Short Fiction: Hemingway, O’Connor, Salinger, & Cheever

A collection of my personal reactions to: In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway, A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor, Nine Stories by JD Salinger, & The Stories of John Cheever.

May 25, 2005

A lot of emotional suffering took place within the first three chapters of “In Our Time.” Between the women who would not give up their dead babies, and the soon-to-be father who slit his throat while his wife was enduring labor, I found myself appreciating my own life. Focusing on the child birth that took place in Indian Camp I’d have to say it seemed like an awful traumatizing experience for a young boy, such as Nick, to witness. This demonstrated a close bond between father and son, just by Nick being there.

In the Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife one particular situation caught my attention. Near the end of the chapter the wife asks the doctor to tell their son she wished to see him. When the doctor sees Nick he tells him his wife’s message, but does not enforce it. When Nick protested and asked to come with his father, the doctor agreed and brought Nick along. To me this showed a lack of respect between the doctor and his wide, and once again enforced the idea of the strong bond between father and son.

May 25, 2005

During the Three Day Blow Hemingway allows the reader to get to know a deeper side of Nick Adams. When Nick is drinking with Bill the topic of Marge, Nick’s ex-girlfriend comes up. Bill keeps insisting Nick did the right thing in breaking up with her. As he is doing so Nick sort of goes along with him, as though not to contradict his friend, yet in his mind Nick is saddened by the situation. This shows that Nick obviously values what his friend believes, and also that he is afraid to express his true feelings.

When Bill tells him he better be careful not to go back into the relationship, Nick became happy. He realized then that it wasn’t necessarily final, and he could go back to Marge. Once again he agreed with his friend, saying he would be careful, but in his mind he planned a way to see her again. This enforces the theory of Nick’s lack of openly expressing his true feelings. I wonder what he is afraid of?

May 27, 2005

In A Soldier’s Home, I couldn’t help but wonder if Krebs was supposed to represent Nick Adams? Or maybe Hemingway used an alternative name to show that a lot of men felt the way Nick did at the time. It seems to me that Krebs came back very scarred. The military had taught him that he did not need a woman. That seems to have stuck with him. Krebs seems to not have any drive to jump back into life. His family is obviously worried about him. His father even allowed him to take out the car, hoping he would take a girl on a date. And then Krebs cannot even tell his mother that he loves her until he sees her hurt reaction. It is like he returned from the war emotionless and ambitionless. Everyone around him wants the old Krebs back. They just want him to be happy. And once again it seems as though no one understands.

June 1, 2005

I couldn’t help but notice when reading The Cat In the Rain, the major issue of feminine withdrawal taking place. The woman in the story first off is very unsatisfied. She wants a cat to nurture, which clearly symbolizes her womanly desire to mother something. This demonstrates that she longs for the traditional way of life back home in the states. She does not want to be traveling Europe with her husband, with short boyish hair, and nothing to nurture.

Her husband is clearly into the new world ways and he seems to frown on her desire for traditionalism. Also we see once again in this story a lack of understanding between man and wife. I wonder if Hemingway ever had a good relationship with a woman?

June 3, 2005

I feel it is in the Big Two Hearted River I & II that we see Nick Adams clearly for the first time. His thoughts, his scars, his hopes and beliefs just seem more apparent to me in these stories opposed to the others. I also noticed that although this story starts out depressing, like most of the others, this one ends in an optimistic tone. That is refreshing.

It seems to me in these two stories Nick being by himself is symbolic of him setting out to reflect and heal himself. It’s as though he wants to just jump in the Big Two Hearted River and cleanse away all his scars and wounds. I thought it was interesting how grasshoppers kept appearing throughout the stories. It made a strong point when the blackened grasshopper that wore his scars on the outside was able to fly despite his condition. I liked that part; there was hope in that. I can’t imagine seeing what Nick saw and living through the events that he did. But I hope in the end I would still have my optimism to keep me going.

June 8, 2005

In The River, Flannery O’Connor Portrayed the innocent and naïve mind of the boy very well. It seemed as though even at his young age he knew he wanted more for his life than what he had at home. He seemed to want fulfillment, he wanted something that was not a joke. A key demonstration of this was when he took Mrs. Connin’s book home with him. He clearly liked the stories of Jesus and it was something he wanted to hold onto and learn more about.

When he came home that evening his parents behavior appalled me. They took the book from him and did not even acknowledge what it was about. They were only concerned with its dollar value. Also they did not have the morality to think of returning the book to Mrs. Connin. Then his mother mocked the preacher and only seemed concerned about her own reputation. She did not want to know anything about what he had learned. She was so selfish! I can’t imagine living such a cold, dark, and faithless life. It seems to me that the boy didn’t even bother telling his parents about his experience because he was so much above their level. Those people need a wake up call.

June 10, 2005

In The Life You Save May Be Your Own and A Stroke of Good Fortune the two main characters are very materialistic. All Ruby kept thinking about was the subdivision and how she was going to get to move. Her priorities were so messed up. She was obsessed with looking young and would not even go to the doctors when she realized she was sick. She was so stubborn, not to mention in complete denial (as are many of O’Connor’s characters). All she wanted was to be sick so she could move to a duplex and not have a baby so she could stay looking young. She was so critical of everyone else, yet so incomplete herself!

Mr. Shiftlet was similar to Ruby in a way because he cared so much about getting a car. He thought it would bring him to a better life. He screwed over whomever he could to get where he wanted to be. Yet once he got the car he was still, like Ruby, IMCOMPLETE.

June 15, 2005

In the Artificial Nigger I was really taken back by the racism the grandfather taught his grandson. Then again I’m sure it has to do with the time that the story took pace during. I was surprised though that the grandfather was a Christian mad being so racist, rude, denying of his grandson, dishonest, and letting pride get in the way of his decisions. I really don’t think he was living the life of a Christian, but who am I to judge.

When the grandfather denied that his grandson was related to him, or that he knew him at all, I believe that was in reference to when Peter denied Christ three times. It was for similar reasons. Peter knew if he said he was a disciple he could be punished. When the grandfather saw that his grandson was being yelled at by the women he know that he would have to pay for his accident. By denying him he got out of his responsibility. By denying Christ Peter did not get in trouble. There is definitely a connection there.

June 17, 2005

In A Circle in the Fire there was a lot of Circular Imagery, which is an omen of bad things to come in O’Connor’s stories. In regards to the bible this may represent the circles of hell. There is also a lot of sun imagery in this story, which usually represents enlightenment.

The three boys that showed up looked hungry yet did not eat the food offered to them. It was as though they were hungry for something else, emotional and spiritual. They were set to prove to Mrs. Cope that she wasn’t living in this perfect world, and that she was above misfortune. After the fire took place she realized her lack of control and power. It was almost as though the boys put her in her place.

June 26, 2005

I was so shocked when reading The Displaced Person by the way the Polish man was treated. He was a good hard worker. Clearly he had a good heart, he wanted to bring his cousin over to the US to a better life. He was not racist like the other characters. He saw Sulk as a man not as a “nigger”. And for all of these reasons he was punished.

Mr. Shortly didn’t like the Pole being around because he made him look bad by being such a hard worker. They kept referring to him as a displaced person, yet they had all come from somewhere, they were all displaced in one-way or another.

Mrs. Cope seemed to be racist and afraid of her way of life being interrupted. Once she found out about the deal between the Pole and Sulk she was quick to not want him around.

I once heard that when someone around you is doing something right that you know deep down inside you should be doing the same, or if they act a way that you know you should but do not for one reason or other, you resent them and don’t want them around. They make you look bad and feel bad about yourself. I think this is what happened on Mrs. Cope’s farm.

June 29, 2005

I couldn’t help but make a connection between A Perfect Day for a Bananafish and Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut. In both stories there are youthful characters that interact with adults, leading to the adults’ epiphany of some sort.

In Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut Eloise remains scarred and hurt by the death of her ex boyfriend Walt. The hurt stole away her emotions and she seems to be left a hollow shell of the girl she once was. Eloise clearly resents her daughter in the story as she reprimands her every time she does something childish. I think this is because she is envious of the youth her daughter possesses and the life that hasn’t been drawn from her.

In the Bananafish, like Eloise, Seymour is also left as a hollow shell of who he once was. It seems as though many of the adults are. I believe Bananafish is in reference to the adults stating that they take on too much, cant get out, and die like a person dying inside from the pain of the war. Both of these two stories are very symbolic.

July 13, 2005

For Esme with Love and Squalor: It seems to me that “X” had sort of given up on any sort of social lifeas a result of his nervous breakdown. He had unopened letters and packages and no desire to participate in any of the activities Clay suggested. It was when he came across Esme’s letter that X had an epiphany.

I believe the letter brought him back to a time when things in life had meaning to him. It brought him back to a time when he knew little about squalor. It reminded him of a little girl who had gone through a lot of squalor and still managed to live her life and look towards brighter days. It reminded of him when he didn’t refer to himself as “X” instead of “I”. Esme had hope in him; hope he had seemed to have lost along the way. He had an intense fondness and respect for Esme and I believe her letter made him feel a way he hadn’t for a long time. He now on some level regained hope for himself that he may one day have all of his faculties again.

July 20, 2005

I think it is interesting in Goodbye My Brother how Lawrence is made out to be the Black Sheep of the Family. Out of all of them he is the one who does not indulge in the vices his family seems to bond over. It seems to me that Lawrence lives by a higher set of standards than the rest of his family. The story states how he’s said goodbye to many different people and things, and moved onto new things may times. That sounds to me like he is in touch with himself and reality and knows what he is looking for. He doesn’t waste his time living in denial or living a lie. Basically they make him out to be a menace to their society because he doesn’t enjoy the things they do and doesn’t go along with their masquerade of a life. What it sounds like to me is that deep down they all know their family is scarred and flawed. They resent Lawrence for rising above all of that. I don’t blame him for saying goodbye; I give him credit for even wasting his breath on the words.

July 20, 2005

The symbolism of the radio in the Enormous Radio represents something much deeper than once may first presume. The radio is a tool that opened the door to reality. The radio broadcasted true worries, misery, and concerns in the world. The radio allowed insight into what people try to hide and deny about their lives.

In the end the radio ended up bringing the husband out of denial. After hearing other people’s problems it seemed to make it easier for him to come to terms with their own family flaws. This was a nice wakeup call.

July 22, 2005

After reading The Season of Divorce I couldn’t help but wonder why Ethel stayed with her husband. He forgot her birthday, never seemed to understand how she was feeling, and never went out of his way to make her feel special. Its clear that she felt unsatisfied with her life and she was very unhappy. She seems disconnected from her husband.

Dr. Trencher on the other hand offers Ethel wonderful things, emotionally and materialistically. He brought her roses and made her feel special. He loved her. She seemed to come alive with Trencher in her life.

It seems to me that Ethel felt trapped by her life: the children, the house, and the property. Maybe that is why she stayed? It’s sad though, depressing in a way, even for the reader.

July 22, 2005

From reading these two stories it seems to me that Cheever views marriage as quite dysfunctional. His characters divorce and remarry, forget their spouses’ birthdays, and spend time with people married to other people. There seems to be a strain on the women’s role to hold the family together. It seems to me that the men are the weaker parts of the relationships and the women hold the cards. There is also a lack of communication between husband and wide. Whether it’s not understanding what they mean or how they feel or not wishing to speak to them. In the cure the husband seems to go crazy without Rachel. Cheever obviously thinks man and wife need each other; he just doesn’t seem to believe in a healthy marriage.

July 27, 2005

It seems to me that in “The Sorrows of Gin” and “O Youth and Beauty” the characters have serious alcohol problems. It almost seems like these people drink away their sorrows and discontentment. It is obvious that the lives these people are very unhappy with the lives they live.

In “O Youth and Beauty” Cash is very miserable. Everything is negative, rotten, and broken to him. He seems to be stuck in a rut, as was Ethel in “The Season of Divorce,” and many of Cheever’s other characters. Cash was trying to hold onto his youth, and ironically ended up dying in the process. He was also leading a life of illusion, living in a neighborhood he could not afford and belonging to a country club he also couldn’t afford. I’ve noticed a pattern in Cheever’s stories of such scenarios.

Illusion verses reality seems to be a main theme in The Stories of John Cheever. The characters all seem to put up fronts that their life is perfect, as we read each chapter we learn what really goes on. Once again I think Cheever really does not believe in a healthy marriage.

It is funny how Louise cuts out images from magazines that she does not want her children to see, afraid that vulgar images may corrupt them. She did this to try to protect her children from the pains of reality. So this goes along with Cheever’s theme of Illusion, Louise wanted to keep her kids living in a violence free world. Then she ends up shooting their father. You can not get more profane and violent than that!


Published by Author Stacy A. Padula

Stacy Padula has spent the last 14 years working daily with teenagers as a college counselor, mentor, and life coach. She was named "Top Inspirational Author of the Year" for 2022 by the International Association of Top Professionals (New York, NY). In 2021, she was broadcast on the famous Reuters Building in Times Square as "Empowered Woman of the Year." Her Gripped book series is currently being adapted for TV by Emmy-winning producer Mark Blutman. She is the founder and CEO of Briley & Baxter Publications: a publishing company that donates a portion of its proceeds to animal rescues each month. She has edited and published a variety of titles, including Boston Bruins Anthem Singer Todd Angilly and Rachel Goguen's The Adventures of Owen & the Anthem Singer, LaTonya Pinkard of Netflix's Last Chance U's Nate & His Magic Lion, and former NHL player Norm Beaudin's memoir The Original: Living Life Through Hockey. Stacy resides in Plymouth, Massachusetts with her husband Tim and two miniature dachshunds, Briley and Baxter.

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