood. He has never even visited the reservation. All the people who would have connected him to that place were long ago taken by liquor, accidents, time-released mayhem and self-imposed exile. The story he tells is of a ghost horse that was prized by braves riding into battle because the pony, already being dead, could not be shot from under them. This pony, afraid of nothing, reared high and counted its own coup.3 Only at the end of the clashes do the braves realize a ghost warrior had been riding bareback with them, guiding the horse’s every move. In this way the braves learn the gallop of death without having to leave this life. The Horse-child asks, “Why didn’t the ghost horse just go to heaven?” I realize it’s the first time I’ve heard the Horse-child speak in—how long? My daughter answers her. “The story’s really about the ghost warrior.” The Horse-child asks, “Why doesn’t the ghost warrior go to heaven, then?” My daughter says, “Because ghosts have unfinished business. Everybody knows that.” 9. British protofeminist, woman of letters, and mother of two (1689–1762), who first introduced the smallpox vaccine into England; her husband served as British ambassador to the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire. 1. Modern bow using a pulley system. 2. Native peoples now occupying lands in North and South Dakota. 3. Acts of valor, recorded by Native American warriors on “coup sticks.”

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My son asks, “Did Mom leave unfinished business?” My husband tells them, “A mom’s work is never done.” A health issue can be hard on a family. And it breaks my heart to hear them talk like I no longer exist. If I’m so dead, where’s my grave, why isn’t there an urn full of ashes on the mantel? No, this is just a sign that I’ve drifted too far from my family, that I need to pull my act together. If I want them to stop treating me like a ghost, I need to stop acting like one. Interesting fact: In the TV movies, a ghost mom’s job is to help her husband find a suitable replacement. It’s an ancient trope—see Herodotus, Euripides and Virgil.4 For recent examples, consult CBS’s A Gifted Man, NBC’s Awake, and Safe Haven, now in heavy rotation on TCM.5 The TV ghost mom can see through the gold diggers and wicked stepmoms to find that heart-of-gold gal who can help those kiddos heal, who will clap at the piano recitals, provide much-needed cupcake pick-me-ups and say things like “Your mom would be proud.” I assure you that no such confectionary female exists. No new wife cares about the old wife’s kids. They’re just an unavoidable complication to the new wife’s own family-to-be. That’s what vasectomy reversals and Swiss boarding schools are for. If I were a ghost mom, my job would be to stab these rivals in the eyes, to dagger them all. Dagger, dagger, dagger.

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The truth is, though, that you don’t need to die to know what it’s like to be a ghost. On the day my doctor called and gave me the diagnosis, we were at a party in New York. Our mission was to meet a young producer for The Daily Show who was considering a segment on my husband. She was tall and willowy in a too-tight black dress, and while her breasts may once have been perfect, she had dieted them down to nothing. Right away she greeted my husband with euro kisses,6 laughed at nothing, then showed him her throat. I was standing right there! Talk about invisible. Then my phone rang—Kaiser Permanente with the biopsy results. I tried to talk, but words didn’t come out. I walked through things. I found myself in a bathroom, washing my face. Then I was twenty floors below, on Fifty-seventh Street. I swear I didn’t take the elevator. I just appeared. Then I was on a bus in North Carolina, letting a hard-drinking preacher massage my shoulders while my friend was dying in Florida. Then it was my turn. I saw my own memorial: My parents’ lawn is covered with cars. 4. When the eponymous hero of his Latin-language epic, the Aeneid (c. 29–19 BCE), searches the fallen city of Troy for his wife, he instead encounters her ghost, who tells him that he is destined to find a new home, remarry, and rule a great kingdom. Herodotus: The ancient Greek author’s Histories (440 BCE) include what classicist James Romm calls an especially “lurid episode, in which” a tyrant (Periander) “has intercourse with the body of his dead wife, Melissa, and is then tormented by her ghost.” Euripides: In this ancient Greek playwright’s Alcestis (438 BCE), Alcestis volunteers to die in her husband’s stead after making him promise not to remarry and allow a stepmother to raise her children; later, he agrees to marry a veiled woman ultimately revealed to be Alcestis, returned from the dead by Heracles (a.k.a. Hercules). 5. Turner Classic Movies, a cable-television channel. A Gifted Man: 2011–12 drama series about a surgeon visited by the ghost of his dead wife. Awake: detective series (2012) whose protagonist oscillates between two lives, in one of which he is newly widowed. Safe Haven: 2013 film, based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, in which a mysterious young woman’s relationship with a widowed father of two turns out to be the result of the dead wife’s machinations. 6. Traditionally, kisses on one or both cheeks, a form of greeting.

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They must buy a freezer to store all the HoneyBaked hams that arrive. My family and friends gather next to the river that slowly makes its way past my parents’ home. Here, people take turns telling stories. My great-uncle tells a story about me as a little girl and my decision to wed the boy next door. My folks got a cake and flowers and had the judge down the street preside in robes over the ceremony. The whole neighborhood turned up, and everyone got a kick out of it. The next day brought the sobering moment when my folks had to tell me the marriage wasn’t real. My brother tells a story about my first Christmas home from college and how I brought a stack of canvases to show everyone the nudes I’d been letting the art-major boys paint of me. My mother tries to tell a story. I can tell it will be the one about the Christmas poodle. But she is overcome. It scares the children, the way she slow-motion folds up, dropping to the ground like a garment bag. To distract them, my father decides on a canoe ride—that always was a treat for the kids. Tears run from their eyes as they don orange vests and shove off. Right away, the Horse-child screams that she is afraid of the water. She strikes notes of terror we didn’t know existed. My son, in the bow, tries to hide his clutched breathing, and then I see the shuddering shoulders of my daughter. She swivels her head, looking everywhere, desperately, and I know she is looking for me. My father, stunned and bereft, is too inconsolable to lift the paddle. My father who performed more than fifteen hundred field surgeries near Da Nang, my father who didn’t flinch when the power went out at Charity Hospital in New Orleans,7 my father—he slowly closes his pearl-grey eyes. They float there, not twenty feet from us, the boat too unsteady for them to comfort one another, and we onshore can only wrench at the impossibility of reaching them. Back inside the New York party, I realized time had ceased to flow: my husband and the producer were laughing the exact same laugh, the lime zest of their breath still acrid in the air, and I saw this was in the future, too, all these chilly women with their iron-filing eyes and rice-paper hearts. They wanted something genuine, something real. They wanted what I had: a man who was willing to go off the cliff with you. They would come after him when he was weak, I suddenly understood, when I was no longer there to fend them off. This wasn’t hysteria. It wasn’t imagination. I was in the room with one of them. Here she was, perfect teeth forming a brittle smile, hips hollow as sake8 boxes. “That story is too funny,” the producer said. “Stop it right there. Save it for the segment!” In a shrug of false modesty, my husband accidentally sloshed his soda water. “Well,” he said. “Only if you think it would be good for the show.” I put my hand on the producer’s arm. She turned, startled, discovering me. I used my grip to assess her soul—I felt the want of it, I calculated its lack, in the same way Lady Montagu mapped the microscopic world of smallpox pustules and Voltaire9 learned to weigh vapor. You tell me who the fucking ghost is. 7. Presumably during Hurricane Katrina (2005), which so damaged the hospital that it has never reopened. Da Nang: Vietnam’s third-largest city. 8. Japanese alcohol made from rice and sometimes served in small wooden boxes called masu. 9. French philosopher-historian (1694–1778).

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There is a knock at the door. It’s Megumi! My husband answers, and the two of them regard each other, almost sadly, for a moment. They are clearly acknowledging the wrongness of whatever it is they’re up to. They head upstairs together, where I realize there are Costco-size boxes of condoms everywhere—under the sink, in the medicine cabinet, taped under the bedside table, hidden in the battery flap of a full-size talking Tigger doll! Megumi and my husband enter our bedroom. Right away, the worst possible thing happens—they move right past these birth-control depots. They do not collect any condoms at all. My kind of ghost mom would make it her job to stop hussies like Megumi from fucking grieving men, and if I were too late, it would be my job to go to Megumi late at night, to approach her as she slept on her shabby single-mom futon and, with my eyedropper, dribble one, two, three purple drops upon her lips, just enough to abort the baby he put inside her. In her belly, the fetus would clutch and clench and double up dead. Megumi and my husband do not approach the bed. They move instead toward the armoire, beside which is a rolling rack of all the vintage dresses I could no longer wear once I lost my bustline. I moved them onto the rack but couldn’t bear to roll them out of the room. Megumi runs her fingers along these dresses. She pauses only to eye a stack of my training bras on the dresser. Interesting fact: While you can get used to being titless, the naked feeling of not wearing a bra is harder to shake. You just become accustomed to the hug of one. I recommend the A-cup bras from Target’s teen section. Mine are decorated with multicolor peace signs. Megumi selects a dress from the rack and studies it—it’s an earthy pink Hepburn1 with a boat collar, white trim and pleated petticoat. At the Florida university where I met my husband, I was in his presence three different times before he finally noticed me. I was wearing that dress when he did. I wonder if he remembers it. Megumi holds the dress to her body, studying herself in the mirror. Then she turns to my husband, draping the dress against her figure for his approval. Interesting fact: The kanji for figure is a combination of the elements next and woman. I study my own figure in the mirror. Interesting fact: The loss of breasts doesn’t flatten your chest—it leaves you concave and hollowed-looking. And something about the surgery pooches your tummy. My surgeon warned me of this. But who could picture it? Who would voluntarily conjure herself that way? Megumi waits, my dress held against her. Then my husband reaches out. He has a faraway look in his eyes. With his fingertips, he tugs here and tapers there, adjusting the fall of fabric to the shape of her body. Finally, he nods. She accepts the dress, folding it in her arms. I do not dagger her. I stand there and do nothing.

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1. Fifties or fifties-inspired dress reminiscent of those worn by actress Audrey Hepburn (1929–93).

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Interesting fact: My first novel that no one would publish was about Scottsdale2 trophy wives who form a vigilante group to patrol their gated community. It contains, among other things, a bobcat killing, a night-golfing tragedy, the illegal use of a golf ball– collecting machine and a sex scene involving a man and a woman wearing backpack-mounted soda pistols. It was called The Beige Berets.3 Interesting fact: My second novel that no one would publish concerns two young girls who have rare powers of perception. One can read auras, while the other sees ghosts. To work the ghost angle, I had their father live in Charles Manson’s old apartment. To make the girls more vulnerable, I decided to kill off their mother, so I gave her cancer. To ratchet up the tension, I had a sexual predator live next door named Mr. Roses. My husband came up with the name. In fact, my husband became quite enamored with this character. He was really helpful in developing Mr. Roses’ backstory and generating his dialog. Then my husband stole this character and wrote a story from Mr. Roses’ perspective called “Dark Meadow.” I can’t even say the name of this novel without getting angry.

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My husband does not return to the novel he was working on before my cancer. After the kids are asleep, he instead calls up the website bigboobsalert. He regards this on slide-show mode, so ladies with monstrous chests appear and fade, one into the next. My husband has his hand lotion ready, but he doesn’t masturbate. He stares at a nebulous place just past the computer screen. I contemplate these women. All I see in their saucerous nipples and pendulous breasts is the superpower of motherhood. Instead of offering come-hither looks to lonely men, these women should be feeding hungry babies, calling upon foundling wards and nursing the legion orphaned of the world. We should airdrop these bra-busters into tsunami zones, earthquake epicenters and the remote provinces of North Korea! I kneel beside my husband, slouched in his ergonomic office chair. I align my vision with his, but I can’t tell what he’s looking at. Our faces are almost touching, and though he is lost and sad, I still feel his sweet energy. “Come to bed,” I whisper, and he sort of wakes up. But he doesn’t rise to face our bedroom. Instead, he opens a blank Word document and stares at it. Eventually, he types, “Toucan cereal.” “No!” I shout at him. “I’m the one who got cancer, I’m the one who was struck. That’s my story. It belongs to me!” Interesting fact: Cancer teaches you to see the insides of things. Do you see the can in uncanny or the cer in concern? When people want to make chitchat with you—even though, if they took the time, they could see that under your bandanna you have no hair—it’s easier to just say to them, “Sorry, I have some uncanny concerns right now.” If you’re feeling feisty, try “I feel arcane and acerbic.” Who hasn’t felt that? But sometimes you’ve got chemo brain and your balance is all woo-woo and your nails are itching like crazy and you don’t want to talk to anybody. Be prepared for that. Person 1: “Gosh, I haven’t seen you in forever. How’s it going?” You: “Toucan cereal.” 2. City just east of Phoenix, Arizona. 3. The Green Berets (1968) is a famous action-adventure movie set in Vietnam.

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Person 2: “Hey, what’s new? I’m so behind. I probably owe you like ten messages.” You: “Vulcan silencer.” Smile blankly. Hold it. Arrows boat-tail through the night. Raccoons rear, yellow-eyed, to watch them fly. In spring the surf sorrel,4 considered an aphrodisiac by the Miwok peoples, open their gate-folding leaves. I can’t look at my children head-on. From afar I study them. I watch my husband shuttle them to school from a distance great enough that I almost can’t tell my kids from other ones. Even worse than cancer glommers are widower clingers. They approach my husband with their big sympathetic eyes and force him to say things like “We’re managing” and “Keeping our heads above water.” But he’s no fool. He returns their casserole dishes to be refilled. Our daughter takes on my voice. I study her as she admonishes her brother and the Horse-child to take their asthma medicine and do their silent reading before bed. When lice outbreaks arrive, she is the one who meticulously combs through their hair after my husband succumbs to frustration and salty talk. I keep a hairy eyeball wide for Megumi. She doesn’t come around, which makes me all the more suspicious. I wonder if my husband took some of that Pulitzer money and bought a “studio” in the neighborhood. You know, a place to hide your book royalties from the IRS and “get some serious work done.” I flip through his key chain, but there is nothing new, just keys to the house, his Stanford office, the Honda Odyssey, five Kryptonite bike locks. I use my powers of perception to scan the neighborhood for signs of this socalled writer’s studio. I try to detect the effervescence of my husband’s everpresent sparkling water, the shimmer of his condom wrappers or the snap of Megumi’s bra strap. My feelers feel only the fog rolling in, extinguishing the waking world block by block, starting with the outer avenues. Interesting fact: The Miwok believed the advancing fog could draw one into the next world. Interesting fact: Accidentally slipping into the afterlife was a grave concern for them. To locate one another in the fog, they darkened their skin with pigment made from the ashes of poison oak fires. They marked their chests with the scent of Brewer’s angelica. They developed signature calls by which they alone would be known. For some reason, my family skips archery tonight. And there is no Native American story when the kids are put to bed. Even bigboobsalert has to wait. In his office, my husband calls up his document and continues stealing my story. I don’t shout at him this time. He is a slow and expressive writer. Word choices play across his face. He drinks sparkling water, urinating into the plastic bottles when they’re empty, and writes most of the night. I miss talking with him. I miss how nothing seemed like it really happened unless we told each other about it. Interesting fact: My third, unfinished novel is about Buffalo Calf Road Woman, the Cheyenne warrior who struck the felling blow to Custer5 at Little Bighorn. I wrote about her life only because it amazed me.

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4. Plant native to the California coast, just as “Brewer’s angelica” (par. 184) is to the mountains. 5. U.S. Army General George Armstrong Custer (1839–76). In 2005, Northern Cheyenne storytellers publicly credited Buffalo Calf Road Woman (d. 1879) with killing Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn.

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My husband has my research spread before him: atlases of Native American tribes and field guides for botanicals and customs and my thology. I think this is good for him. I’m there when he hits one last Command-S for the night. I follow him upstairs. The children are sleeping in the big bed. He climbs in among their flopped limbs, and I want to join, but there is no room. My husband’s head comes to rest upon the pillow. Yet his eyes remain open, growing large, adjusting focus, like he is trying to follow something as it disappears into the dark. Interesting fact: My husband doesn’t believe that dreams carry higher meanings. Interesting fact: I had a dream once. In the dream, I stood naked in the darkness. A woman approached me. When she neared, I could see she was me. She said to me, or I guess I said to myself, “It’s happening.” Then she reached out and touched my left breast. I woke to find my breast warm and buzzing. I felt a lump in a position I would later learn was the superior lateral quadrant. In the morning, I stood in front of the mirror, but the lump was nowhere to be found. I told my husband about the dream. He said, “Spooky.” I told him I was going to the doctor right away. “I wouldn’t worry,” he said. “It’s probably nothing.” Eventually, my husband sleeps. An arm passes over one child and secures another. All the pillows have been stolen, then half-stolen back. The children thrum to his deep, slow breathing. I have something to tell him. Interesting fact: My husband has a secret name, a Sioux name. He’s embarrassed by it. He doesn’t like anyone to say it, as he feels he doesn’t deserve it. But when I utter the Lakota words, he wakes from his sleep. He sees me, I can tell, his eyes slowly dial me in. He doesn’t smile, but on his face is a kind of recognition. Through the bay windows, troughs of fog surge down Frederick Street. “I think it’s happening,” I say to him. He nods, then he drifts off again. Later, this will only have been a dream. I near the bed and regard my children. Here is my son, back grown strong from pulling the bow. Still I see his little-boy cheeks and long eyelashes. Still I see the boy who nursed all night, who loved to hug fire hydrants, who ran longhaired and shirtless along a slow-moving river in Florida. His hair is buzzed now, like his father’s, and his pupils behind closed eyes track slowly, like he is dreaming of a life that unfolds at a less jolting pace. My daughter’s hair is the gravest shade of black. If anyone got the Native blood, it is her. Dark-skinned and fast afoot, she also has fierce, far-seeing eyes. She is the one who would enter the battle to save her brother, as Buffalo Calf Road Woman famously did. Tonight she sleeps clutching my iPhone, alarm set for dawn, and in the set of her jaw, I can feel the list of things she’ll have to accomplish to get her siblings up and fed and off to school. And then there is the Horse-child. Interest ing fact: My youngest’s love of interest ing facts was just a stage. When my illness turned her into a horse, she never said interest ing facts again. Interesting fact: Horses cannot utter human words or feel human emotions. They are resilient beasts, immune from the sadness of the human cargo they carry.

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She is once again a little human, a member of a weak and vulnerable breed. Who will explain what she missed while she was a horse? Who will hold her and tell her who I was and what I went through? If only she had never been a horse, if only she could remain one a little longer. What I wouldn’t give to hear her whinny and neigh her desires again, to see how delicately she tapped her hoof to receive a carrot or sugar cube. But it is over. She’ll never again gallop on all fours or give herself a mane by drawing with markers down her back. It will just have been a stage she went through, preserved only in a story. And that, I suppose, is all I will have been, a story from when they were little. 2015 QUESTIONS 1. Why and how do the narrator’s outlook and feelings evolve over the course of the story? What about the various members of her family? What might she mean when she says, “I think it’s happening” (par. 196)? 2. How would this story work and mean differently if it were narrated in the third person? if its first-person narrator were the husband? Consider the resemblances between this fictional family and Johnson’s own, as well as the (metafictional) way the story refers to a husband “stealing” his wife’s “story” (par. 185): How do these aspects of Interesting Facts affect your experience and understanding of it? 3. After reading the whole story, how might you differently understand the meaning and significance of its first two paragraphs? SUGGESTIONS FOR WRITING 1. 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 specific techniques or details create that gap? 2. Write an essay exploring the claim that The Mark on the Wall celebrates the power of the imagination. How might the story do so through the style, as well as the content, of its narration? To what is imagination opposed here? 3. Write an essay analyzing the voice of the narrator of Interesting Facts. When and how might that voice change over the course of the story, and what might that change of voice signal or reveal? 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 an abbreviated version of Interesting Facts or re-envision one or two of its key episodes using a dif ferent point of view. If you choose a first-person narrator, work to capture that person’s unique voice, as well as his or her perspective on events.

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4

CHARACTER

Robert Buss, Dickens’ Dream (1870)

In the unfinished watercolor Dickens’ Dream, the nineteenth-century writer peacefully dozes while above and around him float ghostly images of the hundreds of characters that people his novels and, apparently, his dreams. This image captures the undeniable fact that characters loom large in the experience of fiction, 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 fiction, 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 float free of the texts where we first encounter them, and even to haunt us. You may know almost nothing about 210

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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 fiction are distinguished, in part, by the specific kinds of nonhuman characters they conventionally feature, whether alien species and intelligent machines (as in science fiction), animals (as in fables), or elves and monsters (as in traditional fairy tales and modern fantasy). All characters 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

H E RO E S A N D VI L L AI N S V E R S U S PROTAG O N I S T S A N D A N TAG O N I S T S 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 encourages 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 fiction, 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 ticular 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

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of Amontillado) or Ebenezer Scrooge (in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol) is a hero, 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 ticular type of protagonist known as an antihero. Found mainly in fiction 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 difficult to like or admire. One early and influential example 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 fiction as dependent on whether we find 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 find least likable or admirable may ultimately move and teach us the most.

M A J O R V E R S U S M I N O R CH A R AC T E R S 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 “realistic” than the minor characters, the figures who fill out the story. Yet even though minor characters are less prominent and may seem less complex, 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’ significance 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.

F L AT V E R S U S RO U N D A N D S TAT I C V E R S U S DY N A M I C CH A R AC T E R S Characters that act from varied, often conflicting 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 flat. Sometimes characters seem round to us because our impression 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 characters are round.

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Terms like flat and round or dynamic and static are useful so long as we do not let them harden into value judgments. Because flat characters are less complex than round ones, it is easy to assume they are artistically inferior; however, we need only think of the characters of Charles Dickens, many of whom are flat, to realize that this is not always the case. A truly original flat 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 flat characters includes a middle-aged man who constantly pulls himself up by his own hair and an old one who must continually be “fluffed 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 with a habit of dying in ever more outrageous ways only to come back to life over and over again.

S TO CK CH A R AC T E R S A N D A RCH E T Y PE S 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 stockroom of familiar, prefabricated figures. 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 figure that appears in the guise of Brer Rabbit in the Uncle Remus stories, the spider Anansi in African and Afro-Caribbean folktales, the coyote in Native American folklore, and, perhaps, Bugs Bunny. Another such character is the scapegoat.

R E A D I N G CH A R AC T E R I N F I C T I O N A N D L I F E On the one hand, we get to know characters in a work of fiction and try to understand 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 flit 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 figure 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, science suggests, we hone by reading fiction. The skills of observation and interpretation, the enlarged experience and capacity for empathy, that we develop in reading fiction can help us better navigate our real world. On the other hand, however, fictional 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, fictional characters are the products not of nature, chance, or God, but of careful, deliberate characterization— the art and technique of representing fictional 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 individualized 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 ticular 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 nineteenthcentury 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 conflicting 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 find everything swathed up, and to have a bustle of arrangement 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 peculiar, 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 conversation? What do you infer about their individual outlooks, personalities, and values? What different definitions 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 first of the two major methods of presenting character—indirect characterization 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 characterization 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 process: 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 persons or things: the good lady evidently belonged to this class; my queries 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 definite 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?

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Characters, Conventions, and Beliefs Just as fiction 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 ticular fictional worlds and their characters differ from one another. As the critic James Wood argues, our hunger for the par ticular 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 fiction] tend to fail not when the characters 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 specific hunger for its own characters, its own reality level.

Works of fiction in various subgenres differ widely in how they handle characterization. Were a folktale, for example, to depict more than a few, mainly flat, archetypal 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 ticular 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 fictional subgenre, the treatment of character varies over time and across cultures. Such variations sometimes reflect profound differences in the way people understand human nature. Individuals and cultures hold conflicting views of what produces personality, whether innate factors such as genes, environmental factors such as upbringing, supernatural forces, unconscious impulses or drives, or some combination 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 fiction tackle such issues head-on. But many others— especially from cultures or eras different 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 reading a wide array of fiction. Similarly, we learn from encountering a wide array of fictional characters, including those whose values, beliefs, and ways of life differ from our own. •





The stories in this chapter vary widely in terms of the number and types of characters 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.

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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 distinctive about his or her outlook and values? What motivates the character? What is it about the character that creates internal and/or external conflict? 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 antagonist? 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 disappeared? 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?

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 briefly in New Orleans, where he was encouraged 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 (1924); and took a long walking tour of Europe (1925) before returning to Mississippi. With the publication of Sartoris in 1929, Faulkner began a cycle of works, featuring recurrent characters and set in fictional 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 films, and lived his last years in Charlottesville, Virginia. Faulkner received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950.

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he 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 fish—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 fierce pull of blood. He could not see the table where the Justice 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 evening 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 Justice, a shabby, collarless, graying man in spectacles, beckoning him. He felt no floor 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. “Colonel Sartoris Snopes,” the boy whispered. “Hey?” the Justice said. “Talk louder. Colonel Sartoris? I reckon anybody named for Colonel 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 seconds 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

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grape vine, over a ravine, and at the top of the swing had been caught in a prolonged instant of mesmerized gravity, weightless in time. “No!” Harris said violently, explosively. “Damnation! Send him out of here!” Now time, the fluid 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 find against you, Snopes, but I can give you advice. Leave this country and don’t come back to it.” His father spoke for the first time, his voice cold and harsh, level, without emphasis: “I aim to. I don’t figure 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 figure walking a little stiffly 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 owner 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 flight 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 sunbonnets 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

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in the road hid it. Forever he thought. Maybe he’s done satisfied 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 independence 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 rightness 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 fire against it, of a rail lifted from a nearby fence and cut into lengths—a small fire, neat, niggard almost, a shrewd fire; such fires 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 fire spoke to some deep mainspring of his father’s being, as the element of steel or of powder 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, turning, he could see his father against the stars but without face or depth— a shape black, flat, 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 fixing to tell them. You would have told him.” He didn’t answer. His father struck him with the flat of his hand on the side of the head, hard but without 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 fly, his voice still without 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 fitten for hawgs,” one of the sisters said. “Nevertheless, fit 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 flutter 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 stiffly over the wheel. “When they get unloaded, take the team to the barn and feed them.” Then he said, and at first 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 flowering 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 first 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 fields and houses, and he had never seen a house like this before. Hit’s big as a courthouse 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 flames 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 figure 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 without 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 finality, 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 flat, wide, black hat, the formal coat of broadcloth which had once been black but which had now that frictionglazed greenish cast of the bodies of old house flies, 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, flinging 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, deluged 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 to examine the house with brief deliberation. Then with the same deliberation

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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 final 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 womanwail. 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 stiffly 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 muffled by walls the flat 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 fine 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 first 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, lethargic; stooping, they presented an incredible expanse of pale cloth and a flutter 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 first 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 flat 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 flattish fragment of field 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 fire 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 floor. 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 fire 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 flowed 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 starlight 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 carried. The rug, hunched, not flung (the boy could tell that even in the darkness) from his father’s shoulder struck the angle of wall and floor with a sound unbelievably 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, flaring 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 first 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 field. 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, fire; 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 harnessing 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 final curve, and he saw the weathered paintless store with its tattered tobacco- and patent-medicine posters 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 fierce, exultant, partisan defiance at the man in collar and cravat now, whom he had seen but twice before in his life,

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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 find against you, Mr. Snopes. I’m going to find 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 fifty cents. I figure that if Major de Spain can stand a ninety-five dollar loss on something he paid cash for, you can stand a five-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 field, 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 absolutely 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 horsetrader. 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 comedians, 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 segment 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 commenting now and then on certain of the animals, to no one in particular. 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, listening 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 five-gallon kerosene can from which it had been filled, while the mother tugged at his arm until he shifted the lamp to the other hand and flung her back, not savagely or viciously, just hard, into the wall, her hands flung 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 excruciating care flashing 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 touching the floor, 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 measured 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 flying 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 terrific 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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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 screaming 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 roaring; 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 find 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 ceasing 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 midnight 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 terror 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 Colonel Sartoris’ cav’ry!” not knowing that his father had gone to that war a private in the fine old European sense, wearing no uniform, admitting the authority of and giving fidelity to no man or army or flag, 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.

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4. John Churchill, the first duke of Marlborough (1650–1722), an English general whose name became distorted as Malbrough and Malbrouck in English and French popular 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 inflectioned 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 admirable, 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 flashforwards 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)

Recitatif 1 Born in Lorain, Ohio, a steel town on the shores of Lake Erie, Chloe Anthony Wofford was the first member of her family to attend 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), Paradise (1998), A Mercy (2008), and Home (2012), Morrison traces the problems and possibilities faced by black Americans struggling with slavery and its aftermath in the United States. Morrison is also a gifted and influential critic and essayist: Her oft-cited Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination appeared in 1993, the same year she became the first African American author to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

1. In classical music such as opera, a vocal passage that is sung in a speechlike manner.

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y 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 introduced 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 first floor. Any fights 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 first, 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 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.

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2. Large New York City hospital best known for its psychiatric wards.

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It really wasn’t bad, St. Bonny’s. The big girls on the second floor 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 children, 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 first came to St. Bonny’s but fat with flowers 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-fifteen 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 flaps— 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 babyboy 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. 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.

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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 twentyeight days (Roberta twenty-eight and a half) and this was their first 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 first and spilled the jelly beans all over the floor. Bozo’s smile disappeared while we scrambled to get the candy up off the floor and put it back in the grass. She escorted us downstairs to the first floor, where the other girls were lining up to file 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 finished 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 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.

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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 roommate, 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 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 anybody. 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

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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 Newburgh,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 floor 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 fill 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 outfit and earrings 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 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 fill up. With introductions, 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 finished 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.

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“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 swallowed. “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 fishing 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. Magnificent 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 I feel less guilty about spending James’s fireman’s salary so foolishly. My fatherin-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. 4. Supermarket, part of a chain originally known as the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company. 5. The International Business Machine Corporation, which had its executive headquarters in Poughkeepsie, New York.

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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 finger and went into the express line. I placed the groceries and kept myself from glancing around to check Roberta’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 doctors 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 inconvenience 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. “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

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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 Hendrix. 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 finally?” “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 fingers. “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?” 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.”

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“And Bozo was fired.” “You’re crazy. She was there when I left. You left before me.” “I went back. You weren’t there when they fired 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: students, musicians, lovers, protesters. You got to see everything at Howard Johnson’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?” “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?

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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 figure it out from one day to the next. I knew I was

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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 junior 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 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 surrounded 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

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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 looking 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 finally got the message and strolled over, forcing their way through the women. Quietly, firmly 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 floor. “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 first day we were all dignified, pretending the other side didn’t exist. The second day there was name calling and finger 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. 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 brilliant 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

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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 flattened. 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 organized 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 finally opened there were fights once or twice and some sirens roared through the streets every once in a while. There were a lot of photographers 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 fish on it. He was always puttering around in our garage. Each of his five children lived in Newburgh and he acted as though he had five 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 important that you could use. Rocking, dancing, swaying as she walked. And when 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-inlaw’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, something 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 6. Television sitcom popular in the 1970s, as was the game show The Price Is Right.

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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 finish everything before Christmas Eve. “Twyla?” There she was. In a silvery evening 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 fingernails. 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. “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 fill 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

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away she really was crying. “Oh shit, Twyla. Shit, shit, shit. What the hell happened 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 first 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 significance of Morrison’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 find 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 nothing. The insanity of racism. •





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-fiction-no-134-toni-morrison.

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DAVID FOSTER WALLACE (1962–2008)

Good People Born in Ithaca, New York, to a philosophy professor and an English 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 English major at Amherst College, he contemplated a career in math before— at age twenty-four— earning an MFA from the University of Arizona and publishing his first 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 nonfiction, 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, Infinite 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 England 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 fiction” that might help readers “become less alone inside.” Though admired as much for its humor as for its bulk and complexity, his fiction often dwells on what he called “an ineluctable 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,” first published in 2007, ultimately became part of The Pale King (2011), the unfinished novel he left behind.

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hey 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 junior 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 shallows 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

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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 find himself putting his fist in his palm and turning it slightly as if still playing and pounding 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 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 himself 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 filled 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

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mother had put it that she knew what it is she wanted, which was nursing and not an easy program at Peoria Junior 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 services 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 terrible kind of blankness had commenced falling through him. 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 trying to understand—they’d prayed on it and talked it through from every different 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 appointment 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 moving 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 appointment 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 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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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 resistance but could not feel what it was that it resisted. This was the truth. All the different 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 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 fire or a loving God consigning folks to a burning lake of fire—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 whatever 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 victor. 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. Twohearted, a hypocrite to yourself either way. When he moved his head, a part of the lake further out flashed 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 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, railings, evil surmisings.”

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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 first 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 finished turning to him and the man in the hat watched the fishing 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 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 finish. 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 finishes 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 someplace 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, something 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 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 flesh ye despised [me] not, nor rejected.”

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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 conflicts, both internal and external? How does his faith intensify or even create those conflicts and help him to resolve them? 2. How is your interpretation of Lane Dean, Jr.’s character and conflicts 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 happens 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 definitions 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” change over the course of the story? What part does the idea of hypocrisy play in those definitions?

ALISSA NUTTING (b. 1981)

Model’s Assistant Born in rural Michigan, raised in Florida, and today an Assistant Professor of creative writing at Grinnell College, in Iowa, Alissa Nutting describes herself as, for better or worse, irresistibly drawn to writing, calling her chosen career “kind of like an insane asylum that I checked myself into voluntarily: I can choose to leave any time, but I never will.” Nutting earned her MFA at the University of Alabama (2008) and her PhD at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (2011). Even before graduation, however, Nutting won the 2010 Starcherone Prize for Innovative Fiction for Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls, a collection featuring stories ranging from “Model’s Assistant” and “Knife Thrower” to “Corpse Smoker” and “Dinner.” As these titles suggest, Nutting’s work is marked by a darkly satirical edge and a dash of the provocative and even surreal. Her stories and essays have appeared in venues ranging from the modern fairy-tale anthology My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me (2010) to the New York Times online Anxiety column, O: The Oprah Magazine, and Buzzfeed. Dubbed “Most Controversial Book of Summer 2013” by both Cosmopolitan and the Guardian, Nutting’s first novel, Tampa (2013), shares with “Model’s Assistant” a concern with our contemporary tendency to, in her words, “treat beauty as a currency.” With both a second novel, Made for Love (2017), and an expanded and revised version of Unclean Jobs for Girls and Women (2018), in Ecco Press’s Art of the Story series, under her belt, as well as an essay collection and an HBO adaptation of Tampa in the works, Nutting’s star is on the rise, and deservedly so. As one reviewer remarks, if the job of fiction “is to bottle and exhibit the zeitgeist through character in a way that is [. . .] novel, Nutting [. . .] goes for it, all out.”

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y best friend, Garla, is a model from somewhere Swedishy; when people try to pin down where she just yells, “Vodka,” or if she’s in a better mood, “Vodka, you know?” which seems like she’s maybe saying she’s Russian, but really she just wants to drink. Wherever she’s from, Garla now lives inside the bubble of model-land. I wish I lived in model-land, too, but the closest I can come is hanging out with Garla, which is like going on vacation to a model-land time-share. We met at a party in Chelsea1 that I pond-skipped to. I definitely wasn’t invited. I’d gone with a real friend to a not-so-hot party, and then left with her friend to go to a better party where I met a stranger who took me to a quite hot party. It was there that I made out with the photographer who took me to the party of Garla. She wasn’t hosting it but she was present, and anywhere Garla goes is Garla’s party. I think the only reason I ever saw Garla again was because I was drunk enough to tell her the truth. She was trying on bizarre clothes—there was a shroud that looked space-like yet medical, like a gown one might wear to get a pap smear on Mars. Then she put on a dress whose pleating created the suggestion of a displaced goiter somewhere to the left of her neck and she sashayed toward me. I was holding my head onto my body, carefully and by the window, so that its breeze might sober me up enough to walk to the end of the room, where I might then become sober enough to walk to the toilet and land on the floor. There, hopefully, the pressure from my cheek against my cell phone could call someone who knew me and liked me enough to get me a cab and make sure this night was not where my life’s journey would end. But for all I knew it was, and when I saw Garla I held on to my head just a little bit tighter, because she appeared to be strutting over to rip it off. “You,” she said, and I straightened up grammar-school style. I puked in my mouth but absolutely did not open my lips and let it fall on the floor. “Do you like this?” She did a turn that looked so elegant and stylized and unteachable to everyone in the room but to Garla was just something that accidentally slipped out of her like a tiny fart. “It makes you look like you’re pregnant in the back,” I said, using the nose of my beer bottle to itch between my shoulder blades, where the seam of her dress inexplicably globed out. She scowled and pranced off. I assumed she was offended until she brought over a silver-plated bowl filled with the car keys of various guests. “Use for vomit,” she said, and then, “have phone,” and slipped a crystalencrusted device into my purse. I think at that point two large gray wolfhounds magically walked up to either side of her and the three of them then headed toward the kitchen. “You love dogs and have a tendency to hallucinate them,” I told myself as I stumbled toward the bathroom. Various refined guests stared on in horror as I groped onto pieces of furniture and potted plants, trying to stabilize my journey into a small room housing cold linoleum and a sink. “Why am I always the nerd at the party?” I thought. “I am in my thirties and by now I should at least know how to pretend.” The thing about bathrooms in parties is they don’t always stay bathrooms; they start out as such but then become make-out rooms or cocaine-snorting rooms or bubble-bath-orgy rooms. When I burst through the door holding my abdomen, a slight and waify couple seemed to be using it as a now-that-we’ve-agreed-the-nightwill-end-with-mutual-oral-sex-let’s-take-our-time-getting-buzzed-first room; they were drinking very red wine, sitting on the side of the bathtub and giggling, using

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1. Name of fashionable neighborhoods in both New York City and London.

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fingertips of wine to draw simple pictures onto the shower’s white tile. The “braap” sound I made while becoming sick intrigued them. They were in their early twenties, and I could feel them looking at me with something real and concentrated. I don’t think it was pity as much as curiosity; they seemed to wonder very much what it might be like to be so uncomposed. “I don’t get when people use puking in art,” said the boy, and the girl said, “Well, it’s not like that, when they do,” meaning not like me but like Garla throwing up pink paint onto a teal ceramic raccoon. “I need a cab,” I mumbled, and the boy was sympathetic but firm. “I won’t touch you,” he said. “No,” I agreed. “I’ll get myself down to the door.” It took a great while to do this. At some point I wondered if I should try to find Garla and give her the phone back, but then I saw a burst of light across the living room and there she was, the camera’s flash bouncing off her oiled thigh, her foot inside the host’s tropical aquarium. Everyone wanted a shot of her leather bondage shoe surrounded by fake coral: people were holding up cell phones and professional equipment and thin digital cameras; “Tickle fish,” Garla was saying to everyone, which continually prompted a laugh-track response from the entire crowd. There was no way I could deal with calling her name and having that amount of attention suddenly focus over to my own body. Plus I didn’t really want to give it back. A supermodel’s phone! I was like a turd inside someone who’d accidentally swallowed an engagement ring: though I was nothing myself, I now carried something uniquely special. I fell easily down the stairs and by the time I was able to stand, to my great surprise, a cab had come. “Thank you,” I called up to the couple in the bathroom, but it came out gurgled, and they were likely busy readying to use their youth and beauty to give one another endless reciprocal orgasms. I kept the phone on my desk for several days wondering what to do about it. There was something wrong with the phone; it didn’t ring. Garla’s phone would ring, wouldn’t it? It didn’t ring until the fourth day. “Hi, Womun.” It was Garla. I began explaining how I’d meant to give the phone back, how I certainly hadn’t called various pawnshops to price it (had!), but she interrupted. “It your phone, for me. I call you with it,” she said, to which I could’ve said a lot of things, like how I already have a phone, or that I was very afraid of getting killed for this jewel-phone, should someone see me talking on it in my neighborhood, because I don’t have a lot of money and neither does anyone else who lives here, but oftentimes people badly need money, and desperate times/desperate measures. “I get you for fashion show,” she said, “tonight at the seven-thirty.” Out of some type of pride I wanted to make sure she didn’t mean that / would be in the fashion show, that it wasn’t an ironic thing where Beautifuls each try to snag themselves an Ugly, and whoever snags the ugliest Ugly and dresses it up best is the winner. “You mean go watch one with you?” I asked, and she said, “Ha,” then it sounded like she lit a cigarette or something and said, “Ha. Ha. I mean this,” and told me where to meet her. Since that night my life has changed in many ways. I’m still no one, unless I am with Garla, and then I become with Garla, a new, exciting identity that makes nearly every thing possible, except being attractive myself. And except being important when I am not with Garla.

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At the oxygen bar, Garla gives my face three firm slaps on the cheek. She is always taking grandmotherly liberties such as these. “Put you in special coffin,” she says, which is a term of endearment on her part but I don’t know what it means exactly. I like to think that it’s a sort of Snow White reference, that I’m so dear to her that she wants to keep my body displayed in a glass box next to her couch, forever asleep.2 Though I guess it could also mean she wants to close me inside an iron maiden.3 Garla is sitting in front of a laptop with a solar charger plugged into it, although it is raining outside and we are in a darkened room. Garla doesn’t have opinions on things; she’s not really the pro or con type. Right now she is into being very anti–global warming because she knows that being very anti–global warming is chic. Either things are chic or they aren’t, and if they’re chic then they’re for Garla. “The web won’t come,” Garla says. “Solar charger,” I point out. “No sun.” “Global warming,” Garla says. She will often randomly say the media titles of topics and events, such as “Crisis in Darfur,”4 then take a drink and be silent for a few more hours. A waitress wearing a hemp robe enters with two tanks and two breathing masks, hooking Garla in first. With the mask on Garla appears to be a pilot from the future, possibly a computer-generated one. Her perfect skin looks like a plasma screen. “Are you from Sweden?” the waitress asks. “Vodka, you know?” says Garla, and the waitress’s eyes frown; perhaps she has just Botoxed5 because I can tell she wants to make an expression but instead she blinks a few times. “Could she get a glass of vodka,” I ask, and the woman mentions that alcohol is not usually consumed during the treatment. She is already on the way to get it, though, and when she returns there’s also a glass for me. It gets a little overwhelming in the mask when the pure oxygen starts to hit us at the same time as the vodka. Garla takes my hand. I don’t know if I’m attracted to her or if she’s just beautiful. I think it’s the latter because she doesn’t say much, and what she does say doesn’t make much sense to me. But people don’t have to talk a lot or make sense for others to love them. Just look at dogs and babies. “Cloud of vodka!” Garla screams. I decide she wants another glass because I want another glass, so I hold two fingers up at the woman in hemp while pointing down to our melted ice. My fingers stay in an upright “peace” position; with our masks I imagine that Garla and I are on some kind of extreme roller coaster that goes into the stratosphere, and we’re passing the camera that takes a picture for us to buy at the end, and I am saying, “This is me and Garla. Peace.”

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2. In most versions of the folktale, after Snow White eats an apple poisoned by the jealous queen and falls asleep, she is put in a glass box by the dwarves who have twice saved her life. 3. Torture device consisting of a hollow statue or coffin shaped like a woman and lined with spikes that impale the enclosed victim. 4. Between 2003 and 2010, hundreds of thousands died and millions were displaced due to conflict in the Darfur region of southwest Sudan, in northern Africa, inspiring a Save Darfur campaign championed by actor George Clooney and other celebrities. 5. Injected with Botox, a chemical that reduces wrinkles by paralyzing facial muscles.

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She has made me the best-dressed party nerd of all time. Once, she put these chain-link pants on me and I couldn’t move, not even like a robot. So Garla—wearing six-inch stiletto heels—actually picked me up, carried me up the stairs to the party, and planted me by yet another fish tank, either so I’d have something to watch or because she knew that at some point, a part of her body would be posing inside of it and she very much wanted for me to be there to say, “Now Garla has to go home” when it started to get boring for her. There was never a conversation where Garla hired me to be her assistant. I just started speaking up when it made sense to, like when a director asked if he could film himself cutting her arm a tiny bit with a designer katana sword and licking her blood off the blade, and she answered him with “Special coffin,” in a very small voice. “We have to go, Garla,” I used to say, but I soon learned that “Garla has to go” is a better way to phrase it, because then it seems like she doesn’t have a choice. Tonight we go to another fashion show. Garla’s walking in it so I wait backstage in the chair where her makeup was done, and at several points people inquire as to why I’m there. Very few actually want me to leave; they’re just baffled. Afterward we go to the home of a fellow model where I watch Garla drink herself into a deep sea. She is a metronomic6 drinker. I can count the glasses she drinks per hour, like a time signature, and know exactly how drunk she is at any given moment. With me it’s the opposite; the drunk is that mystery wedding guest who may show up early, late, or not at all. By four a.m. Garla is lying on an island countertop in the kitchen. Some guy has dumped a miniature Buddhist sand garden7 out on her abdomen, and he’s swirling the sand around her belly button with a tiny bamboo rake. Her head is hanging off the counter; it’s flipped back like a Pez dispenser, and I walk over and we have this intoxicated moment. “I know you’re more,” my drunken eyes say. They say this in a breathy, hesitant manner that insists it has taken a lot of time for them to work up the courage to say such a thing, without words nonetheless. “Yes,” answer Garla’s eyes, and like all of Garla’s answers it is a mysterious pearl whose full value I begin to appraise immediately. I walk over to her and lift her head up with my hands so it is level with the counter, holding it. I look down at her like a surgeon. “Some type of sausage,” Garla says; she likes the cured meats. For a second I have the urge to drop her head. I’m reminded of being a child on the beach, the shells I’d leap to pick up and then throw back. They always seemed of greater worth from a distance, beneath the water. I keep wondering if Garla will ask me to quit my job copyediting and join her full-time in model-land. Her agency is very good to her, but I know she needs me, or at least could really use me, more than she does, which leads me to wonder two things: Does Garla have others like Me? If so, how many Mes are there? Does she really need Me at all? The thing about Garla is that it’s always okay for 6. Like a metronome, a device that marks time by ticking at precise intervals, allowing musicians to keep the meter indicated by the notation known as a time signature. 7. Space decorated with sand, rocks, and other natural materials in lines or patterns to create the meditative environment prized by Zen Buddhists.

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Garla. No matter what happens, Garla will be okay. I just speed the okayness up a little bit for her so that okay is sure to happen in real time. Although my life has many more great things in it now than before I met Garla, I’m still beginning to feel a bit used. And—how can I deny this—I want more of Garla. She is a rare substance, if only because of the role and power she has in our society and not anything she holds innately. Rare substances make people feel selfish and greedy, and Garla is no exception. Neither am I. I am also getting a little sick of my special Garla-phone, but it’s really expensive and the only thing Garla will call me on. I got rid of my other phone and now have only the phone Garla gave me, perhaps because I know she intended it to only be used when she called me, and this is a small rebellion on my part. Garla doesn’t pick up on rebellions, though, big or small. She has no need for them. I decide to ask if I can be her paid assistant, because she probably will not say yes or no, and I can just interpret it as yes. If anything, by quitting my job and hanging out with her more I will get additional goodies I can sell online, and Garla’s schwag pays several times more than my current employer. I strike when we are in the back of a town car on the way to a designer’s private shoot. Garla is stretched out on my lap with her muss of blond hair hanging down over my knees. Her hair is softer than my shaved legs. “Garla,” I say, “I’m going to quit my job and be your assistant. You don’t have to pay me hardly anything. I don’t make very much as it is.” There’s a pause and she hands up a tiny golden comb to me, I presume for me to begin brushing her hair with. I also presume this means “yes,” is a quid pro quo gesture. I call my boss right then on the Garla-phone and quit as loudly as I can without seeming hostile, just to try to burn the event a little deeper into the ether of Garla’s memory. The shoot goes well. Afterward I take her glasses of chilled vodka that look like refreshing water and we have a look at the pictures, which are beautiful. We leave with giant bags of expensive clothing that we neither paid nor asked for. I am feeling more visible by the second. Perhaps, I think, I should move into Garla’s apartment. That way I’d always be right there to meet her needs and there wouldn’t be all the Garla-phone calls in the middle of the night; she could just yell or do a special grunt. Though I’ve never heard Garla yell. Everyone is already paying attention. Except the next morning, she doesn’t answer my calls, and she doesn’t call me. This goes on for a week and a half. I sulk like a real model. I don’t eat and I drink lots of vodka and I cut my own hair in the bathroom with dull scissors and then regret it, and the next morning I think about going to a really expensive salon and having it fixed except I don’t have the money for that, especially now that I have no job. For that, I need Garla. This is the root of my pain. I had convinced myself that she needed me, specifically, when really, anyone could and would do what I did: follow around a gorgeous person and get gifts and call outrages by name for what they are. How did I lend any type of panache to that role? Looking in the mirror at my botched home haircut, I realize that my new expensive clothes still look nerdy because they don’t fit me right. They never will. When the Garla-phone finally lights up and makes its synthetic music, it’s like an air-raid siren. I’m paralyzed with fear but angst-ridden from loneliness

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and desperation. “Where have you been?” I scream. “We agreed I’d be your assistant. I quit my job! I haven’t seen you for like ten days!” “Vodka head,” Garla explains. I want to pretend like nothing is wrong. “I’m not a bad assistant,” I say. “I’m a good assistant, which means I need to be where you are, and help you with things.” “Later, a party,” she says. I can hear happy screams in the background and their shrillness stabs into me. I know those screams belong to completely impractical people, and I hate that she chose them over me. “What time?” I ask, but she already hung up. Eventually she does text me the party’s address. I stop by a nearby bar to have a few drinks alone first. It feels good to sulk over a glass in public. How could I have let my guard down so badly? Before Garla, I had been all-guard. Before Garla, I would’ve seen Garla coming. My pre-Garla life suddenly seems like an amazing thing; I hadn’t even known what I was missing. As I walk out of the bar and look up near the balcony I’m headed to, I can actually see Garla. It makes me feel creepy but I stand there and watch for a while anyway, until the two of us seem like strangers. Even at this distance and with the party’s disco lights, it’s clear she has dazzling bone structure. Compared to her, I am like a sandwich. I am completely inhuman and benign. I try to remember a sandwich I ate in the fourth grade and cannot. I can’t even really remember one I ate a month ago. We all must be like fourthgrade sandwiches to Garla. It’s not until I get inside the suite and look around that I realize it’s the same residence where Garla and I first met. This makes my hands and feet sweat rapidly; the line is becoming a circle. As the night moves on, it’s like going back in time. When I enter, Garla gives me a soft embrace and kisses my cheek, but I want restitution. I quit my job and had the week from hell, and she isn’t going to reenter my life with one quick, pouty smile. Maybe I’m replaceable, but I don’t have to be happy about it. I take my old seat by the window and start rapidly boozing. The lights change colors in ways that suggest I’m going too fast, and that is the speed I want to go. It’s a rush, like skydiving. I keep giving Garla a scowl that says, “Hey, you. I’m not holding on. I’m in free fall.” She’s rubbing pieces of chocolate over her lips like ChapStick and men are helplessly pulled to her side of the room. Garla’s face is a centrifuge that separates the confident from the weak and the jealous, and I have been spun away. Stumbling to the bathroom, I get out my jeweled Garla-phone. Part of me wants to put it into the toilet, or at least try to see if it will fit through the hole in the bottom of the bowl. I want to throw up on it but it is so shiny that with its sparkling crystals and my drunken compound fly-eye vision, I have no aim. Instead the puke falls into the water and the phone falls on the ground, and when I’m finished and my cheek hits the floor the phone looks like a store of riches behind the plunger. I grab the phone and open it, kind of bumping it around, hoping it will call a friend who will come pick me up. But it’s Garla’s phone, so it calls Garla. I hang up but a few minutes later she’s standing over me in an Amazonian8 manner, one leg on either side of my body. 8. In Greek my thology the Amazons were a group of power ful female warriors.

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“Put you in tiny coffin,” she says, rolling out some toilet paper and batting it against my wet cheek. “I wish you would.” She doesn’t appreciate my display of self-pity. I watch her toss her martini glass out the window onto the patio, where it breaks. “You go home and rest doctor-television.” After she leaves, a bodyguard enters and picks me up with a disgusted look, like he’s emptying a full bedpan. He helps me into the taxi. Motoring away, I watch the colored streaks of Garla on the patio upstairs. In a panic I check my purse to make sure I still have it: the Garla-phone, the jewel. The cursed treasure that brought distress alongside fortune. Glistening in my lap, it is too beautiful to be trusted. The cab nears my apartment, and I have the urge to leave the phone behind on the seat for someone else to find and answer. But I won’t. Instead I’ll go home and wait for her to call me and turn me into something special for however long she wants, and this time I won’t forget to be grateful.

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2010 QUESTIONS 1. What might we learn about the narrator by the style, as well as content, of her narration? 2. What attracts the narrator to Garla and vice versa? 3. Is the narrator’s conflict external, internal, or both? Why doesn’t she abandon the phone at the story’s end? 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 character and methods of characterization. Do the story’s characters tend to be more flat 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 undoubtedly guilty of the crime of burning Major de Spain’s barn, but how might you persuade 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 AN AL BU 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”

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he world’s oldest work of fiction 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 English Dictionary). Yet Enkidu ultimately accompanies Gilgamesh deep into the Cedar Forest in order to slay its far more monstrous guardian—the dreaded, fire-breathing giant Humbaba the Terrible. Even before that, Enkidu stops Gilgamesh from exercising his “right” to be the first 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 figurative or moral sense—“A person [. . .] 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 our fascination with creatures who cross borders we like to consider stable and impermeable— between human and animal, civilized and savage, good and evil, even life and death. Strange as it may seem, Stephenie 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 fiction’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 fictional character. As outsiders, outcasts, and sometimes scapegoats, such characters have also, at least since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), served as a means through which authors explore a variety of specific 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 fiction and film often have little sympathy. 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 259

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you read them, think about how each story depicts its protagonist’s peculiar character 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 first eleven years in sparsely populated areas of northern Ontario and Quebec, where her father worked as an entomologist— an upbringing that may help explain her enduring concern 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 first poem at nineteen and the first of numerous poetry collections, 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 fictions 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 fiction”—Oryx and Crake (2003), The Year of the Flood (2009), MaddAdam (2013), The Heart Goes Last (2015), and The Handmaid’s Tale (1986), which has inspired a Danish opera, a Hollywood movie, and, as of 2017, a Hulu miniseries.

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hat 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. “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?

1. Freak of nature (Latin).

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“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 fine 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 grandmother 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 convinced had flown 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 potatoes. 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 fingernails, 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 find 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. In the daytimes I stayed shut up in my darkened room: I was getting beyond a joke. That was fine with me, because I couldn’t stand sunlight. At night, sleepless, I would roam the house, listening to the snores of the others, their yelps of

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2. Porphyria, a group of usually incurable genetic disorders disrupting the body’s production of hemoglobin (the protein that makes blood red); symptoms of the disease’s more acute forms include insomnia, hallucinations, light sensitivity, excess body hair, reddish teeth, painful skin conditions, even disfigurement. 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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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: whatever it was might be catching.

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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 miserable,” 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 compassion. 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 sacrifices. 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 pollute 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 coffin in a very dark room, in a white dress with a lot of white veiling over me, fitting for a virgin and useful in concealing my whiskers. 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 filled the coffin 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 first in our family. My coffin 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 keeping it as a shrine to my memory. They hung a picture of me on the door, a picture 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 defiance, 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 brush my hair, before it came out in handfuls; she’d been in the habit of hugging me and weeping; but she was past that now. She 3. Russian poet (1799–1837) associated, like Lord Byron and John Keats, with the Romantic movement; 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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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 affliction 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 fits, 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 elderly. 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 fingernails, 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 considered 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 sufficient, 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 filched from henhouses. Once in a while I’d purloin a hen—I’d drink the blood first. 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 reflections, 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 fits, 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 fits. They appeared to derive pleasure from their flailings 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 timorous to approach them. One evening the young man fell asleep. The girl covered him with his castoff 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 fluttering; he saw me running away. He saw where. He told the others in the village, and they began to speculate. They dug up my coffin 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. Whatever 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 befits a virgin. One must have a sense of occasion. The twittering voices are very loud: it’s time for me to take flight. I’ll fall from the burning rooftop like a comet, I’ll blaze like a bonfire. 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 finger 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 forward to. 2004

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QUESTIONS 1. How and why does the protagonist’s attitude toward her 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 conflicts does the protagonist’s condition create for the story’s other characters? 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 first 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 deflated basketballs from the intestinal tracts of animals are two very different skill sets,” she instead turned to writing, earning an MFA from Columbia University. Just twenty-six when she published her first 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 fiction; 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 fiction 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

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t first, our pack was all hair and snarl and floor-thumping joy. We forgot the barked cautions of our mothers and fathers, all the promises we’d made to be civilized and ladylike, couth and kempt. We tore through the austere

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rooms, overturning dresser drawers, pawing through the neat piles of the Stage 3 girls’ starched underwear, smashing lightbulbs with our bare fists. 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 bedroom, their tiny faces pinched with displeasure. “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, sunbleached to near invisibility. Our pack was hirsute and sinewy and mostly brunette. We had terrible posture. We went knuckling along the wooden floor on the calloused pads of our fists, baring row after row of tiny, wood-rotted teeth. Sister Josephine sucked in her breath. She removed a yellow wheel of floss 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 beatific 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 fifteen-strong. We were accompanied by a mousy, nervous-smelling social worker; the baby-faced deacon; Bartholomew, the blue wolfhound; and four burly woodsmen. The deacon 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. Bartholomew 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 terrorizing the heifers. They had ostracized the local wolves by having sometimesthumbs, 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, inflected 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 sending us away for good. Neither did they.

1. What barbarity (Spanish). Ay caramba: good grief (Spanish). 2. Simplified speech used for communication between speakers of different languages.

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That first 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 squirrels 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 infirm 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, nutbrown 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 reflexes. She used her hands to flatten 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 muster. 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.”

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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, irritated, bewildered, depressed, or generally uncomfortable. 15

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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 floes 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 fingers 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 find 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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nuns couldn’t figure out how to activate it. She’d go bounding around, gleefully spraying on their gilded statue of St. Lucy, mad-scratching at the virulent fleas 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 fists 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 fingers 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 twigsnap sharp. Jeanette was the first among us to apologize; to drink apple juice out of a sippy cup; to quit eyeballing the cleric’s jugular in a disconcerting fashion. 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 flared 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 bravest 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 reflection as if it were a stranger. “Whatever 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 vanishing 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: Whatever will become of me?

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We spent a lot of time daydreaming during this period. Even Jeanette. Sometimes 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 constant 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 Mirabella take some pumpernickel down to the ducks?” “Ohhkaaythankyou,” I said. (It took me a long time to say anything; first 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 flashing, 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 final 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, holding 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) 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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removed from our language (even though I was reading at a fifth-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 company. Etiquette was so confounding in this country. Still, looking at Mirabella— her fists 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.

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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 culture 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 first 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. Mirabella, doing belly flops 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 commits frottage7 against the organ pipes? No.” There was a long silence. “Something must be done,” Sister Ignatius said firmly. The other nuns nodded, 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 fitfully 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 first purebred girls. These were girls raised in captivity, volunteers from St. Lucy’s School for Girls. The apple-cheeked fourth-grade class came to tutor us in playing. They had long golden braids or

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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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short, severe bobs. They had frilly-duvet names like Felicity and Beulah; and pert, bunny noses; and terrified 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 frustrated 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 rudimentary 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 fleet 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 Sausalito but Jeanette. The nuns decided we needed an inducement to dance. They announced that we would celebrate our successful rehabilitations with a Debutante 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 first 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 sniffled and pointed to a line in her book: “The lake-water was reinventing the forest and the white moon above

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it, and wolves lapped up the cold reflection 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 eighteenth 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 perfumed 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 fighting, 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-confidence 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 wolfgirl. “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 floor, 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.

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8. In a low voice (Italian).

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“Claudette, help me,” she yelped. Mirabella had closed her jaws around Jeanette’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 fizzy 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 ha