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Synopsis: This story centers on a woman, Annie Dillard, exploring nature and having epiphanies when she discovers something new in nature. For example, she compares amoebae and Andromeda to emphasize the immeasurable difference between herself and God and humans and the universe. Annie Dillard tries to find beauty even in bad situation, like when the flood from hurricane Agnes flooded the Bings' house, and there was a wild mushroom found in the house. The Bings loved mushrooms, and Dillard liked to believe that the mushroom was put there as a "consolation prize" from the flood.
Main characters: For the most part, the only character in this book is Annie Dillard, who lives in solitude, immersing herself in nature's wonders and books. In most chapters, she had an epiphany at the end of it that relates to existentialism.
Setting: This story takes place around Tinker Creek in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Roanoke, VA. There is no time frame given, but it takes place throughout a cycle of seasons, starting with January.
Themes: The main theme in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is that nature can be beautiful but also cruel at times. For example, in the first chapter, she encounters a frog having its "muscles, bones and organs" sucked out by a giant water bug, which she views as disgusting and cruel. But then, she recalls a time when she saw a mockingbird dive from a building and then pulls up at the last second before crashing, which she viewed as graceful and beautiful.
Symbols: One symbol is a penny, like in the game she described in the second chapter. She would hide a penny and wait for someone else to find it. The penny is a symbol for nature's hidden beauty, which Annie Dillard tries to find. She also says that the world is filled with pennies, and that it shouldn't be that exciting to find a penny, but the irony is that she actually does get excited when she discovers something new in nature. Another symbol is Tinker Creek, which symbolizes the mixture of the cruelty and beauty in nature. An example of this is the frog and mockingbird example described before.
"But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world, is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get" (15).
"The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will sense them. The least we can do is try to be there" (8).
"I am no scientist. I explore the neighborhood. An infant who has just learned to hold his head up has a frank and forthright way of gazing about him in bewilderment" (11).
"Could it be that if I climbed the dome of heaven and scrabbled and clutched at the beautiful cloth till I loaded my fists with a wrinkle to pull, that the mask would rip away to reveal a toothless old ugly, eyes glazed with delight?" (266).
McCarthy, Cormac. All the Pretty Horses. New York: Random House, 1992. Print.
Synopsis: The story opens with John Grady Cole's grandfather's death, leaving behind his ranch. John's mother will sell the ranch and move away, because they cannot maintain the ranch, but John does not want to leave the cowboy lifestyle, so he runs away with his friend Rawlins. While traveling, they encounter another cowboy named Jimmy Blevins, and all together they travel to Mexico. One day, Jimmy loses all of his things (his horse and gun), and in the attempt to get it back, John and Rawlins are separated from Jimmy. John and Rawlins come upon a ranch owned by Don Hector, who appoints John to breeding the horses. John falls in love with Don's daughter, Alejandra, which Don does not approve of, so he reports John and Rawlins to the police. Apparently Jimmy killed someone trying to get his horse back, and the police torture Rawlins into confessing to being a co-conspirator. They are sent to jail, and they are released when someone sent by Alejandra bribes the guards. Rawlins goes back to Texas, and John tries to get back with Alejandra, but she refuses. John finally steals his horses back and is injured, but returns to Texas, and the story ends with John riding into the sunset.
Main characters: John Grady Cole, who wants to keep living the cowboy lifestyle even after his grandfather's ranch got sold. He also values loyalty and honor, and he let Jimmy travel with them. Rawlins is John's best friend, although he does not believe as strongly in loyalty and honor as John. He is also not as smart and not as talented with horses as John. Jimmy Blevins is a 13 year old kid who is very dignified, and sensitive to ridicule from others. Don Hector is the owner of the ranch that John and Rawlins worked on. He is intelligent in knowing that John was good with horses, but he was vindictive when he found out that John was with Alejandra, Don Hector's daughter. Perez is the wealthiest prisoner that John meets in the Mexican prison, and he tries to make John and Rawlins work for him, or pay him a bribe.
Setting: The beginning and end of this book are set somewhere in Texas on John's grandfather's ranch. The rest of the story is spent in Mexico, part of it in Encantada, where Jimmy's things are stolen. The time period is sometime around the end of the cowboy era.
Themes: One theme in this book is the control of women over John's life. It first started when his mother would not let him run his grandfather's ranch, forcing him to make the decision to run away. Alejandra also gets him in trouble when she tells Don Hector that they were together, which consequently put him in jail. But then, he gets out of jail only because Alejandra has her grandaunt bail him out. Another theme is the loss of innocence, when John is thrown into the world of corrupt police and brutal murders, like Jimmy's.
Symbols: One symbol is the loss of John's grandfather's ranch, which symbolizes the end of the cowboy era. Throughout the book, John tries to keep the cowboy era alive in his mind by going on adventures. Another symbol is the horse, which symbolizes the spirit of cowboys; adventurous and fast-paced.
"Finally he said that among men there was no such communion as among horses and the notion that men can be understood at all was probably an illusion" (111).
"Beware gentle knight. There is no greater monster than reason" (146).
"Those eyes had altered the world forever in the space of a heartbeat (109).
"It was good that God kept the truths of life from the young as they were starting out or else they'd have no heart to start at all" (284).
Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Logan, Iowa: Perfection Learning, 1979.
Synopsis: The novel starts when the father of Huckleberry Finn, a boy mentioned in the beginning of the book as from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, appears in town and tries to get custody of Huck from the Widow. "Pap" eventually kidnaps Huck and takes him to a cabin far in the woods, where Huck escapes to an island after about a few days. On the island, Huck meets up with Jim, an escaped slave, and they live on the island for a while, until the Mississippi River floods and Huck and Jim find a raft and start traveling north, where slavery is illegal. Once floating down the river, they have many adventures such as getting separated, Huck living with the Grangerfords (a family that has a conflict with their neighbors), Huck and Jim helping the "duke" and "dauphin," Huck and Tom freeing Jim but then finding out that Jim has been freed because Miss Watson died. Huck then pronounces that he is leaving town before Aunt Polly can civilize him.
Main characters: Huckleberry Finn, a young boy from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer who is very independent and adventure-loving. Jim, an escaped slave who is actually very intelligent but very superstitious, and he acts as an alternate father for Huck, whose father is always drunk. Tom Sawyer, who is first mentioned in the beginning of the book, is a young boy like Huck, but with no legal guardian, and he also likes to plan extreme adventures. The Widow Douglas and Miss Watson are sisters who both try to teach Huck moral values.
Setting: The story starts in a southern town along the Mississippi River. The rest of the story takes place in various locations on the Mississippi when Huck and Jim travel on the raft. It takes place before the Civil War as well because slavery is still legal.
Themes: The main themes in this book are the morality of slavery and adventure. Throughout the book, Huck is conflicted about traveling with Jim. He was offered money and asked if he knew where Jim was, but Huck distrusts society, so he does not conform to the typical belief in slavery. Adventure is a theme because it is what drives Huck; he never liked to just stay home and play by the rules. If Huck did not have such a love for adventure, there wouldn't have been much of a story to tell.
Symbols: One symbol is the raft, which symbolizes Huck becoming independent and developing his own beliefs, not just adopting the ones from his society. Another symbol is the Mississippi River, which symbolizes freedom. When they are on the Mississippi, Huck and Jim can go wherever they want, go on whatever adventures they want, and live the life they want.
"I did wish Tom Sawyer was there; I knowed he would take an interest in this kind of business, and throw in the fancy touches. Nobody could spread himself like Tom Sawyer in such a thing as that" (41).
"We said there warn't no home like a raft, after all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don't. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft" (119).
"[Tom] told me what it was, and I see in a minute it was worth fifteen of mine for style, and would make Jim just as free a man as mine would, and maybe get us all killed besides" (227-228).
"But I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can't stand it. I been there before" (283).