Thursday, April 03, 2008

Y'all, this is a paper that I put together this week and will continue to work on tomorrow when we get the rest of our assignment. I'm posting because I haven't posted for a while, and you might find it interesting. If not my response (I sure don't find my response very interesting), then hopefully the actual poem and short story I've analyzed.

In-Class Homework
Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for 122
English Composition 2
By Allegra T.
31 March – 4 April 2008
Analysis of Poetry, Fiction and More

Analysis of a Poem

“I know why the caged bird sings,” by Maya Angelou

A free bird leaps on the back of the wind
and floats downstream till the current ends
and dips his wing in the orange suns rays and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks down his narrow cage
can seldom see through his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
of things unknown but longed for still
and his tune is heard on the distant hill
for the caged bird sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
of things unknown but longed for still
and his tune is heard on the distant hill
for the caged bird sings of freedom.


“…the caged bird sings of freedom.” In Maya Angelou’s poem, “I know why the caged bird sings,” she introduces her readers to two types of birds. One, the free bird, happily plays and flies all day in the sky. The caged bird does not have that happiness, yet still sings because it longs for the freedom the other bird has. The caged bird sings because he cannot do anything else.

The poem strikes a chord with its readers at first glance because most people have seen both kinds of birds and can picture them as described by Ms. Angelou. However, understanding why a caged parakeet still sings is Ms. Angelou’s ultimate goal. She uses this analogy to explain how colored people have been treated unfairly, even being caged, while white people leap “on the back of the wind”. White people are the free bird, while people of color are the caged bird in this poem. Appropriately, then, it follows that this poem is not one that is happy or cheerful. It does not inspire feelings of joy, but rather of sadness and even of longing.

Maya Angelou’s poem is formal in format because she is not telling a story, but rather telling us about something. But the fact that it is formal does not mean it cannot stir powerful images in its readers’ minds. As I read her poem, I could see a grey bird, perhaps a swallow, floating in the breeze, then ducking to get into a faster current as the sun set. Its song was sweet, as that of a meadowlark.

But then she suddenly took me into a darkened room, with perhaps a window where we could still see the swallow happily singing and flying, but tucked away in a corner was a small cage where a beautiful bird, perhaps a parrot or parakeet, sat miserably. Occasionally, as he sat on his man-made perch looking wistfully outside, he would let out an occasional squack that would pierce the air. It was not beautiful, but as she explained why he did it (“…for the caged bird sings of freedom”), it suddenly made sense.

As we dug into the deeper meaning of the poem and saw how it used symbolism to depict the civil-rights movement, I could again see how white people were given freedom to do things such as ride anywhere they wanted on the bus, while the colored people were put in cages, in chains, on plantations. The bright, cheery atmosphere of the free person’s and bird’s lives contrasted starkly with the dark, chained, imprisoned atmosphere of the colored person’s and bird’s lives.

The ending of Ms. Angelou’s poem made me feel intensely sad. She proposed this miserable plight of the caged bird, but gave no solution. It was as though the caged bird must remain caged forever. I suppose the hopelessness of the poem inspired feelings of longing for freedom for the caged bird that will never become free.


Analysis of a Short Story

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The Monkey's Paw, by W.W. Jacobs

Part I

Without, the night was cold and wet, but in the small parlor of Laburnum villa the blinds were drawn and the fire burned brightly. Father and son were at chess; the former, who possessed ideas about the game involving radical chances, putting his king into such sharp and unnecessary perils that it even provoked comment from the white-haired old lady knitting placidly by the fire.

"Hark at the wind," said Mr. White, who, having seen a fatal mistake after it was too late, was amiably desirous of preventing his son from seeing it.

"I'm listening," said the latter grimly surveying the board as he stretched out his hand. "Check."

"I should hardly think that he's come tonight,” said his father, with his hand poised over the board.

"Mate," replied the son.

"That's the worst of living so far out," balled Mr. White with sudden and unlooked-for violence; "Of all the beastly, slushy, out of the way places to live in, this is the worst. Path's a bog, and the road's a torrent. I don't know what people are thinking about. I suppose because only two houses in the road are let, they think it doesn't matter."

"Never mind, dear," said his wife soothingly; "perhaps you'll win the next one."

Mr. White looked up sharply, just in time to intercept a knowing glance between mother and son. The words died away on his lips, and he hid a guilty grin in his thin grey beard.

"There he is," said Herbert White as the gate banged to loudly and heavy footsteps came toward the door.

The old man rose with hospitable haste and opening the door, was heard condoling with the new arrival. The new arrival also condoled with himself, so that Mrs. White said, "Tut, tut!" and coughed gently as her husband entered the room followed by a tall, burly man, beady of eye and rubicund of visage.

"Sergeant-Major Morris,” he said, introducing him.

The Sergeant-Major took hands and taking the proffered seat by the fire, watched contentedly as his host got out whiskey and tumblers and stood a small copper kettle on the fire.

At the third glass his eyes got brighter, and he began to talk, the little family circle regarding with eager interest this visitor from distant parts, as he squared his broad shoulders in the chair and spoke of wild scenes and doughty deeds; of wars and plagues and strange peoples.

"Twenty-one years of it," said Mr. White, nodding at his wife and son. "When he went away he was a slip of a youth in the warehouse. Now look at him."

"He don't look to have taken much harm." said Mrs. White politely.

"I'd like to go to India myself," said the old man, just to look around a bit, you know."

"Better where you are," said the Sergeant-Major, shaking his head. He put down the empty glass and sighing softly, shook it again.

"I should like to see those old temples and fakirs and jugglers," said the old man. "What was that that you started telling me the other day about a monkey's paw or something, Morris?"

"Nothing." said the soldier hastily. "Leastways, nothing worth hearing."

"Monkey's paw?" said Mrs. White curiously.

"Well, it's just a bit of what you might call magic, perhaps." said the Sergeant-Major off-handedly.

His three listeners leaned forward eagerly. The visitor absent-mindedly put his empty glass to his lips and then set it down again. His host filled it for him again.

"To look at," said the Sergeant-Major, fumbling in his pocket, "it's just an ordinary little paw, dried to a mummy."

He took something out of his pocket and proffered it. Mrs. White drew back with a grimace, but her son, taking it, examined it curiously.

"And what is there special about it?" inquired Mr. White as he took it from his son, and having examined it, placed it upon the table.

"It had a spell put on it by an old Fakir," said the Sergeant-Major, "a very holy man. He wanted to show that fate ruled people's lives, and that those who interfered with it did so...

If you want to read the rest of this story (and I highly recommend doing so before reading my comments - they will just spoil the story otherwise), go to http://gaslight.mtroyal.ab.ca/mnkyspaw.htm.

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We have all read horror stories before. Sometimes it is fun to sit down and read ghost stories just to get a few chills. Perhaps the most fantastic and utterly frightening short story I have ever read came from W.W. Jacobs and is called “The Monkeys’ Paw.” In this story, Mr. and Mrs. White and their son, Herbert, acquire a monkey’s paw from a soldier friend from India, Sergeant Major Morris. The paw is unique because it has the power to grant three wishes. Their wishes are granted, but in a chilling manner that makes them wish they had never gotten the talisman.

We only come into contact with two other characters during the course of the story: the postman (who may not count, as he never says a word), and the representative from Maw and Meggins, where Herbert works. The postman delivers a tailor’s bill (most likely the sergeant major’s, as Mrs. White mutters about his drinking habits after receiving it), and the representative delivers the news that Herbert was caught in the machinery and offers compensation. The other characters have far more interesting roles to play, though.

Old Mr. White rather longs for adventure, and when the sergeant major visits with fantastic tales of adventure in the Middle East, Mr. White rescues the monkey’s paw from the fire when the sergeant major attempts to rid himself of the talisman. Later, after the soldier is gone, Mr. White wishes on the paw for money to pay off the house. After Herbert dies, Mr. White attempts to calm his wife when she wildly wishes for their son to come back to life and then wishes on the paw at his wife’s command. His final deed is to make the third wish and then rush to help his wife when she opens the door to let the stranger into the house.

Mrs. White is not as well developed a character as her husband in this short story, but she and her son are very close. When he dies, she is disconsolate. One night, while mourning his death, she decides to have Mr. White wish on the monkey’s paw again, this time that Herbert would come back to life. She goes downstairs to open the door after the wish has been made, and attempts to let whoever is knocking into the house.

Mr. and Mrs. White’s son, Herbert, is introduced at the beginning of the story with his father as they play chess one evening. Herbert is a young man, perhaps 20 or 30 years old, and his main role in the story is to provide some comic relief. The last time we see him is when he leaves to go to work the day after his father wishes for the money. He is caught in the machinery, and his parents receive the amount they had wished for in compensation for his services.

After we have met father and son as they play chess and the mother as she sits listening to her loved ones play the game, we meet Sergeant Major Morris, who was a soldier in India. The sergeant major brings many fantastic stories from that part of the country. He shows them a monkey’s paw, upon which a fakir put a spell years before and tells how he has received his three wishes but that someone else still can have three more wishes. He finally allows Mr. White to have it and later exits the story.

The postman does not really count, as he never says anything, and we never see an exchange, but it is interesting to note that he is one of the only other humans we ever come into contact with during the course of this story.

The last character to be introduced is the representative from Maw and Meggins, where Herbert worked. He is a well-dressed man, who notifies Herbert’s parents of the young man’s death and also of the compensation they are to receive, the 200 pounds that Mr. White had wished for the night before.

Mr. Jacobs’ writing is unique to today’s readers because it uses language we do not often use today, a setting that is unusual to our time, and describes situations that do not normally occur in our time. First, though, it is unique because it is a short horror story. Most horror stories today are usually much longer and leave less to the imagination. His is unique because he does not say everything, allowing our minds to conjure what they will.

The writing of this story is inherently unique because Mr. Jacobs uses vocabulary from his time that we do not often use today, such as condole (Encarta Dictionary defines condole as “to express sympathy to somebody who is experiencing grief, loss, or pain, especially over a death”), doughty (the same source defines doughty as “brave and determined”), and maligned (The Free Dictionary, 2008, defines maligned as “assailed with contemptuous language”). He also describes situations that are unusual to today’s society. For example, the family is sitting in the parlor playing chess in front of the fire (not listening to iPods, playing video games, or even watching television).

Another strange setting is simply the fact that the family lives far away from other people. Unless you live in Iowa, living very far from anyone else is pretty much unheard-of. All the people walk to get where they want to go, and the son still lives with his parents, even though he is an adult and could have moved away. The main cause for Mr. Jacobs’ unique writing is the different time in which he lived and wrote, and it makes for very fascinating reading.

This story is good not only because it is unique, but also because W.W. Jacobs does an excellent job of building suspense. He does this first by creating the perfect atmosphere. When the sergeant major comes to visit, it is on a cold and stormy night, exactly the kind in which our greatest fears can be brought out easily. The next day is bright and sunny, perfectly “innocent” of anything to do with mischief. But through foreshadowing preceding this new setting, instead of relaxing the reader, it increases the suspense. When the husband and wife wish for their son to come back to life, it is again at night, and again cold and windy.

Jacobs also uses attitudes to build suspense. Herbert is constantly joking, but sometimes his joking actually serves to make the reader contemplate absurd ideas he proposes. When the sergeant major visits, his attitude regarding the monkey’s paw is one that makes the reader feel as though the talisman truly has a power to be feared. Mrs. White’s change of attitude at the end, where she becomes strong and commanding, also serves to create greater suspense.

Third, Jacobs uses foreshadowing to build the suspense he desires. For example, when the sergeant major tells about the monkey’s paw, he says, “It had a spell put on it by an old fakir, a very holy man. He wanted to show that fate ruled people’s lives and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow.” Although this is not that impressive when reading the first time, readers are reminded of this statement when Mr. White’s wish is granted in a horrible way.

Finally, the use of silence in this short story serves to build suspense. When the sergeant major tells of how he got the paw, a hush falls upon the group. After Mr. White makes the first wish and the family is sitting around the fire, there is an unusual and depressing silence. The stranger from Maw and Meggins is oddly silent when he first comes to the house, and silence is used to describe Mr. and Mrs. White’s reactions to his message.

Their house is “steeped in shadow and silence” after Herbert’s death, and they say little to each other. After Mr. White makes the second wish, there is again silence as they lie in bed waiting. Finally, the conclusion shows a quiet and deserted road. Silence can be the best catalyst for building fear for any person from any time.

And now we reach the conclusion, which begins with the second wish and the apparent fulfillment of it evidenced by the knocking at the front door in the middle of the night. As Mrs. White rushes down to let the person who she assumes is her son in, Mr. White makes the last wish. We never find out what he wishes, but when Mrs. White opens the door, it is not to her son; all is quiet. It seems as though Mr. White did not want his son, horribly mutilated and maimed as he was, to be resurrected from the dead, so after he is forced to wish for a second life for his son, he goes back and wishes to undo it.

An alternate ending might be something like the following:

“He heard the creaking of the bolt as it came slowly back, and at the same moment, he found the monkey’s paw, and frantically breathed his third and last wish.

“The knocking ceased suddenly, although the echoes of it were still in the house. He heard the chair drawn back and the door opened. A cold wind rushed up the staircase, and” he heard a low voice speaking to his wife. Slowly he moved to the top of the stairs to look down upon the stranger and his wife.

The woman stood as if she had become one of the birch trees along the roadway, swaying slightly, but without moving her feet. The stranger looked up as White betrayed his presence with a cough.

“Mr. White? Forgive me for coming to your home at such a late hour, but my message is incredibly urgent. Your son, who you buried ten days past, was found in a hospital five miles away this evening. It seems as though you buried a stranger who had been at the factory at the same time your son was. Herbert bought him some clothes like his as an act of kindness, which explains why you thought the stranger was your son.

Now I must ask that you would accompany me to where your son lies. He is close to death, having been kidnapped by the stranger’s accomplices who expected him to be more wealthy, and then beaten and left for dead when he did not have what they wanted. Please come.”

Husband and wife, still in shock, stumbled up the stairs, dressed themselves warmly, and then came back to the stranger. When they reached their son’s room, they found people around Herbert’s bed. They slowly drew back as the couple drew near the bed.

“He is dead,” whispered the doctor. “He passed away not an hour ago.”

Yes, be careful of what you wish for. It may come true.

6 comments:

Lydia said...

Wow...::goes off to write analyses up in much greater detail::

Mark Watson said...

I like the short story. Scary.

Sarah B said...

You updated!

I liked the poem... but didn't read the story as I'm sick right now, and horror is the last thing I need@

Allegra said...

Yeah... Updates are always nice. I'm sorry I do not more frequently update. Perhaps the deep thoughts I have been pondering recently shall provide more fuel to my empty notebook of writings.

(I am exhausted. It's been quite a week.)

I am SO sorry to hear you are sick right now! E-mail me and let me know what is going on with you.

History Maker said...

They were both SAD.
But, I guess they were well written.
Oh, your analysis was well written too. Oh no, Sarah, I'm sorry. I'll pray for you!

Lydia said...

Hey, yo - this looks REALLY long because your little column for reading posts is really thin. If you like it, I'm cool with it, but...it's...narrow.