Short Stories: How to approach textualanalysisCrawley, 6July 2012
Aims of the Session• To think about how we begin to analyse texts• To give you some questions to ask a text.
Significances• Very small – a sentence, a word, a comma.• Very large – what is the point of this story?
Structure• Series of events/actions connected in time: beginning, middle and end.• How is the story situated in time? Long long ago? Last year? Last week? An hour ago? Now?• Distortions in linear time-sequence? Loops? How does the present connect with the past?• How do they relate to, inform and reconstruct each other?• Change – what is different by the time we come to the end of the story? How has that transition been affected?• Are there echoes of themes, images, ideas, phrases?
Connections: Causality ‘The king died and then the queen died.’ ‘The king died, and then the queen died of grief.’ E.M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel (1927) Movement towards resolution consists of these logical or causal connections between one event and another.
What is narrative? ‘someone telling someone else that something has happened’ (Barbara Herrnstein Smith, 1981) This shifts focus from the plot (what happened when) to the relationship between the author (storyteller) and the reader (story listener).
Narrative voice• Who speaks?• Who speaks to whom?• Who speaks when?• What language do they speak?• Who speaks with what authority?• Does it seem ‘real’? What reality does it conjure?
Raymond Carver, ‘Fat’ (1963) I am sitting over coffee and cigarettes at my friend Rita’s and I am telling her about it. Here is what I tell her. It is late of a slow Wednesday when Herb sees the fat man at my station. This fat man is the fattest person I have ever seen, though he is neat-appearing and well-dressed enough. Everything about him is big. But it is his fingers I remember best. When I stop at the table near his to see the old couple, I first notice the fingers. They look three times the size of a normal person’s fingers – long, thick, creamy fingers.
Voice• Question of voice is never simple.• Texts not only present voices but often have things to say about voices – what voices are and how we might hear them.• There is always more than one voice in a text: we can look for the difference and multiplicity within each voice.
Patricia Highsmith, The Talented MrRipley, 1956.Tom glanced behind him and saw the man coming out ofthe Green Cage, heading his way. Tom walked faster.There was no doubt that the man was after him. Tom hadnoticed him five minutes ago, eyeing him carefully from atable, as if he weren’t quite sure, but almost. He hadlooked sure enough for Tom to down his drink in a hurry,pay and get out.At the corner Tom leaned forward and trotted across FifthAvenue. There was Raoul’s. Should he take a chanceand go in for another drink? Tempt fate and all that? Orshould he beat it over to Park Avenue and try losing him ina few dark doorways? He went into Raoul’s.
Focality• Who sees? From whose perspective are events brought into focus and presented?• Time: When in time are the events placed? Does the narrator move between times (then and now)?• Distance and Speed: microscope or telescope? Does the narrative proceed slowly in detail, or quickly tell us what happened: ‘The grateful King gave his daughter’s hand in marriage, and when the old King died they reigned for many years’.• Limitations of knowledge: Can we only see what they see? Or have we been given a privileged vantage point? How much can they see?• What is their point of view?• Are they reliable?• What does the narrator’s perspective do to our encounter with the narrative?
Characterisation• How can we know a person?• To read about a person is to imaginatively create them, acknowledging multiplicity, relate the external to the internal, inhabit their role/position through empathy or identification.• How far is this producing an identity for yourself – what identity does the author want you to inhabit and why?
James Joyce, ‘A Painful Case’, 1914. Mr James Duffy lived in Chapelizod because he wished to live as far as possible form the city of which he was a citizen and because he found all the other suburbs of Dublin, mean, modern and pretentious. He lived in an old sombre house . . . The lofty walls of his uncarpeted room were free from pictures. He had himself bought every article of furniture in the room: a black iron bedstead, an iron washstand, four cane chairs, a clothes-rack, a coal-scuttle, a fender and irons and a square table on which lay a double desk. A bookcase had been made in an alcove by means of shelves of white wood. The bed was clothed with white bed- clothes and a black and scarlet rug covered the foot. A little hand- mirror hung above the washstand and during the day a white- shaded lamp stood as the sole ornament of the mantelpiece. The books on the white wooden shelves were arranged from below upwards according to bulk.
Ian Fleming, Thunderball, 1961 t was one of those days when it seemed to X that all life, as someone put it, was nothing but a heap of six to four against. To begin with he was ashamed of himself – a rare state of mind. He had a hangover, a bad one, with an aching head and stiff joints. When he coughed – smoking too much goes with drinking too much and doubles the hangover – a cloud of small luminous black spots swam across his vision like amoebae in pond water. His final whisky and soda in the luxurious flat in Park Lane had been no different from the ten preceding ones, but it had gone down reluctantly and had left a bitter taste and an ugly
Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, 1848. There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but since dinner (Mrs Reed, when there was no company, dined early) the cold winder wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further outdoor exercise was now out of the question. I was glad of it: I never liked long walks, especially on chilly afternoons: dreadful to me was the coming home in the raw twilight, with nipped fingers and toes, and a heart saddened by the chidings of Bessie, the nurse, and humbled by the consciousness of my physical inferiority to Eliza, John, and Georgiana Reed.
Raymond Carver, ‘What do you do inSan Francisco’, 1976. This has nothing to do with me. It’s about a young couple with three children who moved into a house on my route the first of last summer. I got to thinking abut them again when I picked up last Sunday’s newspaper and found a picture of a young man who’d been arrested for killing his wife and her boyfriend with a baseball bat. It wasn’t the same man, of course, though there was a likeness because of the beard. But the situation was close enough to get me thinking.
Relationships• How does the protagonist interact with other characters in the story?• Where does the narrator fit?• What networks are created and where are we positioned within them?
A very short story One hot evening in Padua they carried him up onto the roof and he could look out over the top of the town. Therewere chimney swifts in the sky. After a while it got dark and the searchlights came out. The others went down and tookthe bottles with them. He and Luz could hear them below on the balcony. Luz sat on the bed. She was cool and fresh inthe hot night. Luz stayed on night duty for three months. They were glad to let her. When they operated on him she prepared himfor the operating table; and they had a joke about friend or enema. He went under the anaesthetic holding tight on tohimself so he would not blab about anything during the silly, talky time. After he got on crutches he used to take thetemperatures so Luz would not have to get up from the bed. There were only a few patients, and they all knew about it.They all liked Luz. As he walked back along the halls he thought of Luz in his bed. Before he went back to the front they went into the Duomo and prayed. It was dim and quiet, and there were otherpeople praying. They wanted to get married, but there was not enough time for the banns, and neither of them had birthcertificates. They felt as though they were married, but they wanted everyone to know about it, and to make it so theycould not lose it. Luz wrote him many letters that he never got until after the armistice. Fifteen came in a bunch to the front and hesorted them by the dates and read them all straight through. They were all about the hospital, and how much she lovedhim and how it was impossible to get along without him and how terrible it was missing him at night. After the armistice they agreed he should go home to get a job so they might be married. Luz would not comehome until he had a good job and could come to New York to meet her. It was understood he would not drink, and he didnot want to see his friends or anyone in the States. Only to get a job and be married. On the train from Padua to Milanthey quarreled about her not being willing to come home at once. When they had to say good-bye, in the station at Milan,they kissed good-bye, but were not finished with the quarrel. He felt sick about saying good-bye like that. He went to America on a boat from Genoa. Luz went back to Pordonone to open a hospital. It was lonely and rainythere, and there was a battalion of arditi quartered in the town. Living in the muddy, rainy town in the winter, the major ofthe battalion made love to Luz, and she had never known Italians before, and finally wrote to the States that theirs hadonly been a boy and girl affair. She was sorry, and she knew he would probably not be able to understand, but mightsome day forgive her, and be grateful to her, and she expected, absolutely unexpectedly, to be married in the spring. Sheloved him as always, but she realized now it was only a boy and girl love. She hoped he would have a great career, andbelieved in him absolutely. She knew it was for the best. The major did not marry her in the spring, or any other time. Luz never got an answer to the letter to Chicago aboutit. A short time after he contracted gonorrhea from a sales girl in a loop department store while riding in a taxicab throughLincoln Park.
All together now . . .• How do the elements of the story: the imagery, the tone, the voices, the structure interrelate and give each other meaning?