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Assess the importance of omission as a technique in the work of two short story writers you have studied on the course. The omission in this question seems to refer to two different techniques in writing, both of which are very useful to and prevalent in the short story genre. It could refer to either the use of minimalism by authors whereby they omit using an abundance of descriptive words but rather use more simplistic language to give an apt and emotive yet brief account of events in a story. It could also, however, refer to another literary technique by which authors omit writing entire events or actions as part of the story. In this case the author usually gives strong implications of what they are not writing however it is still left open to the imagination of the reader to interpret the story as they wish to do so. I will look at both of these styles of omission in the work of Ernest Hemingway and Tobias Wolff on this course and will also briefly look at 'Sweat' by Zora Neale Hurston.
Hemingway once said that learning not to use an abundance of adjectives but instead to favour short sentences and vigorous English were "The best rules I ever learned for the business of writing" (Gottesman et al, p1666). He puts these rules into practice in his short story 'A Clean Well-Lighted Place'. In this text Hemingway is never overly descriptive about the setting, the characters or indeed the structure of the dialogue. He does not give us a broad physical description of the characters and nor does he spend any time giving an account of the setting of the story. He instead allows each reader to create the images for themselves. This technique in the hands of such a gifted writer allows us as readers to become much more engaged in the narrative as we put some part of ourselves into its formation. When we reach the first long dialogue of this story Hemingway's minimalistic style creates a certain level of ambiguity, Hemingway writes twenty five separate bits of speech with only one reference to who is talking. Some critics claim that Hemingway himself made a mistake in following which character was speaking but others defend the writer saying that he was writing "anti-metronomically" where by a skipped line can represent a pause in speech rather than a change in speaker. (GET CITATION INFO) However there is no doubt that the minimalistic style employed by the writer at this stage of the story has added another level to its power of entertainment. By omitting certain words Hemingway manages to make the reader feel far more attached to the narrative than they otherwise may have, he also brings about a huge debate in the literary world regarding his competence as a writer, has he reached a level of talent that is too complex for many of us or has he made a foolish blunder?
In Tobias Wolff's 'Hunters in the Snow' minimalism is also prevalent. Once again the author omits giving any description of the characters appearance, however as with 'A Clean Well-Lighted Place' the reader will form vivid images of each person in their head, this as I said before helps us to feel more involved in the story. The authors of these short stories allow us to give our imagination the freedom to create the appearance of the characters. For instance we are not directly told that Tub is overweight until after we have read enough of the story to form an image of him, the use of the nickname 'Tub' and the line "he looks like a beach ball with a hat on" instead give such strong implications about his weight that we are not surprised when told this character is on a diet.
The power of implication in the short story genre has been used masterfully by a selection of talented writers, by implying rather than telling us directly we see events in the story as being more realistic because the conclusions we draw are not from someone else's mind but from our own. They come from somewhere within us, some part of our own experience so we know that they are inspired by real life and not the sick fantasies of a demented writer living on another continent. Authors on this course who use this technique include Wolff, Hemingway and Zora Neale Hurston.
In 'A Clean Well-Lighted Place' the sense of silence created, through the repeated use of the 's' sound "sat in the shadow the leaves", and the isolation of the three characters gives us an insight into a world many of us will never know. To me it seems like the three men in the story are inflicted with the curse of being lonely. The young man works late hours and though he has a wife he knows that she will have gone to bed and he will not have anybody to talk to when he gets home, his job causes him to be alone. The older waiter sees no reason in closing the cafe most likely because he has nowhere else to go. He has no wife and after work goes to a dirty bar alone for a single drink. This man doesn't seem to mind being alone but it is clear that he is not a fan of the facilities provided during the night. Finally the old man represents a person who has lost everything in this world and is now just waiting for death. We are told that he once had a wife but no longer does, and that he is suicidal. It appears that his closest companion is his niece who cut him down when he tried to kill himself. The old man shows us loneliness at its most powerful where even life no longer seems important, though it is clear that all of these characters suffer from loneliness Hemingway only directly tells us that the old man is lonely. The visions we are given of the lives of the other two men strongly imply that they too live in unwanted isolation. When at the end of the story the older waiter goes to a dirty pub we can draw contrasts between his life and that of the barman serving him, once again there are strong hints that this man is also secluded from the world. His manner is surly and he does not make conversation with the customer, clearly he is upset about something and the late hours he works like those of the waiters most likely cut him off from normal outlets of stress. Though loneliness is a theme that persists throughout this story it exists only in the world of the implied, Hemingway does not directly tell us that any character but the old man feels lonely it is rather his use of language that assures us of this.
At the end of both 'Hunters in the Snow' and 'Sweat' we are given the idea that the characters Kenny and Sykes will die, we are not told this, it is merely implied by the language of the authors. Wolff tells us that the truck carrying Kenny has taken a wrong turn and is no longer heading in the direction of the hospital, Hurston ends with Delia ignoring Sykes dying moans and the euphemism of his eye being extinguished, the extinguishing of the eyes as a metaphor for death is also present in 'The Tell-Tale Heart' by Edgar Allen Poe. Both writers leave a slight gap in the endings of their stories, we are not told indefinitely that the characters have died there is room for interpretation and this gives the stories much more substance.
It is interesting to note that all three of these short stories have quite open-endings. Each author implies what may happen next but omits the responsibility of writing it down, this means that the stories can be interpreted in a variety of different ways. By not writing a definite ending these authors have given their stories a much greater spectrum for the reader, because the endings are only implied there is room for different possibilities, who is to say whether or not Wolff's hunters will reach a hospital, overcome their problems and go onto live extremely fulfilling live, perhaps an ambulance will arrive and Sykes will be nursed back to health in Hurston's tale, and maybe just maybe Hemingway's waiter will find his soul mate on his walk home from the bar. Though each of these endings is unlikely the beauty of omission as a literary technique is that each is as possible as any other ending the reader can imagine.
Omission is a hugely powerful literary technique, it gives power to the reader rather than to the author, they merely lead us through events that we can interpret in our own ways. The use of minimalism means that a skilled author can
but this story is also an example of the technique of implication. Though in this particular story we are not always sure what he is implying at the conclusion we can each draw our own ideas about what would or should happen next. This is part of the beauty of implication, it allows us to think about the story for ourselves and stimulates our creativity by often leaving the narrative open-ended.
The Norton Anthology of American Literature Volume 2 Gottesman et al 1979 Toronto
'...'=quote from book "..."= quote from person direct speech/ quote in a book
P1666 Hemmingway once said that learning not to use an abundance of adjectives but instead to favour short sentences and vigorous English were "The best rules I ever learned for the business of writing"
'the concept of loss informs everything he wrote, though Hemingway's heroes seek ways to minimise the loss' p1668
P1669 'A writer could restore that edge by using words sparingly, savouring each word as one savours good wine, and by making sentences that minutely render physical reality and physical sensation so as to capture their particularity'
P1669"I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven eights of it under he water for every part that shows"
P1669 'Hemingway can suggest, through oblique implication, compressed irony, or understatement, a sense of moral urgency along with a considerable range and astonishing intensity of feeling, while rendering outward actions and scenes with a vividness seldom matched.'