Hunters in the Snow by Tobias Wolff

“Hunters in the snow” is a short story by Tobias Wolff filled with tension and all sorts of conflict. Three friends, Kenny, Frank and Tub go hunting and while on a mission, we learn details about them, especially about their personality traits and moral dilemmas. Kenny, probably the most ruthless of them, shows no emotion or love for anyone or anything. His reckless driving almost costs a life his friend Tub.

He shots everything that gets in his way such as a post, a tree or the poor dog whose only crime is barking. Later on we learn that in fact, Kenny was asked to kill the dog but still, it makes no difference for the reader who is already fed up with Kenny’s

arrogant behavior. His friend Frank is one of those people who respond to how the wind is blowing. In the beginning, when he is first introduced in the story, he appears to be very close with Kenny, and plays along making fun of Tub and his eating disorder. He goes that far to even say to Tub, “You haven’t seen your own balls in ten years”. How’s that for a ‘friend’s’ talk! Apparently, he is also a cheater. He has a love affair with a fifteen-year-old girl. Unlike Kenny, he does show a moral dilemma in regard to leaving his wife for a girl with whom he is supposedly madly in love.  As the story develops, and Tub finally takes a stand and shows his teeth, Frank grows fonder of Tub and forgets about Kenny. Tub is the most appealing character in the story even though he himself is not without flaws. Moreover, he has a lot of insecurities and weaknesses. He lies to others and himself about having a problem with glands, when in fact he lacks self-discipline and simply eats too much. Gluttony is his sin but he lives in denial. When we first encounter Tub, he is like a whiny kid who complains about cold weather or having to wait. He also has a tremendous need for approval and tries to please others in order to satisfy his urge. However, when all of his attempts fail, he gets the upper hand and shoots Kenny. This puts him in charge of the new situation, but this also stains his character and puts him in a bad light.

Wolff indirectly implies that we all have a little bit of Tub, Frank or even Kenny in ourselves. We can be very self-absorbed, ignorant or obese. Another statement that he makes in his story is the importance of remembering how the power can easily be shifted depending on circumstances. Today you can be king, and tomorrow you can be at the bottom. It is important to always be a man!

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The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

What a story! Shirley Jackson really knows how to surprise her reader. She has the reader guessing that the lottery is a good thing almost till the very end when he/she learns it is in fact a death sentence. Nothing in the beginning suggests the gruesome ending. The villagers are portrayed as a rather ordinary group of people who seem friendly and who get along well with each other. June 27th appears to be a day just like any other. The children are busy making the piles of stones and their parents are involved in casual conversations with their fellows. The author uses an easy-going tone to describe the annual lottery event and the people who take part in it.

My first clue that the situation may not be as bright as Mr. Summer who is in charge of the lottery is the irony hidden in some of the people’s names. For instance, Mr. Graves, the postmaster of the village, symbolically represents the main authority figure in the community. His name literally refers to the word ‘grave’ which is the ultimate reward of the lottery. In one of the disturbing scenes in the story, Mr. Graves opens little Dave’s tightly held fist to take out the piece of paper.

The winner of the lottery is no one else but Dave’s mom, Tessie. The fact that she is the one to show up late for the event reveals an underlying irony as well. She is reluctant to participate but still won’t say or do anything to change this senseless

ritual. In other words, Mrs. Hutchison is a hypocrite just like all the other people in the story. If she weren’t the chosen one, she would’ve not said a word but instead would gladly pick a stone and throw it at one of her people. We all have a little bit of Tessie in ourselves. We close our eyes to certain situations because we don’t want to get involved or be bothered unless it personally affects us. Shirley Jackson makes a statement here by figuratively saying that we all have an evil side to ourselves, and are reluctant to change something perceived as tradition even when we are aware of its own destructiveness.

Two Kinds by Amy Tan

Amy Tan’s “Two kinds” is a very appealing short story which depicts a complex relationship between a traditional Chinese mother and her Americanized daughter.

The mother and her daughter are culturally speaking very distant. Even though the author, Amy Tan portrays the mother as someone who lacks emotions and is overly ambitious, I fail to sympathize with the narrator, from whose perspective the story is told. In my opinion, Jing-mei, the daughter, is simply too ungrateful for all that her mother does for her. The mother comes from China to the Promised Land hoping that her offspring may be able to achieve and live so desperately desired American dream. She cleans houses to provide for her only child, and yet, her child is nothing but a spoiled brat who thinks she should be allowed an absolute freedom over her life. I know this is something deeply rooted in American culture, but I truly disagree with it. While I do believe that the children shouldn’t be forced to be someone they aren’t, I equally believe that if given a chance to choose too much, they would end up on the street. The mother doesn’t choose the best approach and appears somewhat naïve when takes her daughter to get a perm in order to look like a child actor Shirley Temple, but it’s all done with her best intentions. I think all of us have some hidden talents. Her mother shares this view and attempts to discover her daughter’s talents. Eventually, she succeeds in it, but her daughter is too rebellious to accept the fact that she is a good pianist and does everything to ruin her future prospects.

Later in her life, Jing-mei realizes her wrongdoings but it’s a little too late. Her loving mother is already dead.

Marvell, Andrew: To his Coy Mistress

Had Andrew Marvell’s poem “ To his Coy Mistress” been written in the 21st century, I would definitely think of the narrator in terms of what we call a player. He deserves an A+ for flattery and glorifying of the woman that he ultimately desires to have an intercourse with. “To his Coy Mistress” is a beautifully written poem in a very persuasive form. I may not like the goal that the narrator is trying to attain, but the arguments that he uses to win her over are very plausible and supportive. He urges his mistress to think about utilizing her beauty assets while she can. Time passes quickly and before she knows, she will be old and dead. Marvell says,

“And your quaint honour turn to dust,

And into ashes my lust.”

The author is trying to convince her to skip the courtship since they have a limited amount of time on earth and make love instead. If she procrastinates too much, she will lose in the end. However, she is not the only losing. His lust will also turn into ashes, so it is up to her to take control of the situation and help them both by agreeing to have sex with him.

He is praising her beauty, and wouldn’t mind spending thousand years to adore each part of her body but he doesn’t have time to do so. Thus, he urges her to act upon his words and take advantage of time. He uses irony to describe the consequences if she chooses to wait longer. He says,

“… Thy beauty shall no more be found,

Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound

My echoing song; then worms shall try

That long preserv’d virginity…”

These lines are a pretty big contrast to the first part of the poem, but the narrator becomes gradually more aggressive in his attempt to persuade the lady to take an immediate action.

The last two lines of the poem are probably my favorite. Marvell states,

“Thus, though we cannot make our sun

Stand still, yet we will make him run.”

In other words, he is saying that even though the two of them cannot take the charge of time and mortality, if they passionately love each other, they can live the life of fulfillment without any fear.

 

Robert Hayden: Those Winter Sundays

I really like Robert Hayden’s poem “Those Winter Sundays”. One of the first things that I noticed while reading the poem was the imagery. Everything I read I was able to automatically picture in my head. For instance, “ the blueblack  cold, cracked hands, banked fires, warm rooms, and the author’s polished shoes” are just some of the powerful images that speak for themselves. The focal point of the poem is the love between the father and his son. The kind of love that Hayden describes in the poem reminds me of my own relationship with my father. As a kid, I wasn’t always able to understand some of his behavior. I used to think that he simply didn’t love me much. Not before I grew up did I realize how much love he has always had for me. He was very stern and at times overly rigid which translated as the lack of love in my little head, where in fact it was just his way of parenting. Along the same lines, the author of the poem, when he was a kid, didn’t show enough gratitude and respect for his father and he regretted it later as an adult (possibly when he became a father himself and better understood all the responsibilities and obligations that he as a father had).

Hayden masterly gives the reader the entire family dynamics in only three stanzas. He does it by carefully choosing the words and tones that those words create. What we can understand from the first stanza is that his father is a hard working man, who, unlike majority of people who get to sleep in on Sundays, has to get up early on Sundays “too”! He provides for his family, and chooses to sacrifice some of his own comfort, to make his family members feel more comfortable. Hayden writes,

“I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.

When the rooms were warm, he’d call…”

He obviously doesn’t want his children to have to experience the harsh winter conditions. His father is an authority figure in the house. The author fears him. It tells the reader that his father is not a touchy-feely person but he expresses his love through his other actions. For example, he polishes his boy’s shoes and indirectly demonstrates how much he cares for his well-being. Of course, at a young age, the boy doesn’t see the things that way. He even says, looking back at a pattern of life that he experienced as a child, ”What did I know, what did I know?” What the author knows now that he didn’t know back then is how much his father truly loved him and how much effort and sacrifice he had to make to raise him.

Marge Piercy: Barbie Doll

“Barbie Doll” by Marge Piercy is all about unrealistic norms and expectations that our materialistic culture and demanding society impose on our children, especially young girls. From a very young age they are given Barbie dolls to play with. A Barbie doll is what every girl dreams to be- pure perfection! She has a perfect body, perfect hair, perfect smile, perfect outfits and perfect life style! So, what if you don’t look like a Barbie? Will you still be accepted by your society? Will you be equally successful as your Barbie like peers? There lies the ugly truth! No, you will be harshly criticized and eventually rejected by the society that praises fake beauty and fake ideals.

This is exactly what happens to the protagonist in the “Barbie Doll” poem. In the beginning everything seems pretty normal. The girl is born and typical girls’ toys such as Barbie dolls, toy household appliances, and, of course, make-up, surround her. She is expected to grow up and fit into a stereotypical female role. She takes care of the household while looking pretty. When the girl in the poem reaches puberty, she is described as “healthy, intelligent, with strong arms and back, abundant sexual drive, but with a fat nose and thick legs”. Unfortunately, her peers are not able to see any of her inner beauty or potential, and are only focused on her flaws. In order to become accepted, she has to abide by their rules. The author writes,

“ She was advised to play coy,

 exhorted to come on hearty,

exercise, diet, smile and wheedle.

Her good nature wore out

like a fan belt.

So she cut off her nose and her legs

and offered them up”.

Poor girl is not allowed to embrace her qualities and be the person who she is but tries hard to please the society. While doing so, “her good nature wore out.” In other words, she loses herself and is not the person she once was.

The end of the poem is extremely sad and ironic. Not being able to cope with peer pressure, she kills herself. It is not before she dies that she becomes accepted by the society. She has a fake putty nose on, “dressed in a pink and white nightie,” and everyone compliments her looks. Ironically, people often fail to see someone’s true beauty but are rather immersed in anything that’s fake.

While reading the poem, I found a parallel with Monster that Frankenstein created. He was also judged based on looks and considered an outcast by the society. Unlike the girl who killed herself, Monster took a different path. He went on a killing rampage in search of revenge!

Gemini, What Are You Fighting For?

I will start off by saying that I am not much familiar with so-called spoken poetry. I watched the assigned videos and did not quite enjoy them. Part of the reason for this could be the fact that I don’t like or listen to rap music and this is exactly what these poems remind me of.

Instead of bashing the Gemini’s performance, I will rather try to point out what I do like about it.

First of all, I think he is a powerful artist and he recites from the heart. This is very important because this either grabs the attention of the audience watching him, or it disappoints them. Gemini has a great presence on stage. He is very charismatic and the audience responds well. He is listing the possible and most likely outcome for those who opt to join gangs. When he says, “ Don’t you see that you are dying for nothing, rather than living for something”, he implies how meaningless it is to join the groups of people who have no healthy ambition to succeed in life but rather achieve a temporary success by destroying other innocent lives. They ruin their own lives eventually. By using the images such as caskets, or tombstones, Gemini keeps reminding the gangsters of their imminent future unless they turn their lives around. He also repeats “What are you fighting for?” throughout the poem which adds a lot of emphasis to his presentation. He changes this question to “ What are you dying for?” at the very end and it creates an effective statement. The money that drug dealers make is not worth dying for it…

Shakespeare, Macbeth, Acts IV and V

After finishing reading of the last two acts of Macbeth, one sentence really stands out. When Seyton reports the queen’s death to Macbeth, his response is “ She should have died hereafter.” As the reader, I guess I had expected him to show a little more grief and sadness. His reaction contains rather some sort of indifference to it.  This is the death of the woman whom he loves so much that he goes that far to even kill the king just to please her sick power ambitions. Now she dies, and all he has to say is pretty much “O well, we all die after all. Life goes on”. Or, I could be wrong. Maybe his cold reaction is just the result of his numbness. His greed and lust for power have changed him from a loyal hero whom we see at the beginning of the play into a real vengeful beast at the end of it. For instance, the moment he sends out his people to slaughter the entire Macduff’s family shows the worst of his personality. There’s absolutely no valid reason for Macbeth to do so. They are not a threat to him or his reign in any way. He does it out of spite. I think that is the moment when Macbeth becomes completely irrational and acts like a mad man. He knows he’s got a lot of blood on his hands and there is nothing else that can save him. He is a dead man much before the actual moment of death when Macduff takes revenge upon him.

Macbeth book vs. Macbeth movie

While I really like Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, and even though it is far from an easy read, I think that reading the book is a thousand times better than watching the movie “Macbeth”. Watching a movie is supposed to be an enjoyable experience. Watching “Macbeth”, not so much! It is rather a three hours long torture! Even though I think the dialogue in the movie remains pretty much the same as in Shakespeare’s original version, the setting itself has a very contemporary feel to it and it really ruins the play. In fact, when I started the movie, I almost thought I clicked on the wrong link. I thought I was about to watch a World War II movie.

The play was written in the 16th century! You can’t simply fast forward five centuries, make characters look like Nazis, play Russian music and keep Shakespeare’s dialogue. The filmed version of Macbeth is rather a cheap, poorly made horror movie. Too much blood everywhere. The three witches that appear in the book are almost fun characters unlike the three nurses or maids that take on their roles in the movie. The witches in the movie are extremely eerie. Let me mention the opening scene where the three of them are disguised as nurses ‘helping’ a wounded soldier. One of them pulls his heart out! Eww! Later on, I noticed they appear in certain scenes where Shakespeare doesn’t mention them. They also make a surprise appearance at dinner held by Macbeth dressed as maids. The most hideous movie scene is probably the night of the banquet when the guests dance to a Russian song, and whoever ends up without a partner has to dance with a mop. There are some other discrepancies between the book and the movie, such as Banquo riding a horse in the night of his murder, versus Banquo and his son traveling by train in the movie. Or at least what appears to be the train to me! I really could not suffer another three hours just to make sure whether it is the train! J Also, the queen in the book walks around carrying a candle, while she uses a flashlight in the movie. Along the same lines, I think the use of guns in the movie does not match the weapons described in the book.

While I generally find filmed versions of the books bleak, the movie Macbeth probably tops them all. It’s nowhere near my expectations. I am definitely sticking to the book! J

 

 

 

Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act III

The focal points of the Act III of Shakespeare’s Macbeth are the banquet held by Macbeth and the murder of Banquo, his chief guest. If there had been any sympathy for a hero Macbeth, it’s long gone by the beginning of Act III. With every new murder that he directly or indirectly commits, Macbeth turns into such a repulsive character that the reader’s desire to see him killed grows from page to page. Macbeth becomes

a mirror image of Lady Macbeth! Now she is the one who appears scared and anxious, while Macbeth is on a killing spree. Deep in blood already, Macbeth is unstoppable. He even adopts Lady Macbeth’s tactic of challenging manhood of his servants the same way she challenges his when Macbeth hesitates about killing king Duncan. When one of the murderers in Act 3, scene 3 says, “We are men, my liege”,

Macbeth responds sarcastically,

“Ay, in the catalogue ye go for men,

As hounds and greyhounds, mongrels, spaniels, curs,

Shoughs, water rugs, and demi wolves, are clept

All by the name of dogs…”

What Macbeth is really saying to his servants is that they won’t be real men until they kill Banquo.

During dinner, Macbeth makes a fool of himself since he is the only one who sees Banquo’s ghost. Macbeth is horrified by his presence, and acts absolutely insane.

The themes of revenge and no immoral deeds go without consequences are portrayed in Banquo’s appearance as a ghost. He is back to torture Macbeth’s conscience. While Lady Macbeth still manages to stay calm, at least on the outside,

Macbeth looses his connection with reality.