Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Ralph Ellision - "Battle Royal"

The first paragraph of this story intensely highlights the theme of alienation:
"I was looking for myself and asking questions which I, and only I, could answer...But first I had to discover that I am an invisible man!" (Ellison 9)
The main character gives a speech "at a gathering of the town's leading white citizens" (10).  There is a clear line drawn between him and the recipients of the speech:
"I spoke automatically and with such fervor that I did not realize that the men were still talking and laughing until my dry mouth, filling up with blood from the cut, almost strangled me." (14)
One of the goals of the white men is to turn the young black men on each other, destroying any sense of community or comrodery:
 "Everyone fought hysterically.  It was complete anarchy.  Everybody fought everybody else.  No group fought together for long." (12)
The white woman - an exotic dancer - also exemplifies the theme of alienation.  She is alone even among her own race as she is made to perform and humiliate herself, just as the young black men are made to do:
"A sea of faces, some hostile, some amused, ringed around us, and in the center, facing us, stood a magnificent blonde - stark naked.  There was dead silence...As the dancer flung herself about with a detached expression on her face, the men began reaching out to touch her." (10-11)

Shirley Jackson - "The Lottery"

There are 300 people that live in this fictional town.  These tiny towns usually alienate themselves from the other surrounding towns, defining clear lines between them:
""They do say," Mr. Adams said to Old Man Warner, who stood next to him, "that over in the north village they're talking about giving up the lottery."
Old Man Warner snorted. "Pack of crazy fools," he said." (Jackson 13)
The point of the lottery is to choose one person every year to be excluded (and therefore alienated) from the citizenship of townspeople.  As the lottery begins, the townspeople begin alienating themselves from one another in hopes that they will not be the chosen person.
"For a minute, no one moved, and then all the slips of paper were opened.  Suddenly, all the women began to speak at once, saying, "Who is it," "Who's got it?," "Is it the Dunbars?," "Is it the Watsons?" Then the voices began to say, "It's Hutchinson.  It's Bill," "Bill Hutchinson's got it." (18)
This example of alienation is taken to an extreme to the point of routine murder.
""Well, now," Mr. Summers said soberly, "guess we better get started, get this over with, so's we can go back to work." (18)

Flannery O'Connor - "Good Country People"

The main character, Joy/Hulga, is alienated by those surrounding her, but she also chooses to alienate herself via her name, philosophical stance, personal interests, lack of religion, time spent in school, and her artificial leg.  It is as though she prides herself in distinguishing herself from the "good country people" around her, as demonstrated by her choice in an alternative name:
"She had arrived at it first purely on the basis of its ugly sound and then the full genius of its fitness had struck her." (O'Connor 30)
The theme of alienation is continued with the display of separation within the mother/daughter relationship.  Mrs. Hopewell, despite her good intentions, cannot understand her daughter and refuses to accept her differences without pity:
"One day Mrs. Hopewell had picked up one of the books the girl had just put down...These words had been underlined with a blue pencil and they worked on Mrs. Hopewell like some evil incantation in gibberish.  She shut the book quickly and went out of the room as if she were having a chill." (30)
O'Connor uses Joy's/Hulga's alienation as a means of exploitation.  The bible salesman identifies this and uses it to his advantage:
""I've gotten a lot of interesting things," he said.  "One time I got a woman's glass eye this way." (36)

Dorothy Allison - "River of Names"

This entire story is about a young woman's feelings of shame toward her family.  She either lies about some of the details that she chooses to tell or simply doesn't reply to others - over and over again, the narrator chooses not to say a word about her family dynamics:
""What did your grandmother smell like?"
I lie to her the way I always do, a lie stolen from a book.  "Like lavender," stomach churning over the memory of sour sweat and snuff." (Allison 54)
"I've these pictures my mama gave me - stained sepia prints of bare dirt yards, plank porches, and step after step of children - cousins, uncles, aunts; mysteries.  The mystery is how many no one remembers.  I show them to Jesse, not saying who they are, and when she laughs at the broken teeth, torn overalls, the dirt, I set my teeth at what I do not want to remember and cannot forget." (54)
"I think of all the times my hands have curled into fists, when I have just barely held on.  I open my mouth, close it, can't speak.  What could I say now?  All the times I have not spoken before, all the things I just could not tell her, the shame,  the self-hatred, the fear; all of that hangs between us now - a wall I cannot tear down." (57)
The narrator is a lesbian; the line between her sexual preference and her continual sexual abuse by male family members can be clearly drawn.
"Almost always, we were raped, my cousins and I.  That was some kind of joke, too.
          What's a South Carolina virgin?
          'At's a ten-year-old can run fast." (54-55)
She also adamantly opposes the idea of having children of her own one day.  This is most likely a direct result of her family experiences and she does not wish to continue the dysfunction.
"Jesse wraps her arms around my stomach, presses her belly into my back.  I relax against her.  "You sure you can't have children?" she asks.  "I sure would like to see what your kids would turn out to be like."
I stiffen, say, "I can't have children.  I've never wanted children."
...I would like to turn around and talk to her, tell her..."I've got a dust river in my head, a river of names endlessly repeating.  That dirty water rises in me, all those children screaming out their lives in my memory, and I become someone else, someone I have tried so hard not to be." (57)

Andre Dubus - "The Fat Girl"

Louise, the main character, was part of a dysfunctional family and learned from an early age the fact that she needed to be thin in order to appear attractive to boys – a truth that her mother hammered into her subconscious from the time she was nine years old (Dubus 58).  Louise’s father seemed to approve of his daughter how she was, but Louise would not receive her mother’s love while still overweight.

Louise  defied her mother's wishes and snuck food into her mouth while she wasn't looking:
“Boys were as far away as five years, and she would go to her room and wait for nearly an hour until she knew her mother was no longer thinking of her, then she would creep into the kitchen and, listening to her mother talking on the phone, or her footsteps upstairs, she would open the bread box, the pantry, the jar of peanut butter. She would put the sandwich under her shirt and go outside or to the bathroom to eat it.” (59)

Louise finds refuge with her friend Carrie in college - they were both unhappy but for different reasons (60).  Carrie then helps Louise suffer her worst year ever as she dieted to go from 184 pounds to 115 pounds.  The reactions from Louise's family were to be expected - her mother was beyond thrilled, while her father was happy either way.  
 "Her father laughed and hugged her and said: 'But now there's less of you to love.' (61)
"...at the airport her mother cried and hugged her and said again and again: You're so beautiful." (62)
Richard, Louise's husband, became immensely dissatisfied with her when she began to put on too much weight during her pregnancy; Louise's mother was equally dissatisfied for different reasons.  Louise's reaction to her family was to keep eating what she wanted, first in hiding, then in front of them.  Louise was finally happy in a twisted sort of way when she was allowed to be who she was, no matter if she was now alone.
"She felt that somehow she had lost more than pounds of fat; that some time during her dieting she had lost herself too...She looked down at the earth far below, and it seemed to her that her soul, like her body aboard the plane, was in some rootless flight.  She neither knew its destination nor where it had departed from; it was on some passage she could not even define." (62)
"On most days she went about her routine of leisure with a sense of certainty about herself that came merely from not thinking.  But there were times, with her friends, or with Richard, or alone in the house, when she was suddenly assaulted by the feeling that  she had taken the wrong train and arrived at a place where no one knew her, and where she ought not to be." (63)
"She knows he will leave soon.  It has been in his eyes all summer...She goes to the bedroom and in the dark takes a bar of candy from her drawer.  Slowly she descends the stairs.  She knows Richard is waiting but she feels his departure so happily that, when she enters the living room, unwrapping the candy, she is surprised to see him standing there." (65)