Besides mocking the supposed aristocracy of Southern society, Twain also turns his attention to mocking the country people in the Mississippi valley world. In these instances, his approach is much more measured. Instead of lampooning them directly, Twain describes their unpainted sheds, their filthy hogs that are allowed to wander all over town, and their gardens full of rust. These images portray the Mississippi valley world as one full of slothful, ignorant drunks. After immersing himself into the world, Huck’s attitude shifts from detached amusement to full- fledged contempt.
While overall Huck’s narrative seems to fit the genre of realism, there are numerous dreamlike scenes that take the reader out of reality and into a place a little apart from it. Some scenes that come to mind from the beginning include the scene on Jackson Island and the dead body on the riverboat. These scenes have dreamlike or perhaps nightmare-like qualities that add almost a Gothic suspense to the book. This Gothic suspense, however, doesn’t have to take away from the realism of the story. Given his life and his adult voice, it is very easy to forget that Huck is still a child. Thus, Huck tends to process things on a much more supernatural level than perhaps a rational adult would. Twain captures these nightmare-like experiences and portrays them in such a way that the reader understands them from Huck’s perspective.
Both “The Man who Corrupted Hadleyburg” and “Huckleberry Finn” have truthful but unfavorable views of human nature and society in general. Some might call Mark Twain a pessimist but I think he is a realist who uses humor and fiction to expose the hypocrisies of everyday life. The town of Hadleyburg uses an exterior fix (changing its name) to change an interior problem (that its citizens are greedy and spiteful just like everywhere else). Perhaps what Twain is trying to say is that it is not hopes and wishes and illusions of being a good person that makes one a good person. Instead it is that person’s behavior. Huck is a good person based on accumulation of his good deeds not necessarily his intentions or his words. Hadleyburg on the other hand is a corrupt town and will remain a corrupt town whether or not they keep their name.
The stranger in Mark Twain’s “The Man who Corrupted Hadleyburg” is motivated by the desire to expose supposedly honest people for who they truly are. The stranger appears to be someone who hates hypocrisy and no longer wants to tolerate the lie that Hadleyburg perpetuates. It has to be a lie because the citizens of Hadleyburg are human beings and like human beings everywhere they are capable of lies, deceit, and greed. While the stranger sets out and succeeds in corrupting the town, he does not do anything more than expose the citizens for who they secretly are and were all along. After all, the town’s solution to their reputation problem in the end of the story is not to address the underlying acts but rather to change their name and pretend nothing happened.
In Lauren Groff’s “Delicate Edible Birds,” the primary tension in the environment is that the Germans are invading France. This tension contributes or perhaps facilitates the conflict between the characters, who are journalists involved in various romantic conflicts. Though the tensions are clear, they are not concise and as a result appear to me to be a little convoluted and confusing. While it was very interesting when Bern was exposed and all men turned on her, I wish that the tension that built up to this point was a little more precise and to the point. The character of Bern is well-developed and contributes greatly to the plot in general. The title is a reference to her affair with a mayor at age 16 and her independence, as a woman and a character, is well-established. The conflicts between characters comes to a climax and results in betrayal, which is how the tension is resolved. Bern sacrifices herself for the good of the group and this sacrifice leaves her feeling more conflicted. In that respect I think that the story succeeds at what it’s attempting to achieve. Nevertheless, all of the tensions found within the story seem to somehow undermine one another, making me wonder if it would be better off as a novella instead.
Joshua Ferris’ “The Valetudinarian” has many conflicts all of them involving the main character, Arty Groys. In the beginning, Arty loses his wife and must fend for himself; in the middle of the story, Arty is worried about his health and complains about it to anyone who would listen; in the end of the story, Arty sees a prostitute, ends up in the hospital, and develops a complicated relationship with the neighbor who saves him, Mrs. Zegerman. While Arty’s life is not one that lacks tension, the story as a whole does not have a primary conflict. It appears to me that any of these aspects of Arty’s life can be made into their own story but are not effective when presented as one short story. The plot and all of the tension that go along with it keep changing drastically, especially at the end. As a result it is difficult for the reader to feel sympathy for Arty or for anyone else present in the story. What further complicates the situation is the fact that the point of view changes as well, first focused on Arty and then focused on Mrs. Zegerman. It appears to me that the character of Arty is not yet established when the character of Mrs. Zegerman is introduced. As a result, both characters appear flat and unsympathetic. She minor conflicts found within the story appear to be resolved but since the story lacks a primary tension, it is difficult to say whether tension overall is resolved. Furthermore, since I’m not sure what the story is trying to achieve, I’m not sure whether it succeeds.
In Danielle Evans’ “Someone Ought to Tell Her There’s Nowhere to Go,” tension is introduced in the first sentence. I’d noticed that the stories that I really enjoy are those that introduce tension in this manner because they bring the reader in. Once the story begins with conflict or opens with a big scene, the reader is drawn into the story and is more likely to be patient and interested in the details about the characters and the setting.
In that respect, this story begins with a bang. Evans doesn’t waste any time and begins the story with “Georgie knew before he left that Lanae would be fucking Kenny by the time he got back to Virginia. ” The main character, Georgie, and his eluding love interest, Lanae, establish the main conflict in the story and maintain it throughout. The story has other tensions, minor conflicts involving Georgie and Lanae but all of these are secondary, used to reinforce the primary tension. Evans does a great job of staying focused and not meandering too far away from the primary conflict while at the same time introducing details into Georgie’s life that help illustrate the kind of person that he is. For example, “Now it was a weekday in the suburbs in the lack of human presence made him anxious. He turned the TV on and off four times, flipping through talk shows and soap operas and thinking this was something like what had happened to him: someone had changed the channel on his life.” This line and others like it help show that even an apparent lack of tension contributes to a tense environment in Georgie’s life.
In the end, the tension between Georgie and Lanae is resolved in that it is doubtful that she will ever speak to him again. This is not the resolution that someone might expect in the beginning of the story but given Georgie’s actions, this is the only resolution that seems plausible. The tension in the story is primarily driven by the plot with some of the contributions coming from character development. Georgie is presented like a lost soul, sad in his desperate desire for Lanae, and perhaps not even her but what she and her daughter represent. I did not notice much attention being paid to the setting other than the occasional mention of suburbia thus tension is primarily build by the plot and the characters. In her attempts to portray lonesomeness and desperation and how these two factors often result in bad decisions, Evans succeeds.
In Jennifer Egan’s “Safari,” the tension is hard to pin point exactly. Each of the characters seems to be struggling with one thing or the other and the struggles take place against the backdrop of a safari. This wild setting moves the characters forward by both developing themselves as characters and by moving the plot along. Mindy the anthropologist is an interesting character who brings her anthropological viewpoint into a landscape that appears to be primed for that sort of thing. However, the style of writing by defining words such as structural resentment, structural affection, structural incompatibility, etc. give an impression of a know it all, even though those are not necessarily the words she uses. I’m not sure what it was that annoyed me so much about this story, but perhaps it was the present tense and the author’s propensity to tell rather than show, particularly in situations that would benefit greatly from showing. While it’s unfair, I have to admit that at one point while reading the line, “In the ticking motor silence they can hear the lions breathe,” I wished that all of the characters would be eaten by lions and the story would end. Nevertheless, if Egan’s point of the story is that journeys are valuable regardless of whether they have a happy end then perhaps the story succeeds at what it’s trying to achieve.
In Charles Baxter’s “The Cousins,” the conflict appears between two cousins. Both the narrator and his cousin are equally wealthy, thanks to their grandfather’s fortune, but Brantford is 20 years younger than the narrator and a squanderer. The tension between them is not what one might think, the narrator isn’t jealous or annoyed with his cousin. Instead the narrator is a lens through which the reader is able to understand Brantford. Brantford is as a sad character who is more comfortable with animals than with people and who admits that “willpower is not my strong suit.” The tension in the story intensifies when Brantford wonders out loud if he had committed the murder and the narrator admits to himself and the reader that he in fact did. Overall the story is interesting and Baxter’s technique is effective in building various tensions. Tension is apparently resolved when Bradford accidentally kills himself by stepping into the intersection but new tensions between the narrator and Brantford’s wife are introduced. Thus on one hand the plot develops and results one tension but then contributes to new ones. Overall, the story appears to be written all in reflection and as a result certain elements, like the segment about the Ethiopian cabdriver, appear out of place. I am not sure what the story is trying to achieve thus I’m not sure if it succeeds. Though it may not appear from this analysis, I actually really enjoyed the story however the meandering nature of it makes it a little difficult to analyze.
In Mark Twain’s “Political Economy,” the main character is continuously interrupted by a lightning rod installer while he discusses the concept of political economy with the reader. The story is an illustration of real versus theoretical knowledge. The narrator attempts to write about political economy but is so involved with his thoughts that he does not notice when he gets duped into buying more lightning rods than anyone could ever need. The narrator in this case represents theoretical knowledge while the lightning rod salesman represents real-world knowledge. This position that real knowledge is more useful than theoretical knowledge has always been prevalent in America and is perhaps a way to rebel against the traditions of European society. Nevertheless, to me, it seems un-recommended since book knowledge, as opposed to experience learning, is easiest and fastest way to learn something.