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The Summer of the Beautiful White Horse by William Saroyan
Themes & Meanings
In this gentle story from the collection My Name Is Aram (1940), William Saroyan calls into question the nature and the value of conventional morality and even of reality itself. Faced with a situation in which the first impulse of most people would be to punish the thieves, the people of this slow-moving, rural Armenian community (which undoubtedly was modeled on the author’s hometown, Fresno, California) do more than recognize that boys will be boys. They also understand that the value and thereby the use of property belong to those with spirit and understanding, not only money. A horse, after all, is a living being, not a thing like the burning house that Uncle Khosrove so easily dismisses. John Byro knows who has taken his horse, and he hints not to the boys but to the boy’s relatives that he knows, but he does not force the issue by demanding his horse back. To insult the honor of the Garoghlanian family would cause much more trouble than the loss of a horse, disrupting the peace of the community.
Even when Byro catches the boys red-handed, he does not condemn them. When he mentions that he believes with his heart, not with his eyes, he is telling the boys that he knows that they are basically good boys who do not intend him or the horse injury. Ironically, all turns out for the best. The daily morning exercise has improved the health of the animal, and he is better than ever, so the boys have done John Byro a favor with their mischief. No harm to it, as Uncle Khosrove would say.
The importance of spirit in Saroyan’s writings is shown in the characters of Uncle Khosrove and Mourad. No one is upset because both are crazy, for craziness has its strong points. Mourad really does have a way with animals, perhaps because of his unusual approach to the world, and Uncle Khosrove really is able to calm every conflict, even those involving himself, so who is to say who is crazy or even what is crazy?
Looking back by Guy de Maupassant
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
The inhabitants of a small New England town gather in the town square in a convivial mood.A ritual begins: Mr. Summers brings forth a box with hundreds of slips of paper inside.The names of all the family members in the town are collected.Bill draws a slip of paper with a dark splotch and Tessie voices the concern that his selection was unfair.The slips are retrieved and the drawing continues. Tessie takes a slip with a black spot and is stoned to death by the other townspeople.
Themes & Meanings
Shirley Jackson represents the notion of the scapegoat as someone who is blamed for the evils of a society and banished in order to expel sin and allow for renewal.The townspeople are governed by mob psychology and abandon their reason to act with great cruelty.The violence of the townspeople who initially seem civilized and genteel reflects the possibility of violent acts taking place in any context.The refusal of the townspeople to abandon tradition and question the lottery ritual suggests the negative consequences of blindly following tradition.The female identity of the victim suggests the violence committed against women in a patriarchal society.
The events of “The Lottery” border on the absurd. Nevertheless, the story cries out for interpretation on several levels. Shirley Jackson has skillfully used the elements of several ancient rituals to create a tale that touches on the character of ritual itself and the devastating effects of mob psychology.
At the heart of the story is one of the oldest concepts of humankind: the notion of the scapegoat. Ancient civilizations often conducted a ceremony in which the evils of an entire society were symbolically transferred to one member of the group, either human or animal, and that member was killed or banished. This death or banishment suggested that the evils of the past had been expurgated, allowing for a better future for the group. The Jewish people in Old Testament times conducted the ritual by designating a goat as the recipient of all sins and evil, then turning the goat out into the desert; hence, in Western literature, the term “scapegoat” has been widely adopted to designate this sacrificial victim.
Tessie Hutchinson is the scapegoat in her town in the year in which “The Lottery” takes place; the implication in the story is that the lottery is an annual event. In this town, the scapegoat is used to banish the evils of the society so that the crops will flourish. Thus, two ancient rituals are combined: the notion of banishing evils via a sacrificial victim, and the idea of appeasing higher powers in some way to ensure fertility for the land. Fertility rituals, too, usually involved some kind of sacrifice.
The people of the town are caught up in the ritual to such an extent that they have given up any sense of logic. Mob psychology rules their actions. Though they appear to be sane, sensible individuals, when the time of the lottery comes, they abandon their rational nature and revert to the instincts of the herd. This psychological phenomenon is characteristic of humans throughout history. Although Jackson portrays it in its extreme form in this story, the idea that men and women in groups are willing to forgo personal responsibility and act with great cruelty toward others is evidenced in actions such as lynch mobs, racial confrontations, and similar incidents. The willingness of people to act irrationally as members of the herd displays aspects that, while unpleasant, are still integral parts of their nature that they must recognize if they are to keep them in check.
The Theft by Katherine Anne Porter
Themes & Meanings
“Theft,” despite its brevity, contains several interlocking themes that lie at the core of Katherine Anne Porter’s work. Foremost is the theme of alienation that permeates the story. Porter creates a modern alienated wasteland, populated by characters suffering from empty human relationships. None of the individuals portrayed connects emotionally to another. Of the five marriages or love affairs to which the story alludes, for example, none is successful.
Paralleling the theme of alienation is that of rejection. The woman, nameless because she has lost her identity, experiences rejection of one sort or another from all the characters. She rejects Camilo as unworthy of her and, in turn, is rejected by Roger, possibly a current lover, who chooses reconciliation with his wife. When she arrives at her apartment building, Bill rejects her contributions to his script by refusing to pay her the promised money. Rereading the letter from a lover who blames her for the deterioration of their relationship, she symbolically rejects him by destroying the letter. Her final rejection involves the loss of the purse and the janitor’s unwillingness to take it once it is freely given.
Porter underlines the themes of alienation and rejection with another one involving loss—the loss of the stolen purse and the woman’s feelings regarding it. On one level, the purse signifies a material possession that she is willing to give up; on another, deeper level, it is not just her possession, but an extension of her personality. It probably was given to her by Eddie and symbolizes not only their love and life together, but also her youth. Now older, she is forced to face this painful reality when the janitor throws the purse back and taunts her about no longer being young, thereby precipitating her spiritual isolation. Her latent feelings of isolation, loss, and rejection merge by story’s end. She is left with an empty purse and cold coffee, devoid of love.
A. V. Laider by Max Beerbohm
The Other Two by Edith Wharton
What is the main theme in Edith Wharton's short story "The Other Two"?
Published in 1904, Edith Wharton's short story "The Other Two" presents a new social anomaly of the time: it had suddenly become much easier to obtain a legal divorce. Through her story, Wharton shows such an anomaly poses problems for society, but since the anomaly is also a stepping stone towards liberating women, they may be social problems we simply have to accept. To show the above, Wharton develops the theme concerning the consequences of easy divorce.
Wharton's theme is portrayed through the fact that Alice uses marriage and divorce to climb her way up the social ladder. She divorced her first husband, Haskett, because he is not financially well-off. The narrator relays his poverty by describing him as owning a "shabby hat and umbrella" and being a "small effaced-looking man" who "might have been a piano-tuner." Alice says she divorced him because he was a "brute," but he is a very gentle and caring man. Because he had no money or social standing, Alice left him to marry Varick, a man with higher social standing but still no money. In court, she divorced Varick for infidelity, but it was rumored she really divorced him because of his debt. She next marries Waythorn, a man with both social standing and wealth.
Waythorn realizes that, with each of her marriages, Alice changed herself to fit the image she wanted. As a result, he married her not really knowing the true her. As their marriage progresses, he sees her as a compilation of her current and former selves, because with each marriage, she had left and changed a part of herself:
She was "as easy as an old shoe"—a shoe that too many feet had worn. Her elasticity was the result of tension in too many different directions. Alice Haskett—Alice Varick—Alice Waythorn—she had been each in turn, and had left hanging to each name a little of her privacy, a little of her personality, a little of the inmost self where the unknown god abides.
Waythorn's reflection of his wife as an "old shoe" worn by "too many feet" shows a social problem created by easy divorce is that women begin to look like used, cast-off articles of clothing; they also look like they have mixed, unclear identities because parts of their identities are tied to their ex-husbands.
By the end of the story, Waythorn comes to accept and be amused by his wife's complicated nature, showing us the author would rather promote easy divorce and all its social complications than promote keeping women imprisoned in unhappy, unfulfilling marriages.
What is the main idea of "The Other Two" by Wharton?What is the meaning of the story
I think the main idea of the story is that you should be careful about judging others. You can judge on little information, but you will not always be correct. Another main idea is that social conventions exist for a reason. They help us avoid discomfort and embarrassment.
What was society like at the time of The Other Two?
When Wharton published “The Other Two” in 1904, divorce was unusual, and sometimes scandalous, because adultery was the usual complaint in divorce cases (the complaint that Wharton herself was to lodge against her husband, Teddy, in 1913). Although Wharton’s narrator provides no more than intimations about the adulterous background of Alice’s two earlier marriages, we may conclude that Alice’s reputation rests on negative perceptions—real or fictional—about her divorced husbands. Students may need reminding that divorce was usually not allowable in certain circles in the United States until relatively recently.
Was the story comical in any way?
In “The Other Two,” Wharton exhibits the more comic aspects of divorce. She describes none of the anguish and grief of Alice’s previous marriages, and, in fact, suggests that Alice may have exaggerated the previous unpleasantness. Indeed, once Alice announces to her third husband that her first husband must make a visit to her sick daughter, she is told to put all embarrassment out of her mind, which she promptly does. In addition, the experience of Waythorn is in no way affected by his being the third husband of Alice. As he learns about the “other two,” he finds that they are ordinary, pleasant human beings, not monsters, and he is able to get along well with both of them. The manners of the world which Waythorn inhabits prevents conversations from becoming personal and difficult, and hence he is able to maintain cordial relationships with the other two.
Putois by Anatole France
They all said that a man named Putois did something causing them not to finish their work. The first guy said that Putois is a thief. The second one said that Putois is a lady-killer. The third one said that Putois is his gardener. The boss was confused and called all 3 in. They argued who Putois is, but couldn't reach any agreement. I think they all made up their own story, so they could have an excuse for slacking off. I think Putois doesn't exist.
Themes & Meanings
The central theme of “Putois” is certainly the propensity of human beings to invent myths as a way of explaining the evils of the world they inhabit. Anatole France handles this theme in a distinctly humorous vein, naming his mythical figure “Putois,” which means a skunk. The name thus comically suggests both the inescapable pervasiveness of his presence and the disagreeable and unsavory nature of his social activity. The humor is unmistakably tinged with mockery, so that the theme of myth-making becomes a critical analysis of the way society, in a small town, will distort the reality of its political, economic, and social relationships, and even of its history, in the interests of adjusting the world to the society’s beliefs and prejudices. As a mythical figure, Putois has the essential virtues—or vices—needed for the role: He is elusive but seemingly ubiquitous, his persistent presence is undesirable because of his questionable character; yet, paradoxically, his questionable character makes him the ideal person to blame for whatever evils befall the community. The community’s subconscious need for a scapegoat gives Putois such existence as a mythical figure may possess.
Some readers interpret the process by which Putois gradually becomes a reality as a symbolic representation of how rumors spread in a community. Such readers see the story’s central theme as rumor-mongering, and Putois as a symbol for scandalous gossip or ugly rumor. Still other readers, noting that the story was first published while France was obsessed with the Alfred Dreyfus affair, have suggested that Putois symbolizes any forged or counterfeit reality, like the forged documents fabricated by the military to “prove” Dreyfus guilty, or the falsified history invented by the government to justify its claim that the spy in their midst had to be a Jewish officer of Alsatian origin. Such readers thus see “Putois” as a satirical parody of the Dreyfus affair, exposing it as a gross miscarriage of justice. However readers choose to characterize the central theme of “Putois,”—myth-making, rumor-mongering, or counterfeiting reality—they are clearly all seeing the same meaning in “Putois”: a humorous portrayal of the human need to find a scapegoat to explain away the experience of evil.
Style & Technique
As a writer, France is perhaps best known for his witty portrayal of life’s ironies and for the purity and clarity of his classical style. “Putois” offers an excellent illustration of both qualities. For example, the grotesque and self-contradictory description of Putois, recited so solemnly at the beginning of the story, is rendered even more comical by Bergeret’s comment to his daughter that the text should be treated piously as sacred family liturgy, to be passed on from generation to generation. This “devout” sentiment, from an acknowledged skeptic in matters of religion, sounds an ironic counterpoint that brings a knowing smile to the lips of the alert reader.
As a master ironist, France can surprise his reader into frank laughter as well as inspire the silent knowing smile. Speaking of Madame Cornouiller’s cook, whose unexpected pregnancy was attributed to Putois, the author remarks that the cook was thought by everyone to be safe from the dangers of love because of her luxuriant beard. A deft ironic touch, encapsulating the sense of the whole story, is put into the mouth of Eloi Bergeret, who notes that he would not be a good citizen if he informed the people of Saint-Omer that Putois does not exist because one must think twice before depriving a community of an important article of faith. Such wry observations, expressed in elegant, well-turned sentences, illustrate why France is so successful in this small comic masterpiece in communicating both theme and meaning so clearly and concisely.
The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allen Poe
It is fourteenth century Europe and the Red Death, a plague, is spreading. Prince Prospero decides to isolate a thousand individuals from the upper crust of society in an abbey to protect them from the contagion.After spending months contained in the abbey, the courtiers attend a masked ball.One of the attendees wears a costume that simulates the effects of the Red Death.Prospero is angered by the mysterious guest’s disguise and demands that he be punished.Prospero pursues the individual and discovers that he is a literal personification of the Red Death who has now infected the nobles in the abbey.
Themes & Meanings
Prospero’s abbey symbolizes the work of art in that it allows the individual to create a universe distinct from reality.The progression of rooms and the unmasking of the Red Death suggests that even art does not allow individuals to escape time and death.The events of the ball may be seen as figments of the mad Prospero’s imagination.The language of the story alludes to the Bible, while the story implies the events of an apocalypse.The indifference of Prospero and his guests to the plight of the rest of the population suggests class conflict.
The theme of Poe’s allegory quite clearly focuses on the impossibility, regardless of one’s power, wealth, and influence, of escaping mortality. However, the story is somewhat more complex than this easy moral statement would suggest. First, the particular nature of the Red Death itself creates a basic irony. The metaphor of a “Red” death, because it suggests blood, is the conventional image, not of death, but rather of life itself, for the presence of blood on the face of a person suggests the life within it. In this sense, every living person wears a mask of red—the blood visible beneath the skin. However, it is precisely this sign of life that ironically suggests death. For Poe’s point is that it is the very presence of life that inevitably means death. Thus, Prospero does not simply try to escape death; rather, by enclosing himself within the castle and shutting out the outside world, he attempts to escape life into a realm hermetically closed off—in short, into a world very much like Poe’s notion of the art work itself.
In this sense, Prospero is a reflection of William Shakespeare’s character of the same name in The Tempest (1611), similarly an aesthetic magician who creates an alternate world of imaginative reality not susceptible to the contingencies of external reality. Indeed, Poe’s emphasis in “The Masque of the Red Death” is that the abbey within which Prospero retreats is his own “creation,” a result of his “own eccentric yet august taste”—phrases that echo Poe’s own aesthetic theory—a Platonic notion that celebrates the ideal of the artwork as a self-sustained experience of absolute and immutable beauty. In effect, Prospero creates the image of a self-contained artwork within which he tries to live. However, the seven rooms within the abbey seem to reflect the inescapable temporality of human experience.
The sequence of rooms perhaps represents the seven ages of man—from the blue, which suggests the beginning of life and light in the east, to the black, which suggests the darkness of night and death in the west. Consequently, even though Prospero attempts to create the illusion of art as eternally protected from the contingencies of life, the final realization of the reader is that, because all art works inevitably reflect life, one cannot escape, even within the artwork, the inevitable implication of process and thus mortality. The image of the clock in the final room suggests why this is so: Both life and the literary work exist within time, and it is indeed time that makes life end inevitably in death.
Style & Technique
The style of “The Masque of the Red Death” focuses primarily on the pictorial rather than on narrative. Poe attempts to create the sense that the story exists as a painting does, within space and outside time. The story has been called Poe’s most pictorial composition, an arabesque that attempts to create an intricate geometric spatial pattern. Thus it is quite static, lacking in narrative plot and emphasizing instead the spatial arrangements of painting. However, the irony is that because “The Masque of the Red Death” is a story and therefore exists in time, time triumphs. Thus the conclusion of the story emphasizes that the artistic effort to transform temporality into spatiality is doomed to failure. Even the seven rooms, which suggest a geometric pattern of static positioning, become transformed into an image of the time span of life when Prospero follows the Red Death through a temporal progression from birth to youth to maturity to old age and finally to death. It is when Prospero must confront the reality of the temporality of life that he inevitably must confront the death that life always insists on.
Thus, although the story is ostensibly about the moral lesson of the human inability to escape death, it is actually an aesthetic allegory or fable, in which Prospero represents Poe’s image of the artist who insists on creating an ideal artwork, but who is always trapped by the time-bound nature of life. “The Masque of the Red Death” embodies an aesthetic theme common to much of Poe’s short fiction. Such stories as “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “Ligeia” also focus on man’s attempt to find refuge from death in the immutable realm of art. However, while these other stories attempt to create a world of psychologized obsession to embody this theme, “The Masque of the Red Death” is a striking example of Poe’s attempt to deal with it in the conventional genre of allegory. Like much of Poe’s fiction, “The Masque of the Red Death” should not be dismissed as a simple gothic horror story, but rather should be understood in terms of the aesthetic theory that dominated Poe’s work.
It is also believed that the seven rooms of seven colors may represent the seven deadly sins, which are: sloth (laziness), lust, gluttony (eating too much), avarice (greed), pride, anger, and covetousness (taking what does not belong to you). Since the Prince was a selfish and arrogant man, it could be said that he committed all of the above, which would certainly allow an explanation of the seven rooms representing each sin.
In addition to the excellent answer above, I would point out the symbolism of the name "Prospero," a take, of course, on the word "prosperous." However,(as Rene mentioned) none is immune from death, no matter how wealthy he or she may be.
Another symbol is the clock, which is so prominent in black room (the color black being a synomym for death) and probably is symbolic of the ticking away of life, from the second we are born.
The clock can also symbolize forces that are beyond our control, just like those at the masquerade could not control when death would come to them despite their attempt to hide from it. The Masquerade can also symbolize the dance of life.
The red death is symbolic for death (of course). No matter how luxurious the house, how nice our clothes, no one escapes death.The rooms in the palace, lined up in a series, symbolize the stages of life. The rooms run east to west, and the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. This symbolizes sun as life, and night as death.
There are several possible themes for this story, depending on which aspect you choose to emphasize. The most obvious would probably be "Death is inevitable; you can't escape, no matter how wealthy or powerful you are." We see this with Prince Prospero and his partygoers, of course. His desperate attempt to cheat Death, and his willingness to revel in celebration while others are dying, ends with his own submission to the Red Death. Thus, he falls victim to the one thing he tried to escape.
Another theme (closely related) is that we are all subject to the passing of time. In the story, time is closely linked to death, as each tick of the clock forces the partygoers to consider their own mortality. Indeed, the clock stops striking after the last eprson has died. Thus time becomes a symbol for unstoppable forces, the ones no one can escape.