English 2013: Introduction to American Literature
Assignment Ten -- Love is Strange
The thematic focus of the literature that we are examining in assignments nine through twelve is love. In this tenth assignment the readings focus on love relationships that are strange, violent or destructive.
In this tenth assignment you are asked to read short stories written by one nineteenth-century author -- Kate Chopin-- and four twentieth-century writers --William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Eudora Welty, and Maxine Hong Kingston.
Three of these works "A Rose for Emily," "Good Country People," and "Petrified Man" can be classified as Southern gothic--works that include grotesque Southern characters or events: a fondly preserved corpse, a leg-stealing bible salesman, and a rapist disguised as a sideshow freak. You can read a fuller definition of Southern Gothic with links to related terms at Wikipedia.com
Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" tells a disturbing story of desperate love that leads to murder and inappropriate corpse preservation. This desperate love, however, is not the only, or the most important theme of the story. In the story Faulkner examines the decay of the Old South in the face of commercial "Yankee" pressures. Faulkner employs an unusual narrative technique in which the story is told from the collective point of view of the town.
Eudora Welty's "Petrified Man" admits the reader into the "woman's world" of the beauty shop, and through that perspective Welty describes the mixture of attraction and repulsion that drives male-female relationships. One of the focuses of "Petrified Man" is story-telling and the women who visit Leota's shop create and recreate their world through their descriptions of it.
Flannery O'Connor's fiction places issues of gender, region, and class in the context of religious faith. Joy/Hulga in "Good Country People" wants to see the world as a dark, meaningless reflection of her own pain, but her effort to "corrupt" Manley Pointer only serves to uncover her own desperate need for love, acceptance, and belief.
(Mary) Flannery O'Connor
Maxine Hong Kingston
Maxine Hong Kingston's "No-Name Woman" is a multi-cultural and multi-generational story that explores the terribly abusive treatment of women in early twentieth-century China. The story's narrator is forced through the telling of her aunt's story to define her own relation to her heritage and her family.
In "Desiree's Baby" Kate Chopin addresses the controversial subjects of racial identity, prejudice, and miscengenation. This tragic tale shows how absurd -- or in this case completely mistaken -- societal prejudices can destroy love. The Kate Chopin International Society maintains an informative site. PBS has a valuable Chopin site that is based on material from the documentary Kate Chopin a Re-Awakening.