Summary of Prose

Here are some summaries of the proses that we studied in class that our teacher Pato prepared for us in order to understand them better and to help us study.

HER FIRST BALL – Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923)

Mansfield, brought up in New Zealand, was a notable writer of short stories.
As you re-read the story, explore the ways in which Mansfield presents Leila’s thoughts and feelings before and during the
ball. It would be useful to consider the way in which Leila is different from the other girls and how this affects their (and our)
impressions of her. How do you think Mansfield captures the excitement of the ball? Pay particular attention to the
contribution to the story of the two men who dance with Leila, the odious fat man and then the young man with curly hair.
Examine carefully the words Mansfield uses in the dialogue and description to guide readers’ responses to the various
characters.

THE DESTRUCTORS (1954)
Graham was a popular novelist and writer of short stories in his own lifetime. His novels have in the past featured as
examination set texts: for example, Brighton Rock, Travels with My Aunt and The Human Factor. The Destructors is a popular
choice for anthologies of short stories.
The destruction in the story is masterminded and overseen by the new boy to the gang, Trevor. He is called ‘T.’ as Trevor
sounds too middle-class a name. Explore how Greene presents the shifting power within the group as leadership passes from
Blackie to T. Explore your impressions of the various characters, and in particular T. with his adult-like appreciation of
architecture – ‘It’s a beautiful house,’ he says, using a social register that invites scorn from Blackie.
The story is told chronologically (in time order) by a third person narrator, and the references to Smarties, Woolworth’s,
bomb damage caused by the Blitz and wet Bank Holiday weekends supply a typically English backdrop of the time.
What do you make of the paradox at the heart of the story, namely, that the act of destruction is a form of creation? Explore
the ways in which Greene builds suspense. How effective do you find the ending with the driver and his convulsive laughter?

MY GREATEST AMBITION – Morris Lurie (1938)

Morris Lurie is an Australian writer of comic prose fiction and plays.
The greatest ambition of the narrator (surname Lurie) is spelled out at the start of the story: he wants to be a comic-strip
artist. From his perspective, fellow pupils wanting to become farmers, chemists, doctors and so are dreamers and romantics.
The narrator’s mocking father (‘a great scoffer’) clearly sees his son as such a dreamer. Explore the way in which the fatherson
relationship is shown. The eventual trip to the offices of Boy Magazine is full of deft comic touches, from the shortness of
the boy’s trousers to his permanent smile and the awkwardness when the men in grey suits realise that the comic-strip artist
is a mere schoolboy. Consider the effectiveness of the story’s final paragraph and the narrator’s observation: ‘The only thing
that was ever real to me I had ‘grown out of’. I had become, like everyone else, a dreamer.’

THE CUSTODY OF THE PUMPKIN – P.G. Wodehouse (1881-1975)

Wodehouse was a prolific British writer of comic prose fiction. His stories are populated by aristocrats like the ninth Earl of
Emsworth, and take place in upper class settings. This story was originally published in US and UK magazines in 1924.
The story begins with a loving description of the sunshine alighting on, among other things, the Castle, its ivied walls, its
green lawns, wide terraces, noble trees and three characters: the Earl, his son Freddie and Beach, the butler. Readers will
note how Lord Emsworth relies on his butler to put his hat on and to take the cap off his new telescope. Much of the story’s
humour derives from the dialogue, with even the butler given choice lines. By contrast, the head-gardener is given a comic
Scottish accent (‘She’s paying’ me twa poon’ a week’). Make a note of dialogue and descriptions you find particularly funny,
and explain why they seem amusing.
The comic figure of Lord Emsworth is central to the story. Consider the way in which he responds to his son’s courtship and
eventual marriage to Aggie Donaldson, and what it reveals about snobbery and class. You might examine, too, how
Wodehouse portrays Lord Emsworth’s comic concern for the well-being of his prize pumpkin and also consider why the latter
makes its first appearance about a third of the way through the story.

THE SON´S VETO – Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)
Hardy is the writer of a number of classic novels of the English Victorian era. He stopped writing novels altogether following
the outcries that greeted Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895); both were judged in their day to be
too explicit in their treatment of personal and social themes. Thereafter he concentrated on writing poetry.
In The Son’s Veto, Sophy’s character is presented to us by concentrating on a number of telling moments in her life. The story
reveals detail gradually in order to allow us to build up an impression of her. The narrator begins writing from the perspective
of a man viewing the woman’s immaculate hair from behind. We hear the exchange of dialogue between son and mother in
which the former rebukes the latter for her poor grammar ‘with an impatient fastidiousness that was almost harsh’. The
boy’s sensitivity here will eventually lead to his veto over his mother’s wish to re-marry. The vignette of the public-school
cricket match illustrates perhaps best of all the class consciousness at the heart of the story.
Consider how you are meant respond to Hardy’s depiction of the boy who eventually becomes the ‘young smooth-shaven
priest’ at the end of the story. Consider how Hardy makes us feel sorry for the mother. Look back at specific details given
about the boy and the mother.

THE FLY IN THE OINTMENT – V.S. Pritchett (1900-1997)

V.S Pritchett’s life spanned the twentieth century and he became one of its most prolific short story writers.
The Fly in the Ointment begins with a sketch of a November day in London with its overcast sky and the mention of
unemployed and beggars ‘dribbling slowly past the desert of public buildings’. This provides the social backdrop against
which is played out the reunion of a son and his father; the father has recently made bankrupt after thirty years of being a
factory boss. Their reunion brings to the surface the underlying frictions in their relationship. Consider how Pritchett
gradually reveals this lack of mutual understanding. The narrator tells us straightforwardly that the father ‘despised his son’
and charts the alarming way in which the mood changes during their talk, with at one point the father’s ‘warm voice going
dead and rancorous’. Note the hints given about the father’s shady business dealings and consider possible reasons for his
absurdly excessive disgust and fear at the fly. In this respect, the significance of the title should be explored. Finally, how do
you think Pritchett encourages us to view son and father? Think about the reference to the father at the story’s conclusion.

A HORSE AND TWO GOATS – R.K. Narayan (1906-2001)

Narayan is one of India’s most celebrated prose fiction authors writing in the English language. This story was written in 1960
and published in 1970.
The story begins with a description of Kritam, where Muni lives. The third person narrator captures the largely unemotional
way in which Muni regards the significant decline of his fortunes. In more affluent times he had ‘lorded over a flock of fleecy
sheep’ whereas now he has only two ‘miserable gawky goats’. We see events through his eyes, and are made to see why he
feels like the ‘poorest fellow in our caste’. All of the detail thus provided about Muni makes the appearance of the red-faced
New Yorker all the more odd. The dialogue between the affable New Yorker and the initially awkward Muni reveals a lot
about them, though not to each other. You should explore what makes their ‘mutual mystification’ so amusing, taking care to
examine what these two characters’ words and actions show about their respective cultures. What do you feel about the way
in which the story ends?

Overview:
– opens with a clear picture of the poverty in which the protagonist Muni lives. Of the thirty houses in the village, only one, the Big House, is made of brick. The others, including Muni’s, are made of “bamboo thatch, straw, mud, and other unspecified materials.” There is no running water and no electricity and Muni’s wife cooks their typical breakfast of “a handful of millet flour” over a fire in a mud pot. NB, “drumstick” is a type of edible radish.
– Muni and the American meet by chance and their inability to understand each other results in a misunderstanding wherein Muni sells the village’s horse statue for 100 rupees, thinking he is, in fact, selling his almost worthless goats. Two very distinct lives are clearly expressed via the men’s conversation (with themselves, so to speak), however one similarity does arise (women).
– the third person omniscient narrator reports clearly and objectively on the characters’ words, actions, and memories, and does not comment or judge. This is the writer trusting the reader to notice how absurd the conversation is without having to point it out, thus ruining the humour. It can also be a reflection of the same passivity seen in Muni when it comes to him accepting his fate. The narrator does nto have to explain how foolish or ironic the conversation is, it’s stronger if we see it ourselves.
– The main conflict of the story is their inability to understand one another. The climax can be said to be “the truth dawned on the old man” – there seems to finally be understanding between the two. However, we then get the twist, which shows that there is no understanding afterall (Muni misinterprets the American’s wish as for the goats).
Characters:
The American – He typifies the “Ugly American”: he speaks only English, but is surprised and a little annoyed to find that Muni can speak only Tamil. Although he is in the tiniest village in India, he expects to find a gas station and English-speaking goatherds. Once he sees the statue of the horse, he must own it for his living room, with no thought for what the statue might mean or who might value it. Even when he can’t speak the language, he knows that money talks.
Muni – Our protagonist. He was once wealthy, but is not desperately poor. He relies on his wife heavily and no longer has any shame or pride when it comes to his poverty. He is the perfect example of a good Hindu who, because of Karma’s rules, accepts his lot in life/fate without anger. He feels anger toward those “bad men” who have slighted him in the past, but it is not up to him to punish them, it is God’s will. His world is a relatively small one by our standards, but this only leads him to be contented with ‘small’ luxuries (tobacco, sheep, 100 rupees, goal of simply opening a shop, etc). Conservative values (believes the cinema has spoiled people and taught them to do bad things, etc). Lacks the materialistic ideology of the American, therefore cannot understand that he is interested in the statue, not the goats (which have survival value). He is also disciplined, religious and lonely.
Horse Statue – Forgotten on the edge of the village, just as Kiritam seems to have been forgotten by India after the highway was put in. The paint has faded and the opulant accessories are goen – just as Muni’s wealth has deteriorated. Also represents how the newer generations are becoming less religious and more liberal – no one pays attention to the Horse anymore, not even to vandalize it. No one cares for the spiritual significance of this Horse anymore.
NB: there is an overall warmth and sympathy for his characters.
Themes:
Culture Clash – clash of cultures, specifically the clash of Indian and Western cultures. Using humor instead of anger, Narayan demonstrates just how far apart the two worlds are: the two cultures exist in the same time and space, but literally and metaphorically speak different languages. The two main characters in this story couldn’t be more different: Muni is poor, rural, uneducated, Hindu, brown; the American is wealthy, urban, educated, probably Judeo-Christian, white. As a good Hindu, Muni calmly accepts the hand that fate has dealt him, while the American is willing and able to take drastic and sudden action to change his life (for example, flying off to India, or throwing away his return plane ticket to transport a horse statue home on a ship). A lack of respect is shown in the American, who does not consider the statue’s role/importance but simply wishes to own it. This lack of respect can also be seen in the fact that the American has no excuse for being so ignorant – he is educated and ‘worldy’ and has always wanted to go to India. Muni has never had an opportunity to learn about the West. The American has a very self-oriented perspective on the world.
The message? A) Cross-cultural awareness is paramouont in today’s world.
B) We are what we value (Muni vs. American).
Role of Women – There are three women in the story: Muni’s good wife, the postman’s bad wife, and the American’s wife. The good wife is a caretaker and provider who stays with Muni through thick and thin. The bad wife is an adulterer and a shame on the postmam, says Muni. This bad wife serves to characterize Muni and his values. The American’s wife is a stereotypical ‘strong’ wife who decides things – like Muni’s wife – these women are in the background, but they resurface always as the reason these men can keep going. Muni in the sense of survival and the American in the broadening of his horizons (she books the trip to where he’s always wanted to go). These mirrored relationships are not perfect, there is both caring and conflict. Women are broken down into their base stereotypes – good/bad. They are not full characters and are only ‘seen’ by the reader through the eyes of the men in their lives – the “Male Gaze” – which tells you more, perhaps, about the men doing the seeing than the women they’re talking about.
The message? A) Women reflect their men’s values (ie, women used to characterize men).
B) Discussion on the definition of a ‘good’ woman.
C) Behind every great man there is a great woman – the women are integral to the men’s lives.

SANDPIPER (1994)
Born in Cairo, Soueif was educated in Egypt and England.
The story movingly portrays the breaking down of the relationship between an English writer and her Egyptian husband. The
story opens with a lyrical description of the narrator sitting on the beach where the water rolled in. You should consider the
significance of this opening description to the title and also to the story as a whole. The first summer holiday at the place
described (which was new to the narrator though not her husband) was a time of joy when her husband was a ‘colossus
bestriding the waves’. During the second summer holiday she misses their earlier time together spent in London. Explore the
evidence that, in spite of the passage of time, the wife finds it difficult to fit into a different culture and to consider what
effect this has on her relationship with her husband. You might begin with this excerpt: ‘My foreignness, which had been so charming, began to irritate him. My inability to remember names, to follow the minutiae of politics, my struggles with the
language, my need to be protected from the sun, the mosquitoes, the salads, the drinking water.’

Characters:
– Unnamed protagonist – blank narrator; fading love; disillusioned; displaced; lost; without solid purpose in life; alienated from new “place” (and daughter?); passive
– Unnamed husband – no identity (removed out of bitterness, or because he is simply no longer her life’s ‘focus’?); unwillingly fading love; still cares
– Lucy – new ‘focus,’ (therefore she gets a name?); torn between cultures
Basic Plot:
– Protagonist recounts (via narration and flashback) the generalities of her relationship to her now husband. This includes their early relationship (characterized by pure love, excitement of ‘foreignness’ and innocence), the decision to marry (supposed realization that he is the most important thing in her life via near death experience, also that he becomes her ‘reason to live’ (she writes for him, collects stories for him, etc) and – somewhat – vice versa), decision for children (penultimate expression of her love for him) and the slow breakdown of their relationship (drifting apart because of ‘practical’ differences and a waning of original emotions. The focus/ ‘reason for living’ shifts to Lucy). The exterior relationship begins to fall apart as she searches for her place in the world – this is something that shifts from Man to Lucy, but neither of these things are true purposes, just passing ones.
– A summer afternoon spent at a beach-house is rather inconsequential; therefore, deduce that the actions of our characters, since they do not contribute to the plot, are actually reflections of their personality.
– Narrative structure includes disconcerting juxtapositions between memory and the present to show the narrator’s state of mind.
Themes:
– Cross-cultural tensions/ ‘stranger in a strange land’ experiences
– Identity (how place influences identity/shows you things about yourself – like poems “Summer Farm” and “Where I Come From”) and finding one’s place in the world.

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