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~ 5 minute read

Feel free to interact below! I would love to hear someone else’s interpretation of Jackson’s work. Link, as always, to a free read of the story.

Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” is an enormously de-centering narrative commenting on the classic notions of keeping to tradition, and the inherent flaw of blind faith. The driving influence for her message being so effective is how she designed the people of the village as characters, and their flat, even prideful, responses to a violent tradition because it’s simply always been.

Old Man Warner survived seventy-seven years of the lottery, and it’s all he’s ever known, year after year. When Mr. Adams talks to him about giving up the lottery, Warner responds with “Listening to young folks, nothing’s good enough for them. Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting to live in caves, nobody work anymore.” Through Warner’s dialogue, Jackson delivers Warner’s thoughts, which have invaded the minds of most the townsfolk. He’s proud of his background and how he was raised, and not willing to listen to new sensibilities. The younger generation with new ideas is a cancer to him, trying to break the traditions he was raised upon. Warner further knocks down the notion of ending the lottery by telling him and the reader that “There’s always been a lottery” and that the young generation is “a pack of fools.” Warner speaks for the community as the voice of wisdom in that the lottery is a good thing that needs to be accomplished for the greater good. Jackson uses his character as a base of understanding for the community on what’s sensible. As a reader from an outside perspective though, we are able to view the foolishness of his character’s blind faith.

This sense of “civic duty” towards the tradition is also emanated quite strongly through Mr. Summers, as he carries out the tasks of the lottery, though no one seems to be pleased by it in anyway except possibly the children who don’t know any better. Even facing the terror in Tess Hutchinson’s eyes as she argues the fairness of the lottery in Bill’s losing draw, he remains coldly ignorant and dutiful to completing the task. Jackson creates a sense of militaristic repetition in him, having him focused on completing the task every year, though the business lacks any real logical standing. It was simply as he has been doing until he is told not to, but Jackson’s voice of “reason,” Old Man Warner, objects to throwing out the lottery vehemently. He performs his duty with a deadened nerve to the families he’s breaking apart. This character in Jackson’s story is representative of leadership following a code of laws or ethics which have been handed down to them to protect, yet are blind to the purpose and ignorant to the negative effects in play. The message is carried through his actions and demeanor.

The rest of the town is much like a congregation of followers, not particularly knowing why they’re following, or even what exactly, but they do so out of a sense of responsibility to keeping to tradition. Jackson uses these brief character interjections to show the reader their reserved questioning of the practices, but also how they trudge on as sheep to the feeding bell of tradition. Jackson has the characters frequently talking to each other as if they just made it, or were afraid another wasn’t coming, much like would happen in a church congregation if the regular members didn’t show for a religious holiday. The author designs their responses to show they know they need to be there or the community may shun them for not keeping to the annual lottery. Though their presence may not be mandatory, it is certainly expected.

Jackson has these people fall into line and greet each other with a false sense of cheer, having them pretend to want to be there. Jackson also keenly orchestrates their demeanor after the victim is selected. The village acts as if their purging a loose end, or sacrificing a part of them for a better year. Bill tears the paper out of her hand to reveal the spot to the crowd without a second thought, not even any amount of comfort for his wife. The children are pleased it isn’t them. The cold atmosphere of the characters Jackson designed send the message and let it linger with the reader. They are like real people, going about their yearly business without a second thought. Jackson uses all of her characters, and their uniformity based on traditions of long-since past, to associate reality with the readers, and show them the results over time of blind faith. The characters develop the plot and themes through their design and lead the reader to understanding the dark ending and its larger implications.
~5 Minute Read

Feel free to read this very short story ahead of time here! 2500/Readings for English 2500/Hills Like White Elephants.pdf

In his minimalistic story, “Hills Like White Elephants,” Hemingway produces a compelling image and story grounded in realism through almost purely dialogue. He masterfully creates tension and drives naturally speech patterns for a character pair reaching the end of their relationship. The dialogue never directly states any of the conflict between the couple but infers their problems through unreliable speech and an argument over control.

This first thing to extrapolate from the speech is that it is likely about an abortion that the man is attempting to convince the woman to have. Hemingway gives the reader hints to this power struggle throughout. The man states that “It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig,” clueing the reader in that he wants her to go through with an operation that she isn’t keen on doing. The woman also questions the man saying, “And if I do it you’ll be happy and things will be like they were and you’ll love me?” This implies that something happened between the two that’s causing concern for the man. The most likely thing would be that she was pregnant, and that he would like for her to have an abortion. The man spends the majority of the story trying different tactics in order to convince her, including heavily attempting reverse psychology. In fact, the reliability of what he says is often to be viewed as disingenuous.

Early in the story, Hemingway let’s the reader in on the man’s direction by showing the reader his ability to say whatever he thinks she wants to hear. After the girl asks him if her comment on the hills as bright, he agrees with her immediately just to keep her happy. But after she becomes pleased with herself and her comment, the man switches to talking about operation. Hemingway is clever in doing this because it is exactly like a man trying to convince a woman to get an abortion for a baby he doesn’t want. He tries to sneak it in after she feels a bit calmer with some alcohol and agreement. To Hemingway’s credit, this is an associable pattern of speech to the reader. The man is clearly pushing for the operation, as he says opposites such as “I wouldn’t have you do it if you didn’t want to. But I know it’s perfectly simple.” The woman understands this false direction behind his speech. She recognizes that the child is leverage she has on him, as he seems intent on leaving her after the operation. So, she plays along with his game in a manner of acting oblivious.

This is where the real power struggle comes in between the two, which is orchestrated entirely through a dialogue between the pair that plays out like a battle of wits behind words. A prime example of this parrying of blows starts off with the man saying that he “won’t worry because it’s perfectly simple,” implying that he is softening up the abortion process for the woman to make her feel more comfortable to get his way. Then she strikes back cleverly with the retort “Then I’ll do it. Because I don’t care about me.” Here the reader understand that she has the power because it is her body and choice. The woman knows how to push the man, so she puts the fear in him that she’s falling into a self-hatred cycle, which may cause her not to get the operation. His answer is expected and obvious: “Well, I care about you.” This allows her to play him right into the trap of “Oh yes, but I don’t care about me. And I’ll do it and then everything will be fine.” She’s shaming him in a way, since she knows what he’s up to. But they’re landlocked in the power-struggle. She wants him to love her and be with her, and he wants to leave. The unborn child is all that’s keeping them together, and they both know this. They play against each other in a verbal battle, but Hemingway cuts the reader out from hearing the actual outcome. For all the reader knows, it could have gone either way.

The beauty of this story is in its spoken complexity. Weight lies heavily behind the characters’ words and are filled with double meanings. Both are unreliable in literal speech, but fight viciously in a silent way in public. Hemingway masterfully conducts a dialogue for the reader that feels both completely natural and painfully articulate in laying out an unresolved conflict, almost purely through the way of spoken dialogue.
~5 minute read

As always, feel free to read the story at the link and let me know your own thoughts on it!

David Foster Wallace presents to the reader a clear picture of what’s going through a person’s mind in those tumultuous moments of introspection when they wait for a difficult reply from another in his short story “Good People.” Through an excellent use of descriptive prose, Wallace leads the reader to visualize the narrator’s internal struggle with his own motives and perceived direction, leading to a more composed understanding of what he really wants. The reader is let into the protagonist’s mind by Wallace at this point in the plot, despite never hearing the answer to the problem, or even the original question for that matter. The story gracefully slips in media res and turns back out precisely when the protagonist rounds in character and contemplates his own values more closely.

Wallace sets up his last few paragraphs where Sheri decides she wants to keep the unborn child, gambling on Lane being a good man to stay with her, by spending the earlier paragraphs describing the character’s positions. This works to give the reader a solid connection, and understand the difficulties in the issue of the pregnancy. In the description of their religious lives, Lane’s loosely held beliefs and Sheri’s perceived stronger version, also plays an important role in the introspection Lane experiences. He sees himself caught between the trouble about what he should do and what he wants to do. Wallace describes Lane’s failing faith by associable means, letting the reader know “he was starting to believe that he might not be serious in his faith. He might be somewhat of a hypocrite…he was desperate to be good people, to be able to feel he was good.” Through this description of Lane’s thoughts on his faith, Wallace digs in deep on the concept of blind fellowship and doing what the society around the character says he should believe. Lane is in this conflict of faith because he believed when it was convenient to, and now that something has come up where he would have to face a reality where he may be obligated to care for a child.

Wallace continues later with “he promised God he had learned his lesson. But, what if that, too, was a hollow promise, from a hypocrite who repented only after, who promised submission but really only wanted a reprieve?” This description of Lane’s internal faith questions is common, especially to those experiencing this trapped feeling of uncertainty in future and relationships. Wallace set up Lane’s character description as being well on his way in business degree work, and likely infers that this pregnancy feels like a weight he can’t handle. The question of abortion clearly occurred, and even appeared to be agreed upon only partly earlier, but up until the end where Sheri doesn’t want to do it, Lane argues internally why it needs to happen for him. He wants the abortion, or for the baby to simply be raised away from him for a break from what he perceives as a mistake, and to go back to his regular life. He even goes as far to convince himself that he doesn’t love Sheri, but by the end this turns around.

Wallace designs Lane’s character in a cowardly manner, as he tries most any way mentally to shut himself away from the pregnancy issue. Wallace describes his struggle as “two great and terrible armies within himself, opposed and facing each other, silent…seeing therein something so different and alien from themselves that they could not understand…opposed and uncomprehending.” This imagery of a battle is the simple metaphor for Lane of doing what is right, versus what is easiest. This imagined internal battle by design is meant to exemplify the change of heart that occurs within Lane by the end.

When he holds Sheri’s hands at the end of the story, he rounds in character, questioning his previous thought. Wallace writes “what if he was just afraid, if the truth was no more than this, and if what to pray for was not even love but simple courage.” Lane understands that what he needs to be is the good person Sheri gambles on him being. Simple courage. This introspection and realization on Lane’s part, created by Wallace for the reader, drives the purpose of the story. All this lack of faith and fear of the unknown was just childish notions and dreams passing, and that courage is what he needs to face the issue and solve it accordingly; not for himself or the society around him, but because he is the good person he wants to be. Wallace creates through description a sort of inner morality question and finds its resolution through identifying Lane’s problem all along: courage.

Works Cited

Oates, J. C., & Wallace, D. F. (2013). Good People. In The Oxford Book of American Short Stories (pp. 816–822). essay, Oxford University Press.
~ 4 minute read

Set in the not-so-distant future, Bradbury’s pot-apocalyptic short story “There Will Come Soft Rains” paints the reader a narrative of the fall of man through the life and death of a home in automation after the nuclear holocaust. The author cleverly infuses key details in his setting in order to develop his narrative plot and message through inference and imagery, setting the pacing to that of the clock times, in reference to the Doom’s Day clock, which stumble towards the inevitable destruction of life.

Throughout the beginning of the story, Bradbury paints the house as a living ecosystem, though it is full of automation. This hits the reader on a few different levels, and lets them in on not only the environment, but also kicks off the central metaphor. He uses the technique of a slow realization for the reader, implementing strange images over common items at first to make the reader understand that the environment is both futuristic and able to grasp, yet lightly off-putting. An example of this would be “Eight-one, tick-tock, eight-one o’clock, off to school, off to work, run, run, eight-one! But no doors slammed, no carpets took the soft tread of rubber heels.” Here the reader starts to understand that the house is operating alone. Bradbury cleverly uses the reverse of action, the emptiness to set the tone of the work. Soon after, the reader is let in on the ecosystem within, a mirror of the natural set through robotics. “Out of warrens in the wall, tiny robot mice darted. The rooms were acrawl with small cleaning animals, all rubber and metal.” The creatures are keeping the house in order and maintaining the natural rhythm of life in their ecosystem. This builds on the living metaphor of the house, but also clues the reader into what kind of future technology is present. Bradbury views the progress of man as reliant on the strict scheduling and assistant direction of machines they created. The contrast lies in that the house is devoid of real life, yet teeming in that which had been created.

Inference and realization are critical to understanding the post-apocalyptic world that Bradbury creates. Gradually, the reader comes to understand not only that the house is empty and alone, as the previous quotes assisted with, but that the humanity is indeed exterminated. Bradbury writes “At night the ruined city gave off a radioactive glow which could be seen for miles.” The reader comes to realize that the world underwent a nuclear holocaust, and that the environment within this home is all that is left standing. Everything living seems to be dead or dying. When the dog enters the scene, Bradbury describes it as “once huge and fleshy, but now gone to bone and covered with sores.” This implies that there is little left alive for the dog for food, and that it is undergoing the extreme effects of radiation sickness. When it dies, the robotic mice clean it up quickly, and the last of life disappears from the story. This theme of dispersing death, and disappearing from existence is prominent throughout the story, stemming from the setting. Early on we see it applied to first the humans, but then all life through the dog. The latter half of the story removes that of the automatic house and its ecosystem of robots, completing the image full-circle in death.

Bradbury turns his setting against itself to drive home the theme of death in the story by the second half. The fire in the home, and the devolving cries of the various robots within the ecosystem as they collapse, affirm the destruction of life in totality from the nuclear war. The author creates action by destroying the setting without ever attaching the reader to a singular character. The setting is the character, and wall the “living” components of the structure make it come alive to the reader, so when it is destroyed, the reader feels for the setting itself. The death of the home is the end of life on the planet. The house is subjected to personification to enhance this effect. The last line cries out in finality the date in which life finally ceased to exist “Today is August 5th, 2026,” and the reader know that it was man’s squabbles the led to the death of life on the planet, complete eradication by that date.

The author’s story finds its power through the setting alone, without the use of characters at all. The house is personified, and though humanity is since gone, it carries a life of its own. But through a simple error, the entire microcosm burns in an instant, much like that of humanity. Bradbury’s setting is the story, and it drives the narrative and provides action in it’s own progression through the doomed clock of a single day.

You can read the story online from this link: Will Come Soft Rains by Ray Bradbury.pdf

Let me know your thoughts and analysis of it as well!

Works Cited

Oates, Joyce Carol, and Ray Bradbury. “There Will Come Soft Rains.” The Oxford Book of American Short Stories, Oxford University Press, 2013, pp. 476–481.
Lorine Niedecker’s work finds itself interspersed within the second wave of the feminist movement in America. This movement is characterized by its generalized focus on family and home inequalities, as well as inequalities in the workplace. Niedecker’s poetry clearly displays these same sorts of themes, lending her poetry to the long list of writers talking about the polarizing subject of the day.

As an example of this second wave feminism in her work, the poem “Wilderness” can be looked at as a prime example of her personal fear due to domestic inequalities in her life. She writes:

You are the man
You are my other country
and I find it hard going

You are the prickly pear
You are the sudden violent storm

the torrent to raise the river
to float the wounded doe

In this poem, the fear of being regarded and treated as the weaker sex in the relationship is apparent. The first stanza creates a gulf of distance between the two sexes. She states in line one, in the accusatory fourth wall breaking manner, that her subject is the male reader. Niedecker proceeds first to describe the man as another country, separate from her. This would suggest a reference to the traditional gender spheres and how they are expected to be separate. In line three, she finds it hard going to breach these boundaries and associate with the man. These boundaries cause difficulty for her social movement.

In the second stanza, Niedecker discusses the issue of domestic violence involving males against women. The metaphor of the prickly pear for the man suggests that getting near to them will always be matched with pain. The man, the accused reader in this case, is prone to getting angry easily at the woman, which devolves disagreements into “sudden violent storms” (Niedecker line 5). This establishes that Niedecker’s speaker is living in fear of possibly disturbing the man, even in her own home or with her own family.

The final stanza is a continuation of the second in the torrent of violence but focuses on the helpless nature of the woman. The speaker metamorphizes herself as the wounded doe in the river. The man is still the storm, growing in violence with problems that take shape as dangerous river that drowns the wounded doe. The doe can’t swim because it’s wounded, so it must suffer the consequence of man in the river and succumb to the violent torrent of his place.

By establishing itself as a poem during the 1970’s that depicts that distinct lack of power women had in the relationship, and the fear in which they lived, Niedecker’s poem is able to transcend second wave feminism and be utilized by the more recent fourth wave. The fourth wave feminist movement focuses most on the empowerment of women. This poem acts as an example of the powerlessness that women can experience in a male-dominated and psychologically or physically abusive relationship. The poem speaker situation presents a valid representation of the fear women could possibly endure, which society should rise above from. The accusatory nature of breaking the fourth wall also gives the poem an active element, engaging the male reader as the problem and forcing them to look at their own relationships and how they treat their partners.

Though Niedecker wrote this poem during the second wave feminist movement, it resonates well today as a forward moving statement and element of fourth wave feminist interests.

Works Cited

Niedecker, Lorine. “Wilderness.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation,
~ 25 minute read

I was embarking on a little journey into literary criticism last month and I figured I ought to try my hand out at applying a couple of them side-by-side to compare differences in theory. In this exercise, I utilized Angela Carter's graphic reinterpretation of the Little Red Riding Hood story, entitled "The Company of Wolves." It's a fantastic story out of a thematically intense collection, and well worth the stop by to read. You can find it here: The Company of Wolves . I suggest reading the story before taking on this article. It's only about a fifteen minute read.

Without further ado...

Comparing New Criticism and Feminism Through Angela Carter’s “The Company of Wolves”

Angela Carter’s short story “The Company of Wolves,” found in the collection The Bloody Chamber, is a thematically dense Gothic fantasy tale of a metaphorically innocent and fragile young girl taking a trip to her grandmother’s house amidst a hungry forest of wolves and werewolves. Rife with symbology and oppositional metamorphoses, this story allows for multiple theoretical interpretations of its text. This essay will first address the symbolic New Criticism approach which finds organic unity in the binary clash between civilization and the wild, then it will utilize many of the same symbols with new interpretations under the Feminist criticism to support the female triumph over the voracious patriarchal system found in the story.

“The Company of Wolves” a tale of layered metamorphoses culminating in a union between fearful civilization and the bestial tension of the wild. The symbology in the color red, clothing, and traditional values is shed in the binary opposition of the werewolf’s metamorphosis against the coming-of-age metamorphosis of the young woman. The story finds its thematic unity in the shedding of civilized tradition and the bestial union between wolf and its supposed prey, signifying the cathartic nature of permitting the animalistic release of the character’s sexual desires.

At the core of the story lies its thematic dependence on the metamorphosis. Carter begins with the werewolf’s metamorphosis in evil and violence. She writes stories of civilization’s fear of the wolves by describing them as “carnivore incarnate” (Carter line 3), the embodiment of a perfect predator, and by stating “the wolf is worst because it cannot listen to reason” (Carter lines 41-42). Unlike all the other menaces of the uncivilized world, the wolf will devour your body without pause as it has no interest in pity or regard; it is purely a wild creature of natural cruelty. The first story of transformation is that of the hunter’s prey. After the hunter tracks down a particularly menacing wolf and traps it, he cuts off its head and paws only for it to turn back into “the bloody trunk of a man, headless, footless, dying, dead” (Carter lines 90-91). This establishes the transformation of the fear inducing beast into that of the weakness of humankind when it is conquered by other men, giving the hunter the wolfish nature of the predator instead of the actual beast. Carter proceeds then to the tale of the newlywed husband and wife. Her description of the first husband on return from being lost for years to the wolves suggests misery in bestial form, that the wildness of the wolf wasn’t a willful transformation but instead that forced curse on his person. He is described as “in rags and his hair hung down his back and never saw a comb, alive with lice” (Carter lines 141-142). The matted, lice-ridden hair suggest constant misery, a misery that will be seen with the final werewolf in the tale as the fake hunter. He comes making demands of his wife who left him thinking he was dead only to find that civilization moved on without him while he took his animal form. When he is hacked up by the second husband in familial defense, once again the reader sees the wolf’s body transform to that of a man. Carter’s series of indicatively suspect ideas on how the werewolf comes to be tells the reader of civilization’s misunderstanding of what makes a wolf and what makes a man.

Carter writes “Seven years is a werewolf’s natural span but if you burn his human clothing you condemn him to wolfishness for the rest of his life, so old wives hereabouts think it some protection to throw a hat or an apron at the werewolf, as if clothes made the man…Before he can become a wolf, the lycanthrope strips stark naked” (Carter lines 166-171, 175-176). In this quote the reader meets one of the most important symbols in the story: clothing. Clothing as an image represents the civilization’s covering over their bodies. This covers their natural form from others being able to observe their desires and impulses, hiding their metamorphosis into adulthood. The werewolf must strip naked and cast-off civilization because it is a beast of the purely emblematic wild. To see such an event would be death for the observer, as the violent and sexualized distortion of the human body into that of their bestial desire would be too much for the civilized human to endure. This is seen in the overtly sexualized imagery when the hunter werewolf consumes the grandmother with the emphasis on the size of the naked hunter’s genitals. The lack of clothes is a metaphor for the abandoning of society. However, its curse lies in its untamed nature. With the casting off of the society, the werewolf welcomes the insatiable desire for violence, sometimes metaphorically in conjunction with that of a desire for sex. Their nakedness which reveals their animalistic form therefore is a punishment of embodied desire unfulfilled. Carter here also presents her first thematic challenge to the reader when she states, “as if clothes made the man” (Carter line 171). As is seen by the hunter hacking the werewolf apart to reveal a man, or the second husband chopping the first in wolf form until it turns to the wedding night image, the wolf appears to have always been apart of the man under the guise of civilized clothing.

After the stark introduction on the conflicted transformation of the man and the wolf, the reader is met with the metamorphosis of the girl to womanhood. Carter writes of her description as “her the red shawl that, today, has the ominous if brilliant look of blood on snow; her breasts have just begun to swell; her hair is like lint, so fair it hardly makes a shadow on her pale forehead; her cheeks are an emblematic scarlet and white and she has just started her woman’s bleeding” (Carter lines 206-212). Red is the symbol of coming-of-age in Carter’s tale. It contrasts the purity of cleanly white and lightly flaxen colors, which are a metaphor for virginity and innocence. Since she is untouched by man and sheltered by her family from the wild nature of the cruel environment, she is purity embodied visually. Her sheltering has prevented her true fear of the world and her sexuality though because she hasn’t been exposed to it and has no regard for what society says she is supposed to be afraid of. The red on her shoulders is symbolic of her womanhood transition, just as the reshaping of her body from adolescence. Here too, Carter sexualizes the human form, but in the context of a woman. She talks of the swelling of breasts just as she had mentioned the genitalia of the werewolf, providing a gendered opposition between the perfect form of the civilized woman against the wild and haggard form of a ravenous beast man. Yet she is clothed and wears her symbolic transition upon her shawl like a signal in opposition to the purity of the white environment she enters.

In meeting on the road, the girl and the hunter trade false perceptions and deceive one another in attempts to fulfill the final requirements of their metamorphosis. The girl “is an unbroken egg; she is a sealed vessel; she has inside her a magic space the entrance to which is shut tight with a plug of membrane; she is a closed system” (Carter lines 215-219) and therefore is desirous to break free of the sexual innocence of her youth. When she meets the hunter, she finds herself attracted sexually to him, allowing his challenge for a kiss if he arrives at her grandmother’s before she does. “She wanted to dawdle on her way to make sure the handsome gentleman would win his wager” (Carter lines 297-299) allowing her a step closer to fulfilling her transition to womanhood.

The hunter, conversely, takes a cruel pleasure in his game of the hunt. He seeks a double meal of devouring the girl and her grandmother to fulfill his violent desires. In his sly tricks and impersonations, he seeks to fulfill his own metamorphosis of desire fulfillment to appease the wolfish hunger of his person and become comfortable in his true wolf skin. He is the predator and the weakness of the old woman, as well as the innocence of the girl, are his prey. His guise is of a civilized...
(~6 minute read)

In his third and most important definition, Edward Said defines Orientalism by stating that "(it) can be discussed and a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient." (Said). He goes on to prove through the rest of his book, Orientalism, how Western cultures, especially French and English, have been consistently trying to dominate Asian nations culturally through this perspective bias. David Henry Hwang's play M. Butterfly challenges the Orientalism bias by reversing this cultural conjecture of the Asian woman being subdued and manipulated by the Western man, displacing the genders of both Gallimard and Song to have the Westerner manipulated instead.

After Song performs “Butterfly” at the opera house during their first meeting, Hwang sets the course for revealing this Western bias of Orientalism. Gallimard professes his adoration for Song’s performance and the story of the piece, which Song rejects by stating “it’s one of your favorite fantasies, isn’t it? The submissive Oriental woman and the cruel white man” (Hwang). Said’s definition of Orientalism fits here because in the song “Butterfly” the submissive party is both Asian and a woman, giving gender to the culture, and Pinkerton is a cruel Westerner, taking the role of the dominant male. Song rejects that message and sentiment, hating the story and attributing it to a fantasy that the Western world developed over the Far East. Gallimard then affirms that the bias exists by speaking directly to the audience saying “so much for protecting her in my big Western arms” (Hwang). The Chinese woman does not want to be protected by the French man and thereby breaks the expectation that he and his culture had of her to position herself in the submissive state. This rejection is of Song as a man of Asian descent, before he plays the part of the submissive woman specifically manipulating Gallimard and the Western perspective.

As the play progresses, Song further establishes this acting role of the submissive, and sometimes abandoned, mistress for Gallimard, but the viewer is let in on the secret that Gallimard is the one being manipulated. He is led to believe that he is the one in control of the relationship, but Song is just using him for years on end to feed the Chinese government classified information. Song plays the Orientalist mindset of Gallimard in Song’s favor, allowing the author to expose the blindness brought on by the bias. In a conversation between Ms. Chin and Song, Song states that “All he wants is for her to submit. Once a woman submits, a man is always ready to become ‘generous’” (Hwang). Song is describing not only the relationship between Gallimard and themself, but also that of the gendered regions. By using genders, the viewer can understand the relationship of the West with the East by looking at the bias through analogy. Song understands this bias through the scope of Orientalism. By playing within the bounds of this Western bias, Song can control Gallimard into loving them and eventually passing classified documents willing to them.

The critical description of Orientalism as it applies to the relationship comes during the trial of Gallimard where Song states “The West believes the East, deep down, wants to be dominated – because a woman can’t think for herself” (Hwang). This comes in the description of why Song was able to convince Gallimard that he was a woman. Song was able to play his Western domination fantasy in a physical representation of the gendered struggle between nations. He continues “he finally met his fantasy woman, he wanted more than anything to believe that she was…a woman. And being Oriental, I could never be completely a man” (Hwang). The judge Toulon, not being able to understand how that applies, affirms that Toulon’s Western male heritage still sees the Asian man in the Oriental sense as a female to be controlled. Song directly lays out that imperialistic tendencies in perspective towards the Asian nations and shows why they are easily manipulated. By assuming the perfect form of the gender-biased Western perspective, Song took on the role of the fantasy Gallimard was looking for and was able to use this to his advantage, even though he was a man. Earlier on, Song states that “only a man knows how a woman is supposed to act” (Hwang), indicating that because Song is secretly a man he understands completely the Western male perspective and is able to manipulate it to his needs.

The reversal reaches its conclusion in the revelation that Song is indeed a man to Gallimard, though he likely already knew. Song reveals his manipulation in a triumphant stance, bearing himself naked in front of Gallimard, but Gallimard laughs instead of looking at this in horror. Gallimard tells Song “Get out of here! Tonight, I’ve finally learned to tell fantasy from reality. And, knowing the difference, I choose fantasy!” (Hwang). Since Gallimard is the embodiment of the Oriental perspective, he chooses to live within the bounds of his Orientalist view, refusing to see Song as the man he is and instead believe in the fantastical act. Gallimard shows the intentional cultural blindness of the West to the East in order to maintain the idea that the people of the West, primarily men, are somehow dominant to the people of the East. He struggles to maintain this view even in the face of defeat. Song is metaphorically standing up against the Orientalism by showing the Asian culture as male, defeating the bias held by some European nations so consistently. Gallimard’s refusal to acknowledge this shows how the Western culture is not able to cut its deeply set bias even in the face of its error, opting for the illusion of their dominance.

The suicide of Gallimard in the end is significant because it defines to what end Orientalism has met. With Gallimard defined as the Orientalist, the reversal of gender upon himself and the necessity of his death is defined. The perspective is flawed in practice and led to the manipulation of Gallimard. When describing his spy actions and deception of Gallimard, Song tells Toulon “That’s why you’ll lose in all your dealings with the East” (Hwang). Song and the Eastern cultures can play this racial perspective to their advantage. The East understood far before the West that Oriental bias made the fantasy obvious and the control simplistic. By Song playing his part, they were able to subvert the West who believed to be in dominion over them and come out victorious. Gallimard therefore must commit suicide as Butterfly did in the song and complete the reversal of the one who was dominated. His death is the death of Orientalism, as the world becomes increasingly aware of the foolish and blind manner the Western sphere defined the East. Through Hwang’s play, gender and racial differences are leveled and Orientalism is broken.

Works Cited

1). Hwang, D. H. (1989). M. Butterfly. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

2). Said, E. W. (2004). Orientalism. New York, NY: Vintage Books.
(~10 Minute Read)

In the conservative nature of horror film and literature, audiences have come to know and expect certain tropes to appear consistently to fulfill their pleasure in those entertainment mediums. This is most especially true in the sub-genre of the slasher. The ‘Final Girl’ is a trope viewers and readers have become accustomed with since its original inception in the nineteen sixties with Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Ever since, it has become pervasive to the genre in works like Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Liebesman) and Halloween (Carpenter). But the trope has evolved due to its flexibility and reflexive nature from that inception to the present.

In contemporary literature, Riley Sager’s slasher novel Final Girls presents the reader with a main character that is presumed to be a ‘Final Girl’ at the very beginning, starting the story after the massacre of Pine Cottage had already occurred. The author reverses the structure of the standard plot right away, throwing the reader’s expectation of the trope off-balance. This initial reversal becomes an ongoing process throughout the book. Sager uses the reader’s bias towards the ‘Final Girl’ trope to undermine their expectations of the character and mask the familiar slasher plot while commenting on the trope itself.

In nineteen eighty-seven, Carol Clover, in her landmark essay “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film,” defined the ‘Final Girl.’ She told the reader that “the Final Girl is, on reflection, a congenial double for the adolescent male. She is feminine enough to act out in a gratifying way, a way unapproved for adult males, the terrors and masochistic pleasures of the underlying fantasy, but not so feminine as to disturb the structures of male competence and sexuality” (Clover, 211). From the inception of her contemporary presence in the novel Final Girls, Sager’s main character Quincy is presented in quite the opposite fashion. She is shown as a rich, Upper West Side New York native who has an affinity for baking and blogging while her boyfriend she’s intent on marrying is out being a defense attorney. This isn’t the typical description of a ‘Final Girl’ type character according to Clover because it doesn’t fit the mold of the adolescent male stand-in. She is instead presented as still struggling with the events. Clover states that a ‘Final Girl’ is supposed to present “smartness, gravity, competence in mechanical and other practical matters” (Clover, 204), but instead Quincy projects the lack of ability to do much of anything, even struggling at the more feminine tasks she sets out to do on her own and perpetuating a Xanax addiction that worsens as the novel progresses. Though Quincy’s narration describes herself as being one of these character tropes, she acts the opposite. Her presence and demeanor are very feminine from the onset and take the role of a victim rather than a survivor, the survivor being the more male identifiable character according to Clover.

Another important rejection of the trope defined by Clover is that of sexual abstinence. The ‘Final Girls’ in most of these older slasher movies are the ones who don’t have sex, while those “who seek or engage in unauthorized sex amounts to a generic imperative of the slasher film” (Clover, 200) are the ones who are almost always killed. Quincy has sex often in Sager’s story, and most of the time it is unfulfilling for her. She narrates her desires to be with more rough men of her college days than the man she is currently with. She even has sex outside of her relationship, which in the spirit of slasher films, designates her as a girl who the reader expects to die. This extra-relationship sexual act is also later identified to be with the actual killer of Pine Cottage, rejecting Clover’s argument for the description of a ‘Final Girl’ and what it means to the story because it firmly plants Quincy in the feminine gender. Therefore, the male audience can’t directly identify with Quincy as a stand-in for the male perspective because they now view her in a sexually penetrative way.

This old description of the ‘Final Girl’ that appeared consistently during the seventies and eighties and shaped viewer biases of the trope just doesn’t fit Sager’s character in Quincy. Instead, Final Girls takes on more of a relation to the slashers of the late nineties like Scream (Craven). Alexandra West, in her article on late ninety’s slashers, tells the reader that these “slashers would expand the very characters that 80s horror took for granted. By tying the site of horror directly to the would-be victims, the ‘90s slasher would create a template in which the freedom, survival and desire of the 'Final Girl' (as well as her friends) was dependent on subduing the killer” (West). Sager’s story is much less interested in exemplifying the dangers pressed on the ‘Final Girl’ in physical conflict than it is in placing the reader along with her as the center of attention in character. His novel is less atmospheric, as would be seen in films such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The story instead finding its home in the character-driven first-person perspective of Quincy, the supposed ‘Final Girl.’

Sager’s novel is fully aware of the trope it’s following, even electing to take on the trope designation as the title. This is consistent with West’s description of the ninety’s slasher in that “these films would not just work by being scary, they had to acknowledge audience expectations” (West). Like Scream, Final Girls acknowledges its own trope from the start, describing it to the reader as if it were a notable title character. From that point, Sager’s audience feels that they know the character and what to expect from her, though the story is developing after the event. As Sager unwinds this comfort in knowledge by rejecting the Clover description of the ‘Final Girl’ as was described earlier, the knowledgeable reader in the genre would become suspicious as she doesn’t fit the mold.

The main reason Quincy can’t embrace this status yet is because the process is actually incomplete, but this is unknown to the reader for the majority of the novel. Quincy isn’t a ‘Final Girl’ because the killer hasn’t actually been put down and she subconsciously knows this. Instead, she was saved by him, which is yet another feminine trait given by Clover. The suspicion then falls on Quincy in being the actual murderer, since it is still unknown to the reader that her secret is that she isn’t a ‘Final Girl.’ She refuses to acknowledge or remember anything that happened other than the initial screams and being ‘rescued.’ This confusion in what the character actually is is presented by Sager through Clover’s idea that there is a “’certain link’ that puts killer and Final Girl on terms…(that) is more than ‘sexual repression.’ It is also shared masculinity…and also a shared femininity” (Clover, 210). The reader distrusts Quincy’s nature because she doesn’t fit the biased expectation for the trope, leading them to believe the opposite. Sager plays into this directly in multiple scenes by never directly stating she isn’t the killer.

He drives the misdirection by scenes such as the interview with the police investigators a week after the Pine Cottage massacre. Here, Quincy acts completely out of character for a ‘Final Girl,’ saying that she fails to remember the crime through the constant pressuring of Detective Cole. Cole states he doesn’t believe her, continuing “not one bit. But we’re going to find out the truth eventually” (Sager, 317-318) and takes on the role of the reader in their distrust of her character. The detective acts like a guide for the reader to continue their mistrust of Quincy. At this point, Quincy takes on a very gender mute role, neither acting the feminine part completely, as she shows a strange strength in independence and control, nor taking the role a male as she maintains her story of failed memory and being saved. When she hugs Coop in distress at the close of the interview, this solidifies their non-binding gender as one in the same. Sager uses this to drive the reader into believing a more sinister plot from Quincy, setting up the potential murderer further as he gives proper motive for her. Then when the reader believes they’re about to see Quincy become the murderer, she drops the knife.

When the knife drops, the mask Sager creates for the plot that she is the killer drops and her ‘Final Girl’ status resumes questionably, which leads the reader on a road to discover she was never a ‘Final Girl’ to begin with. This was heavily implied earlier with a sense of misdirection because of the assumed killer status. Quincy idolizes some of Tina’s (believed to be Sam at time) independence as a ‘Final Girl.’ In thinking about Tina’s tattoo of ‘Survivor’ inked on her wrist, Quincy writes this same identifier in marker on her wrist. It washes off in the...
(~8 Minute Read)

Writers, whether for scripts or other fiction, make a lot of mistakes with depicting military members. Sometimes to the point that it gets so obnoxiously cliché or romanticized that it is hard to watch or read. We’ve all seen the Army private going through the ‘coming-of-age’ to callousness in killing. Or some Tom Cruise flyboy doing whatever the Hell he wants in a jet with only a slap on the wrist and some wildly plot armored circumstance to make his actions necessary. They are laughable at best, cringe inducing at worst. They are about as tired as is tolerable and it is time to look at remodeling the stock of these characters.

You know you have a real problem when Wikipedia has a stock list of these characters.

This list has been robbed from so heavily that it has become pervasive in public thought over the military members themselves. One would think that to be an enormous problem. I think it poses quite a bit of opportunity.

Everyone knows battles in war movies and novels. Warzones and firefights are mechanical in writing. The reader realizes the strain and tension of their beloved MC pinned by some bunker to a fate unknown. But they can also see you still have 200 pages left in your book, so the character probably will be just fine. That’s tension lost, and at that point you’re just going through the motions that will likely resolve in a few friendly deaths for drama and the struggle main character dealing with the pain. Yeah, yeah…been there, done that. How about we try something a lot different.

Let’s write a story that’s main focus isn’t guns blazing with R. Lee Ermey articulating obscenities in the background. Let’s look at building the military member as a dynamic character. The opportunity we can find is in depicting them as the odd sub-culture that they really are. So, here is a list of what to look for when creating these characters to prevent you from feeding the Hollywood cliché machine.

1). Military Culture is its Own Animal.

First, let’s kill something that has been rolling around for a while from article writers that just doesn’t sit well with me: military members are just people. Sorry friends, they really really aren’t. They come in as regular people, likely a bit on the patriotic side. But when they get through the grind of basic or bootcamp and enter the world of the larger military, they are forever changed. Not into a machine, but into something a bit outside the mainstream.

What most people miss is that the American military is a conglomeration of cultures formed into an amorphous mass that the government tries the form fit into their own box but fails.

Complicated? You're right.

Think of it in a simpler way. How about you take a couple of military members that have been in for a while, we’ll say an always-in-boots Texan, a New Yorker who says “Facts B” and “Dead-ass” every five minutes, and a former gang member from LA trying to recant through religion. Next, we’ll have those three training a boot from Minnesota who spent his weekends boating and fishing competitively. They’ll mold that guy over time into a boot wearing, “dead-ass” speaking, church on Sunday attending punk who still boats and fishes any weekend he gets the chance. Stick all these cultures in a room every day for long hours on end, they’ll meld.

Now, I’m sure you’re saying boot camp is supposed to break that down and build them up with specific values. You’re right, it is supposed to. In some respects, it is successful. It will instill a fear of authoritarian retribution, a toughness in spirit that let’s them work through immense physical stress, and a commitment to each other. But it doesn’t turn them into the order following machine, and it does quite a number on their mental health. We’ll get to the comedy of that, because it is at the heart of military sub-culture.

When you’re attempting to develop such a character, base the character’s actions on where they came from first and foremost. What that means is that they had goals and lives before the military that led up to that point. And as far as I’ve seen, those goals were rarely just to get signed up for the military first. Maybe it is different on the officer side, but from an enlisted perspective they usually ended up there from other parts of their lives not working out. In fiction, these goals don’t need to be directly said and set in the writing, but they can be the groundwork behind the character’s decision-making processes.

To effectively start writing a military character, set their background in the non-military environment. Sure, some do want to join with all their heart, but write to yourself why that is. What makes them so adamant about subjecting themselves to that sort of hardship for so long? And keep in mind, most kids who spend all primary and secondary school in junior military programs get to bootcamp and drop out. It never is what they expected it to be.

When you’ve got who they are before the military set, think of who they encountered daily after they’ve been in. This determines a good portion of what their military personality will be.

2). Their Comedy is Incredibly Dark, with Good Reason.

No. The reason is not the threat of death. At least not in peace time. It’s the understanding of the constant misery that comes with the job and knowing how much longer they have left to endure it. Four or five years for an initial contract is actually a pretty long time. They make it through boot camp and the absolute irritation of those places and find they still have most of that time left.

Think of that. One to three months of absolute misery and irritation in initial training, then coming out to a greater military service to find that everyone finds them utterly worthless. If you’re looking for self-esteem growth, you won’t find it there.

So, they drink oftentimes, and make a whole lot of bad decisions. Then they drink some more. Those bad decisions make for their best comedy. Narcissism and masochism are staples in military humor.

Take for example a hungover boot who forgets his tools out on the flight line for the third time that week. Queue an ass chewing from higher, which always brings joy to everyone else. Then comes a laundry list of painful tasks for said boot to slave over to the point of crying and failure throughout the day. Everyone will likely watch, setting out lawn furniture in Okinawa to see the poor bastard soaked sweat running from jet to jet, stumbling across the airfield in delirium. They’ll remember their own moments of this pain and love it.

Then they’ll all get together that night and drink it away as a family, joking and telling stories of their own moments.

Self-deprecation becomes the standard as they endure the struggle. That struggle they come to love. It’s a downward spiral of drinking and smoking into oblivion day-to-day, only living for the chance to persevere over the pain next day. They know most the tasks they’re doing are just training exercises that don’t matter. Doing all these incredible feats of endurance and long hours, sometimes seven days a week, for something that likely will be meaningless.

It leads to recklessness on unheard of levels.

In your writing, this means a number of things for the character’s development. They are very likely to be a bit offensive in their language unless they have good reason not to be. The sarcasm in humor is damn near constant, to the point that people can speak entirely in sarcastic comments like “Best day of my life!” and have everyone know immediately that they mean the opposite. The dialogue is mostly joking, hiding a lot behind the words they say. Depending on first person or third perspective, the pain of the characters is often hidden, fissuring at critical times but sutured easily through this sort of dark humor.

Spend less time with the buddy-buddy aspects of the military speech and more with the violent and crass in-fighting and joking. It’s a difficult thing to understand, I know, but the military tends to work in opposites regarding emotional response. A great reference for understanding this is the series Generation Kill. It is set during war time, but it displays military humor very close to how it is.

3). Military members all have specific jobs.

On to something a bit more particular. And also done wrong so so so often. Every military member has a specific job they were essentially ‘hired’ for.

They are coded and a part of their career the entire enlistment. An AC-130 turbo-prop engine mechanic is only an AC-130 engine mechanic. A pilot of an F-18 is a pilot of only an F-18. You get the picture, I’m sure. Unless your character is in the Marine Corps, which gets a minor amount of infantry training before setting out on their real job, they are basically hired to do only that job. It’s like working for any company in...
Today, I want to talk about the first chapter. If it's been giving you trouble, you're in good company. Almost every writer moans about it at some point.

The common advise is to not sweat blood over the first chapter until you've written the bulk part of the novel. Don't spend ages on it before your plot has even kicked off, honing the words on the first page until a year's gone and you're still writing this first chapter that should be magnificent... and all the rest of your novel hasn't been written.

I'm not that hardcore and I think a writer needs dreams and a vision. Your first chapter should be something for you to read when you feel down on luck, when you doubt your ability and stamina, when everything goes wrong at the same time and you think you might never finish this story that you've sweated so long over. It should give you hope and determination to finish your story... never mind how inapt you might feel. You've a vision, right here in this chapter—so go out and write the rest.

Make a Scene by Jordan E. Rosenfeld (2008, Writer's Digest Books) has the following advise on how to craft the first chapter:
  1. Hatch your plot in the form of your significant situation
  2. Introduce your protagonist and provide a brief glance into his inner and outer struggles
  3. Establish a distinct, rich setting and subtly evoke the senses without being overbearing.
  4. Set up a feeling of dramatic tension that hints at complications and conflict to come.
I'd argue that 3 is more editing and word mechanics than actual choosing what to write; and 4 concerns mostly word mechanics and style choices (microtension and foreshadowing), and how you end this first chapter. So let's start at the beginning, with 2) and go to 1).

Introduce your protagonist and provide a brief glance into his inner and outer struggles

Your reader's about to enter your story-world through one particular set of eyes. Of course he's curious about who this person's gonna be.

What makes you choose to talk to a guy at a bus-stop? Does he look lost? Maybe one of his grocery bags's just split while he's getting small change. Or the backpack has a sticker on it that reminds you of your own days at high school.

In essence, talking to a guy at a bus-stop poses the very same question that the reader's asking: What makes your protagonist unique? How is it that he gets to be centre-stage in your manuscript?

And, having answered this question, you need to let the reader see that the protagonist is someone he'd be interested to meet—because he's about to, sentence after sentence. ('If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth', J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye)

I'll talk about what makes a compelling characters in a later article.

Hatch your plot in the form of your significant situation

How do you know what is your significant situation? The answer is easy: It's the one that kicks off your story. Forget about prologues for the little while you're reading this article. The inciting incident isn't some ancient God's power struggle or the sins of fathers, visited upon children. It's more immediate. It's change in your protagonist's life, right now.

By the way... when I say 'protagonist' I mean the element central to your story. This can be a person (ninety out of a hundred times it will be), a theme, or something abstract that's embodied by i.e. the relationships of citizens in a small town.

What makes the current day so special that you want to give it a place of honor in your manuscript? Readers will start exactly here. You want to give them something to remember.

Techniques of a Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain (1981, University of Oklahoma Press) gives the advise to 'Start on the day that's different'. Your status-quo changed, from accustomed routine of what had been to something new. A change happens and responding to this change, your protagonist'll spark a chain reaction down the line until he gets caught in an intolerable situation which will be your story's major conflict.
  1. Where/When to open
  2. How to open
  3. What to put in
  4. What to leave out
  5. How to introduce needed information
  6. When to close
For the moment, I'll leave out discussion of 5), as it's techniques of exposition and show&tell (also later article material).

Where/When to open

You want to open just on the brink of change (if you're too early your readers have the chance to get bored). Or with change (but try not to leave the reader disoriented; remember, he doesn't know yet where and who he is in terms of your story). Or just after the change (though be careful that you don't chunk in a huge mass of exposition later). There's no clear cut rule. Every start has the potential to get messed up, but it can also be a stepping stone into your story's abyss.

This is the moment to hook your readers. Don't waste this chance!

How to open

You'll not be the first, nor will you be the last to curse your first sentences. Welcome to the club.

Practical advise says it's good to orient your reader immediately with the four W's: Who, Where, When, and bonus points for What's Happening. A word about the 'what's happening':

What to put in
What to leave out

Don't confuse 'what's happening' with 'what's happened in the past'. You're in the story-present. Your reader needs to be oriented to what's happening right now, not about events hundreds of years past. Present action is the sweet spot. Engage the senses. Throughly ground your readers in your story's present.

But, I hear you cry out, that still doesn't tell me how I get to write this first sentence!

My own strategy is write something. Anything. Start anywhere. Don't worry, just start. Can you feel yourself getting into your story world? Good. Just write. Don't look back. Forget your awful first sentence if at all possible. Somewhen, maybe a week or two later, when you're throughly enjoying yourself, read your first page critically. Disengage as much as possible, try to look at it with reader's eyes, and watch like a hawk for the one sentence that stands out, that makes you pay attention and say to yourself 'Yes, now we're off and running!'

This sentence pinpoints the significant. What distills your story best? This is what you have to use to hook your readers. You're making them a promise.

It can be buried middle of some paragraph on the second page, or even later. You know you've found it when it either is unique ('It was a bright, cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen', George Orwell, 1984), unanticipated ('They shoot the white girl first', Toni Morrison, Paradise), deviates from routine or shows a change about to take place ('Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice', Gabriel Garcia Marquez, A Hundred Years of Solitude), or focuses the readers' inordinate attention on something commonplace ('Call me Ishmael', Herman Melville, Moby Dick) ...

... Or it introduces your protagonist with a little detail that makes the reader sympathize with him; or think they want to know your him (I'll talk about this later, in another article).

... Or all of the above.

When to close

Have you introduced your protagonist? Have you made him relatable? Have you oriented the reader in the here-and-now? Have you asked questions the reader will be looking to find answers to? Bonus points if your protagonist's been finding out that his world's about to turn. Then your first chapter has done its job. The only question still remains is—

Which detail do you want the reader to have at the forefront of his mind going into the next chapter? That's when you write 'Chapter 2'. I'll write a dedicated article about endings as well.

A good first chapter raises questions that beg to be answered—by reading the rest of the novel; and what hooks your reader is not the past but the future.

Now go out and conquer it.
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