Eureka! Talk about theme!

I finally figured it out why I liked this book, and it took me two days and nearly two nights, but before I reveal its secrets, let me give you all the spoilers first!

Starting from the beginning:

“You would have searched a long time for the sort of winding lane or tranquil meadow for which England later became celebrated…In one such area on the edge of a vast bog, in the shadow of some jagged hills, lived an elderly couple, Axl and Beatrice. Perhaps these were not their exact or full names, but for ease, this is how we will refer to them.” (3-4)

Notice how it starts with a wide lens, slowly narrowing focus until the reader is imagining the main characters for this novel: Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple who had lived with each other for who knows how long as husband and wife.

As from my previous post, we know now that the couple were searching for their son and remember by the end of the novel that he had already died, so there was nothing to visit but his grave. But this is not how the story concludes.

This is the end:

“We’ll talk more on the island, princess,” he says.

“We’ll do that, Axl. And with the mist gone, we’ll have plenty to talk of. Does the boatman still stand in the water?”

“He does, princess. I’ll go now and make my peace with him.”

“Farewell then, Axl.”

“Farewell, my one true love.”

I hear him coming through the water. Does he intend a word for me? He spoke of mending our friendship. Yet when I turn he does not look my way, only to the land and the low sun on the cove. And neither do I search for his eye. He wades on past me, not glancing back. Wait for me on the shore, friend, I say quietly, but he does not hear and he wades on. (317)

I know that’s a lot to paste in here, but I wanted you to see that the end of the novel does not focus on any of the five conflicts I listed earlier, not on the son or the dragon or the boy, Edwin. It focuses on none of them.

The novel instead focuses on the same lens as the beginning – still zooming in on the couple, but not with their being together, but instead them breaking up. This means that by creating this perspective, by emphasizing their togetherness, that this novel is not about any of these previous conflicts but their elderly couple’s relationship.

Here is my argument…

 Conflict Effect on Couple’s Relationship 
 Visiting their son By finding out he died, we learn that the wife was unfaithful to the husband, pushing their son to leave, blaming herself for his death (due to the plague). In turn, it’s revealed that the husband banned her to visit their son’s grave, as some part of vengeance due to her infidelity.
Killing the vicious dragon Through the use of the dragon’s mist, it erased all memories, leaving only shallow relationships between people. This erased all the good and bad memories, and gave the illusion of faithfulness and a lack of problems, which we learn later was untrue with the couple. It’s one’s endurance in the face of these memories that can make a relationship true love.
Losing his identity as King Arthur’s knight Throughout this book, it’s revealed little by little how the husband had committed an atrocity by killing women and children under the order of King Arthur, and while he did not approve of it, he did commit it. By showing how Axl refused to come to terms with this memory, refused to reveal it to his wife, this shows he cannot come to terms with negative memories, cannot handle their weight, which supports Axl’s later decision of refusing to reveal that he banned Beatrice to visit their son’s grave due to petty vengeance. He cannot endure the hardships that come with a real relationship.

Note there is one more argument with how Beatrice is paranoid about the story of the boatman and the island, and if you read the novel, you can see her multiple experiences with this story, how multiple old maids who are always husband-less, which is echoed in the end of her story, but this is for another time. 

As you can see, the fact that this novel uses these multiple conflicts to stage this bigger truth is what makes this novel so strong. I know it can be random; I know it can be slow, but the fact that it takes the time it needs to show the reader that memories are what makes a relationship work. If you can endure the good as well as the bad, if you can communicate, than that’s true love…this novel combats all the fictional fairy tales of princess and prince, and I’ll definitely save this one for my book shelf!!

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Buried Giant. New York, NY: Vintage International, 2015. Print.

Theme

In my opinion, theme doesn’t have to be obvious.

It definitely can be, which is the case with books like 1984 or its twin, A Brave New World.

But it doesn’t have to be. It can meander and stroll, peppering small hints throughout a story, essentially touching upon the truth, until the reader gets enough hints that they eventually arrive to the answer. But you don’t even have to do that. It is my belief that every story has a purpose, and even though every author might not set out with a theme, it inadvertently makes one.

People begin singing the words there, and clapping in time, and they don’t make any sense either. The name “Christian” features in it repeatedly, but not in any context I understand. And the message of the sing-along is distinctly sinister, all about submission and conformity and reward feedback loops. (Stross 87)

It’s funny. Glasshouse is supposed to be about this poor main character who is stuck in a bubble society made to resemble the past, and all he can think about is how strange the past is, where the Bible focuses on submission, conformity, and weird loops. Because he’s commenting on his past but our present, I think it’s safe to say Stross thinks this of society, and I have to say, I agree completely. But that’s the essence of group think and popularity right? The essence of a extremely social species?

If I was me, if I was in my own self-selected body, I’d call him out on the spot-but I’m not. In the sick pit of my stomach I realize that they’re never going to forget that I’ve been singled out, and that this makes me a target. After all, that’s how peer pressure works, isn’t it? That’s what this is about. The experimenters can’t expect to generate a workable dark ages society in just three years by dumping a bunch of convalescents in orthohuman bodies into the polity and letting them wander around. They need a social mechanism to make us require conformity of one other, and the best way to do that is to provide a mechanism to make us punish our own deviants- (Stross 88)

Direct commentary on our life. How do we get everyone to conform? Through peer pressure. And through peer pressure, we lose the individuality that is so hard to attain in our society, which was so prevalent in the main character’s…until he was forced to live now/here.

I think that’s why I liked Glasshouse a lot. It’s because it was a relatively fun read – lots of adventure, action, confusion that forced you to think, while it was still mature enough to contemplate our society, why it exists. A book stands the test of time more readily when it lends an analysis to something…besides just what it means to have fun.

Stross, C. Glasshouse. New York, NY: Ace, 2014.

When to cut chapters, Part 2

Instead of focusing on whole chapters, I want to narrow my focus to singular chapters with multiple scene shifts, which usually coincide with changes in perspectives, such as the case with Dark Orbit and its two main characters, Thora and Sara.

And since this is part 2, let’s focus on Chapter 2!

In Chapter 2, as I mentioned earlier, the reader opens to a scene with Thora’s audio diary, always recorded in italics (since this is the written record): “Iris, they have called it: the rainbow planet” (Gilman 23). As previously mentioned, this jump-starts the chapter with perspective orientation and scene setting. We now know that we will read from Thora’s perspective as she looks upon the distant planet from the space ship. (The space ship is a little bit of a stretch, but as you read further, you will get that from the beginning paragraph.)

This scene continues with Thora’s internal dialogue as she reflects how she hides who she really is, how she must always pretend to be normal. It’s not until the end of the chapter that we realize Thora’s want: to escape, stated as wanting to escape into the planet’s light, which she thinks is a shield to hide all of Iris’ secrets.

(This is a beautiful metaphor since light normally reveals, and instead, on the planet, conceals all of Iris’ secrets.)

So far what I can tell is that we’re still introducing Thora’s perspective and character, revealing her background and desires, which is where this perspective leaves us. It stops on a detail of Thora’s character, which is not really enough to drive us forward yet but it does help set up the story. 

The next perspective opens with Sara, how she was “practically the last one to arrive aboard the questship” (Gilman 25). Again, this sets the scene, and the perspective continues with Sara’s analysis of the crew members since this is her first time aboard the ship (still in introduction-mode with this chapter). Her perspective ends with an observation, of who is the last character she has to meet.

It seems like so far, perspective shifts are creative choices. Once the author has shown us what she has to say, then that perspective is thorough, although this next scene shift has some flow since both the end and start of the next orientation talks about observation and spies.

Thora begins with “I know the Magisterium must have sent someone here to spy on me” (Gilman 40). And this is true! Sara is meant to spy on Thora. This I consider one of the best scene breaks since Sara stops on this thought and Thora begins on the same one. This scene continues as her natural flow in thoughts, which reveal how untrusting she is. It then ends with a internal revelation, “But if I ever do [become trusting], then I will lose my power, and become like all the other content, unmindful people, ordinary and undriven” (Gilman 41).

So far I have to say that all of Thora’s scenes end with a detail about her character. In the first one, we get a desire, and in this one, we get another desire. Each of these facts are continuing to define her – the entire purpose of this chapter: To introduce all our characters. 

But this isn’t the end to her perspective, only to this specific scene. Her perspective continues with a vague sentence, “I need to record this now, while it is still fresh in my mind” (Gilman 41), evolving into a recollection of her dream and memories of how she found the first murder aboard the ship. Her scene ends with an observation – the final for the chapter – “He almost had the look of a min in love – and in a sense, so he was, for whoever had committed this brutal act was now his prey” (Gilman 44).

Even though this is her scene, the perspective is widening. She has only commented, or reflected, on how the security guard looks when he find out there there’s a murder, which feels like more of a fade out in a movie. We’ve ended the chapter with a complication, an increase in tension, and the perspective is beyond Thora now. The rest of this chapter already finished its purpose: to define our characters. 

In conclusion, in my opinion, each scene break coincides with a fact, particularly the most important ones of this chapter. Because this chapter’s purpose was to introduce characters, each fact we end on is related to the development of all the different characters, including minor ones aboard the ship and the other main protagonist. 

I think if I were to examine the other chapters, I would find the same results: End on a factual statement that can be collected and equated to the purpose of the chapter. 

Gilman, Caryoln Ives. Dark Orbit. New York, NY: Tor, 2015. Print.

Reading Comprehension

Before you can write, you have to learn how to read – the writer’s version of ‘before you can run, you must learn how to walk.’ Reading is an integral part of society. You do it through texts, on Facebook, from the inside of a book’s jacket as you evaluate if you should buy it or not…Once you know how to read and can evaluate for yourself what you (dis)like, then you will be on your way to becoming an English expert.

As a rule of thumb, with research for support, the more we interact with information, the more we remember it, which is why it’s important not to just to read a book but to play it out. If your goal is to learn how to write from reading, then you must comprehend others’ writing before you can comprehend your own.

Strategies to improve your analysis:

– Use post-it’s. I know when I really like a book (or when I don’t want to mark it since the marks may be distracting for me or the next reader), I use post-it’s to show/remember what I liked. I can use them to jot down initial reactions or questions to what I’m reading.

– Annotate. Use a pen, pencil, highlighter and mark up the book. For the same reasons above, we’re jotting down our responses. This is a good technique if you’re done with “light reading” and are willing to dissect your book.

– Code your book (Daniels/Zemelman 125). In the past, I have used different colored post-it’s or highlighters to represent what I’m marking. Maybe green means characterization, and red means imagery. The key is to use a sort of symbol to highlight something you might want to refer back to later.

– Another method I really liked was given to me by Daniels/Zemelman, called “multicolumn notes.” It’s a technique that uses columns to differentiate between summaries and thoughts. In their example, the left margin of a page is used to summarize ideas while the right margin was used to write down points of confusion, reactions, and questions (128).

The idea of annotations, which I will use to refer to all the previously given strategies, is that you are recording your response. If the book has elicited some sort of reaction from you, then depending on its intent, it may have been well or poorly received. For example:

Ex1: If you don’t care that somebody died, then this can be attributed to poor writing. You didn’t identify with the character and didn’t feel stereotypically sad for him. Other possible reactions include happiness or boredom. (Happiness can occur when you’re glad he died because he was that “annoying” character who you wished had disappeared at least six chapters ago. Yes, they do exist.)

Ex2: If you feel happy as somebody died but that was because your character succeeded in his plot for revenge, then this could be successful writing. You identified with the character, followed the story’s conflict, and were satisfied with the writing.

The point to annotating is that we are recording our responses in order to analyze if the author succeeded in convincing us to identify with their character or world. As informed readers, if they succeeded, we would like to replicate their techniques and record them for later use. As Mike DiMartino said, the purpose of a story is for an author to convince his readers of a certain worldview.  (Refer to the link below for Mike DiMartino’s to read more of his article. It’s really interesting.)

Link: http://mikedimartinostory.com/2013/02/21/what-is-a-story/

Daniels, Harvey, and Steven Zemelman. Subjects Matter: Exceeding Standards Through Powerful Content-Area Reading (Second Edition). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2014. Print.

Why We Write

Whenever you’re in an English class, you’re always sitting in your seat – either half slumped over and sitting up like you have a telephone pole for a spin – but either way you’re listening, by choice or by accident. The teacher is droning on about what book your reading, and eventually the topic steers to this: Why did the author write this?

A lot of the time it relates to themes and purpose. In the case of Pride and Prejudice, people like to talk about big themes like marriage or wealth, manners or class. And, this is even a fault of mine when I wrote “Unaccomplished,” where society punishes people for not being the best at something.

But to muddle it down even further, we write for two purposes: a plot or a character.

To be honest, when I wrote “Unaccomplished,” I wrote for the plot. I could’ve probably changed my character’s name, gender, age, and it wouldn’t make too much of a difference. He feels real to me, but he’s not the focus of the story. The society is. Many other stories can follow this format, and you can tell when perspectives shift, when you have difficulty identifying a main character or aren’t aligned close to the character’s thoughts or feelings. These aren’t bad stories, but I think can be difficult to write since you’re playing with the “zoom on your camera.”

The other reason we write, which I write for 80% of the time, is for our characters. We get this character in our mind that feels alive and comes to life with feelings and thoughts, awareness and attitude. They’re your imaginary friends that never quite went away and are still peeking over your shoulder while you cook, eat, work all the while telling you, you’re doing it wrong. I think these stories can be the easiest to write because an author is a person. It’s easier to identify with another person that in a world or society that’s made up or different. Again, not saying this is bad, only natural.

I would keep this in mind when writing a story. Why did you invent this particular story? Are you more obsessed with the plot or your character? Remember this with your readers. We’re all human. Not all of us understand how to play god and can easily relate to a plot but will find it easier to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. So make sure to bring all your character’s to life. Not matter how big or small. It’s easier to read a story when we care about the people, even if we hate them for flicking their boogers on the back of our head while we’re riding the bus to work.

(Disclaimer: The previous writings were based on my opinions and experiences and feel free to disagree. Post a comment. Post your experiences. But, be kind and courteous to others.)