Author Topic: Interesting observations about the short story  (Read 6998 times)

Offline ednbarby

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Interesting observations about the short story
« on: July 20, 2006, 09:54:19 am »
I recently lent the short story to a good friend at work who is an avid reader and one of the sharpest people I know.  She read it twice and had three, I think, very interesting observations none of which I remember ever discussing here (she also saw the movie twice before she read the short story).

First, she said that when Ennis looks out Jack's bedroom window and it strikes him that this is the only road Jack ever knew growing up, it must also strike him how ironic it is that the Jack he knew came from such a stark and austere beginning.  I remember weeping the first time I saw the movie at the way Jack's room looked so bare - I couldn't put a finger on it, but something about such a burning soul living in that plain, cold room made my heart hurt.

Second, she said that the way A. Proulx describes nature as being so harsh and unforgiving is as if it's a metaphor for God (or society?) and that it seems to be trying to punish them more often than not.

Third, and most interesting, I think, she said that in the beginning, the narration seems to be coming from somewhere outside of or above Ennis - e.g., she says that he "urinated in the sink" instead of saying he "pissed in the sink."  But as the story goes on, the vernacular used in the narration changes.  It's as if she's getting further into Ennis' and Jack's world as she goes along, and in so doing that, she draws us into it, too.  Makes me wonder if Diana and Larry used Jack saying the word "asphyxiate" in the same way Annie used "urinated" early on - it sort of puts up a wall - the wall of Jack perhaps trying to impress Ennis with a "big word."  But as they get to know each other and their intimacy deepens, all walls (pretenses) fall away, and they talk in their most natural tongues to each other, and only to each other, and that draws us into their world, too.
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Offline Jeff Wrangler

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Re: Interesting observations about the short story
« Reply #1 on: July 20, 2006, 10:47:06 am »
Those are interesting observations, Barb.

As regards to the third one--I'm just ruminating here--I wonder whether the difference in the narration might have a more mundane explanation, simply coming from the fact that the beginning of the story as we know it now--call it the prologue, if you will--the part that's italicized in my copies--was apparently written/added on later?

That section of the story--Ennis waking up in the trailer, urinating in the sink, boiling the stale coffee--was not a part of the story as originally published in The New Yorker. My understanding for, like, six months, is that it was written later and added on when the story was included in Front Range.

Jack's use of asphyxiate has always fascinated me, too. Interesting thought about the "wall" coming down. So I wonder whether that "wall" is starting to go back up when Jack refers to Ennis's inability to meet him in August as "an unsatisfactory situation." Granted, he calls it "a goddamn bitch of an unsatisfactory situation," but "unsatisfactory situation" has always struck me as--I don't know--peculiarly high-toned under the circumstances?
"It is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide."--Charles Dickens.

Offline ednbarby

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Re: Interesting observations about the short story
« Reply #2 on: July 20, 2006, 11:20:01 am »
Jack's use of asphyxiate has always fascinated me, too. Interesting thought about the "wall" coming down. So I wonder whether that "wall" is starting to go back up when Jack refers to Ennis's inability to meet him in August as "an unsatisfactory situation." Granted, he calls it "a goddamn bitch of an unsatisfactory situation," but "unsatisfactory situation" has always struck me as--I don't know--peculiarly high-toned under the circumstances?

Good point, there, Jeff.  Yes, that always struck me as too high-toned under the circumstances, too - the very high-tonedness of it is what makes that line stand out to so many people, I think.  Rather than just say "This is a goddamn bitch," he adds that "of an unsatisfactory situation."  That was in the short story too, right?

Really, if you look at the short story minus the added-on prologue, there is still a sense of distancing in the narration at the beginning.  It starts out talking about where both of them were born and raised - on opposite ends of the state (which always hearkens to Plato's "Origin of Love" and the two halves of the two-backed individual being broken in two and flung to "opposite ends of the earth" to me) and how they came together in Aguirre's trailer.  Somehow there's a very subtle sense of distancing there - at least I know I don't start to feel myself getting pulled into it until they start talking to each other in the bar.  Maybe that's nothing extraordinary - you don't start to get a sense of characters until you hear them talk with your mind's ear.  But yeah, I do see Jack's saying "unsatisfactory situation" as putting up a wall.  If he wanted to really lay himself bare, he'd have said something like, "Ennis, I can't take this shit anymore.  I'm dyin', here.  Every time you go away, you take a piece of me with you."  (OK - I'm stealing shamelessly from Paul Young, there, but you get the gist.)  Instead, he puts up that bit of a barrier to protect himself.  :(
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Offline Brown Eyes

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Re: Interesting observations about the short story
« Reply #3 on: July 20, 2006, 02:33:12 pm »
Jack's use of asphyxiate has always fascinated me, too. Interesting thought about the "wall" coming down. So I wonder whether that "wall" is starting to go back up when Jack refers to Ennis's inability to meet him in August as "an unsatisfactory situation." Granted, he calls it "a goddamn bitch of an unsatisfactory situation," but "unsatisfactory situation" has always struck me as--I don't know--peculiarly high-toned under the circumstances?

I will agree here, this is a very good observation!  It is awfully formal language for Jack.  This in addition to all the layers of clothing (which tend to indicate distance/ walls between our boys) does seem to be a little bit about the tension and potential pit falls at this moment in their relationship.

I recently lent the short story to a good friend at work who is an avid reader and one of the
First, she said that when Ennis looks out Jack's bedroom window and it strikes him that this is the only road Jack ever knew growing up, it must also strike him how ironic it is that the Jack he knew came from such a stark and austere beginning.  I remember weeping the first time I saw the movie at the way Jack's room looked so bare - I couldn't put a finger on it, but something about such a burning soul living in that plain, cold room made my heart hurt.

Yes, Jack's room is unspeakably sad.  It emphasizes the poverty that Jack probably really understands down to his core (contradicting Ennis's idea that Jack had forgotten 'what it's like bein broke all the time') and yes, it also emphasizes the bleakness and boredom (for a restless kind of guy like Jack) of his background.  It's so hard to think of sweet Jack growing up in that hard-edged environment with an abusive Dad.  More than ever Mrs. Twist seems like the life saver here.  The visual emptiness of the room as a place also just hits us and Ennis over the head with the idea that Jack is not here anymore.  So the room feels particularly dead and tomb-like.  But, it is amazing how much Ennis is able to learn about Jack in that short visit to the room.

Quote
Second, she said that the way A. Proulx describes nature as being so harsh and unforgiving is as if it's a metaphor for God (or society?) and that it seems to be trying to punish them more often than not.

I've always thought that the nature in the book seemed harsher than the nature in the movie.  Some of Proulx's descriptions are down-right scary.  Doesn't she describe the mountain as having something like "demonic" energy at one point?  I don't have my book with me at the moment to check it out.  But, her descriptive passages about nature just knock me out.  They're some of my favorite aspects of the book.

Quote
Third, and most interesting, I think, she said that in the beginning, the narration seems to be coming from somewhere outside of or above Ennis...

I've always noticed the sense of narrative distance too.  It hadn't occurred to me to think of it as becoming increasingly familiar or vernacular as it goes on... That's an interesting point.  I think the overall sense of distance is very important to the idea of the reader's/viewer's role as intruder into a very personal story.  I don't mean intruder in a very negative way.  But, we are "voyeurs" here onto a story that is "private and precious" as Lee says.  I think the fact that we briefly inhabit Aguirre's viewing position (as we watch the happy tussle through his binoculars... as if we're actually inside his head or have his eyeballs) emphasizes the idea that we're voyeurs.  Even if we're not as bad or hostile as Aguirre.  Also, the fact that we often can't hear the boys' dialogue from a distance or even understand their whispers adds to the idea that we are inserting ourselves into a private encounter.
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Offline Front-Ranger

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Re: Interesting observations about the short story
« Reply #4 on: July 20, 2006, 02:49:14 pm »
This is so interesting and I'm so glad U brought it up. The topic of word choices in the book and movie is deep and we have hardly even scratched the surface. As I recall from reading the story, Jack loved to use big words. He would say "I'm commutin four hours a day" and would often get them wrong, such as asphixiate (as U point out), athaletes,  and vertebrates. I attribute this to Jack always wanting to better himself, to leave the poverty-ridden confines of his youth. And, as Jake said, he always tried really hard in everything he did.
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Offline Jeff Wrangler

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Re: Interesting observations about the short story
« Reply #5 on: July 20, 2006, 03:25:18 pm »
This is so interesting and I'm so glad U brought it up. The topic of word choices in the book and movie is deep and we have hardly even scratched the surface. As I recall from reading the story, Jack loved to use big words. He would say "I'm commutin four hours a day" and would often get them wrong, such as asphixiate (as U point out), athaletes,  and vertebrates. I attribute this to Jack always wanting to better himself, to leave the poverty-ridden confines of his youth. And, as Jake said, he always tried really hard in everything he did.

About all I got time for (right now) is makin' a livin' (I'm at work), but I didn't want to pass up the opportunity to mention that I've always thought "commuting" was a funny concept to be coming from a Wyomin' ranch kid in 1963.
"It is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide."--Charles Dickens.

Offline ednbarby

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Re: Interesting observations about the short story
« Reply #6 on: July 20, 2006, 04:35:27 pm »
About all I got time for (right now) is makin' a livin' (I'm at work), but I didn't want to pass up the opportunity to mention that I've always thought "commuting" was a funny concept to be coming from a Wyomin' ranch kid in 1963.

Me, too!  And that's an excellent point, F-R - you're right - I think all those usages are just Jack trying really hard to be something better - not so much than he is, but than he assumes (and is right) that the world thinks he is.
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Re: Interesting observations about the short story
« Reply #7 on: July 20, 2006, 05:26:06 pm »

That section of the story--Ennis waking up in the trailer, urinating in the sink, boiling the stale coffee--was not a part of the story as originally published in The New Yorker. My understanding for, like, six months, is that it was written later and added on when the story was included in Front Range.
Hey, Jeff--

According to one of our former members who has since moved on, the 'prologue' (which I also have always seen italicized) was part of Proulx's original copyrighted text, but was omitted at the request of the editor(s) of The New Yorker when they accepted the story for publication in 1997. This portion of the story was reincorporated when the tale was next published in Close Range: Wyoming Stories. How this fellow knew this I can't rightly remember, nor do I recall an explanation for the putative editorial decision. As this fellow no longer has an active account with us, searching for the relevant post containing this information would present something of a challenge.

The tone of the story changes immensely with the inclusion of the prologue. Without it, the ending offers a feeling of horror, suggesting a kind of emotional stasis for Ennis not unlike what one might associate with hellish or purgatorial experiences. With the opening episode intact, the brutality of Ennis's situation is softened somewhat, reinforcing that, amidst his grief and solitude, the ageing cowboy does sustain some sense of pleasure and relief through his memory of Jack.

Offline Front-Ranger

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Re: Interesting observations about the short story
« Reply #8 on: July 20, 2006, 05:44:02 pm »
I have the same recollection about the on-again off-again prologue as you do, Scott. Was it in the "Getting Movied" essay in Story to Screenplay that Proulx talked about that? Can't recall...

I have never actually read the prologue, but I thought it had kind of negative tone... didn't it mention the wind slamming into Ennis's trailer like a load of dirt, as if he were being buried alive? But I know the New Yorker piece definitely had the words "joy and release" at the end, so I read it with a little frisson of hope. 
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Offline Jeff Wrangler

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Re: Interesting observations about the short story
« Reply #9 on: July 20, 2006, 07:09:25 pm »
Now that you mention it, Scott, I have a vague memory of reading that post about the prologue being "cut" by The New Yorker, but then I also have a vague memory of that point being disputed, that, indeed, it was written later. I need to look in my "Documents" to see whether I might have saved anything about this. I'm sure it doesn't come "right from the source" (Annie Proulx) in "Getting Movied."

???

The prologue does, indeed, describe the wind hitting the trailer like that, but I always feel that, nevertheless, the prologue adds a hopeful note because it describes Ennis as "suffused with a sense of pleasure because Jack Twist was in his dream."
"It is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide."--Charles Dickens.