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The Final

Death is a common theme amongst a lot of stories we’ve read throughout the course of this semester, but there are two where death is a direct source of growth in our main characters. “Mr. Green” and “The Girl Who Left Her Sock on the Floor” are both coming of age stories where the deaths of a family member impact the course of the main characters’ lives and change them. Although these characters go through similar situations with a death of a family member, the circumstances surrounding their deaths and how these deaths impact them are vastly different.

In “Mr. Green,” our narrator very clearly loved her grandfather, but she did not agree with most of his viewpoints on life. Her grandfather made many degrading/offensive/dismissive comments about women and it often made our narrator feel inadequate for the simple fact of being a woman. But even then, she made sure to help him in life and make sure he was comfortable during his dying. She stayed by his side and immediately accepted the job of taking care of Mr. Green when he finally passed. We can see the growth in this character in the way she handles the death and seems to put taking care of Mr. Green higher up on the priority list than taking the time to mourn properly. Of course she does mourn in her own way, we just don’t get to see it because she’s taking care of her grandfather’s bird.

In “The Girl Who Left Her Sock on the Floor,” Francie’s mother was clearly abusive. We see how she used to drag her out of places and yell about how much of an embarrassment she is, which leads to Francie moving out of the house for school entirely. Despite that, we as readers can assume that Francie still loved her mother on some level. Ok, maybe not loved, but she definitely felt some strong emotion. When the death was announced, Francie immediately hits the denial wall and refused to accept it. As time went on in the story, we see how Francie matures and, in her own way, grows from the moment. On page 339 we are told that Francie’s entire life has been a series of people telling her what to do and how to behave and so on and so forth. She never had much of a say in her own life, and at first, she doesn’t really know what to do with the freedom she inherits. Once she hears of her father still being alive, we see a shift in her mentality. She goes about making her own decisions and finding her own path and rebuilding herself from the past her mother left her. She grows mentally and emotionally, and even though it may take some time for her to fully overcome her past abuse, I believe Francie will be able live a full life with her father.

These two characters are only two in the many selections we’ve read, but to me, these two have had the most impact when it comes to deaths in one’s family.

Not every love story is written in the stars, Lois and Tiny in Elizabeth McCracken’s “It’s bad luck to die,” is an example of this. Despite two people, arguably classified as “freaks,” come together and for a life together, overcoming age, religious views, family, and height. Lois, a young jewish woman of considerable height, meets Tiny, a short older tattoo artist who wins her heart, but is their relationship all it’s cracked up to be?

The relationship with Tiny being described by Lois as “one of those flirty types, one of those bold little guys,” (7) while Tiny told Lois, after years of being together,

That he was bowled over by all those square inches of skin, how I was so big and still not fat. “I fell for you right away,” he said. (7)

Lois has never denied the fact that she is tall, “I’m six feet tall, have been since eighth grade,” (5) however Tiny had to charm her in order to obtain her affection. Coercion often happens to victims of emotional abuse in order for the abuser to create the power dynamic in the relationship, similar to Tiny tattooing his initials on Lois, claiming is “work.”  Lois even admits to changing her view for a man she would love afterwards, “Up until then, I’d always thought it was only sensible to fall in love with a tall men so that I wouldn’t like so much of a giantess.”(7) Tiny does get rid of her worry about fear of being a giantess, but the new worry of being accepted, and being viewed as the tattooed lady develop.

Another early sign of an abusive relationship is the withdrawal they cause from friends and family for the partner. Before Lois met Tiny her life was that of a typical conservative, somewhat shy, Jewish girl. At the time she met him her cousin, Babs, was described as being “a little wild, had a crazy boyfriend (the whole family was worried about it),”(4) compared to Lois’ reaction to the tattoo shop.

She called me up and told me she needed me there and that I was not to judge, squawk, or faint at the sight of blood. She knew none of that was my style anyhow.(4)

Because the family is worried about Babs’ behavior, and Lois states it was not what she agreed with, it is safe to assume her relationship with her traditional Jewish mother was healthier before she began a relationship with Tiny. After the relationship had been going on a year and they were married, Tiny finally tattooed Lois, referring to her as “his early work.” (9) when telling her mother, knowing tattoos were against her religious views, Lois was always nervous about having her tattoos in view when around her mother.

Like all good mothers, she always knew the worst was going to happen and was disappointed and relieved when it finally did. But she didn’t ask to see that tattoo, or any of the ones that followed.


Whether if Lois was destined to be with Tiny, or not, his treatment of her insecurities with her appearance could be a further reason their relationship was unhealthy. Lois describes her childhood struggle on page ten of accept herself how she is, while not living up to her mother’s maintained glamours look. She avoided mirrors, shadows, and reflections to keep from looking at her appearance.

Tiny changed that… he went on a campaign , installing mirrors, hiding them.

This action of Tiny hiding the mirrors examples the power dynamic again, by using her insecurities of her body against her in order to practice his artwork. This power struggle is seen on page 12 when Tiny ruins a book Lois’ mother gives her. When Lois’ confronts him, his response is “Take off your pants,” (12) completely disregarding her feelings, and persists to convince her to allow him to draw a tattoo on her after her many attempts to say no. Once he wanted to tattoo his artwork, he wanted to surprise her.

I balked; my hip was my own, and I wanted to know what was going to be there… “You’ll love it,” he said… “Okay,” I said. (13)

If Lois’ relationship with Tiny had been a healthy one, she would have kept in contact with her family more, and not have felt pressured to give into all the demands of Tiny. After his death, Lois’ would not feel as if she “only had him.”(4) Lois was not in fact Tin’y “love letter,” (22) he used her instead, as his personal canvas, for experimenting with tattooing.


Murakami brilliantly captures the complexities of human happiness and suffrage in his story “The Elephant Vanishes.” The way in which the narrator reveals his obsession with the elephant and its caretaker is nuanced and eloquently told. As the narrator tries to make sense of the vanishing elephant and caretaker, and their relationship to each other, he discovers a part of himself that is also exceedingly complicated and mysterious.

That’s probably because people are looking for a kind of unity in this kit-chin we know as the world. Unity of design. Unity of color. Unity of function. (460)

The narrator reveals his obsession with the town’s elephant immediately in the story. He describes in depth how his world revolves around the elephant and states how “The elephant could become the town’s symbol.” (455) When the elephant disappears, the narrator feels as though the town has unfavorably changed, “Without the elephant, something about the place seemed wrong. It looked bigger than it needed to be, blank and empty…” (453)  The narrator seems to fill his time reading about the missing elephant in order to fill his own “blank and empty” void. (453)  He is a salesman who doesn’t find purpose or reward in his work. “And in this pragmatic world of ours, things you can’t sell don’t count for much.” (460) He is depressed due to the lack of diversity, passion, and adventure in his life, so he becomes intrigued to the point of obsession, and travels everyday to see the elephant. He is so fixated on the thought of the vanishing elephant, that he decides to bring up the subject while talking with a woman whom he has a romantic interest with. “I knew that I had brought up one of the least suitable topics I could have found for this occasion. No, I should never have mentioned the elephant.” (461)

The disappearance of the elephant along with its caretaker suggest that the two are linked spiritually, “you could sense their closeness in every gesture and look… Or possibly it had some special power resembling mental telepathy and could read the keeper’s mind.” (456) The narrator describes the caretaker and the elephant’s physical features very similarly: old, wrinkled, hair “stiff and short” (456), and the uncanny resemblance of their big ears. The narrator goes on to exclaim that the last time he visits the elephant house, he “had the feeling that to some extent the difference between them had shrunk.” (464) This metaphor parallels with the narrator’s idea of unity. The caretaker and the elephant are both very old, and it seems as though this distance closing between them represents their lives coming to an end, as they pass from this life to the next, together and as one.

The description in this story is beautiful! The way in which the narrator describes the atmosphere of the town as a place of “doom and desolation that hung there like a huge, oppressive raincloud” (459) seems to serve as a visual representation for the depression he feels about the part of himself that is lost when the elephant disappears.

Some kind of balance inside me has broken down since the elephant affair…It’s probably something in me. (465)

The abrupt disappearance of the elephant and its caretaker unsettles the narrator, and causes him to escalate further into his depression, and possibly sparks the beginnings of insanity. “I often get the feeling that things around me have lost their proper balance, though it could be that my perceptions are playing tricks on me.” (465) He slips into a deep sadness, “washing away bit by bit the memories of summer burned into the earth. Coursing down the gutters, all those memories flowed into the sewers and rivers, to be carried to the deep, dark ocean.” (459)

I’m left wondering, is it his own insanity that has causes him to imagine the entire situation involving the elephant and the caretaker? Is he aware of his mental instability, thus causing him to feel “incapable of distinguishing between the probable results of doing [something] and not doing [something]?” (465)

I’m not religious in the least, but my mom was raised strictly Baptist and ended up leaving the church completely. My mom and I have had many conversations about God and religion: how some people utilize religion to find stability in their lives, a moral code, or to better serve a personal agenda. I remember talking to her a few years ago about “The Sacrifice of Isaac”—my mom hates this story, and after hearing Frank’s sermon (a parallel to this Biblical story), Frances reminded me very much of my mother in the way she reacted to the overall message. Like Francis, my mom didn’t care if there was more to the story and it didn’t matter that Abraham didn’t sacrifice his son. What mattered to her was the potential of a God who would demand that of a parent, and how this could relate to our world if such a being existed.

Wolff’s “The Night in Question” utilizes religion as a catalyst for the loss of dependency shared between two siblings, and in doing so Wolff also explores the way they interpret the idea of God. Throughout the story, Frances hints at how wild and destructive her brother used to be, however this is a sharp contrast to the well put-together man Frances is visiting. She is clearly put off by the change in her little brother, noting how he speaks differently, dresses differently, and presents himself as a stronger man than he may actually be. After Frank is confronted, he says, “I had to change. Change the way I thought about things. Maybe I sound a little different too.” (Wolff, 642) Frank uses religion as a coping mechanism, needing the security God offers him to come to terms with faults and past trauma in an effort to better himself and move on. Frances, however, believes that only she can solve these issues and that the use of an outside source, such as religion, is completely unnecessary.

Frances and Frank come from a past of abuse, one where Frances fought tooth and nail to protect her little brother from an angry father. This shared trauma created a very close relationship bordering dependency on each other; Frank is more manipulative of this relationship, whereas Frances uses it to feel needed, perhaps even greater than herself. The change in Frank signals a change in their relationship, and his belief in God is a threat to the power and capability Frances thought she had. Frank changing himself to better follow a belief system he’s trying to adopt seems to be an acknowledgment of the abuse he faced and how he’s trying to handle himself without his sister’s influence. Frances, however, clings to anger and relishes in the fight, and her brother no longer needing her is crushing. Frances eagerly challenges his faith as if she is trying to remove the force in his life she determines is a threat to her place in it.

She could still taste that smoke and hear her father’s steps on the stairs, Frank panting beside her, moving closer, his voice whispering her name and her own voice answering as fear gave way to ferocity and unaccountable joy, It’s okay, Franky. I’m here. (Wolff, 643)

There are many people who, due to abuse or addiction (or any personal conflict), turn to religion in search of guidance and a sense of belonging. Religion can provide structure and stability for those who are otherwise incapable of maintaining this for themselves, like Frank. At the hands of an abusive father, Frank never had the opportunity to develop the faculties necessary to enforce and follow inherent, kind, structure, and likely grew up believing very few could love unconditionally. There is also a possibility of this idea being completely rejected, however, as this symbol of authority can be incredibly threatening to those who prefer to have complete control over their lives, like Frances. She is so threatened by the idea of God, and so confident in her own strength, that she strives to crush her brother’s budding reliance. I think Frances perceives the presence of God in Frank’s life as the bullying, abusive, figure of their father and yet another reason for her to fight for and protect him.

After hearing her brother retell his church’s most recent sermon, Frances is understandably horrified. In each siblings reaction to the story of a man who had to choose between sacrificing his own son or a train full of people, there is a clear relationship built between their past abuse and how this effects their perception of the world—especially through religion. Frank is fascinated by the conflict within this sermon and the challenge posed presumably by God. He doesn’t question and is ready to accept wholeheartedly, secured by the knowledge that God has a reason for his demands. Frances, however, fights as she always has—she refuses to believe in a God who would challenge a parent like this. If it were true, this would be a significant blow to everything Frances has done for Frank, and her brother’s acceptance seems to devalue the relationship between them and the abuse Frances took on in order to protect Frank.

I’ve personally never reached a point in my life where I’ve wanted or needed to believe in God or a God-like being. I’ve come to realize that religion is incredibly complex and that each and every story and guiding moral can be interpreted differently between different people—good and bad—and while it may work for one person, it may not work for another. To apply both sides to damaged siblings is incredibly eye opening. Not only does Wolff portray how different people interact with the idea of God, he does so while also relating religious belief to the trauma of abuse and the complicated relationship between Frances and Frank.

People’s childhoods affect how they grow up, see the world, and interact with other people. In “The Night in Question,” Tobias Wolff deals with this topic in many different ways, including justifying his own childhood and how it affects how he writes this story. Wolff was raised by his mother, Rosemary Loftus, a devout Catholic. Wolff was born on June 19, 1945, which places him in the beginning of the silent generation, a generation known for not asking questions and working with, not against, the government. When he was little, he was a Boy Scout, and later served in the U.S. Army.  Eventually, Wolff got his degrees from Hertford College, Oxford, and Stanford in creative writing. Despite pursuing a creative career, Wolff’s informative years were heavily influenced by strict rules and social norms that had to be followed. All of this influences the story “The Night in Question,” in which the main character not only rejects the religious beliefs of her brother, but the moral perspective of it as well.

The story Frances’ brother, Frank, tells is a variation of the Utilitarian trolley problem. The trolley problem is often used to demonstrate how, in the utilitarian viewpoint, the best option morally is to save the trolley full of people because it has the largest number of people being saved. There are, however, subtle and distinct differences between the two scenarios which changes the perspective. In the Utilitarian problem, none of the participating characters are named, but in Frank’s story they are. Frank’s story is originally told by a preacher and therefore has more religious/Christian undertones. Also, a preacher wants to pull on the heartstrings of the audience more than philosophers debating moral ambiguity would.  The name of the switchman is Mike, which means gift from God. His wife’s name is Janice, which means God is gracious, and their son’s name is Benny, which means right-hand son. A similarity is, in the trolley problem the switchman would have to pull the lever in order to save five people, killing the one or does nothing and five people die. In Frank’s story, Mike could save his son by doing nothing and the train full of people would die, or he could pull the lever and kill Benny, but save the train. Another difference in the stories is that Mike has to decide between his son or a train full of strangers, but in the trolley problem it is a stranger who has decide to save one stranger or five. There are variations of the trolley problem in which the switchman has to decide whether or not to sacrifice a loved-one, but more commonly the moral dilemma is presented with strangers. Wolff uses Frank’s story to contrast Frances emotional nature.

Frank has a troubled past full of drugs, and irresponsible choices. Despite the fact Frank has turned his life around, Frances still sees him as someone who needs to be protected, and someone who doesn’t know how to make the right choices. Frances sees Frank as someone who is being manipulated by the church, and as someone who cannot make rational decisions.

Three years earlier he has driven Frances’ car into a highway abutment and almost dies, then almost died again, in detox, of a grand mal seizure. Now he wanted to preach sermons at her. She supposed she was grateful. (637)

Frances wishes she could still take care of Frank, because despite all the trouble he got into, at least she had a role in his life. Frank has replaced Frances with God. “From the time she was a scabby-kneed girl she’d taken on her own father, and if push came to shove she’d take on the Father of All, that incomprehensible bully. She was ready.” (642) In Frances’ mind, the only one who truly knows how to take care of Frank, and teach him right from wrong, is her. When she is confronted by the idea that Frank would value a train full of strangers over her own life she feels threatened. “Frances would say no to him in nothing,” except when she tells him no while he is telling the story, a huge moment in their relationship (639, 641). Franks is so bewildered by her exclamation that, “he couldn’t remember who she was,” (641).

Ultimately Frances ended up being the bully in Frank’s life, not because she didn’t love him because she did, but because she enabled him again and again even when she knew he would get in trouble or even worse get hurt. “She could still taste that smoke and hear her father’s steps on the stairs, Frank panting beside her, moving closer, his voice whispering her name and her own voice answering as fear gave way to ferocity and unaccountable joy” (643). Frances objects to Frank’s story because she cannot stand the idea of Frank being loyal to anyone besides her, and Frank placing her needs before anyone else’s, just as she has done for him. Just as Frank’s story is morally ambiguous, Frances’ motivation is as well.

Furthermore, I believe it is ignorant of Frances to assume to know what she would do in a situation like this. The trolley problem and Frank’s story both have contradictory endings to what Frances “would choose” because they are supposed to make the audience think, not choose. I believe it is impossible to know what one would do in an impossible situation. Some would put family above all others, some would put the many over the few, and some would be incapable of even moving. The brain goes into overdrive in a high-stress situation, and it would be impossible to predict the rationalizations or emotions one would be making in a moment of chaos. Personally, I have been in high-stress situations and I black-out and my brain makes decisions for me that I would not have made consciously. For Frances to assume the “right answer” is to completely undermine the decisions real people had to have made. It may be fun to debate over a dinner table the choices you would make and why, but in the end you are just playing with hypotheticals.


Elizabeth McCracken’s It’s Bad Luck to Die is written from first person point of view. The narrator, Lois, is a Jewish girl from a conservative family. One day, just after Lois had graduated from high school, her cousin decides to get a tattoo and makes the narrator come with. This is when Lois meets Tiny, her future husband, for the first time. At first, Lois does not believe Tiny will have significant part in her life, but soon they become inseparable. Despite their 21-year age gap, Lois falls in love with Tiny and Tiny falls in love Lois.

Throughout the story, Tiny gives Lois tattoos. These tattoos represent how a person can impact another person. While Tiny started by giving Lois small tattoos, she soon became his canvas, the person he would try new designs on. Lois’s mother found Lois’s body, covered in tattoos, to be extraordinarily inappropriate. This caused some issues in the mother’s relationship with her daughter.

At the end of the story, when Tiny is in the hospital, he asks Lois to tattoo her initials on him. At first, Lois refuses, but soon gives in. Rather than imprinting her initials onto Tiny’s skin, she writes “Get Well” instead. That night, Tiny passed away and Lois was left feeling as if she was finished. Months after Tiny’s death, Lois was called a “museum,” but she corrected the man and called herself a “love letter.”

This story uses symbols to represent the impact people can make on others. Tiny’s impact on Lois was both physical and emotional. The tattoos represented the love they had for each other and how they would always feel that way about each other,  no matter what.

Hanif Kureishi’s “Intimacy” and Jeanette Winterson’s “The Green Man” are very similar stories. Both stories are told in first person and revolve around the narrator’s thoughts and feelings, especially the implicit sexual thoughts. The men are both are fathers and husbands. They don’t like their life and they are being emasculated by their wives.

The stories differ with the age and gender of the children. In “The Green Man”, the man’s child is a thirteen-year-old girl. In “Intimacy”, the children are boys, age five and three. The love the men feel for their children is the same in both stories. This shows that the love you feel for your children is same, no matter the situation, especially when you are in the middle of a life-changing event.

In “The Green Man”, the narrator is in middle of a mid-life crisis, which was brought on by him thinking about his daughter’s age. In “Intimacy”, the narrator is planning to leave his wife and children because he has been cheating on his wife.

“The Night in Question” by Tobias Wolff reveals the relationship between a protective older sister, Frances, and her little brother, Frank. Frank and his father, Frank Senior, had a negative father-son relationship because Frank Senior abused Frank starting when he was just a little kid. Frank Senior had decided to teach Frank “the meaning of the word no” which escalated into trying to break his son but “Frank would not break.” (638-639) Frances saw that her father was wrong, but her mother never opposed it. Frances went against the example that was set by her mother and told her brother to “stand up for himself” because she loved him and couldn’t bear to see him continually beat by their father. (638) Once their mother died, Frances begins to defend Frank constantly and even takes some of Frank Senior’s hits herself to save Frank. As the story is told in Frances’ point of view, we are able to see how much she has sacrificed for her brother to keep him safe. As a result of an abusive childhood, Frances grows up protecting Frank from everything; she feels “unaccountable joy” by protecting him because she loves him so much and nothing brings her greater joy than protecting him. (643) Growing up, my older sister was bullied a lot and I saw the repercussions –high insecurity, a lot of tears—which made me begin to defend not only my sister but anyone else who I saw getting bullied. I can relate to the feeling of unaccountable joy that Frances felt, but not as a selfish feeling, more of a my-sister-isn’t-going-to-hate-herself-as-much-if-they-shut-up feeling. Much like Frank’s ungratefulness, my sister never really acknowledged what I did, and we have never had a good sister relationship because she hates me for some reason.

When Frank is reciting the trolley-problem-like dilemma that Mike faces, Frances is taken back by the idea of risking a loved one’s life to save strangers. In Frances opinion, she has already given her life to protect Frank, so no doubt would she save his life instead of the passengers, but Frank feels otherwise. Because of his broken childhood, Frank turns to religion as an escape and when Frances confronts him of what he would do if he were in the same trolley dilemma he couldn’t just say he would save her, he had to think about it and never gave an answer. I imagine Frances feeling betrayal after Frank not being able to simply say he would save her instead of the passengers because “she’d fought neighborhood punks, snotty teachers and unappreciative coaches, loan sharks, landlords, bouncers” and wasn’t afraid to take on “the Father of All.” (642) The trolley-problem-dilemma is created to test our morals; it makes us think beyond our own interests and consider the interests of others, which Frances neglected to do.

To have someone love you enough to choose you over everything must be nice, but probably a little annoying as well. Towards the end of the story, Frank stands up to Frances saying that he “had to change the way [he] thought about things,” meaning he had to start thinking on his own and not be told what to do by Frances all the time. (642) Although Frank was probably a little annoyed at Frances for being overprotective, he still found himself crawling to her when he was distressed. Frances reminds me of a mother figure, which makes sense that she would take that role once her mother passes, in which she becomes overprotective but only for the best interest of her brother.



**Also, I did bring you donuts one class**

“The Elephant Vanishes” by Haruki Murakami employs a unique way of storytelling. Unlike most first person narration, “The Elephant Vanishes” takes on a passive or observer tone. This self-disassociation that the narrator chooses to have with the story he is telling gives us, the readers, a chance to see the internal unbalance of the narrator.

By the narrator taking on a distancing form of speech for the majority of the short story, it emphasizes the parts that are told in an active or normal form of speech. For example, on page 459 the narrator switches from talking about the elephant to meeting a woman, but in that change of subject the narrator switches the way he speaks. It’s in this change of speech that we know that we have reached the climax. That the following lines are very important to the narrator’s state of mind, and it’s true that from page 459 to page 465 the narrator is constantly switching back and forth between those two forms of speech. Emphasizing lines like:

“in size. of their bodies. The elephant’s and the keeper’s. The balance seemed to have changed somewhat. I had the feeling that to some extent the difference between them had shrunk.”(463-464)

Lines like this one show that the balance within the narrator is off, similar to that of the elephant and its keeper.

Deborah Eisenberg’s “The Girl Who Left Her Sock on the Floor” is about a girl who must grieve the loss of her mother. Her school sends her to say her goodbyes to her mother and to mourn. During this trip, the narrator finds out her father is still alive and has been living a different life than what she had grown up knowing. She has to decide if she wants to meet her father and change his life that day or if she should wait and see if he finds her. In the end of the story, she chooses the latter. This affected the end of the story because if she had decided to meet her father, the narrator may have ended up not going back to her school. This also affected how the readers engaged with the story. Ending the story without the readers being able to know much about her father left readers with a multitude of questions. How would the narrator’s father react to his daughter? Would he welcome her with open arms or send her away? Would we learn more about why the narrator’s mother told her her father had passed away?

Three years earlier he had driven Frances’ car into a highway abutment and almost died, then almost died again, in detox, from a grand mal seizure. Now he wanted to preach sermons at her. She was supposed to be grateful. She said she’d give him ten minutes. (637)

“The Night in Question” is about the narrator’s brother, Frank, telling the narrator, Frances, about the sermon he had heard earlier in the day. While Frank was excited about the sermon, Frances was not, which is quite noticeable in how she tries to leave Frank’s apartment multiple times throughout the story. The sermon Frank is retelling to his sister is about a father taking his son to work at the railroad tracks. In the sermon, Mike Bolling stops paying attention to his son for just a few minutes in which the son disappears. When Mike realizes his son’s life is in danger as well as all of the passengers aboard the on-coming train. Mike Bolling has to make a decision: save his son or the passengers. One life or over one hundred lives? Evidently, the railroad man, Mike, choses to save the lives on the train. I believe this story shows how a near death experience combined with religion changes how a person chooses to live. The narrator explains the accident Frank had caused and been involved in three years prior. He had died and come back to life via extreme measure twice. From there, Frank turns to religion and remakes his life, but his sister Frances has a hard time believing this change in his beliefs.

“As if love were about the truth” (pg. 512)

The world’s perfect idea of love revolves around this notion that there is perfect communication and honesty, and that is exceedingly unrealistic. It is a goal most couples strive to achieve and that most fall short of. At the end of the day, everyone is human, and humans have many faults. I feel like people always end up lying the most to the people they claim to love the most. If the love is mutually shared, then what more do we have to prove? What can lies add? Whenever I have caught people in a lie or me myself having lied, it is usually because the truth is a little too painful or difficult to deal with and a lie can save some pain.  Obviously, lying — no matter how good we think the reason might be — doesn’t excuse the fact that we are doing something wrong. It takes a lot to love someone who is always lying to you, especially if you know that everything they tell you is a lie. I think love is about making the person with you happy, ensuring they feel good. But does it mean we need to lie to them sometimes to provide that kind of security?

Sometimes she let herself imagine what would have happened if he had been killed instead of wounded. (pg.9)

One of my biggest fears has always been that I will some day be a burden to whomever I end up marrying. Everyone gets old, and with every passing day the likelihood of some kind of tradegy striking increases. At some point luck runs out, and something bad happens. Ronnie’s thoughts and emotions through the story display some of my intrusive fears, thoughts that I am afraid my significant other may have about me in general or if something bad happened to me. [The way she contemplates a life without her husband if he had died instead of only losing an arm, is reasonable sure,] I feel like most people contemplate how life would be if things happened differently. But to be the person on the other end of those unpleasant day dreams can be quite unnerving, Ronnie even states that she knows he is going to worry about whether or not she is thinking these things. It is scary to think that one day everything is normal and your spouse loves you so much, then the next you can be diagnosed with a diease like Parkinsons or lose a limb and suddenly as things may get worse, and you have become more trouble than you may be worth, no matter how much your spouse might claim they love you. It is that internal resentment that frightens me, never really knowing how much your spouse might grow to dislike you just because they can hide behind the phrase “I love you.” It is fair to consider that, sure, they do love you, but there is probably a part of them wishing for a life where you were not causing trouble for them, an easier life, a life without you.

In “Deer Season,” Belle Boggs writes about the school’s dynamic changes when the majority of the boys leave to shoot deer. This story offers not only a commentary on feminism but also a demonstration of how girls and boys affect the atmosphere of the school. “He thinks [the girls] dress more casually on this day, no boys to impress.” (3) Belle Boggs shifts from narrator to narrator to change perspectives. As the story continues, the power of the point-of-view character decreases (principal > secretary > popular girl > nerd boy). I feel as though this demonstrates how hierarchical high school is, especially in a small town. As an outsider to this culture, I found the whole practice surrounding deer hunting strange until I realized that I grew up around the same cultural practices except, in my life, they surrounded football.

This, then, could be our last evening as an innocent, complete family; my last night with a woman I know almost everything about and want no more of. Soon we will be like strangers. No, we can never be that.

In this story, the narrator ,who is a  father and a husband, is planning to leave this family the next morning. The thoughts of the narrator are clearly conflicted. In his thoughts, he is alternating between leaving his family and staying with his family. He is starting to love his son, but is that enough of a reason to stay in a loveless marriage to his wife? The narrator is conflicted about this plan and the story ends before he comes to his decision leaving the reader to wonder if he leaves or stays.

In “The Green Man” by Jeanette Winterson the theme is about man’s fragile masculinity. Throughout the story various things happen that display the main characters masculinity being shattered and mocked. The first sign we see of this in the story is the characters pride in his grass. It is a very stereotypical man thing to be proud of. In many stories and TV shows it is often a joke played out a lot. When a mans lawn dies or is under poor care it is usually seen as a major fault in the man. The horse being brought home at the end of the story opens up the possibility for the lawn to be ruined. Another thing I noted was the push of sex throughout the story, and given the theme I see is fragile masculinity it seems to go hand in hand.  Men tend to be drawn to sex and temptation, which I believe is represented by the gypsies.  Despite the main characters caution and frustration with the gypsies, he is almost put into a trance like state in their presence. Almost to prove that the main character is secure in his own masculinity I noticed how he emphasized drinking wine over beer like it was some kind of accomplishment. Overall the character continuously tries to prove his masculinity but fails again and again. Having to maintain an unrealistic persona of society expectation can lead to only downfall and disappointment.

While reading Can Xue’s “The Child Who Raised Poisonous Snakes” I felt the connection between the child and the snakes was similar to the struggle many parents have over allowing their child to grow older. Sha-yuan told his parents he was able to appear to be near his parents when in reality he was else where, similar to the make-believe worlds children create.

Hadn’t we watched him with care? “I was not always with you, don’t be fooled by superficial appearances,” he said in his usual casual tone.

At first I had expected his parents to be over-bearing-helicopter-like parents, given their constant eye they had over Sha-yuan they had told the narrator. If this had been the case, Sha-yuan would not have been able to sneak the snakes back to his home. The snakes he brought back with him and hid is said to have caused health problems in his parents due to the stress and discomfort of the serpents in their home. This could be symbolic of their growing older, not necessarily a direct result of being around the snakes.

One day I saw Sha-yuan’s mother coming out of the air-raid shelter with a hoe in her hand. She looked wan and sallow… She was almost bald, and she walked like an aged woman. Behind her appeared Sha-yuan’s father, an old man who couldn’t stop blinking one eye.

Later on the parents stop watching him as closely because they believe he has stopped bringing home the snakes as the findings had become less frequent. One afternoon they had left the gate to their yard unlocked by mistake, which is when their child disappears. I interpreted the gate as being Sha-yuan’s passage to adulthood, which is why they cannot find the child. The passage of time Sha-yuan, parallel to his parents, had caused him to become unrecognizable, they could no longer see the snake capturing child because he had become the adult with the snakes inside him, he kept his child-like curiosity to himself now.

The narrator I had found peculiar throughout the story due to the way he would talk about the family, as opposed to being directed to the family in some cases. The story ends with the family and the narrator questioning where the child went makes me believe that perhaps the narrator is an officer or detective of some kind, or perhaps Sha-yuan had moved away, no longer talking to his parents.


First and foremost, this story confused me thoroughly. Just when I believed I knew what was occurring, the next paragraph would throw me a curveball. Despite this, however, I feel as though I may have an understanding of one theme of this story. This story portrays the confusion of being an adult.

What happened to those bright days when the sun was still rising? Soon it will be Midsummer and the light beginning to die back, imperceptibly at first, a few minutes a day, and then the gradual forcing back indoors earlier and earlier, helpless against the dark” (Winterson 633).

This quote shows the helplessness that many adults feel when realizing the world is not as it seemed when they were children. The main character is a father in an unhappy relationship, and he lives off of his daughter’s love and caring for the lawn. It is his place in the family, making sure the lawn, or superficial parts of their lives, are manicured and look presentable. This man is so stagnant in his life that he finds the slightest happiness from random things.

“He has been a well-behaved child,” his mother explained to me. “The only trouble with him is that he should never be allowed outdoors.” (644)

When I began reading Can Xue’s The Child Who Raised Poisonous Snakes, I believed the story would be about a child with over protective parents, but the parents were not overprotective since they let Sha-yuan on the beach with the rowdy children of other beach-goers. As the story went on, I began to think Sha-yuan has schizophrenia, a personality disorder that can change the ability of the effected’s thought processes, feelings, and behavior.

“Nothing, very quiet. But the situation will change completely after nine o’clock in the evening.” (645)

Still, as the story continued, schizophrenia did not seem like a disorder that Sha-yuan was a victim of. The end of the story left me confused and unsatisfied. I would not be confuse and would be satisfied if there was more information and background to the story.

“The parents stopped watching Sha-yuan’s behavior as if they had lost interest and become oblivious. But they appeared anxious and from morning till night they checked their watches constantly. Obviously they were waiting for something. ‘Waiting for their deaths,’ Sha-yuan said. He tapped his belly, which was flat. There was no sign of anything inside.  According to Sha-yuan, it had worked out fine. Nobody suspected that he raised snakes anymore. But in fact, the leopard can’t change its spots.” 

If my parents had given up on me every time I started acting strangely or said stuff that could be considered out of the ordinary, I’m sure I would’ve lost my parents when I first started talking. I rambled on from having dragons as imaginary friends to plotting murders and drug rings out of hotels. Sometimes they would laugh, other times they would look at me strange, but more often than not, they would edit my plans and make them more believable. Of course I never hid poisonous snakes in an air-raid shelter, but I was never put in a situation where I could have started.

Although my parents never gave up on me in my strangeness, Sha-yuan’s parents eventually did. After seeing that talking and travel did nothing to help their son in his beliefs, whether they were true or not, they simply lost hope and gave up on redemption or assistance. I understand that appearance is held in high regards in Chinese culture, so I appreciate how long they managed to attempt to help their son despite his antics. however I can not condone how they simply let him fend for himself out of their wariness. If they truly believed that there were no other options to help their son, they could have turned to more professionals. Giving up should never be an option when your child is saying he keeps snakes in his stomach. Especially if that fact is proven true.

To honour. To mock. To fear. To hate. To be fascinated. To laugh out loud. (629)

In Jeanette Winterson’s short story “The Green Man,” the main character is trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life. He goes back and forth between things that do not relate and brings them back to his regular life. Winterson tells this story through the mind of the main character, so things are not always linked at the same time.

The conflict of the story is that he doesn’t know what he wants to do. The main character doesn’t know if he wants to leave his family or if he should stay.

I love them both, sincerely I do, and I can’t explain how you can love a thing and want to be parted from it forever. (632)

Throughout the story he goes on and on about how gypsies are coming and how they are bad people. When the gypsies come to town, there is a fair that the gypsies put on. One of the gypsies is selling horses and his daughter wants one.

A sexual encounter happens with that gypsy and the main character, but the wife and daughter do not know. While reading this short story, the reader might conclude that some parts in the story could be a dream. This whole story happens in the mind of the one character; therefore, it is hard to distinguish what is real and what is not.

To honour. To mock. To fear. To hate. To be fascinated. To laugh out loud. (629)

This was a complex story, mainly because it was filled with so many switches in the narrator’s train of thought. I felt that this added a sense of realism in the narration. By switching the narrator’s train of thought, the story mimics how people, often in situations of stress, think and feel. Other than this very specific narration style, I was completely perplexed by the plot of this story, and maybe that was the point. Maybe we as the reader understand as much as the main character does of his own life.

As the story progresses, the more dream-like it becomes. As a reader, I started to doubt whether or not the story as a whole was a dream that the narrator had trying to deal with his midlife crisis and his own mortality.

“The Green Man” tells the story of a man struggling with feelings of emasculation, dissatisfaction, and even fear as he realizes his daughter has reached an age of potential sexual awakening. Winterson also portrays the appeal between “wild and tame” in the dynamic between the gypsies fair and the repressed suburban setting the narrator comes from, adding another layer of conflict within him. Winterson has created an incredibly strange story that comes across as very surreal but blunt, which I believe makes it easier for readers to pinpoint and follow the symbols and events that effect the narrator most.

This story comes across as a bit sad, in that the narrator is in a loveless marriage and feels emasculated by his wife—and by women more capable than himself. He mourns the loss of love between himself and his wife while also harboring resentment and guilt for the ways in which he’s aroused by the wildness of the fair and women he sees. The affair he has seems to serve as an expression of these feelings, deepening his shame and dissatisfaction with his life and marriage; a moment of freedom he takes to escape the painful domesticity he lives in. Despite thinking this way, and wishing to be separated forever from what he loves, he believes changing his life won’t ease these miserable feelings.

The narrator’s actions result in a deeper sense of fear when his attention turns to his daughter. He recognizes his behavior as inappropriate, immoral, and perverted, which results in a natural desire to protect his daughter from such things, especially as she grows older. There’s a strange placement of sexuality in the horses present in this story, and the daughter’s relation to sexuality itself. In the beginning of the story we’re told:

Well known is it that young girls love horses, loving the wild underside of themselves, loving the long neck and hot ears of animal seduction.

But the gypsies are coming and his daughter is thirteen. (Winterson, 629)

This entire passage sets the reader up for an understanding of one of the narrator’s struggles: his fear for his daughter’s loss of innocence, as his own loss years ago resulted in an incredibly miserable present for himself. He rushes to his daughter when he finds her on a horse, led by a group of men and “slithering a bit on the bare back.” (Winterson, 635) The horse seems to symbolize his issues with sexuality and his loss of control, and when he projects this onto his daughter it results in an intense need to remove her, and himself, from the situation entirely.

“The Green Man” presents stereotypical concepts of emasculation and unhappiness in relation to marriage and domesticity. Despite being predictable, I don’t think this took away from the surreal twist Winterson uses on an unfortunately common dynamic in society. The surrealism in this story seemed to better emphasize incredibly real problems and damage this dysfunction can cause.

“We dont care if he will be somebody.” the mother said. “Both his father and I are only ordinary people. How is it that we should have a son who is involved in such a shameful business? Raising poisponous snakes, that’s frightening.””

In China, the “concept of face” has been a part of their culture for generations, and even today, this concept shapes how people in China interact with each other. Concept of face is the idea that your reputation not only affects you but your entire family and the people you associate with. In “The Child Who Raised Poisonous Snakes” by Can Xue,  the main character Sha-yuan is obsessed with snakes at a young age to the point that he finds poisonous snakes and hides them in a box to collect them. Then, as he gets older and his parents keep killing all the snakes he captures, he decides to start eating snakes in order to catch them and keep them safe. While Sha-yuan was going through all this, his parents did little to help him so he could get better for himself. As we see in the above quote, the only reason they decided to take him to the doctor and take him on trips as the doctor instructed was not for the safety and the well-being of Sha-yuan, but so that he would seem more normal and not take part in shameful activities.

“where did you get the name Sha-yuan?” I asked abruptly. “I’ve been wondering about it myself. Nobody ever gave him that name. where did it come from?” the mother said, looking confused.(649)

I too wondered where this name came from, as it felt as if “The Child Who Raised Poisonous Snakes” by Can Xue played off the name Sha-yuan. However, because the story was translated into English I thought maybe the meaning of the name lost its power. As such I searched the meaning of Sha-yuan to see what it meant in Chinese. Turns out that Sha -yuan is the Chinese name for a particular herb in the Astrgalus family. A species of plants that are known for hosting larva inside them. Weirdly paralleling Sha-yuan hosting the snakes inside his body. It also so happens to be a natural remedy to chronic fugue. Which might be part of the humor of the name, as Sha-yuan suffered from chronic fugue in the short story.

However, I believe the reason Can Xue used the name Sha-yuan comes more from the Chinese personality analysis. A horoscope like interpretation of a name, relying on the number of letters in a name and where each letter of a name is analyzed with a set meaning. But in the name sha-yuan there are multiple letters that contradict each other. Which I find are like Sha-yuan’s strange behavior and constant change of mannerism in “The Child Who Raised Poisonous Snakes.”

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