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The house in “A Rose for Emily” can be viewed as a representation for Emily herself. The townspeople don’t seem to know Emily on a personal level, and the story is narrated from a distant perspective as the townspeople’s knowledge of Emily is gained from hearsay or general assumptions. Emily as describe by the narrator (townspeople) keeps to herself rarely ever going out. The few townspeople that may know Emily better than others are still only acquaintances at best rather than true friends. As a result, the house is described in more detail than Emily herself. The townspeople seem to relate better, and in fact, they know more about the house than Emily. Thus, the house takes the role of Emily by assuming and representing herself and her relationship with the townspeople throughout the story. After Emily’s death, the townspeople are suddenly curious, and they get a better glimpse into the life and character of Emily through the house as they wander around at her funeral. During the conclusion of the story, the house once again serves as the only connection between Emily and the townspeople and as a representation of Emily herself as they make the discovery of the “one room in that region above the stairs which noone had seen in forty years” (543) revealing Emily’s darkest secret concerning her relationship with Homer Barron.
The Things they Carried (447)
O’Brien’s insistent use of repetition and zeugma is extremely apparent in “The Things they Carried”. His repetition of the single word, ‘carried’ is used in numerous and diverse ways, transforming it’s meaning, role, and impact on the characters and overall structure throughout the story. Mainly, he uses it in a literal sense describing the standard issue items and weapons that were essential to survival during the Vietnam War. These essential items included weapons, first aid, rations, and other necessities. O’Brien also describes the various intangible items carried by each individual soldier creating humanity within the characters and establishing a personal relationship with the reader. “Jensen who practiced field hygiene, carried a toothbrush, dental floss, and several hotel bars of soapâ€¦Ted Lavender, who was scared, carried tranquilizers” (447). Figuratively, O’Brien uses the term ‘carried’ to describe such burdens carried by the characters including fear, regret, relationships, and lives left behind. By using ‘carried in a literal sense initially by listing tangible items with a physical weight then inserting the term ‘carried’ in a figurative sense – O’Brien reveals how the intangible things carried by the soldiers, although only carried in the mind with no actual physical weight, can still be the heaviest burden. In yet another example, O’Brien uses ‘carried’ in opposite contexts to develop and conclude the story. Throughout the bulk of the story, ‘carried’ is used in a negative context. Both figuratively and literally, everything each character has to carry weighs them down, holds them back, and presents a constant burden to them. However, O’Brien dramatically switches the context of the term ‘carried’ at the end of the story by using it in a positive sense. This time it is not used to represent a burden, but it is used in the opposite sense of the word as the soldiers “Carry On” (456). In the finale, with a simple but dramatic shift of context, O’Brien transforms ‘carried’ from a symbol of the burden that weighs on every soldier into a representation of hope and perseverance in the face of those burdens.
The Chrysanthemums (375)
Although not much happens in “The Chrysanthemums” in terms of plot, Steinbeck uses other means to extensively develop the characters, mainly Elisa simultaneously drawing distinctions about gender during the 1920’s and 30’s. Right off the bat, the setting is used to establish the overall dull mood of the story and characters. The grey flannel fog is described to resemble a “lid on the mountains and made of the great valley a closed pot” (375). Additionally, it seems that the narrator purposely reveals “there was no sunshine the valley now in December” (375) to parallel the subsequent characters rather than accidentally including that detail. With the backdrop of a grey and dull setting presented, the following presentation of Elisa’s indicates an extension of that dull mood. She is described as strong and lean with eyes “clear as water” (375). However, she is covered in baggy man’s clothing representative of her suppressed sexuality and femininity. Elisa’s clothes parallel the suffocation of the cold winter fog that keeps the sunshine out of the valley. While her husband is presented as kind and caring, it is apparent that the only control Elisa has in the relationship lies only in the small garden and her prized Chrysanthemums. These Chrysanthemums assume a significant role in the story, and they can be seen as a symbol for Elisa herself – strong and beautiful but relegated to a small unimportant corner in the big picture.
Upon the arrival of the tinker, his interest in the flowers seems to spark something in Elisa as if his interest was in her. His simple interest in her Chrysanthemums awakens her sexuality and femininity. She makes sexually charged advances toward the tinker and looks up to him like a “fawning dog” (378). The traveler’s stories of life on the road are presented in such contrast to Elisa’s routine and mundane life that she finally sheds her baggy clothing and makes herself up. Unfortunately, Elisa’s awakened sexuality soon dies with the discovery that the flowers she had given to the stranger had been tossed to the side of the road. The last image of the story is of Elisa crying as she realizes her place as a woman during that time will remain a secondary role, and like the Chrysanthemums discarded on the side of the road, she is simply tossed to the side of a man’s world.
The Yellow Wallpaper (543)
Charlotte Perkins Gilman story “The Yellow Wallpaper” makes determined statements about feminism and individuality. Gilman does so by taking the reader through the process of one woman’s mental decline characterized by her encounters and growing obsession with the yellow wallpaper in her room. The central image of the story is centered on the yellow wallpaper and the woman’s obsessive connection with it. Although the story tells reveal the mental decline of the woman on the surface, the deeper objective of the story is to deliver an entirely unrelated message concerning the imprisonment of women in assumed domestic roles. Gilman successfully attempts to evoke a message of individual expression by recording the progression of the woman’s illness through her obsession with the patterns in the wallpaper.
It is immediately apparent in the story that the woman allows herself to be inferior to men, particularly her husband, John. Being her physician as well, his effort to cure her effectively stifles all of her individuality and creativity by ordering her to stay in bed, restrain her imagination, and most notably to discontinue her writing. She is not allowed to think or do anything for herself, and she becomes a prisoner in her own home.
When first presented, the wallpaper sets the social environment between the woman and her condition. The paper is represented as being “dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide-plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions” (161). Her description of the wallpaper parallels the woman’s feeling about herself and the negative outcome of the therapy. Because of the therapy, the woman does not realize her true circumstance of not being allowed to think, so she subconsciously channels her everything into the wallpaper. Her description of the paper being “dull enough to confuse the eye” and “constantly irritating and provoking study” alludes to her sense of inferiority. She begins to fantasize about the wallpaper. She imagines people, scenes, and vibrant graphics on the paper seemingly becoming more confident the more she lets herself fantasize about the wallpaper. Initially, she sees a woman hidden in the background of the paper representing her own fear of expressing herself.
Finally, the woman becomes fully obsessed as she begins identifying herself as the woman in the wallpaper, and she destroys the limitations placed upon her, at least in her fantasy. It seems that she has finally realized her imprisonment, and has broken free along with the woman in the wall paper, but in the process she fully disintegrates the assumed roles of her domestic life and “real world”. As a result, because she has fully broken free of the rules expected of her – she is perceived to have gone insane to the eyes of John, others, and to the reader. This idea remains a problem to this day and is not exclusive to just women. Even in modern times, if someone deviates from the social norms that dictate what “normal” is or goes against the guidelines placed by social institutions, most people consider them “crazy”.
A Worn Path (507)
“A Worn” Path by Eudora Welty is an interesting story, through it’s use of symbolism and ambiguity of the character, Phoenix. Right off the bat, the symbolism of the main character’s name, Phoenix, also the name of the mythological bird that rises from the ashes presents a hint about the character. Phoenix Jackson is an old woman, small and frail, as shown when a black dog rushes her causing her to fall into a ditch unable to get up without help. Time after time she walks along a path to get medicine for her grandson. She continually struggles to negotiate her path in the hills and notes to herself, “Seem like there is chains about my feet, time I get this far” (507), revealing her personal struggle through an image of chains and perhaps suggesting a symbol for slavery. Because Phoenix is old, she briefly forgets the purpose of her path and journey. However, her journey is revealed to be along a “worn path” that has been made numerous times. Regardless of whether the symbolism of the worn path is tied specifically to a certain person or more broadly to any kind of quest, religious or otherwise, the path motif suggests that there will always be challenges and hardships along any path. During the course of this particular journey, Phoenix is visited several times by dreams. One dream in particular concerns a boy offering Phoenix a piece of marble cake. In this dream when she reaches her hand out, it seems as if nothing is there – no marble cake. Since a marble cake is a mixture of both chocolate and vanilla, it seems to be representative of the early attempts at integration between blacks and whites in Southern American during the 1930s and 1940s. Phoenix reaches her hand out to accept the cake, but she is unable to fully grab it every time – symbolizing that the worn path to racial harmony had not yet been fully realized despite the efforts.
The Lesson (624)
On the surface, “The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara appears to be a simple short story about a group of Harlem youngsters taking a simple trip to a fancy toy store led by a local woman and teacher, Miss Moore. Upon arrival to their destination, FAO Schwartz in Manhattan, it becomes apparent that the toy store caters specifically the higher classes of society. The toys including a tiny sailboat cost more than all of the children’s household annual incomes combined. The sharp contrast between the fancy toy store and the familiar environment of the children is immediately realized as Sylvia narrates, “We all walkin on tiptoe and hardly touchin the games and puzzles and things” (627). Upon further examination however, it becomes clear that Miss Moore’s trip was purposefully intended to expose the children from poorer neighborhoods to a world out of their reach and understanding. Perhaps, this lesson was intended to disillusion Sylvia who is normally arrogant and sassy about the real world, the unfairness of life, and as a black girl from a poor neighborhood – her low position in the grand scheme of things. However, toward the end of the story while Sugar runs away to spend the stolen change from the cab fare, Sylvia walks at her own pace alone to contemplate the events of the day, thinking to herself, “ain’t nobody gonna beat me at nuthin” (628). Although, Sylvia is forced to realize her status in lower class society, and that she is unable to afford the expensive toys that the rich kids get every day, she refuses to subscribe to such a placement. Even without the money, status, and expensive toys – Sylvia refuses to be beaten by social class or any single individual, perhaps learning the actual meaning intended by Miss Moore’s lesson.
Sonny’s Blues (258)
Being a musician myself, the central role of music in Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” caught most of my attention. Throughout the whole story, the jazz scene and musical culture surrounding the characters remains prevalent, and it no doubt offers a deeper message than simple rhythm ‘n’ grooves. The world of jazz greats like Charlie Parker contributes to Sonny deciding to become a musician himself, but it’s a world and decision that isn’t so familiar to his brother. Unfortunately, like Charlie Parker himself, Sonny ends up addicted to drugs and ultimately lands in prison – the exact opposite status of the free jazz spirit that Sonny was using to free himself and escape from the limitations of his environment. This experience causes tension between the brothers of the story upon Sonny’s release from prison, as the narrator tries to understand Sonny’s life and choices, and as Sonny is unable to return an explanation in words.
With the tension set up, the role of music becomes most apparent at the end while the narrator witnesses Sonny’s playing firsthand. Through his music, Sonny is able to express himself, his pain, what he had gone through. At the same time, the narrator finally “understood, at last” the dark, addicted world in which Sonny lived (273). With Sonny’s performance, it seems that there is a real redemption available through his music by allowing him to transform all of the suffering he has experienced into something beautiful. However, it also seems that his suffering is necessary, a price he has to pay to create the music in the first place – a double edged sword.
Everyday Use (278)
Walker’s “Everyday Use” begins with Mrs. Johnson, the narrator, contemplating about her daughter Maggie who is revealed to have extensive scarring on her body from a fire. As a result, Maggie is nervous and apprehensive, compared to walk like “a lame animal, perhaps a dog run over by some careless person rich enough to own a car” (279). Mrs. Johnson’s other daughter Dee seems unsatisfied with her simple upbringing. Dee’s simple childhood contrasts her current existence as a strong, educated black woman causing her to resent her heritage to the point of changing her name to Wangero: “She wrote me once that no matter where we ‘choose’ to live, she will manage to come see us, but she will never bring her friends” (279). In contrast, Maggie embraces her heritage satisfied with her place.
Maggie and Dee’s contrasting attitudes towards the beautiful quilts sewn by their mother become the main vehicle of Walker’s message concerning heritage. Dee seems to merely want the quilts for a display piece to sit on a shelf or as a possession and decoration in her home. On the other hand, Maggie captures the true spirit of pride and heritage – she would use them everyday, integrating the quilts and her heritage into her everyday life rather using them as conversation piece. In the end, Mrs. Johnson snatches the quilts out of Dee’s (Wangero) possession and gives them to Maggie. Thus, Walker suggests that one’s heritage is not meant to sit on some shelf as some separate item with a price tag, but rather, to be integrated into our lives and identity for everyday use.
Cortazar’s story, “Axolotl”, is told through a man who is converted into an axolotl, a variety of salamander, after spending many hours observing axolotls in an aquarium. His fascination turns into empathy, which in turn, leads to a sense of empathy toward the axolotls’ suffering. Eventually, the man realizes that the axolotl’s are actually captives whom want to be free like any creature but are stuck in an aquarium tank. He begins to relate the axolotls with Aztecs with their “eyes of gold” (419), “silent and immobile” (419), like ancient statues that serve as reminders of the people and civilizations that were vanquished. The axolotl’s eyes of gold intrigue him the most, perhaps symbolizing a different perspective – a perspective that the man himself wants to see through. His fascinations become an obsession, and the man seemingly becomes an axolotl himself. As an axolotl, the man still sees the human being he was previously. The boy’s transformation may suggest that reality is subjective, something that can be viewed through diverse perspectives.
Before the Law (26)
“Before the Law” is purposefully ambiguous. Instead of concrete images, the story seems more abstract. In particular, the representation of the “law” is never actually identified. The image of a gatekeeper, and subsequent doorkeepers, each one more powerful than the last, are presented as obstacles to the man who is trying to get through the gate. In “Before the Law”, the man from the country waits indefinitely to be le in by the gatekeeper. After growing so old and waiting so long, he realizes that no other person besides himself has attempted to go through the gate. The gatekeeper reveals to the man that the gate was created specifically for that man alone and must be closed. On first glance it seems that the man misused his entire life attempting to get through the gate, but never succeeds at doing so. The gatekeeper is one cruel sonofabit*h. Upon closer examination however, it becomes clear that the man never actually attempts to enter, but rather, he’s waiting for authorization. Thus, the idea of free will is encouraged. Like the man who just waits for permission to access his own gate, people tend to wait for life and the “law” to come to them, their existence dictated by others. By waiting for permission to seek out one’s life and personal goals, authorization is give to the gatekeeper and others for control over our own gateways. Instead, as “Before the Law” suggests, we should obtain whatever we seek by taking action into our own hands, effectively becoming above the law.
James Joyce’s “Araby” has an underlying theme of the shortcomings of fantasy compared to reality interpreted in the narrator’s fantasy of a neighbor girl and Bazaar into something larger than life, but as is usually the case – reality is rarely as good as the fantasy.The narrator’s description depicts a close and stifling environment: and evokes a picture of a gloomy and repressed existence. The narrator detaches himself from this unpleasant atmosphere, replacing it with the vigor of his fantasies with dreams of Mangan’s sister. In contrast to his dim surroundings, he perceives her as one thing brilliant in his life as evidenced by his description of “her figure defined by the light from the half-opened door” (356). Later, as he speaks with her at the railings, he relates: “The light from the lamp opposite our door caught the white curve of her neck, lit up her hair that rested there and, falling, lit up the hand upon the railing” (356). His fantasy concerning his first love is consuming and acts as a getaway from the harsh, dirty truths of his life. When Mangan’s sister mentions how much she would love to go the Araby Bazaar but is unable, he guarantees to bring her something from the bazaar. This appears to imply his wish that this event might in some manner bring a reciprocation of his love. His anticipation of the trip “cast an Eastern enchantment” over him as he looks forward to his trip to what his love describes as a “splendid bazaar” (356). Soon his fantasy will sets him up for the disappointment of reality.
First, the boy’s uncle neglects the promised trip to the bazaar and comes home late. The narrator becomes frustrated and impatient as he waits for his uncle, gazing at the clock and growing irritated with its ticking. By the time his shows up, the boy’s evening is without a doubt tarnished by frustration. When he reaches his destination at Araby, in contrast to the “splendid bazaar” portrayed in his fantasy, he discovers only a dark hall and a “silence like that which pervades a church after a service” (357). In addition, he is intimidated by his surroundings. Reality is a rude awakening regarding the boy as he realizes that his dreams of love are illusion. He remarks that, “I lingered before her stall, though I knew my stay was useless” (358), perhaps also suggesting that his feelings for Mangan’s sister were useless as well. He looks up to see the upper part of the hall completely dark confirming his unexpected awareness and paralleling the fantasies that blinded him to the dark reality of his life.
The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World (670)
One of the most significant symbols in “The Handsomest Man in the World” is the imagery of flowers. The first fact concerning the village is that it’s built up of “twenty-odd wooden houses that had stone courtyards with no flowersâ€¦on the end of a desertlike cape” (671). Upon discovery of the drowned man, the women’s speculations about the drowned man’s talents include how he would have put such a great deal work into his property that springs would have burst forth from between the rubble so that he would have been able to plant flowers upon the cliffs. Right away, the contrast between the current universe of the villagers and that of the drowned man becomes significant. His first appearance provides a splash of color in opposition to their grey landscape. The greatness attached to the drowned man by the villagers represents their own desire for a greater future. This possibility is soon realized as the women get ready for the drowned man’s funeral, getting flowers from neighboring communities, and returning “with other women who could not believe what they had been told, and those women went back for more flowers when they saw the dead man, and they brought more and more until there were so many flowers and so many people that it was hard to walk about” (673).
At the conclusion of the story, the villagers wish for a far better future indicating their complete transformation by the arrival of the drowned man. Prior to the drowned man’s arrival, the villagers had been content with their current way of life in a dry desert-like village. Upon finding the dead man, naming him Esteban, and attaching him to assumed stories of grandeur, the villagers essentially connect him to their village and themselves. The great Esteban makes the village amazing because he is part of that village. Furthermore, he offers the village the possibility of being extraordinary. Esteban helps make the villagers look at their own lives in the light of his greatness, realizing “the desolation of their streets, the dryness of their courtyards, the narrowness of their dreams” (672). Even the men realize that they have been slacking and realize that they need to step their game up. With a new desire of greatness taking root in the villagers, the story concludes not with Esteban’s burial, but rather, with the restoration and rebirth of the village and a vision of a greater future: “where the wind is peaceful now that it’s gone to sleep beneath the beds, over there, where the sun’s so bright that the sunflowers don’t know which way to turn, yes, that’s Esteban’s village” (673).
While there are numerous significant themes to the short story “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid, the most significant theme concerns the relationship between the mother and the daughter. It is not immediately clear who is narrating this story, which is actually a single-sentence list told in second person point of view, but it becomes clear that the narrator is the mother speaking to her daughter as the directions and lessons come from a place of authority, as it would from a mother speaking to her daughter or older woman speaking to a younger female. While the lessons told by the mother involving such mundane issues as laundry, sewing, and cooking seem to be maternal and benevolent in nature initially, her tone takes a shift toward being more insistent and critical. The daughter’s attempts to defend herself through short interjections go unnoticed, and the mother’s constant disapproval toward her daughter highlights a malevolent tone – as she constantly reminds her daughter that these lessons are to prevent her from turning into “the slut you are bent on becoming” (352). As a result, the relationship between the mother and daughter becomes confusing as the instructions told by the mother include elements that are nurturing, and simultaneously condemning to her daughter. In the end, the nature of the relationship between the mother and daughter is left ambiguous without any real plot or resolution to what might happen afterward, perhaps suggesting the complexity of any familial relationship.
The story “A&P” by John Updike features themes concerning maturity, decisions, and the disappointments in life common in many of Updike’s works. Centering on Sammy’s challenges to mature, and how Sammy’s belief and behavior end up in disappointment, he is compelled to make a choice about where he stands on the confrontation that takes place between his manager and the scantily clad girls with soft-looking cans. He doesn’t feel right about Lengel’s embarrassment of the girls, and in his effort to win some kind of affection from the girls; Sammy decides to take a stand by quitting in hopes of becoming the girl’s “unsuspected hero”. Unfortunately, Sammy does not get any incentive for quitting, and the girls don’t even notice. Instead he is forced to deal with the consequences unable to alter what he’s done. Although, Lengel gives Sammy the chance to keep his job, Sammy takes the action he believed to be right, perhaps rebelling against the strict rules of consumer and social establishments represented by the store and his job, or perhaps just making a failed attempt to impress some girls – either way, it does him no good. He realizes that quitting was a mistake but it is too late to do anything about it. The harsh reality of not “getting the girl” and being left unemployed serve as a lesson to Sammy about the nature of being adult and the importance of making sound decisions: “my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter” (362).
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