Throughout J.R.R. Tolkiens world renowned blockbuster novel - Lord of the Rings, the word ring is mentioned multiple times, however, in Marina Keegans story - Cold Pastoral, neither "cold" nor "pastoral" appears. Not even once. "Pastoral" can be a term used to describe the livelihood of shepherds, but in literary terms, it is a lent word to describe the mode of literature which depicts a simple life from its complex content. Similarly, "cold" can be used to describe the weather or feeling of people, but it can also describe a person's personality as hardhearted, cheerless and cool. The more relevant interpretation of the title together with the story would be the latter of both explanations. The story is about Claire whose boyfriend, Brian, died suddenly and the series of events that followed Brian's death. Keegan, the author, through describing Claire's uncertainty towards the relationship and the revelation of the reality of the relationship, revealed the "cold" personality of Claire and her desire to lead a life that feels "pastoral", i.e. a simple life, to highlight the importance of revelations.
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Commitment to a relationship does not just depend on the passion; in fact, it relies heavily on the confidence of both parties in the relationship. Apparently, Claire is not madly in love with Brian. "A lot of time was spent being consciously romanticâ€¦" and "â€¦ we might admit â€¦ 'I like you ,'" are comments made by Claire on their relationship, which hint that Claire is uncertain about her relationship with Brian (1, 2). As we observe in the real world, couples at the early stages of their relationships are, more often than not, infatuated with each other. Due to the feeling of uncertainty, Claire lacks faith in her relationship with Brian, thus she is not fully committed. This accounts for, in part, why Claire does not seem extremely depressed after learning of Brian's death. It is this sense of uncertainty that lingers in Claire's mind, the reason for why not a lot of people know of their relationship.
One of the reasons that Claire does not seem too depressed after Brian, her boyfriend, died is that she is uncertain about the relationship, which resulted in her lack of commitment, whilst her personality, "cold", also contributes much to her absence of severe depression. Humans are never emotionless beings, which is why our emotions are affected greatly by the surroundings. The only stark difference between individuals is their ability to contain emotions. People who are less capable of containing their emotions are often regarded as moody or emotive, while those who are more capable are often regarded as cool and composed. Claire is definitely one of the latter ones. After Brian's death, Claire "surprised [herself] that night by crying alone" (2). This revealed that Claire has a composed personality and that she does not express her emotions explicitly that often.
As the saying goes, "The onlooker sees the best." People involved in incidents are often lost in their thoughts, and it is only through revelations that they reassess and take a clearer view at the situation. Just after Brian's death, Claire was preoccupied by a certain degree of sadness and sorrow. Not only once, but many times, did Claire mention her commitment to Brian, this is revealed from her comment - "â€¦I'd underestimated how much I liked him" (2). As it turns out, her emotions and view to her relationship drastically alters after reading Brian's diary. Contrary to her sadness and sorrow, Claire comments that "I'm actually feeling great" and "Fuck Brian, I thought now", which reveals that she, rather than feeling upset, is on the one hand angry with Brian, and on the other hand, feeling relieved for realizing this fact sooner instead of later (8). Had Brian not died, she would not have discovered this painful reality and broke away from feeling blue. Brian's death, though sorrowful and pitiful, has given Claire a chance to reveal the truth and free herself from the bondage of the relationship.
Keegan successfully portrays Claire's personality through her response to Brian's death, which also reveals her desire for a simple relationship - the direct reverse of the relationship she had with Brian. Actions such as "being consciously romantic", "waiting too long before responding to texts" and "[Brian and Claire] took a certain pride in our ambiguity" are indications that the relationship involved complications (1, 1, 2). As the title "Cold Pastoral" suggests, Claire is eager to seek a relationship that is simply simple. Claire's request is very simple - "she likes being liked" (1). She wanted her partner to simply love her and take care of her. After the revelation through Brian's death, she is crystal clear about the kind of relationship that she pursues - "more than anything I'd ever wanted in my life, I wanted him to love me" (11). Claire simply cannot resist the opportunity to begin a simple, committed love affair.
Apart from the contents of the story, Keegan's manipulation of prose and style conveys strong messages about the characters and the plot. When we read the story, the narration affects our judgment greatly. Since this story is a first person narration, we have to be critical about the emotions of the narrator. Throughout the story, the tale was narrated from the perspective of Claire, the main character, and "I" and "We" are mainly used as the pronoun for Claire as the narrator (1). In such narration, the contents of the tale are easily influenced by the emotions of the narrator. Claire, whose boyfriend has just died, is with grief and pain, which indicates that she is at times pathetic and hysterical. This suggests that the narration given by Claire may not be as reliable as regular stories due to her fluctuating moods. Keegan, by using first person narration, is trying to place readers in Claire's position. By doing so, readers can easily imagine themselves as Claire, which arouses sympathy for Claire's experience.
In many people's view, literary works should be elegant and profound, but plain and raw descriptions can also be powerful in conveying messages. When one reads the story, one is bound to come across many controversial choices of words, such as "fuck", "shit" and "penis", which do not normally exist in conventional novels or essays (7, 6, 2). Furthermore, the story includes many lines of dialogue and often comes with short and incomplete sentences, such as "I just need time to myself toâ€¦" and "I know she waits before responding which isâ€¦" (6, 7). The expressions, straightforward and natural, which are intentionally deployed by Keegan, can fully reveal Claire's feelings and the thoughts going through her troubled mind. Since this story is about the events that happened to Claire, this writing style allows readers to have a more in-depth understanding of Claire's plight, thus arousing echoes of the idea of revelation.
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Keegan kept the story compact, which creates a fast pace for the story, to suit the short time-span of the occurrence of events. The events in the story happened within a very limited time-span, despite the complex nature of the story. If all the ideas were explained in details, the story would have a very slow pace, which does not match with the swift happening of events. To achieve fast pacing for the story, Keegan kept the paragraphs of the text relatively short, while ideas within these paragraphs are at times incomplete, such as "I just need time to myself toâ€¦" and "I know she waits before responding which isâ€¦" (6, 7). From the examples, Keegan is providing a very vague image of Claire and a brief lead in of her thoughts. Contrary from giving the whole story, these short fragments allow readers to conceive the situation of Claire slowly but gradually. This allows Keegan to both keep the story concise yet providing sufficient vital information for readers to interpret the setting of the story and make a great impact on the minds of readers through their imagination.
In the story, Keegan deliberately arranged the events in a non-chronological order, which enables readers to think in the minds of Claire. Events of stories are often in chronological order, which enables the reader to easily understand the contents of the story. However, in "Cold Pastoral", the events, rather than in chronological order, are following Claire's free flow of thought. In the beginning of the story, Claire mentions her relationship with Brian and Brian's sudden death (2). After the breaking line, the focus turns to her interaction with her friends (2). After the second breaking line, Claire expresses her views on Lauren, Brian's ex-girlfriend (2). Furthermore, after the third breaking line, the narration mentions Claire's visit to Brian's family (3). If the story is to be in chronological order, Claire's comments on Lauren should be excluded from the context. Keegan, intentionally inserts this scene in such a way to reveal the thoughts in Claire's mind. The illogical ordering of events provides readers with an in-depth understanding of Claire's thoughts, and also allows readers to comprehend the mindset of Claire - fragmented thoughts and troubled with disarray.
Revelation is ubiquitous, but we often underestimate its effects. "People need revelation, and then they need resolution," Damian Lewis once said (Lewis). Just like in "Cold Pastoral", Claire, who believed that her relationship with her boyfriend Brian was perfect, realizes that she is actually not as dedicated as she believed to the relationship as well as Brian. We need not evade revelations, for revelation does more good than harm. In fact, revelation not only provides us information about the facts, but also provides a chance for us to step back and reassess our stances. The omnipresence of revelation is bound to amaze those who neglect it. Revelation can be as significant as the death of a person, as shown from the example in the story "Cold Pastoral", or it can be as minute as receiving a marked quiz script at school. Events, which one may or may not notice, can often be regarded as revelations, as long as they allow one to introspect. The story, Cold Pastoral, not only successfully portrays Claire, the heroine, but also provokes the minds of readers to face revelations squarely.
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