1. In her commentary “Reading Blind,” Margaret Atwood gives her opinions on factors that make a short story good. She writes that a good story has to have a voice that moves not only across pages but also through time. Most people are first introduced to stories at a young age by the “scandalous gossips” and “family secrets” that children overhear their mothers discussing in the kitchen, or the oral tales with “talking donkeys” and “definite endings” that their grandmother recites to them. All these stories come by voice; and they influence the way each and every person expects from or brings to stories. According to Atwood, a good story has, in many ways, qualities that are similar to those that children want in the tales they are told or overhear. For a story to be successful, it needs to have elements of mystery, proper buildup, unexpected twists, and an “impeccable sense of timing.” It also has to effectively hold the attention of the readers, and gives them a sense of urgency and excitement in the narration. Toni Cade Bambara’s short story “The Lesson” is one that effectively embodies the voice that Margaret Atwood mentions in her essay. This short story is told through the voice of the main character—a girl from the ghetto named Sylvia. Sylvia’s narration of the events in this story is as raw and as true to life as any fiction can be. In “Reading Blind,” Atwood quotes from Raymond Chandler: “All language begins with speech, and the speech of common men at that.” The voice in “The Lesson” precisely portraits the speech of a black girl living in the poor urban area with sentences that lack auxiliary or conjugations, and by doing so, reveals the reality like it truly is. In order to closely picture the setting in her story, Bambara has sacrificed the proper and boring ways of the English language and stay faithful to the speech and voices of the people whose stories she depicts. Only with this unmasked honesty can Bambara create a short story that is so appealing and speaks powerfully to the readers. Intentionally or not, Bambara’s story “The Lesson” closely observes Margaret Atwood’s qualities of a good story; and therefore, it is one that captures the attention of the readers and maintains their interest until the end. 2. In her essay “Writing Short Stories,” Flannery O’Connor stresses the importance of meaning in a short story. It is, she writes, what “keeps a short story from being short.” She goes on further to explain that the meaning drawn from a story are from experiences, and by making statements about the meaning, a person can experience it even more deeply. She uses her own “Good Country People” to demonstrate this point. The plot of this story, a bible salesman stealing the wooden leg of a faithless lady who tries to seduce him, can simply be nothing more than a “low joke.” However, as the meaning of the wooden leg is explored, and the act of stealing the leg is looked into further, it is revealed that this story deals with much deeper issues. In O’Connor’s opinion, no formula, technique, or theory can really provide guidance for a story. In order to learn to write a story, a person must first write one, then “try to discover what [he has] done.” She also discusses the two qualities of fiction: the sense of mystery and the sense of manners. She stresses that manners collected from the surrounding environments can provide insights into a work of fiction, and also the importance in the depth of personality in the characters. In Eudora Welty’s short story “Why I Live at the P.O.,” the author explores the problems buried deep beneath the surface sibling rivalry of a Southern family. Both Sister—the overlooked older daughter—and Stella-Rondo—the beloved younger one—has troubled stories that prevent them from committing themselves to a “peaceful” family life. A shallow reader might summarize the plot of the story in one sentence: “A woman is angry at the return of her sister—Stella—when her family turns from her to...
Cited: Atwood, Margaret. “Reading Blind.” The Story and Its Writer. Ed. Ann Charters. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999. 1408-11.
Bambara, Toni Cade. “The Lesson.” The Story and Its Writer. Ed. Ann Charters. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999. 71-6.
Carver, Raymond. “Cathedral.” The Story and Its Writer. Ed. Ann Charters. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999. 168-78.
Carver, Raymond. “What We Talk about When We Talk about Love.” The Story and Its Writer. Ed. Ann Charters. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999. 187-95.
O’Connor, Flannery. “Writing Short Stories.” The Story and Its Writer. Ed. Ann Charters. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999. 1619-24.
Scott, A. O. “Looking for Raymond Carver.” The Story and Its Writer. Ed. Ann Charters. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999. 1595-9.
Welty, Eudora. “Why I Live at the P.O.” The Story and Its Writer. Ed. Ann Charters. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999. 1317-26.
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