The Checkmate of a Lifetime

Rion Amilcar Scott’s “202 Checkmates” is a compelling story that teaches life lessons through the game of chess. The narrator is an 11-year-old girl who idolizes her father as he teaches her about life through the game of chess. At a young age, her father showed her that winning isn’t the most important. In the story, the narrator’s father is mostly just her chess buddy, but he’s also her hero. In the narrator’s family, chess is passed from generation to generation, and her father wants his daughter to learn about the game. However, while the father wants to use chess to teach the narrator life lessons, it’s also his only source of control and happiness. The father is jobless and is stressing over trying to find work, let alone the pressure from his wife. When he beats his 11-year-old, he jumps in celebration. Throughout the story, there’s a coming of age theme as the narrator learns the true value of the game. We see her mature over the story and she learns that the game of chess isn’t about being victorious, but about enjoying the time you have and the people you play with.

Breaking our Brains (The Elephant Vanishes)

In the short story “The Elephant Vanishes” by Haruki Murakami, our nameless narrator’s world is rocked by the absurdity of an elephant vanishing with no trace. He fixates on this event especially because he was the last person to see the elephant and his caretaker. In this time, he saw the elephant and caretaker impossible shifting sizes, possibly leading to the elephant’s escape.

The narrator’s regimented world of breakfast routines, reading the paper front to back, and selling monotonous kitchen supplies is entirely changed by this absurd, inexplicable occurrence. The rest of the world seems to follow suit. Newspapers cover the disappearance of the elephant and try to propose reasonable solutions to the event. However, no hypothesis makes sense, and people eventually lose interest in the story.

This story mimics our own news cycle. A terrible, most often complex, event will occur, the public will react, attention will gradually shift away, and the issue is left unsolved. Issues that require great critical thinking will be left untouched as people do not want to or cannot think outside of the binaries that the world has set into place. If an easy, readily available solution was given in response to the issue, the public’s unease would be solved. Because this is not the case, public attention wanes, news publications grow less and less involved with the story, and the issue is left untouched by those who are not dedicated to solving it.

Coming of Age “202 Checkmates”

In the story of 202 Checkmates we follow a 11 year old daughter trying to defeat her old man at chess. It is a classic coming of age story with the girl growing up and seeing the hardships her parents are going through and how she deals with them. The reason we read a common story like this is because of how the author portrayed chess in the fathers and daughters relationship. Every parent has some outlet with their kids whether it’s a sport, instrument, books, computers, video games or chess. This outlet serves as a safe place where kids and their parents can talk about something they both enjoy and can make conversation about it. Chess gave that opportunity for the father with him and his daughter playing everyday even after arguing with his wife. By playing a simple game the daughter now had a goal to accomplish and the father had a way to break some of the tension in their family. Chess taught the father about life from his dad and now is passing it on to his daughter even though shes caught up in playing the actual game. The father was trying to teach his daughter that chess was more about representing life then playing and we know she learned that at the end when she let her father win. The daughter learned to sacrifice her win to see her dad happy which is something the father wanted from the start so even though she could’ve won, the father won in a different way.

Life’s a Game of Chess (202 Checkmates)

Now hold on, little girl, my father said. Chess is like real life.

In Rion Amilcar Scott’s “202 Checkmates”, we follow the development of the narrator’s relationship with her father as well as her own personal development through their games of chess. Our narrator starts out knowing close to nothing about chess, as well as close to nothing about real life. Her father first shows her the correlation between chess and real life, saying that the “white pieces go first so they got an advantage over the black pieces,” (47). The topic of race is clear throughout the story, without ever being the focal point of it.

Throughout the story, we see the themes of coming of age, femininity, and struggle. The father continuously makes it clear that the narrator needs to apply the principles of chess to the way she functions in the real world. The mother of the narrator also tries to teach the narrator lessons, expressing her distaste for the game on multiple occasions and even saying that “Chess ain’t gonna get you work,” (50).

By the end of the story and after 201(real) checkmates at the hand of her father, our narrator has an entirely new perspective on the game and life. She starts thinking of her moves multiple turns in advance and the financial and marital struggles of her parents affect the way she looks at the pieces. Growth has made the narrator see that life is a game of chess and perhaps that chess is a game of life.

Outward Connections in “202 Checkmates”

The interesting story about a father teaching his daughter about how to play Chess really goes more into depth than just the game. The game forces the players to think, and think hard about the moves to come. My father also taught me Chess but not just to have someone to play with, he believed it would help me later in life and Robert was doing a similar thing. The first line of the story is, “In my eleventh year, my father taught me defeat.” In the story, the focus that Robert had when he was teaching his daughter was to give her a sense of what it means to experience loss and to work hard to alter the loss to make it a win. Robert taught her what it means to lose and win, however he does not do a good job of truly explaining how to properly accept those losses and wins. Robert sort of selfishly taught his daughter Chess as an outlit where he can be happy with a loss in his life. He was able to feel the emotion that comes with a win while still experiencing so much loss outside of the game. My father taught me Chess for the sole purpose of making me think. He always told me I must be 2 steps ahead so I don’t fall behind. My dad made sure it was clear to me that winning or losing didn’t matter, and that it was how I played tha game and that it was a smart game full of thoughout moves. My dad’s motives for teaching me Chess were a lot different that the motive that Robert had when he decided to teach Chess.

Irony in ‘Good Country People’

In Flannery O’Connor’s short story, ‘Good Country People’, she writes an unusual story about a group of rural people and the two sided lives that they live. One of the main points used throughout the story is that of the title “Good Country People” which is repeated throughout and used as a framework by which the characters want to present themselves as. Good country people are to be deemed simple minded and one sided by the reader. Yet the irony is that the reader is proved simpler by the end of the short story as their assumptions are turned against them. O’Connor uses the simple belief that many people hold towards country people to add an element of shock with a quick turn of events.

This turn of events is exemplified through the actions of a traveling bible salesman, who is initially characterized as a good country person. Most of the story follows his interactions with another country family, and the first majority of the story is a very boring accounting of these actions. This all changes when the bible salesman tricks the daughter of the family into giving him her prosthetic leg, before running off and reveling that he is actually a cruel person. This change of pace can seem startling to readers after so much monotonous buildup, but demonstrates mastery by O’Connor in proving to reader that they should never make assumptions about a group of people.

Uncertainty revolving “The Elephant Vanishes”

When finishing “The Elephant Vanishes,” the only thought that was pacing around my mind was, “What happened?” A local man who had an interest in the so-called elephant and its keeper even before they had both vanished knew a puzzling secret. He didn’t quite know for sure but he knew it had to keep hidden away from reporters. Towards the ending, he revealed what has been kept hidden to the readers but left out on what truly caused the disappearance of both the elephant and its keeper. Having a mystery left unsaid is not as uncommon as one would think. This leaves the readers and audience wanting for more and leaving to themselves to imagine what happened next. I believe with this story, it had told a good mystery but had left unsaid what truly happened at the end. Whether this is intended from the author or to keep the audience intrigued, it outstandingly did a successful enigma leaving the reader curious as to what had happened.

The Power of Self Recognition in “202 Checkmates”

At the end of “202 Checkmates” by Rion Amilcar Scott, the main character of the story–a 12 year old girl–lets her father win a chess game that she could’ve beaten him at, even though he has won and gloated about it the other 201 times they’ve played. Throughout the story, she has been getting better and better at chess by learning from expert players at the park and studying the flaws in her father’s strategy. Her goal has always been to eventually beat him. At the same time, she’s been watching him struggle with unemployment, drinking, and marital issues, while using chess with her as an outlet/distraction from her problem. So, when she is finally poised to beat him at his own game–one move from winning–she decides to throw the game. She realized that he needs that win more than she does. He uses chess to maintain their power dynamic of FATHER/child, in order to comfort his own insecurities about his life and marriage. She is is growing out of that power dynamic, as she seeing her father’s issues and finds her own autonomy. But for her, finding agency and confidence doesn’t have to mean winning. Knowing that she can win is enough, because she is giving herself the recognition she needs, not waiting to get it from her. She outgrew his childish demeanor around chess, and she is willing to let him win the game in order to affirm to herself that she doesn’t need the that recognition to know that she won in the long-term.

The Idea of Winning and Losing

When reading “202 Checkmates” there is a clear sense of winning and losing in chess. From the dynamic of the daughter always losing to the father in chess. Because the father was always better than her in the game. As one plays a game they by time eventually get better and better. Also with help can make that process increase exponentially.

In the story the daughter meets a man at the park his name is Manny. He is an extraordinary chess player who was very good at chess. Who had beat the father three times in a row after the father had beaten the daughter. The daughter had never seen her father lose in chess before. It was a shocker to her seeing her father get obliterated by another because she always thought her father was amazing and couldn’t be beaten. As she still was learning the game she was taught that having one of the pawns make it fully to the other side can turn into a queen. Because when she played she always protected her queen more than her king. When the aim of the game is to go for the king not the queen. After she told how important that was it wasn’t till the 202nd the daughter and father played. That she found an opening to turn her pawn into a queen. But she also had the opportunity to checkmate her father with other pieces and finally win. But since she was transforming in real life she wanted the queen more than winning. And she felt accomplished by turning the pawn into a queen more than beating her father. It wasn’t about winning or losing because she was able to do what she wanted to have done and that was good enough for her.

Identity and “The Secret Woman”

When analyzing “The Secret Woman” in class, I thought that another student made an interesting remark regarding the masquerade as featured in the story. Essentially, by covering up one’s true identity, someone potentially unmasks another.

At its heart, masks do present a lot of challenge to us as humans. We are so used to actively perceiving and analyzing facial features and expressions that when we are met with something close to but not quite the same as the real thing, such as a mask, we are met with confusion and uncertainty. It is not so abstract as to mask the presence of a human being, but it is abstract enough to mask any emotions or expressions. Under this vale of uncertainty, “The Secret Woman” suggests people may stray from their common behaviors. When together, the couple seems to appear relatively mundane about their lives and their view on attending this ball. Under the vale of the mask, however, the wife seems to act wildly and energetically, as she bounces around the party. Under another mask, the husband stalks his wife, watching her activities.

Ultimately, I don’t think that “The Secret Woman” is supposed to be about the faithfulness of one partner to another but is meant to show the natural feelings that people will have when not bound by societal or cultural expectations. The wife still loves her husband, but she has a more daring and youthful side that she would keep to herself if it weren’t for an opportunity like this. I think this can apply to us a lot when we meet new people, are in public spaces with many strangers around, or are online. In these situations, people either don’t have context about you or cannot access it whether it be because of a literal or metaphorical mask. How do we let unfamiliarity or uncertainty impact the way we confront and behave in front of others? How does a mask change our character?

Conformity in “The Secret Woman” and “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere”

The short stories “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere” and “The Secret Woman” both have one thing in common: the theme of conformity. The short story “The Secret Woman” deals with female expectations of sexuality. For context, “The Secret Woman” was written in the first half of the 1900s. In the short story, a man who attends a sex party on his own accord is shocked when his wife, Irene, sneaks off to a sex party. The husband uses the term “Imprisoned” to describe the arms of the men engaged with Irene at the party, suggesting a possessiveness to her sexuality. Furthermore, Irene’s hands are described as demonic by her husband, displaying that he views her sexuality as “sinful”, which reflects on puritanical views of women at the time that the story was written. While the husband goes to the sex party for his own enjoyment, he only sees a fault in his wife being there, displaying the double standards in female and male sexuality and how they are able to be expressed. Irene defying conformity exposes the harsh reality of how women’s sexuality was viewed at the time, and how it is in many ways, viewed now. 

Likewise, the short story “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere” shares the common theme of conformity. Dina, the main character, is a black woman at Yale. Throughout the story, Dina is shown to isolate herself, even from Heidi, who is portrayed as her only friend. She isolates herself by stocking up on ramen in order to avoid talking to others, denying her own sexuality, and describing herself as a revolver when asked the question of an object that she would be. These examples of her trying to stray away from her peers reflect her refusal to conform at Yale, a place where, throughout the story, it is evident that she feels isolated at. Her race, sexuality, and backround all contribute to this. She is one of the few black people at the PWI and faces a crisis of identity due to her sexuality that causes her to go through self-loathing. Her family life, with her dead mother, invertedly caused her to be harsh to Heidi, following the death of Heidi’s mother. Her isolation causes her to not conform to the other students at Yale, resulting in her moving back to Baltimore with an Aunt that she barely knew. 

Both “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere” and “The Secret Woman” deal with non-conformity as a result of identity, whether that be gender, race, or sexuality. 

Tenth of December

The Tenth of December is a fairly short story, but it has many features in the story. It constantly changes perspective. In the beginning of the book, Robin walks through the woods imagining himself tracking creatures that he made up in his head called “Nether,” who kidnapped this girl who attends at his school, Suzanne Bledsoe. He is seemed to be tracking actual footprints, although he is imagining them as “Nether” footprints. When he finds a winter coat near a frozen pond, he is determined to give it back to the owner. Robin seems to think that there is no time to be wasted to return the coat to the owner, so he decides to cut through the frozen pond to make the journey short. As he’s walking on the frozen pond, the ice breaks and Robin falls through. The perspective changes to a old man who is terminally ill named Don Eber. He finds himself in the woods with no protection from the blistering cold and hopes that it will kill him. He does this to spare his wife and children from the suffering of caring for him as his illness progresses. He is preparing for his life to end, suddenly he turns around and sees a kid in the distance drowning in a freezing cold pond. He runs towards the kid, he’s holding his coat. Robin successfully gets the kid out of the pool. The kid turns out to be Robin. Eber gives him his clothes and tells Robin to go home. Eber’s mindset changes and no longer wants to end his life. He wants to be there for his kids, Robin sends his mother to go outside and supply Eber with clothes and invites him inside there house.

The Identity Crisis

The story “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere” follows an incoming Yale student, Dina, and her struggle to function in society. As the story progresses, we learn more and more about Dina’s personality and why she is socially recluded. I feel that the reason for her poor mental health stems from her lack of acceptance and understaning of who she is.

The main social factors that affect Dina are her race–she’s Black–, her socioeconomic status, and her sexuality. All of these factors also contribute to identity. During orientation, Dina quickly realizes that she is racially in the minority. She frequently will bring up and contrast White culture from Black culture, emphasizing how she does not fit in. Furthermore, she doesn’t feel that she even fits in with the other students that are Black. Dina says: “Not that I understood the Black people at Yale. There was something pitiful in how cool they were”. My interpretation is that perhaps Dina did not culturally relate to her Black peers, and, therefore, did not feel comftorable in attempting to be friendly with them.

Another part of her identity that Dina struggled with was her economic background. She came from a poorer family, which is referenced all throughout the story. When talking about an instance in which she was walking home from the grocery store, a boy with nice shoes offers to help her with her groceries. Because she “didn’t want someone with such nice shoes to see where [she] lived”, she ended up panicking and running away. I feel that this implies that she feels very self-conscious about her financial situation, which prevents her from reaching out and making connections. Even to the extent of pushing away help.

The final social factor that I want to note is her sexuality. While reading the story, there is enough evidence to make a strong argument that Dina is gay, despite her insistence that she is not. I think that her intimacy with her friend Heidi indicates that Dina is attracted to women. However, once Heidi comes out as gay, Dina pushes her away and ends whatever their relationship was. It’s safe to say that Dina is at least confused regarding her own sexual preferences, and her first instinct is to disconnect with anyone or anything that is close enough to her to possibly cause her trouble.

Among other factors, the driving causes of Dina’s need to separate herself from other people all relate to her identity. She feels isolated at her school due to her race, she is highly self-conscious about her economic background which causes her to be anti-social out of a sense of embarrasment, and she does not even understand her own sexuality, leading to extreme insecurity. And Dina, in response, does what she is most comfortable with and pushes people away. Dina failed–probably justifiably due to her background–to put herself out their because she was not confident enough in who she was. Maybe if Dina can come to terms with her economic status and understand her own sexuality better, she could more confidentally open up with people.

The Secret Remains (A “The Secret Woman”)

“The Secret Woman,” is a short story following a man and his wife, who both lie to one another in order to attend an ball. Upon arrival, the man witnesses his wife engage with several men and women, cheating on her him.

The story is masterful, in that the lack of length the story contains forces the reader down a rabbit-hole of dissection of what’s already there. There’s so much to pick apart from the story off of such little content.

The narrative and dynamic between both the wife and husband creates a patriarchal binary between the man and woman, as we see the husbands attitude towards the wife do a complete 180 after seeing her self liberation at the party, introducing her as dainty and almost docile, and ending by calling her evil and black. Moreover, the husband initially lied to the wife which leaves readers uncertain towards what his intentions were at the ball in the first place.

The use of the wife’s costume also is a curious metaphor for the secrecy of the wife as I personally interpret it as a double meaning for the reader and the husband not entirely understanding the true identity of the wife. The story is all told through the husbands perspective, so we only ever get to his perception of his wife, when in reality, the wife may have been putting up a front for the husband the entire time, using her social life as a ways to reject/free herself from the binary.

Overall, the story definitely served as a change of pace from some of the other stories we’ve read whilst maintaining a lot of room to dissect, and discuss.

Conversation about Bias

In “Conversation About Bread,” two Black anthropology students from very different backgrounds are assigned to write an interesting story about each other and their region. Eldwin was raised in California and went to a multiethnic school where he learned to be unapologetically Black. Brian is from the south and feels that Californians have a false sense of superiority on the basis that they live in California. While both students attend the same PWI, their upbringing has led them to have extremely different experiences. Brian tends to cater to the white gaze, wanting to make sure that his story will make white audiences comfortable. Eldwin only notices the gaze when Brian is affected by it. Eldwin tries to write Brains’ story about Black southerners trying potato bread. Whether it was the first-person perspective or the way in which Eldwin wrote the story, it did not come off correctly. I think that this was because the story wasn’t coming from the person that it was about. Although both are “unicorns” at their school, these men were raised in completely different environments. Edwin’s unconscious bias about Black southerners is bound to sneak into the story when he isn’t a Black southerner himself. Brian’s input leads Eldwin to choose a new story about Brian to write, hopefully, a less biase one.

The Importance of Mystery

The story The Elephant Vanishes leaves the reader with more questions than answers. As a reader, when I finished this story I felt a sense of a sort of empty disappointment. I was reading through many details of a man’s life as well as his connection with this elephant. From the moment I read about how the elephant disappeared I was hungrily searching for an answer to my questions. Wheat happened to the elephant and the caretaker? Where did they both go? Why did the town move on so easily?

The story ended abruptly leaving me with more questions than answers. As a reader, I was judging the story too quickly. Waiting for what I believed to be a classic mystery, to be resolved. When it inevitably wasn’t I was left confused and upset for the main character. I think this was an important choice the author made. Using aspects of mystery, like the main character being suspicious about the disappearance of the elephant. And magical realism, like the elephant and caretaker changing size, put the reader in the shoes of the main character.

The main character ended his story feeling confused and empty, so the author made sure to end the reader’s story that way as well. The mystery not being solved was necessary to play on the reader’s feelings and leave them with the same emptiness the main character was feeling about the entire situation.

The Secret Woman: Dutiful, Dainty, and Dependent

Published in 1924, “The Secret Woman” by Colette is a critique on the societal expectations of women to be subservient to men. Colette reveals the issues with the gender hierarchy in a beautifully-written short story set at an opera ball. At the beginning of the story, Irene and her husband both lie to each other, saying that they are not going to the ball. Irene acts disgusted by even the thought of attending. Her husband recognizes her at the ball and sees her dancing and kissing other men, while keeping his own presence hidden.

Irene’s actions are in stark contrast to the idea of traditional femininity. Behind her disguise, she is unknown. She can be her true self and have power that she otherwise does not have. Although she is physically wearing a mask and costume at the ball, her true disguise is being innocent and weak at home with her husband. At the opera ball, Irene takes control of her decisions. She feels the absence of gendered norms due to her anonymity, giving her confidence.

Colette leaves the reader wondering about the true intentions of the husband. There is no clear answer as to why the husband lied to his wife about attending the opera ball, but the reader can guess. Perhaps he intended to cheat himself? Maybe this was his first time going, maybe he had been many times before. Either way, two things are clear. Firstly, his entire demeanor changed when he discovered Irene at the opera ball. He initially went to the ball expecting to enjoy himself, but when he discovers Irene, he becomes obsessed with following her. He watches her interact with different men without saying a word, but the language he uses to describe her completely switches. Before the ball, he calls her hands “delicate,” and after he sees her cheating, he says “her little satanic hands, which were entirely black.” To him, she is no longer his wife. Secondly, the husband buys into the double standards that are placed upon women and the gender binary. He believes that it is acceptable for him to push the boundaries of their marriage, but when he discovers that she does too, she is immediately outcast. To him, he is allowed to lie about going to the ball, but she is not. This extends into larger society as well; men usually have power over women.

Irene chose the men she interacted with, spent a moment with each, then moved on. If she had one secret lover instead of meeting with strangers, she would still be seen as an object to that man. Her husband feels the loss of control over his wife. She was able to be liberated from societal expectations, even if just for a night. However, when she takes off the mask and costume, like so many other women, she will be forced to return to being dutiful, dainty, and dependent. 

Where did the Elephant go?

After reading a story called ‘The Elephant Vanishes’ I was very disappointed to learn I wouldn’t be given an explanation for the elephants vanishing! I was expecting an explanation to the mystery that would impress me, that I wouldn’t have seen coming.

Only after thinking about the story as a whole did I begin to make my own conclusions about the broader implications of the story and subsequently why the elephant disappeared. In the beginning of the story, the town is in disagreement on whether or not the elephant should be kept. While eventually comprise is made and the elephant is kept, the narrator believes that the disagreement caused an unbalance. The night before the elephant disappeared, the narrator claims that the elephant and its keeper’s “balance seemed to have changed somewhat.”

While I would not believe that a feeling of unbalance causes an elephant to disappear, I do believe it to be significant for the narrator. I believe the narrator uses the elephants vanishing as a way to explain his own feelings towards the world. The narrator tells us, “I often get the feeling that things around me have lost their proper balance, though it could be that my perceptions are playing tricks on me.” Whether or not balance is the reason for the elephants vanishing, it allows the narrator to recognize the balance of his own life, and I believe that can be a powerful realization for an individual.

The Importance of Being Odd in “The Elephant Vanishes”

As I was beginning to read “The Elephant Vanishes” I started to feel melancholy. The story paints a mundane picture about the small town. Everything is boring and scheduled in their lives. As I was reading, I started to imagine that everything was black and white. There was no vibrancy to the narrator’s life until the elephant situation went down. Everything the narrator knew was challenged by the uncertainty of what others claimed to have happened to the keeper and the elephant. I see it as him acknowledging the fact that he is separating himself from the town and it’s overwhelmingly controlling atmosphere of influencing people. He was different then everyone in the town which had never happened to him. He stuck by the book, but had experienced something that no one would ever experience which shook his world. The strangeness of the elephant vanishing reflects how he is perceived by others. This is shown with the woman he meets with at the bar. She seemed to be into him but when he started to talk about the elephant and his connection to it and the keeper, she began questioning his sanity.

A Different Side of the Secret Women

In the Secret Women Irene and her husband were supposed to go to the Opera Ball. However, her husband says he can not attend due to a work situation. We later find out that both Irene and her husband are at the ball but they are there separately. Throughout Irene’s time at the ball, we can see how she finds freedom in being mysterious and not being known at the ball. On page 331 the author writes “The monstrous pleasure of being alone, free, honest in her crude native state, of being the unknown women, eternally solitary and shameless, restored to her irremediable solitude and immodest innocence by a little mask and concealing costume”. We see the husband’s perspective on Irene here which is a very rude perspective of her. He is making her sound like such a bad person even though he was there for the same reasons. It is unfair to Irene that she is the bad guy and that her husband’s actions are not important. There is a double standard.