Rigmarole From The Perspective Of Modernism English Literature Essay

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During his long and prolific literary career Morley Callaghan (1903-1990) emerged as one of the most significant Canadian authors of the 20th century. While many of his contemporaries were profoundly determined by the influence of their Canadian homeland, Callaghan's versatility drove him towards other literary circles that enabled him to experiment with techniques unusual for Canadian authors. Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald being his friends and mentors, Callaghan soon discovered for himself North American modernism as a new way of expression in fiction. Since he succeeded in various literary genres modernism is not only recognizable in certain novels of his but also in some of his short stories, one of them being the corpus for this essay.

Rigmarole was first published in the Story Magazine in 1935 and it can be considered as an example of North American modernist fiction of that era. [1] The aim of the present essay is not to give a general analysis of the short story, but to focus on some of the key elements that reflect the characteristic features of North American modernist fiction. During the course of the essay several factors will be taken into consideration such as the context, the linguistic tone and register of the corpus, and probably most importantly the narrative. By examining these features we not only pretend to somewhat characterize North American modernism as such, but to emphasize some of the key elements of Callaghan's prose as well.

Our analysis should start, therefore, at the examination of the short story's setting which at first sight seems to be strikingly flat; the scarce descriptions of the space reveal the home of an ordinary young couple. Due to the simple language and the lack of descriptions, which later will be analyzed in depth, the past and present life of advertising man Jeff Hilton and his wife Mathilde remains just as shady and unclear as the location of the town or city in which they live. Unlike many of Callaghan's Canadian contemporaries, the context in which he positions his protagonists carefully avoids any kind of national stigma, that is, allusions to a concrete geographical scene are completely missing from Rigmarole. The author's frame of reference is not the Prairies as present in so many works of Canadian writers nor the urban life of his hometown Toronto, but the intellectual and social contour of his universal, yet immediate contemporary world. [2] The scarcely described setting of the short story is one of the key elements by which Callaghan succeeds to create a universally urban context where the destiny of the Hilton couple is not conditioned by regional or national features. Rigmarole is set in an average town or city of North America, its protagonist live in an average apartment house, and consequently, they are an ordinary, young married couple.

Although there are very few descriptions or descriptive parts that elaborate on the context, the modernity present in certain paragraphs of the short story is determining. As the main aim of this essay is to highlight the modernist characteristic features of Rigmarole, it should be stated in order to avoid ambiguity that modernity and modernism are terms not necessarily directly related. However, as Stevenson claims, modernist fiction shows radical changes in structure and style due to the fact that the world it envisaged shows changes of equal measures. [3] The new inventions of the turn of the century and the appearance of state-of-the-art philosophies project great influence on literature as well and by the 1930s the air of modernity sweeps through the life of ordinary Americans, or North Americans to be more precise in this case. The certainly iconic profession of protagonist Jeff Hilton as advertising man or the appearance of the taxi as a modern urban mean of transportation belongs to the few examples present in our corpus.

As it has been mentioned, in Rigmarole the setting is very poorly described and by the social positioning of the young protagonist couple Callaghan creates a universal urban image where the story is elaborated. In fact, however, if we focus on the actual plot of the piece the lack of real action soon becomes striking. Advertising agent Jeff Hilton and his wife Mathilde Hilton start to quarrel after a social gathering and the dispute over the behavior of men and wife in the party leads to the leave of Mathilde. While Jeff is convinced of the return of his wife he is tormented by the supposedly temporary solitude. However when Mathilde does return there seems to be no reconciliation between the couple and indeed the story ends without decisive turn or solution.

The lack of an intriguing plot and the scarce description of the setting create a sense of absence in the reader which is further triggered by the flat style. [4] Typical of North American modernist fiction of the era, Callaghan applies a simple register which not only adds to the flatness of the story itself, but also further enhances the universality of contemporary urban world as it has been mentioned previously in this essay. The author's style of writing can be considered as relatively common since it lacks any kind of figures of speech and the lexicon used is also composed of common words and phrases. Although large part of the text is based on the dialogue between Jeff and Mathilde there is no striking difference in style compared to the narrative paragraphs which is due to the fact that the narrative voice retains a simple language. While the 3rd person narrator seems to be omnipresent in the story his somewhat distant position combined with his simple style is a key element of Callaghan's work.

In fact, the straightforward descriptions and the aforementioned peculiar technique of the restricted point of view are the two primary elements that determine Rigmarole as a North American modernist piece of literature. [5] According to Schiff Berman, the partial or incomplete perspectives are what form a dividing line between some modernist and realist texts and indeed Callaghan's work is based on this phenomenon. [6] Nevertheless, the restricted point of view remains a mere literary technique without understanding the modernist approach towards the human subconscious which serves as a philosophical driving force behind the technique of perspectives.

Probably the most important single innovation of modernism as opposed to previous literary tendencies was the turn towards the human psyche. Due to the scientific progress made by the end of the 19th century, humanity gradually discovered the inner world of the mind and the subconscious which by the first decades of the 20th century reached the circles of art as well, thus new forms and new techniques of artistic expression appeared, modernist fiction being one in literature. Modernism rejected the previously established literary patterns and centered on the ideas of late-19th century and contemporary thinkers as Nietzsche or Freud and instead of focusing on a plot which follows chronological happenings dealt with the inner feelings of the characters.

This literary philosophy is the determining factor behind the subject of our analysis, that is, the Rigmarole of Morley Callaghan. While up to this point we examined the ordinariness of the setting and the characters, the lack of action in the plot and the nature of the straightforward descriptions and somewhat flat tone and style, in the followings we will see how the absence mentioned in the previous elements contributes to the aggrandizement of the subconscious struggle of the young couple. Although Callaghan shows this struggle through the submerged feelings and perceptions of Jeff Hilton, the husband, due to partial perspective, the confusion of both of the characters is well depicted in the short story. [7] 

In spite of the fact that seemingly the conflict of Rigmarole lies in the behavior of the protagonists Jeff and Mathilde during the party, the main issue of the short story is the subconscious battle of the confused young couple. Although it is suggested that both enjoy a respectable social status due to their financial stability and attractiveness, the balance which characterized their first three years of marriage seem to get lost. As the two parties seek different means to console each other in this fragile situation a dispute arises which will serve as the starting point of the depiction of the inner struggle of Jeff Hilton.

As a consequence of the unspecified, modern, urban context at some parts of the text Callaghan seems to evoke certain cosmic allusions as if the figures of Jeff and Mathilde would be the personification of the modern man and woman. One of the key phrases that indicate the aforementioned universalism is the angry and somewhat rhetoric question of the husband: "Why can't you be direct about things instead of being sentimental?" [8] Since this is a question that most probably has been raised by millions of men and women throughout the 20th century and aims at the core of the subconscious of both genders, the general concern of modernist writers about the human psyche is clearly present in the short story of Morley Callaghan as well.

After Mathilde leaves the apartment at the peak of the plot the reader gets entirely exposed to the technique of the restricted point of view, that is, the conflict and the inner pondering is exclusively narrated from the perspective of Jeff Hilton. Although he is absolutely convinced of the return of his wife, his growing solitude, his confusion and the uncertainty of the whole marriage haunts him until the actual return of Mathilde. While the confusion of the wife is clearly present in the dialogues, by the 3rd person narrator focused on the inner struggle of the husband Callaghan succeeds in creating the perfect image of the unbalanced marriage in crisis which is plagued by total miscommunication. Not only are they incapable to understand each other's feelings, but they are also hindered by their own inner confusions to express their own ones. Although the author applies an open ending, thus the outcome of the marital crisis of the young couple remains unknown, the dénouement of the short story is somewhat optimistic. When husband and wife both realize that they are not able to express themselves, let alone understand each other, a common awkward shyness forms a peculiar bond between them that can be interpreted as the first step towards communication.

As a conclusion to our analysis, we can state that Morley Callaghan's Rigmarole contains several elements that define it as a typical piece of North American modernist fiction. Even though some of his contemporaries indiscriminately rejected all kinds of American influence and were profoundly determined by their Canadian homeland, due to his American friends and mentors Callaghan soon familiarized himself with new literary techniques and tendencies such as North American modernism. Being a versatile author modernist influence is not only present in his novels but also in his short stories one of them being Rigmarole. As it has hopefully been justified by this analysis Rigmarole contains various modernist elements like scarce, yet straightforward descriptions of the modern, universal context and simple style and register. These characteristics combined with a plot that may easily be considered as somewhat flat contour the main issue of the short story: the subconscious struggle of the young couple with the feelings of their own and each other. Rigmarole emerges from this major theme concerned with the human psyche as an undeniable piece of North American modernist short fiction.