Wednesday, May 19, 2021

CONHI Chronicle Article

So this was a little article written about me at my day job's newsletter...



GETTING TO KNOW...CLOVER AUTREY

Clover Autrey almost always has a smile on her face, and with good cause. In this past year, she's had two children graduate from University, and she joined them, earning her B.A. in English. She has three insanely adorable grandchildren, Felicity, Shane, and Dani, who light up her life. Clover said that as much as she loves her children (which is a lot), the grandchildren have a special layer in her heart. They don't live nearby, so they enjoy quality time together via videoconferencing.

Clover is an inveterate writer, spanning from fantasy to sweet romances, and her books are available on Amazon and other online outlets. She first realized she wanted to be a writer when she was still quite young, deciding that it must be the best job ever. While she wrote some short stories and poems in her youth, she didn't get started seriously writing until she was in her early 20s. If she could talk to her 20-year-old self now, she'd tell her that it will take a lot of perseverance, but to go for what she
loves. Some of her best friends are writers, and it has been truly wonderful to have a tribe that understands how each other's crazy brains work. They sometimes get stares when they're out in public and get to talking a little too loudly.

When asked about common traps for aspiring writers, Clover said she thinks it's both ego and a lack of
confidence. Most writers jump into it, believing that writing is easier than it is. Once they realize how much work it takes, and how much there is to learn about the art and skill of storytelling, the ensuing self-doubt can be crushing. You have to really love writing, and you have to have the guts to put your words out there. It helps to join writers and critique groups, as you'll both teach and learn. Don't take the criticism personally--it's necessary to help you refine your craft. At the same time, don't edit so much that you take your heart out of your writing, leaving it almost soulless. Write with emotion. Don't be afraid to be vulnerable. If you hold back and don't let yourself feel it, or if you let your characters off too easily, readers will not feel the connection.

Clover said she's written scenes where she was crying so much she couldn't see what she was typing, and just hoped her fingers were still on the correct keys. Those magical moments make all the hard work worth it, particularly when a reader reaches out to share the emotion and connection felt while reading those passages. 

Clover said that going back to school and working full time comes with a unique set of challenges. You need to be prepared to have no spare time, and your brain cells will be depleted when you finally wind down for the day. It's important to carve out small components of time. Clover used her lunch hours for study and homework, which freed up some other time. Another difficulty was that she was so busy that there wasn't time to be social. The hardest thing, though, was not having sufficient time for writing. She has a profound respect for anyone who is working and going to school. When asked if she was planning to continue her formal education, she was quick to reply that she went back to school for a specific purpose, and at present is not planning on going any further.

Clover Autrey is the most loyal of friends, and truly blesses the lives of everyone she meets. CONHI is incredibly fortunate to have Clover on staff.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

A Raisin in the Sun: Literary Elements

 

 In her play A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry encapsulates the theme of retaining cultural pride and identity of African-Americans while they took risks to achieve the American dream equal to the opportunities that were afforded white Americans, due to economic advantages. Hansberry experienced the turbulent side of integration in the 1930s firsthand, being attacked by white neighbors and forced to move. I feel that the original written play of A Raisin in the Sun casts a harsh light on the cultural theme of retaining or even finding identity more effectively than the original film version through characterization, setting, and tone.  



The differing cultural identities of the struggle that was going on during the time the play was written are depicted through characterization with how each character represents an idea of the way larger groups in society were handling the struggle of the time. Walter Lee Younger as the protagonist character questions throughout the play which of those around him represents the path he wants to step onto for his life. Should he follow his ancestors where freedom and dignity are the only thing like his deceased father? Why can’t he be like George Murchison and get a lucky break with business and become the new conformist dream? Should he duck his head and stay the status quo like the Johnsons? Should he aspire to the dreams of the integrationists like his mother? Or the idealisms of those seeking an African-American identity as Beneatha does? Should he throw his ancestral dignity aside and become a taker like Wiley Harris? The defining moment of Walter’s journey is realized with these words and how they are written in the play. “And my father—(With sudden intensity.) My father almost beat a man to death once because this man called him a bad name or something” (Act 3, 1, 343-4). Even though Sidney Poitier revealed the depth of this inner struggle brilliantly in the film, for me, the written play shows this journey of Walter’s character more strongly. Just like characterization revealed Walter’s and societies’ wrestle with identity, the use of setting also portrays this struggle.   

The identity of being impoverished and wishing for a better life is revealed through setting. The setting of the performed work steps outside of the Youngers’ dingy apartment, showing the outside world that influences Walter Lee as he stands outside the white man’s business world as a chauffeur looking in, and again in the Kitty Kat bar. We also get a look at the new house, the hope of a better life. I personally thought that these scenes took away from the impact that Walter Lee was able to give in the written play when he tells of how it felt to be looking in at the white boys “sitting there turning deals worth millions of dollars” (Act 1, 2, 328). In Act 3 the moving boxes taking up most of the room also dramatize the setting of being on the cusp of entering that new world. The written setting of Act 3 begins with both Walter and Beneatha silently contemplating their plight in separate rooms, but with both seen from the audience. “We see on a line from her brother’s bedroom the sameness of their attitudes” (Act 3, 1, 9). Although the preformed play’s setting was similar to how I envisioned it with the two rooms, small kitchen, and shared bathroom with the neighbors, the gloom and the lighting in the film didn’t capture the atmosphere the written words painted. I do think that the plant, the symbol of the sad wilting life unable to grow to its potential in the apartment was used to greater effect in the film, especially with how the scene showed Beneatha in contemplation of what had befallen her, sitting at the kitchen table just inches from the sad little plant. The setting of the small worn apartment crowded with more people than it could handle in both the written and preformed works greatly enhanced the struggle for identity and wanting something better, as does the tone found throughout the play.

   The tone of A Raisin in the Sun has an underlying hopelessness with small glimmers of faith that things can be better. Act 3 begins with a hopeless demoralizing tone about how wrong was done to the Youngers so there is no hope of a better life. Beneatha says, “while I was sleeping…people went out and took the future right out of my hands! And nobody asked me, nobody consulted me—they just went out and changed my life!” (Act 3, 1, 68-70). Walter Lee mirrors her tone when he cries, “I didn’t make this world! It was give to me this way!” (Act 3,1, 256-7). That tone changes with that glimmer of faith when Asagai enters with his view of taking responsibility of your own dreams when he asks if it was Beneatha’s money, if she had earned it. The tone of the entire play takes a pivotal turn when Asagai says, “isn’t there something wrong in a house—in a world—where all dreams, good or bad, must depend on the death of a man?” (Act 3, 1, 77-8). Most likely due to the social racial climate of the time the film was made, much of Asagai’s wisdom was deleted from the film, which makes the tone of the written play so much more poignant. I believe that Hansberry intentionally directed most of Asagai’s words to her culture that doing something, even if in the long run it may be for your personal good, even when everything is hard and against you, but to take responsibility for your own dreams is better than doing nothing.

Characterization, setting, and tone come together as the final scene ends on a new beginning, moving out of the dingy apartment into a house as the Youngers seek the American dream with dignity. Are they going to find that elusive peace in their new home? That’s not a sure thing, especially with the author, Lorraine Hansberry’s own life experiences of her family moving into a white neighborhood in the 1930s and being forced out. Hansberry knew her characters were not going to have that peaceful happily ever after, yet Walter Lee’s character arc was intact. He had made his choice in who he wanted to be, good or bad, just like Asagai was making his choice, good or bad. What’s more, in following the gifts his ancestor, his father, had given him in his struggles, Walter’s and his generations struggle would make it so his children’s dreams would be closer to them. Setting is used to reveal this choice as Lena looks at the apartment and leaves, only to go back for the plant.  I like how we do not get to see the new house in the written play, how the unknown of even what it looks like adds to the uncertain future, which also is found in the tone that permeated the play which lightens with that glimmer of hope for a better future, yet also retains the solemnity of the unknown and what their choice is getting them into. But in the end, they have made a choice and are stepping out onto their path. They are doing something.


 

Work Cited

Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. Literature: The Human Experience, edited by Richard Abcarian, et al., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2016, pp. 711-81

Image: "raisins in the sun in drought" by David McSpadden is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Jack London: The Man Who Lived “To Build a Fire”.

 

To Build a Fire is one of those stories that have stuck with me. Decades after the first reading, that image of just sitting down in the snow and letting yourself free to death haunted me. 



Jack London was a doer, a man equipped and willing to take on difficult jobs to provide for his mother and sisters, while he had dreams of being a writer. Young and strong, he had worked as an “oyster pirate, a sealer, and a hobo; had worked in a cannery, a jute mill and a laundry” (Haigh 1) where he was slogging in the steam when a ship brought word of a goldrush in the Klondike. London set out with thousands of others to add gold prospector to his resume.  He had little idea that his experiences in the northern brutal cold would inspire him to write his greatest works. In “To Build a Fire” Jack London pits man’s wisdom, or lack of, against the dangers of nature by fictionalizing experiences he had in the Yukon, through use of fable style writing, and an omniscient detached point of view.

Jack London relied on his own wisdom before he took his first step into the Klondike. He was a young man, twenty-one, with a string of difficult low-earning jobs behind him and looking to make a fortune. When he landed on the Dyea beachhead, three thousand men were already there. Tenderfoots, who had not realized that they were still five hundred miles from the Yukon and that the native porters were charging ridiculous amounts to carry all the supplies needed to survive for a year (McKay and McKay 1). Jack, however, was prepared. He had gotten hold of a miner’s account and studied the geography of the area. According to Brett and Kate McKay, Jack London “knew that the first leg of the journey was a 28-mile uphill hike to Lake Lindeman” (1) and that he would not be able to afford a porter’s high charges but would need to pack all his food and equipment himself.  Wisdom and preparation prevailed for Jack. He had already devised a method beforehand to get up the Chilcoot Pass to divide “his half-ton kit into around a dozen smaller loads, and would take each load a mile, cache it, and then return for another…Jack simply bore down in determination, put one foot in front of the other, and ignored the burn in his legs and back as he carried a half-ton of supplies to the summit, 100 pounds at a time” (McKay and McKay 1). Conversely, in his story “To Build a Fire” the main protagonist does not share in Jack’s wisdom to prepare for the harshness of the Yukon.

The story takes place in the same area that Jack London had traveled where the man turns off of the main trail “that led south five hundred miles to the Chilcoot Pass, Dyea, and salt water; and that led north seventy miles to Dawson” (London 47). Just as the majority of the three thousand men at Dyea beachhead were not prepared and had to turn back before ever starting their journey to the goldrush, the man in “To Build a Fire” did not prepare for his day long journey either, even when he had been given instructions by those who understood the dangers of the land. The man rejected the wisdom of others by first going out on the journey alone, a situation that London also experienced for himself. London had staked a claim in Henderson Creek, and then went to Dawson to register the claim. The hike back by himself turned out to be demanding through the snow just as “winter had thoroughly set in, and there was nothing left to do but ride it out” at his little camp on his claim. According to Brett and Kate McKay, it was this hike through what London called “White Silence” that “he would later draw on to write his best short story, “To Build a Fire” (47). The man in “To Build a Fire” did not prepare in other ways as well. He brought a limited amount of food, only a sandwich which he carried inside his coat so it would not freeze. He did not have the proper facial protection to cover his nose, and his final mistake was that in his rush to build his fire after he got wet, he did not heed the wisdom to build the fire out in the open, but instead built it beneath a snow-laden tree. That final unwise act sealed his fate when the snow fell and put out his fire. Because of London’s actual time in the Yukon and his personal experience with the dangerous aspect of the nature of the place, the setting of “To Build a Fire” is alive with hidden dangers and risks, from the white cold and quiet that a “sharp, explosive crackle” (London 47) of his own spit in the air startles the man, to the moisture of the dog’s breath crystallizing in its muzzle (London 48), to “the bulge of the earth intervened between it and Henderson Creek, where the man walked under a clear sky at noon and cast no shadow” (London 50).  London had experienced all of these aspects and put it in his writing with an economy of words that only someone who had been there could capture. Also during the winter London was in the Yukon, he learned a great deal from the miners he was with to draw on for his stories.

Snowstorms in the winter would last for weeks. The temperature would drop to sixty degrees below zero and everyone would remain inside. Because of his friendly nature, Jack London’s cabin became a place to trade stories and discuss the larger questions of the universe (McKay and McKay 1). According to King Hendricks, Head of the Department of English and Journalism of Utah State University, Jack London wrote that he had “learned to seize upon that which is interesting, to grasp the true romance of things and to understand the people I may be thrown amongst” (10). Hendricks further states that “’To Build a Fire’ is Jack London’s short story masterpiece. It is a masterpiece because of the depth of its irony, and its understanding of human nature, the graphic style of the writing, and the contrast between man’s intelligence and the intuition of the animal” (11). Recounting tales with other miners, old-timers, and the locals of the Klondike while snowbound was a wealth of rich characterization that London had to draw on. However, with the abundance of personalities surrounding him, “To Build a Fire” was written like a fable with a more narrow characterization to convey universal truths and morals.  

While wintering in the cabin at Dawson, London and his frequent visitors would spend “the time trading stories and debating life’s big questions” (McKay and McKay 1) One of these visitors was W. B. Hargrave, who said of London that “he had a mental craving for the truth. He applied one test to religion, to economics, to everything. ‘What is the truth?’ ‘What is just?’ It was with these questions that he confronted the baffling enigma of life” (McKay and McKay 1). With these types of questions in mind, London  wrote “To Build a Fire” in the style of a fable. Some argue that in his earlier works like “To Build a Fire” the fable aspect was done unconsciously, although it remains present. In his article “Jack London: The Problem of Form” Donald Pizer seeks to establish that London “is essentially a writer of fables and parables” (Pizer, Form 3). He explains that fables “seek to establish the validity of a particular moral truth by offering a brief story in which plot, character, and setting are allegorical agents of a paraphrasable moral” (Pizer, Form 3). Fables are universal stories shared for the purpose of explaining morals or lessons. In “To Build a Fire” the lesson conveyed is as simple as this: don’t go out in the harsh wilderness unprepared or nature will blindside you. Or be wise when dealing with nature. The strong and wise win the day. This is a universal theme to every man, so much so that London did not name the character. He is simply known as “the man” and his companion is known only as “the dog” as in most fables where the character is a moral type. Moral types represent ideas such as honesty, fear, or laziness. In this case the man represents ignorance while the dog is instinct, and nature itself represents danger (Pizer, Form 6).  Pizer states that the “success of the story, as in the successful fable, stems from our acceptance of its worldly wisdom while simultaneously admiring the formal devices used to communicate it—in this instance, the ironic disparity between our knowledge of danger and the newcomer’s ignorance of it, and the brevity and clarity of the story’s symbolic shape” (Pizer, Form 8). The moral of the story is stated directly within the story’s third paragraph as the man thinks about being cold and uncomfortable. London writes “it did not lead him to meditate upon his frailty as a creature of temperature, and upon man’s frailty in general, able only to live within certain narrow limits of heat and cold; and from there on it did not lead him to the conjectural field of immortality and man’s place in the universe” (London 47). As readers, we see the danger clearly as learners of this moral fable where the unwise newcomer does not see beyond his own unpreparedness. This moral lesson is conveyed to readers exactly as London intended. While writing in the style of a fable, London also places the narration in an uncaring all-knowing viewpoint.

The viewpoint of “To Build a Fire” echoes the cold detachment of the freezing landscape of the Yukon. Written in the third person omniscient point of view, the narrator knows the thoughts and feelings of both the man and the dog, yet also places distance between the reader and characters. The narrator seems cold and almost monotone, like nature who doesn’t care if the man and dog lives or dies. Nature doesn’t care if the fire is built or not. It does nothing to help them, yet also does nothing to harm them either. It is a quiet observer or chronicler of the events, especially in the form of the fable. As nature, the narrator is not invested in the events, except to pass on the moral tale to those who will hear and learn the universal wisdom it is making a point of. In fact, in this story, it shows that the Yukon can be survived. The man did not survive due to his ignorance of how harsh the cold could be after he was warned not to go out alone. He did not follow the wisdom handed down to him. He represented foolishness, yet the dog who represents instinct (or knowledge passed down) did survive. However, at the end, the man does learn from his mistakes. His ignorance has been turned around to wisdom. As death overtakes him, his final thoughts turn to the old-timer who told him not to go out alone. The man says in the only dialog of the entire story, “’You were right, old hoss; you were right.’” (London 57). Unfortunately, the man gained his wisdom too late and this fable becomes one of being a cautionary tale. It is interesting to note that there was an earlier version of “To Build a Fire” that was published in Youth’s Companion six years prior to this version (Hendricks 16). In the original version the man, although still ignoring the wisdom of not going out alone, is named, Tom Vincent, and actually survives when he, with great luck, “came upon another high water lodgement. There were twigs and branches and leaves and grasses, all dry and waiting for fire” (Hendricks 14). It was the second version, written with the fable qualities that launched Jack London into one of the greatest Northern area writers of our time.     

By bringing his own experiences of his time during the goldrush in the Klondike into his story “To Build a Fire” Jack London relayed the universal theme that man’s lack of wisdom has no place in nature. He accomplished this through use of fables and casting the impartial attributes of nature as the narrator. In his article “Jack London’s ‘To Build a Fire’; How Not to Read Naturalist Fiction”, Donald Pizer points out that “the world, under certain conditions, can be an extremely dangerous place. If through ignorance, inexperience, false self-confidence, and the ignoring of what others have learned and told us (all weaknesses shared by the man) we challenge these conditions, we are apt to be destroyed by them” (223). I wonder if London had never rewritten the story where the man dies, if the earlier version would have ever become as beloved a story as the version that stands as a classic today. I think not. King Hendricks points out that “Jack London loved life and he lived it as fully and as completely as any man. He admired men who cling or have clung to life in times of adversity” (18). London made less than five dollars in his gold prospecting, but the insight, knowledge of the setting, and characterization he gained during that short time brought him fame and riches, and we readers are the wealthier for it.

 


 

Works Cited

Haig

HHai, Haight, Ken. “The Spell of the Yukon: Jack London and the Klondike God Rush.” The Literary Traveler, July 13, 2006. www.literarytraveler.com/articles/jack_london_klondike.

Hendr, King. “Jack London: Master Craftsman of the Shorty Story.” USU Faculty Honor Lectures. Paper 29. www.digitalcommons.usu.edu/honor_lectures/29

Lond,on Jack. “To Build a Fire.” Lost Face, edited by David Price, Mills & Boon, Limited, 1919, pp. 47-70. The Project Gutenberg, www.gutenberg.org/files/2429/2429-h/2429-h.htm#page47.

McKay, Brett and Kate McKay. “The Life of Jack London as a Case Study in the Power and Perils of Thumos--#7: Into the Klondike.” The Art of Manliness, March 31, 2013.  www.artofmanliness.com/articles/the-life-of-jack-london-as-a-case-study-in-the-power-and-perils-of-thumos-7-into-the-klondike/

Pizer, , Donald. "Jack London: The Problem of Form." Studies in the Literary Imagination, pp. 107–115.

-- "Jack London's 'To Build A Fire': How Not to Read Naturalist Fiction." Philosophy and Literature, vol. 34, no. 1, Apr. 2010, pp. 218-227. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.snhu.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mzh&AN=2010791039&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Image: "Jack London Territory." by Anita & Greg is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0