Showing 61 - 70 of 123 annotations tagged with the keyword "Literary Theory"

Soldiers Cry by Night

Matute, Ana Maria

Last Updated: Sep-08-2006
Annotated by:
Marta, Jan

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Toward the end of the Spanish Civil War, Manuel’s biological father, Jorge de Son Major, dies, finally recognizing him in his will. His social father, Jose Taronji, had been killed only two years before. Manuel, newly rich but philosophically impoverished, seeks a secular spiritual father in "Jeza", an imprisoned rebel leader, and Jose’s comrade. When Jeza is killed, Manuel informs his wife, Marta, and together they plan a final revolt. They use Jorge de Son Major’s boat, Antinea, to deliver rebel documents, then make one final, "crazy," fatal stand, to honor and mourn Jeza, to remember and create themselves.

View full annotation

New Bridge over the Missouri

Khan, Jemshed

Last Updated: Sep-01-2006
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

This poem, written in five sections of free verse, begins with the speaker remembering the old steel bridge he used to drive over on his way to work. He describes how the gaps between the steel beams had given him access to the world beyond the bridge: he had been able to see the river bank and railroad tracks and, most importantly, the people down there, "wild dangerous men" living near the edge of the river.

The poet next describes the new bridge, with its smooth speedy surface and solid concrete sides concealing the view. He then steps back and reflects: "what now?" He compares the engineer making the bridge with his own writing, "diminish[ing] the homeless to a poetic abstraction," and asks where this leaves him. Both bridge and abstraction, he implies, take the life, untidy and dangerous but valuable, out of his experience of crossing the Missouri.

He cannot view the material for his poetry now, unless he were to stop, back up the traffic, and risk his life climbing the walls of the bridge, and even then he does not know what he would say, because the new bridge has made him realize something about himself: "I am partly the leech come to feed, / yet I cannot waver from my groove." As a poet, he needs access to the lives of others, an access he likens to parasitism. But his career, the work to which he is going, requires him to speed on across the bridge without pausing.

He now elaborates on his distance from the world of the homeless people (and, by implication, all the other material for his poetry), saying that he has "safely bled away the guilt, / and pity and compassion," from his involvement or complicity in the meaning of his material, and "channeled it" into the poem. The leech image is now applied to the poem which, once filled with those ambivalent emotions, becomes separate from the poet and attaches itself instead to the reader, who now becomes the one feeding on the "dark spurt of old blood," the horrifying riches of which the speaker has rid himself.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) is trying to avenge the rape and murder of his wife. She was, as far as he can recall, killed by the same intruder who injured Leonard’s head, leaving him with "anterograde amnesia": he remembers everything up until the injury but no longer has short term memory. "I can’t make new memories. Everything fades."

Leonard’s single purpose now is to find and kill the person responsible for his wife’s death and his own disability. He remembers this purpose, and the steps in his progress towards it, by keeping annotated Polaroid photographs and tattooing important facts onto his body. At the end of the story--which is the beginning of the film--Leonard kills a man he believes to be the murderer, but who is probably not.

The story is narrated in reverse chronology, beginning with Leonard shooting the suspected killer, in short segments corresponding more or less to the length of Leonard’s ability to remember. These scenes are interspersed with parts of a longer scene that follows regular chronology, shot in black and white, in which Leonard sits in his motel room, talking on the telephone and telling the story of Sammy Jankis, a man he seems to remember from his earlier life as an insurance investigator.

Sammy suffered from anterograde amnesia after a car crash and Leonard dismissed his condition as psychological rather than physical, resulting in the refusal of Sammy’s insurance claim (the company doesn’t cover mental illness). Sammy’s diabetic wife, thinking that if the condition is mental it must also be voluntary, tries to get him to "snap out of it" by testing him in various ways: finally she tricks him into administering her insulin shot over and over until she dies. Sammy ends up institutionalized.

As we piece the story together, we realize that Leonard’s method for keeping track of his revenge plot is inadequate. Because the bits of information that substitute for memory can be manipulated, others are able to use him as an unwitting assassin. We also deduce that the story of Sammy Jankis may in fact be the story of Leonard Shelby, and that perhaps Leonard’s own wife was killed not by a murderer but by Leonard himself, the revenge motivation possibly planted by Teddy (possibly a cop) in order to make of Leonard a very efficient killer.

The story ends (where it begins) with Teddy’s plot turned against him by Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss), a mysterious woman who has revenge motives of her own. Leonard takes Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) for the killer and shoots him. Our chilling realization is that Leonard will soon forget he has achieved his objective and again begin looking for someone to kill.

View full annotation

The Lottery

Jackson, Shirley

Last Updated: Aug-30-2006
Annotated by:
Marta, Jan

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Villagers gather together in the central square for the annual lottery. There is much excitement and interest as the rituals of the event proceed. The familiar discussion of current and everyday happenings in village life is intermingled with commentary on the traditional and modern ways of holding the lottery, as well as observation of the particularities of this year’s proceedings. Finally a winning family is chosen by ballot, and from that family a winning member--Mrs. Hutchinson. Mrs. Hutchinson is then stoned by the villagers, including her family members.

View full annotation

The Lovely Bones

Sebold, Alice

Last Updated: Aug-30-2006
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Susie Salmon, fourteen years old, is raped, murdered, and dismembered by a serial killer who has moved into the neighbourhood. He disposes of her body in an old sinkhole. Susie is presumed dead when someone’s dog finds her elbow in a cornfield. The rest of her body is never discovered. This novel begins with the murder and follows Susie’s family and friends through the ten years after her death.

Her mother and father separate after he becomes obsessed with proving that Mr. Harvey is the culprit (he is, but evidence is hard to find) and she has an affair with the detective investigating the case. Susie’s sister, Lindsay, grows up as the one who has to stand in for two sisters, one present, one lost; her much-younger brother, Buckley, grows up as the one resenting his family’s dismemberment.

Susie’s schoolfriends grow, too: Ray Singh, who first kissed her, is an early suspect. He becomes a doctor. The sensitive, lesbian, Ruth Connors, is near the cornfield at the moment of Susie’s death and feels something she later realizes was Susie’s soul leaving. She becomes a feminist visionary and poet.

By the end, Susie’s parents have reconciled, Lindsay has married and had a child, and Mr. Harvey, the serial killer, has suffered a death perhaps accidental, certainly just. The strong interpersonal structures that develop after Susie’s death are the "lovely bones" of the title, the narrative rather than material remnants of Susie’s life.

What makes this novel more than an account of loss and grief and recovery (though it is a well-imagined account of this kind) is the fact that it is narrated entirely by Susie, from the perspective of heaven. Heaven is a place of possibility, limited only by the imagination and desires of the dead, and it is a place from which the living can be watched, their lives shared and, perhaps, very occasionally, influenced.

Susie suffers being excluded from her family, but her suffering, her voice implies, is tempered by an extraordinary serenity, a kind of calm that most clearly marks the difference between her condition and that of the living. At the end of the novel she briefly returns to the living, inhabiting Ruth’s body and, with Ray, redeeming and obliterating her own appalling first, lethal, sexual experience. After this she can leave off watching "Earth" all the time, as the horizons of heaven expand beyond those she has left behind.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The setting is the California coast (presumably in the Los Angeles area). The narrator recalls her one and only hospital visit to her best friend, who was dying. Why has it taken her so long to make this visit? Because she is afraid.

When she arrives, her friend is wearing a surgical mask, and so must she. They talk about inconsequential things, bantering, but then her friend says that there "is a real and present need here . . . like for someone to do it for you when you can’t do it yourself." The narrator tells her sick friend the story of a dog who "knows when to disobey."

The narrator remembers how she and her friend played a word-game to ward off earthquakes. Now, however, it is not a question of "if" but only of "when." When the narrator returns to her friend’s hospital room after taking a walk on the beach, there is a second bed there. The narrator knows it is meant for her, so that she can keep vigil. Both women take a nap, but on awakening, the narrator says, "I have to go home."

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

This work is an adaptation and abridgment of a classic work of Chekhov scholarship by Vladimir Kataev published in Russia in 1979 and presented here in English for the first time. Professor Kataev is concerned primarily with Chekhov’s perspective and methodology, the manner in which Chekhov looks at the world and, hence, the kinds of stories he tells and the methods by which he tells them.

The characteristic Chekhovian perspective first appears in recognizable form in stories that Chekhov wrote in his breakthrough years of the mid-1880s, yet it continued to develop and deepen throughout his writing career. Thus, If Only We Could Know is arranged chronologically. In each chapter the author discusses one or more stories or plays, using them as grist for his topical mill, beginning with "Kashanka" (1887) and ending with The Bishop (1902) and The Cherry Orchard(1903).

According to Kataev, the key to understanding Chekhov is to understand his epistemology or philosophy of knowledge. Basically, in Chekhov’s world the characters do not have access to a privileged perspective or to ultimate truth. "The relative, conditional nature of ideas and opinions, and of stereotyped ways of thinking and behaving; the refusal to regard an individual solution as absolute; and the baselessness of various claims to possession of ’real truth’: these are constants in Chekhov’s world." (p. 164) Thus, the characters communicate poorly and often end up inadvertently causing pain, or sabotaging their own life projects.

Nonetheless, Chekhov’s vision is not pessimistic. Chapter 16, "Chekhov’s General Conclusions," summarizes Kataev’s analysis of the author’s overall approach. Chekhov’s conclusions "may be negative {no one knows the real truth), or affirmative (seeking the truth is an inalienable part of human nature), or they may take the form of indicating the criteria and conditions necessary for establishing real truth." (p. 168) Thus, Kataev expresses here, as well as in his analyses of individual works, the dialectical (my term--JC) relationship between the facts of Chekhov’s stories (i.e. failed beliefs, failed communication, missed opportunities) and his compassion for human nature that searches endlessly for love and meaning in life.

View full annotation

Summary:

The book is based on a series of conversations between Edith Heal and William Carlos Williams that took place over a five-month period in the mid 1950s. Williams had published more than 40 books (some of them mere pamphlets) between 1909 and 1957, the span of time covered in these conversations. The interviewer asked him to make biographical comments related to each book--what he was doing at the time, how the book came about, and how this particular work related to his development as a writer.

Thus, after Williams makes some introductory comments about becoming a poet, the book is arranged chronologically, with one to several pages devoted to each book from the privately printed "Poems" in 1909 to "The Lost Poems of William Carlos Williams" (New Directions) and "The Selected Letters of William Carlos Williams" (McDowell, Obolensky, Inc.), both published in 1957.

In many cases, especially for some of the early pamphlets and, later, the "selected" and "collected" volumes, Williams’s comments are short and avuncular. However, his reminiscences about the major books are interesting and insightful, although, of course, they put us in touch with the persona that their author wished to reveal, and not necessarily with the "real" William Carlos Williams.

Typical comments include this, about "Spring and All" (1923), in which so many of Williams’s most famous poems were originally collected: "Nobody ever saw it--it had no circulation at all--but I had a lot of fun with it." (p. 36) Regarding The Knife of the Times and Other Stories (1932), he comments: "This is the first book of short stories . . . I felt furious at the country for its lack of progressive ideas . . . These people didn’t know anything about poetry, about literature. They were not interested in me as a writer, but as a man and a physician." (pp. 49-50)

Williams’s first Collected Poems appeared in 1934, "Needless to say, it didn’t sell at all." (Only 500 copies were made.) Williams finally broke into the world of commercial publishing with New Directions and his 1937 novel, White Mule (see annotation in this database). [At the time he was 54 years old!] New Directions subsequently published two other novels in The White Mule trilogy, along with short stories (Life Along the Passaic River) and his later volumes of poems.

Williams has a lot to say about his massive poetic project, Patterson, which was very well received in its first installment (1946), but became progressively less entrancing to the critics in Books 2 through 5. In Book 2 of Patterson (1948) he mentions first using his famous triadic variable foot, which he later developed fully in The Desert Music and Other Poems (1954) and Pictures from Brueghel (1962): "From the time I hit on this I knew what I was going to have to do . . . My two leading forces were trying to know life and trying to find a technique of verse. Now I had it--a sea change." (pp. 82-83)

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

It is difficult to characterize this book, which consists of a series of roughly chronological chapters, each of which deals with a person or an event important in shaping (or representative of) "the American grain." Williams begins with Red Eric (Eric the Red), whose son Leif Ericsson "discovered" the North American continent, and continues with chapters on Columbus, Cortez, Ponce de Leon, De Soto, Walter Raleigh, the Pilgrims, Champlain, Cotton Mather, Daniel Boone, George Washington, and so forth.

In each case the focus is on character and impact--not so much "impact" on the historical panorama, but "impact" on the emerging and evolving American character (or grain). In that sense the book might be considered an impressionistic biography of the childhood and adolescence of the American spirit.

About halfway through the book in a chapter entitled "Père Sebastian Rasles" (p. 105), Williams steps into the narrative as a first person narrator describing events that occurred during "my six weeks in Paris." Here he connects the development of American literature, as exemplified by Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, H. D. and other expatriates, to American cultural history, in this case the evolving conflict between the New England puritan culture and a Catholic influence that filtered down from Quebec (personalized in the form of the Jesuit priest for whom the chapter is named).

The clearest statement of the American grain occurs in a chapter called "Jacataqua." Consider this: "The United States without self-seeking has given more of material help to Europe and to the world . . . than have all other nations of the world put together in the entire history of mankind." (p. 175) "It is this which makes us the flaming terror of the world . . . with hatred barking at us from every sea." (p. 176) "America adores violence, yes. It thrills at big fires and explosions." (p. 177) And so forth. Williams’s observations remain pretty much on target in 2003, nearly 80 years after he wrote them.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

An imaginative recreation of profound personal loss, the resulting changes wrought by unexpected responsibility as well as opportunity, all occurring during the progression from late adolescence into young adulthood, this work is centered on the death and its aftermath of the author’s parents 32 days apart, when the author was 21 years old (in 1991). With two siblings embarked on their own careers, it was Dave who took on "parenthood" of their eight-year old brother, "Toph."

The book details first, the mother’s death, then, the life that Eggers and Toph negotiate for themselves and with each other after they move from suburban Chicago to Berkeley, California, and, finally, Dave’s return visit to his hometown, wherein he seeks to exorcise some ghosts. In between these landmarks are reflections on family relationships, including that with a shadowy, alcoholic father; the launch of a satiric magazine, "Might" (a title meant to signify both power and possibility); concern for wounded friends; attempts to lead a "normal" life.

While the bare facts of Eggers’s story are unusual enough, the writing is arrestingly original--performative, conversational, brash, yet self-deprecating, funny, and often moving. It is not inaccurate, and will give a flavor of the writing style, to describe the book’s "themes" in the author’s own words (from the 21-page Acknowledgments), for example: "The Unspoken Magic Of Parental Disappearance"--the admission that this traumatic experience of loss "is accompanied by an undeniable but then of course guilt-inducing sense of mobility, of infinite possibility, having suddenly found oneself in a world with neither floor nor ceiling" (xxv); "The Brotherly Love/Weird Symbiosis Factor"; "The Knowingness About The Book’s Self-Conscious Aspect"--an acknowledgment that self-reference is "simply a device, a defense, to obscure the black, blinding, murderous rage and sorrow at the core of this whole story" (xxvii); "The Telling The World Of Suffering As Means Of Flushing Or At Least Diluting Of Pain Aspect"; "The Putting This All Down As Tool For Stopping Time Given The Overlap With Fear Of Death Aspect."

Dave Eggers is on his way to New York with Toph as the book ends. They currently live in Brooklyn, where Eggers produces a quarterly literary journal (Timothy Mcsweeney’s Quarterly Concern, A Journal Created By Nervous People In Relative Obscurity) and a related Web site.

View full annotation