Cue the Law and Order sound (Dun Dun) – A Critical Reflection

The inspiration for creating a police investigation report on the unfortunate fate of the family in Flannery O’ Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” came from, you guessed it, the hit television series Law and Order. There was a plethora of options for a creative project; to choose one was a bit daunting at first. I finally settled with O’ Connor’s short story because it appealed to me both in the way it had a surprise ending and in the deep metaphorical ideas that were conveyed by the Misfit and the grandmother. It so happen that after I first finished reading this short story, I pondered on what I could do for a creative project; I turned on the television and there was Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. It was the match that sparked my creativity. I decided to create a police investigation report that would serve as an epilogue on what happened after the brutal murder of the family. I put in my little twist on how hikers found the deceased bodies and how the police responded and performed their work. I tried to imitate the investigative process of law enforcement agencies to the best of my ability, using templates and references from Law and Order to aid my process.

In my police investigation report, I used fictional names and locations to supplement the characters that did not have a full name. For some information such as age and clothing, I referenced the short story for some characters, such as the grandmother and Bailey and provided my own fictional information for characters that did not have a clear description. I kept the information that I made up for some of the characters realistic and consistent. As what some television shows show before their programming as a disclaimer, I too have to say that the names and locations are the products of my imagination; any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

To get the information that I needed to make this report more realistic and accurate, I had to do a close reading of this short story. The main action of the short story takes place in Georgia, outside the city limits of a town called Toombsboro. I did research online and I was amazed that there is a city in Georgia called Toomsboro, though it is spelled differently. It is interesting to note that this similarity between these two towns could have been intentional by O’Connor to maintain her story’s realism.


Symbolism and Perspectives on Writing Styles: A Comparative Analysis of “Hills Like White Elephants” and “Black Man and White Woman in a Dark Green Rowboat”

Some contemporary fiction utilizes the technique of narrative simplicity to explore subjects of cultural issues; notable writers include Ernest Hemingway and Russell Banks. They both provide the context for critical debate over their respective writing styles and their portrayal of thematic elements. Hemingway’s concise way of developing a plot through dialogue, as in “Hills Like White Elephants,” attracted many imitators, most notably Russell Banks. With insightful close reading, one can note significant similarities and differences between “Hills Like White Elephants” and “Black Man and White Woman in a Dark Green Rowboat.” The conflict between both couples in both short stories is the same: pregnancy and the repercussions of abortion. In “Hills Like White Elephants,” the American man pressures Jig to terminate her pregnancy, whereas in “Black Man and White Woman in a Dark Green Rowboat,” the white young girl has scheduled an appointment with her mother to get an abortion, without any consideration of the black man’s opinion. It is quite interesting to note how in both short stories the authors refer to the female characters as girls, not young women. Another similarity is that each short story is structured in a dialogue context – both start describing a setting, then the introduction of characters and conflict through dialogue. A difference between these two short stories is the setting: In “Hills Like White Elephants,” the setting is at a train station in Spain and in “Black Man and White Woman in a Dark Green Rowboat,” the setting is at a lake beside a trailer park. The setting embodies the turmoil and conflict between the couples in deciding the fate of their unborn child.

In “Hills Like White Elephants,” Hemingway structures the short story into a dialogue between two characters, the American and the girl, also known as Jig. Throughout the short story, the conflict between the couple is unstated and vague, but it can be inferred that the couple is discussing about abortion, even though it is not stated explicitly within their conversation. The American is trying to persuade Jig to go through with the abortion; he makes it seem as if it is not a daunting endeavor to accomplish, which reveals the man’s coldness and ignorance about what exactly an abortion entails both physically and emotionally to a woman:

“It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig,” the man said. “It’s not really an operation at all.”…. The girl did not say anything. “I’ll go with you and I’ll stay with you all the time. They just let the air in and then it’s all perfectly natural. (417)

The American even has the audacity to remark on how he knows a lot of people that have gone through the same procedure and that Jig should not worry about it because [as a man] “I won’t worry about that because it’s perfectly simple” (418). One might conclude that the American is ridiculing Jig and that he is manipulating her to do what he deems is appropriate and best for the both of them, “We’ll be fine afterward. Just like we were before” (417).

Jig is hesitant in going through with the abortion, as seen in the body language described by the author: “The girl looked at the ground the table legs rested on” (417). The girl ponders on the abortion indecisively, at one point yielding that she will have the abortion just to please the American. She is submissive to the whims of her partner, the American, suggesting an underlying symbol of machismo and male dominance over a relationship. It is also interesting in noting how Jig is referred as a girl, not as a young woman. This reinforces the idea of a misogynistic society, cultivating a sense of restraint in Jig.

Various symbols pervade Hemingway’s “Hills like White Elephants,” such as the setting and white elephants. “They [hills] were white in the sun and the country was brown and dry” (416). This quotation reflects the tumultuous state of Jig’s mind: debating whether to go through with the abortion or not. The white elephant symbol alludes to southeastern Asian culture, in which a king owned white elephants as a sign of wealth and good fortune because they were considered sacred animals. As tradition goes, when a king was displeased with one of his subjects, the king would bestow a white elephant upon him. Since white elephants required care and resources, this subject would go impoverished trying to maintain this animal. Consequently, the term “white elephant” has become as something that is of limited or dubious value, something that nobody wants, essentially, it is a burden. In the case of “Hills Like White Elephants,” the white elephant refers to Jig’s unborn baby.

Banks’ “Black Man and White Woman in a Dark Green Rowboat” mirrors Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” in both structure and conflict. Just like Hemingway, Banks uses dialogue in his short story to display a controlling, degrading interracial relationship, only Banks switches the concept, this time making the young girl the domineering and insensitive one: “Well. We’ve been through all of this before. A hundred times” (65). The conflict starts when the young girl complains about her body image: “I’m already putting on weight….It doesn’t work that way. You’re just eating too much” (64).  Just like Hemingway’s story, one can infer that the couple is discussing about her pregnancy, even though it is not stated explicitly within their conversation. The black man has no say in the discussion; he is just mindfully fishing while the young girl is talking about their relationship. The black man ultimately realizes that his opinion is not valued at all because he states that he wishes he could just leave her in the island. This act of abandonment, apparently out of desperation, seems to be the only option that he has from avoiding the abortion.

Hemingway once explained how he achieved an intense compression by comparing his method to the principle of the iceberg: “There are seventh-eighths of it [iceberg] under water for every part that shows. Anything you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens your iceberg” (415). In accordance with this iceberg theory of writing, Hemingway stripped everything but the essentials from his stories, leaving readers to sift through the remaining dialogue and bits of narrative on their own. In contrast, Russell Banks takes a different approach in style. His aim in writing, is that “readers can see the world or themselves or other human beings in the world a little differently, a little more clearly….with more compassion, with more understanding, more patience. I don’t stereotype them so easily” (qtd. in Charters 61).  These interpretations on writing styles illuminate the vast intricacies of literature.

Works Cited

Banks, Russell. “Black Man and White Woman in a Dark Green Rowboat.” The Story and Its Writer. Ed. Ann Charters. Compact 9th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2014. 61-67. Print.

Hemingway, Ernest. “Hills Like White Elephants.” The Story and Its Writer. Ed. Ann Charters. Compact 9th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2014. 415-19. Print.

A Halloween Treat….without the candy: A Summary of Stephen King’s “Strawberry Spring”

Since Halloween was looming, our ENG 231 class read Stephen King’s “Strawberry Spring.” The short story chronicles a man recounting the strange events of a “strawberry spring” eight years ago when he sees the morning newspaper. He remarks that the newspaper brought back memories at his time in New Sharon community college. The narrator recalls when a mysterious serial killer labeled as “Springheel Jack” murdered several students on a college campus but was never apprehended or identified. The narrator describes the panic and chaos the college campus goes through as students, staff, and others become paranoid and begin to trust no one. Back in the present, the narrator’s reminiscing ends when he cannot seem to remember the night he came back from work: “I remember starting home from work, and I remember putting my headlights on to search my way through the lovely creeping fog, but that’s all I remember” (6). With this realization, he believes that he was, and still is, Springheel Jack. Stephen King employs the use of a twist ending, which is an unexpected conclusion that causes the audience to reevaluate the narrative or characters. To a certain degree, I think the majority of the class realized the narrator was the serial killer because there were clues throughout the short story that pointed to him.

Strawberry Spring

King, Stephen. “Strawberry Spring.”, n.d. PDF file. 1 Nov. 2014.

Visiting Writers Series 2014-2015: An Evening with Joshua Bennett

I attended the September 25th Visiting Writers Series at Belk Centrum, which featured Joshua Bennett. I had the honor of introducing him during the presentation. Joshua Bennett is a performance poet from Yonkers, NY.  He has recited his original works at events and venues such as The Sundance Film Festival, The NAACP Image Awards, The Clinton Global Citizen Awards and President Obama’s Evening of Poetry and Music at the White House. His work has been published, or is forthcoming, in Drunken Boat, Muzzle, Poetry Northeast, Disability Studies Quarterly and Clarion. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Joshua graduated with the distinctions of Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude, after double majoring in English and Africana Studies. He is currently a third-year doctoral candidate in the English Department at Princeton
University, where he concentrates primarily in the fields of black studies, disability studies, and ecocriticism.

I thought the presentation from Joshua Bennett was really interesting. The way in which he recited his poems was breathtaking and powerful. One insightful remark that Joshua makes about his love poems are that they are intertwined with politics; love is a political act. Some of the poems that he recited are “Balaenoptera” and “Levi.”  I plan on attending more Visiting Writers Series events in the future.

Ecofeminism and Romanticism: An Analysis of Sarah Orne Jewett’s “A White Heron”

Sarah Orne Jewett’s “A White Heron” addresses many thematic elements throughout her short story, with ecofeminism (likening the subordination and oppression of women to the degradation of nature) and romanticism being the most paramount. The short story conceptualizes nature as a mystical sanctuary through Sylvia’s perspective, and the young ornithologist views nature with materialistic greed, believing nature holds an opportunity to reap treasures. Sylvia’s relationship with nature is very intimate, particularly with her avian counterparts, as noted by her grandmother when she talks about Sylvia’s adventures to the ornithologist:

….Squer’ls she’ll tame to come an’ feed right out o’ her hands, and all sorts o’ birds. Last winter she got the jaybirds to bangeing here, and I believe she’d ‘a’ scanted herself of her own meals to have plenty to throw out amongst ‘em, if “I hadn’t kep’ watch. (440)

A White Heron

As part of the ecofeminism perspective, females are viewed as protectors of nature, sharing a unique bond with the intricacy of Mother Nature, thus explaining why nature is depicted as feminine.

Evidently, the connection with nature is the relationship between Sylvia and the birds; birds mesmerize Sylvia, thus she wishes that “she too could go flying away among the clouds” (443). This suggests that she wants nature to accept her as some sort of a loyal servant: “Bring your gifts and graces and tell your secrets to this lonely country girl” (445). The hunter’s relationship with nature symbolizes society in the Industrial Revolution era because it puts human pleasures and indulgences before the natural world. One can see this through his determination in finding the white heron in order to complete his collection of birds that is supposed to show his passion for the animal (Atkinsons 1982). The same birds Sylvia interacts with are brought down with the stranger’s gun: “Sylvia would have liked him vastly better without his gun; she could not understand why he killed the very birds he seemed to like so much” (441). Both characters however, appreciate beauty. Their different approach to this appreciation can be said to be affected by either their difference in background or by their gender. In addition, they still bond over their similar admiration for the birds, although they have different means of expressing it. This parallel attraction to the marvels of nature seems to reveal a romantic side to Sylvia as she still watches “the young man with loving admiration; the woman’s heart, asleep in the child, was vaguely thrilled by a dream of love” (442).

Another intriguing scene in “A White Heron” is Sylvia’s ascension of the great old pine tree. One can argue that this scene is important because it demonstrates feministic qualities of Sylvia and it illuminates the motif of romanticism. As Sylvia begins her climb, starting with the oak tree adjacent to the great pine, it quickly becomes apparent that she is going beyond her previous experience with nature. One can note that nature seems to rebel against Sylvia’s intrusion and she seems to lack perfect harmony with nature’s creations. Instead of coming tamely to her hand, a disturbed bird flutters off its nest and a squirrel scolds the “harmless housebreaker” (443). However, though the transition from the oak to the pine causes limbs to scratch Sylvia “like angry talons,” the narrator notices that the old pine “must have loved his new dependent” since “the least twigs held themselves to advantage this light, weak creature” who nevertheless bears a “determined spark of human spirit” (443). When Sylvia reaches the top of the pine tree, the extravagant scenery that she witnesses amazes her; she sees the sea “with the dawning sun making a golden dazzle over it” (443). This completion of climbing the pine tree symbolizes Sylvia’s dominance over nature; she has an immense respect for the beauties and complexities of nature. The fact that she keeps the heron’s location to herself and does not tell the ornithologist and her grandmother about her adventures highlights her power over authority, particularly men. This exemplifies the idea of feminism.

“A White Heron” is a coming of age short story, otherwise known as a bildungsroman. The protagonist changes in a significant way as the result of an experience, or epiphany. The main character comes to understand something previously unknown about himself or herself or about life itself. In this short story, Sylvia’s experience with the white heron leads to an understanding of herself and her own values. This reflects upon nature and her interaction with it, which embodies Romantic ideals of nature and individualism.

Works Cited

Atkinsons, Michael. “The Necessary Extravagance of Sarah Orne Jewett: Voices of Authority in ‘A White Heron’.” Studies in Short Fiction 19.1 (1982): 71. Academic Search Complete. Web. 17 Sept. 2014.

Jewett, Sarah Orne. “A White Heron.” The Story and Its Writer. Compact 9th ed. Ed. Ann Charters. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s. 438-445 Print.

Visiting Writers Series: An Interview with A.S. Byatt

I attended my first Visiting Writers Series at Belk Centrum six days ago. The writer featured in this event was A.S. Byatt. A.S. Byatt is a novelist, short story writer, and poet. She is renowned internationally for all of her works. Her novels include the Booker Prize-winning Possession: A Romance, The Biographer’s Tale, The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower, and A Whistling Woman. Her most recent novel, The Children’s Book, was published in 2009. Her highly acclaimed collections of short stories include Sugar and Other Stories, The Matisse Stories, The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye, Elementals, and Little Black Book of Stories. Byatt is also a distinguished critic and the editor of The Oxford Book of the English Short Story. She was recognized for her talent and prominent status in 1990 and awarded a CBE [Commander of the British Empire]. In 1999, she was given damehood [DBE]. The Times newspaper recognized Byatt in 2008 as one of the greatest British writers since 1945.

I thought that the interview with Byatt was really interesting. She gave insightful details on some of her previous work and about her early career as a writer. However, when one of the audience members asked Byatt about her feelings and experiences on how two of her works were made into films, she happily described and answered the question with a lengthy discussion. She mentioned that of both films, she likes one better than the other one. She dislikes one of them due to the director’s lack of interpretation of her work. Ultimately, I really enjoyed the interview with A.S. Byatt. I plan to go to more Visiting Writers Series in the future.

The Art of Simplicity (In Accordance with Writing)

Different elements are required in order for one to create a brilliant manifesto worthy for the eyes of his fellow-men (okay, this may be rather exaggerated, but one always foolishly attempts this sort of pomposity in their writings). However, there are diverse perspectives on what particular elements are needed to produce good writing. Peculiarly, there is one component that most experts tend to agree on: the art of simplicity. Three experts in particular, William Zinsser, Stanley Fish, and William Strunk Jr. have distinct yet similar approaches in dealing with the concept of simplicity. The following excerpts are glimpses into each expert’s viewpoint of simplicity.

William Zinsser, “Simplicity”

“Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills, and meaningless jargon….But the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what–these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence” (85-86).

Stanley FishHow to Write a Sentence and How to Read One

“Just as you can practice writing three-word sentences or sentences that travel across time zones, so can you practice writing sentences that breathe unshakable conviction. Keep them short, employ parallel structures, use the present tense, limit yourself to relatively small words….Sentences that package wisdom confidently always feel planned rather than spontaneous. Shorter sentences feel planned because they have the proverbial air of being pre-packaged” (48).

William Strunk Jr., The Elements of Style

17. Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short, or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell” (23).

Zinsser’s advice in “Simplicity, Fish’s instruction on the subordinating style, and Strunk’s dogmatic rules on composition illustrates the various sides in the topic of simplicity. Zinsser explains that simplicity can enhance the ability to acknowledge certain word choice and lessen the habits of colloquialism. Fish advocates that shorter sentences transpire an aurora of power and that employing the active voice is the sure way for success in writing. On the other hand, Strunk’s robotic counsel dictates that the strategy “the less, the better” is helpful. Though it might not give detailed information, this rule should not be taken lightly. In conclusion, the guidance given by these three experts in the realm of writing should help students in their path in finding the suitable tactic of composing art, in the form of writing.

Fish, Stanley. How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One. 2011. New York: Harper. 2012. Print.

Strunk, William, and E. B. White. The Elements of Style. 4rd ed. Boston (USA): Allyn and Bacon. 1999. Print.

Zinsser, William. “Simplicity.” Essays on Writing. Ed. Lizbeth A. Bryant and Heather M. Clark. New York: Longman, 2009. Print.

Solving the Sentence Enigma (Or at least attempting to understand it)

Writing is, for most, laborious and slow. The mind travels faster than the pen; consequently, writing becomes a question of learning how to create a sentence that reflects upon a writer’s ability to interpret their ideas. Structure and logic are two elements in constructing sentences that one must be vigilant in order to maintain fluidity. Stanley Fish, author of How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One, may offer advice in how to analyze and write a sentence. He states that “If you can write a sentence in which actors, actions, and objects are related to one another in time, space, mood, desires, fears, causes, and efforts, and if your specification of those relationships is delineated with a precision that communicates itself to your intended reader, you can, by extrapolation and expansion, write anything: a paragraph, an argument, an essay, a treatise, a novel” (Fish 7-8).

After reading these words, some might say, “How in the world does one attain this knowledge?” Fish, in all his wisdom, provides some light of hope in comprehending sentences. The following quotations are excerpts from Fish’s book, How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One.

“Well, my bottom line can be summarized in two statements: (1) a sentence is an organization of items in the world; and (2) a sentence is a structure of logical relationships” (Fish 16).

“It may sound paradoxical, but verbal fluency is the product of hours spent writing about nothing, just as musical fluency is the product of hours spent repeating scales” (Fish 26).

Both of these quotations basically summarize the daunting task of writing sentences. In relationship to my ENG 131 class, we follow the advice of Fish when it comes to practicing “verbal fluency.” We do it in the form of a free-write exercise. The class has fifteen minutes to write nonstop on a topic that each interests him/her. If they cannot come up with another idea or sentence to write, they are to rewrite the previous sentence again until they come up with a new idea. This simple task may seem rather childish, but for me it helps a lot in just getting pen to paper. Now, one does not have to take Fish’s advice to heart. There are many ways to hone one’s technique in writing sentences, but How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One provides a foundation in which to build one’s perspective and method of writing a sentence.

Fish, Stanley. How to Write a Sentence: and How to Read One. 2011. New York: Harper, 2012. Print.