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Monthly Archives: April 2016

Realism and romanticism found in Kurt Vonnegut and Kate Chopin’s short stories

In Kurt Vonnegut’s short stories, romanticism is a major element of “long walk to forever”. A man who left the military AWOL seeks the love of his life Catharine who is about to get married with another man. As he meets her, she tells him that she doesn’t expect herself to be in a relationship with him since she already has someone in her life. Romanticism here falls in the story because now there is a lot of mystery on what is bound to happen next since Newt who left the military now wants to have a long walk and talk with her.

Realism is also a part of the story because this is actually what happens. The soldier comes from the military to seek the love of his life. The author does an excellent job of portraying two contrasting elements in the story.

On page 58, Newt asks her to marry him, she replies by denying his offer at first, but as he walks away and looks back, she runs back to him and wants to be with him. This is a major sign of romanticism because the story is an extremely predictable piece of fantasy and not realistic of a woman such as Catherine to do what she has done. A man comes back hoping to get the love of his life, struggles and hits some bumps, but in the end, the two main characters are together happily.

In contrast to Kate Chopin’s La Belle Zoraide, La Belle Zoraide did not get to marry the man that she wanted to at the end of the story. La belle Zoraide lacks romanticism in the story because it talks about reality especially amongst the time of slavery where there was a lot of tension. She got her kid taken away from her and did not get what she wanted. The ending turned out to be very sad and disappointing, but this signifies realism because it shows what actually can happen even if it’s a bad thing. In Kurt Vonnegut’s “Long walk to Forever”, the ending was very fantasy ridden and turned out to be a very unrealistic happy ending.

Showing and Telling in Kurt Vonnegut’s Short Stories

Showing and telling is a technique used by writers to give their readers the ability to either directly know the situation and atmosphere or to be able to create their own imagery through the writing. Showing is when an author gives an in depth description of the atmosphere, surroundings, and gives the reader the ability to feel like using their own senses such as smelling, hearing, seeing, and touch through the characters. When an author tells something it is more straightforward and lacks much depth in meaning. Telling may be merely a line to tell the reader where they are or what is happening without much detail or explanation. Vonnegut uses this method in his stories to give a background of his characters and their feelings at different parts of his stories. In Vonnegut’s story “Long Walk to Forever” he uses telling to start his story giving a simple statement of the setting “They had grown up next door to each other, on the fringe of a city” He gives no detail of the city specifically but just gives the reader the basic information of where the story would be taking place. He then uses telling once again to introduce his character but gives no features except their names “His name is Newt. Her name was Catherine.” Vonnegut uses showing to describe his characters and their personalities, “He was a shy person, even with Catherine. He covered his shyness by speaking absently, as though what really concerned him were far away.” By this description, the reader can reach out to the character as a person and with their own imagination think of a person who would match the characteristics described by Vonnegut. In “Adam” Vonnegut once again uses telling to give a simple description of the setting, “It was midnight in a Chicago lying-in hospital.” He gives no specific detail of the area or the hospital but enough to give a sense of place to his reader. He then uses showing to describe his character but not only his characteristics but also his features, “His face was long and big nosed and thin lipped.” Vonnegut continues with this type of showing as well as giving instances of how the character was feeling during the situation by this method.

Vonnegut and Twain share similarity in their way of showing as they use it to give a description of their character’s personality and characteristics as seen in Twains story “The Good little Boy Who Did Not Prosper” and Vonnegut’s story “Long Walk to Forever” both authors gave more descriptions then features to introduce their characters. Though Vonnegut did use showing to give the features of his characters he used telling to give a sense of understanding for the setting but not specifically. Twain used telling in a similar fashion but used more showing in some of his writings to give a sense of place as seen in “Adams Diary”.

Title Comparisons: Vonnegut and Twain

The Title: Lodge’s Ideas applied to Kurt Vonnegut’s short stories

According to David Lodge, titles “bring into sharper focus of what the novel is about.” For Kurt Vonnegut, the titles brought sharper focus into what the short stories were not specifically stating or discussing. For example, in Adam, there was no mention of anyone named Adam. Instead, after reading the short story, the reader realizes that the author is in fact using a religious allusion to create a better understanding of the story. Religiously speaking, Adam was the first man. He was a new creation, a new being, a new start. In the story, Avchen and Heinz’s newborn is their Adam because he is a new beginning for them.

David Lodge also states that, “titles could indicate a theme . . . promise a certain kind of setting and atmosphere . . .” Kurt Vonnegut’s title are not as revealing about the theme of the story as Mark Twain’s titles were. In Mark Twain’s short stories, some titles tell the story. For example, The Bad Little Boy Who Didn’t Come to Grief, contains both the character of the story and the end as well. It is clear that the boy in the story is a bad boy but he “doesn’t come to grief” meaning he receives no punishment and does not face any trials for the trouble he causes or the sins he commits. This is proven in the story when Jim does many bad things including the murder of his family but continues to live a happy and successful life. Whereas in Vonnegut’s stories, such as Long Walk to Forever, the titles barely hint at the main idea or theme of the story. For Vonnegut, the reader does not understand the significance of the title until they’ve read the whole short story whereas Twain’s titles tell the story all on their own.

Another difference between the style of the two authors is that Twain’s titles and stories tend to have religious allusions and in this way, the stories are able to connect. For Vonnegut’s short stories, there is not reoccurring theme for the titles or the stories. Each title enhances small details or phrases within the story that the reader may have otherwise overlooked.

Although Kurt Vonnegut and Mark Twain have differences in title selection, both of the authors’ titles impact the reader’s view and condition them to see through a very specific lens. This allows for the reader to clearly understand what is being said, although Vonnegut’s titles do allow for more critical thinking when connecting the title to the story.

Beginning Applied to Kurt Vonnegut

In David Lodge’s chapter on the beginning, he states that “WHEN DOES A NOVEL BEGIN? The question is almost as difficult to answer as the question, when does the human embryo become a person? Certainly the creation of a novel rarely begins with the penning or typing of its first words. Most writers do some preliminary work, if it is only in their heads.”  In Adam by Kurt Vonnegut, there must have been much preliminary work done for the creation of this story.  He must have thought about the background of the Knechtman in order to write this story.  The development of this character is vital to the story yet he doesn’t immediately start the story with it.

“When does the beginning of a novel end, is another difficult question to answer. Is it the first paragraph, the first few pages, or the first chapter? However, one defines it, the beginning of a novel is a threshold, separating the real world we inhabit from the world the novelist has imagined. It should therefore, as the phrase goes, “draw us in”.  In “Where I Live” by Kurt Vonnegut.  The whole story seems like a long introduction.  It is very hard to answer what is the end of the beginning of this story.  The whole story describes setting without an actual plot.  This makes it difficult for Vonnegut to “draw us in”.  This story I not that different than the real world because of its realism and the threshold separating us from the real world is very subtle.

 “We are not yet familiar with the author’s tone of voice, range of vocabulary, syntactic habits. We read a book slowly and hesitantly, at first. We have a lot of new information to absorb and remember, such as the characters’ names, their relationships of affinity and consanguinity, the contextual details of time and place, without which the story cannot be followed.”  In a few of Vonnegut’s stories does he start off with the setting or character description.  He does this in “Where I Live”, Tom Edison’s Shaggy Dog” (“Two old men sat on a park bench one morning in the sunshine of Tampa, Florida”), “Long Walk to Forever” (“He was a shy person, even with Catherine”), and “Adam” (“It was midnight in a Chicago lying hospital.”)

Comparison to Twain:

I the beginnings of Mark Twain’s stories, he goes directly into them without mentioning setting and naming characters like in the good and bad little boy.  Vonnegut usually does mention setting and gives details about characters like in “Adam”.  Mark Twain’s stories “draw you in” more than Vonnegut’s because Vonnegut’s stories are more slow paced, with a lot of character description, and have less interesting plots especially in the beginning.  Both authors did do much preliminary work before writing their stories.

Introducing a character: Lodges Literary theory applied to Paradise Of The Blind

‘’Other narrative forms, such as epic, and other media, such as film, can tell a story just as well, but nothing can equal the great tradition of the european novel in the richness, variety and psychological depth of its portrayal of human nature’’. Here Lodge states how important introducing a character really is.‘’Yet character is probably the most difficult aspect of the art of fiction to discuss in technical terms’’. Here Lodge states that with introducing characters being most vital in explaining a story, it is also the most difficult task. This is due to the reason that their are many different types of characters and different ways of representing them,’’major characters, minor characters, flat characters, round characters.’’ Lodge also says that ‘’The simplest way to introduce a character, common in older fiction, is to give a physical description and biographical summary.

In Paradise of The Blind, the main character Hang is introduced and in the beginning of the book given a brief physical description as a flat chested girl who looks ‘’as white a woman after giving birth. But this was all that was said in the beginning, as Lodge stated ‘’Modern novelists usually prefer to let facts about a character emerge gradually’’. This has been the case with Hang, as later on in the book, when she arrives at the train station to go back to Moscow another physical description of her as she see’s herself in the mirror ‘’i see a pale young woman with a lost, worried expression,stooped shoulders, and a cheap maroon wool suit. This allows the reader to understand that Hang, being a young woman with no decent physical appearance is very powerful internally, going through all her weaknesses to visit her family also, she is viewed from other characters as a very worn out, tired and homesick girl.As Hang gets into the train, she begins to have flashbacks of herself as a child. The description of the flashbacks are very sad and depressing. Hang’s mother, Que is brought up first when Hang begins to visualize her childhood on the train ride back home.The description of the land reform policy that affected many families in Vietnam is shown through the eyes of Hang, who on the journey back home (Moscow) begins to visualize the events that her mother had told her about. She remembers looking at her mother and seeing her bright-white teeth and feeling remorse due to the fact that that was the last trace left of her beauty and youth. But once a neighbor mentions her father (Ton) he is brought up and a clear description of both Que and Ton is given. Que is described as young and said to be the most beautiful girl in the village. She begins to remember stories of her dad Ton. He is brought up as a young man at the age of 26, charming, and educated and is currently working as a teacher but due to his mother’s sickness had requested a transfer and with that being said he is also very caring. The descriptions given to the parents of Hang promises a long and healthy marriage, but that isnt the case, not until Uncle Chinh arrives. One year and two months after Ton and Que’s marriage peace was declared throughout the country and Que had began to wait anxiously for her brother (Uncle Chinh) to return. She had heard that he had become sick and had sick that was as yellow as saffron. When Uncle Chinh does arrive at Que’s house she begins to sob and crumples to the ground. Uncle Chinh demands that Que no longer has any interaction with Ton due to the fact that he is from the exploiting class. The reader is forced to see the story through Hangs perspectives against the land reform policy or the communists that were leading Vietnam at that time. Lodge also states that ‘’Clothes are always a useful index of character,class, life-style’’.This also has been clearly shown, as the standard of living in Vietnam at the time was very low. P.13 ‘’I saw the roof of the shack in Hanoi where my mother worked. Sheet metal patched together with tar paper, on rainy days the roof leaked, in the heat of the summer the acrid smell of tar was overpowering. ‘’Children played in filthy black water, sailing their white paper boats.


The Title (Final): Lodge’s Ideas Applied to Duong Thu Huong’s Paradise of the Blind

According to David Lodge, the first subject that captures the reader’s attention within any novel is the title. The title of a novel can resemble many different things and can also be a representation of the time period in which the novel was written or published. At first, the titles of early English novels were the names of main characters, however novelists later realized that titles could be an indication of theme. In the 19th century, titles became resonant literary quotes. Modernists soon created titles of symbolic or metaphorical meaning, and recently, titles have been that of the whimsical or riddle-like phrases.

One of the trickiest jobs of writing a novel is choosing the title. The title serves as a medium for providing a sharper focus as to what the novel may be about. Titles are carefully thought out and mean more to the author than the reader. Since novels have always been considered as works of art, commercial considerations may affect the publication of titles, and they may even lead them to be changed.

Paradise of the Blind is a novel is which the title is of riddling effect. One may ask, to what extent is the title indicative to the theme? The title is a representation of the disillusionment of a utopian society formed by communism and communist leadership. The leaders assume they are producing welfare to the community; however, they are blind to the true reality of the society. The communist leaders are blind leaders who strive to create a new community that will never function as a beneficiary to the Vietnamese people. People wear themselves out trying to “recreate heaven on earth” (pg. 225), however, they are unaware as to what heaven really encompasses. Even the cripple mentioned within the novel again and again cries of a broken heart, he sings of a dream that has yet to be achieved. This dream is a dream of peace and prosperity of his country. Despite his disabilities, the cripple can still sense the unrest within his country. Even though the communist leaders are not physically disabled, they are still blind.

Not only are the communist leaders destroying the fabric of Vietnamese culture, they are destroying the relationship between the people. In chapter 11, a blind man searching for his daughter confronts Hang. Hang describes him as “a ghost looking for the daughter he had brought into this world, of whose suffering he knew nothing?” (pg. 238) This serves as a reminder for Hangs ruined relationship with her father caused by the blindly destructive work of communism. Additionally, their efforts of land reform and equality failed which in turn furthered the destruction of Hang’s family. Uncle Chinh is an example of this corruption. His work in the black market undermines his ideology as a communist leader. The communist leaders are blind to the future and the consequences that come with this new way of living. They promised a paradise, but how can one recognize paradise if they are blinded by their own greed for power?

Shadia Jrab

A Sense of the Past: Lodge’s Ideas Applied to the Paradise of the Blind (Final)

In Lodge’s chapter on A Sense of the Past, he states, “Historical novels dealt with historical events, yet they also evoked the past in terms of morals, manners, and culture.” In addition, Lodge claims that most novels were set back in time from the point of composition, in the period of their authors’ childhood and youth in order to shed light on the social and cultural change, in which the effect is easily lost on modern readers.

According to Lodge’s point of view, he makes a point: The author Duong Thu Huong has written the novel Paradise of the Blind perhaps to emphasize on Vietnam’s culture and tradition. She often adds a lot of details, addressing the readers the significance of Vietnam so they get a better understanding of not where the Vietnamese were, but where and how they are now. Additionally, the reason why Duong includes details is because not everything known is actually experienced. For instance, people nowadays have a glimpse about historical events, such as wars, but they never experienced them. Nevertheless, they feel the loss, yet not fully.

In Paradise of the Blind, Duong Thu Huong gives the readers a sense of the past because she was involved in it. Therefore, she utilizes description, imagery, and symbolism to convey human emotion thereby allowing the reader to get a deep understanding of the past.

The character Hang as a narrator in the novel is often very powerful because the use of Hang’s poetic description infuses with human emotion. Hence, the use of description in the novel helps readers to form images in their minds about the things described; in the Paradise of the Blind, Hang mostly describes the village where she had grown up. Correspondingly, Hang’s description of the village often depicts the contrast between the condition before and after the Vietnam War. Hang mostly depicts how children had their own good times and played around in smutty water. “Children played in this filthy black water, sailing their little white paper boats.” (b.p 13) Furthermore, she mentions how in her village men used to drink on too much beer and came to relieve themselves. “This was my street; I had grown up here.” (b.p 14)

The usage of imagery in the Paradise of the blind helps us readers to have a sense of the village through sight, touch, and hearing. Hang’s diction in describing the village is detailed and poetic. Thus, it contributes to an emotionally rich atmosphere, such as nostalgia, and also lets readers to have a picture of the village in the past. “…village after village; church spires and rooftops piercing the air…drowned in fog, awash in eerie fluorescent light.” (b.p 13) Hang draws a picture for the readers, showing them the gutters gurgling under slabs of cement, flowed from one house to another. Hang’s use of poetic description ultimately creates a visual representation of ideas in the readers’ minds, in which it greatly influences the readers by contributing ideas that correlate with Vietnam’s culture and tradition. Also, within the novel, Hang reveals her past to us readers, showing us vividly her immaturity as a child when interpreting certain objects. Therefore, the author of the novel continually describes events from the past in order to portray the character’s true nature throughout the novel. Hence, the Huong’s technique of showing her readers the very little details in the novel impacts them by comprehending the novel’s purpose as a whole. Additionally, as Hang exposes and addresses the readers about her culture through the use of her poetic description of the past, she perceives the oppression in her society.

Symbolism is used in the novel to show how significant the culture and tradition are. In the first month of Tet, the Lunar New Year Festival, Hang describes how the drums would beat to call the people of the village to celebrate and how kids scurried down the roads, chasing each other. Hence, this symbolizes the importance of the Lunar New Year for the people. “On clear August nights, the rhythm of the pestles pounding young rice rose from every courtyard in every village.” (b.p 24) Hang portrays and describes how happy and joyful the people are during this particular time of the year. “The shrill jeer of women’s laughter was enough to shatter these millions of white flowers.” On the other hand, symbolism is also used to show that communism existed and that Que’s brother being a communist shows how it had an authentic effect on the reader, in which communism was a catastrophe. Furthermore, the existence of communism in the novel signifies how people were brainwashed. “The Special Section for the Rectification of Errors was incapable of picking up the pieces, but succeeded in dispelling the sinister atmosphere that had suffocated the village.” (b.p 33) Thus, communism is symbolized to show that everyone in the village could tell of the unhappiness and the injustice they had suffered. Lastly, Duong Thu Huong had copiously succeeded in giving her readers a glimpse of the past by the main character Hang’s use of words throughout the Paradise of the Blind.

In conclusion, the Paradise of the Blind was initially written in Vietnamese, in which it was envisioned for its people. Nevertheless, the novel was banned from her country due to the political views  she discussed within it; hence, most of her readers are not Vietnamese after all. Huong however couldn’t have really expected this. The purpose of her writing the Paradise of the Blind not only was to portray the sufferings and the struggles the Vietnamese people went through during communism and the war she had experienced, but also to depict the strength and patience of the victims in Vietnam and their willpower to survive with dignity.