Done in class in 30 minutes
Katherine Mansfield’s short story The Fly challenges the average reader to rise out of their comfort zone, and confront the prospect of losing a loved one. Mansfield was herself affected by the grief of losing a sibling to premature death, and cleverly crafted a tale of a middle aged businessman who went into sadness and depression when a chance remark by a colleague reminded him of the death of his son. The remedy came from a lowly member of the animal world – a fly. Animal instincts drove it to struggle again and again to survive drowning in an inkblot, just as we all must when faced with grief. While we would all like to be blissfully unaware that our elder loved ones will die, and we will have to go on, The Fly ‘s protagonist faces a more extreme situation, the loss of a younger family member, no less, the only son on whom the father had placed so many hopes and expectations. While the son isn’t actually in the story, he is one of an interesting array of characters who provokes the internal conflict in the protagonist. The elderly co-worker is an effective foil, not only in the sense that he make the comment that reminds the protagonist of his son, but also in that, as a living, doddering geriatric, he is a complete contrast to the young son, thus underlining the cruelty of death at such a young age. The choice of a third person limited narrator allowed for both detached narration and revealment of the protagonist’s inner sufferings. Mansfield wrote, “It had been a terrible shock to him when old Woodfield sprung that remark on him about the son’s grave” as well as “My son!” groaned the boss. In the past… he had only to say those words to be overcome by … a violent fit of weeping.” This effectively reveals the suffering caused by grief, and the need for people to persist if they are to deal with it. The episodic structure of the plot line, with the fly continuing to fight through crisis after crisis, in a struggle to survive, serves as a lesson from the animal kingdom to humans that we must persist to survive the adversities that life throws up, such as grief. Mansfield’s unique context of having lost a younger sibling at an early age, shared through her cleverly told short story, confronts average readers with the prospect that they will have to struggle through dealing with the grief associated with the death of loved ones.
Short Story and Novel
Sample essay response to novel done by Mr Carbon in 30 minutes On Going Bovine by Libba Bray
Why did I ever walk past the display shelf in the library that had the novel Going Bovine by Libba Bray on it. I had to read it, and it was 480 pages! First there was the picture of a cow walking with a garden gnome under its “arm.” Then there was the blurb promising a road trip across America – I’m a sucker for journey settings. Then there was the advertised combination of characters – Cameron, a punk angel, a video gaming dwarf and a garden gnome that is really a Norse god. You don’t get that sort of thing every day. What I ended up with was a cross between a teenage version of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and Love Story, that schmaltzy 70s movie where the young man dies of a lingering disease but everyone learns a lot more about love and life. I think Libba Bray actually rammed every theme or issue that had been in the ‘papers in the last month into her novel. Cameron had contracted BCG, that’s Mad Cow Disease, and the whole road trip major action of the novel actually never happens beyond his medication and sickness affected hospital bed. The whole fantasy in Cameron’s mind that we readers are treated to is his imaginary search to find Dr X who has the cure for his sickness, which in his imaginings is dark matter brought down to Earth by Dr X’s dimension travellings. Cameron actually finds Dr X, but because the genius is bitter and still mourning the death of his own wife, he won’t help unless Cameron can convince him with what he has learned on his travels. Cameron can only share that “to love is to live, and to live is to love.” For a teenage readership to realise that, in the end, life is about love is trite and pure schmaltz, but, never the less, extremely worthwhile. Interspersed with the road trip setting were times when Cameron was apparently sleeping or unconscious, and he was back at his hospital bed in the company of his family. This structure made it clear that the most important thing in life is the love of family. The climax of the novel is an amazing conversation between Cameron and an alter ego self from his fantasy. Essentially, this other Cameron tells Cameron, “it sucks, but the truth is sometimes the people you love die, and there is nothing you can do about it.” This is wonderful realisation for a teenage readership that probably thinks it is immortal and that their loved ones will always be there for them At the start of the novel, Cameron was of course obsessed with the love interest, the best looking girl in school, and true to stereotype, in his fantasy, he loses his virginity to her before the novel ends. The interesting part is the contrast through the character of an angel who cares for and guides Cameron to his death, and makes love to him along the way. There are obvious implications for the nature of true love and commitment in relationships. Libba Bray wants to push the politically correct line of complete acceptance, including through the foil character Gonzo, but do you think including a gay Mexican dwarf is a bit too much. I mean, he covers all bases, except maybe if he was an environmentally friendly whale at the same time. I feel Bray is out of her depth when it comes to writing through the persona of a teenage boy. The vernacular humour is a feature of the entertainment of the novel, but times such as using the expression nuclear in dialogue to satirise teenage life is just one example of where she lacks credibility. I couldn’t put Going Bovine down, and the novel goes a long way to engaging teenagers with the realities of death and the importance of love. Perhaps in Bray’s range of issues and engaging style she tries for too much. .