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  Brad's Teacher Writing: Out-of-Class Essay

April 4, 2006

The following essay was written to demonstrate a response using the overall quality of a story as a basis for a writing topic. The essay is a required length of 750 words.


Three Memorable Stories

We remember many things in life, but often forget the power of the story to give us long-lasting and vivid memories. Stories let us experience new and different worlds (and world views) and if the story is a good one, it can also become part of us, held in our memory for life. The three stories—“The Doll’s House”; “The Lottery”; “The Heyday of the Blood”—are deeply fixed in my memory.

Katherine Mansfield’s story, “The Doll’s House,” is filled with the small, familiar, details of life. Her child characters “burned to tell everybody, to describe, to -- well -- to boast about their doll's house before the school-bell rang.” Children are as children really are and Mansfield, disguised by her omniscient narrator, freely comments on their lives. Her voice is powerful and we become as sure as she is that children embody our values—in them is a mirror of ourselves, with all our prejudices, too. When reminded by Lil that her mother wouldn’t allow the Kelvey’s into the yard, Kezia “didn't know what to reply.” In the end we can also remember that small hope, a girl with no answer for Lil’s question.

It isn’t only the narrator, however, that makes “The Doll’s House” a memory worth savouring, showing us through her details of setting the differences between people of a different class. On one side of the bench, girls eating “thick mutton sandwiches” and on the other, the little Kelveys with “jam sandwiches out of a newspaper soaked with large red blobs.” The rich have their mutton; the poor a hastily made jam sandwich. The inequality is unmistakable; the social message is clear. Mansfield’s story is unforgettable for its social consciousness and for its sharply observant narrative voice.

How to begin to speak of “The Lottery,” a story hotly debated by many, and one that I’m sure not only I will never forget? I have my keenly observant students to thank for new memories and new reactions to Shirley Jackson’s masterpiece. She gives us boys “selecting the smoothest and roundest stones,” an executioner who organizes “the square dances, the teen club, the Halloween program” and a housewife who “Clean forgot what day it was.” She shows us a husband who appears to feel no emotion as he “forced the slip of paper out of [his wife’s] hand.”

She not only imprints a picture of the village on our mind; after we experience the horrifying end of Tessie at the hands of a mob throwing stones, we go back to read the story again looking for clues, a reason, a justification. Finding none, we look harder still. We find Mr. Adams and see a glimmer of hope as some towns “have already quit lotteries”; nevertheless, we find him “in the front of the crowd of villagers” as the stoning begins. Then, we look again and find Mrs. Delacroix hoisting “a stone so large she had to pick it up with both hands.” Whatever her purpose, Shirley Jackson’s story, its characters, and its terrifying conclusion counts among the most unforgettable.

It is a relief, then, to turn to Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s story, “The Heyday of the Blood,” a story about memory but one that also reminds us to live each day as if we are in our “heyday.” We are introduced to a great grandfather who, when told he may not travel to a country fair, “grimly tied a knot in his empty sleeve” and when he sneaks away with little Jo Mallory dances a “shuffling fandango of triumph.” Gran’ther Pendleton is indeed a “madcap,” but in his madness we find a hint at what makes living worthwhile, not to mention interesting and fun!

Canfield Fisher makes the setting at the country fair come to life. The boy and his great grandfather see “monstrous oxen,” “prize pigs” and “serried ranks of preserve jars.” They play on a new amusement, the merry-go-round, and “rode and rode and rode, through blinding clouds of happy excitement.” A visit to the racetrack finds Gran’ther “screaming like a steam-calliope” when his horse wins the race! Our mind is filled with the memories, and though interpreted for us with some embellishment by the professor in his first person narration, the story captures well the excitement of a day spent playing hooky from life, taking a risk or two, risking a bit of “indigestion” along the way. The “heyday” indeed!

The three stories are memorable and for that they are of the highest quality. What we remember becomes a part of us. Our memories are what make us what we are. What better way to remind ourselves of the pleasure we can find in a good story than to think of Kezia’s gift to the Kelveys, to imagine a woman trying to protect herself from a hail of stones, to see a naughty great grandfather out “skylarkin”?


—815 words; first draft for a 750-word essay by Brad Hyde



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