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A Hunger Artist

Kafka, Franz

Last Updated: Jan-29-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A 'hunger artist' explains the decline of interest in the art of fasting. In the old days people would enthusiastically observe the artist as he fasted, some of them watching carefully for surreptitious snacking. In those times 40 days was the limit of fasting; on the 40th day, the artist's cage was decked in flowers as he emerged to the ministrations of doctors and the crowd's applause.

But the public now has lost interest. The artist left his impresario and hired himself out to a circus where his cage is placed near the cages of animals. He dreads the onslaught of customers, some of whom stop and watch him, but others rush right past him to see the animals.

At the end, the overseer finds the hunger artist among the straw when he enters the cage. Just before he dies, the artist admits that there was no honor in his fasting; he just never found the food that he liked. Had he found it, he would have stopped fasting. He dies and is replaced by a panther.

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Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

On her death bed, surrounded by her children, doctor and priest, a memory of 60 years ago, the day she was jilted by her husband-to-be, could no longer be repressed by Granny Weatherall-- "the thought of him was a smoky cloud from hell that moved and crept in her head . . . ." Voices and visions, imagined and real, mingle and merge throughout the story as this hardy woman, one who has weathered so much, lives out her final moments.

Ironically, Granny Weatherall is jilted for a second time when the final sign she's been waiting for from Jesus never appears. "For the second time there was no sign. Again no bridegroom and the priest in the house . . . She stretched herself with a deep breath and blew out the light."

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The Excrement Poem

Kumin, Maxine

Last Updated: Jan-29-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The narrator observes that we all, from the worm to the brontosaurus, have excrement. As she cleans the horses' stalls of "risen brown buns," she contemplates that sparrows will come to pick "redelivered grain" from the manure, that mushrooms will "spring up in a downpour" from it, that "However much we stain the world," shit indicates that we go on.

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My Mother's Body

Piercy, Marge

Last Updated: Jan-29-1997
Annotated by:
Moore, Pamela

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The narrator reflects on her mother's death through four sections. In the first, she recalls the moment her mother collapsed and died. Her father heard the crash but refused to get up from his nap to see what had happened. The narrator hears the crash fifteen hundred miles away and feels her mother's pain. This stanza also speaks about the Jewish funeral, held in Florida while Christmas carols play out over palm trees.

In the second section, the narrator is sorting through her mother's things. She dreams of her mother at seventeen, full of hope. The third section speaks about how much of the mother remains alive in the daughter. The same hips and thighs have cushioned grandmother, mother, and now daughter. The narrator feels as if she carries her mother inside her, just as her mother once carried her.

Section four brings out issues over which the mother and daughter disagreed. The narrator was once eager to create a life separate from her mother's. Now, though, she and her mother are one and the mother can live her life through the body of her daughter.

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Annotated by:
Moore, Pamela

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

In this poem, the narrator describes her father who is in a nursing home suffering from dementia. The poem opens with a description of the narrator's dying cat, with whom her father is compared. The most distinctive thing about the father's anger and confusion is his loss of power. In a home he is denied access to his money, his house, even his ability to boss others around. He calls his daughter and insists that she is not his daughter at all, but his wife.

He feels as if it's the wrong year, "and the world bristles with women who make short hard statements like men and don't apologize enough, who don't cry when he yells or makes a fist." He has lost his masculinity. He accuses his daughter of stealing his money, the money he hoarded from her as she grew up and that is now useless to him. No one on the ward remembers or cares that he once walked the picket line, worked, or had a desirable wife. He is as angry as "a four-hundred-horsepower car," but he has lost his license to drive.

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Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

This is another of Hemingway's dense vignettes, filled with nuance but spare in style. The anecdote revolves around the difference between a clean, bright cafe and a dark, not-so-clean, bar as a place for lonely men to spend the long, sleepless nights. Two waiters discuss a lingering patron in a cafe who overstays his welcome as the night wears on. The old man gets quietly drunk each night; just last week he tried to kill himself, but was rescued.

Tonight he tries to pass the night in a clean, well-lighted place. The young waiter, impatient, to get home to his wife, does not comprehend the importance of this place to this old man's survival. The older waiter, who does understand, walks into the night himself, unable to find his own clean, well-lighted place in which to pass a lonely and sleepless night.

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Dibs: In Search of Self

Axline, Virginia

Last Updated: Jan-28-1997
Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Case Study

Summary:

This is the story of a successful use of play therapy with an emotionally disturbed five-year-old boy named Dibs. In nursery school Dibs is very withdrawn and resists his teachers' attempts to engage him. Dibs' parents and teachers had all but given him up as mentally retarded. Axline is brought in as a last resort, and in a series of play therapy sessions over a period of several months, cures him. (Dibs turns out to have an IQ of 168.) Axline takes an emotionally neutral approach to her patient, in spite of his obvious need for emotional support, in order not to interfere with his discovering of the self that had been severely repressed at home.

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St. Peregrinus' Cancer

Hall, Judith

Last Updated: Jan-28-1997
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

A highly referential poem, "St. Peregrinus' Cancer" (eight stanzas of four couplets each) "may be most indebted to the arcane [book] Watercolours of Cancer Patients' Dreams (Phoebe Lord, M.D., London, 1964)" according to the poet. (See pg. 254 of the anthology for a description of the poet and her comments on this poem.) The poem starts with an image of St. Peregrinus (Laziosi, the 14th century Italian patron saint of cancer patients who was himself miraculously cured of a cancerous foot after a night of prayer) crossing a field and quickly moves internally to the poet's family and private world, describing her and her mother's cancers. A dense poem, it relies heavily on imagery and punning (the word "crab" appears twice in case the reader didn't get the reference the first time).

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Dreams of a Doctor's Wife

Massad, Stewart

Last Updated: Jan-28-1997

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The story is told from the perspective of an obstetrician's wife. She encourages her husband as he finishes school and gets his first job. Then she becomes pregnant. She tells of the changes in her body and in her perspective. Her husband is busy treating other women, while she goes to childbirth classes alone. He arrives just at the end of the birth. She wants him to be with her more often, but understands his need to be with his patients.

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Raising the Dead

Selzer, Richard

Last Updated: Jan-28-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

Selzer developed Legionnaire's disease and was comatose for 23 days in 1991. In this short book, he describes his illness and prolonged convalescence. The time of his stay in the ICU is lost to him, so he invents the story of what (might have) happened when he was comatose and delirious. In fact, he invents his own death and resurrection.

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