Archive for the ‘Lit-Fic’Category

Epistolary Goodness in “Dearest Akeem” by Patrick Lawler

Patrick Lawler WRC Head and Teacher

I had the pleasure of hearing Patrick Lawler read this piece at the Copper Nickel post-(Denver) AWP shindig. It was one of the highlights of my trip to the convention. Lawler’s prose poem, “Dearest Akeem,” is written as a first person epistolary. It begins as such:

Dearest Akeem,

Thank you for your email explaining your dire situation:
The death of your father. The 9.5 million dollars.
Your request for my private bank account information
In order to transfer the funds to my account.
And your generous offer of 5% for being the guardian
Of the bank account. Thank you for trusting me (53).

According to Lawler, he had, in fact, received an email from a Nigerian scammer a few years back. Most of us have had the pleasure of reading such emails: My father has passed away, I’m a Christian missionary in Nigeria; I can sell you a car but still need to “mail” it to you. What is the internet good for if not bringing people together? In this case, Lawler exploits the potential exploiter and does so in a way that is as entertaining as it is meaningful.

The narrator responds to Akeem (as seen in the example above). But, instead of falling victim to a scam-artist, he uses Akeem as an virtual/international therapist of sorts. What the narrator reveals to Akeem through the emails helps Lawler develop a fully round character. We know nothing of Akeem, we never will. We read no replies by Akeem. It’s assumed that Akeem stopped responding to our narrator after the third or fourth email, that he possibly asked the narrator to please stop hitting the reply button. It’s clever, certainly, but Lawler never takes that cleverness too far. Instead, he evokes a kind of pathetic sympathy as his emails to Akeem become more and more personal. Below are two passages that show how Lawler utilizes the epistolary format (albeit a modern version of) to reveal character:

I sought the psychotic student out for conversations
He asked me, “Do you ever feel you are turning into a bee?”
Afterwards, a person from Continuing Ed at the college asked me,
“Do you think he is paranoid schizophrenic?” I said, “Well, he didn’t used to be” (53)

Here, we learned that the narrator is a professor and that he has a psychotic student. We also learn that he has a sense of humor (“he didn’t used to be [schizophrenic]). Lawler continues to develop the character:

Now I must solicit your deepest confidence.
This is by virtue of its nature as being utterly confidential.

When I was following the psychotic student home,
I wasn’t sure it was still him.
For all I knew he could have been my father—
And now even yours (56).

Lawler’s narrator is eccentric to be certain (perhaps a bit sinister), but is never too aware of himself as a fictional narrator. I was never distracted by the character’s ability to poke fun at a scam artist and found myself wavering between believing the narrator’s correspondence and going “all in” on the big joke. I wanted to believe the character was fooling around. I wanted to believe he was making dangerous confessions to a man in Africa who was only interested in his bank account. Both were as pleasant a thought as I could muster, especially given the convention of the form itself.

Though this is poetry, I found it extremely helpful in terms of illustrating how a writer can exploit a given form (epistolary letter format pushed into the modern internet era). It puts the “creative” back into “creative writing.” Inspiring and entertaining.

“Dearest Akeem” can be found in The Copper Nickel Vol. 12

15

01 2014

2nd Person POV in Junot Diaz’s “How to Date a Brown Girl”

junot

I’ll admit it now; I have a “thing” for the 2nd person. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I’m always rooting for the underdog, or (probably closer to the truth) I enjoy reading what most other people avoid. Maybe I really am a contrarian at heart. It wouldn’t be a stretch. Let’s pretend it’s the former. 2nd person is arguably the grotesque sideshow of the POV world. Most craft books spit out a form paragraph that goes something like this: 2nd person. Don’t bother. I’m paraphrasing.

Not only is Junot Diaz’ short story, “How to Date a Brown Girl” written in 2nd person, but it takes the sideshow one step further. Diaz writes his story in the 2nd person directive, a “how-to” manual that should (according to the title) give us some insight on how to date a “brown girl.”

When I began reading this a few things immediately came to mind. First, would I be too “aware” of the point of view throughout the story? Would it distract me from the “heart” of the piece? More often than not, the 2nd person serves as a constant reminder that the author has chosen (for whatever reason) to use the “you” narrator instead of the “I” narrator. Some of my E210 students suggested that they “didn’t like being told what to do.” But, is the 2nd person narrative really so “bossy?” In most cases, no, unless you’re reading a Choose Your Own Adventure novel.

As I discussed in my annotation on Dennis LeHane’s “Until Gwen,” the second person narrative seems to be a method of drawing the reader in to the narrator’s mind, closer than the 1st person narrative in that the reader isn’t just reading about someone else’s life, but they (as implied by the “you”) are actually along for the ride. Imagine standing next to Connie in Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” Arnold Friend tells YOU not to pick up that phone, tells YOU to come to the screen door and let him inside.

Diaz’ “Brown Girl,” has the potential to draw you in, to allow you more intimacy (and sympathy) for the main character. Even with the directive voice, I didn’t feel “bossed around.”

Wait and after an hour go out to your corner. The neighborhood is full of traffic. Give one of your boys a shout and when he says, Are you still waiting on that bitch? say, Hell yeah (2).

The story (potentially) reads closer to a do-it-yourself book on building birdhouses, only the birdhouse is a small apartment you share with your family and the bird you’re bringing over for dinner is someone you’ll try to “put the moves on.”

But, “How to Date a Brown Girl” is more than a how-to book on dating girls of various races, it’s an in-your-face narrative about a young boy struggling with his social situation (shit-covered toilet paper in a basket in the bathroom and the “government cheese” in the fridge) and what this social situation does to his adolescent masculinity.

In short, it’s brilliant in terms of voice (and craft). We don’t feel sympathy for our young narrator, even when we’re sure he’ll get shot down before he lands that kiss. We see this narrator for what he is—a reluctant streetwise Romeo who has learned at a young age how to protect the fragility he hides within, a fragility that shines through from between the confident 2nd person lines.

15

01 2014

M.F.A. and Creative Writing Degrees

writing

This has to pop up on the writing boards once a month.

“I’m applying to M.F.A. programs!”

“Should I get a B.A. in Creative Writing?”

“Do writing classes help you become a successful writer?

“Will my college professor be excited to read my 400,000 word space opera that used to be Dr. Who slash fic?”

The truth is, people have some strong opinions about academia and creative writing.  Very strong.  Like, think of the strongest coffee you ever drank now leave it in the coffee pot all day and add a few tablespoons of instant coffee, let it simmer for another few hours then make it into a coffee reduction sauce.  Wait for it to get nice and thick.  Now drink it.  Or put it on your pancakes.

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Anyway, strong opinions.

I have an MFA, so I’ll do my best to answer some of these questions. Just please remember that you’re going to get some responses all over the place, ranging from, “Cool, go for it,” to “Don’t bother. Why do you need an MFA?”

Here’s my experience.

I worked freelance as a writer for years and realized I had no craft, just raw intuition that wasn’t evolving. I got my B.A. in literature/creative writing, then moved right into an M.F.A. (fiction). Here’s the thing, the academic route worked for me. I thrived under those conditions. Others will not. Others will get all of that information without paying for a degree. Others will be amazingly successful without stepping into a college. Ever. Forever-ever. The big question is: which one are you? If you’re certain that the M.F.A. is your way, then read on…..

Most traditional programs are not genre-friendly. If it’s on the top 50 list on Poets&Writers, it’s probably a traditional program that hates genre with the intensity of a thousand suns. It burns us, precious. BURRNNNSSSSSS. What does this mean for you? Well, I chose to step away from genre to learn craft at the literary (raw) level. No bells and whistles, no genre conventions. It worked for me. It was the best gift I ever gave myself as a writer. But that’s my way. We’re back to the, “What is YOUR way?” thing again.

If lit-fic’s not what you’re looking for, then you’ll probably need something like a low-res program. There are some great ones out there that focus on genre and commercial fiction.

Here’s the difference in my mind:
1. Traditional programs will have funding opportunities. (Not ALL, but most). That means you’ll become a GTA, teach comp. and lit courses to freshmen who haven’t read a book in their life and who don’t know where “those thingies around dialogue” go. You’ll teach 2-3 courses a semester. You’ll get your tuition covered. You’ll probably get health insurance too. And you’ll get a monthly stipend. (Mine was $1800/month). It means you’re more strapped for time.  Yes, your writing does suffer, and you might not have much of a social life. But you won’t be 100k in debt by the end of it all. I also had a LOT of internship opportunities (non-paid), but I worked for a lit-mag, did some typesetting, taught at a jail, and so forth. Looks great on the resume.

2. Low-Res programs probably have no funding opportunities. You pay for it out of pocket or you get a loan. You don’t have to teach so you can focus on writing and school work. You come out with a nice, hefty loan that will take you 20 years to pay off, but hey, people do it. AND, from what I’ve seen of low-res programs, many of them focus on the business side of things. They WANT you to get published. They help you meet agents and publishers. The more successful you are, the better the school looks.

One question to ask yourself might be: What do I want to do with my MFA? If you say, “I want to learn about creative writing,” then honestly? You can learn all of that by reading threads on net-forums such as Absolute Write. I’m not exaggerating.  Some online forums rock and you get to know other people who rock and the epic awesomeness makes you cry inside because it’s just THAT GOOD.  There is a downside, though.  Wherever you find the “perfect forum,” you will usually stumble upon its opposite: suck-board, hate-board, critique-make-you-cry-or-pee-your-pants board.  Be careful.  Some writers are dicks and when they fail, they want you to fail, too.

Having said all of the above, I (personally) needed academic structure to grow as fast/much as I did. Reading books and emulating helped, but I needed better one-on-one instruction. Just something to think about.

If you want to teach creative writing, then the best suggestion I can offer is to finish a book BEFORE YOU go into the program, turn that in (piece by piece) to workshop, and get it query-ready over the course of the M.F.A.. Why? Because it doesn’t matter how much teaching experience you have. It doesn’t matter if you have a Ph.D. in “Creative Writing.” What matters the most is that you are PUBLISHED. Not self-published, not vanity published, not published through Donny down the street who makes guerilla book orders. By a publishing house. One that has books in Barnes and Noble. And, it probably can’t be genre, though I’d love to hear a success story from someone who got a full-time (creative writing) teaching position after having published a werewolf series.

If you don’t have a publication before you start applying to teach creative writing, chances are, you’ll be teaching adjunct at a university or community college. Once in a while, you might get a lit course or a creative writing course, but for the most part, you’ll be teaching English Comp..  And probably dying a little bit inside an hour at a time.  Don’t get me wrong, comp. professors are badass, but a creative writing instructor trying to find fulfillment and meaningful andragogy teaching composition is like telling a tiger to go forth and be a vegetarian.  We’re just not built that way;..

There are other jobs out there for M.F.A.-holders. Pals of mine are working at creative firms, magazines, publishing houses. But, they all had internships as editors and typesetters at the traditional universities.

Here’s another big question: Does a degree add value? As in make you more publishable? Or look good on a query? The answer is a big, fat, hairy NO to both.

Having a B.A. in English and an M.F.A. here (fiction) I know that it made me a better writer, but that was my own personal experience. Others will have different experiences. The question is, can you learn the material on your own and through reading fiction/craft books/threads on a cool-ass writing forum and writing your bum off? Or, do you think you’ll do better with the academic structure/rigor?

You may not know the answer right now.  But don’t let one or two bad experiences in the classroom jade you forever.  I see this a lot on writing forums.  “I had a shitty creative writing teacher.  They just didn’t GET ME.  I hate schools and I AM NEVER COMING BACK!”

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The first creative writing class I took was awful. The teacher was drunk half the time and seemed to be a failed writer who was taking his inadequacy out on the students. I dropped the course. If I had taken that one experience and said, “Wow, academics is not for me,” I wouldn’t have gotten all the amazing instruction that came after. I tried the class again with another instructor, loved it, and kept going from there.

I thrived in my program, even won a fellowship and averaged two publications per year (short stories).  But in my heart I’ll always be a genre writer and I can take all of that knowledge and use it for the power of geekdom.  I feel like it’s served me well.

 

28

08 2013

A Constant Stream of Abrupt Movements

I met Jonathan in the MFA program at CSU.  From his very first story, I knew he had it.   Raw talent mixed with sublime technique.  Most of us only get one of those and have to work our butts off for the other.

Me?  Raw talent. Intuition.  Voice.

The technique is still a work in progress, but coming along.

A Constant Stream of Abrupt Movements is a story by Jonathan that really stuck with me after I read it.  You can find it [HERE] at Passages North.  In the piece, the narrator reflects on his mother running off when he was a boy.  This spoke to the child in me, a reminder of a time when my own father ran out.  The only difference was that my father always came back home–at least in the beginning.

I was seven or eight and we’d just gotten our television set hooked up to HBO.  New, exciting!  Back then, they ran the same movie over and over again at night.  It went from 6pm until the wee hours of the morning.

“I’m going to the grocery store,” my dad would say on his way out the door.

I remember watching Coal Miner’s Daughter 3 times in a row before he came back home one night.  Being so young, I didn’t understand some of the more adult scenes, but I liked hearing Sissy Spacek sing.  I’d get out my cassette tape recorder and sing, “Mamaaaas don’t let your babies grow up to be cowbooyyyysss,” then play it back. The more twang I used, the better I sounded.

990919 Millennium - Spacek

I watched a lot of movies on HBO, and my dad went to the store a lot.  The thing is, he wouldn’t come back home with any food.  He’d stumble in, slur a goodnight and pass out on the couch.

It’s these small, lonely moments that stick with us.  I can’t hear Loretta Lynn without thinking about those nights.

Perhaps that’s why I write, to capture those memories in a jar like lightning bugs and save them for a scene that needs a little bit of that pit in the bottom of my stomach that wouldn’t stop churning as I watched a woman sitting on her front porch strumming a guitar.  Writers are cannibals.  We scavenge scenes from discarded stories, we pull our inspiration from a conversation overheard at Dennys (or the waiting room at the breast imagining center).  And we know when to flip through the pages of our past and find the string that connects us to our characters.

I think we can surprise ourselves when we realize how much we’ve felt across a lifetime.  What’s buried there now, waiting to be found?

12

07 2013

“The Girls” is Out!

The Berkeley Fiction Review #32 is finally out.  You’ll find one of my short stories inside, “The Girls.”  Quite timely if I don’t say so myself as the story is about a  man who grows marijuana for his cancer-stricken mother.

No way to order it online, sadly, it’s all check-and-envelope.

http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~bfr/order.html

Or, if you live in California, you can buy it where they sell the BFR.

Update: Circulation seems to have been dwindling a bit over the years.  Listed as 2500, but #32 seemed to have some snafus with distribution.  Still, it’s my highest circulation yet.

Archived from: 11/7/2012

26

12 2012

An Absolutely True Tuesday Night

Sherman Alexie first spoke to me in grad school.  Somehow, I managed to make it through a B.A. in literature/creative writing without having read his work.  “What You Pawn, I Will Redeem,” was the first Alexie story I read (and fell in love with).  Perhaps it was the fact that in this particular class, we had read every single Flannery O’Connor story to date (along with Alice Munro’s collection).  It could also be that I had ODed on Chekhov’s dreariness.

Throw in Henry James (in another class) and James Joyce and yeah.  I was ready for something to happen.  Something big.

Or . . . It could be that Alexie rocks.

I’m partial to the latter.

Tonight, I get to hear Sherman Alexie give a keynote address at CSU’s Diversity Symposium tonight.  I’ve never met the man, probably won’t meet him tonight as I’ll be competing with throngs of fans.  That’s okay.  Just being in the same room with one of my literary heroes is a big deal.

The voice in “What You Pawn, I Will Redeem” hit me like a freight train from the first passage:

Noon

One day you have a home and the next you don’t, but I’m not going to tell you my particular reasons for being homeless, because it’s my secret story, and Indians have to work hard to keep secrets from hungry white folks.

Then came “Can I Get a Witness,” which pissed off about half of my graduate class.  When everyone was submitting stories about the tragedy of 9/11, Alexie posed the question: “Did anyone in those towers deserve to die?”  Child molesters?  Abusive spouses?

Hard stuff that kicks you in the stomach because you’re not supposed to think about that stuff.  Moving on from the 9/11 story to “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian,” showed just how versatile Alexie is.  He goes from a terrorist act to creating a novel popular in the YA market about a Native American kid who goes to a mostly-white school, plays basketball, and may or may not “get the girl.”

Awesome.  And I cannot wait for tonight.

UPDATE: The keynote address was awesome.  Hard to describe.  You’ll just have to seek and find Mr. Alexie and revel in his brilliance.

Best quote of the night: “F*** you, Mitt Romney.  I am the 47%.”

Archived from: 9/18/2012

26

12 2012

Berkeley Fiction Review

bfr

So, I sent this little story out in January, 2011, and lo and behold, I found a nice acceptance letter in my email inbox today from The Berkeley Fiction Review. My story,The Girls, will be included in issue #32 which is due out in April, 2012.

Very happy about this.  This story has a very special place in my heart for many reasons.  It was the piece I chose for my MFA reading and something I worked on very closely with my adviser, Judy Doenges.

But, above all, this one is for my husband, John.  Thanks, baby!

Off to celebrate!

P.S. I’m shallow, I know, but damn if this magazine doesn’t have the coolest covers!

Archived from: 10/6/2011

26

12 2012

Dandelion Wine

Just This Side of Byzantium: Dandelion Wine

Ray Bradbury

I’m in a Bradbury type of mood.  Re-reading some of his essays in Zen in the Art of Writing is always inspiring.  I thought I would share a few of my favorite passages from that particular essay.

Dandelion Wine, like most of my books and stories, was a surprise.  I began to learn the nature of such surprises, thank God, when I was fairly young as a writer.  Before that, like every beginner, I thought you could beat, pummel, and thrash an idea into existence.  Under such treatment, of course, any decent idea folds up its paws, turns on its back, fixes its eyes on eternity, and dies.

It was with great relief, then, that in my early twenties I floundered into a word-association process in which I simply got out of bed each morning, walked to my desk, and put down any word or series of words that happened along in my head.

Then I took a long look at the green apple trees and the old house I was born in and the house next door where lived my grandparents, and all the lawns of summers I grew up in, and I began to try words for all that.

So, from the age of twenty-four to thirty-six hardly a day passed when I didn’t stroll myself across a recollection of my grandparents’ northern Illinois grass, hoping to come across some old half-burnt firecracker, a rusted toy, or a fragment of letter written to myself in some young year hoping to contact the older person I became to remind him of his past, his life, his people, his joys, and his drenching sorrows.

It became a game that I took to with immense gusto: to see how much I could remember about dandelions themselves, or picking wild grapes with my father and brother, rediscovering the mosquito-breeding ground rain barrel by the side bay window, or searching out the smell of the gold-fuzzed bees that hung around our back porch grape arbor.  Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.

Bradbury inspired me to become a writer and he always reminds me of word efficiency.  How much can we say in such a small space?  The poets know.  And to them I go today in hopes of reviving my lousy prose.

Archived from: 9/20/2011

26

12 2012

Pals and Pushcarts

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A shout out to Peter C. Stenson on his Puschcart nomination.

Details HERE.

Not surprised in the least.  Peter was a joy to workshop with in the MFA program.  It was one of those deals where you were just waiting for doors to open up for the guy.

Couldn’t have happened to a more brilliant and cool writer.

What I remember is talking to Peter during that MFA orientation picnic and I was trying to get to know “the new kids.”  When I asked him what he liked to write he shoved his hands into his pockets, rocked back and forth on his feet (from ball to heel) and said, sheepishly, “I write smut.”

I remember thinking, “hell yeah!”

Maybe someone besides me would write a sex scene for workshop.  Everyone else seemed to shy away.

And he did.  He wrote a few, including my favorite about a brother watching his sister get it on in the backseat of her boyfriend’s car.

And there was masturbation, too.

And lots of dirty thoughts.

And you couldn’t put it down.

It sounds like the Blue Mesa Review done a good thing here, Louie.

Grats again, man!

Archived from: 9/16/2011

26

12 2012

Myth and Hubris in Katherine Anne Porter’s “Noon Wine”

In this e-essay, I will examine some of the mythic elements of “Noon Wine.” Specifically, I will look at how Porter uses psychic distance to illustrate Mr. Thompson as a flawed hero, undone by his own hubris.

In an interview with Barbara Thompson, Katherine Anne Porter stated that “any true work of art has got to give you the feeling of reconciliation—what the Greeks would call catharsis, the purification of your mind and imagination” (Porter).  Mr. Thompson’s farm is a literal representation of catharsis.  In mythology, the hero is called to adventure, called away from his ordinary life into an unknown (often magical world).  In “Noon Wine,” Mr. Thompson doesn’t leave the comfort of his home, but rather, the magical world is literally brought to his doorstep.  When he hires Mr. Helton as a farm hand, Mr. Helton transforms the Thompson farm, almost magically, from a rundown, cluttered old farm into an admirable abode, one with a “strong gate that Mr. Helton had built and set firmly on its hinges,” where the “piles of trash around the barns and house disappeared” (243).

The house as a figure of catharsis is also a representation of Mr. Thompson himself–the house being a universal/mythical symbol for the Self (Jung).  As the stories progresses, the house becomes less of a hovel and more of a functioning structure; the animals are well-kept, the garden is fertilized, the cows milked, the butter churned.  The Thompson farm has become a well-oiled, archetypal machine.

Porter shines in her presentation of archetypal roles and in her ability to move deftly along the psychic distance spectrum.  It is through this craft maneuver that the readers become intimate with Mr. Thompson’s hubris.  In the beginning of the story, Porter writes: “In spite of his situation in life, Mr. Thompson had never been able to outgrow his deep conviction that running a dairy farm and chasing after chickens was women’s work.”When Mr. Helton begins to thrive on the Thompson’s farm, Porter states that “Mr. Helton had never heard of the difference between a man’s and a woman’s work on the farm.”  These are just two examples of how Porter maintains a relatively even level of psychic distance in the first half of the story, while also giving the reader subtle hints into Mr. Thompson’s judgments (235).

In the second half of the story, Porter reels in the psychic distance.  When the bounty-hunter, Mr. Hatch visits the farm, the reader is suddenly brought in very close to Mr. Thompson’s thoughts.  Throughout the scene, Porter zooms in and pulls out masterfully.  In doing so, the reader enjoys witnessing the unfolding of Mr. Thompson’s judgment (or hubris).  Consider the following two lines:

  • “He couldn’t remember when he had taken such a dislike to a man on first sight” (243).
  • “The man was no good, and he was there for no good, by what was he up to” (250).

 

In the first example, Porter keeps us at a moderate distance.  The reader is still being told to filter the story through the speaker: “HE couldn’t remember.”  In the second line the filter is removed and we are much closer to Mr. Thompson: “That man was no good.”  The reader is brought into an intimate space with Mr. Thompson.  We are no longer being told that “he” felt this way, but rather that “the man was no good.”  There is no question.

Porter works along this range of psychic narrative throughout the scene with Mr. Hatch.  The method produces various effects.  First, when the reader is pulled closer to Mr. Thompson, it magnifies the tension of the scene.  Were the scene written without these interludes of psychic closeness, the tension would diffuse.  Because we are deeper inside Mr. Thompson’s head, we are allowed to join him in his judgments, join him in his own trepidation and discomfort.  Second, the reader is also allowed more access into Mr. Thompson’s hubris.  The further along the conversation with Mr. Hatch progresses, the more Mr. Thompson is pushed into that zone of discomfort.  Therefore, the hubris becomes more transparent.  Porter writes:

“Mr. Thompson began to feel that Mr. Hatch was trying to make out he had the best judgment in tobacco, and he was going to keep up the argument until he proved it.  He began to feel seriously annoyed with the fat man.  After all, who was he and where did he come from?  Who was he to go around telling other people what kind of tobacco to chew” (249)?

Here we see a progression from moderate psychic distance into close psychic distance.  The section begins with “Mr. Thompson began to feel,” and moves into “Who was he to go around telling other people?”  In short, we see Mr. Thompson begin to unravel before our eyes.  Mr. Thompson has much to lose—the wellbeing of his farm, the vitality of his land and family.  Going off the web definition at wisegeek.com, hubris is defined as:

Hubris, Greek for “insolence,” is a protagonist’s tragic flaw of overbearing pride, and leads to his or her reversal of fortune or downfall. Terrible consequences befall the tragic hero when hubris causes the violation of a moral code, the neglect of a warning from an authority figure or god, or an attempt to overstep normal human limits” (Morrow).

Mr. Thompson’s “insolence” may appear more empathic to the reader (who has enjoyed the fruits of Mr. Helton’s labor along with Mr. Thompson), but it also serves as a point of contention in the story: if Mr. Thompson loses Mr. Helton will he, in turn, lose prosperity?

The reader is aware of all that Mr. Helton has contributed to the health of the farm (or at the archetypal level, the health of Mr. Thompson’s conscious self).  Because the reader has invested in this progression, the varying levels of psychic distance heightens the tension in the scene.  Not only are we privy to Mr. Thompson’s thoughts and judgments (as well as his apprehension in losing Mr. Helton as a positive, nurturing force in his life), but as the scene progresses with Mr. Hatch, we begin to sense an impending dramatic turn in the story.

Porter writes that Mr. Hatch would “put Mr. Thompson in a fix,” that it was “a terrible position” and “he couldn’t think of any way out” (255).  Yet, instead of moving in close to Mr. Thompson, in terms of psychic distance, Porter opts to pull back:

“ . . . and then something happened that Mr. Thompson tried hard afterwards to piece together in his mind, and in fact it never did come straight.  He saw the fat man with his long bowie knife in his hand, he saw Mr. Helton come round the corner on the fun, his long jaw dropped, his arms swinging, his eyes wild” (255).

During this passage, Mr. Thompson displays no element of judgment.  Though the scene is playing out through Mr. Thompson’s perspective, the reader is given no insight into what Mr. Thompson is experiencing at an emotional level.  As a matter of fact, Mr. Thompson is so far removed from the reality of the situation that he cannot “piece together in his mind” all that occurred.

Given the aftermath of the story’s climax—Mr. Thompson attempting to regain his reputation and the suggested suicide at the very end—Mr. Thompson becomes the epitome of the fallen hero.  The “terrible consequences” outlined in Morrow’s definition of hubris befall Mr. Thompson in a way that one can only liken to the Greek tragedy.

 

Sources / Cited Works

Archived from: 3/30/2010

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12 2012