Jennifer Egan’s “Safari”

 

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.

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Mark Twain’s “Political Economy”

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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.

Mark Twain’s “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”

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In Mark Twain’s “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” Simon Wheeler told the story of a gambler, Jim Smiley, and his frog. In describing Smiley’s love for betting, Twain mentions a number of animals including dogs and frogs. The humor within the story is twofold. First is the story of the stranger who messes with Smiley’s frog and scams him out of his money. And second is the fact that the retelling of the story appears to be pointless altogether, since Jim Smiley isn’t of any relation to Leonidas W. Smiley whom the narrator was actually looking for. Therefore, as it often happens with gossip, the information is not central to what someone was actually trying to find out.

Mark Twain’s “A True Story”

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Mark Twain’s “A True Story” is an interesting approach to the first-person narrator that contributes and elevates the story as a whole. The story begins in first-person from the point of view of Misto C– but then transitions to the first person point of view of Aunt Rachel, as she tells the story of losing her family to the practice of slavery. The power of the story is contained in the question that Misto C–asks Aunt Rachel in the beginning and in the answer that she provides him. Misto C—asks, “Aunt Rachel, how is it that you’ve lived the two years and never had any trouble?” Aunt Rachel tells him a tragic tale of her family and then concludes with “Oh no, Misto C–, I hain’t had no trouble. An’ no joy!” While throughout the story her response doesn’t seem sarcastic, this reply appears to be so. Perhaps, it’s Mark Twain’s way of portraying comic irony, as if to make her say that without trouble, there would be no joy.

 “A True Story” is an excellent example of Mark Twain’s gift as a storyteller who ‘shows’ rather than ‘tells.’ His intentions are hard to figure out because he is rendering the contradictions, the absurdity, the irony, and the hypocrisy that exists in the world all around us without much apparent judgment. Since essays are written for the purpose of constructing and arguing a position, the power of this story would be greatly diminished if it were presented in that way. Instead the power comes from the reader and the reader’s ability to draw his own conclusions regarding meaning.

Fanny Fern’s “from Fern Leaves from Fanny’s Portfolio”

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Fanny Fern’s “from Fern Leaves from Fanny’s Portfolio” and “from The Life and Beauties of Fanny Fern” are both written in a straightforward style, which is characterized by a playful and sarcastic tone. She addresses the readers with an informal “you” and isn’t afraid to speak candidly and use exclamation points liberally. For example, one of the excerpts, “Owls kill hummingbirds” is a short piece written almost like a fable. It advises the reader that she should not marry a man who lacks a personality or a sense of humor because he will likely kill her spirit. The fire or the power in her satire comes from observations of relationships between men and women in everyday life. The aspects of life that she notes can still be found and examined in today’s world, especially between couples who are not equals in their relationship and/or marriage.

Mark Twain’s “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses”

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Mark Twain’s “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses” is a particularly effective satire due to its position of power. Twain was a realist and there is nothing more devastating to a romantic than a little dose of reality. While the analysis is to the point, I am not convinced it is entirely fair. Romantic writers like Sir Walter Scott and Fenimore Cooper and Romantic poets like William Wordsworth and Emily Dickinson (whom Twain also satirizes in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”) have chosen to write in a romantic style. This romantic portrayal of society and life is clearly unrealistic, the same way that a fable is unrealistic. Thus attacking Romanticism on the basis that it is not realistic enough seems to me to be the same thing as attacking a boat on the basis that it cannot drive on a highway. Since a boat is not a car, it should not be expected to fill the same requirements as a car. Thus, Twain’s position, however funny, is unfair at best and foolish at worst.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Celestial Railroad”

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Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Celestial Railroad” is a long satiric allegory that is effective as a result of a number of factors including its style, which is serious rather comical or colloquial. In the story, Hawthorne mocks polite society with lines like, “there was much pleasant conversation about the news of the day, topics of business and politics…,” mocks religious people with lines like, “before our talk on the subject came to a conclusion we were rushing by the place where Christian’s burden fell from his shoulders at the site of the Cross,” and mocks the contents of the Bible itself with lines like, “I perceived that we must now be within a few miles of the Valley of the Shadow of Death… It was gratifying, otherwise, to observe how much care is taken to dispel the everlasting gloom and supply the defect of cheerful sunshine.”

The standard that Hawthorne is trying to hold is that of the scathing satire of, of that time, contemporary society that he likely saw as shallow and self-indulgent. The only aspect of the story that diminishes the story’s effectiveness to some degree is the last sentence, where Hawthorne reveals that this was nothing but a dream. The fact that the trip on the celestial railroad is invalidated by the unreliable narrator seems like a copout but perhaps it is unfair to demand Kafka-esque modernity from Hawthorne, given that he published “The Celestial Railroad” in 1843, almost 50 years before “The Metamorphosis.”