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Comparing and Contrasting Short Stories and Poetry

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Introduction

This paper is meant to compare and contrast two works: “I Used to Live Here Once” by JeanRhys and “Dog’s Death” by John Updike. Both works touch upon the theme of death and impermanence. Though, in spite of the common theme, there are lots of dissimilarities in the way authors offer these two stories. Thesis: for all living creatures, death is a notion beyond understanding, an idea that only few may understand or explain. We all experience this mystery, a mystery that we must confront on our own. For the transition to the other life be simpler, it is important to remain linked to the netherworld. It may be extremely hard to realize that you are dead when you are totally sheltered from having interaction or association with some human beings outside an accepted culture.

I Used to Live Here Once

In the short narrative “I Used to Live Here Once“, the fundamental theme is about one lady’s spiritual journey after her passing away. This theme in this account is not instantly obvious, but is hinted at delicately throughout the account and confirmed just in the last passage. This account is a fictional narration or the report. It is quite precise, short and concerned with the time sequence of the events occurring. The plot consists of the phases of deeds, which are combined by a chain of a causal relationship. It demonstrates how one event causes the following one (Hulme, 2001).

This account takes place in the serine, countryside setting with a lady simply crossing a river. Right at the beginning, readers understand that “she was standing by the river staring at stepping stones and remembering every single one” (Rhys, 1998). This utterance tells us where woman is, and that she has been in this place before. By the beginning of the account, Rhys has provided booklovers with not only the setting, but also a suggestion of a tone. So, it is an extremely crucial piece of the puzzle that will finally lead to the crucial moment revealing the key theme of death and impermanence. The utterances like “a screw pine was gone” provide readers with significant hints that they may be reading about something other than merely a physical trip or an average journey (Rhys, 1998).

This account is filled with amazing instances of symbolism, and without them, it would be hard to convey the major theme so clearly. The initial passage in this account tells readers about a moment of crossing over the river; usually, demise is referred to as “crossing over”, so it is a perfect usage of metaphors on the part of Rhys. The author of the account also concentrates mainly on the “glassy sky” dedicating two sentences to it, so readers may realize this is something that actually stood out. Nevertheless, glass usually causes one to think of weakness and reflection that is also an issue people may think of when considering the transition from life to passing away (Wilson, 1998). Also, the surroundings such as “blue day” and “glassy sky” may offer an idea, meaning that a woman had drowned in a river and the water clouds her observation of the sky (Cassil, 1995).

Still the female seems happy, and this may mean that she is free and has an opportunity to connect to where she came from. She stuck in between two worlds since the strange description of the surroundings seems ghostly and surreal, and when she reaches the childhood home, there is a small feeling of belonging to it that is taken away as soon as she felt it.

The concluding symbols in this account come in the last passages. Booklovers are told that the woman is calling them, and they don’t respond to her. Moreover, kids are suddenly frozen. Usually, when talking about the display of paranormal activity, it is associated with the cold in the place where the phenomenon is happening, and there is a close connection between coldness and death itself. Hence, it is at this point in the account when the protagonist has a moment of truth and clearness, and Rhys sums up the experience and provides readers with the major theme of the account by asserting “That was the first time she knew” (Rhys, 1998).

Like in the “Dog’s Death”, the author of this short story makes a decision to enlighten the story with a third-person limited omniscient narrative mode when the thoughts and senses of only one character are depicted by the narrator. This approach turns to be extremely important to readers; since without the inner thoughts and memories of the female, readers would have never been capable to realize what all of the symbolism meant.

This narrative gently led the booklover down a winding path of spiritual finding. The story flowed along effortlessly, and the symbolism merely intensified the booklover’s reaction towards the protagonist. The setting assisted in evolving the tone and preparing the reader for what may be ahead, and in the finale, the theme obviously stood out. The tour from the start to the final leads the booklover and the character to the major conclusion – the woman is dead.

The “stepping stones” in the account are an extremely peculiar characteristic of the narrative (Rhys, 1998). They can have several different meanings. They might merely be stones to move on whilst crossing the river, but “springboard” could be the other meaning (Rhys, 1998). It would make a river a symbolic barrier. However, there is a query that the springboard was or will be utilized for- maybe, for escaping from this place or this way of living. The stones could represent personal steps in the process of escaping from the recognizable environment. The fact that the woman has not been living in the environment for a long period of time does not tell anything about her present way of living. The account does not provide grounds for the chance or for her moving away from the place that was so dear to her. The final applicable stylistic characteristic is the fact that crossing of a river has been abandoned completely. After the thorough description of the personal stones, the booklover expects her to walk over each stone. The lack of the crossing demonstrates that the woman knows each stone by heart and may cross the river with weird sureness. But, it also demonstrates the stones are not so crucial to her, - she feels a need to go on. She can hardly expect to see her babyhood home again.

“I Used to Live Here” may be described as so-called plotless account. It is a contemporary text that appears to be distanced from time and action. The narrative contains more description than deeds. The action happens in a very short period of time. The story appears to be unfinished, as there is a sudden finale without a usual solution. This somewhat open ending causes certain mystification. Just like the ending of the poem “Dog’s Death”, finale of this short story cannot provide the reader with the answer “What happens then?”. At least one thing readers know for sure is that the author of the short story definitely believed in the afterlife and spirits and ghosts. And, there is no way to be so confident when it comes to the poem that ends with the dog’s passing away.

Dog’s Death

The poem “Dog’s Death,” created by John Updike, takes the reader through the feelings of love and loss of a dog. The poet utilizes tone and diction to make readers emotionally involved in what the family is experiencing. John Updike is well-known for the works of fiction but is given less attention for the poetry. The poem “Dog's Death” is not a warm and furry pet poem. It is not a light poetry. It is somewhat formal with its irregular rhyme scheme, 5 quatrains, and 11-13 syllables meter. Probably, this form is a good manner to approach a serious theme of death and impermanence. The term “narrative poem” is correct for the subject of John Updike’s work “Dog’s Death.” The subject about the loss of love is usually told in the form of stories. The narrative makes the picture of the dog’s value to the whole family.

Generally speaking, it is not a sentimental poem at all. Thus, it is definitely about loss, death, showing a type of dignity in facing death, the death of the young creature. This is not a mysterious poem about an afterlife or something like that. It is as a work about the incapability of even love to triumph over passing away – “Though surrounded by love that would have upheld her / Nevertheless she sank” (Updike, 2011). Among Updike’s poems of the last 4 decades, there were countless moments of unbelievable grace and depth.

It should be mentioned that the initial verse and even the title demonstrate that the poem is about the passing away of a puppy. The poet personifies the puppy to emphasize the influence of the loss of a loved one for the family. What is more, readers realize “she” was loved since in the third line of the fourth stanza, the narrator asserts “she” was surrounded by love. In the third stanza, the narrator tells about how the puppy crawled under the child’s bed, demonstrating that children not only loved the puppy but also gladly played with it. The narrator permits the dog to rest on the lap on a way to vet.

So, even without saying the dog’s name, the personification incarnates puppy and the word “she” assist readers in relating to the dog’s value to the family. Also, readers do not know the female name due to the fact the author decided to tell the story in the limited omniscient mode. Personification in the poem “Dog's Death” harmonizes the puppy so that the reader may link elements of a poem to the human. The dog is a puppy, probably new to the family, who has not been named yet. Hints in lines 2 and 3 of the initial stanza show the pet is a tiny puppy, “Too young to know much, she was beginning to learn to use the newspapers spread on the kitchen floor”. The Updike’s poem is arranged in 5 stanzas. Most of the work consists of 4 lines. In the initial and final stanza the words “Good dog” are repeated (Updike, 2011). Needless to mention, there are only several lines which exhibit rhyme. They are in the 3 stanza, at the end of lines 1 and 2, the words bed and fed rhyme. Also, the words shame and frame rhyme. In a narrative poem, poet’s words usually do not have to rhyme. A narrator tells readers the account as flashback and in the past tense. The entire work is arranged with an initial part, middle, and the finale. Thus, the events are arranged into the type of a story.

What’s more, John Updike’s usage of small details in the wording of this work plays the main role for the reader’s imagination. The poet creates an image with his words to inform the reader of the circumstances. The strongest instance of this was when the poet wrote “We found her twisted and limp but still alive” (Updike, 2011). John Updike considers this to be almost weird. The usage of metaphors “And her heart was learning to lie down forever” also assisted in drawing readers imagination into what was occurring (Updike, 2011). The reader may also imagine and relate to how the writer and his family suffer about the loss of the puppy.

“I stroked her warm fur / And my wife called in a voice imperious with tears” (Updike, 2011). This quote from Updike’s poem demonstrates the emotion he and his wife had for the pet. As he stroked the dog it was a sigh he wasn’t prepared for the dog to go and not willing to think the dog was gone. With his wife calling out was a sign of helplessness and anger, realizing she had no control over the situation. This part reminds the account “I Used to Live Here Once.” In both works, people have no control over the situations and circumstances that led to these terrible finales and deaths.

It is interesting that the choice of words the poet utilizes brings out an easier way to understand what is going on without naming it (Hechtfischer, Hof, Stephan, Veit-Wild, 1994). “And her heart was learning how to lie down forever” (Updike, 2011). By utilizing “lie down” in a poem, readers know the dog is unavoidably going to pass away since that is a dog command people use to let them rest. The last 4 lines of the poem bring such power to what the poet is attempting to inform the reader on (Newton, 1990). A dog will never let the loyalty of the family down, even when it comes to the situation such as being almost dead.

Conclusion

This paper compared and contrasted two works - “I Used to Live Here Once” by JeanRhys and “Dog’s Death” by John Updike. These two works feature the theme of death and impermanence. In addition, the authors of these short stories definitely believed in the afterlife and spirits and ghosts. Besides, in both works people who were involved did not have any control over the situations and circumstances, leading to the terrible finales. However, in spite of the common theme we can see that they have lots of dissimilarities regarding the way the writers tell their stories.

It is a well-known fact that for all living creatures, death is a notion beyond understanding, an idea that few may understand or explain. Everybody experiences this mystery, which must be confronted on his or her own. Thus, if we want to make the transition to the other life simpler we should remain linked to the outside world. Of course, it may be rather difficult to realize that, in fact, you are dead when you are totally sheltered from having interaction or association with some human beings outside an accepted culture.

If the protagonist of the short story were capable to do that in her living, she probably would not have come back to the childhood home. This moment of the kids neglecting her made the female realize she lived a living which was dissimilar from theirs since she may have been a part of a style of life where she was constantly given attention. Meanwhile, in the second story the poor puppy passed away on the hands of his loving family and though the poet does not provide readers with the hint whether he believes in the afterlife, it is possible to make a conclusion that the transition for a dog will be simpler.

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