Analyzing a Short Story

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					Analyzing a Short Story
Chapter Overview

Chapter 12 introduces you to literary analysis and the differences between reading literally and
literarily, with the goal of demonstrating that analyzing literature doesn't have to be mystifying or
arbitrary. The chapter guides you through a process for responding to a piece of literature as you
read in ways that will prepare you to produce an effective closed-form essay about a short story.

By the end of the chapter, you should understand the following:

1. Reading literally differs from reading literarily in several ways, including your relationship to the
"truth" of the text, as well as its meaning.

2. When you read literally, you are trying to find meaning; when you read literarily, you are
attempting to make meaning.

3. Literary texts provide various signals that invite us to read them literarily; they open themselves
to multiple interpretations.

4. Good literary questions call attention to problematic details of the texts under analysis and
encourage readers to return to the texts to reconsider those problems.

5. Such formal features as plot, setting, character, point of view, and theme provide you with
opportunities to ask specific questions that will help you analyze a short story.

Analyzing a Short Story
Writing Exercises
Take a well-known children's story or fairy tale, and retell it from a different point
of view. For example, "The Three Little Pigs" or "Little Red Riding Hood" would
be very different if told from the wolf's perspective. Then write a brief essay about
how the change in perspective invites the reader to make radically different
meanings from the original story.

Using a short story you have read in class, write an essay that asserts which of
the four critical elements (plot, setting, character, and point of view) the author
relies on most and least heavily. Conclude the essay by passing judgment upon
the effectiveness of the author's choices for you as a reader. For example, an
intricate plot might have kept you in suspense, but thinly realized characters may
have left you caring little about the outcome.

Using a short story you have read in class (and a literary analysis of that story),
write an essay that takes issue with the analysis, asserting either that the critic
has answered the central question poorly or inaccurately, or perhaps has raised
an irrelevant or uninteresting question. You may find yourself defending the short
story if the critic judged it adversely, or finding fault with the story if the critic gave
it what you think is undeserved praise.
Analyzing a Short Story
Writing Samples
    Description of Writing Assignment
Write a 600- to 700-word essay in which you analyze William Faulkner's use of plot in "A
Rose for Emily," paying particular attention to the chronology of events. Why, in your
estimation, does Faulkner sequence the events as he does? Does that enhance or weaken
the story's appeal?

   Student Writing Sample

   Faulkner begins "A Rose for Emily" with the death of its protagonist, Miss Emily Grierson, and
then proceeds to jump back and forth in time as he unfolds the event of this Gothic, mystery,
horror story. He jumps back to 1894 to recount the fact that Col. Sartoris remitted her taxes, and
then he jumps forward to "the next generation" to recount their events surrounding the
unsuccessful attempts to collect taxes from her.

   The author then segues from this victory by Emily to a previous victory, "thirty years before. . .
. That was two years after her father's death and short time after her sweetheart . . . had deserted
her." Barely three pages into a 12-page story, and the author has already shifted time five times.
Why does Faulkner choose to tell the story with such a complex and convoluted chronology? The
answer to that question can be found in Faulkner's effort to achieve two different narrative goals:
he wants to create and maintain suspense, and he wants the reader to feel like a member of the
community. He succeeds magnificently in his first goal, as few who read the story for the first time
imagine its outcome. As for the second goal, I am not sure that telling the story in such a
convoluted order really helps him make the readers feel like members "of our whole town" as the
opening narrative move seems to invite us to be.

    Faulkner succeeds at his efforts to tell a Gothic horror tale through a variety of techniques,
including his use of setting, and a host of "creepy" elements such as the stench, snakes and rats,
multiple deaths, the unrequited love, the fear of suicide, and the incessant gossip. He succeeds in
his effort at writing a mystery story by providing the readers with all the clues they need to "figure
it out," yet inventing a series of events, especially the final revelation, that few would ever
imagine. Most can figure out that Miss Emily must have killed Homer Barron, but few could
imagine that she then slept with his corpse, as the "iron-gray hair" on the pillow indicates.

    Did Faulkner need to jump back and forth so often in time in order to get this ending? Not at
all. He could have provided the reader with a much simpler and closer to chronological
arrangement of events. So, why would he, the master story teller who knew well how to write
"mystery" or "detective" stories, choose such a convoluted arrangement?

   I believe it is to give the reader the feel of being a member of "our whole town." If the reader
were a stranger being told a tale by a local, then it would make sense for the narrator to begin at
the beginning, and follow it through to the end. This arrangement would in no way prevent still
coming to the final grizzly revelation that Emily not only murdered her faithless beau, but also
slept with his corpse. However, if the narrator is just sort of reminding a local who may have
forgotten some of the events, or perhaps been out of town for one or two key parts of the story,
then the jumping back and forth might serve as an imitation of the way someone recounts to
someone else a story that the hearer already knows much of.
   While this arrangement does not, in any way, weaken the story's appeal, as most readers
don't even notice how many times Faulkner jumps back and forth in time, I don't believe that the
attempt to get the reader to feel like a member of the town is entirely successful. In fact, it may
even amount to a kind of cheating that makes the "mystery" portion of the story harder to figure

    Instructor's Comment
If you had written this essay about Faulkner's use of plot in "A Rose for Emily," your
instructor might write a response like this to your work.

    You did a terrific job addressing the main part of the assignment, analyzing Faulkner's
chronology. Your response to the "enhance or weaken" question was a bit thin and feels
rushed. You could have developed that portion more in the space allowed. Also, you
could make space for more discussion of plot/chronology by deleting your treatment of
setting and "Gothic" horror elements. However, that is not what I recommend, as that
content really serves as something of a counter argument to the claim (implicit in your
essay) that the unusual chronology somehow enhanced the "horror story" aspect. Instead,
I suggest you use this content as part of an expanded essay that asks how Faulkner uses
plot, setting, and point of view to achieve the multiple desired effects of "Gothic horror,"
"detective story," and, perhaps, having the reader feel like part of "our whole town."
Overall, I think you attempted to address a bigger question than the space allowed, so
your excellent intentions end up being less than fully realized.