03 Jun Discussion 5.1 Introduction As discussed in our lecture about Baldwin, his goal was to accurately portray
As discussed in our lecture about Baldwin, his goal was to accurately portray the African American Experience of his time and place – Harlem in the early to mid-20th Century. The notion of accurate portrayal took on the same weight with Baldwin as it did with Ernest Hemingway when he was writing “Hills Like White Elephants.” Both of these authors strode to create stories that got to the truth. For Baldwin, getting to the truth was not simply a matter of exploring the truth of his main characters; the goal was to select characters and situations that would paint a larger picture that gave the reader insight into the African American experience and the struggle before the civil rights movement and integration.
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With “Sonny’s Blues” we have complex characters who, in one case, served the county in uniform and came home to raise children; in Sonny’s case, that homeward journey led to addiction and a love of jazz.
What does Sonny’s experience symbolize in the face of his brother’s? Is he responsible for his own addiction? Is his love of jazz music a distraction that he should do his best to overcome? Or is Baldwin using the character of Sonny, his addiction, and his talent to point to something larger that was taking place in the African American society of his time?
We’ve seen the short story come in multiple forms as we have made our way through the term. Style has led us from stories as wide ranging as “The Young Goodman Brown,” to “Hills Like White Elephants,” to “Snow.” Not only have the plots of these stories and the authors writing styles varied greatly, but also so did the way in which they used the short story form. Think back to our discussion of Joe Sacco’s “Refugeeland.” Sacco was not only using the graphic novel style, he was using text that seemed better suited to a travel brochure or a television promo than one that accurately described the fate of the Palestinians. And yet, the end result of juxtaposing image and words was far more powerful than a straightforward approach detailing facts.
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With Gilman, once again we have an author playing with form. For this discussion question, address the following:
- What exactly are we reading? Given the way in which this story is told, what does Gilman expect us to believe we have picked up? Is this a standard narrative?
- How does this form suit the mental illness of the main character (consider our previous discussions of form and function)?
- What is the cause of the protagonist’s mental illness? Is there something this lead character is reaching for that could save her? Is there someone denying her solace?
- What would it take for this character to recover?
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