Wednesday, April 8, 2009

#7 Plot

Does the plot have unity? Are all of the episodes relevant to the total meaning or effect of the story? Does each incident grow logically out of the preceding incident and lead naturally the next? Is the ending happy, unhappy, or indeterminate? Is it fairly achieved?

Overall, the plot has unity, but a lot of the episodes and memories that Nomi shares have nothing to do with the plot at all. The irrelevant episodes still do affect the total meaning of the story as they may have no significance, yet still signify growth of a character very subtly, or be a factor in how Nomi acts in later occurrences. “When I got to my driveway my neighbour came out all pissed off with her screaming son on her hip. There were bubbles coming out of the kid’s mouth and my neighbour said he’d just eaten two of her bath beads that she’d been saving for her anniversary night. That’s too bad, I said. My neighbour told me to just wait until I had kids. And then what? I asked. Well, then you’ll know true misery, she said. Oh then?” (p 242) There are also some episodes, or comments that are just irrelevant and add nothing to the plot, but there aren’t too many of them and they don’t really get in the way. “When I got home I sat on the floor of the garage and tied the hood as tightly as I could around my face, leaving an opening only large enough to accommodate a Sweet Cap. It was a good night. Maybe someday I could be a photographer, I thought. And then, unpredictable, a corner of the garage roof collapsed.” (p. 225) This is one of the most irrelevant paragraphs in the book, first of all she always smokes Sweet Caps, second of all she has never spoke of photography, or I don’t think even owns a camera, and this is her only mention of photography in the entire book. Lastly and most important, this paragraph is the last paragraph of a chapter and the garage roof collapsing has nothing to do with anything, and is never spoke of again. I think in a memoir-type book this is to be expected and is not a bad thing, even though it doesn’t add to the plot, it doesn’t take away from it either. I have considered that there could be some hidden meaning to the paragraph, that if you didn’t pick up on it, it doesn’t really change much. Nomi always talks about how her life will go no farther than the chicken killing plant, only because of where she lives, and how that’s what everyone ends up doing in East Village. I considered that her thinking that she might be a photographer (or anything other than killing chickens), and then the roof collapsing was somewhat of a sign, as in, ‘good luck that will never happen…to you.’ Due to some of the irrelevant thoughts and memories, and the style of writing the author used, the text doesn’t flow at all in an order of events, and jumps around a lot. I found this style very enjoyable to read and kept things interesting, jumping back and forth from loose end to loose end. The ending is interdeterminate, and fairly achieved, after a good amount of suspense and buildup, everything finally makes sense and comes to somewhat of a close, (but doesn’t leave you hanging). I believe that everyone should read this novel, and that it will do something for everyone, even though I have included excerpts from the end of the novel, the end has not been given away, and I believe the journey to the end is more important than the ending itself. Everyone should read this novel, and I think everyone would get something different out of it, but that no one would be disappointed.

#21 Symbols and Irony

Does the story anywhere utilize irony of situation? Dramatic irony? Verbal irony? What functions do the ironies serve?

This novel is swimming with irony, let me start out with a excerpt about the limitations placed on Mennonite peoples by, well, by themselves. “ Imagine the least well-adjusted kid in your school starting a breakaway clique of people whose manifesto includes a ban on the media, dancing, smoking, temperate climates, movies, drinking, rock ‘n’ roll, having sex for fun, swimming, makeup, jewelry, playing pool, going to cities, or staying up past nine o’clock. That was Menno all over. Thanks a lot Menno.”(p.7) The irony comes from how everyone was unhappy doing this and all pretended to be good Mennonites but secretly drank, smoked and had casual fun, but this had to be done in secret, away from all the other Mennonites secretly smoking, drinking and having fun, because if you were caught, you were excommunicated. The teenagers were the most ironic, as they didn’t care as much about consequences and most of them did drink, smoke, party and have sex. “My parents weren’t crazy about the fact that Tash was drinking and hanging out with Ian so much, sometimes until five or six in the morning, at the pits or in the bushes around Suicide Hill or in any of the other rustic settings we young pioneers relied on to get us through the night, but it wasn’t that, really, that my mom was concerned about. Not really.” (p. 158) There are also random ironies revolving around the fact that Menno wasn’t one for explanations or dominance of every subject, so the Mennonites don’t know for sure in some situations what is moral or not. “I had never heard The Mouth use the word spectacular in any context whatsoever. I’d vaguely thought it was a sin to say spectacular.(p. 158) Also, some of the things that are not allowed are almost ironic: “What the heck was my sister doing with a library card? She’d gone too far, I knew that much.” As far as dramatic irony, there is none of that, as everything is from Nomi’s point of view, we only know what she knows, and not even all of what she knows, or delivered in the order of her thoughts. The author also uses irony for the amusement of the reader at times, and it serves no other purpose than to make you giggle. This next quotation comes from when Nomi broke her bike, while far out of town and hitched a ride home with a carney named Snake. “He made me wear one of his hats with the carnival logo on it so if someone saw me riding with him they’d think I was a co-worker and not report him. He told me he was on antibiotics because he’d gotten the clap from the cotton-candy girl. He told me that a kid like me could make twenty-five cents per rat at any fairgrounds if I knew how to swing a bat. I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. He told me he could not afford one more felony. I said mad, tell me about it, although I was only ten and had never heard the word felony before. It sounded like a pretty girls name to me…Travis put my bike into his dad’s truck and asked me why I didn’t tuck my pant leg into my sock. [as getting her pant stuck in the chain broke her bike, and had many times before] Somebody might see me, I said. I’d rather fall.” (p. 162) I don’t completely know what the purpose of the irony in the story is, other than to help make points and create humor in some situations.

#15 Style

What do you conceive to be the story’s central purpose? How fully has it achieved that purpose?

For a long time, I couldn’t figure out what the story’s purpose was, which really intrigued me, as I loved this book to pieces, how could it just have no purpose, or such a hidden one. I have come to the conclusion that this novel has a bunch of purposes, first of all, I think the author was trying to write a very intriguing story that kept you interested, and after you read that story, you had all of a sudden a better understanding of people, and possibly even life, depending on how deeply you reflected on what you read. The story taught growth and mannerisms of people. For example, half the people in the Mennonite community were just not happy being there and would have loved to leave. No one was making them stay, why did they stay and live unhappily, waiting to die? “The town office building has a giant filing cabinet full of death certificates that say choked to death on his own anger or suffocated from unexpressed feeling of unhappiness. Silentium. The only thing you hear at night is semis barreling down the highway carting drugged animals off to be attacked with knives. People here just can’t wait to die, it seems. It’s the main event. The only reason we’re not all snuffed at birth is because that would reduce our suffering by a lifetime. My guidance counselor has suggested to me that I change my attitude about this place and learn to love it. But I do, I told her. Oh that’s rich, she said. That’s rich.”(p. 6) At the very beginning of the novel, Nomi complains about Menno Simons, the ‘inventor’ of Mennonites, at the end of the novel, she still hasn’t got him figured out, and I think that this is a significant point too; the novel teaches process resulting in growth, and process resulting in no conclusion. If I had to say what the story’s central purpose is, I would say either ‘process’ or ‘purpose’, but once again, it seems difficult for me to conceive of someone who had not read this novel, understanding what I mean by ‘process’ or ‘purpose’, but I’ll try once more with a quotation at the end of the novel where Nomi considers why Menno has lead all these people into the depths of unhappiness and exile of their beloved family members; like I said previously, she hasn’t figured this out. (For the record, Lids is Nomi’s friend who is very sick (it sounds like cancer to me) but the doctors can’t figure out her illness, so they are trying shock therapy, much to Lid’s and Nomi’s dismay.) “ I thought about Menno Simons and what kind of childhood he must have had to want to lead people into a barren place to wait out the Rapture and block out the world and make them really believe that looking straight through a person like she wasn’t there, a person they’d loved like crazy all their lives, was the right thing to do. I thought about Lids in Eden having her brain electrified and I thought about that little piece of newspaper that had floated down into our town from some other town that had on it the words: for the way things could have been.”(319)

Characters 12

Is any of the characters a developing character? If so, is his change a large or small one? Is it a plausible change for him? Is it sufficiently motivated? 

All of the members of Nomi’s family are developing characters in the novel A Complicated Kindness. I would say that the main characters in the novel are Nomi, her father Ray, her boyfriend Travis and possibly her mother Trudie, it is untrue to say that all of the main characters are developing characters, as Travis does not develop, and Tash, Nomi’s sister is not significant enough to be a main character. The changes are plausible and all sufficiently motivated as everyone in the world changes and develop as they grow up, or at least, through adolescences or due to a life tragedy. Through reading this novel, the characters grow many years in age, you watch them learn and grow in general as people, making significant changes by learning significant things along the way. There is a very wide time span over the course of the novel and this allows for lots of developing to occur. “I was eight, and Trudie was thirty-five” (p. 2). Nomi is an observer and a questioner, she watches people and over thinks about their quirks and mannerisms and end up finding out a lot about people. You watch her grow in knowledge and she is more full of knowing by the end of the novel; even though a bunch of sad things have happened to her, I think she understands in a way; a complicated kindness. She also always sees things in a different way than anyone else would, and a lot of people consider this weird and unnerving. “Main Street is as dead as ever. There’s a blinding white light at the water-tower end of it and Jesus standing in the centre of it in a pale blue robe with his arms out, palms up, like he’s saying how the hell would I know? I’m just a carpenter. He looks like George Harrison in his Eastern religion period working for Ringling Brothers. Whatever amateur made the sign put a red circle on each of his cheeks to make him look healthy, I guess, but healthily ridiculous.” (p.63) Her ability to see things differently helps you more notice the changes she makes along the way, as you can view what stumped her, why is stumped her, the reasoning through and the conclusion or lack of that she comes to in the end. There is one paragraph at the end of the novel, right before she leaves town forever and I think it better helps explain what I’ve been rambling about, but it may make no sense to someone who’s never read this book, as the changes she makes are only really apparent to someone who has followed her through her journey. “And after ten of fifteen minutes of spinning we both fell down on the wet grass and everything, the sky, the sun, the clouds, the branches overhead were swirling around and making me feel like throwing up so I closed my eyes and that’s when the odd thing happened. I started to see things in my town clearly, the pits, the fire on the water, Travis’s green hands playing his guitar, him whispering in my ear move with me, and the trampoline, and the old fairgrounds and the stuff written on the rodeo announcers’ booth and the lagoon and the cemetery, and the toboggan hut and the RK Ranch and the giant horses and my windowless school and my desk and American tourists and The Mouth and Main Street and the picnic table at Sunset Diner, and Sheridan Klippenstein and everything, everything in town, the whole of East Village, and it didn’t seem so awful to me any more in that instant that I knew I’d probably never see it again except for every time I closed my eyes. (p. 319) The developing of Trudie and Tash and Ray is less prominent than Nomi’s, but is still significant to the story, and adds to Nomi’s development, which I think was one of the author’s goals when writing this novel.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Point of View #18

Does the author use point of view primarily to reveal or to conceal? Does he ever unfairly withhold important information known to the focal character?

This story is told completely from Nomi’s point of view, as she is the narrator and the main character. A Complicated Kindness is more a rambling of thoughts of a memoir, as opposed to a chronological memoir. Nomi’s thoughts and stories jump back and forth in no order whatsoever. This is a more enjoyable read, and it keeps things interesting, for example, in the beginning of the book, you find out that her mother is gone, and then you learn stories of her mother, and after her mother’s character is developed, you learn why her mother is gone, and then more stories and character development follow. “Half of our family, the better looking half, is missing.” (p. 1) This is all that is said about the missing family members for a few chapters, and even then, nothing is explained, you just learn a story of the missing family members as if they weren’t missing at all anymore. “The idea of my mom leaving town to spare my dad the pain of having to choose between the church or her, knowing it would kill him, was the story I liked the best. The other possible ending to the story of my mom’s shunning was that it opened a door for her, a way out of this place, which raised the possibility that my mother had never really loved my father, or that she had loved him years ago but had since stopped loving him, or that she loved him but not more than the idea of being free. That could be the truth. I don’t know.”(p. 322) You only find out this chunk of information on the second last page of the book, and it was worth waiting for. It also shows that what we learn is limited to what Nomi knows and the fact that for most things all she can do is make her best assumption, because in cases, she really doesn’t know for sure. At the end of the book, you learn why Nomi is telling her life story, and it makes sense why it’s all rambled pieces of her life organized in no specific order. The author withholds lots of important information known to the focal character, but he always foreshadows and creates suspense in doing so. Nomi obviously knows her own life story, but through her withholding of certain events until the right time (or until she remembers) it creates a greater motivation for you to finish the book, and tie up all of the loose ends. “You provided my family with an ending. You practiced what you preached in class. Every story must have a beginning, middle and end. But things change. Stories unfold. Narrative arc and all that. You just begin.” (p. 320)

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Setting, #4.

What contribution to the story is made by its setting? Is the particular setting essential, or could the story have happened anywhere?

The setting is a major component in the novel A Complicated Kindness, there is no way that the story could have kept its shape and taken place anywhere else. The novel is set in the rugged countryside of Manitoba, in an oppressive Mennonite village where you must do, say, and act as you’re told, or be excommunicated (regardless of age). Nomi is a teenager growing up in this town struggling with normal teenager struggles like drugs, sex, love, lust, being accepted, boyfriends and figuring herself out as a person. The tricky part is, she cannot be caught, or she (like her mother and sister,) will be excommunicated. The Mennonites’ world is described with lots of confusion; rules, boundaries and explanations are either not clear, or do not exist, as Meno Simons (who invented the religion, and who Nomi speaks of (and curses) regularly throughout the novel,) was not one for explanations. Nomi is terrified of growing up in this one-horse, behind the times town, where she already knows how her life will end up, that is, if she’s not excommunicated. “I’m already anticipating failure. But then what the hell will it matter to me while I’m snapping tiny necks and chucking feathery corpses onto a conveyor belt in a dimly lit cinder-block slaughterhouse on the edge of town…Most of the kids from around here will end up working at Happy Family Farms, where local chickens go to meet their maker. I’m sixteen now, young to be on the verge of graduating from high school, and only months away from taking my place on the assembly line of death.”(p.2) The town is very simple, somewhat like a pioneer town you would visit, in fact, tourists come from far and wide to see the people of East Village live as they do. “The crosswalk was a new concept in town. It was feared and loathed.”(p. 37) There are also many places where the teenager’s hang out, to be teenagers, away from all of the watchful, judgmental eyes. These places are described in great detail and are significant pieces of the novel’s setting. “I met Travis five months ago at a New Year’s Eve party at Suicide Hill. Good Mennonites don’t technically celebrate the arrival of yet another year of being imprisoned in this world. It’s a frustrating night for them. But we weren’t good Mennonites.” (p.29) Nomi travels to the outer, less inhabited parts of town so that she can escape, relax, smoke a joint and smoke her sweet caps and think and fantasize about life, and why she’s here in the first place. She hangs out at the old lagoon behind the sewage plant, the dump, the “blue field”, Suicide Hill, and many other places that are essential to the novel’s setting. I believe that this novel could not be as powerful, without its current setting, and I think that without as much descriptive setting, the novel would lack altogether.