Andre Dubus, Raymond Carver and Shirley Jackson

Andre Dubus, Raymond Carver and Shirley Jackson have changed the landscape of contemporary fiction both culturally and stylistically. All three comment about the affect upon the individual whose life circumstances have caused them to act the way that they do. When reading their short stories you can’t help but notice that Dubus and Carver have very similar styles. Their use of the first person narrative allows them to step back from the story and have less of an interpretive influence. Their lack of total control leaves the reader to use her own logic and rational, while dealing only with perceptions.

The first person narrator does not presume to have insight into each characters feelings and emotions. The minimalist details that emanate from this narrative place an importance on our individual perception. This style throws the reader directly into the middle of a scene without any background information or direction. Without a narrative presence telling the reader what to think about a situation and with only fragments of details, we have to rely on what the narrator may or may not know. The reader is immediately put on guard to question the situation.

While not all the stories are in first person, a majority of them are. None of these authors appear to be intellectual writers. Dubus’ characters are rarely able to escape into abstraction: they exist, at times irritatingly, in the here and now, they drink, commit adultery and break, often beyond repair. Like Carver, his stories can be almost too painful to read. Their prose has the familiar cadences of everyday talk. It reveals a graver, more intimate self-knowledge, as if it emerged from the soul. It reflects the way we make sense of the world and the stories we tell ourselves about who we are.

It is as if each author had decided that only by enacting the most painful and intimate emotional moments in life could they learn their lessons. Dubus’ overarching theme is married life: its banalities, its predictable crises, its blind and sometimes seeing and saving faith, the deep knowledge that grows up between a man and a woman after years of the work of living together. To this subject Dubus brings a relentless, meticulous tough-mindedness: he never shirks from facing even the most excruciating emotional truths.

He observes, without judging, the ways that people haphazardly kill the things most important to them, the way that fate and deceit and forgetfulness doom the highest hopes. For Dubus, the pact between man and woman is where those hopes are born and where they sometimes die. Carver’s stories are rather warm and light-hearted. His characters tend to be naive and innocent. An interesting theme in his stories is community reconsidered. His message seems to say that there is good in society, which is a message worth listening to.

A successful community depends on two somewhat competing elements: One, the recognition of our common humanity; and two, the recognition that it is strikingly hard to walk in anyone else’s shoes other than our own, and thus we must listen to and respect the viewpoint and experiences of others. Communication, sympathy, empathy and even the despair of death are given some kind of redemption, either a personal healing or a note of rebirth. His stories tend to represent solidarity within our communities.

It is clear to see that there are certainly parallels between these authors’ works. Where differences arise, they are only because of the shift of mediums–the result, however, tends to be the same. The reader is left with an encapsulated moment that is left open for the reader to bring herself to the narrative and find her own experiences within it. Because of the way the work is presented, I find it much more realistic than any realist could hope to conjure up. One could argue that reality is not life so much as minimalism is life.

Irony in Jackson’s writing works to illustrate her message. Jackson’s theme is one of double-sided human nature, which represents a philosophy that shows that she was concerned with how society alters the natural state of \”man\”. Jackson, like Carver and Dubus, did not view natural man as inherently good. She tells the traditional Gothic story from the unique perspective of the outcast. Jackson rarely ends her stories with a resolution of the plot; instead, a dramatic incident or revelation serves to illustrate the irony she sees in the world.

In her short story, \”The Lottery,\” Jackson takes pains to describe a village of hard working, upstanding Americans. Jackson elicits sympathy for the protagonist and hatred toward the society that condemns them. In placing mythic tales of scapegoats and stoning in modern America, Jackson creates poignant criticism of her society’s dysfunctional beliefs. She was able to be natural even about the supernatural. This element of reality in her paranormal tales comes from her thorough character development.

In many works, Jackson portrays heroines who detest their menial existence. In their search for their selves, they rebel and are subsequently punished. Great stories offer a complex experience of meaning. I agree with Chekhov that fiction aims not to answer questions but to dramatize them. It opens up and illumines questions, which touch human life at its deepest. Unlike events on the evening news, fictional event is always linked to character, its implications shown embodied in human lives.

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