Where are you going, Where have you been by Joyce Carol Oates | Short Story Analysis

sunglasses

Connie is your typical attractive teenage girl – she likes going out with friends and flirting with boys. She’s annoyed with her family, especially her mother who’s constantly criticizing her. Her flirting is mostly innocent fun until she’s confronted by a strange older man named Arnold Friend at her home.

Some may view this story as a cautionary tale -a young woman ends up being punished for venturing into adult sexuality. And although her fate after leaving with Arnold is undescribed, all the clues in the story make it clear it will be something horrible (rape/murder). Another way some view the story is that Connie is a hero – she went with Arnold because he was threatening her family and she wanted to keep them safe.

However, I think there’s much more to it than that. Arnold could be something more sinister than a creepy guy. Look at how far he takes his façade – stuffing his boots to look taller, the sunglasses, possibly wearing a wig and such. A more simple explanation would be that he’s hiding his age and wants to seem young and cool to teenage girls.

But there’s also a possibly that Arnold has supernatural origins, possibly a demon. First off his name ‘Arnold Friend” seems artificial. Along with his appearance it’s like he’s trying to imitate a human being rather than being one naturally.  At one point when Connie observes his appearance and demeanor more the narrative states, “But all these things did not come together.” Meaning that he seems very unnatural.

The way  he seems to entrance Connie also indicates he’s not wholly human. He uses his persuasion to get Connie to come with him, rather than physical (which would have been the last resort). He’s confident in his power of persuasion and snaps at his friend Ellie when he suggests taking other measures.

While the supernatural theory could be wrong, I do think Arnold is basically meant to embody the ultimate predator. He disguises himself to lure in victims and he knows to entrance them.

“And he drew an X in the air, leaning out toward her. They were maybe ten feet apart.
After his had fell back to his side the X was still in the air almost visible.”

Here is where it shows that Connie’s fate is sealed. She has been “X’d” out and the predator will succeed by the end. Arnold shows how evil can appear suddenly and in the most unlikely of places. Connie was just an average teenage girl, but meeting Arnold has forced her to confront the terrible aspects of the world which Arnold embodies.

 

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My Favorite Female Writers | International Women’s Day

FAVORITE FEMALE WRITERS

So for International Women’s Day I decided to put together a list of some of my favorite female writers. I looked at how they influenced culture and such for a lot my choices but the list is primarily based on how they influenced me. A couple in the mix aren’t really “influential” on a wide scale but they inspire me in some way. Here is the list:

Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823)

Notable Works: The Mysteries of Udolpho, The Romance of the Forest

Ann Radcliffe doesn’t seem to be read by many readers of today. However, her work was very influential and popular in her own time. She’s basically one of most important writers when it comes to the development of the Gothic Novel. Radcliffe’s work might be hard for modern readers to enjoy but she inspires me due to her great influence on some of the best writers of all time. I’m also a big fan of the Gothic novel myself.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Notable Works: Various Poems

In my eyes, Emily Dickinson is the greatest poet in history. I don’t write a lot of poetry myself but Dickinson still inspires me whether I’m writing a short story, poem or novel. Her poetry has so much freedom but at the same time it’s controlled. That’s something I greatly admire.

Joyce Carol Oates (1938- )

Notable Works: Zombie, Black Water

Zombie is the first book I read by Oates and it’s one of my favorites novels of all time. Joyce has written a wide variety of things but Zombie is my personal favorite. Oates is a great writer that’s clearly not afraid to take risks.

Kate Chopin (1850-1904)

Notable Works: The Awakening, Various Short Stories.

I did a little tribute to Kate Chopin recently: https://mixedupsaydee.wordpress.com/2016/02/28/kate-chopin-tribute/

Elizabeth George Speare (1908-1994)

Notable Works: The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Sign of the Beaver

Some may see books like Sign of the Beaver and Witch of Blackbird Pond as the type of books kids are forced to read in school. Well, I don’t believe that. The two books are brilliant by any standard. Children should be reading books with deeper themes and such. I sure didn’t have trouble reading Sign of the Beaver or Blackbird Pond as a kid. They remain my favorites even today.

VC Andrews (1923-1986)

Notable Works: Flowers in the Attic, My Sweet Audrina, Heaven

In some people eyes, VC Andrews’ novels are the epitome of trash fiction. Some may even argue she gives female writers a bad name. However, I feel that Andrews deserves respect as a writer because she knows how to tell an engaging story like no other. In my opinion, her writing is not simply “trash.” She’s one of my favorite writers and I’m not afraid to admit it.

Lauren Oliver (1982- )

Notable Works: Before I Fall, Delirium

Lauren Oliver isn’t just another YA author, as some might view her to be. She is an amazing writer with beautifual prose that knows how to create emotionally complex and amazing characters.

Mary Shelley (1797-1851)

Notable Works: Frankenstein

Even today women are underrepresented in horror fiction.  Since I write horror, it makes me happy to know that a woman wrote one of the most influential novels in horror. This is why I feel obligated to include Shelley within my list.

Shirley Jackson (1916-1965)

Notable Works: The Haunting of Hill House, We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Shirley Jackson has also had immense influence on horror, so that’s why I include her as well. As a female writer of horror fiction myself, I feel I owe her a great deal of respect.

J.K Rowling (1965 – )

Notable Works: Harry Potter

Harry Potter is an obvious choice on a book list. But Rowling deserves all the respect she gets. It’s amazing that she wrote a series that captivated and influenced so many people.

Kate Chopin Tribute

 

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Kate Chopin (1850-1904) was a writer of short stories and two novels. Her work would fall into the category of realistic fiction/realism. Her short stories were popular during her time but her career went downhill after the publishing of The Awakening due to the novel’s controversial subject matter. However, she was later considered one of the best writers of her time and is often studied in literature classes.

The short stories widely considered her best include: “The Storm”, “The Story of an Hour”, “Desiree’s Baby”, “A Pair of Silk Stockings.”

Kate Chopin wrote two novels, At Fault and The Awakening. At Fault was a critical failure and even today it’s not read or studied very much.

The Awakening was controversial and condemned when published during Chopin’s time because of its themes. The publishing of the novel also ended her career. But the book was later republished and proved to be influential. There’s now a lot of scholarly work that deals with it.

Much of her writing is “local color.” As in it deals with the setting of certain areas in detail. In Chopin’s case, her work often took place in Louisiana and she wrote much about Creole culture.

The themes of her writing often dealt with women’s place in society and how they could rise as individuals.

What does Kate Chopin Mean to me?

I did a full length paper on The Awakening. I was impressed with the novel’s boldness and masterfully woven plot and themes. It’s a short novel yet it has so many layers beneath the surface. Chopin’s work fascinates me so much I love to analyze and explore it.

It seems a lot of casual readers don’t like The Awakening…criticism I often hear is “Edna [The main character] is selfish!” I have the ultimate pretentious response to this: “They just don’t get it.”

Kate Chopin’s short stories interest me a lot as well. My favorites are “Regret”, “Desiree’s Baby”, “The Story of an Hour.” I feel these stories capture her themes and style the best. I like the “The Storm” too but feel it’s overrated…it’s just too “romantic” for my taste.

As for At Fault: Let’s just I can understand why it was never and hasn’t been a success, I am sad to say.

Most of all, I thank Kate Chopin for being one of the first writers to help expand my literary tastes. Exploring The Awakening, made me want to explore other works of literature and see what they hold beneath the surface as well.

Greats Short Stories #1

great short stories 1

I feel like giving the short story more attention today. It’s the best form of literature next to the novel. And since everyone talks about life-changing books, I’m going to talk about short stories that are life-changing. By life-changing, I basically just mean they’re really good and had a tremendous impact on me after reading. In no order, here is my list:

Feathertop by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The image and scene this story creates is brilliant. I couldn’t stop imagining Mother Rigby and her creation. And the ending is just unforgettable. This story left a big imprint in my mind, I absolutely loved it.

Roman Fever by Edith Wharton

You shouldn’t know anything about this story before reading it. Just know that the ending hits you right across the face…in a good way!

The Beast in the Jungle by Henry James

This…this is a story. Many seem to take issue with James’ somewhat long-winded writing style, but I can’t say I do. This story completely engaged me. James is a master of exploring a character’s psychology. I was thinking about this story long after reading.

What Do Fish Have to do with Anything? By Avi

Yes, this is a story for children and has a rather simple lesson to give. The lesson is about the importance of asking questions…I feel the way the lesson is taught is really well-done. And I’ve remembered this simple story for so long…so, to me it’s something special.

The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin

A very short story with that hits hard. It’s funny but makes you think very differently about marriage.

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

I actually struggled to include this on the list. I feel it’s amazing upon first reading but after second or third reading it greatly loses its initial impact. However, just remembering how this story made me feel the first time reading it – shocked – makes me feel I should include it.

The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe

I would have to say this is probably my favorite Poe story. The voice Poe creates is nothing short of masterful. Montresor’s words still ring in my head every time I think of this story.

Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville

I love the message of this story and on top of that, it’s hilarious. As someone who doesn’t want to work some desk job…Melville’s tale just speaks to me.

Put Yourself in My Shoes by Raymond Carver

A story that should be read by all aspiring writers. It’s a fun little story with a theme about the writing process and getting ideas.

The Birth-Mark by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Humans are flawed, they almost have to be. Hawthorne’s story shows the consequences of trying to deny this fact.

So this is my first list. I’ll be listing more great short stories later.

The Ransom of Red Chief by O. Henry (Short Story Analysis)

 

Red Cheif

It’s a long thought about dilemma – what if a kidnapped child was so bratty and obnoxious that his/her abductors returned them. Well, O. Henry’s short story brings this scenario into play.

In the story, the kidnappers are two desperate men named Sam and Bill. Sam is the narrator of the story. They are in need of money and so kidnap the red-headed son of a wealthy man in town named Ebenezer Dorset. When they first meet the boy, he’s throwing rocks at kittens. Which should have been a clear sign that this wasn’t some nice sweet boy. Especially since the boy also hits Bill in the eye with a brick.

The boy later subjects Bill to plenty of other abuse as well. During the kidnapping the kid is basically having the time of his life – at his abductors’ expense.

This humorous story makes me think if their could be a situation like the one presented. Kidnappers returning a kid because he was so bratty and not receiving anything in return – could it happen? I know people just say it as a joke but I still wonder.

But first I would like to explore another question – is Johnny Dorset aka Red Chief bad enough? I ask this because I have seen some bad kids that would make Red Chief look like nothing. He’s rambunctious and asks a lot of questions, that’s not too unusual.

His physical abuse of Bill is what puts him in the extreme category. At one point he leaves the man a screaming mess: “It was an awful thing to hear a strong, desperate fat man scream incontinently in a cave at daybreak.” And, Red Chief’s behavior would probably be even worse for two people who have not dealt with kids before.

However, I suppose I was hoping for an even more extreme case of a misbehaved child.

But onto the main question the story brings to mind: Would the kidnappers return the boy in a real life scenario? It really depends on what sort of offenders you were dealing with. Those in O. Henry’s story are pretty much buffoons.

Imagine the result of more violent and competent abductors. So, in the end I’d say the “bratty child returned” trope only has its place in humor.

Rappaccini’s Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Short Story Analysis)

girl in garden

Giovanni is drawn to the garden beneath his window. It’s beautiful to an unnatural extent and is a product of Dr. Rappaccini, a great scientist who has a tendency to take his experiments too far. Even on his own daughter.

In this story, Hawthorne builds up the garden a lot. It’s a product of a scientific mind but it could represent a small peace of nature that has been corrupted by man. The story shows how humans can tamper with nature and turn it into something artificial. On the garden’s artificiality: “Several, also, would have shocked a delicate instinct by an appearance of artificialness… that the production was no longer of God’s making, but the monstrous offspring of a man’s depraved fancy, glowing with only an evil mockery of beauty.”

Dr. Rappaccini is a perfect example for this idea of man as corrupter. He’s the scientist that goes too far, someone who doesn’t have any regard for who or what he harms with his work: “…he cares infinitely more for science than for mankind. His patients are interesting to him only as subjects for some new experiment.”

So, how does Rappaccini’s daughter come into play? Well, she becomes apart of his experiments which shows just how far he will go. Someone who’s willing to use their own child surely has no limits. His daughter, Beatrice, is essentially poisonous like the plants in her father’s garden. This is why she probably feels such an intimate connection with said plants: “Approaching the shrub, she threw open her arms, as with a passionate ardor and drew its branches into an intimate embrace; so intimate, that her features were hidden in its leafy bosom, and her glistening ringlets all intermingled with the flowers.”

She has become an extension of the garden rather than an individual human. This further characterizes her as nothing more than her father’s experiment.

But Beatrice is important for another reason because she’s the one that draws Giovanni into the garden. She’s like an unknowing seductress that leads him astray – a common way that female characters are portrayed. But here, this portrayal is effective.

Beatrice is her father’s tool in many ways. She’s a force that brings him in new experiments to become apart of his garden. And Giovanni does for awhile, becoming poisonous like Beatrice, “…He sent forth a breath among them, and smiled bitterly at Beatrice, as at lease a score of insects fell dead upon the ground.” Here is how Beatrice tries to console Giovanni: “For Giovanni – believe it – though my body be nourished with poison, my spirit is God’s creature, and craves love as its daily food.”

Not surprisingly, Dr. Rappaccini believes he is doing good and therefore feels no remorse – “ ‘What mean you, foolish girl? Dost thou deem it misery to be endowed with marvellous gifts, aganist which no power nor strength could avail an enemy.’ ” This is, perhaps, the mindset of many who take their experimentation too far. Beatrice dies at the end and is described as such: “To Beatrice – so radically had her earthly part been wrought upon by Rappaccini’s skill – as poison had been life, so the powerful antidote was death.”

Plenty of people are afraid of growing scientific achievement (especially in Hawthorne’s time) and this story, although exaggerated, shows that their fears aren’t entirely unreasonable.

The Open Boat by Stephen Crane (Short Story Analysis)

ocean

Four men are trapped on a life boat: a captain, a cook, a correspondent and an oiler. They must fight the waves of the raging ocean in their small life boat. This story is based on a true event in Stephen Crane’s life.

“None of them knew the color of the sky” – the first and most famous line of Crane’s story. The men of the story don’t know the color of the sky because they are much more focused on the ocean and managing the miniscule boat they are trapped in.

The Open Boat deals with one of the most enduring literary struggles: man vs. nature.

The men in the boat think that nature is being intentionally cruel to them – that there’s some outer force controlling their situation. “If I am going to be drowned, why, in the name of the seven mad gods who rule the sea, was I allowed to come thus far and contemplate sand and trees?”

But this is not the case, nature is simply being itself. It has no grudges, loyalty or respect for anyone. It’s an uncontrolled force that humans must face.

This pessimistic idea is in line with literary Naturalism along with the idea that there’s no God controlling human fate. Naturalism was a short-lived yet influential literary tradition that Crane was the most prominent writer in. And the tradition was all about portraying the cruelty of life (although sometimes it was done to an over-the-top extent).

People often do believe that nature has some sort of grudge against them, especially when they find themselves up against the unfortunate circumstances it has to offer. And it is hard not to think this way since everyone leans towards blaming someone or something.

All the characters in the boat, except one, are identified by position/occupation and are not named. The exception is the oiler, whose name is Billie, and he’s the strongest. He also does the most rowing.

Which shows the great irony in the story – Billie, despite being the strongest and only one named, dies.

“Survival of the fittest” is flipped over in this story since the fittest does not not survive. Because the strongest and fittest are expected to work hardest in most cases and so they can be burnt out. Billie becomes tired while the others are less so and this means the other men end up surviving.

Even the weakest of the lot, the injured captain, survives.

Sometimes, unlike the strong, the weak save their energy and end up surviving in the end. “In the shallows, face downward, lay the oiler. His forehead touch sand that was periodically between each wave, clear of the sea.” Shortly after the oiler’s body is found this way the other men are met with some hope: “”It seems that instantly the beach was populate with men with blankets, clothes and flask, and women with coffee-pots…”

The subtle mention of the women could go along with the natural selection idea – the three remaining men will go on to pass on their genes. They will also be joined back with the community as seen more so with the men.

But they will have gained more knowledge: “When it came night, the white waves paced to and for in the moonlight, and the wind brought the sound of the great sea’s voice to the men on shore, and they felt that could be interpreters.” In other words, they probably realize the truth about nature and human existence.