In the first portion of this essay I will be comparing the Character of Parson from “Back of Beyond” by Ron Rash and Dalloway from “Lucky Seven & Dalloway” by Stephanie Dickinson. In the second portion I will be describing the impact of Ishmael Beah's Long Way Gone on me, and why that novel as opposed to the other short stories and novel we have read affected me the most.
Despite the age difference Parson from "Back of Beyond" and Dalloway from "Lucky Seven & Dalloway" share startling similarities. The most prominent is how they both react to unsatisfactory situations at home.
Parson sates that hard farm work, and everything that defined his family is farmers is "-the very things that had driven him away in the first place" (Rash 155). But there is an underlying message, as he pulls up Parson thinks "he should feel more than the burn of anger directed at his nephew, but Parson couldn't summon it and if he had, then what for?" (Rash 155). Parson ran to the city because he wanted to be away from his family, away from the farm life. Away from not necessarily negative memories but of memories that meant nothing to him but the memory of sweat.
Dalloway is the same in some ways, "I am a runaway that part is simple" (Dickinson 370). Dalloway's stated reasons are different, her father and mother are changing and forgetting about their daughter. Her father becoming a woman. Her mother remarrying, thus completing the destruction of her past life as the daughter of her Father and Mother. All of these are her stated reasons for running away.
But the attribute that Parson and Dalloway share is a very important one. That attribute is the ability to run away. The ability to run away is the ability to push all emotional attachments aside, at least for a brief moment. And decide that they are not important enough to keep you around. Parson may not go the physical difference that Dalloway goes, but he is emotionally running away still. So much so that he would rather sleep in his truck during a blizzard then stay one more night in the place he once called home.
Furthermore be it twenty miles or two hundred the ability to run away is important because of the symbolism of running away. Running away is an attempt to sever a connection with memories of the past, and redefine one's self without certain aspects of the past. For both Dalloway and Parson the location defined the memory they were trying to get away from. For Parson that memory was one of hard useless work. For Dalloway that memory was of her parents and their selfish behavior. The distance Parson and Dalloway go defines both how important their past relationships were, and how they will choose to interact with new relationships.
Both have created distance however Parson keeps his old relationships only occasionally coming back. redefining his relationship with his brother as the situation changes. Dalloway severs ties completely and seeks out a new type of paternal relationship. So while both Dalloway use distance they both redefine and change relationships in different ways.
Parson minimalizes his relationship with his brother, only having a concern when it becomes obvious that the brother can no longer care for himself. Dalloway on the other negates her previous relationship and searches for a new relationship. In her case she is searching for a new father, who she almost finds in Hector.
It is important to realize that both these characters are in a current state of running away. Dalloway is physically running away. and never gives an indication that she is planning on returning. Parson is emotionally running away. Parson claims he "never regretted leaving", but his actions speak that he isn't leaving he is running (Rash 155).
You ain't thinking of driving back to Tuckasegee tonight?" Ray asked. "The roads will be dangerous."
"I'll be all right. My jeep can handle them."
"I still wish you wouldn't go," ray said, "you ain't slept under this roof for near forty years. that's too long."
"Not tonight," Parson said.
The invitation is extended, and his brother Ray truly wants him to stay, and yet Parson risks the weather to not stay at his brothers. Parson would rather risk his life than stay near his brother and his birth home, and Dalloway is doing the same thing. She is risking her life hitchhiking with strangers rather than staying home. Other than this need to run the Characters couldn't be any more different.
Parson uses his job as pawnbroker as both identity and excuse to run from his emotions. There ages and stages of life also separate the two characters. Dalloway is a young girl, early adolescence, while Parson is in his sixties, he is in late adult hood. Parson has a job a home an ex wife, Dalloway has one hundred dollars to her name. the two characters come from very distinct back grounds. Parson is a southerner, he in fact seems like the quintessential good old boy. While Dalloway grew up in an apparent life of privilege in New York city of all places.
Yet despite all of these differences the two characters end in very similar circumstances. They discover that despite trying to run away be that emotional or physical removal something will happen to pull them back in.
Parson is pulled back in to his emotions by the actions of his nephew. and despite his words oif he did not feel something he would not have bothered to chase away Danny. If Parsons truly didn't care he would have taken his lost twenty dollars out of Danny's hide the next time he saw him. The fact that Parson went back to his child hood home indicates that the emotions he has been running from have been lingering and waiting for an opportunity to be expressed.
Dalloway is physically running from heartbreak and heart pain. She feels abandoned, and disappointed with the adults in her life. Unfortunately for her these exact same emotions, the very reasons she ran away, come back to haunt her with the death of Lucky Seven.
It seems that no matter what these characters try to do, where they try to go, or how they try tom hide, that everything they run away from come back to haunt them. In the end both of these characters are forced to face the fact that you can never truly run away.
I would have to say that Ishmael Beah's Long way Gone is the one single book that we have read that has affected me the most. To start I should say why non e of the other texts really affected me. I have a very disturbing home life and am fairly well read and interested in most things. SO I have known for a while about the STD ratios among the senior citizens is quite high. In fact my Grand Father on my Dad's side contracted AIDS from unprotected sex. He contracted it about ten years ago.
I have an uncle who came out of the closet in college, and when his roommates tormented him it caused his latent dissociative identity disorder to become prominent. I have a cousin who developed schizophrenia from meth use... or his schizophrenia encouraged his meth use. The doctors aren't really sure which came first. I have an uncle who died from a drug overdose, then his girlfriend at the time stole the drug he died from, after he had died, from the room his body was in. My mother was pregnant at the age of seventeen. She married the guy, had my older brother. Then she divorced him, had a two night stand with his brother and had me.
My older brother eventually became a drug dealer, quit being a drug dealer went back got his GED and went to the University of Washington .
Needless to say, every short story and The English Major don't really surprise me in terms of content. As for the use of descriptive wording, it all sort of blends in together. All of these authors were published for their ability to write, I am also an aspiring writer, so while I can appreciate their diction, syntax, plot structure and tone, I am expecting it from all of these writers. For me the big difference is a long way gone. This novel speaks to me because of both its subject and how its subject is approached.
This story is about a boy soldier, but it is not so much about the war, or even his experiences during the war. For me this story isn't a war story, and this is made clear in my favorite line. "We had been fighting for over two years, and killing had become a daily activity" (Beah 126).
That single quote makes this my favorite story. An average story about a child soldier may focus on the battles, or focus on the army, or even focus on the cause. But Beah sums up his experiences over two years in a single line. For me this completely shifts the context. The novel contains violence, and the war, but the real focus is not on the fact that it is a war, but on how the violence changes Beah and his friends.
The sentence is short, and to the point. Beah uses a similar tactic, in the structure of his novel. It can be broken into thirds. before he becomes a soldier, when he is a soldier and the aftermath. The shortest portion of the novel is the section where he is a soldier, he is trained, goes into his first battle, and comes back to do drugs and cope.
Besides that single sentence I think I was most affected by was when Beah asked, "Hey, you fellows have any tafe [marijuana] for us?" (Beah 137). I have no delusion about drugs, or drug use. However the fact that even after he is out of the kill or be killed situation he wants things from that situation. He has so acculturated himself to being in the military that he asks for pot, and goes on to behave atrociously hoping that they would send him back to the front.
I think what is amazing about this story, especially as the part during which Ishmael and his friends start to go through withdrawal, is that it shows how humans adapt for survival. Beah started out completely hating having to do what he did. But by the end of a week he was comfortable with his gun. He clung to the idea of what the rebels did to his family and made that the focus of his life. Whereas before he joined the military he didn't want to kill them he only feared getting killed. Beah does a complete one hundred eighty degree turn, and he does it out of necessity.
I think the most compelling aspect of this story is it's truth. And that its message is conveyed using a simplicity of diction. By simple I don't mean he is talking folksy, or using language that is choppy or short. Beah uses simple words, he is not trying to impress us with his vocabulary.
There were a multiple routes Beah could have gone. If Beah were trying to for distancing himself he could have use a lot of technical jargon, explaining how he was numb and emotionally distant And though this is a telling of his story he isn't overly self analytical. That, for me was key. By trying to convey to us his story as best as he can remember.
I think a good example of this is how he describes what he felt and did after he earned the nickname green snake. "I was happy with my name, and on every raid I made sure I did as my name required" (Beah 144). Beah could have easily gone into some length on saying why the nickname made him happy. Or how the nickname helped to cement his feeling of being part of a family, or even how the Green Snake Persona took over his identity. He doesn't. With nineteen words he conveys all of these different ideas, and more.
I also like that Beah didn't go the other route and completely wax poetic. If Beah had used too many similes, or if he'd used a hyperbole it would have rang untrue. The lack of certain devices like hyperboles makes this story tat much more engaging. This novel is one of the cases where less is more.
Language aside, Beah as the character is portrayed particularly well, he has our sympathy, but not our pity. I think that is an important difference. If a character is pitiable that he is according to our culture, a bit pathetic. We don't expect him to succeed. We as readers would just say aw, that's too bad and move on. By gaining our sympathy he kind of becomes the underdog. We want him to succeed, we want him to break free of the violence. I think this contrast is obtained by making him not just a victim of violence, but also a perpetrator of violence.
It easy as a reader to pity a starving boy, who is always running, trying not get killed by both friend and foe. It is difficult to pity someone who goes from the chaser to the chased. And Beah manages to insert that little kernel of knowledge at the very beginning. The subtitle Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. If this subtitle hadn't been put on the cover I think many would not have been able to get past the first half of the book. The fact that we as readers know up front that he will be both victim and victimizer alters our perception and how we read those first one hundred pages. And then the fact that we see mostly what happens before and after he is a solider is what elevates this book beyond that of a simple recounting of a horrible war. It becomes a pilgrims tale of the destruction and eventual redemption of Beah.
The reason i picked this book as perhaps the most life affirming or life changing book is because it picks me up out of my every day. It forces me to look at another culture, to weigh my own values and problems and issues and truly decide is what I am doing that important?
It also asks to consider my fears. I have a slight social anxiety issue. Not in class, but going new places, getting involved in new groups . It can be terrifying. But then I think of something like a long way gone, and I think there is nothing that will happen here that could kill me or haunt me or hurt me. So I should get off my ass and do something.
I think the factual events regarding this novel are what really makes it a great novel. It causes us to consider it in a different light. The book is only 230 pages long. The use of easy uncomplicated syntax and diction make it an easy read. If only read as a narrative this book would be a breeze. It could be read in one sitting easily. However knowing it is truth, or at least the truth as best as Beah is able to relate it, gives every event in the text that much more weight. we as readers have to give just that much more consideration to the events we are reading.
As a memoir of a traumatic time I do think it is important to realize that this is Beah's memory as best as he can recall, while giving us a compelling story. Slight fictionalizing I think is ok. Two people become one character, time being condensed is fine. But as long as the heart and soul and events are true, this story will remain very important novel for me. Possibly life changing.
Beah, Ishmael. long way gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. New York: Sarah Crichton Books,
Dickinson, Stephanie. "Lucky Seven & Dalloway." New Stories from the South. Ed. ZZ Packer. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Paperbacks, 2008. 370-387.
Rash, Ron. "Back of Beyond." New Stories from the South. Ed. ZZ Packer. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Paperbacks, 2008. 150-166.