Billy told them that Nichole had witnessed the accident; that she was sitting in the bus up front next to Dolores, and that Dolores had been speeding. Now everyone in town would hear this and take it for the truth because this girl in a wheelchair had spoken it and the town would be able to start recovering. Dolores felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from her. She had been carrying it around with her for eight months and it was suddenly gone. It was odd that she did not feel unjustly accused or righteously angry but she did not. This defined Dolores as a hero for her peers.
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Concept – If Nichole was the heroine for the town, Dolores is the heroine of the spirit. She has conducted herself with great dignity during the aftermath of the bus accident, taking care to show sympathy but not asserting herself in any way. She had considered the people of Sam Dent to be her family and, like all families, she assumed that this would pass over and she would be invited back into the fold. However, the night of the Demolition Derby changed all that. It was clear that the people did not receive her well as she struggled with Abbott’s wheelchair. She could manage that. What she could not abide is what Billy Ansel had told her; that Nichole had saved the town from multiple lawsuits by saying that Dolores had been speeding. Yet she is not angry. She is in a different place from these people now. She has suffered much. Each family grieved the loss of its own child but Dolores grieves for them all.
Connection – Dolores was a symbol of integrity and grit in a time of serious pain and suffering that the whole town had to endure. She was the wall that stood when every other wall had crumbled around her. She served as a model for the type of person that should be able to lead a community through times of pain, and she did exactly that.
Literary Work – The Sweet Hereafter
Term – Symbol
Definition – In literature, symbolism is used to provide meaning to the writing beyond what is actually being described. The plot and action that take place in a story can be thought of as one level, while the symbolism of certain things in the writing act on another level to enhance the story.
Context – Dolores was shaken out of her reverie when Abbott raised his left arm and pointed to the infield; there was old Boomer ready to do battle in the derby. The flag was dropped and the cars started to smash into it, repeatedly. Boomer was being hit from all directions, but it still escaped each crash to go back again. Boomer was still alive. Now the drivers were even ganging up on the car, but Boomer hung in. Finally, there were only three cars left that were still running. That is when the crowd started clapping, just as they had when Nichole had entered the grandstand. Eventually, Jimbo was able to steer Boomer out of the path of the other two cars, did lots of fancy steering and Boomer won the heat. The crowd went wild. Dolores was pleased that her old car was victorious over the other ones, but it was time to go.
Concept – The symbolism of Dolores’s old car getting banged up at the Demolition Derby seems appropriate in a way, as that is the last time the town will have a chance to put any more dents in her or anything connected to her. She will not let them hurt her anymore. She will bear the injustice that is for sure. She will also notice that people look at her a bit warily from now on, just like those forest creatures waiting for her to pass them in the night.
Connection – The car was a symbol of the pain that she had to endure as a product of the community’s animosity. The car getting banged shows the amount of injustice that was portrayed towards her as a human being. That injustice drove her away, she wanted to leave the town with no connection, for good.
Literary Work – The Sweet Hereafter
Term – Allegory
Definition – is a figurative mode of representation conveying a meaning other than the literal. Allegory teaches a lesson through symbolism. Allegory communicates its message by means of symbolic figures, actions or symbolic representation. Allegory is generally treated as a figure of rhetoric.
Context – If not for the effects of the failing national economy, the tentacles of mass media and the upscale vacationers who drive north from the city, the small, upstate New York town of Sam Dent, setting of The Sweet Hereafter, would otherwise remain isolated in its own particular late-twentieth-century solitude. On a recent winter morning a schoolbus skids off the road, tumbles down an embankment and into a water-filled sand pit. Fourteen of the town’s children are killed.
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Concept – The fabric of order in Sam Dent is suddenly torn apart. The novel does not present this in public acts of mourning or violence; there are few overt acts of vengeance or compensation. Rather, we experience the horror, the uncontainable pain, in the voices of the novel’s four narrators, who in the aftermath of the accident present to us not only themselves and the facts as they know them; they also present to us the mysterious and inevitable continuance of their lives. This was in accordance to life of the American people at the time. Banks is representing the views and pains of the American people into his text.
Connection – The book was published in 1991 during an economic time that was abysmal. The style of writing with the theme of death and tragedy being prevalent in the novel seems as though he is trying to bring the outcry of the American people out of their houses into the public.
Literary Work – The Sweet Hereafter
Term – Diction and Genre
Definition – Diction has multiple concerns; register – words being either formal or informal in social context – is foremost. Literary diction analysis reveals how a passage establishes tone and characterization, e.g. a preponderance of verbs relating physical movement suggests an active character, while a preponderance of verbs relating states of mind portrays an introspective character. Diction also has an impact upon word choice and syntax. Genre is a loose set of criteria for a category of composition; the term is often used to categorize literature and speech, but is also used for any other form of art or utterance.
Context – As readers, caught up in the life of the novel, we make a leap from our burdened and mysterious real lives to something we perceive in the heart of its characters. We seek, and perhaps find, a kind of communion with something larger. Yet since a character is, after all, simply a construct of crafted language, most of what we find there, as in a dream, has to have been ours in the first place. What we seek is ourselves. Yet the life we live and the lives we read about in so many contemporary novels seem to have less and less in common.
Concept – In explaining why the storyteller has become a thing of the past, Walter Benjamin told us, “One reason for this phenomenon is obvious: experience has fallen in value.” Since he wrote this, the trend has accelerated. Even the complex technologies of fiction we’ve been steadily evolving since Chekhov cannot keep apace of this devaluation. I see in much of Banks’s work a refusal to find this acceptable. Whether vast or local in scope, the foundation for his fiction is experience in its most familiar and simultaneously mysterious circumstance: as we know it, be it, before it is crafted into the larger, rarefied context of fictional narrative. We can find it there.
Connection – This realism exemplified by Russell Banks is both old-fashioned and new. New because his characters feel as if he first discovered them outside of fiction, not from pre-existing literary or cultural models.
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