Cathedral

raymond carver

Raymond Carver

Source: New York Times

Carrying on from the short stories by Flannery O’Connor which we looked at last week, we have now moved onto another three short stories, this time written by Raymond Carver. The stories we looked at were ‘Cathedral’, ‘Errand’ and ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’, which are all taken from different collections of his work.

Of all the short stories that we have looked at this semester in American Lit, I would say that these stories, ‘Cathedral’ in particular, are possibly my favourites.  I find Cathedral to be an intriguing narrative as it exposes the misconceptions and stereotypes which people can garner about certain things, such as blindness in the case of this particular story.

The narrator of Cathedral speaks of a blind man for whom his wife used to work, who is visiting them while on the way to see his late wife’s relatives in Connecticut. The narrator does not look forward to his arrival in the slightest, most likely due to the friendly relationship which his wife has kept with this man since her time working for him, and also partly due to the idea the narrator has in his mind of how a blind person behaves. The narrator is likely not looking forward to his home life being altered for a period by someone he has never met before, but who appears to have a very close relationship with his wife. However, as the story progresses the narrator soon realises that the way in which he imagined a blind person to behave does not apply to this particular man. By the end of the story there is a feeling that any animosity or dislike which the narrator held for the blind man has now dissipated, as he realises that there are less differences between the two of them than he first realised.

I enjoyed reading this short story as it was interesting to see how someone’s misconceptions about a particular person or thing can be exposed in such a seemingly small and insignificant way, such as the ending of the story, when the narrator shows the man what a cathedral looks like by drawing it. It is the small details which require analysis in this and the other short stories which I feel make them captivating to read.

The semester is coming to a close now, and It won’t be long before I’m finished for the summer! This is going to be my last blog post as we are now finishing with our assigned texts for American Lit. I’ve really enjoyed writing about all the different authors, novels, short stories and poems which we’ve studied, and I hope that you also enjoyed reading about them! 🙂

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Everything That Rises Must Converge

With only a couple of weeks left in the semester, we’re almost finished with our readings for American Lit. For my post this week I’ve decided to write about some short stories by Flannery O’Connor which we looked at last week.

These short stories are quite different from the other short stories we’ve looked at so far this semester, such as Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily’.

Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O’Connor

Source: wbur.org

Although O’Connor is a Southern writer, her stories do not consist of the typical narrative of other Southern literature as she writes about the ordinary everyday lives of people who live in places like Georgia and Tennessee, instead of the aristocratic or wealthy characters which are more often seen in Southern fiction.

While studying O’Connor’s work, we read three of her short stories: ‘Everything That Rises Must Converge’, ‘Good Country People’, and ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find.’ Of these stories, the one which I most enjoyed reading is ‘Everything That Rises.’

The story narrates the journey of a mother and her son, Julian, on the bus from their home into town so that she can attend a weight loss class. During this journey, the two characters interact with various passengers, with the mother commenting frequently on the presence of coloured people travelling on the bus.

everything that rises must converge

Everything That Rises Must Converge cover

Source: Macmillan

This story approaches the idea of racial tensions in the South during the Sixties in a very interesting way. While the mother finds it difficult to accept the recent implementation of integration, Julian attempts to be more accepting of these changes and appears throughout the story to be ashamed of his mother’s behaviour towards other people on the bus.

The mother seems to hold the opinion that white people are above coloured people in society, and that while coloured people can advance in areas of society such as education and employment, they should remain separate from white people.

One of the central aspects of the story which illustrates the racial tension present in the South is the significance of the mother’s hat. While travelling on the bus, Julian notices that the coloured woman who boards with her son is wearing the same hat as his mother. This detail of the story highlights how even though the mother feels that she is above coloured people in society, they are in fact more equal than she wants to believe.

I really enjoyed these short stories as it was fascinating to read about ideas we have already discussed in earlier lectures, such as race and religion, through highly compelling short stories with unusual characters and narratives.

Next week we’ll be looking at more short stories, this time by Raymond Carver. I’m hoping that these stories will be as interesting to read as the previous ones, and I’ll be back with another post next week to let you know what I thought of them!

Housekeeping

marilynne robinson

Marilynne Robinson

Source: Irish Times

After our reading week for American Literature, we returned to our lectures this week and discussed the novel Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. This novel narrates the maturing of twins Ruth and Lucille as they grow up under the care of various relatives. This story is compelling as it focuses on the relationships between different generations of women, with men playing only a minor role in the development of the story.

marilynne-robinson-housekeeping

Cover of Housekeeping

Source: Faber & Faber

The family tree begins with Sylvia and Edmund, who have three daughters, Helen, Molly, and Sylvia, who is known as Sylvie. Edmund dies early in the story as the train he is travelling on suddenly flies off the tracks and crashes into the lake in Fingerbone, Idaho, where the story is set. Later on in the novel, Helen, the mother of Ruth and Lucille, commits suicide by driving into the same lake where her father had died years earlier.

The twins are then passed between several guardians including their grandmother Sylvia, their great aunts Lily and Nona, and finally their aunt Sylvie, who returns to her home town after living her life until this point as a wanderer, never settling in one place. While Ruth and Sylvie become quite close, Lucille never reciprocates the same feelings towards her aunt, and eventually leaves Fingerbone and her relatives behind.

I found this novel intriguing to discuss as it the first text we have looked at this semester which focuses on the relationship between women within a family and how the family dynamic can shift as the twins move between different guardians.

The title of the novel, Housekeeping, is also interesting as it can be interpreted both in the literal sense of keeping the home organised and tidy, and also the idea of the relationship between the various generations of women living within this particular house. I enjoyed discussing this novel in the lectures and am looking forward to talking more about the themes and other elements of the narrative in my tutorials. If you have read Housekeeping what did you think of the novel?

I’ve only a few weeks of American Lit lectures left, and I’ll be back next week with another blog post on the latest author we’ve looked at!

American Literature So Far…

This week for American Literature we had a reading week with no lectures or tutorials. Since we haven’t had any texts to read this week, I’ve decided to do a post on what I’ve enjoyed most about the module so far this semester.

For the first week of the semester we focused on short stories by William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway. I enjoyed reading these short stories as both narratives are very interesting and cause the reader to have to analyse the text very closely to uncover what the main plot of the story really is. I particularly enjoyed studying ‘Hills like White Elephants’ by Hemingway as I had already looked at this story in one of my classes while on Erasmus last semester and found it really enjoyable to read.

After Faulkner and Hemingway, we moved onto W.E.B Du Bois, who was highly influential in the fight for civil rights for coloured people in America. I already did a blog post a few weeks ago on Du Bois where I wrote about his work The Souls of Black Folks and some of the ideas which emerged from his work, such as ‘double consciousness’.  It was fascinating to read about how people such as Du Bois fought for the basic rights of African Americans at a time when racial prejudice and violence against coloured people in America is such a current topic. It is terrible to think that despite the actions of Du Bois and other civil rights activists who came after him that there is still such a strong racial prejudice present in the US.

After Du Bois, we moved onto one of my favourite authors that we have studied so far this semester, Allen Ginsberg. I really enjoy reading the work from Beat Generation authors like Ginsberg and also Jack Kerouac as their writing is completely different from the other works that had been published in the years before, both in the style they wrote in and also the topics that they discussed. Ginsberg’s poems, such as Howl, deal with themes which would have been viewed as controversial in America at the time, such as homosexuality and drug use. His poetry is very thought-provoking and gives an insight into what life was like for him in America in the Sixties as a gay Jewish man.

I’ve really enjoyed the works we’ve looked at so far this semester and am hoping that the last few weeks of the module will be just as enjoyable.

Terrorist

john-updike

John Updike

Source: The New Yorker

During American Literature lectures this week, we have been discussing the novel Terrorist by John Updike, which examines the concept of the relationship between religion and terrorism. This novel is significant in its examination of terrorism as it was one of the first post 9/11 literary works to discuss the topic at a time when other writers were hesitant to approach such a sensitive topic.

During the lecture at the beginning of the week we were shown a short clip from a documentary which shows the moments before, during and after the two planes hit the World Trade Centre. Seeing the terror and destruction which this event caused alters the way in which Terrorist is read as the reader can imagine how people would react if the terrorist attack was to take place in the novel.

terrorist

Cover of Terrorist

Source: New York Times

While on Erasmus, I studied another novel which also examines how American society changed  after the September terrorist attacks. In the novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid, the main character Changez, who is of Pakistani origin, lives a privileged life in pre-9/11 New York as an employee at a prestigious law firm. While away on a business trip, he sees coverage of the attacks on TV and it becomes very apparent upon his return to the US that attitudes towards people of Middle Eastern descent have suddenly become extremely negative. There is a sense within the narrative of the novel that this particular race of people have now become associated with violence and terrorism.

Reading Terrorist after studying The Reluctant Fundamentalist is interesting as it is fascinating to see how different writers have approached and discussed the same topic Terrorist is a very different literary work to what we have studied so far in American Literature in terms of when it was published, but I have found it intriguing to read a novel which discusses such a recent and emotional event.

Hills Like White Elephants

iheminw001p1

Ernest Hemingway

Source: www.britannica.com

For my blog post this week, I’ve decided to write about a story that we studied in the first week of the semester, ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ by Ernest Hemingway. This is one of my favourite short stories that I have read since I started my degree as I found the way the dialogue is written to be very intriguing, and also the way in which the main plot of the story is constructed.

The story takes place in a train station in Spain, where an American man and a girl named Jig are waiting for a train to take them to Madrid. As they sit on the platform drinking beer and waiting to leave for the capital, they have a conversation about something that is never mentioned by name in the story.

Much of the dialogue between the couple for the rest of the story is very passive aggressive, and you as the reader are left unsure at the end of the story if the conflict between the couple has been resolved. The plot of the story, which is only alluded to by Hemingway,  is the fact that Jig is to have an abortion in Madrid, and that she and the American man appear to disagree about whether the abortion should take place.

I studied this story also while I was on Erasmus, and found it fascinating to discuss the ways in which Hemingway conveys the contrasting opinions of Jig and the American man towards the abortion through the use of the setting and the landscape which surrounds the train station.

I think that the story is written well as the reader is left to decipher the plot of the story by analysing all the minutiae which contribute to the narrative. This story is the first of Ernest Hemingway’s work that I have read, but I would be interested to read more of his novels in the future, especially The Old Man and The Sea and A Farewell to Arms.

The Beat Generation

During this week in my American Literature module we have moved away from African American writers and race tensions, and have now moved onto the Beat Generation of the 50’s and 60’s. We are particularly focusing on the writing of Allen Ginsberg, who is seen as one of the most influential poets of this time period.

allen-ginsberg-jack-kerouac-gregory-corso

Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Gregory Corso.

Source: Ginsbergblog,blogspot.ie.

For writers of the Beat Generation, such as Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Gregory Corso, politics and society were significant topics of discussion. They wanted to move away from the conservative ideals of 1950’s America, and discussed more controversial ideas in their writing including alcohol, drugs and sexuality. Many of the Beat writers were also interested in Eastern religions, with Ginsberg moving his written focus from Catholic to Buddhist thoughts over time. Kerouac’s On the Road and Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ became celebrated classics of this particular time period.

howl-cover

Cover of Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg.

Source: www.poets.org.

It was interesting to learn about some of these writers this week as I had read Jack Kerouac’s novel Big Sur a few years ago, and had also watched Kill Your Darlings, a movie about Allen Ginsberg’s time at Columbia University, where he met Kerouac and other writers such as Lucien Carr.  I learned things about the Beat writers that I was previously unaware of, such as the difficult and tumultuous relationship that Ginsberg had with his mother Naomi, who was often hospitalised with mental health issues. It was also fascinating to learn about the use of the term ‘beat’, and how this term could be applied to the writing of this time in different ways e.g. social, musical and religious.

I enjoyed learning about the Beat Generations and the writers of this era as their poems and novels are very experimental and enjoyable to read as they discuss topics that previous writers had been hesitant to write about. These lectures have now made me more interested in reading other works of the Beat Generation in the future.