Am I Missing Something?

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"As an exercise, you might imagine that a certain part of the work you are studying has been taken away.  Does it make sense?  Does it seem truncated?  Why should the missing part be returned?"  (102).
                         Roberts, Writing About Literature

For this exercise, I imagined that the first section of Maupassant's "The Necklace," up to the point in which Loisel tells Mathilde that they are invited to a dinner, was taken away from the story.  Without this section, the reader does not know that Mathilde sees herself as being "destined for all delicacies and luxuries" (5), or that she only marries Loisel because she has "no dowry, no prospects, no way of getting known, courted, loved, married by a rich and distinguished man."  The reader would therefore have no idea why Mathilde would be so upset about receiving an invitation to this special dinner that her husband "had a lot of trouble getting" (6).  It makes Mathilde seem even more ungrateful than she actually is.

The story doesn't necessarily seem truncated without this section, but it does seem incomplete since this part specifically serves as the exposition of the narrative.  It needs to be part of the piece because it is the "laying out [of] ... the main characters, their backgrounds, their characteristics, interests, goals, limitations, potentials, and basic assumptions" (99). Without it, the reader is unable to get a complete understanding of the story, which is essentially the purpose of any literary work.

7 Comments

Melissa Schwenk said:

I agree with your example, but for a different story like Trifles by Susan Glaspell, the reader doesn't know everything that took place. We don't even know if Mrs. Wright gets away with killing her husband since the story does not continue. Also, the information we have before Mr. Hale finds the body is very limited to other characters’ perspectives. Plus, the reader has to believe that other characters' motives are sincere toward Mrs. Wright. So for most stories, it is better to know as much as you can about the characters and their reasoning behind their actions. However, in some cases though, it is better to leave it up to the interpretation of the reader. I think if we had known everything that took place in Trifles, the story would have been less interesting to read and draw conclusions from.

Josie Rush said:

I liked both of your examples and I think they really showed the importance of the mentioned scenes. Kudos for doing the experiment. Though, I'm not sure that I really liked that exercise. It seemed kind of...pointless. I mean, won't any story suffer if a random chunk of it is taken out? What exactly was Roberts expecting to prove with this? It's a little like saying, take a piece of your engine out and see if your car still drives as well. It definitely won't. Maybe I'm missing something, though. Karyssa and Melissa, did doing that exercise help you out at all?

Melissa: I agree that you. The reader doesn't need to know everything all the time about a literary work, but only if that was the author's intention in the first place. With "Trifles," I think the story would be boring and far less meaningful if we knew everything about it.

Josie: No, the exercise did not help me much at all. It seemed interesting when I approached it, and I didn't want the time it took to think about it and blog about it to go to waste. It was extremely pointless, though.

Melissa Schwenk said:

Well, when I was thinking about it (since Karyssa obviously roped me into thinking about it) I figured that I might as well see if it worked with every literature story out there. Obviously, not all of them will work. So I figured it was worth mentioning.

Jessica Orlowski said:

Alright... I agree that you need some background information for a story to "make sense." It depends on the type of story. Some need background info and others don't. What about "An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge"? I think that this story would have been more effective WITHOUT the background info at the beginning. The shock factor would have been more intense.

(PS... I didn't find the exercise effective, either. Isn't it obvious that taking a chunk out of a story is a bad idea??)

Jess: I think the background info at the beginning of "An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge" actually was necessary. The plot in the first section wasn't so important as was the way the author revealed the plot. Having the different points of view in the story allowed me to connect more deeply with Farquhar because of that contrast from the distant/objective third person omniscient POV to the deeper/more connected third person limited POV.

Jessica Orlowski said:

Personally, I believe that if the story would have been written a little differently, it would have been a disaster. I agree with the fact that the switch from third person omniscient to third person limited helped me to relate to Farquar more easily, but I still believe that had Bierce not clued us in to the entire plot, it would have been more effective. It's almost like telling someone that a joke is going to be "soooooooooo funny" and then telling them the joke. Evidently, the joke is less funny than it would have been had he or she not told you that it was actually supposed to be funny.

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