Monday, April 14, 2014


‘Cookies at Midnight’ follows the traditional plot format. Thus it has the beginning part (exposition), the middle part (rising action, climax, falling action) and the ending part (resolution).
Exposition: The exposition of Cookies at Midnight can be found in paragraphs one and two. From the start of the story, we are been introduced to the main characters of the story, the narrator and the mother. We also get to know the setting of the story which is in the house, precisely the kitchen and the time, that is, in the night which also symbolizes death or the end of something. The possibility of conflict is also introduced (foreshadow) at the beginning of the story. We know this from the statement ‘Like restless puppy, I circled the kitchen table sensing that something was wrong.’ The words restless and circled in the statement show the confused state the narrator was in. The narrator also sensed that something was wrong. All these indicate a very high possibility of conflict in the story. Thus, from the exposition, we get to know the setting, the main characters and the possibility of a conflict in the story.
Rising action: In the rising action, conflict is developed and tension begins to rise as a result of complications. In the Cookies at Midnight, the rising action starts from paragraph three, where the narrator asked for permission to go to bed which the mother refused, to where the narrator’s parents left the house to the hospital. The conflict introduced at the exposition level is developed in the rising action. The narrator becomes uncomfortable with the lawless freedom in the house that very night. The mother actually agreed for the narrator to have some cookies when he or she asked ‘could I have some cookies? ‘Again, the mother was smoking for the first time ever and when she was questioned, she replied ‘Just for a change. Only for a change.’ When the mother needed the narrator to write something on the envelope, she chose a red crayon. Why red of all the colours? It was very symbolic, as if to suggest that something bad was actually going to happen. The next morning, before the narrator leaves to school, he or she sees the parent dressed up going out.
The narrator had no idea of where they were going or when they will be back. The only thing the mother did was to instruct the narrator to wash his or her socks after school. It can be noticed that the tension in the house was rising and the narrator was becoming more confused and uncomfortable.
Climax: The moment of the highest tension is at the climax. The climax of this story is at the moment where everybody stared at the closed door when the parent left the house. ‘We all stared at the closed door. Nobody had kissed anybody. Nobody had even said goodbye. Everything was tangled and different from ever before and everybody was just letting it be that way’. This was the moment of highest tension and direct confrontation in the story. The narrator could not understand anything anymore. This was the moment that he or she could not take it anymore. It is also the turning point of the story. This is because the narrator began to seek explanations to all that was happening; and that is where the falling action begins.
Falling action: This is a moment in the story where we get to know the direct outcome of what happens from the climax. The narrator began to ask for some sort of clarification from the brother, Harry because nothing happening around seemed to make sense. The narrator saw the brother to be all knowing and the brother actually explained things to him or her. Again we also get to know that the narrator had a dream that night about washing red socks in red dye. The next morning, the meaning of red crayon and red socks in red dye began to make sense .The door bell rang and the narrator got excited because it always meant something special. Disappointedly, they got a telegram which said that the mother was dead; “Your wife Freida died...” This means that the red crayon and the red socks were just foreshadows.

Resolution: The resolution of this story is at the last paragraph. This is when everything that happened from the beginning gets to be understood very well. The narrator got to know what the mother was writing on that strange night- a will. The story ends on an epiphanic note because something very insightful was revealed to the narrator. “I read the big letters printed crookedly in red crayon across the front of the envelope. I sounded the awful words out as I read them: MY LAST WILL AND TESTIMINT. DO NOT OPIN UNTILL I AM DETH.’

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


This week we begun our discussions of the various texts. For those of you in the Monday class, you will realise that we have already started disagreeing on many issues... But that's fine. Please remember we cannot discuss everything in class. Try to leave a comment or ask any question on your mind... You never know what responses you might get.

Regards to all

Friday, March 28, 2014


Last week, we discussed what literature is and why we study it. We also discussed the three broad genres of literature. If you remember clearly we distinguished between drama, prose and poetry. We further divided these into the various sub-genres and explained that prose can further be divided into fictional and non-fictional prose. For the next four weeks, we will focus our attention on fiction (specifically the short story and the novel). Today, I would like to discuss the short story and its elements. We are discussing these elements so we can meaningfully discuss the various short stories set for the class.
The word “fiction” comes from the latin expression “fictio” meaning “a shaping, a counterfeiting.” In the light of this, fiction originally meant anything made up or shaped. Fiction now is used to refer to prose stories or narratives— short or long — that are wholly or in part the product of imagination. In other words, they are stories not entirely factual, but at least partially shaped, made up, imagined.
Fictional works like the short story and the novel are different from works such as
·         historical accounts
·         reports
·         biographies
·         autobiographies
·         letters
·         memoirs and
·         meditations
Fiction may resemble these kinds of works but what sets fiction apart is the fact that it originates not in historical facts but in the imaginative and creative powers of the author. Writers of fiction may use or include historically accurate facts or details but their aim is often to tell a story and say something significant about the human condition. Consequently, the factual information in fiction (for example a historical novel) is of secondary importance. In fact, in fiction the facts may or may not be true. We expect from fiction a sense of how people act not an authentic chronicle of how, at some past time, some people acted.

In terms of length, we can distinguish between
·         the short story
·         the novella
·         the novel
But modern literary fiction in English has been dominated by the short story and the novel. That is why we will be studying some short stories and a novel in this class.
In terms of literary quality, we distinguish between
·         Commercial fiction (like the John Grisham kinds of stories, James Bond, John Saul, Mills and Boons kinds of stories. Commercial fiction often focuses on providing entertainment and often they feature violence, soft-core porn, adventure, espionage. We are often led to read these books by the promise of thrills and by our desire to find out what happens next. Commercial fiction mainly focuses on physical action and conflict.

·         Literary fiction (like Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Joyce’s Ulysses, Leo Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilych). Unlike commercial fiction literary fiction demands attention and insight-lending participation. Literary fiction provides us with the ability to see deeply into the minds and hearts of characters than we ever see into those of our closest friends and family. Literary fiction is not about providing merely entertainment though it sometimes does so.

In terms of subject, we can have
·         Science fiction (e.g The Time Machine by H. G. Wells and A Case of Conscience by James Blish).
·         Historical (Sir Walter Scott’s The Talisman)
·         Romance (e.g Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Pride and Prejudice)
·         Satirical (George Orwell’s Animal Farm and Charles Dickens’ Hard Times, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels)
·         Humorous (Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers)
·         Crime and Detection (Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue)
·         Spy and Espionage (most popular are those stories featuring the secret agent James Bond e.g From Russia with Love)
·         Gothic (Horror and the Macabre: e.g Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho)
·         Adventure  (Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines)
Many fictional texts can be put in one category or the other according to the way you look at the text. The best fiction is a mixture of many things. Some kinds of fiction even defy categorisation.  

It is a brief fictional prose narrative that is shorter than a novel. It usually deals with only a few characters. The short story is usually concerned with a single effect conveyed in only one or a few significant episodes or scenes. The form encourages economy of setting and concise narrative; character is disclosed in action and dramatic encounter but is seldom fully developed. The plot of a short story unlike that of a novel is usually not so complex.

Before the 19th century the short story was not generally regarded as a distinct literary form. But although in this sense it may seem to be a uniquely modern genre, the fact is that short prose fiction is nearly as old as language itself. Throughout history man has enjoyed various types of brief narratives. Fiction is rooted
·         Jests
·         Legends
·         Epics
·         Fables (Aesop’s fables)
·         anecdotes
·         parables
·          studied digressions
·         short allegorical romances
·         moralizing fairy tales
·         short myths
·         abbreviated historical legends
None of these constitutes a short story as the 19th and 20th centuries have defined the term, but they do make up a large part of the milieu from which the modern short story emerged.

These include Plot, Character, Setting, Point of View, Style, Satire and Irony, Symbol, Metaphor.
A plot is the artistic arrangement of or the sequence of interrelated events that make up the basic narrative structure of a story. In good stories, all actions, thoughts, incidents, observations and speeches are linked together to make up an entirety sometimes called an ORGANIC UNITY. The essence of this unity is the development and resolution of a conflict in which a central character is engaged in. Any shapely story has a beginning, middle and an end. The traditional plot structure is seen as moving through five identifiable sections or stages. These are:
·         Exposition: the opening portion that sets the scene. It introduces main characters, tells us about what happened before the story begun and provide any other background information needed to understand or care about the events to follow. It usually introduces the conflict or at least the potential for conflict.

What then is CONFLICT?
CONFLICT is a struggle between opposing forces. Conflict is closely tied to the story's antagonist because both impede the goals of the story's protagonist. The controlling impulse in a connected pattern of causes and affects. CONFLICT may be INTERNAL or EXTERNAL. Forms of conflict include:
Man vrs man
Man vrs society
Man vrs the spiritual
Man vrs environment/nature
Man and himself
Internal conflicts

·         Complication/ Rising Action: Develops and intensifies conflict.
SUSPENSE is the pleasurable anxiety that we feel that heightens our attention to the story and inheres in our wondering how it will all turn out.
FORESHADOWING is an indication of things to come

·         Crisis: Moment of high tension

·         Climax: Moment of greatest tension at which point the outcome is to be decided. It is the turning point of the plot, directly precipitating its resolution.

·         Falling Action: tension subsides and plot moves towards its conclusion.

·         Resolution: records the outcome of the conflict and establishes some new equilibrium. Denouement means untying or unknotting. A story may have a CLOSE-ENDED or OPEN-ENDED ending. A story may also have a SURPRISE ENDING and this is often due to SITUATIONAL IRONY.
Different arrangements are possible. A story can start CHRONOLOGICALLY or may start IN MEDIAS RES (and then employ FLASHBACKS). A story may end with an EPIPHANY and not a RESOLUTION. It is easy to recognise crisis, climax and conclusion in Juvenile fiction, popular series (soap operas, thrillers, cowboy stories) and commercial fiction.
·         Conventional/Traditional Plot
·         Loose, relaxed or rambling plots
·         Episodic Plots (takes the form of a series of separate and largely contained episodes ressembling so many beads on a string)
·         Plotless stories (in the normal sense)
·         Some plots contain stories-within-another story
·         What are the conflicts on which the plot turns? Are they external, internal or a combination of both?
·         What are the chief episodes or incidents that make up the plot?
·         Compare the beginning and end of the story
·         Describe the plot in terms of the elements of the plots structure?
·         Is the plot unified (logically or psychologically)
·         Is the ending appropriate to or consistent with the rest of the plot?
·         Is the plot plausible?

This refers to the angle or perspective at which a story is told. Point of view not only involves the speaker’s physical position as an observer or recorder or participant but also the way in which the speaker’s social, political and mental circumstances affect the narrative. Point of view is the guiding intelligence in a text because it determines how we look, understand and respond to the text. We have three main types of points of view and these include
·         First Person: may be a protagonist or an observer. Here there are two kinds. You have to decide if the narrator is RELIABLE or UNRELIABLE NARRATOR (a narrator whose point of view we perceive to be deceptive, deluded or deranged. He tends to mislead, distort, lie and is delusional).

·         Second Person: this results in attention-getting directness (Jamaica Kincaid “Girl”, McInerney’s “Bright Lights, Big City”, The Adventures of the You Series- a paperbound book).

·         Third Person: There are different kinds of third person nnarrators. He maybe a NON-PARTICIPANT, maybe ALL-KNOWING (OMNISCIENT: presents actions and dialogue and is able to tell what goes on in the mind of the characters), some narrators show EDITORIAL OMNISCIENCE when they comment or provide opinions on the actions of characters. A narrator present IMPARTIAL OMNISCIENCE presenting the thoughts and actions of the characters but does not judge them. LIMITED OR SELECTIVE OMNISICENCE: When a non-participating narrator sees events through the eyes of a single character, whether major or minor. DRAMATIC OR OBJECTIVE POINT OF VIEW: The narrator does not enter the mind of any character but describes events from the outside. He is an identified speaker who reports things in a way that is analogous to tracking, motion picture camera. The narrator shows rather than tells. The dramatic presentation is limited to only what is said and done. There is no attempt to draw conclusions or make interpretations because the premise of the dramatic point of view is that readers like a jury can form their own interpretations.
INNOCENT/NAIVE NARRATOR: A narrator who fails to understand all the implications of the story. E.g Huckleberry Finn
MINGLING POINTS OF VIEW: Some texts use a number of points of views.
To capture reality, modern writers also use
·         STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS: the procession of thoughts passing through the mind
·         INTERIOR MONOLOGUE: is an extended presentation of a character’s thoughts, not in the seemingly helter-skelter order of a stream of consciousness but in an arrangement as if the character were speaking out loud for us to hear.
·         The physical position of the narrator as an observer. How close is the speaker to the action? Is she a participant or witness? Is she close or distant? How accurate or complete are her reports? How do his characteristics emerge from the narrative? What is her qualification or limitation as an observer?
·         What is the speaker’s emotional or intellectual position?
·         What is the point of view? Who talks to the reader? Is the point of view consistent?
·         Where does the narrator stand in relation to the work?
·         Where does the reader stand
·         Is the narrator reliable?
·         Is the point of view appropriate?
·         How would the work be different if told from a different point of view?

A character is an implied person who inhabits a story. Characters could be animals, qualities, humans (Stewart’s novel STORM has the wind as the protagonist, Animal Farm, Everyman, Appointment in Samara). Even if characters in a story are not humans, we usually recognise in the main characters human personalities that become familiar to us. If the story is true to life, we realise that its characters act in a reasonably consistent manner and that the author has provided them with motivation: sufficient reason to behave as they do. We are acquainted with many STOCK CHARACTERS.
·         Often known by some outstanding traits (the bragging soldier, wicked stepmother, the mad scientist, the strict boss, greedy explorer in Tarzan movies, the prince charming in fairytales, the alpha-male in romance, alpha-virginal heroin in romance, insensitive father, old soldier, interfering mother, sassy younger sister, overbearing husband, nagging wife, submissive wife, overprotective brother)
·         They are often convenient for writers of commercial fiction
·         They require little detailed portraiture for already we know them
·         When stock characters possess no attitude except those of their class, they are called stereotype characters.
Most writers of literary stories however attempt to create characters who strike us as not stereotypes but as unique individuals. Although stock characters tend to have single dominant virtues and vices, characters in the finest contemporary short stories tend to have many facets like people we meet. We can have the following other types of characters:
FLAT CHARACTER: has only one outstanding feature and a few distinguishing marks. They are usually MINOR CHARACTERS. Flat characters are often STATIC CHARACTERS (characters who stay the same throughout the story).
ROUND CHARACTER: they present us with more facets and complexity; they are portrayed in greater depth and in more generous detail. They are usually MAJOR CHARACTERS. Round Characters tend to be DYNAMIC CHARACTERS (characters who often change or learn or become enlightened, grow or deteriorate).
ANTI-HERO (a character in most 20th century fiction that features an ordinary, unglorious 20th century citizen. Usually drawn as someone groping, puzzled, crosss, mocking, frustrated, isolated. Unlike heroes, they are loners, without perfections just barely able to survive.

In judging characterisation, your best criteria is probability, consistency and believability

·         Name (a character is first of all the noise of his name)
·         Action
·         Description (both personal and environmental)
·         Dramatic statements or thoughts
·         Statements by other characters
·         Statement by the narrator
·         What the character says about himself
·         What other characters say about him
·         Describe the importance of a character to the story’s principal action
·         Identify the protagonist and antagonist. How do they interact? What changes do their interactions bring about?
·         What are the central traits of the characters
·         Description of the character
·         Is the character round, dynamic, flat or static or stock or stereotype?
·         Is the character lifelike or real? Consistent or inconsistent? Believable or not?
·         What are the major actions of the character? What do they tell us about him/her? Are his actions properly motivated?
It is the background against which the characters lead their lives. It refers to the time, climatic conditions, historical period and place or the physical locale in which the story is set. It is the work’s natural, manufactured, political, cultural and temporal environment. In fiction, setting may figure as more than a mere background. It can make things happen. It can prompt characters to act in a certain way, bring them realisations or cause them to reveal their innermost natures. Setting includes the following
·         The physical environment (called locale)
·         Time (it matters greatly that a story begins at dawn or at the first moon landing
·         Weather/climactic conditions
·         Nature and the outdoor
·         Cultural Conditions or assumptions
·         Objects of human manufacture (like house, necklace)
·         Setting and credibility
·         Often setting and character reveal each other (the way a character reacts to setting might reveal his strengths and weaknesses)
·         Setting and symbol
·         Setting and irony
·         In some fiction, setting is closely bound with theme. It may reinforce the theme
·         Setting may evoke atmosphere
·         In some stories, setting hardly matter.
·         Setting as background for action
·         Setting as antagonist

·         What is the work’s setting in space and time?
·         How does the author goes about establishing setting
·         Is setting important in the text? What is its function?
·         Is the setting an appropriate one?

Style is derived from stilus. Style is about how an author uses the resources of language to achieve. The elements of style include the following:
·         Diction: choice of words
Ø  Degree of formality (formal, neutral, informal language) note idiomatic and ungrammatical expressions
Ø  Degree of explicitness (specific-general, concrete-abstract)
·         Denotation and connotation (big/fat, childish/childlike, naive/innocent)
·         Rhetoric/Literary Devices/Imagery/
·         Rhythm/Sound Devices
·         Syntax: simple, compound, complex, compound complex.

Tone is a means of creating or conveying attitude. It is whatever leads us to infer the narrator or author’s tone. Tone refers not so much to attitude but the techniques or modes of presentation that reveal or create attitude (Tone reflects attitude). It implies the feelings of the author so far as we can sense them. Those feelings may be similar to those of the narrator but sometimes they may be different or sharply opposed (The attitudes and opinions of a narrator are not necessarily those of the author). The characters in a story may regard an incident as sad but the author may regard it as funny. Like tone of voice, the tone of a story may communicate amusement, anger, affection, sorrow or contempt. Not only the author’s choice of detail may lead us to infer his/her attitude but also choice of characters, events, situations and choice of words. The atmosphere may be gloomy, sombre, evil, cheerful, happy, sordid, pessimistic and optimistic. The atmosphere in Poe’s story is that of gloom and terror.
I’m so pleased I only needed two hours for that (may show disgust, impatience and sympathy or attitude of satisfaction depending on the situation).
Note the following:
·         Attitude toward material
·         Attitude toward readers
·         Other attitudes
Note the relationship between
·         Humour and tone
·         Irony and Tone
There are 3 types
·         Verbal (Types: understatements, hyperbole, double entendre- when you feel like leaving there is my staff to help you)
·         Situational (The chasm or gulf between what we hope for what actually happens) Cosmic irony is a special kind of irony that emphasises pessimism and the fatalistic side of life.
·         Dramatic (when we know no more than the characters in a story or when a character misjudges or lacks information about a situation)
Anything that suggests more than its literal meaning. Symbols do not generally stand for any one meaning nor for anything absolutely definite. They point, hint or cast shadows. E.g a baleful of eye in tell-tale heart. A gesture, character or thing could be symbolic.
An advantage of symbols is that they are compact yet fully-laden
·         Cultural/Universal Symbols
·         Contextual/Original/Authorial Symbols
·         Symbols and setting
·         Plot and symbol
·         Character and symbol (symbolic names)
·         They are usually emphasised (through repetition et.e)
·         May supply the story with a title
·         An object or character is symbolic if at the end of the story we realise that it is that item which led to the author’s theme— which is the essential meaning.
What is the difference between symbols and allegory?

It is a work that blends disapproving or critical attitude with humour and wit for improving human institutions or humanity. Its main purpose is to hold up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn. It makes use of invectives, humour, irony, exaggeration, caricature, sarcasm and wits.

An analogy identifying one object with another and ascribing the first object one or more qualities of the second.
·         My love is a red red rose.
·         All the world’s a stage and men and women are merely players
·         Life is but a walking shadow
·         Debt is a bottomless sea
Simply, it is a figure of speech that implies comparison between two unlike entities, as distinguished from simile, an explicit comparison signalled by the words “like” or “as.”
A metaphor can be divided into the TENOR (the idea being expressed or the subject of comparison) and the VEHICLE (the image by which the idea is expressed).
Note the following
·         Simple Metaphors
·         Conceits/Extended Metaphors
·         Dead Metaphors
·         Conceptual Metaphors
·         Mixed Metaphors

It is whatever general or central idea or insight the story reveals. The theme unifies and controls the whole work. In some stories (especially commercial stories) the theme is usually obvious or unmistaken. In literary fiction, a theme is seldom obvious. A theme need not be a moral or a message. It may be what the happenings add up to. It is the centre, the moving force, the principle of unity in a literary work. Theme of a story may be inferred from
·         Direct statement of the authorial voice
·         Direct statement of the first person narrator
·         Dramatic statements by characters
·         By characters who stand for ideas
·         The work itself representing an idea

Differentiate between
·         Theme (figurative meaning or deeper meaning)
·         Subject matter (literal or surface meaning) and  
·         Plot
·         Distinguish between the theme and subject matter of the story
·         Statement of the theme should be narrow and concise
·         Is the theme supported by the work’s other elements. What are these elements?
·         What does the title tell you about the theme
·         Is the theme implied or stated?
·         What generalisations about human life or experiences are made in the story?

·         What is the value of the theme? Is it topical or it is in application?