Sunday, December 24, 2017

Caline by Kate Chopin Review

"Caline" by Kate Chopin is a short story about a girl. She lived in a rural place without any traces of civilization. This place was located near the railway and once the train stopped near her house unexpectedly.

The author described the passengers through the eyes of the little girl. The ladies "... walked awkwardly in their high-heeled boots over the rough, uneven ground, and held up their skirts mincingly. They twirled parasols over their shoulders, and laughed immoderately at the funny things which their masculine companions were saying." The passengers tried to talk with the girl but without success, because they couldn't understand her French dialect. One youngster started to draw the girl. She stood silently astonished by the unknown world which was disclosed to her for a short time.

The following days she reminisced about this event again and again. Eventually, she moved to a big city, started working as a maidservant in one family. Her first impressions of this new life were very pleasant. "Caline liked it very well, for it was pleasant, on Sunday afternoons, to stroll with the children under the great, solemn sugar sheds; or to sit upon the compressed cotton bales, watching the stately steamers, the graceful boats, and noisy little tugs that plied the waters of the Mississippi."

The mood of the girl changed quite fast if someone "... asked her again after another week if she were still pleased, she was not so sure. And again when she questioned Caline the girl turned away, and went to sit behind the big, yellow cistern, to cry unobserved. For she knew now that it was not the great city and its crowds of people she had so eagerly sought; but the pleasant-faced boy, who had made her picture that day under the mulberry tree."

The author of this story represented the social inequality, the attitude of a new generation to the benefits of being wealthy, the dissatisfaction of current level of life. Let's imagine that the girl became a part of high-level society. Would she be satisfied with her new life? For the short time - yes. But after some time ... Probably no, her natural pessimism would bring her into the similar mood. The key thing about that issue is an attitude. If a person is not grateful for the life which that person has, the feeling of satisfaction couldn't be achieved. Maybe Kate Chopin wanted to say to readers: be happy, pleased with the destiny you have ..., but it is only one interpretation of the story.

This is a link to the story:

Friday, December 22, 2017

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce Review

The short story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Bierce is well known among Americans, perhaps because the occurrence which was described here refers to the history of the USA.
Ambrose Bierce wrote this story about the Civil War in the USA, the subject which was familiar to him. He was awarded 15 commendations for his braveness during the War. The story has also a controversial under-text because the main character belonged to the Confederates and the author expressed a sheer sympathy to him.

The story starts with the description of the man who was going to be executed: "A man stood upon a railroad bridge in northern Alabama, looking down into the swift water twenty feet below. The man's hands were behind his back, the wrists bound with a cord. A rope closely encircled his neck. It was attached to a stout cross-timber above his head and the slack fell to the level of his knees." The man is facing the death, every detail of execution becomes visible and essential: river, bridge, shores, soldiers.

He heard the ticking of his watches clearly. He thought “If I could free my hands, I might throw off the noose and spring into the stream. By diving I could evade the bullets and, swimming vigorously, reach the bank, take to the woods and get away home. My home, thank God, is as yet outside their lines; my wife and little ones are still beyond the invader's farthest advance.” Ambrose Bierce finished the first part of the story at the moment when the captain nodded to the sergeant to start execution.

The following part of the story described what had happened before. It started giving a brief introduction of the main character: "Peyton Farquhar was a well-to-do planter, of an old and highly respected Alabama family. Being a slave owner and like other slave owners a politician he was naturally an original secessionist and ardently devoted to the Southern cause." Ambrose Bierce wrote that introduction without accusing of Peyton Farquhar of racism, it is a controversial line of the story. Peyton was accused for possible intention to commit the diversion on Owl Creek Bridge and as we saw in the first part of the story, he faced death on that bridge.

The third, last part of the story began from the scene of a miraculous escape of Peyton. The cord broke off, he got under the water, soldiers fired but in vain, he hid in the forest, came to his lovely house, his wife met him. He thought: "Ah, how beautiful she is! He springs forward with extended arms."

The last sentence of the story tells us: "Peyton Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek bridge."

Ambrose Bierce wrote the story in quite an original manner mixing the real and fantastic elements, the plot moved forward and back in time, he created the feeling of suspense for readers. The story is about war and it aims against it.

This is the link to the story:

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Transients in Arcadia by O. Henry Review

The short story "Transients in Arcadia" by O. Henry gives the readers the description of a desirable place "There is a hotel on Broadway that has escaped discovery by the summer-resort promoters. It is deep and wide and cool. Its rooms are finished in dark oak of a low temperature. Home-made breezes and deep-green shrubbery give it the delights ..."

This idealistic place is hidden from the public, only special, exclusive guests have happy opportunities to stay here. The first paragraph of this review includes the quote from O. Henry work, the author tried to highlight the uniqueness of the place, so did I at the beginning of the second paragraph.

What makes the master of literature different? It is a very rich vocabulary and the literary style. Reading the O. Henry description we draw in our imagination the bright picture of the world of the story and their characters. Here is a description of the main character of the story - a very welcomed guest of the hotel:

"Madame Beaumont was a guest such as the Hotel Lotus loved. She possessed the fine air of the élite, tempered and sweetened by a cordial graciousness that made the hotel employees her slaves. Bell-boys fought for the honor of answering her ring; the clerks, but for the question of ownership, would have deeded to her the hotel and its contents; the other guests regarded her as the final touch of feminine exclusiveness and beauty that rendered the entourage perfect."

That very respectable guest met another upper-class visitor of the hotel who registered as a Harold Farrington. After Harold Farmington picked up a dropped handkerchief and returned it to madam Beaumont, they started to enjoy being together. They would talk about traveling comparing some luxurious world's resorts.

In the last evening, before Mme Beaumont left the hotel, she said Mr. Farmington that her time of staying in the hotel up and she needs to come back to her work, that her real name is Mamie Siviter and she works in the store here in New York.

"Harold Farrington listened to the recital of the Lotus's loveliest guest with an impassive countenance." He said that his vacation had finished too, he also works as a clerk, he lives in New York. Here is the last paragraph of the story:
"At the door of the elevator Farrington took his leave, and Madame Beaumont made her last ascent. But before they reached the noiseless cage he said: "Just forget that 'Harold Farrington,' will you?—McManus is the name—James McManus. Some call me Jimmy."
"Good-night, Jimmy," said Madame."

A happy end of the story made unnoticeable the theme of poorness, the wishes of two main characters to climb up the social ladder (that wish has nothing to do with arrogance). The positive mood of the story is typical for the classic of American literature -  O. Henry. Let's enjoy the story, here is the link to the original text:

Friday, December 15, 2017

Is He Living or Is He Dead? by Mark Twain Review

The story "Is He Living or Is He Dead?" by Mark Twain has a connection with the real name of a famous person - the artist Francois Millet. Did it have a connection with the real life of the artist? It is not clear, probably not.

The story starts on the French resort Mentone where one holidaymaker told a story which happened at the time of his youth. The narrator told about three young artists (one of them was the narrator himself) who had once lived together in a small village. They drew paintings, that were fine works but few of them were sold. The friend came to the point of complete absence of money, all the shops in the village refused to give them the goods on credit. In that crucial moment, one of them (Carl) started to make a statement. He said that "the merit of many a great artist has never been acknowledged until after he was starved and dead" and suggested to do so by pretending as if somebody of them had that fate.

After hot debates, friends to agree, Francois Millet was chosen for this role. Here how the narrator described the scene of the first selling:

'" ... I began to sketch a villa in the outskirts of a big town--because I saw the proprietor standing on an upper veranda. He came down to look on--I thought he would. I worked swiftly, intending to keep him interested. Occasionally he fired off a little ejaculation of approbation, and by-and-by he spoke up with enthusiasm, and said I was a master!
'I put down my brush, reached into my satchel, fetched out a Millet, and pointed to the cipher in the corner. I said, proudly:
'"I suppose you recognise that? Well, he taught me! I should think I ought to know my trade!"
'The man looked guiltily embarrassed, and was silent. I said sorrowfully:
'"You don't mean to intimate that you don't know the cipher of Francois Millet!"
'Of course he didn't know that cipher; but he was the gratefullest man you ever saw, just the same, for being let out of an uncomfortable place on such easy terms. He said:
'"No! Why, it is Millet's, sure enough! I don't know what I could have been thinking of. Of course I recognise it now.

The project had a great success, the real Francois Millet was present at his funeral carrying the coffin with a wax figure. The price for the pictures of Francois Millet soared, they became rich and kept this secret for years. Only at the moment of telling this story, the narrator disclosed it. He said that another guest of this hotel, who was an old, retired, and very rich silk manufacturer from Lyons, was Francois Millet.

As a title for his story, Mark Twain chose the question "Is He Living or Is He Dead?" If we think about it from the viewpoint of collectors of Francois Millet's art who bought the paintings of an artist with a tragic fate, the answer wouldn't be obvious ...

This is the link to the text of the story:

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Reunion by John Cheever Review

The story "Reunion" written by an American author John Cheever is really short. Despite this format, the author managed to present the process of changing the point of view, the attitude towards the life of the main character.

It is a recollection of one meeting which the young man (the boy) had with his father. His parent divorced a few years ago, the boy had the transitway through New York where his father lived. The rhythm and the positive mood of the narrator had been kept by the author from the beginning to the end of the story but the attitude of the boy towards that meeting changed dramatically.

In the beginning of the story, the boy anticipated the coming meeting: "I felt that he was my father, my flesh and blood, my future and my doom". When they met, the anticipation changed into admiration: "I hoped that someone would see us together. I wished that we could be photographed. I wanted some record of our having been together."

The father suggested going for lunch to the nearest restaurant and where he started to conduct himself very rudely. "... he shouted. “Chop-chop.” Then he clapped his hands.... I have a whistle that is audible only to the ears of old waiters. Now, take out your little pad and your little pencil and see if you can get this straight: two Beefeater Gibsons. Repeat after me: two Beefeater Gibsons." The waiter asked (in fact insisted) the father and his son to leave the restaurant. The same happened in the next restaurant and next ...

All tragedy of the story was described in the last line:
"Goodbye, Daddy," I said, and I went down the stairs and got my train, and that was the last time I saw my father. "

Was it a tragedy of the young man who was disappointed by the behavior of his father? I think - no. The story conveyed to readers the sorrow of misunderstanding, the loneliness of two people who lost the relationships and even part of themselves ...

This is a link to the text:

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Love Potion by Herman Charles Bosman Review

The short story "The Love Potion" by Herman Charles Bosman related with the old legend about the magical effect of the berry. This tale was beautifully written by the author in the beginning of the story, here is the text:

"... they say you must pick off one of its little red berries at midnight, under the full moon. Then, if you are a young man, and you are anxious for a girl to fall in love with you, all you have to do is squeeze the juice of the juba-berry into her coffee. They say that after the girl has drunk the juba-juice, she begins to forget all sorts of things. She forgets that your forehead is rather low, and that your ears stick out, and that your mouth is too big. She even forgets having told you, the week before last, that she wouldn't marry you if you were the only man in the Transvaal. All she knows is that the man she gazes at, over her empty coffee cup, has grown remarkably handsome."

The story was written from the first sight, from the man called Schalk. The narrator described the hunting for the bucks which was quite a popular deal in South Africa. The local authority made it illegal but people continued hunting at night using the lamps fastened to the caps. For that reason, the locals needed to hide in the bushes and start shooting in the middle of the night.

In that moment before the midnight, the narrator saw the young policeman, named Gideon. The narrator knew Gideon and he "had found him very likable". Gideon asked Schalk to lend him the lamp. The narrator said: "You can have my lamp ... but you must be very careful. It's worse for a policeman to get caught breaking the law than for an ordinary man.'".

The policeman replied:
No, I don't want to go shooting with the lamp, he said, ‘I want to …'.
And then he paused.
He laughed nervously.
‘It seems silly to say it, Oom Schalk,' he said, ‘but perhaps you'll understand. I've come to look for a juba-plant. I need it for my studies. For my third-class sergeant's exam. And it'll soon be midnight, and I can't find one of those plants anywhere.'

The narrator felt sorry for the policeman: if he was not able to find the plant, how could he find and catch a criminal?

Next day, the narrator visited the farm. While he was talking with the owner, he mentioned the name Gideon and looked to the farmer's daughter, Lettie. "The colour that crept into her cheeks. The light that came in her eyes."

When the narrator saw Gideon next day, he asked:
"So the juba-plant worked?'
The answer was:
You'd be surprised how quickly it acted,' he said. ‘Lettie just took one sip at the coffee, and then jumped straight onto my lap.'

Herman Charles Bosman finished the story by a witty remark which the main character made:
"But then Gideon van der Merwe winked in a way that made me believe that he was not so very simple, after all."

These are links to the story:

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Exchange by Jon Langford Review

The story "The Exchange" by Jon Langford is a short story and it consists of only a dialog. The customer comes to the shop and asks the shop-assistant to replace a broken alarm clock.

It looks as his request is being refused by the clerk. All possible options for the exchange are dismissed because of different reasons (the customer doesn't remember when he bought the item, he didn't keep the original plastic packing and prove of payment. The seller concluded, "I wouldn't be able to do anything to help." The dialog further transmits the feeling of being desperate: "Nothing?" "No." "So now I just have a faulty alarm clock forever?"
The story turned to another, optimistic direction in the ending. Here the last part of the conversation between shop assistant and customer:
"Would you like to open a store card? It's completely free and you get five percent off every purchase.
No thank you.
If you open one today you get a free gift.
What's the free gift?
An alarm clock."

This story was on the top of reader's choice on the site for self published writers. I think that It deserved to be on the top, because the author was able to present the whole idea in a very short text, and even the mood and emotions of two characters.

This is the link to the story:


Friday, November 17, 2017

The Taipan by W. Somerset Maugham Review

The short story "The Taipan" by W. Somerset Maugham would refer to the genre of the ghost stories. It is not a typical literary style for Maugham. It is likely that the main idea which Maugham meant was the theme of superiority and personal self-estimation of being better than others.

These lines were put by the author at the beginning of the story:  
"No one knew better than he that he was an important person. He was number one in not the least important branch of the most important English firm in China. He had worked his way up through solid ability and he looked back with a faint smile at the callow clerk who had come out to China thirty years before. When he remembered the modest home he had come from ... and compared it with the magnificent stone mansion, with its wide verandas and spacious rooms, which was at once the office of the company and his own residence, he chuckled with satisfaction. He had come a long way since then."

The Taipan is a foreigner who is head of a business in China or Hong Kong. In other words, he is a boss whose behavior and lifestyle is very different from local Chinese everyday routine. The main character, taipan, came from England, where he lived maybe not so poor but at least modest life. He had everything in China, he could argue with counsel who was a quite important person and "The taipan thrust out his jaw pugnaciously as he thought of the incident."

He was invited to the restaurant where he could drink wine and liquor without payments because it was paid by the firm which was interested in having business with his company. He gained a lot of weight to the point that riding a horse wasn't possible for him.

Once when he came back home from the restaurant, the cemetery was on his way. He saw the graves of people he had known: somebodies were killed in a massacre which occurred in China in the past, others, his predecessors, found his death due to overuse of alcohol. This is how the author described his thoughts:
"They were dead and he was alive, and by George he'd scored them off. His eyes collected in one picture all those crowded graves and he smiled scornfully. He very nearly rubbed his hands."

After that, he saw two coolies who were digging the fresh grave quite big, probably for a large body. He wandered for whom that grave was prepared. He knew only English, for the years of being in China, he didn't think of studying local language at all. He asked coolies and they said something in Chinese.

When he returned home the thoughts about this grave didn't leave his mind. He sent the servant to the cemetery to know about the grave and servant said that there were no fresh graves in the cemetery. "The best thing he could do was to go the club", he tried to relieve himself from the cemetery obsession but he gave up as the grave stuck in his mind. "Suddenly he felt he could not bear to stay in the club any longer."

He came home. "He had dreamed of that open grave and the coolies digging leisurely." He thought about the future death, if it comes in this place, we would be buried with this people, in this hateful country. He took a list of papers and wrote a letter to the headquarter of his company with a request for retirement. He was found dead the next day, with the letter laid on the table near him.

The main idea of the story is about arrogance. We had a proverb in the Russian language which could literally translate to English as the sentence: He came through fire, water, and copper pipe. Copper pipe means a trumpet. The proverb present the idea of difficulties to endure three trials: danger of fire and water and saving personality under a press of praise and homage. Maugham described this idea precisely, in details including the circumstances, behavior, and thoughts of the main character in this well written and easily understandable short story.

The link to the text of the book:
Page 568

Monday, November 6, 2017

Virtual Tour To Jamaica

This virtual trip took place during the 25 minute class in online school with the teacher David. We used the screen-sharing feature of Skype. The version of Skype which David used allowed him to convey not only the image of the desktop of his computer but also the sound. It made it possible to watch video from Youtube together just as if we were sitting in a physical classroom with the TV on the screen.

The most well-known tool for exploring places is Google Map, we used it also. The journey started from the airport in Kingston- the capital city of Jamaica. It is located on the Palisadoes which is a tombolo or spit of the world's seventh largest natural harbor (the spit is a geographical term which means a small point of land running into the sea). The runway stretches into the inner side of the harbor.

There is another remarkable place near the airport - Port Royal. It was destroyed by earthquake twice in 1692, when it was a pirate's city and in 1969. Most of the town went under the water. Now it is a place for diving, the views of the buildings under and above the surface of the water has become another tourist attraction there.

As in all capital cities, Kingston includes the downtown stores, business areas, and parks. We went (by watching video on Youtube) through a park named Emancipation Park in New Kingston. The statues (Redemption Song) of a nude man and woman in the park were the subject of controversies among inhabitants of Kingston when they were erected. We saw in the video the people who were working in the park and playing table tennis.

In the last part of the class, we came to the area where the University of the West Indies is located. The buildings for students look quite comfortable. We stopped in front of the lecture auditorium with an unusual shape. It was built by a Chinese company. David mentioned that the cost of renting it for the educational or business event is approximately $700 US for an hour. The cost of studying in the university there is about $2000 US/year.

Going through the university's campus we came across the tree the Blue Mahoe which is the national tree of Jamaica. Jamaica has a lot of natural tourist attractions and it would be an interesting subject for the new session: future 25 minutes English class on

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Charles by Shirley Jackson Review

The short story "Charles" by Shirley Jackson is about childish imagination, adults stereotypes and many other plot lines and ideas. That's the way Shirley Jackson sees the world, it is complicated, it has multiple dimensions.

The son of the narrator started to go to school (started kindergarten). Just a day ago his whole world was home and family. This change is how his mother estimates the new stage in their life:
"I watched him go off the first  morning with the older girl next door, seeing clearly that an era of my life was ended, my sweet-voiced nursery-school tot replaced by a long-trousered, swaggering character who forgot to stop at the corner and wave good-bye to me."

Shirley Jackson wrote this passage using an ironical style. She described a quite recognizable situation, the parents, whose children passed through this line, would remember this milestone: their child becomes a part of society. The author told the readers how the son brought home the new impressions every day, how indifferent the parents were: they perceived the actions displaying curiosity as if they were watching the TV-news.

I'm not going to revile the end of the story: let's keep intrigue. This is the link for the text of this story; it is a good subject for discussion:


Sunday, October 22, 2017

At Hiruharama by Penelope Fitzgerald Analysis

The short story "At Hiruharama" was written by British writer Penelope Fitzgerald. Some interesting facts about her as a writer:
- she started publishing her works at the age of 60;
- she was one of the most awarded English writers.

The style of this story is rather specific: it focuses more on describing life in general rather than revealing the plot of the story. The narrator, who was the grandson of the main character and had the same name, used a pretext for describing the life of the first migrants in New Zealand from England. This is the first paragraph:
"Mr. Tanner was anxious to explain how it was that he had a lawyer in the family, so that when they all decided to sell up and quit New Zealand there had been someone they could absolutely trust with the legal business."

The plotline of the first paragraph has very little in common with the main plot line. It is quite a usual situation when somebody had suddenly seen something and it aroused the memories in somebody's mind and we could hear a vivid, detailed story about the past. The author used the short introduction "That meant that he had to say something about his grandfather" and started telling the story about the life of the new settlers in New Zealand.

This is a story about the first settlers in New Zealand from England. Mr. Tanner worked for a well-to-do family in Auckland. He met a 16-year-old girl, Kitty, who worked for another family. They married and started their life in quite a remote place, named Hiruharama which means Jerusalem.

There were no people in that place. When Kitty said that she was expecting a baby, Mr.Tanner rode to Auckland city, where he found a doctor. On his way back to Hiruharama he was given a few post pigeons which he wanted to use to call the doctor when his wife would be about to give birth. The language which the author used, drew out the vivid picture a simple life. A lack of convenience, the absence of civilization and strong character of people - it is what Penelope Fitzgerald presented to the readers.

At Hiruharama by Penelope Fitzgerald


Saturday, October 21, 2017

"Do You Speak English?" by Simon Collings Review

The short story "Do You Speak English?" was written by Simon Collings and was first published on the free web-resource

The plot includes only one scene. The main character Manuel watched mechanically (it didn't bother him so much) the process of catching fish by a ten-year-old boy. One fish leaped out of something like a bucket and was gasping in convulsions. Manuel thoughts were mostly about some issues from his everyday life (about paying rent etc). Manuel saw two tourists, a woman and a man, who must have got lost because that poor district was of no interest to visitors.

The author described the scenery in a very rich style, he drew an ugly picture of personalities and an everyday life:
  • for fish "The gill flaps opened like two gash wounds on the sides of its head as it thrashed helplessly in the gutter.";
  • for the boy who was "barefoot and grubby, and his skin was marked with insect bites"
  • for the woman who "had shoulder-length reddish hair and pale freckled skin".  
  • for the man who "was tall and flabby, his stomach protruding from under his T-shirt."

People used to be composed seeing caught fish. "Fish is what we eat" - this is a usual attitude of people towards caught fish. This was another case. "Look at the   poor   thing,' said the woman, stopping beside the fish, which lay where the boy had kicked   it, probably now gasping its last breaths." Her partner tried to persuade her to avoid being involved in any actions here, but without any results.

She asked the boy about this fish but he didn't understand her. And then she saw Manuel and asked him if he spoke English. She said: "Can you ask this boy what he means to do with the fish? It seems so cruel, it ought to be thrown back". Manuel thought that she wasn't able to understand the boy who lived in the squalid shacks as if she was from another planet. He translated that the boy intended to sell the fish. Persisting in her strange wish, she asked how much the boy wanted for that fish. Even the overrated price didn't stop her. She paid, the fish was thrown back into the water and as it had been already dead, it was grabbed again by the boy after the couple had gone.

This story conveyed the idea of the remoteness of people from each other. The contrast between people was in the focus of the writer's attention in this story. Not only the language separate people, but most important is the fact that they belong to different social groups.

The author drew a very clear picture of the place where this story occurred. He used a lot of adjectives with a mostly negative connotation. Surfing the Internet I’ve seen that this story has been chosen a lot of times as a class material for English lessons. Probably one of the reasons is a very rich vocabulary which the author used. In a brief manner this story raises very actual questions, they give good food for thoughts.

I found out that the author had published this story on his blog
This resource for blogging is similar to the platform which I use for my blog ( Maybe someday I will write my own short story and will publish it on my blog ...

Simon Collings Do You Speak English?