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.