by Kim Triedman My gym misses me. I haven’t exactly been pulling my weight lately. Or blasting my abs or busting my butt, either. In fact I can honestly say that from the moment I started writing my second novel this past September, I have gone through the gym …
I stumbled across this post this morning and wish I had found it sooner, but here it is. The sale date is tomorrow. Read on:
By Robin Black Any interest in having your prose or poetry manuscript reviewed by the likes of Philip Levine, Elizabeth McCracken, Ron Carlson, Tony Hoagland, or perhaps some other equally amazing author?? There’s an app for that. . .or anyway, there’s a website. And you’ll be …
Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club
by Rhonda Browning White
There’s a children’s game in which a sentence is passed via whisper from one child to another through the room until the last child repeats the sentence aloud. Of course, the sentence has changed. Point of view in a story works much like that whispered sentence: a story changes depending on who repeats it. Each of us—and each of our characters—has her own frame of reference, her own set of parameters, her own way of seeing the world in which we live. Thus, each of has a unique point of view.
Perhaps there is no better examination of a character’s point of view (POV) than to let that character tell the story as he sees it, as he lived it, through first-person viewpoint. Amy Tan tells the story of eight Chinese-American women (four mothers and four daughters) living in America, through each woman’s POV in The Joy Luck Club, and while this may seem a distracted and sprawling way to relate the story, instead readers are given deep and varied perspectives of what it means to be an American through the eyes of these women. Readers gain intimate insight into the workings of the mind of each woman, and we are intellectually involved in each narrator’s thoughts and actions, puzzling through her life as she lives it, ultimately piecing together the whole story from eight viewpoints.
A crucial element for telling a story through multiple first-person points of view is voice. Tan succeeds by layering the cadence of each character’s voice with the dialect and language of her time and birthplace. For example, when daughter Waverly Jong relates her mother’s anger at her for staying out too late and causing her to worry, she tells us, “Standing there waiting for my punishment, I heard my mother speak in a dry voice. ‘We not concerning this girl. This girl not have concerning for us’ (100).” Here we see that Waverly is Americanized enough to speak and think in grammatically correct American English, but her mother still carries the rhythms and dialect of her Chinese culture.
Through first-person point of view, we experience the difference in thought and opinion of these two cultures—American and Chinese—and how the two sometimes clash, but other times mesh with such beauty as to provide striking clarity that would otherwise remain clouded without the perspective of multiple points of view. Character Ying-Ying St. Clair, a mother who suffered a mental break following a late-pregnancy miscarriage, expresses her numbness to the pain in first-person voice in a way that would be impossible were the story told by an omniscient narrator: “I did not lose myself all at once. I rubbed out my face over the years washing away my pain, the same way carvings on stone are worn down by water” (67). Even though Ying-Ying is reporting her past, the experience is immediately convincing, because we feel her numbness to grief and pain through first-person point of view.
Through her use of first-person POV, Tan’s characters have the freedom to explore their thoughts, sometimes digressing, sometimes reflecting, but always coming back to the present moment, so that as readers, we experience the closeness of single consciousness with the character. We understand the character. We achieve new perspective. We are enlightened. There is no greater gift a writer can offer a reader.
Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. NY: Putnam, 1991. Print.
Support literary magazines–they need you!
River Teeth Journal–publishes non-fiction
Wips Journal-Works (of fiction) in Progress–focuses on fiction.
Superstition Review-publishes art, poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction
New Ohio Review-publishes fiction, poetry, and non-fiction
Contributor Gabrielle Freeman has started her own website–Lady Random. Her tagline: “Writing is your mistress. Submit!”
Also check out Rocko Rocket–creation of contributor Yolande Clark-Jackson
Voice-as defined (sorta kinda) by wikipedia-states “The writer’s voice is the individual writing style of an author, a combination of idiotypical usage of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works).
For more thoughts on voice, check out these blog posts:
Ten Steps to Finding Your Writing Voice
How Can I Find My Writing Voice?
What Is Writer’s Voice?
Know of any posts/articles/advice on voice? Post the links in the comments. (links not contributing to the discussion will be deleted)
Posts in regards to:
When the Manic Muses Show Up
One Writer’s struggle with Writer’s Block
Do stories have expiration dates?
Resources for Writers
Clued into Lego Librarians at Book Riot
Creating a Pen Name
By Matthew McEver
In The Habit of Being, O’Conner surmises, “The religion of the South is a do-it-yourself religion, something which I as a Catholic find painful and touching and grimly comic… full of unconscious pride that lands them in all sorts of ridiculous religious predicaments” (350). This notion provides impetus for her final novel, The Violent Bear It Away. Here are repulsive characters, conflict between intolerant religion and intolerant humanism, kidnapping, arson, murder, and rape—yet rampant comicality, much of which owes itself to O’Conner’s allusive use of biblical literature, particularly Old Testament prophetic literature and New Testament symbolism. Relentlessly, she projects this material through a darkly comics lens by working within the paradigm of Southern do-it-yourself religion.
Uncle Mason is a Tennessee backwoods John the Baptist. Ordinarily, prophetic figures wish to proclaim an urgent message to the masses. Uncle Mason’s ministry never goes beyond his own kinfolk. His baptism obsession is also caricatured. Baptism is a rite intended to express that God has claimed an individual, yet Uncle Mason kidnaps his relatives in order to baptize them. First, he kidnaps his nephew Rayber. He recounts his four-year-sentence in a prison for the insane as persecution of the righteous, making reference to wearing a strait-jacket which, in his eyes, puts him in the same company as Ezekiel—the prophet bound by cords (although Ezekiel bound himself as a symbolic act). Subsequently Uncle Mason abducts seven-year-old Francis Marion Tarwater, sequesters and “educates” him. Here, O’Conner borrows from the successor motif (i.e. Elijah passing the mantle to Elisha). When Rayber intervenes with the intent of rescuing the child Francis, Uncle Mason acts in the manner of the Apostle Peter, swinging not a sword but firing a gun and taking a wedge out of Rayber’s ear (Wood 227).
Francis Tarwater’s calling to prophetic ministry dominates the novel and reads like a pastiche of Jonah and the Prodigal Son. It is not the word of the Lord that comes to Francis; it is the voice of the old man. Daunted by his uncle’s calls, Francis grows defiant and drunk, burns the property down and leaves for the city, confident that he has incinerated his dead uncle’s body. By implication, young Tarwater must preach to a city that has forsaken its savior, but this mission takes a back seat to the baptism of Rayber’s son – the baptism that eluded Uncle Mason, which takes on the character of a vendetta more than an act of piety. The Prodigal motif is apparent in the manner in which Francis leaves and returns home. Refusing to bury the uncle’s body is act of sacrilege, a shunning of religious identity. He squanders his prophetic inheritance and returns home in the wake of being chastened by a sodomizer. The theft of his hat, perhaps a symbol of self-reliance, is the ultimate humiliation. What is raped is his insolence.
Fittingly, O’Conner renders a devil figure or inner demon that tempts Francis into abandoning his calling, but in keeping with the tone of the novel this accuser is more of a hillbilly Satan. “Ain’t you in all your fourteen years of supporting (your uncle’s) foolishness fed up and sick to the roof of your mouth with Jesus?” the stranger asks (39). O’Conner’s construction of the inward accuser allows for an internal dialogue that provides insight into Francis’ mind that would otherwise be unavailable to us as readers given that young Tarwater is such a guarded character. When, in the novel’s conclusion, a stranger in a lavender vehicle wearing black, offering Francis a ride, a special cigarette and a flask of whiskey, we realize that he is none other than the countrified Satan incarnate. “There was something familiar to (Tarwater) in the look of the stranger but he could not place where he had seen him before” (228). Aptly, the stranger offers whiskey that tastes “better than the Bread of Life” (230), leaving Tarwater naked and unconscious off the side of the road, stealing Tarwater’s bottle opener and hat – objects that we’ve grown to associate with Tarwater’s droll pigheadedness. Given the references to the lavender car and the lavender scarf used to bind Tarwater, we might conclude that O’Conner intends to evoke the color of Lent, a time designated for the purging of sin.
The Violent Bear It Away could not exist without the fanaticism of its characters, but the novel is not a parody of religious radicalism. Ultimately the heart of this story is the battle for the soul and the scandalous nature of the prophetic calling. O’Conner renders Francis Tarwater as though he were Jonah, Ezekiel, or Jeremiah. The wrinkle is that she renders this character in a Southern setting as a rebellious teenager, home-schooled by a do-it-yourself hellfire evangelist. Her genius is in the juxtaposition of these absurdities with sober themes of temptation and grace. The only drawback to reading O’Conner’s work is that she was not around long enough to give us more.
O’Conner, Flannery. The Habit of Being. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979. Print.
_____. The Violent Bear It Away. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1960. Print.