Writing about fiction examples
Eng. 1B WE
V. Law: instructor
"Everything That Rises Must Converge"
Flannery O'Connor has written in her story, "Everything That Rises Must Converge," a story about a young man who struggles not to be like his mother. He especially hates the negative qualities of hers that they share. Being cross and impatient with her is his way of punishing her for her influence on him and even more important, trying to overcome her bad tendencies in himself.
The story starts with the young man, Julian, feeling sorry for himself that he has been forced to take his mother on the bus to her reducing class to lose weight and lower her blood pressure. She wears for the first time a new, comical green and purple hat that she feels a bit insecure about. On the way to the bus Julian and his mother argue about their social class and race relations. She is prejudice and this embarrasses him. His behavior embarrasses her in return. Once on the bus she starts a conversation with two other women with whom she complains about blacks and brags about her son who has been to college. During the conversation, he retreats into his mind and doesn't come out again until a black man enters the bus. Julian, to anger his mother, tries to talk to the man who obviously isn't interested in a conversation. As planned, the mother does get angry and her blood pressure goes up visibly. At the next stop a black woman and her young son get on the bus and sit down in the only two empty seats left in the front of the bus. The little boy tries to makes friends with Julian's mother immediately, while his mother, sitting across from them, becomes more jealous and more upset as time passes. Eventually Julian notices why the woman next to him is bristling and why his mother is looking sick... it is not that the women have symbolically traded sons, but that they are wearing the same ugly hat. He laughs out loud and his mother's face turns purple with indignity. As their stop nears, Julian and the second woman signal at the same time for the bus to let them off. Knowing his mother, Julian tries to prevent her from giving the little boy a nickel but she won't listen. The mother of the little boy feels so insulted that she yells to the other that her little boy doesn't take pennies from anyone. She then smacks the other across the face with her pocket book that was big and heavy like herself. Julian helps his mother from the ground and begins to explain to her the lesson she should have just learned. She ignores him completely and starts walking home. Unaccustomed to his mother not doing what he tells her, he finally grabs her by the arm to stop her from walking away from him. When he turns her around she looks at him with no recognition, one of her eyes rolls back in her head and she falls to the sidewalk. Julian is left alone running for help in the night.
Julian and his mother are similar in many ways, although probably neither one would like to admit it. On the surface we see their differences: like her prejudice and snobbishness toward those of lower social class, and his racial tolerance and disregard for their families past glory. This, however, is only on the surface for if we look deeper, we see that they are both very much alike. Here is where their problem lies. We see they are both hypocrites, both live in fantasy worlds, and they both struggle for control of the relationship.
They are both hypocrites. They say, and even believe, that they feel one way about things, but their actions show differently. One of the first discrepancies we are shown is Julian telling his mother to wear the green and purple hat that he himself describes as "hideous" (471). When she starts to feel guilty about spending the money on herself, Julian tries to ease her conscience by reassuring her that he will someday earn some money. She tells him he is doing fine and should not worry about not contributing to the family, but only a bit earlier emphasizes to him the sacrifices she has made for him: " ...since the reducing class was one of her few pleasures... Julian could at least put himself out to take her, considering all she did for him." (470). Another of her hypocrisies is reminding her son he is a Godhigh and a Chestny and what rich and successful people they had been, even though we later learn they actually lost the family mansion after years of struggling to keep it. Hearing Julian talk one would think Julian hated the old manor, but he admits his secret longing to have it back; he is jealous of his mother growing up there when he couldn't (473). The biggest surprise is realizing that both the mother and her self-declared liberal son are intolerant and prejudice. Thinking back on her colored nursemaid she says there is nothing she wouldn't do for her colored friends (473), but she doesn't consider them equal. Segregation and slavery are positive things to her; she will give them anything but a chance to prove themselves. Julian seeks the company of blacks and dreams of bringing a "beautiful suspiciously Negroid woman" (477) home to meet his mother. Unfortunately he doesn't seek their company because he likes them, but because his mother doesn't. He uses them without caring about them as people, simply to hurt his mother; when he chooses to speak to a black person, he doesn't pick them for their apparent personality, but for the individual's sophisticated clothing (477). If he thought of them as equals, then he would talk to the less educated or more poorly dressed individuals.
In Julian's mind, he describes with disgust his mother's fantasy world. It is true that she has some problems with reality, like not admitting that they live in a less than upper-class neighborhood and more. She sees all of her sacrifices paying off when her son becomes a successful writer, but since he is making no effort, this cannot come true. She refuses to see his impending failure. Despite her voicing her belief they are in a good neighborhood, she reacts to the less than glamorous reality by building another fantasy; if she and her son dress well and respectably, they will be just that. She not only wears a hat and gloves to a reducing class, but also calls her son a "thug" (473) when he dares to take off his tie in public. On the surface she is dignified and gracious; underneath she is intolerant and condescending. But Julian has is own little dream place as well. Julian thinks so often about his mother's fantasies he doesn't see his own. The old family mansion appears in his mind repeatedly, not broken down as it truly is but as his mother describes it being during her childhood: "But it remained in his mind as his mother had known it" (473). He lives in a poorer, dingy area and sees himself being no better than his surroundings. He doesn't realize, like his mother, that housing alone does not control a person's fate. This logic implies that he blames his unhappiness on the old house being lost, and if only he lived there he could be happy. He is disturbed by his mother's inability to face the truth, but he lies to himself as well.
A constant battle for control is fought between the two throughout the essay. They are so stubborn that neither will admit being wrong or will accept loosing to the other. There is no compromise in this family. From start to finish Julian tries to break his mother's spirit. He takes off his tie to help in the task, but she fights back and hassles him until he weakens and surrenders, putting the tie back on (474). She makes him accompany her to class not by asking, but by working on his sense of guilt. He has no respect for her anymore and sees her as a child. She shrinks to child like proportions in his imagination and wishes he could discipline her with a slap: "At that moment he could with pleasure have slapped her as he would have slapped a particularly obnoxious child in his charge" (477). Unfortunately for her, she too does not respect her son's opinions and doesn't heed his warning not to give the little black boy on the bus a penny, and seals her own fate. It is because they spent so much of their lives battling that his mother no longer could believe he was for once trying to help instead of hurt.
Everyone finds negative traits in themselves from their parents and resent them. The difference here is he did not realize this was his problem, and he tortured himself and his mother with his unhappiness. He resented her for teaching him to be like her: hypocritical, living in a fantasy, and controlling. Most kids grow out of this stage and learn to love their parents again, but because he was so relentless in his punishment he will never be able to. He will suffer for his selfishness the rest of his life.
"Wait here, wait here!" he cried and jumped up and began to run for help toward a cluster of lights he saw in the distance ahead of him.... The lights drifted farther away the faster he ran and his feet moves numbly as if they carried him nowhere. The tide of darkness seemed to sweep him back to her, postponing from moment to moment his entry into the world of guilt and sorrow.
Ginny and the Sow
Adapted from one of my own English 100W papers
"Ty, who was asleep, rolled over and put his hand on my shoulder, then ran it down my back, so slowly that my back came to seem about as long and humped as a sow's, running in a smooth arc from my rooting, low slung head to my stumpy little tail.... Ty whispered, 'don't open your eyes,' and I did not. Nothing would wake me from this unaccustomed dream of my body faster than opening my eyes" (161-2).
Ginny, the narrator and main character of Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres, has been lying in bed fantasizing about sleeping with a childhood friend who has returned after many years' absence. She is drifting into sleep when her husband, Ty runs his hand down her back and she dreams she is a sow. She wakes up with thoughts of the baby pigs and suddenly, for the first time is sexually drawn to him and cannot resist touching him. They make love (162). Why does Ginny imagine herself to be a sow when she and her husband make love? The three possibilities are that pigs are a symbol of fertility, that they are important to her husband and that she feels like she has been treated in the past more like property than a person.
The first reason is that the pigs on their farm are fertile and Ginny is not. Ginny very much wants to have children. She has been pregnant five times and has had five miscarriages. She still wants to try, feels she still has a chance, but Ty has given up. He has accepted the idea that they will remain childless. She continues to hope that she will have her own babies, that when circumstances change, like when she and Ty are given half the farm or if she drinks different water, she will be able to carry a baby to term. Unlike Ginny, pigs are quite prolific. Not only can they can have a number of babies at one time, but they can have litters two or three times a year. Ty is building a hog operation that would produce four thousand pigs a year from two hundred to two hundred and twenty sows. That means each sow would have about 20 piglets per year. Ginny describes these piglets lovingly. She says, "You couldn't resist baby pigs, how lively and pink they are, eager, climbing all over the sow, scrambling for the forward teats, playing with one another, squealing, watching watching watching through the bars of the farrowing crates, their little black eyes shining with curiosity" (169). Ty seems to think that babies would save Ginny and him from her father, Larry Cook. Larry was getting more difficult to be around after a transfer of land and power from him to his two oldest daughters and their husbands. Ginny tells us how Ty thinks: "If my father could sit tight until our place seethed with this life and movement, he would, Ty was sure, be reborn into a contented retirement..." (169). In this instance they are talking about baby pigs. But this could easily be a metaphor for a baby of their own.
The second explanation is that pigs are important to Ty. His father had been a pig farmer, even dying in the pens. Hogs are his heritage, like a family tradition. Now that Larry's farm has been divided between the daughters and he has the power to decide what happens on the farm, he chooses to not just raise a few pigs like before, but start a serious hog operation. When Ty talks it is frequently about the pigs and what is going to do for them. He spends much time with his hogs working hard and even taking out loans to build them a special barn. Ty has given up on having his own children and focuses on his pigs as children instead. He talks about getting an air conditioned confinement building and champion hogs whose "breeding is so pure they can sit up to dinner with you and not spill anything on the tablecloth." The boars would have names and their off spring could be put up for adoption. Then he jokes about requiring an adopting farmer to use his own spoon to feed the baby pig and let it sleep on his side of the bed. The farmer would then reply that he already has a college fund for it (24). Because he enjoys the pigs so much and spends most of his days with them it is not so strange that Ginny would imagine herself to be one of the creatures for which her husband cares so much.
The third possible reason is that Ginny feels like property, like one of the hogs. At the same time that Ty looks to the pigs as a substitute for children and Ginny views them as symbols of motherhood, they still don't treat the piglets like human babies, but like property and an investment instead. For example, on the same day that she fantasizes about being a sow, they have spent the day in the farrowing barn "...helping with the last of the newborn pigs. You had to clip out their eyeteeth, which were sharp and would get sharper, and dock their tails so they wouldn't get chewed on and infected. The sows didn't love this, our handling the baby pigs, but in the first few days they were still amenable and almost sleepy. We castrated about twenty little boars" (161). Ginny and her husband treat the pigs the same way her father treats them, like property and an investment. Her father dominated his two oldest girls until they were subservient and had no "sharp teeth" left to hurt him with, "docked" their personalities so they could not be "infected" by the outside world and leave him and he castrated their husbands by not allowing them any power around the farm. Once the power changed hands however the sharp teeth, the individuality and manhood came back.
Property was very important to her father. He worked hard to gain land and have an even thousand acres, even when it involved causing problems and resentment among his friends and neighbors. He assumed the people in his family were his property to do with as he pleased and he took no regard of their feelings or desires. When she learned that her father used to come into her room at night when she was a teenager, she suggested that he was just checking on the children the same way he would check his hogs (188). Not only was the family mentally under Larry's control because he treated them like property, but he also physically did with his two older daughters as he pleased. Larry molested Ginny and her sister, Rose. Rose describes how Larry thought he owned his girls: "You were his as much as I was.... We were just his, to do with as he pleased, like the pond or the houses or the hogs or the crops" (191). When Ginny imagines herself to be a sow she does not yet remember being molested, but the memory sits in her unconscious mind and prevents her from enjoying sex. Because this was such a terrible thing that happened to her, she could have had to remove herself from her own body to remain sane as she was being molested. This strategy might also work to prevent her from remembering as she made love with her husband. She became something else, a sow, that could not have the same memories and feelings that she, a human, did.
There are many reasons why Ginny could have imagined she was a sow while making love to her husband. This paper addresses three of them. The first reason I suggest is that she imagines herself to be a sow because the sows on the farm are prolific and Ginny wants a baby of her own very much. She has gone through the anguish of five miscarriages while the sows produced about twenty piglets a year. She and her husband also seemed to think that a baby would solve their problems with her father. The second reason is that she wants to be the object of her husband's affections and desires, to be one of the pigs in which he invests so much of his energy and time and has decided to devote his life to instead of continuing to try to have children. The third and last of my proposals is that she felt more like property than a human and the sow was just an extension of this feeling. She was treated by her father like a farm animal, his to do with as he pleased, including molesting her. Since she was treated like property, she could have put herself in the pig's body to remove herself from her own, thereby avoiding a situation that would allow her suppressed memories of molestation to surface. I do not claim that these are the reasons the author intended nor that there are no other possible reasons, just that it is reasonable that Ginny would dream she was a sow because of her circumstances. Jane Smiley writes vividly and believably. Pig imagery is woven throughout the story even when they are just in the back ground clanking their feeders at night or being served for a meal. Because the pigs are so persistently present in the story there is no other creature or person that would have been a more logical choice for Ginny to become in her dream.