In 202 Checkmates, there are many instances where the reader can see a coming of age narrative. The main character gradually starts experiencing more real life problems within her family and, through playing chess with her father, is able to learn many valuable lessons. She is also able to see the decline in her father’s stability by how often they play and the reactions that her dad has. The PARENT/child binary is a big part of this short story and it works hand-in-hand with the theme of coming of age. The relationship between the main character and her father progressively becomes more mutual as the story continues on. At the beginning, she looks at her father with such curiosity and idolization. These feelings towards her father are present throughout the whole story, but at times, the reader can see the decline in her father’s state along with the idolization. The chess board that her father gives her for her birthday is a metaphor that represents the undying admiration that her father has for her and the tradition that they have been participating in. It is also a representation of the father’s poor financial decisions and where his priorities lie. This is a moment in the story where the reader can see a crack in the family structure that is seemingly held together by both parents’ love for their children.
Day: September 20, 2022
The Harsh Fate of Hulga Hopewell
Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People” concludes with a dramatic twist that leaves our protagonist, Joy/Hulga, abandoned and betrayed. The bible salesman who calls himself Manley Pointer dislegs her and leaves her high and dry. But Pointer also leaves Hulga with a lesson.
The story depicts Hulga and her mother, Mrs. Hopewell, as fairly well-off. They have a nice home and employ a helping hand of sorts, Mrs. Freeman, who Mrs. Hopewell refers to as good country people.
While Hopewell might describe herself as good country people in the company of others, and she likely believes it to be a compliment, I perceived it as a patronizing term. She refers to Pointer as good country people too, and later calls him dull. Hopewell is a member of the middle class, and while she may wish to identify with people of lower class than her who she believes to be good, salt of the earth, working people, ultimately she looks down on them and pities them as much as she respects them.
Hulga is not as different from her mother as she thinks she is. She considers herself to be an intellectual and distances herself from the outdated ways of her mother and the people she grew up around, rejects their religious illogic and embraces scientific reasoning and atheism, but she shares the same superiority complex as her mother, possibly to an even greater extent.
Hulga underestimates Pointer. She believes him to be simple minded, good country people, just as her mother does. She makes herself completely vulnerable to him, a stranger she has every reason in the world to mistrust, while wrongfully assuming that she has the upper hand, and then she pays for that assumption. Pointer shatters her patronizing fantasy of good country people. Frankly, Hulga is lucky that she didn’t wind up dead and lives on to take up a more complex view of humanity.
Parenting Your Parents.
202 Checkmates was a refreshing addition to the short story lineup. While coming-of-age stories like 202 Checkmates are not new to us, we were able to carefully dissect the new, unique parts of this specific story.
While most coming of age stories feature authoritarian parents, 202 Checkmates has a new parent/child dynamic. Readers are able to see into the lives of parents living paycheck to paycheck while also trying to salvage a broken marriage all while parenting and raising a child. The father uses chess as an escape yet also as a way to be with his daughter and teach her about life. Throughout her childhood years, she hears her parents fighting loudly through the walls and she watches her father lose his job and never find a new one. Chess was there when she became a woman and it taught her how to handle her unsettling home life. However, towards the end of story, specifically during match 202, the tables turn and the daughter becomes the teacher. The daughter was finally good enough to put up a good fight against her father, yet she chooses to refrain. She saw the obvious move to make that would bring her first victory against her father, yet she chose to let her father win. She was able to see the effects winning had on her father and she wanted him to remain happy and willing to continue playing chess with her.
Ultimately, the daughter was observant and learned that the sweetest victory is found in others’ joy. The daughter taught her father.