Showing 51 - 60 of 72 annotations contributed by Donley, Carol

Hop-Frog

Poe, Edgar Allan

Last Updated: Feb-12-1999
Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The narrator of this story, a remote third person, tells us the story of two dwarfs, Hop-Frog and Tripetta, who are ordered to help the fat king and his seven fat ministers celebrate a masquerade at court. Hop-Frog cannot tolerate alcohol, but the king forces him to drink. After the king has thrown wine in Tripetta's face, Hop-Frog sobers enough to say he'll make them all into orang-outangs for the masquerade, all the time planning his revenge for their brutality. At the masquerade he drags them up into the air and burns them alive in the costume.

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Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

For Booth all encounters between a storyteller (author) and listener (reader) are ethical in that they bring together the character (ethos) of each. These good and bad qualities of character describe both the author and the reader who "keeps company" with the author. Narratives, in addition to whatever aesthetic pleasure they may give us, always interpret life; they tell us about our lives and other possible lives. We are changed by our reading; the quality of life in the moment of our listening is not what it would be if we had not listened.

While we may disagree about what is great literature within and between cultures, Booth asks if we can hope to find a criticism that will respect variety and yet offer knowledge about why some fictions are worth more than others. His answer is "yes," and he devotes several hundred pages of careful argument and plentiful examples to support his claim.

Fictions are the most powerful of all the architects of our souls and societies. The ethics of criticism is a universal concern; no one can escape the effect of stories because everyone tells them and listens to them; therefore everyone consciously or not asks and answers these questions: Should I believe this narrator and thus join him? Am I willing to be the kind of person this story-teller is asking me to be? What kind of company am I keeping?

Ethics of narrative is a reflexive study, because it starts with one of its conclusions: that some experiences with narrative are beneficial and some are harmful. The minds we use in judging stories have been in part constituted by the stories we judge; there is no control group of untouched souls who have lived without narrative. We absorb the values of what we read; we have been that kind of person for at least as long as we remain in the presence of the work. The ethics of narrative is reciprocal; it affects teller as well as listener. Ethical debate about narrative values can lead to ultimate questions about the quality of life as it is lived.

Booth says every use of language carries freight of cultural values and norms. Ethical criticism cannot divorce itself from social and political contexts. Therefore, he says we come to our sense of value in narratives by experiencing them in context of others that are like and unlike them. We rely on past experiences to make judgments; validity is checked and corrected in conversation (a process he calls coduction). Coduction incorporates what we have experienced of other poems and poets; it judges by comparison and conversation (like a case-based approach). Whenever a narrative really works for us, we are sure to feel that the author's choices and ours are alike in kind, that he or she is our kind of person, practicing skills, virtues, moral powers that we admire.

In reader-response theory, regardless of what the author has tried to give, we can judge only what we manage to take. The reader-response denial that literary works have any intrinsic power or value comes in 2 forms: (1) all aesthetic values are subjective, belonging to each individual; (2) evaluations are corrected and improved in a given community; the community confers value. (Stanley Fish, Is There a Text in This Class? Harvard Univ. Press, 1980) Booth says that the question of whether the value is in the poem or in the reader is radically ambiguous. On the one hand, value is not there actually until it is actualized by the reader; on the other hand, it could not be actualized if it were not there in potential in the poem.

When we read a story we find ourselves in a world different from our own; we are exposed to the "Other" and to other value systems, which we "try on" and evaluate in comparison to the ones we know. We can surrender uncritically to whatever appeals to us, or we can stay aloof so we don't have to really examine these other values, or we can correct and refine our own experience once we have really understood the other value system (coduction).

According to Booth, serious ethical disasters produced by narratives can occur when people sink themselves into an "unrelieved hot bath" of one kind of narrative, such as one of racial superiority. He also notes that writers who come from ideological positions, such as Walker Percy and Flannery O'Connor, often hold those positions against the mistaken views held by their characters, so if the reader cannot distinguish the author's position from his characters' the reader is likely to misinterpret the message. He comments on that problem in Twain's Huck Finn, Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. He refers to Chekhov's story, Home (annotated in this database), and many of Dostoevsky's works.

Booth says that we conduct our lives with and in metaphor, and he warns us not to think we have a literal picture when we're really dealing with metaphor. Some think ordinary language is unfigured and refers literally to a real world behind their language. They don't recognize their own metaphoric world. (See also Metaphors We Live By, by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, annotated in this database.)

In a discussion pertinent to medicine as a "battle against disease," Booth points out that the war metaphor implies a world where winning or losing is primary. While that cultural value may dominate western culture, it does not accurately describe the value systems of many people. Even the simplest narratives imply whole worlds according to which the narrative makes sense; all narrative is metaphoric.

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The Baltimore Waltz

Vogel, Paula

Last Updated: Jul-03-1998
Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

Brother Carl and sister Anna take a whirlwind trip to Europe after they learn that Anna has a fatal illness (ATD or Acquired Toilet Disease) contracted from being a teacher of elementary school children. That wacky disease and several other clues alert the audience to the fact that Anna is not the one who is really sick--that Carl is dying of AIDS and Anna is imaginatively creating this whole trip which they could never take since Carl was dying in a Baltimore hospital.

The entire action of the play takes place "really" in the Baltimore hospital, though the audience follows Anna in her fantasy trip to Paris, Munich and Vienna. When Anna shows slides of their European trip, all the shots are scenes from Johns Hopkins University Medical School. The preface to the play includes a very touching letter from Paula Vogel's brother, who died of AIDS in 1987.

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Lips Together, Teeth Apart

McNally, Terrence

Last Updated: Jul-03-1998
Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

Two married couples spend the Fourth of July weekend at a summer house on Fire Island. The brother of Sally Truman has recently died of AIDS and has willed his Fire Island house to her. Her husband, Sam, opens the play testing the chlorine level of the water in the pool.

It becomes clear that everyone is afraid of somehow getting AIDS from swimming in the same pool that Sally's brother used to swim in. As she believes, "One drop of water in your mouth or an open sore and we'll be infected with my brother and his black lover and God knows who else was in here."

Sam's sister, Chloe, and her husband, John, share the apprehension, though John has cancer of the esophagus and is not particularly worried about AIDS. In fact he intentionally sticks his head in the pool and gets a mouthful of water which he spits at the others. The play reveals both marriages in trouble and many examples of superficial values and prejudices.

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Mental Cases

Owen, Wilfred

Last Updated: Mar-26-1998
Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The narrator in this three stanza poem observes men in a mental hospital who suffer from what at the time (World War I) was called shell shock and now might be labeled post-traumatic stress disorder. In any case, they are insane; they relive the "batter of guns and shatter of flying muscles."

For these tortured souls, "sunlight seems a bloodsmear" and "dawn breaks open like a wound that bleeds afresh." They cannot escape their hideous memories of the warfare. The narrator sees them as living in hell, and he accepts for all society the blame for what has happened to them--we, he says, have "dealt them war and madness."

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Equus

Shaffer, Peter

Last Updated: Mar-05-1998
Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

A 17 year-old boy, Alan, is brought to a psychiatric hospital because he has blinded several horses with a hoof pick. A psychiatrist, Dysart, works to "normalize" the boy, all the while feeling that though he makes the boy 'safe' for society, he is taking away from him his worship and sexual vitality--both of which are missing in the doctor's own personal life. He actually envies Alan the sexual worship he has experienced.

In spite of his own hang-ups, though, the doctor does help the boy work through his obsession, which identifies the horse Equus with God. But the doctor comments that "when Equus leaves--if he leaves at all--it will be with your intestines in his teeth. . . . I'll give him [Alan] the good Normal world . . . and give him Normal places for his ecstasy. . . Passion, you see, can be destroyed by a doctor. It cannot be created."

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Cathedral

Carver, Raymond

Last Updated: Jan-31-1997
Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

This short story opens with an irritated and sometimes hostile narrator whose wife has invited a blind friend to spend the night. The narrator tells us immediately that his visitor's blindness bothers him and that he is not looking forward to having a blind man in his house. The vehemence of his prejudice is surprising. His initial anger and anxiety seem way out of proportion to the situation, as if this blind man were threatening him somehow.

Gradually, as the evening wears on, the narrator begins to relax with the blind man, though he still challenges him in all sorts of ways, such as drinking, smoking cigarettes and dope, and turning on the TV (which, of course, the blind man cannot see). A documentary about cathedrals is showing. The narrator tries to describe a cathedral in words. When that doesn't succeed, the blind man holds the narrator's hand as he draws a cathedral on a paper bag. The experience of this successful communication transforms the narrator.

As the blind man says, "Terrific. You're doing fine. Never thought anything like this could happen in your lifetime?" The narrator closes his eyes and draws blind, saying, "So we kept on with it. His fingers rode my fingers as my hand went over the paper. It was like nothing in my life up to now." The ending leaves us pondering about how much more the narrator is learning about himself and about human communication than the blind man is learning about cathedrals.

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The President

Barthelme, Donald

Last Updated: Jan-31-1997
Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The new U.S. President is tiny, strange, and apparently brilliant. Somehow the people believe that he will identify problems and find solutions. People are fainting. No one seems to know what is going on. No one thought such a tiny man could be elected President, but he won in a landslide. The society seems to believe the President can do great things; but no one seems to have any idea what those might be. Meanwhile, people keep fainting.

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Dwarf House

Beattie, Ann

Last Updated: Jan-31-1997
Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

James, a dwarf, lives in a dwarf house and has a dwarf girl-friend. His brother, MacDonald, thinks of James as a dwarf first and a person second. MacDonald is really bothered by James wanting to marry--as if marriage and sexual relations were something dwarfs shouldn't do. When MacDonald tells his mother James has other people to talk to in the dwarf house, she says, "Dwarfs, not people. He's hiding from the real world." She too does not see dwarfs as real people, and sees herself as punished by giving birth to a dwarf. Yet at the wedding itself, the bride is genuinely happy, as MacDonald recognizes to his surprise.

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The Dwarf

Bradbury, Ray

Last Updated: Jan-31-1997
Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Aimee and Ralph work at a carnival, Ralph collecting tickets at the Mirror Maze where uneven mirrors reflect distorted images. A dwarf named Mr. Bigelow comes to the maze; Ralph takes Aimee in to spy on the dwarf as he goes into a mirror room which reflects him as tall and slender. Ralph enjoys sneering at the dwarf, but Aimee feels sad and also feels very attracted to him. She investigates, learns he's a writer, wants to help him.

She decides to buy a mirror like one in the maze that reflects him as normal. Ralph, out of spite and perhaps some jealousy, replaces the enlarging mirror with one that makes people seem tiny. The dwarf "shrieking hysterically and sobbing" runs out of the maze. Aimee feels desperately sad and guilty, because Ralph would not have played that trick if he weren't irritated by her interest in Mr. Bigelow.

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