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: