This Weird American Life (Short Stories)

Let me quickly finish a thought from class.  As I was saying, the difference between monotheistic and polytheistic religions is that, on the one hand, monotheistic religions are better at promoting benevolence amongst large groups of people who belong to the religion, which polytheistic religions, which tend to be more localized, don’t do as well; on the other hand, monotheistic religions tend to be much crueler to those outside the religion, since they’re denying the One True God, while polytheistic religions are better at basic pluralism.  The weakness of polytheism is what sets Umuofia up to collapse, because its people turn on it, allowing the crueler aspects of monotheism to overrun it.  Okonkwo, then, is only half a hero, for while he stands up for his people, his attitudes are precisely what drove so many of them to side with the Europeans.

Anyway, here’s our prompt for the three short stories–pick any of the three, and answer this question: would you call this story “realistic,” and why?

Incidentally, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” was inspired by this song, which is why the story is dedicated to Bob Dylan.  Also, “The Swimmer” was adapted into a big-budget film in 1968 starring the aging but still A-List star Burt Lancaster.  They did some different things with it than Cheever did to stretch it out to full length, but if you want to get a sense for the look of the period, the trailer might give you the idea.  (You can watch the whole movie, too, albeit with the picture flipped, on Youtube.)

Anyway, here are some other writers similar to our three for Thursday–

Post-Faulkner Southern Writers (like O’Connor): Tennessee Williams (playwright, major works A Streetcar Named Desire and The Glass Menagerie)
Carson McCullers (fiction writer, major work The Heart is a Lonely Hunter)
Eudora Welty (short story writer, “Why I Live at the P.O.”)
Katharine Anne Porter (short story writer, major work “Pale Horse, Pale Rider”)
Walker Percy (novelist, major work The Moviegoer)

New Yorker/Esquire Writers (like Cheever and Oates): J. D. Salinger (fiction writer, major works Catcher in the Rye and Nine Stories)
John Updike (fiction writer, major works the Rabbit series, “A&P”)
Raymond Carver (short story writer, major works “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” and “Cathedral”)
Alice Munro (short story writer, major work “Rings of Saturn”)
Dennis Johnson (fiction writer, major work Jesus’ Son)

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14 Responses to “This Weird American Life (Short Stories)”

  1. hamidah says:

    In Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is very realistic because it is something you would see on the news. In this story, a family is going on a vacation which turns out deadly. Because of the grandmother’s desire to see a house which was not even at the place they were at, had caused them to be killed by a Misfit. First, the males were driven away and shot to death and next were the young females being shot to death. Finally, as the grandmother stood still and alone with the Misfit, the grandmother touched the Misfit to calm him down which triggered him to shoot her. This is how the situations are during a real bloody murder. The victims try to do anything possible to calm the shooter down.

  2. The Swimmer” To me it was a sad but realistic story. Ned was re living in his mind moments of his past when times were good. To me this is a realistic story because it can happen to any of us. The sudden change in life, the unexpected. It seemed to me that Ned’s misfortunes in life turned him into an alcoholic. Is the story about life and the unexpected turns it can take. Swimming through the pools of conciseness and thoughts that takes bits parts of our being, our selves. The misfortunes, swallows our self esteem and self-confidence. Dealing with the world with a different lens, in Ned’s case, the mistreatment he received from the people that he once thought to know well. We all swim (our journey) through this lifetime and discover many paths along the way. And only by being a good swimmer are we able to swim in the ocean of chaos” existence”.

  3. khaff88 says:

    Out of the three short stories that we were given, the most realistic one seems to be Oats’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” Connie ran into Arnold Friend once and he seemed to have stalked her in order to find out where she lived and knew that she would be home alone. During that era it was seen as unheard of for these types of occurances but nowadays it doesn’t phase anyone. All of Connie’s reactions to Arnold seems realistic and Oats carefully described what was going on.

  4. javeriasid says:

    I believe that O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is a very realistic story because of the characters, in particular the Grandmother. The grandmother’s character and actions are the what we see in elder people today. Her unsolicited advice and her stories about the old days are what make her character relateable. Despit the fact that the story takes a turn for the worst when the family come across the Misfits, it is still very realistic. The gradmother does what anyone in her situation would have done, she tries to calm the Misfit down by telling him he is a good person and that he knows better.

  5. hernandez says:

    “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” can be either fiction or realistic. Connie is the main character who is introduced to the audience as a wity young lady who has done and seen it all. However as the story goes on you come to the realization that she is far from being an experienced young lady.
    Arnold Friend is anoter character who is introduced and there is something perculiar about him, somewhat fictitious to me. At one point he says, “I’m your lover. You don’t know what that is but you will” and “The place where you came from ain’t there anymore, and where you had in mind to go is cancelled out.” This is where you realize that Connie in all reality is a young and an xperienced child. However Arnold friend is making her come out of her comfort zone and come into the adult world which she has no idea of. Before Connies encounter with Arnold she was outside in the sun. She could be experiencing too much sun exposure and imagining this interaction with Arnold. However is all seems to be so real the way Connie is able to describe even the smallest details about this ma that has shown up to her front step.

  6. jerryLaera says:

    When reading Cheever’s “The Swimmer” I got a sense of realism when reading of Neddy’s journey and how his actions of that specific time related to his past. While swimming from pool to pool we got to understand what had happened to him prior as he met other characters and interacted; while he tried to redeem himself in his connection to his social life. Pool to pool, the reader was introduced to certain circumstances in Neddy’s life, could the labeling of the Lucinda River (his wife) have some sort of means in redemption? The language of this short story was easy to follow although the diction played a part in my understanding of his slow psychological downfall. The story starts off slow and optimistic as he just wants to go about his day with a swim, “His life was not confining and the delight he took in this observation could not be explained by its suggestion of escape.” (pg.603) but ends up turning into a state of grief as the reader realizes the narrator is now fatigued and homeless, could this have anything to do with its potential readers? All the misfortune series of events, one being “Why we heard that you’d sold the house and that your poor children…” (pg.609) when talking to Mrs. Halloran when coming back from the public pool are more important to the reader, the understanding of the character Neddy, another signal of Realism.

  7. nmulet says:

    I think “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is realistic. I think the question is a little vague, so I’ll elaborate on what I find realistic. The grandmother is a very realistic character. As an elderly person, I think her stubborness and fondness for earlier times ring true. She thinks she knows better and will try to get what she wants, even if that means being sneaky. (Of course, all old people don’t act like that. But I think enough do.) The fact that the whole family is murdered is completely realistic and believable. No murderer on a killing spree would let anyone know who he is and live to tell the tale. Many people have issues with space and touch, so I can understand why the Misfit was triggered after being touched by the grandmother and shot her. The only thing that I felt was unrealistic were the children. The way they spoke and their choice in language seemed so out of character for children their age. Maybe that’s how children spoke when the story was written, I don’t know. But that was the least believable part of the story for me.

  8. Jamie Rohr says:

    I find ” A good man is hard to find” to be very realistic. The entire story, the grandmother, who is supposed to be a good christian and believe in the true goodness of all people, is talking how she trusts no one and that people are not as good as they used to be. When a gun is held to her head and her life is threatened, she shifts ideas completely and jumps to the aid of the misfit’s ego, commenting on the extent of his goodness. Many people have a false sense of faith and religion, and the grandmother was picking and choosing when to turn to her christian ideals. I think people everywhere rely on this method. In their everyday life, when things are going well, people tend to rely on God less and on the values you are supposed to be putting into practice. When something goes wrong however, we are all at our most religious, turn to god, saying his name, talking about prayer and seeing the innate goodness in all.
    So while the storyline may not be the most realistic in terms of sequence of events, the reactions and response to the situation she found herself in was very appropriate and very much real.

  9. seanlevine says:

    Cheever’s “The Swimmer” certainly has myriad realistic elements to it (the characters,environment etc), however there’s something irrefutably surrealistic about Neddy’s misadventure when looking at the work as a whole. Part of the reason I’m quick to label it the former stems from how deftly Cheever distorts time and place while on the journey along the venerable Lucinda “river”. Throughout the story, and especially looking back, I was struck by an inescapable feeling that I was witnessing an alcohol induced fugue state, brought on by the tragic financial loss alluded to on Neddy’s journey mixed with one too many cocktails. This coupled with Neddy’s nonchalance to the condolences/attitudes sent his way, and the rather farcical nature of his journey, made the story feel almost dreamlike. A fact which certainly would lead to misgivings to labeling the story “real”. However at the same time, the characters outside of Neddy himself seemed fully formed, which added an element of realism. Furthermore the vivid detail with which Cheever infused the individual pools/larger environments certainly imbued the story with a richness that made the story feel very real despite everything else.

  10. jeanine says:

    A good man is hard to find is not in the literal sense that this is what the story is about. We meet the grandmother who has nonsense come out of her mouth most of the time. She thinks she knows what she’s saying like when they get to the restaurant when she hears the man complain of the untrustworthiness of people. He asks why he let the two strangers charge the gasoline and the grandmother automatically says he’s a good man for that, when we all know he’s been obviously jerked. The grandmother’s definition of good seems to be poor judgment which isn’t good. I do believe this story is realistic because I think everyone has come across someone who uses a word for all the wrong reasons. A simple word like good can be misused by some people.

  11. GordonWTam says:

    A Good Man is Hard to Find

    If anything, this story would make it seem impossible to find a “Good Man”. This story is seen through the grandmothers eyes, an incredibly annoying pair, to state my opinion. The old woman has a very narrow point of view, which is only forced open when coming face to face with a wanted murderer. There is little doubt that this family will meet this murderer, as the foreshadowing in this story is made very apparent. Once in the beginning, as The Misfit is mentioned in the paper, and once in the restaurant the family stops at. It’s pretty pitiful when the old lady begs for her life and seems not to care much for the rest of her family (save Bailey), but it is here I think that the author gives her a little redemption. Her narrow minded views are forced open a little because before, a good man was someone she thought was good, like the wealthy man in her past. Now, she is desperately searching for the good in The Misfit.

    Her final moments can be called her going completely insane, but I think it was her first (and last) moment of clarity.

  12. marissae17 says:

    I would say that Flannery O’Conners “A good man is hard to find” is a realistic story because it is an event that can happen to any person today, even though the story was written in 1955. The story is about a family who gets caught in a bad situation because of a mistake that the grandmother made, and ultimately she probably is the reason that they all get killed. I also consider it realistic because you see the characteristic of the grandmother in many people today. They act as if they’re a selfless person and always care about others, however, when it really comes down to it.. the grandmother was all for herself.

  13. cbergmann says:

    O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find is a short story that shows truth behind the fake personas many people portray. I would describe the story as realistic because there are many instances where people will do anything to get what they want while keeping up with their fake persona as the grandmother did in the story. For example the grandmother manipulated the children into begging the father to go to a landmark she wanted to see because the grandmother knew if she asked for her own sake Baily would say no. In society we hear about things like this every day, business CEO’s who do for the sake of the company while manipulating the system so they can still get their yearly bonus. O’Connor is trying to exemplify this area of human injustice where people put on a phony persona to make themselves look like a good person, when in reality they are only out for themselves. While the grandmother is getting ready for their trip O’Connor states, “In case of an accident, anyone seeing her head on the highway would know at nice she was a lady” (130). This quote besides being a source of foreshadowing, demonstrates how outwardly appearances are used in society to cover inner qualities.

  14. gvelella says:

    A good man is hard to find is a short story that depicts God, in which the grandmother is supposedly this good christian woman, but acts negatively towards others, making her sound a bit phony in her ways. The story ultimately shows the foreshadowing of the family’s timely death, due to the grandma’s ignorant mistake and her hypocritical belief in god, and pointing them into the direction of the misfit.
    The misfit later said she would have been a good woman if there was someone to shoot her every minute of her life because he called out her fake ways of pretending she was a good christian lady with strong moral values, and realistically, he may have actually been the “good man” to have shown her the ways of God, moments before he killed her.