Monthly Archives: January 2015

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Character Disclosure in “La Vita Nuova”

I wish time didn’t run out in class so quickly on Tuesday, leaving us with so many interesting conversations unspoken, but alas, I suppose that is the purpose of this blog. I loved “La Vita Nuova” by Allegra Goodman. I found myself thoroughly entranced, and upset when I had to stop reading momentarily to go to an appointment. As I read of her family and friends’ reactions to Amanda’s situation, I screamed for her. I yelled “Fuck you!” to characters while sitting in my empty room.

“I waited all this time because I didn’t want to hurt you, Amanda’s fiance had said,” “you’re going to realize that this is a blessing in disguise,”[her parents] remembered that they had had doubts all along.”

Their cliched encouragement or excuses sickened me. Oh you didn’t want to hurt me? How sweet, poor you, thanks for stringing me along! Is any of this believable? I honestly became enraged as a proxy for the feelings and responses (that I perceived) she left unspoken. Amanda’s co-worker laments for “beautiful curls” after Amanda cuts off all her hair. For obvious reasons, that one really rubbed me the wrong way.

At a time of such devastation, you can feel pain as numbness, unable to speak or respond or react normally. You feel so powerless, and that translates to feeling silenced. Every word, every sentence is courageous and difficult, and you feel fear that your words will be rejected or dismissed. I know not everyone experiences this, so perhaps it is presumptuous of me to postulate that she reacted this way. We can’t help but insert our own stories and experiences into others, to relate them to each other. I felt all the useless advice and suggestions and demands, and understood her isolation, but presumed that she was feeling the way I feel at such frustrating conversations–seething and annoyed that everyone focuses on the surface, rather than acknowledging and working with the real pain, the real needs she had to deal with.

During times when I am silent, it seems obvious to me that others should intuitively know how I’m feeling and what I need, or at least that they will make an effort to ask me. Of course, I’ve had to realize that others can’t do that–I have to establish an intimate relationship with someone such that I feel comfortable enough sharing those inner pains and problems. I think many people operate in the same way. The main character, however, doesn’t really seem to have that intimacy or trust with anyone in her life, especially after losing the person she thought would be her most intimate companion for  the rest of her life, and therefore doesn’t have that vulnerability with the reader.

 

She desires the ability to just “be” and nothing more, but knows that real life and adults expect tangible things from her. Even though her parents probably have her best interest at heart,they are quick to reminder her that they “paid for Yale,” and nudge her in specific directions. Nathaniel’s mother nags about her tardiness. His father directs unwanted attentions towards her, expecting reciprocation. With Nathaniel she is able to be herself, to be accepted without the pressures she feels from others. At the same time, it is her job to protect Nathaniel and help him grow; she can’t use him as a confidant because he’s too young to offer the help and encouragement she needs.

 

la vita nuovaAmanda definitely also touches on the nature of artists needing to be tortured in order to create great works. The title of the story ensures we notice that peculiar component. The work by Dante (La Vita Nuova) encourages poets, writers, and artists to create tragedy (real or simulated) in their lives (especially relating to love) in order to produce better art/poetry. I haven’t thought much about it, but I was wondering how all of you interpreted this in the story, and your opinion on the nature of making art?

I’d love to hear other thoughts or reactions on this. To comment on my post, go to hybrid.lydiabickell.com where you will find this under “Posts.”

Photo source: https://archive.org/details/lavitanuovadidan00dantuoft

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XO by Jennifer Egan: Character Development and Letting Go

We discussed several layers of the story XO in class on Tuesday, as well as the protagonist’s motivations, conflicts, and attitude. While talking with other students, I realized we all had very different and strong ideas about what these were, what kind of person Scotty is, and what the closing scene communicated about resolution inside of Scotty. I find it interesting that people felt so passionately about whether Scotty truly experienced positive change or if nothing changed in him at all, whether his kind action was selfish or altruistic, and whether his perceptions are at all reliable. Usually we are content enough with ambiguity (at least I am), but in this case I really wanted to know, and needed to be right in my reading of Scotty. This puts an admiring smirk on my face, because it means that Egan really achieved the goal of making the reader invested in the character and his life, as well as making the character complex and fluid enough that he can be interpreted in several ways.

Like real people, he has certain quirky and unique characteristics, but they are just one facet of a wonderfully complicated individual who is identifiable and relatable, but holds so much more than can be discovered in a story, because he is not static. He will continue to develop from past and future experiences. (I am whole-heartedly of the opinion that once a *good* character is created, that character exists outside of the story, and theoretically continues to develop).

Now to how I interpreted Scotty. After thinking about the story more, I really feel Scott’s ex-wife plays a larger role in his internal conflict. The opening sentence references her in a significant way: “wondering (as I often did) how my ex-wife had managed to populate New York with thousands of women that…brought her to mind” (Egan 140). From the very start of “XO,” Scotty clearly has unresolved feelings about Alice (his ex). He rarely talks about her, and doesn’t share many thoughts with the reader, but it became clear to me that there was a latent conflict in which she was a central element. He can’t seem to move on from her or losing her. We see a lot of bitterness from Scotty, shown in the lines, “I noticed, to my infinite joy, that he’d had a hair transplant” in reference to Jonah, and “You didn’t get her. I did,” in reference to Alice.

I’d be interested to hear a story about Scotty in earlier years, when he had Alice, before Jonah had made it big-time professionally. I think that bitterness wouldn’t have been there, regardless of Scotty’s socio-economic or career status, because he understood then that being with Alice was more important than working towards professional success.

The turning point for him in the story is when he allows himself to think about Alice and appreciate his memory of her, to remember his happiness. It gave him a sort of peace that I think allowed him to let go of that bitterness he harbored toward her or Jonah or whoever. For him, whether or not Jonah truly did feel it, Scott had regained a power–not in a traditional sense, but one in which he  realized the X’s and O’s were internal. It wasn’t about who seemed the happiest externally, or the material X’s and O’s, but the ability to have a contented attitude.

At that moment in Jonah’s office, he forgoes bitterness over what is unfair for an internal strength and peace. Ultimately, this internal shift allows him to help others, because he is not so attached to bitterly holding onto his past or conventional power, symbolized by Jonah’s business card. While following a woman who his buddies falsely identified as his wife, Scotty’s “eyes held her so tightly that I didn’t even notice the junkie couple heading my way,” but he let’s go of that gaze to help the junkie musicians out (152). In this scene he simultaneously lets go of Alice and Jonah internally, and allows his life to finally move forward: “the freckled jogger was gone; she’d vanished while I looked away” (152). He sees himself as more than what he has or how he earns money, but as the way he treats other people, which gives him the power to determine the outcome of his life.

 

 

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Greetings world

Look dad I made a website!

Welcome to all my loyal readers (I know you’re out there). It is a great honor to hold a place among your browser bookmarks. I hope I don’t disappoint you.

This website will be a creative exploration for me based in a Creative Writing intro class. At times it can be scary to put personal stories, reflections, and ideas in such a public space, naked for all the world to see (although most probably won’t), but hey what the hell.

 

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