The Deadly Pebble

The final story that Janina writes do Dizzy is incredibly important and frames many parts of the book previous to it. This short fable may seem insignificant but it is, in fact, the opposite. The story tells a tale about believing something to be true so strongly that it becomes the truth. This is what Janina does with many things in her life. For one Janina believes she knows the date of her death, similar to the monk. To Jjnaina it is a comforting thought, she knows when to be scared of death and when to live her life without the fear of dying. It is possible that with this story she is telling Dizzy, as well as the reader, that she hasn’t necessarily found her death date but instead decided on it. It also frames Janina’s actions, particularly the murderous ones. Janina had believed so heavily that she was being used by the animals as a tool for justice and because of that, she was able to murder without remorse. The monk in the story did not have to die, similar to how the commandant, Innerd, the president, and the priest did not have to die, but he believed so heavily that it was necessary so he made it happen. This train of thought is parallel to how Janina views her murders. To her they were necessary, written in the stars, and by default, she had to carry them out. 

“A medieval monk and Astrologer – in the days before Saint Augustine forbade the reading of the future from the stars-foresaw his own death in his Horoscope. He was to die from the bow of a stone that would fall on his head. From then on he always wore a metal cao beneath his monk’s hood. Until one Good Friday, he took it off along with the hood, more for great of drawing attention to himself in church than for love of God. Just then a tiny pebble fell on his bare head, giving him a superficial scratch. But the monk was sure the prediction had come true, so he put all his affairs in order, and a month later he died”(274A medieval monk and Astrologer – in the days before Saint Augustine forbade the reading of the future from the stars-foresaw his own death in his Horoscope. He was to die from the bow of a stone that would fall on his head. From then on he always wore a metal cao beneath his monk’s hood. Until one Good Friday, he took it off along with the hood, more for great of drawing attention to himself in church than for love of God. Just then a tiny pebble fell on his bare head, giving him a superficial scratch. But the monk was sure the prediction had come true, so he put all his affairs in order, and a month later he died”(274)

“The Elephant Vanishes” Reflections

The most intriguing part of the story “The Elephant Vanishes” was how people could interpret the ending differently. Since there was no conclusion about where the elephant disappeared, it can be left up to the reader’s imagination. The story also goes beyond just the elephant, as it takes a dive into the narrator’s personal life with his relationships and thought processes. Throughout the story, it’s revealed that the narrator is very put together, organized, and perfectionist about his life. His fascination with the elephant’s disappearance is something he can’t let go of due to this type of personality, as the elephant was something he loved, and watching it was a part of his routine. As we watch the narrator establish a relationship with a woman, we see a parallel between her and the elephant. Just like the elephant vanished from his life, so did the woman. The symbolism of the elephant is left up to the reader to decide and makes the story more interesting because the author could have just told us how the elephant vanishes but leaves the end of the story up to your thoughts.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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 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 Secret Woman

Although The Secret Woman was a relatively short story, it had many complex themes that should be discussed. The story is told through a husband’s perspective as we follow him through an Opera he attended without his wife, Irene. However, upon hearing a cough, he realizes his wife decided to go there without him. As he follows her throughout the night, his perspective of her completely changes. At the beginning of the story, Irene is described as fragile, shy, and overall, the definition of what a lady should be. However, as he experiences her having relations with other men, his perspective drastically changes. Suddenly, she is disgusting, crude, and immodest. This story highlights a very common problem in society and gender roles. The male gaze praises women who are submissive, kind, and gentle. Women should be alluring or else they are ugly, but not too alluring because then they would be considered promiscuous. This is exactly what we see through the husband’s eyes in the story. His wife is perfect in his eyes until he sees her at this party. After seeing her behavior at the party, he is almost distraught and starts to describe his wife as having satanic behavior. Seeing the story through his eyes is important because it shines a light on this certain mindset many individuals have. He was at the Opera for the same reasons she was there however, he completely neglects that fact and chooses to criticize his wife because she is no longer behaving the way he sees fit for a woman to behave. By shining a light on this, it makes it easier to see how harmful this mindset is for women.

The Elephant in the Room: Social Norms and Negative Feedback Loops

In “The Elephant Vanishes”, the elephant is able to disrupt society by simply disappearing. With media coverage, police investigations and the main character’s obsessive thoughts, the disappearance is the center of the story and causes a lot of excitement.

The elephant, by simply existing, shook up the lives of the town. The social ‘norm’ was a town that didn’t own an elephant. However, when every zoo refused to take it, they were almost forced into it. The main character’s entire life was also changed when this elephant disappeared. His daily routine shifted and he nearly got a girlfriend, something that was definitely not in his plan for the future.

However, as the story continues, these shifts are corrected, like a negative feedback loop. The big change of the elephant was fixed by its disappearance, and the town was happy to return to normal. They quickly began to forget about the entire event, bringing everything back to the normal baseline.

The main character also returned to normal, deciding not to ask the woman on a date and filling his time with work and ‘normal’ activities, without the elephant.

This entire story felt like it was exposing how difficult it is to truly breakout of a social mold and do something that is different. The people around you and even your inner self will do everything in their power to force you back into whatever societal expectation you have gone against, no matter how small.

The Secret Woman: Why the Character’s Relationship Was Doomed From the Beginning

In Collete’s “The Secret Woman” a woman cheats on her husband who may also have cheated on her. I would argue that even before the cheating, their relationship was bound to fail because they don’t really know one another.

In the beginning of the story the husband sees his wife as gentle and femenine describing her as a “delicate sugared almond” (42) while at the party he describes her in much darker ways such as “satanic” (46). At the party it is said that the wife is very comfortable and doing her own thing “as calm as if she had been alone” (45). This shows that the husband doesn’t know his wife’s true self if he’s calling her at her most comfortable satanic after thinking she was extremely delicate and lady-like. On top of this, both of them lie to each other about where they are going and live double lives. Therefore, they do not seem to know each other very well.

Because they do not know each other well and put on a facade for their partner, their relationship is built on lies. It is also built on the MALE/female binary that also negatively affects their relationship. This results in a poor relationship that is bound to fail.

Power in “The Secret Woman” by Collete

After reading “The Secret Woman” on my own, I was left wondering about many instances in the story. I was most intrigued by the lies told between the main character Irene, and her husband. At first glance, I did not really think about the meaning behind Irene cheating on her husband, but after the discussion in class, its importance came clear.

Irene and her husband both lied to each other and ended up at the opera ball alone. When Irene was at the ball, I found Collete’s description of Irene’s disguise and movements very powerful. In addition, when it is revealed that Irene’s intentions were unloyal to her husband, I was pretty surprised but I also think that the woman cheating being surprising represents a double standard. After her husband discovered this, he was stunned that she had power over herself and her choices, and he did not know how to handle the situation. I think after he caught her he felt like he did not have the power in their relationship anymore and she was in control, which he did not like.

This story reinforces the idea that in society, men cheating is normalized, but when a woman is cheating it is absurd and frowned upon.

Coping with Struggle via Chess

202 Checkmates is an action-packed story with tons of insight into the game of chess, financial crisis, and a difference in parenting styles. Within this short story, the reader is thrown into the relationship and life of a daughter and father. Both of these characters have a strong bond with the game of chess, and at times, use it to cope with outside struggles. Throughout the short story we are shown multiple games of chess and how at times, we lose ourselves in something of passion and joy. Regardless of the financial struggles that the father faces, he is able to use chess as a positive device to combat his rather difficult lifestyle.

As the story transitions, we learn that the father creates issues inside and outside of the household setting. This is evident through the mother’s disapproval of the father’s work ethic and the game of chess. The mom goes on to claim that “Chess doesn’t get work done”, reinforcing the idea that the father’s passion for the game is perhaps a waste of time. The conflicting relationship between the mother and father in the story hone in on how parental influence and marriage conflict directly affect the child. In this case, the daughter distances herself from the father as he starts to become absent in their household. All in all, 202 Checkmates is a short story full of real-life struggles and how we deal with difficulties.