American Literature Unit 3 Short Stories

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American Literature Unit 3 Short Stories

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American Literature Unit 3 Short Stories Notes cover all the exercise questions in UGC Syllabus. The American Literature Unit 3 Short Stories provided here ensures a smooth and easy understanding of all the concepts. Understand the concepts behind every Unit and score well in the board exams.

The Crack-up: F. Scott Fitzgerald 

1. What do the crack up and winter dreams by f scott fitzgerald have in common? 

Ans: Both of these works by Fitzgerald deal with “disillusionment,” the experience of seeing a false idea or belief that one has cherished over a period of time being destroyed. Though it is a frequent theme in literature, Fitzgerald deals with it in an especially striking and personal way, and there are, unsurprisingly, connections between his treatment of it in these two pieces and in his novels and other short stories. 

In “Winter Dreams,” Dexter is haunted by not just Judy Jones herself but the image he has created of her. He loves her but is aware of her shallowness, and yet at the end of the story when it’s revealed to him that Judy has apparently lost her striking beauty and is stuck in an abusive marriage, his illusion bursts like a bubble. Judy is essentially another version of Daisy in The Great Gatsby. One can include her among people who. as Nick says of Daisy and Tom, “smashed up things.” caring little about the consequences. Like Gatsby, Dexter is a social climber, a man from (like Fitzgerald himself) a middle-class, northern Midwestern background who aspires to join the upper crust of society. Dexter becomes a success in business but feels incomplete, even with his engagement to the obviously right-for-him Irene.. When he falls for Judy again, he torpedoes, without any real regret, his engagement to Irene and the spiritual comfort it might have given him. 

“The Crack-up” deals with the exploding of an illusion, but on a deeper, more transcendent level. Fitzgerald recounts in honest detail the mid-life crisis he experiences after fifteen years as a successful writer. (Eighty years ago, people who were thirty-nine years old did actually think of themselves as being in the “middle” of life.) It is a spiritual self-reckoning compounded by the external changes in the artistic world of the time, in which film is becoming the dominant art form and replacing Fitzgerald’s craft, writing. Fitzgerald gives the impression, like Dexter, of having lived in a dream world that collapses when he comes face to face with a new reality. And yet, unlike in “Winter Dreams” where the reality is the end of one’s obsession with a woman. Fitzgerald never gives a single, definite explanation of why the crack-up occurs. In all his descriptions, however, there are two statements which to me stand out above the others: “I saw that for a long time I had not liked people and things. but only followed the rickety old pretence of liking;” and “…in a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day.” This is a man confronting an existential dilemma. The incidental things that Fitzgerald mentions as contributing to the crack-up : the exhaustion, the concerns about his health, his annoyance with the trivialities of the world surrounding him like the sound of the radio and the advertisements in the magazines, and the backfiring advice of the woman in his life–these are all symptoms of a more fundamental feeling of insufficiency, of emptiness at the core of a man’s life. It’s tragic that after writing “The Crack-up” Fitzgerald had only a few short years to live and not enough time to overcome this feeling. 

In both “Winter Dreams” and “The Crack-up,” dealing as they do with the collapse of illusion, Fitzgerald leaves open the answer to the usual problem of “the meaning of life.” In these works, as in his “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” where a man lives his life backward from old age to the cradle, we are left, after considering the details of each story, with the question, “what was the point of it all ?”—apart from the basic fact that life is what it is. 

2. How does The Crack-Up connect to the author’s personal life? 

Ans: In both his essay “The Crack-Up,” and the book The Crack-Up. published after his death, F. Scott Fitzgerald ponders his various forms of “cracking up” in the 1930s. He and his wife Zelda went from being famous and beloved Jazz Age figures in the 1920s to experiencing various forms of break down and failure in the 1930s. Zelda suffered from mental illness and was institutionalised in a mental hospital. Fitzgerald himself 

suffered from alcoholism, writer’s block, and an inability to adapt to the more political writing of the Great Depression. He also experienced a sense of depression and disintegration in his personal life. The essay “The Crack-Up” is deeply introspective. In it Fitzgerald examines his feelings and sensations about outward career failure. He also explores an inward “cracking” that can start to occur “when things are going well.” These cracks, he says, may not become visible until later. 

William Faulkner’s: “Dry September” 

1. Critically discuss William Faulkner’s “Dry September” as a critique of racism. 

Ans: In “Thy September,” William Faulkner explores the tensions around sexual assault, gender, age, and race in the Jim Crow South. Faulkner indicates that a white woman’s accusation against a black man would have been believed by the white authorities who controlled the legal system and by the majority white population of the town. Furthermore, the community would take matters into their own hands to ensure that an African American man’s life would be sacrificed, thus providing another example to show that white people had absolutely control. 

What Faulkner portrays is domestic terrorism based in racism. What could be prosecuted today as racist hate crimes were widespread in Faulkner’s Mississippi. As a white man writing in that time, he took responsibility not only to reveal such atrocities as lynching but also to show readers that vigilanteism was usually ignored. 

2. What is the point of view in “Dry Septem-ber” by William Faulkner? 

Ans: With regard to William Faulkner’s short story, “Dry September,” to identify point of view, it is important to be able to differentiate between the several kinds that authors may use. 

There are four kinds of point of view. The first is “first person,” when the story is told using “I.” Another kind is the “omniscient narrator” who knows all, including the inner-workings of the characters, exposing thoughts and feelings. The third form is “limited omniscient narrator,” told from the third-person point of view, from one character’s viewpoint, told using he, she, they, etc. The final type of point of view is the “objective point of view.” This form: 

presents the action and the characters’ speech, without comment or emotion. The reader has to interpret them and uncover their meaning. 

Throughout the story, as the reader waits to learn of Will Mayes’ fate and the truth surrounding Miss Minnie’s allegations against the innocent Mayes, we are simply given the facts from an objective observer. We are not given insight into the internal thoughts or feelings of any character. What we learn about each is what we see or hear. 

In this case, even as McClendon returns home, after the horrible deed of either killing, or beating and leaving Mayes to die somewhere, we would anticipate some answers from McClendon’s character. Once again, all we learn is that he doesn’t really care about the safety of the women in his town: we see this in his physical abuse of his wife, but we learn no more than what we witness. He is a “war hero” who is simply concern with keeping the blacks in their place, and demonstrating his ability to exercise his power of a white man over a black man, regardless of the “truth.” 

“Look at that clock,” he said, lifting his arm, pointing. She stood before him her face lowered, a magazine in her hands. Her face was pale, strained, and weary-looking. “Haven’t I told you about sitting up like this, waiting to see when I come in ?” 

“John,” she said. She laid the magazine down. Poised on the balls of his feet, he glared at her with his hot eyes, his sweating face. 

“Didn’t I tell you ?” He went toward her. She looked up then. He caught her shoulder. She stood passive, looking at him. 

“Don’t, John. I couldn’t sleep . . . The heat; something. Please, John. You’re hurting me.” 

“Didn’t I tell you ?” He released her and half struck, half flung her across the chair, and she lay there and watched him quietly as he left the room. 

This all supports that the story is told from the objective point of view. No information is provided so that we may know more or judge the characters other than what we see and hear. We are left to draw our own conclusions. 

3. How is the myth of “the Old South” shown in William Faulkner’s stories A Rose for Emily, Barn Burning, and Dry September? 

Ans: Each of William Faulkner’s short stories — A Rose for Emily, Barn Burning, and Dry September —reflect the author’s Southern roots and the culture in which he lived his life. Whether it’s reasonable to apply the word “myth” to Faullcner’s southern orientation and his depiction of the American South, however, is open to debate. His short stories are just that: stories. They are works of fiction inspired by his deeply-felt Southern heritage. There is nothing particularly “mythical” about them. 

Each of the three stories takes place in the American South. Of them, A Rose for Emily, while macabre in the protagonist’s obsession with, murder of, and retention of the rotting corpse of the visiting Northerner with whom she has fallen in love, is nevertheless perhaps the most quaint depiction of the South represented in these stories. Faulkner’s narrative is replete with instances of Southern gentility and with references to the heritage unique to this milieu, as in the following sentence from the story’s opening passages regarding the now-deceased woman at the centre of the plot : 

“And now Miss Emily had gone to join the representatives of those august names where they lay in the cedar bemused cemetery among the ranked and anonymous graves of Union and Confederate soldiers who fell at the battle of Jefferson.” 

Faulkner’s Southern heritage is inextricably, obviously, linked to the conduct and outcome of the American Civil War, and ‘Southern Pride’ remains a strong motivating force. The war may have eliminated the institution of slavery, and replaced it with the experiment in nation-building then known as “Reconstruction,” but the underlying sentiments have not changed. The shadow of the Civil War, then still fresh in the minds of the region’s entire population, looms overhead. But, more to the point, Faulkner’s narrative in A Rose for Emily embodies the culture of the white, elitist Southerner, as when he writes : 

“Alive, Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town, dating from that day in 1894, when Colonel Sartoris, the mayor — he who fathered the edict that no Negro woman should appear upon the streets without an apron … “

The racism endemic in that passage serves, unwittingly probably, as a bit of irony. The mayor wants to ensure that proper etiquette is practised at all times, while simultaneously further denigrating the status of the town’s African American community. Even the references to the town’s mayor, “Colonel Sartoris,” evokes near-mythological images of the American South — the genteel Southern gentleman who prefers to be addressed by his former rank in the army of the Confederacy. And, that is only appropriate given that “Sartoris” was the name Faulkner used for his early novel of that name, the main character modelled on the author’s great-grandfather, who had served as a colonel in the Confederate army. A Rose for Emily is Southern through-and-through. 

The second story, Barn Burning, is interesting in that its main character is a young, poor white boy named Colonel Sartoris Snopes. Barn Burning was published in 1939, nine years after A Rose for Emily, but Faulkner so associated that moniker with the American South that he reused it, although in vastly different perspectives. As noted, “Colonel Sartoris” dates back to Faulkner’s 1929 novel Sartoris, which deals with the decline of the American South and the culture that had been celebrated and preserved in the face of Northern aggression. In Barn Burning, the refined gentleman whose spirit is felt in A Rose for Emily is now reborn as an economically-destitute child. Barn Burning, however, is about a vastly different topic. Specifically, as the title suggests, it deals with the mystery who burned down the barn owned by landlord who rented land to the boy’s father, Abner Snopes. In the Old South, there are few forms of humanity held in lower esteem than “barn burners” (a theme repeated in other of Faulkner’s stories). Abner is accused of and convicted, in the minds of those present. of the evil deed, resulting in the Snopes family’s banishment from the town. As Abner rises to leave, his reputation and livelihood in ruins, faulkner describes the scene as follows : 

“ His father  turned, and he followed the stiff black figure walking a little stiffly from where a Confederate provost’s man’s musket ball had taken him in the heel on a stolen horse thirty years ago, followed the two backs now, since between the two lines of grim-faced men and out of the store and across the worn gallery and down the sagging steps and among the does and half-grown boys in the mild May dust, where as he passed a voice hissed: “Barn burner !” 

Again, references to the Civil War appear. The wader of Faulkner’s literature is never far from the next reminder of his Southern heritage and of the legacy of the War Between the States. It is the third of these three stories, however, that most malignant of the region’s heritage is prominently displayed. Dry September is about the quintessential Southern crime, the lynching of die innocent black. The story begins ignominiously ugh, with a heated discussion about an alleged attack on a white woman, Miss Minnie Cooper, by a black man, Will Hayes : 

“Except it wasn’t Will Mayes,” a barber said. He was a man of middle age; a thin, sand-colored man with a mild face, who was shaving a client. “I know Will Mayes. He’s a good nigger. And I know Miss Minnie Cooper, too.” 

“What do you know about her?” a second barber said. 

“Who is she?” the client said. “A young girl?” 

“No,” the barber said. “She’s about forty, I reckon. She ain’t married. That’s why I don’t believe…” 

“Believe, hell !” a hulking youth in a sweat-stained silk shirt said. “Wont you take a white woman’s word before a nigger’s?” 

There’s nothing mythological about this story. In fact, if anything, it’s the antithesis of the idealised image of the American South that the word “myth” suggests. Take, for instance, the following exchange in the lead-up to the formation of the ubiquitous lynching party : 

“Do you mean to tell me you are a white man and you’ll stand for it? You better go back North where you’ came from. The South don’t want your kind here.

” “North what ” the second said. “I was born And raised in this town.” 

“Well, by God!” the youth said. He looked about with a strained, baffled gaze, as if he was trying to remember what it was he wanted to say or to do. 

If there’s any imagery evocative of the more positive elements of the region’s heritage in this story, it is in the 

brief section on Minnie Cooper, something of a tragic figure with an unenviable reputation for promiscuity. Minnie’s life has been ruined by the small-town culture that has condemned her to the life of spinster evocative of Miss Emily : 

“She lived in a small frame house with her invalid mother and a thin, sallow, unflagging aunt, where each morning between ten and eleven she would appear on the porch in a lace-trimmed boudoir cap, to sit swinging in the porch swing until noon. After dinner she lay down for a while, until the afternoon began to cool. Then, in one of the three or four new voile dresses which she had each summer, she would go downtown to spend the afternoon in the stores with the other ladies, where they would handle the goods and haggle over the prices in cold, immediate voices, without any intention of buying.” 

Miss Minnie may enjoy the company of others from time to time, but she will die alone, damaged goods, as they say. Again, if “myth” is intended to conjure up idyllic imagery, then Dry September, as with Barn Burn-ing, comes up real short. 

4. Who is the main character in “Dry September”?  

Ans: Minnie Cooper can probably be considered the main character in William Faulkner’s short story “Dry September.” She is 38 or 39 years old and lives alone with her disabled mother and elderly aunt. She is a creature of habit and Faulkner introduces her by describing the way she spends nearly every day. In fact, Faulkner uses a decent amount of the story’s text to provide the reader with background information on Minnie Cooper, something he does not do with any of the other characters, some of whom are not even named. This should clue you in that Minnie Cooper might be the story’s main character. 

It is also possible to argue that the barber is the main character. He is the central figure in most of the action of the story with alternating sections told from his point of view. However, Minnie Cooper is the catalyst for the events of the story and occupies a central role in it. In that sense, if you have to choose’ ust one main character, I would say it would be her. 

5. How do William Faulkner’s works show the significant differences between the old South and the new South in “Dry September”? 

Ans: William Faulkner once remarked, “I love the South; I hate the South.” This Nobel Prize winner who rarely strayed far from his home of Oxford, Mississippi, depicted the South with honesty and candour, but always there is a certain poignancy to his tales. In his works, Faulkner documents the ability to endure and illuminates social issues with honesty, sparing no level of Southern society. The Old South that has become decadent is depicted in the Compsons of The Sound and the Fury; the poor whites, “buckra,” are portrayed in As I Lay Dying. Yet there is in both these novels a discussion of the existential metaphysics of everyday life. 

In his short story “Dry September,” Faulkner unapologetically portrays the “good ol’boy” of his beloved South, a type character of the white male who dominated by any means necessary. The narrative revolves around making the innocent Willie Mays the scapegoat for the questionable behaviour of one of the white ladies of the town. Whether Mayes is innocent or not is ignored in the overriding passion to make an example of any black male so that others will not be tempted to cross racial lines. (Miscegenation was against the law.) When the barber tries to convince the old soldier McLendon that Willie Mayes would never commit rape–“I know Willie Mayes”–and that the incident probably never happened because Miss Minnie has “a bit of an imagination,” he is contradicted : 

Happen? What the hell difference does it make? Are you going to let the black sons—- get away with it until one really does it? 

As the barber continues to try to reason with the men who have now taken on the mentality of the vigilante, he is told, 

“Sure, sure,” the soldier said. “We’re just going to talk to him a little; that’s all.” 

“Talk hell!” Butch said. “When we’re through with the…” 

“Shut up, for God’s sake!” the soldier said. “Do you want everybody in town….” 

They load into cars and speed off to grab Willie Mays, who is a night watchman at a plant. Willie pleads with them that he is innocent, but to no avail. When McLendon returns home, he flings his wife brutally out of the way, takes off his shirt and wipes his sweating body after laying his pistol on the bed. There is no authorial comment until the last subtle line, “The dark world seemed to lie stricken beneath the cold moon and the lidless stars.” 

The South of the early twentieth century was very cruel to African-Americans (it is noted that McLendon served in World War I). It was ruled by Jim Crow Laws after wealthy investors of the North, eager for the South to recover its economy as profits could be gleaned from the shipping of tobacco and cotton, helped to pass laws to undo many of the post-Civil War rights afforded African-Americans because Southerners argued that they needed to control this large population. Unfortunately, the acts of McClendon and the others who inflict such deadly cruelty upon a man are exemplary of means used to subject and control others. 

But after 1950 and the Little Rock Nine, schools in the South became integrated as did other facilities. The turbulent 60s brought about the most important transformation, however, and it was in this decade that Faulkner died. After the legislation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the South was forced to change, and there is nothing uncommon about couples of different races or children of mixed race in Southern towns. 

6. What are the writing styles of William Faulkner? 

Ans: William Faulkner is best known for his experiments with the stream-of-consciousness narrative style. This style is characterised by a use of language that mimics thought, often eliminating conventional grammar and formal sentence structure in favour of more “organic” and creative modes. A result of this narrative technique often can be long and complex sentences. 

Example: Her voice would not cease, it would just vanish. There would be the dim coffin-smelling gloom sweet and oversweet with the twice-bloomed wistaria against the outer wall by the savage quiet September sun impacted distilled and hyper distilled, into which came now and then the loud cloudy flutter of the sparrows like a flat limber stick whipped by an idle boy, and the rank smell of female old flesh long embattled in virginity while the wan haggard face watched him above the faint triangle of lace at wrists and throat from the too tall chair in which she resembled a crucified child… 

The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying and Absalom, Absalom! each heavily or exclusively utilise the stream-of-consciousness narrative technique. These novels also demonstrate this narrative technique applied through both first and third person narrative points of view. 

Faulkner also used a naturalistic or more conventional prose form as well for much of his work. Most of his novels and stories offer a combination between naturalistic prose and stream-of-consciousness. A Light in August is an example of one of his novels that uses a combination of narrative forms. 

7. Is there any irony in Faulkner’s “Dry September”? 

Ans: One example of irony is Miss Minnie’s prom-ising past. In her youth, she had been able to ride the “crest of the town’s social life,” enjoying a great popularity in her community. Somehow, though, opportunities for finding a husband have passed her by, and now in her forties, no men even follow her with their eyes when she passes by. Although her young life was promising. her position in her midlife is something of a joke. Everyone in town comments that she isn’t really a believable witness against Will Mayes. In her youth, Minnie positions herself as a girl to be admired; in her later years, she positions herself as the girl to be pitied : 

“S ! Shhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” they said, freshening the icepack, smoothing her hair, examining it for gray; “poor girl!” Then to one another: “Do you suppose anything really happened?” their eyes darkly aglitter, secret and passionate. “S ! Poor girl! Poor Minnie !” 

Another moment of irony occurs when the gang is trying to force Will Mayes into the car. The barber, who has defended Will from the onset and who leaves his barber shop specifically to try to defend him, actually engages in the violence against him : 

The others expelled their breath in a dry hissing and struck him with random blows and he whirled and cursed them, and swept his manacled hands across their faces and slashed the barber upon the mouth, and the barber struck him also. 

In a desperate act of survival, Will hits the barber, and this is provocation enough for the barber to strike back in violence against the man he’d actually shown up to protect. Additionally, when they all get into the car, Will pleads with Henry to stay by uttering his name twice: “Mr. Henry.” Sadly, the one man with the potential to save Will bails out of the car—when his entire original intention was to save Will from certain death. 

Thus, Henry’s actions are also ironic. He leaves the barber shop full of heroism, determined to give Will a chance to survive the group looking to avenge Miss Minnie’s “honour”: 

The barber wiped the razor carefully and swiftly, and put it away, and ran to the rear, and took his hat from the wall. “I’ll be back as soon as I can,” he said to the other barbers. “I can’t let—” He went out, running. 

Yet in the end, he seems more interested in saving himself and makes a cowardly exit from the car. 

8. How is dry September a devastating critique of the south? 

Ans: The main purpose of the short story “Dry September” is an indictment of Southern culture, specially racism. In the story, a young black man is murdered. He is accused of attacking an elderly white woman, Miss Minnie, but is completely innocent. 

A common theme in stories of racism in the American South, when a white woman accuses a black man of anything he is innocent until proven guilty. The story is an indictment of Southern culture because of the following : 

: A white woman accuses a black man of a horrible crime just to get attention. Miss Minnie is an old spinster just reaching for the spotlight. She basks in the glory after her accusation and the murder, then returns to being unimportant. 

: Black men are assumed guilty. Will Mays is murdered for attacking a white woman even though there is no proof that he did it. He is guilty, and no one bothers to see if he is innocent. 

: Vigilante justice in the form of white mobs killing black men. There is no trial. A group of white men kill Mays as soon as he is accused. 

: Murder of a black man is commonly accepted. No one in the community seems to care that the man might be innocent. Although they begin to suspect nothing really happened, they are not disturbed by it and Miss Minnie is just upset she is no longer the centre of attention. 

As you can see, all of these things are terribly wrong and are only present in a terribly racist society. 

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