"Araby and Lost in the funhouse" by Joannie Nadeau
"Insect and bugs: Comparing Cockroach to The Metamorphosis" by François-Mark Boisvert
"Discussion on the Epiphany in Araby" by Eric Limoges
"Cockroack as an Urban Fiction Work" by Corinne Lessard
"Ending of the Lady with a Dog" by Harley Veilleux Rousseau
"Child Prostitution in O'Neill's Novel" by Dannyka Verpaelst
"Lullabies for Little Criminals as Urban Fiction" by Lina Maria Dierks
"Female Role Models and Baby's Female Identity" by Patrycia Veilleux
"The Bureaucratic Nightmare in The Metamorphosis" by Mélanie Bourgeois
"A Deeper Look at Metamorphosis" by Laura Bolduc
"What is the significance of the subtitle, 'A Tale for Children', in the story A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings by Gabriel García Márquez?" by Camille Couture
"To what extent is the Old Man with wings othered and treated as an outsider in this story?" by William Giroux
"The Reader: Writing as Therapy, and Reading as Empathy"
by Marc-André Vermette
"The Importance of Setting and Houses in The Rocking Horse Winner" by Amélie Hébert
"A White Heron: A Gendered Story" by Enya Brochu-Cliche
"Female Submissiveness in Rape Fantasies and Wild Swans" by Marc-André Turcotte
Comparing the Quests in “Araby” and “Lost in the Funhouse”
By Joannie Nadeau
In 1914, James Joyce published a short story called “Araby”. In 1968, the author John Barth also published a short story and this one
was called “Lost in the Funhouse”. What do these two works have in common? Both stories show the quests of young boys
discovering love as well as who they are as early teenagers. In the following article, both stories will be analyzed regarding
the different level, and meaning of their quests.
First of all, in James Joyce’s short story, “Araby”, the main character, an eleven-year-old boy, develops a crush on his neighbour’s
older sister. Truly, this crush resembles more of an obsession towards the girl. The young boy spends hours observing and spying on her until he finally gets to talk to her. While talking briefly to her, he discovers her interest in Araby and the bazaar. During their conversation, she asks the boy if he plans on going to Araby and tells him that, unfortunately, she cannot go and is really sad about it since she had always wanted to go. That is where the quest starts. From the moment the main character hears this statement, he decides that he will do anything in his power to make the girl happy and bring her a gift from the bazaar. Overall, we might think that there is not much else to the boy’s quest; he wants to go the Araby and find a gift for the girl he likes; but honestly, there is more to it. Indeed, many critics have argued about what is the real meaning behind the boy’s quest. The story is not only about love and a search for the ideal; it is also about realization, acceptance, and finding oneself. Once the boy finally arrives in Araby, his perception of his quest and why he came to the bazaar changes:
The final sentence constitutes the boy’s epiphany, when he realizes the absurdity of both Araby and his quest…He realizes that he must give up both Araby and his quest and confront the truth of his existence. His eyes burn because it hurts to acknowledge that a false vision and hope has dominated his recent life. Now he must return home dreamless, but enlightened and more mature, with perhaps a commitment to himself to be more perceptive about life and more truthful with himself. (Understanding Literature, Utah State University) With that in mind, we can say that in James Joyce’s story, “Araby”, the boy’s quest is not simply a quest to make the girl of his dream happy, it is about realizing who he is, and accepting his upcoming journey into manhood.
Secondly, if we examine “Lost in the Funhouse” by John Barth, it is safe to say that, on one level, Ambrose’s quest, the main character, is quite similar to the boy’s quest in “Araby”. Overall, the story is about a thirteen-year-old boy going on a holiday each year with his family; but this time, he meets a beautiful girl named Magda and develops a crush on her. Too shy, he never had the courage to ask her out, until one day he does and asks her to go to the funhouse with him. The problem is, Magda falls for Ambrose’s brother, Peter, instead of him, and they both spend the day at the funhouse, leaving Ambrose alone. Just like in “Araby”, it is easy to say that, at first, the quest in this story is about love because Ambrose tries to find his courage and ask Magda, but once this is done, another quest begins, which is similar to the one in the previously mentioned story. Indeed, Ambrose is thirteen years old and right at the beginning of the story, we can clearly understand that he is struggling with accepting who he is becoming and dealing with all the changes. When he gets lost in the funhouse, it is almost as if he lost completely who he was as well:
To deal with his situation in the funhouse, Ambrose attempts to reconceive himself. He has lost control over what he is, so he decides to reinstate his control by reciting his story, incorporating any needed changes. He writes his autobiography, creating and re-creating his former self… In doing so, he simultaneously hopes to recreate his present self. (Todd 156-157)
Overall, we could say that Ambrose does have a quest for love, but when it, unfortunately, fails at the funhouse, he embarks on a new one, which is to rediscover who he truly is, as a teenager and as a boy entering manhood.
To conclude, by analyzing “Araby” by James Joyce and “Lost in the Funhouse” by John Barth, we can come to the conclusion that even though they are both two different stories, in a completely different setting, they still have a lot of aspects that are similar, especially the main characters’ quests. As mentioned earlier, both stories are firstly based on love and a desire to get noticed or approach a girl, but once the initial quest fails, both characters end up starting a new one focusing on finding themselves as they are entering a new stage in their lives.
Martin, W.Todd. “Self-Knowledge and Self-Conception: The Therapy of Autobiography in John Barth’s Lost in the Funhouse.” Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 34, no. 2, Spring 1997, p. 151. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.usherbrooke.ca/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx ?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=2553332&lang=fr&site=eds-live.
Utah State University. “James Joyce: ‘Araby’ (pp.91-95).” ENGL 2020 Understanding Literature, Utah State University, Spring 2013, usu.instructure.com/courses/191228/pages/james-joyce-araby-pp-dot-91-95.
Discussion on the Epiphany in Araby
By Eric Limoges
In his book The Dubliner, James Joyce illustrates through a collection of short stories the various moments of human life, from childhood to adulthood, and their accompanying challenges. His modernist approach to writing and extensive use of stream of consciousness gives these stories a strange and personal touch while providing the perfect medium to convey his messages to the readers.
In “Araby”, one of the childhood focused stories in The Dubliner, we get to live a short moment in the lovestruck and naïve mind of a young boy living in North Dublin. After a brief yet colorful introduction to his surroundings, readers are plunged full throttle into this young boy’s infatuation with one of his friends’ sister. We see how he lives for her appearances, lingers over her every move and, once she finally deigns to speak with him, hangs on her every word as though they were a message from God.
The main goal of the story arises when the boy’s love interest mentions in passing a local bazaar called “Araby” and her desire to visit it and see how wonderful it is; however, she is prevented from doing so due to a retreat in her convent. Sensing an opportunity, the boy says he will go in her stead and bring her back something from this bazaar, thus beginning, in his own mind, a quest for the love of this girl. Afterwards, the boy obsesses about his promise to this girl and does everything he can to secure the money and transport needed to reach the bazaar from his aunt and uncle; eventually, his uncle sends him off alone at night since he doesn’t want to accompany the boy there.
The epiphany of this story strikes after the boy witnesses the bazaar. Until he arrives, he sees “Araby” as a fantastical and exotic location in which he will find interesting people, amazing stalls, and great treasures to bring back to his love. In many ways, the bazaar pictured below may seem this way to the imagination of a child as it is full of light, people, and things during the day. This is not, however, how the boy witnesses the bazaar for the first time. He arrives while most of the bazaar is closed and sees only regular people, a woman and two men, with English accents working a nearby stall with nothing more than a salesperson’s interest in his presence.
This vision shatters his image of what the bazaar was supposed to be to him: a grand location where he would live an adventure and secure a priceless treasure for the love of his life. This realization crushes the naïveté of his childhood fantasy and, going deeper, leeds him to open his eyes to the reality of his situation with the girl he loves. He becomes aware of how unimportant he must be to her eyes and that the quest he believes she had set for him was really just passing small talk with someone she hardly knew. In the lines “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger,” we see the boy’s shame and hurt at his own foolishness and self-delusion. The epiphany Joyce shows us here is the pain of growing up, leaving behind our fantasies, and facing the more difficult truths of reality.
For more reference material and reflections on Joyce’s works
Insects and Bugs: Comparing Cockroach to The Metamorphosis
By François-Mark Boisvert
In 1994, Pearl Jam released a song they aptly called Bugs wherein the narrator is invaded by bugs and wonders if he should kill them or become their friend. Interest or hatred; these antonyms can apply to a close reading of Rawi Hage’s Cockroach and Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. While many similarities can be observed between them - after all, both authors use the insect as a vehicle to convey the themes of alienation, existentialism, and transformation. When doing a closer reading of the insect in both works, it is like comparing a plane landing during a blizzard to the Hindenburg’s final “touch down”. Rawi Hage’s notion of the cockroach differs significantly from Franz Kafka’s, not only in his depiction of how the protagonist experiences his transformations, but also in the insect’s abilities and the overall tone of the authors towards the pest.
One of the many differences that stands out is Rawi Hage’s main character’s ability to alternate between cockroach and man at will. When Cockroach’s unnamed protagonist is about to receive a beating on his hands, he aptly transforms his hands into insect-like palms in order to minimize the pain (Hage 23). A disenfranchised anti-hero, Cockroach’s main character also mutates into a small creature so as to follow, break and enter, steal, and spy on the people he loathes: “I crawled behind her and six legs appeared from my sides like external ribs, and a newly thick carcass made me oblivious to the splashing water from passing cars. No element of nature could stop me now” (Hage 88). Unfortunately, Gregor wakes up as an insect-like creature and remains that way until his death. In addition to being unable to alter his state, Gregor’s disposition limits his displacements. Even though he eventually becomes somewhat accustomed to his new body and is able to climb walls, his movements are still awkward and lethargic. As he trudges to get back into his room, after showing himself to his family for the first time, Gregor turns around painstakingly slowly and remains stuck in the doorway until his father shoves him inside his room (Kafka 15). Unable to dodge and escape from his father’s attack, Gregor receives an apple thrown by his father which eventually gets lodged in his back, ultimately leading to his demise (Kafka 32).
The insect’s abilities, or lack thereof in The Metamorphosis, are not the only characteristics that set both depictions apart. The protagonists’ perception of insects, or of being an insect, contrast quite sharply in that Gregor’s outlook on his new constitution is increasingly despondent whereas Cockroach’s protagonist obsessively embraces the notion. Discussing the idea of being a cockroach with his therapist, Rawi Hage’s main character invokes the freedom associated with it while “being human means being trapped” (Hage 207). He reiterates this sentiment stating that he does not want to be human because humans are greedy whilst insects only take what they need (Hage 243). Contrarily, Gregor sees his state as a hindrance, making himself as small and invisible as he possibly can to avoid shocking and disturbing his parents: “Some of the time was spent in worries and vague hopes which, however, always led to the same conclusion: for the time being he must remain calm, he must show patience and the greatest consideration so that his family could bear the unpleasantness that he, in his present condition, was forced to impose on them” (Kafka 19). As his mother and sister start emptying his room out, Gregor feels that he is being “assailed from all sides” and the only possession he chooses to protect is a picture hanging on the wall (Kafka 29).
Paying attention to both protagonists’ competencies and levels of acceptance leads to an all-encompassing distinction between both stories. Although Rawi Hage’s work also exudes a dark and cynical aura, its tone is nonetheless hopeful. When asked what the cockroach represented, Rawi Hage gave the following answer: “Like I said, the cockroach is [closer] to the earth. In a symbolic way, it’s more grounded. It’s more underneath; it’s not about the heavens and all these delusional imaginative things that people build their lives on […] I think my character is torn between staying human and assuming the role of the primitive in order to survive”. Cockroach’s protagonist develops a sense of purpose towards his cockroach abilities and goes out into the world, more precisely Montreal and its underground, to revolt against the society that he feels has ostracized him. Rawi Hage counter-intuitively uses the cockroach to inspire hope, despite the creature’s repulsive characteristics. Franz Kafka, on the other hand, portrays Gregor as a hideous vermin unable to break out of his doldrums. He mopes around in his bedroom, withering into inaction, contenting himself with observing his family, and hoping his precarious situation might change for the better. The Metamorphosis’s author has pictured Gregor as a hideous creature whose inertia inevitably leads him to a crushing end.
The sight of cockroaches is usually an unpleasant one. However repulsive they may be, their ability to multiply and survive in dank and undesirable environments is also noteworthy. When we do a close reading of Rawi Hage’s significance of the cockroach, we find ourselves in a similar paradox. That is to say, even though Cockroach’s main character is distasteful, his portrayal in the embodied form of a cockroach represents the capacity to adapt and find alternatives in order to survive in harsh conditions. Conversely, Franz Kafka’s personification of a dung-beetle in Gregor represents a unidimensional character who is unable to circumvent an unwanted situation due to his passivity. Thus, when comparing both works’ figure of the insect, we end up again with a set of antonyms: power and weakness. The power to change so as to make a change, like Cockroach’s unnamed protagonist or, like Gregor, morph into a weak dung-beetle at the risk of becoming dung.
Hage, Rawi, Cockroach, House of Anansi Press Inc., 2009
Kafka, Franz, The Metamorphosis, Global Grey ebooks, 1915 https://www.globalgreyebooks.com/metamorphosis-ebook.html
Pearl Jam, “Bugs”, Vitalogy, Epic Records, 1994
Rawi Hage on Q TV, Youtube, uploaded by q on cbc, 26 February 2009, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srIHTSxX8m0 @ 10:20
Cockroach as an Urban Fiction Work
By Corinne Lessard
Urban fiction is a literary genre that is not quite as defined as other literary genres. There are very few scholarly sources about the subject even though interest in the field is growing. Before discussing of Cockroach as a work of urban fiction, there needs to be a common understanding of what the urban fiction genre is and what needs to be in the literary work for it to fit into the genre. Here is a description of the urban fiction genre from Vanessa Irvin Morris’s book The Reader’s Advisory Guide to Street Literature. “ ‘Urban fiction’ denotes stories set in urban settings. When we say ‘urban’, we are talking about major cities, … where the population density is dense. … So when we say ‘urban fiction’ we’re talking about a huge range of characters and experiences that span cultural, social, political, geographical, and economic boundaries” (2).
In the first chapter of her book, Morris describes some of the main characteristics of literary works that correspond to the literary genre of urban fiction. Hage’s Cockroach is a good example of most of those characteristics. Morris mentions that an urban fiction work contains “fast-paced stories, often with flashback sequences” (3). While Cockroach is not the most fast-paced story ever written, there are often flashbacks when the protagonist is in his therapy sessions, in which we learn about his troubled past back in his home country in the Middle East. There are also a couple of flashbacks like the one on pages 5 and 210, in which we learn about his suicide attempt. Another characteristic of urban fiction works is that they include “vivid depictions of the inner-city environment, including lack of societal resources, substancial housing, and poverty” (Morris, 3). In the first chapter of the novel, there are plenty of descriptions of Montreal. On page eight and nine, the protagonist is walking in town and the descriptions are so well detailed that it is easy for the readers to imagine what the streets look like, with the puddles of slush, the cigarette smoke and even the smell. The next characteristic is the inclusion of “the street as an interactive stage” (Morris, 3), meaning the action takes place on the streets, or can be provoked because of the streets. Most of the story in Cockroach happens on the streets. The protagonist is walking and thinking, he meets people, follows and stalks people… There is a lot happening on the streets of Montreal. It is also arguable that because the protagonist meets the people that influence his story on those streets, the streets of Montreal are a cause for the protagonist’s adventures. The next urban fiction characteristic is the presence of “female and male identity formation (via intense relationships, often romantic in nature), with protagonists often being young adults (common age range is nineteen to twenty-five)” (Morris, 3). Just like his name, the protagonist’s age isn’t mentioned in the book. It is however estimated that he is between 20 and 30 years old, which perfectly fits this characteristic for a work of urban fiction. The protagonist also has a lot of intense relationships with women. He fantasizes about his therapist, he tries to get in bed with a few other women, he tries to have sex with his boss’ daughter who is just sixteen years old, and even helps another woman, whom he is fond of, to kill a man. These relationships the protagonist has with women are definitely out of the ordinary. They are more intense than what most readers will experience. Works of urban fiction also typically include elements of “navigation of interpersonal relationships, including surviving abuse, betrayal in friendships, fantastical revenge plots” (Morris, 3). Back in the Middle-East, the protagonist was abused, and so was his family. He lost his sister at the hands of a horrible man, on whom the protagonist never got to get revenge. When Shohreh comes in with her own back-story of abuse, she and the protagonist plan to get revenge on him. As for the betrayal in friendship part, there are plenty of betrayals such as intrusion of privacy in the book. The last characteristic of works of urban fiction mentioned by Morris is that the characters are “surviving street life and overcoming street lifestyle – the challenge of moving up and away from the streets.”(3) All throughout the book, the protagonist mentions that he is part-cockroach. He sometimes transforms into one, although it is not clear whether or not he really transforms, or if he just imagines it. When he finds a job, he is trying to elevate his living situation. When he decides to help Shohreh get revenge, he is trying to move up and away from his mental state of anger and guilt towards his late sister and the man that was responsible for what happened to her. When Shohreh finally gets revenge with the protagonist’s help, he transforms into his cockroach state and disappears down the drain, away from the streets of Montreal and what they brought him. In a way, he did overcome the street-life, only to go toward life in the underground.
Cockroach, by Rawi Hage, is a work of urban fiction. Some could argue against it by comparing it to elements of another definition of the literary genre. I think that we can agree, however, that there are so many elements that correspond perfectly to Morris’s definition of the genre, that Cockroach definitely earns its place in the urban fiction section.
Hage, R. (2009). Cockroach. Anansi. Retrieved from https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat04883a&AN=sher.i9780887848346&lang=fr&site=eds-live
Irvin Morris, Vanessa. "The Reader’s Advisory Guide to Street Literature.” (2012) American Library Association. Web. March 18. 2019.
Ending of "The Lady with a Dog"
By Harley Veilleux Rousseau
The Lady with the Dog, is a short story written by Anton Checkhov published in 1899. This short story that describes the adulterous love affair between Dmitri Dimitritch Gurov, who is an unhappy married Moscow banker and Anna Sergeyavna Von Dideritis that yong married woman. This affair all starts while they are both on vacation alone in Yalta, Russia. A love affair that leaves the reader with a very open story ending.
At the end of the story the only thing we really know is that the two lovers want to keep this relationship going. Once more Gurov is visiting Anna in total secrecy in a hotel in Moscow. In addition, they are both proclaim that they love each other and they are also able to see that their love comes with many difficulties. In fact, they are both married and Gurov even has a daughter. They secretly know that their love cannot stay secret forever, that one way or another someone will find out. Even though they believe that this love is meant to be, they are and they both do not feel love for their partners, the reality is that they will cause pain to others. The story finishes with the word “beginning”. This word that can be seen as positive or negative for their situation. On one hand it is the beginning of something new and a love that they both want. But as they know they still have a long road to go. In fact, they are aware that it is just the “beginning” of everything that they will have to face since they decided that being in love is what they really want. I believe that it is the beginning of their hardest days to come. They know that they need to tell the truth somehow or someday. They need to make sure that this love will not always stay in secrecy if they feel like it’s the right one for them. Although, somehow they might be fond of the fact that they can live this love in total secrecy, just like young teenage lovers. On the other hand, I think that the author, Checkhov, decided to finish this story with the word “beginning” so that the readers are able to imagine theirselves how the story is going to end. As we know “beginnings”, can bring different aspects, negative or positive. Moreover, I think that by ending the story this way he is once again using this theme of secrecy. Plus, it feels like he did not want to settle the story with just one ending: he wanted to leave it unfinished. Checkhov wanted to leave it unfinished just like their new love is. I feel that he wanted to give us the chance to imagine if their love story would keep growing, stay the same, or sadly vanish. In a way we are uncertain of how this love story will end. We know that the pair is clearly in love and to prove their love they go to great lengths to be together. But we do not know how long this secrecy and adultery will really last, we do not know if they will decide to go back to their respective partners and try to forget each other, and we do not know if they will be able to keep living a sort of double life. One thing is for sure, it is really the “beginning” for our imagination.
Child Prostitution in O'Neill's Novel
By Dannyka Verpaelst
Heather O’Neill, a Canadian writer, is well-known for writing vivid novels. She wrote Lullabies for Little Criminals in 2006, which became an international bestseller. This novel is “writtenfromthe perspective of a 12-year-old girl, Lullabies tells the tale of a neglected child who falls into the clutches of a predatory pimp” (Khan 302). This journey led her to many foster homes and even to a detention center. This 12-year-old girl eventually becomes a prostitute and a street junkie. This novel depicts the reality and horrors behind child prostitution, especially in Montreal.
Baby, the main character lost her mother when she was young. She has grown up in difficult circumstances, without an adequate role model. Her dad, Jules, is a young single father who tried to raise his child, but he’s actually no role model to Baby. He is actually a junkie himself, a heroine-addict. He is unable to hold down a stable job, which means that they have to move often from one pigsty apartment to another. When sober, her father becomes irrational, angry, and he becomes physically and emotionally violent. His father even set tight curfews for her. He believed that “if you stayed out after nine and you were a girl, it meant you wanted to have sex with whoever was passing by. He told me that if I got raped after nine o’clock, the courts would probably say I had deserved it” (O’Neill 155).
Baby’s trying to be loved and finds herself juggling two boyfriends. She ends up attracted to the manipulative and local pimp, Alphonse, who’s a bad influence. He has his eye on her; he wants her body and soul. At first, he bombarded her with numerous gifts and compliments. But, after he has initiated her into sexual intercourse, Baby knew that this type of love would come with a price. By the end of the novel, she becomes a street prostitute and a junkie. The very first time Alphonse ordered “Baby to accompany a client, Baby acquiesced with only-hearted protest” (Khan 308). Sadly, her experiences led her to believe that prostitution was an inevitable part of her life course.
Children are often the ones being targeted by gang members or pimps simply because they are the ones who take those people seriously and believe most of their crap. Child prostitution brings out “two areas of grave concern: the sexual abuse of children, and the exploitation of child labor” (Khan 302). Sadly enough, it is an actual real-life problem that concerns many people around the world. According to Statistics Canada, in 2012 there were “approximately 14,000 child and youth victims of sexual offences in Canada, a rate of 205 victims for every 100,000 children and youth” (Statistics Canada 2015). Human trafficking is what it is actually called in the case of Baby, for example. It consists of “the recruitment, transportation, control, direction or influence of a person to exploit them, usually sexually” (Statistics Canada 2015). Human trafficking often ends up being for sexual exploitation. This means that in return they often get food, shelter, drugs, alcohol, money or any kind or approval from the person exploiting them. According to a National Task Force report on sex trafficking, the average age in Canada for recruitment is 13 to 14 years old (Cuciz 2019).
By searching the internet, we can easily find people who shared their stories regarding child prostitution and human trafficking. On Global News, a woman explains how she became an easy target at the very young age of 12. She mentions that she used to be a chronic runaway and that she never felt as if she got what she really needed at home. Therefore, she decided to look for it elsewhere. This is when “she started doing break and enters, met the wrong people, then ended up in the Edmonton Young Offender Centre. That’s where she learned everything she needed to know to work on the streets” (Cuciz 2019). Baby’s story and hers are pretty much alike. They both ended up in the hands of a detention/youth center. When they both got out, it got worst. The woman, named Cumby, expressed that she had met girls that had already had pimps, and that they were already addicted to drugs. She then became one of them, just like Baby, they were child prostitutes. When a person, especially a child, ends up in the wrong hands, one could say that it is hard to escape what’s coming ahead.
Cuciz, Shannon. “Child Sexual Exploitation in Canada: Survivors Reveal
Terrifying Reality.” CJOB, 22 Feb. 2019, globalnews.ca/news/4047182/child-sexual-exploitation-in-canada-survivors-reveal-terrifying-reality/.
Khan, Ummni. "Prostituted Girls and the Grown-up Gaze." Global Studies of
Childhood 1.4 (2011): 302-313.
O’Neill, Heather. “Lullabies for Little Criminals.” New York: Harper Collins
Publishers. 2006. Print.
Statistics Canada. “Police-Reported Sexual Offences against Children and Youth in
Canada, 2012.” Government of Canada, Statistics Canada, 30 Nov. 2015, www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2014001/article/14008-eng.htm.
Lullabies for Little Criminals as Urban Fiction
By Lina Maria Dierks
In an interview with Canadian Literature in April 2007, the award-winning Canadian author Heather O’Neill talks about one of her most celebrated novels Lullabies for Little Criminals and the importance of its setting, the red-light district of Montreal in the 1980’s. Based on the following quote from the interview, I am going to analyze the novel in terms of its affiliation with the genre of urban fiction and the effects that the urban setting has on the child protagonist Baby’s perceptions and experiences in her life as a street kid.
“When you’re a kid you’re just more involved in where you live and people you meet, and you’re just always meeting people, and your biggest influences are the kids who live down the street, and where you go, and it’s all just a much bigger deal. As an adult you start putting these parameters around things, and your sense of the city is less involved, because you get a lot more defenses.”
(Heather O’Neill, Canadian Literature)
The genre of Urban Fiction also known as “Street Lit” or “Ghetto Lit” examines the lives of people living in lower-income neighborhoods of big cities. Since the story generally focusses on the protagonist’s everyday life and relationships, it presents us with realistic characters in a realistic urban setting. Therefore, this feature of realism creates an authentic and familiar atmosphere that the reader can easily understand and connect to. As the name of the genre reveals, the setting is represented by an urban environment, namely a large city such as New York or Chicago but also spaces outside of the US, as for example Tokyo. Books of Urban Fiction can treat a variety of cultural, social, political and economic aspects, also depending on the time and the origin of writing. However, there are several characteristics that seem frequent regarding this literary genre. Foremost, we can see the lives of the characters centering on the street itself. In fact, the street is illustrated “as a place where action occurs or as a cause of action, like characters meeting on the street to conduct business” (Humphrey). Most of the time, the protagonists represent young adults and the plot focusses on their relationships to other characters usually marked by drug abuse, violence and sex. Moreover, the books reveal detailed descriptions of poor housing, dirty alleys and an overall “lack of societal resources” (Humphrey) in big city environments. Next to the importance of vividly depicting the setting, physical appearances and clothing, such as name-brand items or bling, constitute a crucial element hinting at the status of and power relations between the characters. Overall, we can see that the street is considered as a sort of “nemesis” (Humphrey) that must be fought and eventually overcome. Thus, the characters aim to survive street life in order to move up and out of the streets. In short, urban fiction or “Street Lit” novels suggest the idea of the street itself as both “the challenge and the source of the drama” (Humphrey).
The novel Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill (2006) constitutes a rather modern piece of Urban Fiction. Set in the 1980’s, the young female protagonist Baby narrates her difficult childhood and her struggle for survival on the streets of Montreal’s red-light district. While readers seem exposed to the poor and dark side of the city, they still perceive the precarious environment through the eyes of an innocent child. The harsh reality that Baby experiences throughout the story, such as prostitution, violence and drug abuse, is described in a sort of childish naivete and at times even in a tone of admiration or excitement: “I thought about being raped in an alley. That made me come. As usual, I felt guilty about having fantasized about that and I felt lousy for a few minutes. I lay there as if I’d been shot.” (O’Neill 213). Moreover, the dirty streets of Montreal are not only portrayed as a source of potential danger, but also as a place of home and belonging for the young girl. This can already be seen at the very beginning of the novel, when the narrative starts with Baby and her father Jules moving into a small two-bedroom apartment. In fact, the first chapter of O’Neill’s book gives a detailed description of the dirty neighborhood and the poor community that the almost twelve-year old girl has known and lived in for as long as she can remember. More importantly, it introduces the main setting of the novel. The literary piece can thus be instantly revealed as a narrative of urban fiction. The realistic notion is enhanced by the fact that real street names like “St. Catherine Street” or “St. Laurent Street” are given right from the start and are often referred to creating a sense of orientation and familiarity for the reader. Furthermore, Baby describes in all detail the shabby and run-down surroundings of the red-light district supporting the idea that all the plot’s action will take place outside on the streets where the young girl is literally forced to grow up. Despite her remark that it is not “an ideal place to raise a kid” (O’Neill 5), Baby still considers this area the “most beautiful section of town” (O’Neill 5), which leaves the reader with a feeling of ambivalence towards the neighborhood. Also, Baby immediately utters her fascination for the prostitutes whom she finds pretty and keeps comparing herself to throughout the story (O’Neill 6). Again, this indicates her blurred and childish perception of the dangerous environment around her.
In the course of the novel, Baby becomes more and more aware of the threats that the red-light district implies for her and the other kids. However, having been a street kid all her life she knows how to get around and about the necessity “to act fearless” (O’Neill 36) when finding oneself in precarious situations: “I knew my way around the area so well that I never got lost” (O’Neill 6). Moreover, Baby has adopted the rather offensive street slang that seems atypical for a child her age but is at the same time necessary to “survive” in her world: “he should have called them motherfuckers by now” (O’Neill 36). The young protagonist appears to be stuck in between being a child and having to act like a grown-up in order to defend herself. In many ways, she demonstrates a certain degree of courage and self-confidence, as for example when she speaks to the homeless man Jean-Michel without being afraid of him at all (O’Neill 81). At the same time, she fears spending a weekend alone at the apartment when Jules has to go away for work. Overall, Baby considers the streets of her neighborhood rather a home than the actual apartments that she lives in with her father: “home was something that you could fit into a suitcase and move in a taxi for ten dollars” (O’Neill 17). This is certainly due to the fact that the two of them are constantly moving from house to house and that Baby spends most of her childhood outside since her father is not easy to live with. Jules often kicks Baby out when he gets angry, frequently slaps her and tells her that she is a failure. Therefore, the young girl is forced to spend her afternoons after school with the kids at the community center who quickly become her friends and probably close to what one could call a family. In fact, there seems to be a form of solidarity between the street kids. In the novel, they are portrayed as a community and Baby is able to find comfort in their company. This can be seen at her relationship to Theo, who tries to cheer her up after another violent outburst of Jules: “You know you’re my best friend, right?” (O’Neill 129). Nevertheless, all the kids that Baby meets at the center have their own problematic backgrounds and families which make them equally turn to violence, drugs and crimes just like their parents. The dirtiness and poverty of the neighborhood can not only be seen at the descriptions of the setting but also at the children’s clothing: “they all dressed like crack addicts” (O’Neill 102).
As is typical for urban fiction, the dirtiness of the red-light district becomes evident by the frequent depictions of the environment which is “so polluted that putting your feet in the water could kill you on the spot, apparently” (O’Neill 52). The childlike comments of Baby however help to diminish this negative connotation and to romanticize the area to a certain degree: “it was the street of illusions for newcomers, filled with run-down cafés, bars, heroine dealers, and street vendors. You could live la vie en rose there” (O’Neill 52). Despite all the dangers of the city, Montreal represents Baby’s home, she identifies herself with the city and her neighborhood which she expresses repeatedly throughout the novel: “It felt good to be back in Montreal” (O’Neill 51). While she is already early exposed to the drug abuse and the violence of her father, the protagonist encounters the dangers of prostitution rather late in the plot, namely when she is introduced to the pimp Alphonse and quickly becomes his “girlfriend”. At the beginning of their relationship, he appears to be interested in her happiness and well-being by always bringing her gifts and making her compliments such as “you really are a special thing” (O’Neill 179) or “God, you are so pretty” (O’Neill 209). But as soon as Baby starts to become more confident and to confide in the young man, he starts to make the thirteen-year old “turn tricks”. In a very short period of time, Baby becomes a prostitute and completely controlled by the pimp and his desires. Alphonse’s powerful status and influential role in the district already seem apparent when examining his clothing since he always dresses in an extraordinary and expensive fashion: “He had on a long camel hair coat over a dark blue terry-cloth tracksuit and he looked good. His clothes always fit him beautifully” (O’Neill 158). In her admiration and submissiveness, Baby gives “Alphonse all the money that I made” (O’Neill 228) and accepts his instructions or violent outbursts. On top of that, Alphonse introduces the young woman to heroin, the hardest drug that she consumes, since she only experimented with getting drunk or occasionally smoking a joint before that.
In the course of the narrative, we see that the protagonist encounters all the possible dangers that a life on the street could pose for a child: she is physically and psychologically abused, confronted with crimes and prostitution, takes drugs and lives in a poor, unsteady environment. In fact, Baby seems literally forced to grow up on the streets of Montreal’s red-light district which makes her quickly loose the innocence of childhood and become an adult much sooner than would be normal under different circumstances. Being a crucial feature of urban fiction, the novel presents us with action that takes primarily place on the outside as opposed to the inside: Baby meets most of the other central characters, such as Theo or Alphonse, in the park, the community center or on the streets of the shabby neighborhood. The notion of a big city environment is enhanced by the vivid depictions and recurring accounts of the red-light district’s surroundings. Furthermore, there is a constant atmosphere of precarity since Baby has to defend herself from the many dangers that the city of Montreal poses her.
After examining the diverse traits of urban fiction in the novel, we can thus conclude that O’Neill’s protagonist stands as an example for street kids suffering from social inequality and more specifically from the neglection of their parents: “Jules didn’t notice. He just decided not to see what I was doing anymore. A lot of kids from my school had parents who did that too.” (O’Neill 214). Thus, the author creates an authentic and realistic narrative of a young teenager spending a life on the streets of Montreal. At the end of the story however, Baby’s father Jules seems to have undergone some form of change since he wants to become a more responsible parent. Therefore, he decides to take Baby out of the big city and to his cousin in the country, namely to his hometown Val de Loups. As soon as the two leave the city behind them, Baby notices that she is “going to have to go through withdrawal” (O’Neill 322). In fact, her remark might not only refer to an actual withdrawal from drugs but can also be considered as a symbolic form of clean break with the city and the violence she has experienced there. As the ending suggests, Baby is able to escape Montreal in order to find “something pretty and peaceful” (O’Neill 322) in a small village in the country, a possible place of closure where she will be able to heal and start over with her father and her newly discovered family member. Thus, we can see that on the final pages, the author suggests a strong contrast to the urban setting from before which was essential for the novel’s plot and action. At last, O’Neill reveals that in order for Baby to have some normality in her life and maybe even gain back a part of her lost childhood, she has to leave the city. In doing so, we can conclude that the protagonist has successfully fought the so-called “nemesis” that the red-light district represented for her. Again, the characteristic of urban fiction regarding the novel becomes evident since O’Neill’s main character has finally survived the life on the streets and is even able to leave it all behind her, starting a new life away from the precariousness of the big city. The choice of a young girl as protagonist for this piece of urban fiction emphasizes the novelist’s idea that as a child the place where you live has a lot more of an effect on you than as an adult because “your sense of the city” is stronger. This might also be a reason why Heather O’Neill integrated some of her personal experiences of growing up in Montreal in the 1980’s in the story of Baby and her father. Even though the novel is only partly autobiographical, the author states in her interview that “I wrote it from the perspective of a child, so it was how I remembered it, as a child.” revealing a heavy inspiration drawn from her own childhood and therefore contributing to the realistic and authentic character of this narrative of urban fiction.
Humphrey, Julie. Street Lit/ Urban Fiction: About Street Lit. Durham Tech Library, 19 Feb. 2019, www.durhamtech.libguides.com/streetlit. Accessed 1 March 2019.
O’Neill, Heather. Interview with Kristin McHale. Canadian Literature, vol. 193, 2007, www.canlit.ca/lullabies-for-literature-an-interview-with-heather-oneill-april-2007. Accessed 1 March 2019.
O’Neill, Heather. Lullabies for Little Criminals. Harper Perennial, 2006.
Female Role Models and Baby’s Female Identity
By Patricya Veilleux
Female role models can influence young girls differently since these role models can both have a negative or a positive effect on them. Role models are “people whose behavior in a particular role is imitated by others,” (Merriam-Webster). I think that it is especially important for young girls to have a positive female role model in their lives to look up to since so much pressure is put on them from a young age on how they should act, dress and speak. On one hand, if they only have undesirable models to look up to, then this is what these young girls have as examples. On the other hand, young girls who grow up with incredibly positive female role models are what easily influenced young girls need as they grow up. These young girls use these women as models for whom they wish to become in the future.
A female’s social surroundings can be a very strong influence on her vision of herself and of women in general. A young girl’s surroundings, home, neighborhood, friends, acquaintances, school and family can all influence a young girl on the way she sees herself as a teenager, and later, as a woman. In order for someone to foresee themselves as confident and worthy, they need a role model to look up to.
In Lullabies for Little Criminals, Baby does not have a present motherly figure since her mother died a year after giving birth to her. She is therefore raised by her young drug addict father. Baby mentions more than once throughout the novel that Jules, her father, is NOT a mother figure for her and that he cannot replace a mother. He had her grow up in an environment that was not good for children, where she knew from a very young age what it meant when he talked about chocolate milk (slang for heroin). She lived in downtown Montreal, going from one shabby apartment to another where she saw prostitutes on a daily basis around her different apartments. Baby’s environment made her grow up too quick, where she took a turn towards prostitution, something which was not a surprise for her. “I knew Alphonse was a pimp and that sooner or later I was going to have to turn a trick. For some reason it seemed as natural as growing wisdom teeth. I didn’t even question why I was going to have to. I wanted to be brave. I didn’t want to be afraid” (O’Neill 215). This is not a healthy nor a normal attitude to have as a 12-year-old girl. Baby was extremely vulnerable to prostitution because of her surroundings and she thought that it was her normal course of life and that it was her “destiny.”
Her dad gave her some troubling advice about how she would be responsible for being raped if she stayed out after nine o’clock at night since she was a girl and that even the courts would say that she deserved it. This is some very unsettling information to receive as a young girl. He maybe wanted to give her some fatherly advice, where he was trying to scare her about the gruesome events that can happen to girls at night in those parts of the city. Clearly, he was clumsy in giving this guidance to his daughter. “My dad had told me if you stayed out after nine and you were a girl it meant that you wanted to have sex with whoever was passing by. He told me that if I got raped after nine o’clock, the courts would probably say I deserved it” (O’Neill 155). If Baby had some form of positive female role model in her life, she could have been told that it would never be her fault if she did get sexually assaulted at night, and that yes, she had to be careful about walking at night as a girl. She was so used to this type of environment, she was passive about how Alphonse, her pimp, treated her, as well as how her father verbally mistreated her as well. For her, the way men talked to her and treated her was fine since she did not know better than that.
The fact that Baby never had a positive female role model in her life meant that she also never had a grasp on her own female identity and her femininity as well. The women that she looked up to were the young drug addicts in her neighborhood; these were the only female role models she had close to her. “I was always kind of smitten by women. Probably because I never had a mother. The women I was most crazy about were the young drug addicts” (O’Neill 163). Another troubling example of a female role model that Baby looks up to was Alphonse, her pimp. “When Alphonse came into my life, it strangely felt a little bit like he was a mother figure. Every good pimp is a mother. When Alphonse spoke to me, his voice always had the same tempo as a lullaby” (O’Neill 186). To her, Alphonse took care of his girls, just like a mother would since she had to rely on him for shelter, food and drugs. Baby does not have a very high opinion of herself and her relationship with Alphonse makes her feel wanted and cared for.
When it comes to female role models and female identity, Lullabies for Little Criminals shows us how important it is for children, and in this case a young girl, to have a good, positive form of role model in their lives. This novel showed a very drastic consequence of not having a positive influence around. As it turns out for Baby, in all her unluckiness, she finally received a life raft. Her dad told her that he had arranged for her to go live with his cousin, a woman who lives outside of Montreal where Baby could live far from the city’s influence. This was a ray of hope for her which helped her get out of her terrible situation which could have ultimately resulted in her death on the streets in the city of Montreal.
O’Neill, Heather. Lullabies for Little Criminals. Harper Perennial, 2016.
The Bureaucratic Nightmare in The Metamorphosis
By Mélanie Bourgeois
Franz Kafka provided German literature with a new genre, a Kafkaesque genre, with the publication of his novella, The Metamorphosis. Despite seeing it coming slowly as his family abandons him to his fate, Gregor Samsa is unable to stop his inevitable end. What seems to be an astonishing nightmare is in fact deeply rooted in Gregor’s everyday life as a salesman. An analysis of Gregor’s life reveals its most frightening characteristic. His metamorphosis into a bug or his old life, that is his work and family, is revealed to the reader as most nightmarish. Surrealism is a style to provide a terrifying environment through unrealistic features. It can be extended to reflect on bureaucracy and social pressure illustrated by absurdism.
In the Metamorphosis, Kafka uses surrealism and a parallel world to create a nightmarish environment. As he wakes up late to go to work, the protagonist finds out that he turned into a bug overnight: “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” (1) The novella begins in medias res, inviting the reader to question the reasons behind the character’s sudden physical change. The transformation in itself is frightening and nightmarish. It appears impossible for a man to become a bug, and the mention of “uneasy dreams” supports the reader’s doubts: Is Gregor fantasizing his state, or did he really turn into a bug? However, the fainting of his mother when she sees him and the specific food he receives from his sister, clearly recognise his condition and approve his insect body as part of their reality. It authorises the reader’s mind to consider this atrocious nightmare as a genuine possibility. Gregor not only loses his human appearance, but also his human capacities and characteristics, which stresses the surrealism and atrocity of the situation. As the story develops, he takes control of his body and manages to move in the room; but he is not able to complete human actions such as opening the door. He refuses to eat normal meals, so his sister has to understand his new tastes. She prepares a diverse selection of food: “There were old, half-decayed vegetables, bones from last night's supper covered with a white sauce that had thickened; some raisins and almonds; a piece of cheese that Gregor would have called uneatable two days ago; a dry roll of bread, a buttered roll and a roll both buttered and salted.” (16) His food preferences evolve over time and finally resemble those of an insect. He no longer responds to his previous human tastes, which included not liking cheese, which he now does. It also makes him favour rotten vegetables, which are typical animal food. The transformation into a bug can be considered a nightmare, as the protagonist is literally dehumanized. He becomes an insect in his actions, his tastes, and his appearance all at once. The surrealistic feature of the novella is therefore pushed to the extreme and leads him to feel alienated and excluded.
The Metamorphosis relies on absurdity to enhance the nightmarish aspect of bureaucracy. Gregor’s way to handle the shocking situation is disappointing and absurd, because he does not show any concern about his transformation. He considers “sleeping a little longer and forgetting all this nonsense” (1). There are only pieces of information on the result of his metamorphosis, while his thoughts and interventions focus mostly on his job. The real terror lies in his impossibility to comprehend what happens to him. His passive behaviour increases the feelings of fear and incomprehension. He is locked in a nightmare where he cannot move or act, but he does not even try to change his condition. Instead, he blames the others and acts in bad faith. He uses his father’s debts as an excuse not to quit his job and confront his boss. Kafka critics social conformity and social pressure as being responsible for the submission to conformity. Gregor’s main enemy is not his new appearance but his thoughts. The insect is a metaphor for the alienated mind, trapped in the bureaucracy nightmare. His overall passive behaviour confronted to the surrealism of his transformation requests the reader’s notice of absurdism and invites him to reflect on the reasons behind the metamorphosis. Kafka’s works are known to depict bureaucracy as a nightmare, which eventually led to a specific term, “Kafkaesque”. It represents the fear of being overwhelmed by office work. Indeed, Gregor complains more about his job than his new physical appearance: “It's much more irritating work than doing the actual business in the office, and on top of that there's the trouble of constant traveling, of worrying about train connections, the bed and irregular meals, casual acquaintances that are always new and never become intimate friends.” (1) The bureaucratic language used in the novella, such as “work” “business” “office”, illustrates the protagonist’s inability to separate work from his private life. Even when he is at home undergoing the worst transformation, he cannot help but think of his job. Work follows him everywhere and he cannot get away from it. But might his metamorphosis allow him to escape the horrifying world of bureaucracy? Gregor’s mind is controlled by bureaucracy and the constant ticking of time and regular references to him being late. Office work dehumanizes Gregor. He only has his job and “acquaintances”. If he gets fired, he has nothing left. As soon as his family understands that he will no longer be responsible for them, their love and attention towards him change. His family’s love was conditional, and he has become useless. The loss of self and of his family encourages the dehumanization of bureaucracy, and its rules, legislation, and social order.
Gregor Samsa’s metamorphosis into a bug helps the creation of a nightmarish environment, in order to give shape to a deep reflection on social pressure and powerlessness against society. In theatrical representations, the actor in charge of Gregor’s character does not wear any costume, eventually preferring to focus on the depiction of bureaucracy as a nightmare, and not on the transformation itself. Gregor’s physical change embodies surrealism, while his last human feature, his thoughts, are used to generate absurdism. Franz Kafka transmits his fear of bureaucracy and paper work to Gregor and explores existentialism through a terrifying metamorphosis.
A Deeper Look at Metamorphosis
By Laura Bolduc
Franz Kafka’s works were supposed to be burned by Max Brod, one of Kafka’s friends when he died of tuberculosis in 1924. Fortunately, against his wishes, his friend published his works, and Kafka’s Metamorphosis became one of his best-known works. In this text, I will review and summarize the previous web contributions on Metamorphosis. A brief biography of Kafka’s life will be done. Then, the existential questions encountered in this novella will be discussed. I will also comment on the nightmarish surrealism observed in this text. Finally, I will analyze the influence of modernism mentioned by students in Kafka’s Metamorphosis.
Kafka was born in 1883 in Prague. He, therefore, learned to speak Czech but also learned German, the language of the elites at that time in Prague (Bryan, Burns & Readman). As written by Marie-France Plourde, “Kafka grew up in a middle-class family governed by … his father. … Hermann Kafka was a domestic tyrant who often threw his anger at his son” (1). He was thus a calm and isolated child. One could thus argue that “this father’s rejection of him is reflected in some of his novels like Metamorphosis” (Plourde 1). Furthermore, when Kafka grew up, he attended literature classes that did not truly suit his point of view. He also studied law but practiced only one year due to illness. The major themes in his writings are democracy and dehumanization. Accordingly, his works are known for a dark, negative world view such as isolation, alienation, and distorted reality. As mentioned by Plourde, “Kafka is nowadays seen as a modernist writer even if he wrote before this period started” (1).
Kafka is considered an existentialist writer as well. As mentioned by Jennifer Plourde, “existential literature results in a genre that is known for its emphasis on a choice that normally has to be made by the protagonist of the story” (1). In other words, if the main character needs to be saved, this saver will be the protagonist itself. Consequently, this responsibility leads to intense angst for the characters as seen in Metamorphosis by Kafka. Indeed, “existentialism seeks to answer the questions humans have been asking for centuries: Why am I here? What does my life mean? Of what significance is death to me?” (Wartenberg 58). In Metamorphosis, Kafka illustrates this quest for identity by transforming his main character into a giant cockroach. While he was a cockroach, “he had time to reflect on his situation, his family, and life in general, and this questioning ended up destroying him” (Leclerc 1). This text definitely has elements of questioning. For instance, Gregor’s has a desire to quit his job, but he cannot due to the debt he owes to his parents. Accordingly, being a cockroach is not an urgent problem, but not being able to work seems outrageous. In Plourde’s The Individual Defines Everything, she states a few other concepts underlying existential literature, such as humans have free will, life is a series of choices and stressful events, and some things can be irrational or absurd, without explanation. Lastly, most of the analyses on Kafka’s Metamorphosis agree to say that Kafka often wrote about isolated and alienated individuals caught in a hostile world in a surreal style, especially in his novella Metamorphosis.
In Derek Godin’s analytical essay on Kafka’s use of surrealism, he suggests that “the key to surrealist art is the arrangement of what we recognise as real, such as objects or animals, in such a way that makes us dismiss it as fantasy” (1). I agree with him since Kafka’s Metamorphosis begins in media res, the protagonist, Gregor Samsa, transforms himself into a giant bug right at the beginning of the story without explanation. He examines his room, and the reader learns that he is a travelling salesman. The reader is thus exposed to a real environment and to Gregor’s morning routine even though he has been transformed into a “gigantic insect” (Kafka 1). Indeed, the author uses dreamlike images and events to suggest the unconscious and the loss of logic and reason. For example, as mentioned in Simon Leclerc’s essay on Metamorphosis, as the story develops, Gregor loses mobility and, therefore, becomes a prisoner in his room. Hence, the reader must use reality and imagination together in order to make room for the story.
William C. Kowal wrote about Kafka’s childhood environment. He suggested that his “homeland and surroundings were in political instability” (1). Kafka, therefore, lived in a particular social environment that influenced “his personal life and set the tone of the story” (Kowal 1). For instance, “Gregor lives in an urbanistic environment which is one of the major changes in the modern world” (Kowal 2). Consequently, I agree with him since Gregor’s apartment in Metamorphosis also reflects the 20th-century European type of houses. As Kowal argued, the reader can notice that Gregor’s house has the characteristics of the modern European household. In other words, “Gregor’s family lived in a home consisting of both parents, their children, and sometimes of the grand-parents all living under the same roof” (Kowal 2). Moreover, Kafka was born at the end of the Industrial Revolution era that significantly affected the quality of labour. Consequently, it brought a new type of work in which “the average office job demanded its personnel to work from Monday to Friday, eight in the morning to six in the evening” (Kowal 2). Indeed, Gregor “has an important office job that demands him to be at work on time at eight o’clock in the morning” (Kowal 2). It thus makes sense that workers became alienated and felt that their job was the only thing that matters. For example, when Gregor realizes that he has become a cockroach, he feels dislocated because as a giant bug, he cannot go to work. Instead of focusing on the major problem, his transformation, he focuses on not being able to go to work and help his family. Accordingly, his obsession could come from the author’s environment, the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.
In conclusion, this text summarizes the previous web contributions on Kafka’s novella, Metamorphosis. These students wrote interesting analyses on the use of existentialist and surrealist elements that moved Gregor’s story along. In Kafka’s novella, the reader is exposed to several existential questions. Indeed, the protagonist “is acting in bad faith, but rather suppressing his own desires in order to follow the social rules” (Le Carduner 1). Moreover, Gregor’s nightmare added a surrealist style to the story. The previous analyses on Kafka’s Metamorphosis also explain that the author’s background forged Gregor’s story and justify why his mind is completely controlled by business. Finally, I corroborated their analyses with some passages from the text and with prior knowledge gained from my ANG 341 class.
What is the significance of the subtitle, “A Tale for Children”, in the story "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" by Gabriel García Márquez?
By Camille Couture
Literature is a huge part of our lives: it acts as a mirror of things that are happening or have happened within our society. It is also a way to inform citizens of important events that occurred throughout history and give them a sense of the culture of that time. For others, literature provides a getaway. Whichever situation applies to you, literature is defined in different ways to the eyes of the author/reader. Nowadays, the importance of literature is sometimes questioned; however, if we consider the fact that literature helps to build vocabulary and improve writing skills, allows people to expand their horizons, improve their critical thinking and expose them to cultural values and differences while even evoking some cultural history, literature becomes a crucial element. As a future English as a second language teacher, I do think that teaching literature to our students is important: students should be exposed to different types of literature from a young age. There are millions of enjoyable books and stories that can be presented to children, which might represent a struggle for some. Besides, some stories are classified as being a children’s story, but what exactly is a children’s story? The following essay will discuss the signification of the subtitle “A Tale for Children” in the story “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” written in 1955 by Gabriel García Márquez.
First of all, it is important to discuss what defines a tale for children. A tale for children is generally a short story that involves animals as characters, magic, idealized situations and an ending that conveys some type of moral (Oxford dictionary). Indeed, at first, a reader of “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” might feel like the story truly is a tale for children since it implies magic realism (a character with wings) and generates expectations in a purposeful ending with a life moral. However, as the story unfolds, the reader understands that Gabriel’s story is not primarily suited for a young audience.
It seems like García starts his story with short and simple sentences that are suitable for children; as well as characters that imply the readers’ imagination. However, as the story progresses, the author’s choice of words becomes more complex and the audience seems to change. Fast, the readers are exposed to scenes of violence towards the old man, exploitation, and suffering which generally speaking, do not happen in children’s literature. Also, the very old man with enormous wings happens to be a fictional character, which does correspond to a characteristic of children’s tales. Yet, his fantastic character is never idealized, but rather portrayed as being the less enchanting and captivating character of the story. The fairy character smells bad, is sick and neglected, lives outsides and has damaged wings which do not portray the typical angel present in children’s tales. Furthermore, a fairy tale generally involves supernatural powers: the angel does not really have any superpower except for his patience and tolerance. Other than the fact that the character has wings, there seems to be nothing standing out from the ordinary world. Indeed, the reader might think that the angel can heal someone and stop the rain, but there is no direct proof of these events. This being said, this short story does not involve the supernatural, reinforcing that it is not a traditional tale for children.
Moreover, the different themes of this story once again suggest that García’s short story is not appropriate for children. Suffering and aging are two important themes of this story. The old man is suffering throughout the story: he first crashes in the yard and his condition seems to deteriorate rapidly as he is neglected and ignored. Another important theme would be religion. Even if it is not directly stated, there seems to be a critical glimpse of religion throughout the story; however, religion usually implies generosity, help, love and, care; all elements that are not evoked in the story. García might have used these images as religious satire which would again validate that his piece was not originally addressed to children. Consequently, the complexity of the themes backs up my hypothesis that this short story was not originally written for a young audience.
The story can be read on many levels, yet the intricacy of the characters and the themes are questionable for a tale for children. There are several hypotheses on the significance of the subtitle, “A Tale for Children”, in the story “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”; one being that he wanted his audience to read the story from a children’s perspective. Another thesis could be that García wanted his readers to stay open-minded and imaginative just like children are in their everyday lives. My last suggestion would be that García added this subtitle with irony; telling the readers that this story is not for children.
In conclusion, Gabriel García Márquez’s story “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” does not qualify as being a tale for children because of several reasons discussed above. Briefly, the themes evoked, the absence of supernatural elements, the violence, and the characters are not suited for a young audience. However, the format of the story resembles a fairy tale. This being said, from my point of view, Gabriel García Márquez added this subtitle simply to encourage the readers to use their imagination and read the story with an open mind.
Miksanek, Tony. A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings Analysis. NYU Literature Arts
Medicine Database. http://medhum.med.nyu.edu/view/12287. Accessed March
To what extent is the Old Man with wings othered and treated as an outsider in this story?
By William Giroux
There are a few different themes in the story "A very Old Man with Enormous Wings", but the main one would be the way humans are being treated in the story compared to the way the humans are treating the odd living creature. Firstly, all the humans in the story are treated just like any humans should be, until the young couple of Elisanda and Pelayo find a very old man with wings in their courtyard. Their first thought is that this old man is nothing but a poor old man from a foreign place or country. That is until they reach for a local woman who says that the old man is an angel. The couple then decide to head back to their home and throw the old man in the chicken coop. This shows the relevance of the main theme because the old man is being treated like an animal, rather than a regular human being. After this scene, the young couple decides that they feel generous and that they want to give a chance to this bizarre living creature. They decide to give him a raft and food to survive for a couple of days and push him out to sea. In the morning, the couple finds the whole neighborhood in front of the chicken coop throwing objects and food at the old man as if he were an animal from a zoo, rather than human. At this very moment, the old man is stripped of his remaining dignity and pride and is treated as an outsider. In this scene, one could say that the old man is seen by the neighborhood as an attraction, rather than someone with feelings and desire.
In the next scene, the main theme of the story shows through the conversation of the people around the chicken coop: “By that time onlookers less frivolous than those at dawn had already arrived and they were making all kinds of conjectures concerning the captive’s future.” (p.1) This scene shows that the people around the chicken coop think so little of the creature that they are having a conversation about what they should do with him in the future, as if the man was too different for them to accept that he has feelings and emotions. The next day, Elisanda thought that they should be able to make money by allowing people to come and see the old man in their yards. That is when she decided to fence in their yard and charge money to be able to see the creature. This again shows that the old man is being used for profit as if he were other than human in the eyes of the people. Later in the story, it is said that the people were throwing rocks and burning the old man to try to make him stand up so that they can get their money’s worth and see the creature in its entirety. In the very next scene the humans start to understand that the old man can feel pain when they manage to make him stand up: “Although many thought that his reaction had not been one of rage but of pain, from then on they were careful not to annoy him, because the majority understood that his passivity was not that of him taking with ease but that of a cataclysm in repose.” (p.3) This scene shows that before they managed to hurt him, everyone thought that the old man could not feel anything and therefore that he is seen as other than human until his pain shows his similarities to human beings. This scene is again a good comparison between the way in which humans are being treated in the story and the way the old man is being treated for no other reasons than being different in appearance from a human being. This man is being othered for the simple fact that he is different from the others. One could also say that the way the old man is treated shows the dark side of consumerism, because the old man was used until another attraction came to town, the young girl who was changed into a spider for disobeying her parents. Therefore, one could say that the old man can be seen as a product, because he was used to his own detriment until something new came out and he was quickly forgotten by the people of the village. In other words, the old man is othered to the point where he can be compared to being nothing but a source of profit for the people who had the luck to find him. This story also shows the dark side of humans, because it shows that humans think of themselves as initially superior to other beings, such as the old man in the story, who could be compared to a cow being stripped of her life for the profit linked to the sale of her milk.
Finally, the main theme of the story is that the man is being othered for being different and an outsider to the people of the town. This story shows that the old man is othered to the point where he is deprived of his human rights for the benefits of the inevitably "better" human beings.
The Reader: Writing as Therapy, and Reading as Empathy
By Marc-André Vermette
What is literacy? Traditionally, the term “literacy” merely referred to the ability to read and write. But there is more to it than that. In fact, literacy is critical in helping one making sense of the surrounding world.
Based on the acclaimed novel Der Voleser (1995) by Bernhard Schlink, and adapted to the big screen by David Hare, The Reader (2009) is a brilliant movie that follows the event of a young man trying to make sense of the world around him that is simply cruel to his eyes; where he falls in love, gets abandoned, finds out later that his lover was a Nazi, has trouble coping with it all and ultimately, finds redemption. Not your typical movie! The Reader is a biblio-centric movie, meaning that literacy is a driving force in the narrative; being present in the form of audiobooks, legal system texts, archives and memoirs, and the unforgivable shame of one being illiterate which resulted in nightmarish crimes beyond imagination.
Beacon of Hope
At first, in the movie one could argue that literacy is portrayed as a beacon of hope. Many instances can be interpreted as such, like the part where the Michael Berg [the protagonist] gets to read and read some more to Hanna Schmitz. The readings awake feelings within both characters. For Michael, he slowly starts to lose his monotony in speech and life. As for Hanna, it appears that a light has lit in her, bringing back emotions in her emotionless mind and life. She cries, and laughs, and seems alive, something that the character seemed to lack prior to meeting Michael. However, their relationship comes to an end when she [Hanna] is offered a promotion to office work instead of on the field, yet she again held back by her illiteracy. Furthermore, the illiteracy is not the sole reason behind her departure, in fact she acknowledges that Michael is growing apart from her and that he desired to spend time with the youth sharing his own age. Leaving him shattered his beacon of hope in pieces.
Contrary to literacy, the key for opening one’s mind to the world [metaphor for judgement and wisdom], and illiteracy is a cage filled with shame and other wicked sentiments. On an allegorical level, illiteracy embodies in The Reader the questionable absence of judgement showcased by those who followed the Nazi regime. Hanna Schmitz was no exception to that. Throughout the narrative, Hanna is encumbered by her inability to read and write. The first encounter regarding the movie’s storytelling being the “menu event” when she is handed a menu. Incapable of deciphering what is in front of her, she is stricken by an immense sense of humiliation, distress and envy regarding her companion [Michael], fearing the waitress will know her shocking secret. The second encounter occurs during the trial, where it is mentioned that she willingly enrolled in the SS [branch of the Nazi military] as a concentration camp guard in Auschwitz. By this dreadful revelation, Michael cannot brush off the idea that she may have accepted the job without knowing what it was, and she did not dare to ask what was written on the job offer paper, again, by fear and shame. The last harmful encounter that Hanna has vis-à-vis her illiteracy is the one that almost breaks her. During the trial, the other Auschwitz convicts blame the event of the burning church on her (an event during the war where Jewish prisoners were locked in a church that caught on fire due to bombardments nearby, and they all burned alive, leaving only two survivors). They all blame Hanna as the one who ordered them [the other female guards] to keep it locked and that she was the one who wrote the report exonerating them all of this atrocity. However, one may remember that she was completely illiterate, therefore it could not have been her, but when she is asked for a sample of her hand-writing, again, she blocks and simply accepts all charges against her instead of letting everyone know her secret.
Literature as a vehicle of redemption. Without a doubt, literacy and its opposite, illiteracy, have an immense importance during the course of the narrative of the movie; but one could argue that in many ways, literature is vastly used as a vehicle of redemption for the characters. Firstly, adult Michael finds his redemption when he starts to make the audiobooks for Hanna, who is now an older woman. These audiobooks have a lifting effect on Michael, during his youth and livelihood he was unable to move on or to really get on with is life because he was, in a way, stuck in the past; haunted by his memories. But when he got to do the audiobooks, he reread all the books he read with Hanna, which made him feel young and alive for a while, and he was finally able to open up with his daughter. Something that he was unable to do because the last time he opened up, his heart and life were shattered by none other than Hanna.
As for Hanna Schmitz, redemption took time and effort, and ultimately, came as a suicide. Following the audiobooks, she started to teach herself how to read and write. With her new ability, Hanna started to read more and more about the concentration camps, in particular the book written by the trial’s victim. It is subtly implied that due to the fact she could not read, in a way she lacked empathy and she was unable to read people. With her new sets of skills, she was now able to have empathy towards the victims. Towards the end, a concerned Michael asked her in jail whether or not she had learned anything regarding the trial or about the victims that met her “wraith,” she answered: “well I did learn kid, I learned to read.” Reading referring to the capacity to show empathy. However, this empathy came as a double-edged sword, and Hanna did as suggested by a young student during the event of the trial: “the only redemption from the knowledge of and participation in the Holocaust is suicide.”
The last character that met redemption is the woman that was the young Jewish victim during the trial and one of the sole survivors of the church. Her redemption came much earlier than Michael and Hanna, her redemption took place while writing her book retelling her story in the concentration camp, leading to the imprisonment of Hanna Schmitz and other guards. Literacy was her redemption, she was able to have justice served with the aid of her book, which led to the trial. Her redemption through writing came as a therapy.
In sum, literacy is clearly the driving force of the movie and the novel likewise. Literacy is everywhere, as a beacon of hope, the lack of it being a handicap, and a redemption. The Reader showed in a brilliant way that stories heal, both parties healing through texts, with the young Jewish woman getting some sort of therapy by writing her story, and with Hanna Schmitz healing through reading giving her a sense of empathy.
Bal, P. M., & Veltkamp, M. (2013). How does fiction reading influence empathy? An experimental
investigation on the role of emotional transportation. PloS one, 8(1), e55341.
McKinney, F. (1976). Free writing as therapy. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, 13(2), 183.
Schofield, R. (1973). Dimensions of illiteracy, 1750-1850. Explorations in Economic History, 10(4), 437.
Surrealism and Personification in D.H. Lawrence’s “The Rocking-Horse Winner”
By Farah Ormelet
Hearing voices has been traditionally associated with madness in both psychology and literature. Unless used as part of a specific genre such as gothic or fantastic literature, one may think of a character hearing voices as either mentally ill or part of another reality. Looking at the character of Paul in “The Rocking-Horse Winner,” this short essay demonstrates that the voices in the house are not a symptom of a real madness, but rather a surrealist device employed to better understand the protagonist’s difficult relationship with money. The voices make the house a character itself that comments and reacts to the family’s financial habits. In this short story, surrealism is embedded in the psychological realism genre to help us delve deeper in the protagonist’s angst, resulting from his parents’ excessive lifestyle.
From the beginning of the text, Paul can hear the voice as well as anybody else in the house: “The whisper was everywhere, yet no one spoke it” (Lawrence 1224). The voice is part of the family’s reality, a taboo that they live with and try to ignore every day. The haunting voice in the house can only be heard in the mind; yet, it can be located in specific places and instances: “They heard it at Christmas, when the expensive and splendid toys filled the nursery. Behind the shining rocking-horse, behind the small doll’s house, a voice would start whispering…” (Lawrence 1224) What makes the voice particularly frightening is the fact that both children can hear it at the same time and look at each other and find out that it is not something that they imagined, that they are not mad. This particular aspect of the voices defies the rules of the real while effectively portraying its persecuting nature on the entire family.
Judith Stiers’s (2008) analysis of D.H. Lawrence’s as an existentialist short story focused on the author’s recurrent use of voices by inanimate objects to bring to light the character’s ugly truths. Of the surreal device also used in Lawrence short story “Piano,” she says: “Lawrence calls us awake to life in a world without meaning.” (59) In other words, the purpose of the voice in the short text is to shock the reader into a reflection about what is haunting human existence. She also adds that the voices are a “subtle and powerful use of personification” (60). The house is not only personified, but a character in itself that speaks up and tells the truth about the characters deepest preoccupations, the ones they cannot face themselves, and in Paul’s case, the one he is learning to live with from an early age: the unquenchable need for money.
One of the questions that has fascinated many critics is the Paul’s symbolic death at the end of the text. Again, this is a surreal element illustrating the culminating point in Paul’s anxiety. Before Paul gets sick, we are told that the voices themselves go mad once Ether touches 5000 pounds at once. Many interpreted Paul’s sudden death from a religious perspective. Watkins (1987) wrote about Paul as a capitalist messiah sacrificing himself for his family’s financial redemption. Koban (1978) however interpreted his death as a “moral light” for his mother Hester. But little is said about the role the voices played in the boy’s early departure. Koban nonetheless explains that Paul was led by a spirit, the spirit of his mother, with whom he experiences a “mystical oneness.” On Paul’s madness he says: “His madness is hers, and with his death, she is left with a living death.” (394) His interpretation makes us understand the voices as his mother’s inner voice ringing in the boy’s mind and pushing him to do what is necessary to make it stop.
Coming back to the idea of the house being a character, it is very well possible for walls to speak in a surreal text. Houses being a defining visible element of socioeconomic status, they are decorated, cleaned, and taken care of by staff when the hosts can afford it. The walls see everything, including the amount of money that come inside them. The house in “The Rocking-Horse Winner” is aware. It knows the parents’ financial position and exposes it with its recurring phrase “There must be more money,” knowing well that there is not enough inside its walls. The house reacts to Hester’s new furniture, the scent of flowers during the winter, and to Paul’s new tutored lessons. It screams and haunts the boy, driving him to his fate. The house can make Paul earn more money, but it cannot do it with his parents.
Paul’s madness and death are not realist, but rather surrealist. Having the figure of a child dying to not only satisfy his parent’s consumerist habits illustrates a bold, shocking way of critiquing the core values of capitalism. With the use of voices and a personified house, Lawrence speaks the character’s truths and exposes the bourgeoisie’s deepest preoccupations in a frightening way. Another symbolic element to look at would be the role and meaning of the rocking-horse for Paul’s luck. How important is it to the boy’s fall at the end of the story?
Koban, Charles. “Allegory and the Death of the Heart in ‘The Rocking-Horse Winner.’” Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 15, no. 4, Fall 1978, p. 391. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.usherbrooke.ca/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=7125117&lang=fr&site=eds-live. Accessed on Mar 29, 2019.
Stiers, Judith1. “The Use of Voice in D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Piano’ and ‘The Rocking Horse Winner.’” Eureka Studies in Teaching Short Fiction, vol. 8, no. 2, Spring 2008, pp. 58–61. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.usherbrooke.ca/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eue&AN=32066610&lang=fr&site=eds-live. Accessed on Mar 20, 2019.
Watkins, Daniel P. “Labor and Religion in D. H. Lawrence’s ‘The Rocking-Horse Winner.’” Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 24, no. 3, Summer 1987, p. 295. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.usherbrooke.ca/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=7161587&lang=fr&site=eds-live. Accessed on Mar 22, 2019.
Gambling Addiction in “The Rocking-Horse Winner”
By Marc-Alain Bachand Maurais
Addiction, like all issues that have troubled – and still trouble – humans, is a subject that has been thoroughly explored by all kinds of authors and media. From Danny Boyle’s famous film on heroin addiction Trainspotting to Ray Bradbury’s predictive hints of growing screen addiction in Fahrenheit 451, readers have been exposed and sensitized to these scourges that they might not be consciously aware of in their day-to-day lives. D.H. Lawrence’s short story “The Rocking Horse Winner” presents a view of gambling addiction that can, like Bradbury’s, be applied to our current society. Lawrence crafted his story in such a way that its progression can be compared to a real-life addict’s decline over time. However, the fantastic aspect he grafted to this subject brings about metaphors that mask the underlying problems of addiction behind storytelling.
The first thing that might make readers uneasy upon reading this story is how old Paul is since, although his age is never made clear, he is repeatedly described as a boy. Such a young person would traditionally not be expected to partake in a grown-up game of chance, but it is quickly made clear that he is no stranger to gambling. Indeed, by the time it is brought up, he has already won over 300 pounds in horse races. Like an addict, however, he has not told his parents about it, and only shared what he had to with his partners in crime: Bassett and his uncle. Despite not needing the money for himself, Paul’s fascination with “luck” and money makes him display the tell-tale signs of addiction: lies, secrets, and escalation (Gouvernement du Québec, 2017). Winning becomes all he can think about throughout the story as he forces himself past his limits, lies to his family about the nature of his rocking-horse, and bets increasingly larger amounts of money (Ibid., 2017). When Paul tells his mother: “But you know you needn’t worry, mother, don’t you?” (Lawrence, 1926) after she expresses concern about his obsession with horses, he, almost word for word, expresses the same denial that certain addicts present (Larcombe, 2017). This pattern of young gamblers is observed more and more in our current society. Indeed, the advent of “lootboxes” in online video games has incited many children and young adults into developing a taste for gambling nowadays (Zendle, 2019). Like these young adults, Paul is not equipped with the knowledge required to understand that the thrill and desire to win despite previous losses is inherently self-destructive (Ibid., 2019). As such, the boy demonstrates an attitude that would have identified him as a gambling addict, were it not for his secret mystical ability to win.
While Paul, his uncle, and Bassett are undoubtedly involved in a harmful relationship with gambling and money, the boy’s gift protects them from the usual pitfalls related to this activity. Indeed, Paul demonstrates the ability to sometimes know with certainty which horse will win a certain race, with seemingly no drawbacks. However, the nature of his power does require him to sacrifice something: his health. As his condition progressively worsens, he continues to gamble his life away for the sake of his family and “luck”. Unlike the usual stories behind gambling however, Paul rarely experiences a loss during the story, and therefore does not follow the steps of gambling addiction as they are understood today: winning, losing, desperation, and helplessness (Gouvernement du Québec, 2017). Like all harmful habits, Paul’s starts small: he bets 5 and then 10 shillings on horses. The differences with normal gamblers arise when, instead of going on a downward curve of debt and trying to recoup previous losses, he simply keeps on winning. As such, Paul never experiences the losing phases and desperation that are deep-rooted in this problem. Normal gamblers usually end up in a situation where their addiction makes their finances “ […] a nightmare from which [they] are unable to wake up.” (Larcombe, 2017) . However, the boy’s uncanny wins are the main divergence from normal addiction. He is still ostracized by his sisters because of his weird behaviour, and experiences a loss in quality of life when his health deteriorates, and is even assaulted by recurring thoughts about money: “There must be more money! Oh-h-h; there must be more money.” (Lawrence, 1926).
Overall, Lawrence’s “The Rocking-Horse Winner” is, despite the aspects of fantasy included by the author, a remarkably sound tale about gambling addiction. Paul shows many signs associated with addiction and, while his almost magical ability shields him from the usual pitfalls one falls into when losses start accumulating, he eventually pays the price for ignoring his worsening condition. Most gamblers eventually hit “rock-bottom” because they commit repeated financial suicide and lose something (or many things) important to them. Similarly, Paul commits suicide when he feverishly rocks his horse, losing his life in exchange for money he has no way of spending.
Zendle, David, and Paul Cairns. “Loot Boxes Are Again Linked to Problem Gambling: Results of a Replication Study.” PLoS ONE, vol. 14, no. 3, Mar. 2019, pp. 1–13. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0214167.
Larcombe, Justyn. “The fall and rise of a gambling addict” YouTube, TED x Talks, July 2017, (viewed on March 20) <https://www.youtube.com/watch=7AN3VLLlkdI >.
Gouvernement du Québec. “Recognizing a gambling disorder” Québec, May 2017. (viewed on March 20) <https://www.quebec.ca/en/health/advice-and-prevention/alcohol-drugs-gambling/recognizing-a-gambling-disorder/>
UK Addiction Treatment Centers. “What is gambling addiction” United Kingdom, (viewed on March 20) <https://www.ukat.co.uk/gambling-addiction/>
Lawrence, D. H. “The Rocking Horse Winner”. 1926, pp. 1223-1236.
The Importance of Setting and Houses in “The Rocking Horse Winner”
By Amélie Hébert
The setting of a story tells us when and where the story takes place. It also sets the mood and tone of the story. In “The Rocking Horse Winner”, when and where the story takes place is not explicitly said, but, with the help of textual evidence, it can be deduced. We can assume that the story takes place in the mid-1920s since it was written in 1926. There is proof of this. Paul’s family does not own a car because, according to the mother, they are “the poor members of the family” (Lawrence p. 1224). This suggests that cars were owned only by the rich which places the storyline in the 1920s. The places that are named in the story can give us an idea of where the story happens. Places such as “the Ascot” (Lawrence p. 1226), which is a racetrack, and “Hampshire” (1227), which is a town, shows that it takes place somewhere in England.
The fact that the setting elements are not explicitly said and the fact that it takes a strong power of deduction to figure out when and where the story happens suggests that the setting is not important in our comprehension of the story. The story could have occurred anywhere at any time and it would probably have little impact on the storyline. On the other hand, what is important in the setting is the mood and tone created by the author which is what the reader is forced to focus on since there is no explicit time and place.
D. H. Lawrence sets a tone of irony at the beginning of the story when presenting the character of the mother. As a mother, Hester must naturally love her children dearly, but she only pretends to since she says that she cannot love them: “When her children were present, she always felt the centre of her heart go hard.” (1223) The reader is led to believe that Hester does not love her children until the ambiguous ending of the story. Another ironic element set by D. H. Lawrence is the fact that both parents have a small income, yet, it is not enough to pay for the big house that they live in (Lawrence, p. 1223). We can observe this progression of irony up until the very end of the story. This ironic tone helps critique the superficial mood in the home. In “The Rocking Horse Winner”, everything is as superficial as their house. The characters keep up the image of being a united rich family when, in fact, it is this image that is making them poor, unhappy and anxious. Even the uncle is superficial in a way since he does not care about his nephew, but more about the money that his nephew makes him. This mood is felt in the setting and is seen throughout the story.
The house is where the majority of the action takes place. It helps create this superficial mood that the characters must always keep up to keep their social position. The mother and father cannot afford the house, yet they continue to live in it. They even go as far as to employ domestics around the house to help them keep this superficial appearance. The house is described as a “pleasant house, with a garden” (Lawrence p. 1223). It is also said that because of the house and its servants, the parents felt “superior to anyone in their neighbourhood” (Lawrence p. 1223). The house has such an important role that it even becomes its own character in the story. The house haunts the protagonist. “His evolving sense of himself as a young man has been severely distorted by the psychic distress he feels in his home, where the unspoken phrase “there must be more money” (Lawrence p. 1224) represents an animistic projection of the psychological condition of the family” (Lewis). The ambiance of the house is responsible for the decisions of the main character. His mother longs for a luxurious life, which is held up by the house and, because of this, Paul feels that he is not loved by her. “Paul hopes to win her love, to compensate her for her unhappiness with his father, and to bring peace to their anxious, unhappy household” (Kaplan). I can go as far as saying that the house plays the role of the antagonist since the protagonist begins his quest to get more money and ends up dying because of it. Besides the protagonist, the house is a key element of the story that makes up the main themes, which are gambling addiction and the inability to love, and helps the storyline progress. The whole story is centered around the house and its toxic environment that concentrates around money instead of love. Without the atmosphere found in the house, there would be no story, no quest, and Paul would not have died.
To conclude, the house as setting is extremely important, it is required in order for the story to develop completely in terms of mood and tone. Without the house, the story would be lifeless. Without the description of the house throughout the story and the irony that comes with it, the reasons that pushed Paul to go on his quest could not be made clear.
Kaplan, Carola M. “The Rocking-Horse Winner.” Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition, Jan. 2004, pp. 1–2.
Lewis, Leon. “The Rocking-Horse Winner.” Masterplots, Fourth Edition, Nov. 2010, pp. 1–3.
"A White Heron": A Gendered Story
By Enya Brochu-Cliche
One cannot argue that gender plays an important role in the short story entitled "A White Heron" written by Sarah Orne Jewett. The main character named Sylvia, a nine-year-old girl living in the New England's countryside with her grandmother, has a strong bond with nature. She enjoys watching birds and taking care of her grandmother's old cow. One day on her way back from walking the cow, she comes across a young and handsome ornithologist. He, later in the story, hears that Sylvia knows her way around the forest nearby and has seen many kinds of birds, and asks her to tell him where the white heron nest is. Sylvia is stuck in a dilemma; to tell the secret or to keep it to herself. Gender relations play a key role in the development of this short story, which can be seen as feminist because the main character rejects the traditional standards of the time.
In "A White Heron", the young ornithologist's masculinity is depicted in a traditional way. Men are traditionally shown as proud, courageous, tough, and adventurous people. The young man loves to hunt and kill birds just to keep a big collection of the ones he stuffed himself "(...) they're stuffed and preserved, dozens and dozens of them," said the ornithologist, "and I have shot or snared every one myself" (Jewett 3). He is driven by the desire to hunt a white heron. Despite his love for the birds, his greed to add another one to his collection is greater. Although he and Sylvia both love nature, they do so in a different way. The masculinity traits portrayed by the ornithologist clash with Sylvia's admiration for nature.
Femininity is shown in the way the young protagonist acts and the way she is depicted. She is one with nature and nurtures it. Women's gender role tends to be more gentle, kind and nurturing than men's role. Throughout the story, Sylvia's feminine personality evolves. When she first meets the young ornithologist, she seems fragile and acts like any "good girl" would do with men back in those days, "She did not dare to look boldly at the tall young man (...)" (Jewett 2). In a traditional way, she let the man lead, "(...) she did not lead the guest, she only followed, and there was no such thing as speaking first. (Jewett 4). She slowly grows fond of the young man, but her love for nature overpowers the one she has for the ornithologist. The moment the young protagonist decides to go up the tree in the middle of the night to find the white heron's nest represents how she breaks away from women traditional gender roles. "There, when she made the dangerous pass from one tree to the other, the great enterprise would really begin." (Jewett 5). This part of the story where she jumps from one tree to the other is a metaphor for Sylvia growing up into an independent girl and leaving her quiet self behind. She shows bravery for the first time and decides that her first love for nature comes before pleasing the ornithologist whom her little girl's heart grew to love. The fact that Sylvia keeps secret from the young man where the white heron nest is shows that she chooses nature and herself over a man. "Jewett uses her young heroine Sylvia to reject the traditional choices open to women at the time of publication in 1886 and choose instead a self-made alternative" (Plourde 1). This choice is a feminist one since at that time women were seen as unequal and a lot less respected than men. Sylvia rejects the ornithologist's desire and, in her own feminine way, protects nature and the creatures living in the forest.
Gender relations play a major role in the short story entitled "A White Heron", and the way the young protagonist breaks away from the traditional female roles of the time is even more significant. The ornithologist shows traditional masculine personality traits such as being courageous, adventurous and tough. At first, Sylvia admires the young man for his knowledge about birds, but soon realizes that his love for nature is not the same as hers; his is selfish and greedy. On the other hand, Sylvia is one with nature. In all her femininity, she protects and nurtures it. By not revealing the secret about where the white heron nest is, the protagonist chooses herself and her love for nature over the young man's desire to hunt the bird. Her choice is not a traditional one given the time the story was written in, but rather a feminist one.
Jewett, Sarah Orne. A White Heron: And Other Stories. Dover Publications, 1999.
Plourde, Aubrey E. “A Woman's World: Sarah Orne Jewett's Regionalist Alternative.” Rollins Undergraduate Research Journal, vol. 5, no. 1, 5 July 2011.
Female Submissiveness in “Rape Fantasies” and “Wild Swans”
By Marc-André Turcotte
Set out below is an analysis of female submissiveness in the short stories “Rape Fantasies” and “Wild Swans” by Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro.
In Atwood’s “Rape Fantasies,” some women have fantasies in which they are submissive. For instance, Chrissy, the receptionist, fantasizes about being in a bathtub and seeing a complete stranger walk in on her bathing (Atwood, pars. 17-18). She adds that when she sees him, she remains passive and lets him do his thing without giving him any resistance, thus acting totally submissive (Atwood, pars. 18-22). Another woman, Greta, fantasizes about a stranger entering her apartment via the windows and leaving in a mysterious way after the act (Atwood, pars. 14-15). She, too, submits to the man she encounters in her fantasy. The protagonist, Estelle, on the other hand, is harder to categorize as a submissive woman. Unlike some of her colleagues, her fantasies are not ones in which she remains passive. For example, the first fantasy she describes is one in which she pepper sprays her aggressor (Atwood, par. 26). This is not characteristic of a submissive behavior. In her other fantasies, she also seems to be in power as she knows the right things to do or say in order not to be “raped” (Atwood, pars. 35-42).
In her article titled “Vulnerability in Margaret Atwood’s “Rape Fantasies”: A Game of Cards About Life,” Nancy Workman explains that the “rape fantasies” are not about the act of rape, but rather about sexual desire (Workman, par. 6). Perhaps this could be an indication that Chrissy and Greta are socialized to be submissive in their relationships with men, while Estelle prefers to be the dominant one in her relationships.
In Munro’s short story “Wild Swans”, one may determine whether the female characters are acting in a submissive way or not based on their interactions with men.
Given her domineering personality, one female character, Flo, can be categorized as anything but submissive. This conclusion is evidenced by the firmness and the tone of her answers when talking to men. For instance, when the undertaker visits her at work and politely asks her to wrap up his purchases, she does not shy away from showing him that she is in total control of her abilities: “Flo in her mock-deferential tone would assure him that she could.” (Munro, pars. 12-13). Then, when the smooth-talking man would try to break down her walls by complimenting her for her hard work, she would answer in a joking manner as to avoid conversation (Munro, par.14). Further evidence of Flo acting in an overbearing way is when she looks for the old man on the train to sample the chocolate milk Rose and her had bought (Munro, par.19). Once the man leaves, Flo says “I let him know,” and “you have to let them know” which could be perceived as an arrogant gesture on a train (Munro, par.20). In short, Flo’s actions indicate that she is the total opposite of a submissive woman.
On the other hand, Rose, the protagonist, can be perceived as being submissive in some way. The reader may consider Rose to be a submissive woman in this short story because of her interaction with the stranger on the train. To start off, Rose is receptive to the man’s attempt at conversation when they first sit next to each other (Munro, pars. 40-41). Then, when she notices that the man has his hand on her leg, her guard goes up for a moment as she is filled with fear and embarrassment (Munro, pars. 46-47). At the same time, she is unable to explicitly refuse his unwanted advances as her fear is slowly replaced by curiosity (Munro, par. 51). With every second that passes, she seems to get more turned on at a deeper, more primal level: “[…] his stubborn patient hand was able, after all, to get the ferns to rustle and the streams to flow, to waken a sly luxuriance.” (Munro, par. 54). This goes hand in hand with her previously stated desire to “be somebody’s object. Pounded, pleasured, reduced, exhausted.” (Munro, par. 45). Rose remains unable to remove his hand, submitting to his power until he ultimately takes it away himself, satisfied (Munro, par. 58). In short, because she has to have her walls brought down before she can appreciate a moment of intimacy, the protagonist is definitely a submissive woman.
In conclusion, both stories represent female characters who have been socialized to act in a submissive way in the presence of men. In “Rape Fantasies,” Chrissy and Greta are the characters exhibiting characteristics of a submissive behavior while Rose is the one exhibiting these same characteristics in lurid reality in “Wild Swans”. Each story also includes a character whose natural behavior in the presence of men is to be more dominant (Estelle in “Rape Fantasies” and Flo in “Wild Swans”).
Atwood, Margaret. “Rape Fantasies”. Dancing Girls & Other Stories. 1977. 163-170. Print.
Munro, Alice. “Wild Swans”. The Beggar Maid. 1978. 214-221. Print.
Workman, Nancy. “Vulnerability in Margaret Atwood’s “Rape Fantasies”: A Game of Cards About Life”. SCL/ÉLC, vol. 25, n°2, 2000.
Created by Caroline Sénécal, Marc-André Turcotte, François-Mark Boisvert and Audrey Perreault
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