¶ … representation of Death and the impermanence in the short story "A Father's Story" by Andre Dubus, and the poem "Because I could not stop for Death" by Emily Dickinson. These two works were chosen because both speak of Death and impermanence, yet these authors employ different literary forms, characters, settings and plots. "A Father's Story" follows the format of a short story, being prose written in concise paragraphs with a main point or moral and portraying its characters by the way they speak. "Because I could not stop for Death" follows the form of poetry, being structured in shifted lines and using language to evoke imagination or emotion in the reader. In addition, the two writers substantively approach Death very differently. Comparison of these distinct forms shows how writers can make very different styles and statements about Death and impermanence through different devices, including but not limited to the short story and poetry.
a. Comparison of the Forms of the Short Story and the Poem
A short story follows a classic form: it is brief, uses few characters, strives to prove a main point, and uses concise, pointed writing to move the story along quickly and to portray each character by the way he/she speaks (Moake, n.d.). However, within that basic format, the short story device allows a great deal of creativity and ranges all the way from "an entertainment convention" to a form of "high art" (Stein & Stein, 2012, p. 196). Andre Dubus, the author of "A Father's Story," was dedicated to the literary form called the short story. Dubus is quoted as saying, "I love short stories because I believe they are the way we live. They are what our friends tell us, in their pain and joy, their passion and rage, their yearning and their cry against injustice" (Bodwell, 2008). As might be expected, Dubus wrote numerous short stories and became known as a "writer's writer" (Bodwell, 2008). Dubus' "A Father's Story" follows the classic format of a short story, yet it is very creative.
A poem seems harder to define than a short story because poetry seems more ethereal. We know poetry when we see it but generally describing it can be difficult. Consequently, a brief definition seems to be the best starting point. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, poetry is "literature that evokes a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience or a specific emotional response through language chosen and arranged for its meaning, sound and rhythm" (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2013). Formal poetry tends to be distinguished from prose, including the short story, in two ways: by its form on a page in balanced, shifted lines; by the way poetry is spoken, for according to Ben Johnson, "poetry speaketh somewhat above a mortal mouth" (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2013). Poetry lovers such as Paul Valery, a French poet, state that prose is "walking" while poetry is "dancing" (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2013). Consequently, poetry is still a member of the "literature family" but it has a very distinct and highly artistic form and treatment. Emily Dickinson, who is one of the most famous American poets, rarely left her home or had visitors. Many of her poems reflect her isolation and her loneliness (Academy of American Poets, 2013).
Emily Dickinson's "Because I could not stop for Death" follows those telltale aspects of poetry and can be sharply contrasted with Dubus' "A Father's Story." The poem is written in balanced and shifted lines while the short story is written in prose, in paragraphs that break down the story into pieces and contains a clear time frame. In addition, the poem is read aloud differently than the short story: Dickinson's work is read aloud as a lyrical, almost musically rhythmic, work; meanwhile, the short story is read just as one might read this paper. Furthermore, Dickinson's poem is more like artistically "dancing" than a Dubus' short story, because the poem doesn't take pains to explain Death as much: it relies on the reader's "imaginative awareness" or "emotional response" to the specific words she uses and the rhythm and the balanced lines; meanwhile, Dubus' short story reads like a parable containing a lesson or moral in which the father speaks of his morals as a Christian and how he lost them to protect his daughter (Smith, 2007). In sum, though "Because I could not stop for Death" and "A Father's Story" both deal with Death, the literary forms used are very different...
Comparison of the Substance, Characters, Settings and Plots of "A Father's Story" and "Because I could not stop for Death"
The manner in which Dubus and Dickinson substantively treat Death is also different. The main character in the story is the father who ignores his religious belief in order to protect his daughter from the consequences of killing a man with her car. However, in the poem "Because I could not stop for Death," the author displays how the main character accepted Death as a friend and a part of life until the end. The short story discuss the character's life before it yields into the talk of Death; however, the poem talks of Death right at the beginning of the poem. The two pieces of literature imply an acceptance of the inevitability of Death by both authors. Death, in these two pieces of literature, is more than just absence of the soul from the body. In the poem and the short story, there are three types of Death experiences represented: emotional Death, spiritual Death, and physical Death. Exploring these different kinds of Death experiences shows similarities and differences between the two pieces of literature. The inevitability of Death and the emotions involved are described in both of these pieces.
"A Father's Story" is a short story describing the life of Luke Ripley who is a Catholic. Ripley loses wife and children to an obviously bitter divorce. This represents an emotional Death experience in the story. He describes the feeling of loneliness and pain of being in the house all alone with no family. He explains the aggravation in knowing that, being a Catholic, he could not fill that void in his life with love of another woman because his faith teaches that he can't marry twice. He goes on and on about how good life was in the days when he and his wife Gloria were together and his family was intact. He speaks as if the life, hope, and simplicity of life left with his wife and children in that U-Haul all those years ago. Luke is dead emotionally he constantly lives with the regret that his marriage didn't work and he has to stay single for the rest of his life because of his faith (Smith, 2007). He confessed to the sin of fornication, which he admitted he willingly committed on two different occasions with two different women whom he did not love. Luke's emotional Death is triggered not by the divorce or the lack of a family life, but by the Catholic practice that once divorced, a Catholic believer can't remarry. This eliminated all hope of loving again or picking up the broken pieces of his life and moving on happily with someone else. Ripley's emotional Death is seen as clearly as his sharp sense of self-awareness throughout this short story (Smith, 2007).
Luke later describes the frustrations of trying to live up to the expectations of being a true Catholic. He explains that being a true Catholic is too hard and how he has never come across real saintliness, giving the synopsis that until the pope sells his house and everything in it, he would never respect a pope. He struggles trying to balance concentration in mass at St. John's Church and thinking about what other things are going on outside the church. This represents spiritual Death experience in the short story. Conversely to the open confession that being a real Catholic is too hard, it is obvious that he, because of ritual praying and habitual talking to God every morning that he has some kind of interest in knowing God on a personal level but because of the spiritual ineptitude, he is unable to live up to the standards that the Catholic church has set for the religion of Catholicism. His companionship with Father Paul is at risk because of his longing to love. He has a burning desire inside him to love and to be loved and that goes against what Father Paul and the Catholic Church teaches. Luke's longing to love despite what he's been taught to believe shows that he is spiritually dead because if he was spiritually alive and connected with the Spirit of God, he would obey the statutes that his religion teaches (Smith, 2007). In fact, at the end of the story when he vocalizes God speaking to him, Ripley gets bitter with God and says to God that if one of his sons would have come over due…
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