[<--Return to Part 1.]
Note: We now begin a study of the workings of a convention we haven't examined so far. Up to now the short stories (in the proper sense of the term) that we've looked at (3 altogether -- Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" and "The Storm," and de Maupassant's "The Necklace") -- have all exploited the device of omniscient narration, which is a special category of non-participant narration. Notice that Poe's story (below) is the first of a series of stories we'll take up that make use of participant narration. "The Tell-Tale Heart" is built around a particular sort of this narrative point of view that we'll be calling central participant narration. Your job is not merely to get clear on this terminology, but to see how it points to authorial choices that, if we take stock of them in called-for ways, lead us to deeper insights into the character of the protagonist and, through that, into the theme of the story as a whole.
31 Jan (M): Come to class having read Edgar Alan Poe's story "The Tell-Tale Heart" (p. 1471).
- There's a Study Guide to this story. Be sure to use it to focus your curiosity in your first and second readings.
- In order to make best use of this study guide, though, you should read the article in our online glossary of critical concepts on "Participant Narration | Participant Narrators".
- After your first reading of the story, work through the article on "Dramatic Monologue".
2 Feb (W): Continued discussion of "The Tell-Tale Heart." In order to prepare for this discussion, bring with you to class your best explanation of
- how the story indicates to the reader (or to the listener the narrator has buttonholed) that the heart that's "telling on" the narrator is the narrator's own, not that of his dismembered victim;
- what exactly the heart is trying to tell the narrator, and
- why the narrator cannot (or will not?) hear that message.
4 Feb (F): We'll continue our exploration of "The Tell-Tale Heart." For us to be able to take things so far to another plane, you should be sure to do the following before coming to class:
- What can we figure out, on the basis of what the story conveys (supplemented by our own sense of "how the mind can work"), are the sources of the particular kind of derangement with which the narrator unwittingly confronts us here? That is: if we want to explain to ourselves why he's having the experiences he is having, and doing the things he is doing, how can we get beyond the pseudo-explanation that "it's because he is insane"? This is a non-explanation because -- if you think about it -- it "begs the question".
7 Feb (M): Come to class having read T. Coraghessan Boyle's story "Greasy Lake" (p. 191).
- Here again we have a central participant narrator. Every time an author chooses this way of presenting a story, s/he puts on the table this key question: Is the person who's telling us the story reliable in all the relevant respects?
- That is: is the narrator [not to be taken as the author!]
- telling the truth as he or she sees it?
- fair in his or her interpretation of the events reported?
- sound in his or her judgment of the factual and ethical issues raised by the evidence that we are confronted with?
- Compare the answers you come up with for the narrator we have in Boyle's story with the answers we came up with for the narrator we saw in Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart."
- Has Boyle imagined the protagonist of the story come across as dynamic or as static (in the particular sense of these terms we have in mind when we discuss characterization)?
- Come to class with your written answer to the following question: Is there an epiphantic moment (or more than one, or none) in this story? If there is one, is the epiphany had by the protagonist, or only by the reader?
9 Feb (W): Today we'll use Boyle's story to practice imagining tone of voice -- something essential in mentally performing any story, but especially a story in participant narration. To prepare for this exercise, you should do the following:
- Read the essay by Oliver Sacks entitled "The President's Speech". (The link takes you to a pdf copy on our site.) The point of doing this is to drive home the concept of "tone" -- the feeling or attitude that a speaker expresses towards what he or she is talking about, but the particular way in which s/he talks about it. This includes inflection and rhythm. (Imagine all the different ways you could say, in different situations, "Wow, that's a nice shirt you're wearing today" -- ways that could convey quite different judgments about that shirt, or the person wearing it, or the wearing of it in some particular situation. Depending on the way you say it, you'd be understood to be excite, envious, condescending, contemptuous, encouraging -- or something else.)
- Pick a passage from Boyle's story at least a quarter of a page long, and rehearse reading it aloud in two ways:
- In the first way, try to capture what you think is a way the character who's telling the story would actually deliver it, given the kind of person you understand him to be as he's telling the story (which may or may not be the kind of person he was during the time in which the story transpired -- depending on whether you understand him to have been changed by events [recall our discussion on Monday]).
- In the second, try to convey the passage with a feeling completely inappropriate, given your conception of the kind of person the speaker is as he's speaking at this moment. (Try to make this something different from the "Conehead" mechanical tonelessness you'll have hear me demonstrate in class on Monday. That is: strive to speak with a definite tone, but one that is "off the mark" for this character at this moment.)
- Expect to be invited, in class, to perform one or the other of these renditions.
11 Feb (F): Have read for discussion Alice Walker's story "Everyday Use" (p. 1671).
14 Feb (M): Continued discussion of "Everyday Use." To be prepared for this discussion:
- Bring to class the short writing assignment on this story.
16 Feb (W): Continued discussion of "Everyday Use."
- There's no reading assignment for today. Consider reading ahead in this Course Schedule. (Consider tomorrow's assignment. Or do a first reading of Ellison's and Clarke's stories.)
18 Feb (F): Today we'll discuss the results of the Quiz (28 Jan) on Chopin's "The Storm" (28 Jan).
- The purpose of doing this will be to get clear on a basic distinction between a writer's general purpose in writing fiction (i.e., to afford readers a significant experience) and the purpose of writing the kind of essay you'll be doing in class next Wednesday (i.e., to clarify the significance of some experience). We'll try to see how this difference in purpose shows up in the organizational principles that distinguish narration from exposition or argument.
- To be prepared to understand what I'll go through in class, you should work your way through the following:
21 Feb (M): Further discussion of what the difference is between "explication" and "analysis."
- Read the article on "Explication vs. Analysis" in our online glossary of critical concepts. (You need not follow up all the links you'll find there! The only one to check out might be the one at the very end on "Exposition.")
- Study the brief and the detailed explanations of the criteria for evaluating essays and exams.
23 Feb (W): Essay #1. You'll write this in class. It will be an analytic essay, not a plot summary or an explication. I'll send you by e-mail the directions about how to be prepared for this.
25 Feb (F): Have read for discussion Ralph Ellison's story "A Party Down at the Square" (p. 583). Ask yourself
What are several ways in which the protagonist of this story is different from the people he finds himself among? (For example: what does he seem to be able to register that these others are evidently oblivious to?)
What is he confused about?
28 Feb (M): Continued discussion of Ellison's story. For this to work, you'll need to do the following:
Give the story a fresh reading. What does the narrator notice in the scene that takes place at the end of the story in the general store? Does what happen there suggest to you ways of explaining the kind of thing that happened the day before in this town? (What do you notice about the difference in life conditions of the two men who exchange words there? How does this relate to the difference in life conditions between the townspeople last night and the person who was the object of their attentions?)
Work through the glossary article "Point of View ('in a story' vs. 'of a person')".
Come to class with a paragraph in which you give your answer to the following question: What reasons do you think Ellison -- a black American adult -- might have had for writing about such an event in the way that he has (employing as the central consciousness of the story an adolescent white boy, who experiences the event in the way the story presents)?
2 Mar (W): Have read for discussion John Barth's "Night-Sea Journey" (p. 139).
Do 2 readings, following the agenda of curiosity set forth in the Study Guide to this story.
4 Mar (F): Further discussion of "Night-Sea Journey."
Come to class with a short paragraph in which you describe
What the protagonist/narrator of this story wants (the "secret wish" he promises at the outset eventually to disclose);
How, at the end of the story, he tries to get it (i.e., to realize this wish);
Whether he succeeds or fails.and
your reason for deciding that he succeeds or that he fails.
7 Mar (M): Read Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily". To be prepared for this discussion, be sure to do the following:
Read the story twice in accompaniment with the Study Guide.
In between your first and second readings, read the glossary article on "Epiphany".
Be able to explain to your classmates what is the narrative point of view Faulkner has elected to use in this story.
Read Faulkner's remarks (from his acceptance speech on the occasion of his being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature) on "The Human Heart in Conflict with Itself" (p. 634).
Come to class with a few sentences in which you summarize what you think were the main elements of conflict in Emily's heart.
9 Mar (W): Showing in class of a film adaptation of William Faulkner's story "Barn Burning." By the time you come to class, though, you should:
Print out a copy of the Study Guide for Faulkner's story.
Read Faulkner's story "Barn Burning" (p. 598) twice, as directed there.
11 Mar (F): Discussion of Faulkner's "Barn Burning." Before coming to class:
Give the story a third reading, concentrating on the issues highlighted for that reading in the final part of the Study Guide.
Come to class with a few sentences in which you summarize the difference between the meaning Major de Spain's house has for Abner and the meaning it has for Sarty.
14 Mar (M): In class today we'll try to summarize some key ideas we've been developing so far. In order to make this discussion work well, do the following before coming to class:
Work once again through the glossary article on "Point of View -- Omniscient, Objective, and Reliable Narration".
Think back on all the stories we've read up to now. Which of the kinds of narration discussed in the glossary article just cited do we have to do with, in each case?
For each story: what are some reasons why making some other choice would have altered something the author evidently thought was essential in the story he or she eventually ended up telling?
As you read the stories we take up from now on, make it a point of asking the same two questions -- always.
16 Mar (W): Have read for discussion Arthur C. Clarke's "The Nine Billion Names of God" (p. 436).
What's the narrative point of view here?
Come to class with your written answer to the following question: What assumptions on the part of the Americans in the story does Clarke use this story to call the reader's attention to?
What do you think might be Clarke's reason for thinking that we might benefit from reflecting on those assumptions?
18 Mar (F): Have read for discussion Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" (p. 158)
What's the narrative point of view in this story? (Does it shift between sections?)
What is Bierce suggesting by the discrepancy between on the one hand the "objective time" separating what happens at the end of section 1 and the end of the story and on the other hand the narrative time between these two events (i.e., the time in which it takes to imagine the events of Section 3)?
Come to class with your written answer to the following questions: How intensely does Peyton Farquar want to live? How do we know?
21 Mar (M), 23 Mar (W), 25 Mar (F): No class -- Spring Break.
28 Mar (M): Come to class having read Yukio Mishima's story "Patriotism" (p. 1263). In preparation for today's discussion, do the following:
- Read our editors' biographical sketch on the author (pp. 1262-62). When you've finished the story, come back to it. Does something stand out for you about the role this story may have played in Mishima's own life?
- The plotting of the story is so arranged that we know the outcome of the narrative to come before we embark on it. (Compare Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily.") What does Mishima's way of telling the story indicate he's counting on for holding our attention as the rest of the story unfolds? (Does this work for you?) How does this determine Mishima's choice of narrative point of view?
30 Mar (W): Further discussion of Mishima's story. In preparation for today's discussion, think through the following:
- Can you detect some key assumptions that make sense of the protagonists' choices and experiences, and could you say how they would differ from certain assumptions that you, or others in your own culture, take for granted? Specifically:
- What does suicide "mean" for broad sectors of the contemporary American public? Where do the assumptions behind this assumption come from?
- What does seppuku mean for the Lieutenant and his wife in this story? (Can you locate the passages where this is made clear?)
- What are the distinctive features of this particular form of suicide that enable it to carry this meaning?
- Bring with you to class a brief statement of a plausible answer to the third of these questions.
1 Apr (F): Exam over the concepts and a selection of the stories we've read so far. See the Prep Sheet.
Go to Part 3 of the Course Schedule.