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+ What's the significance of the title?
Jerry’s mind is bound to wander back to younger, if not better, times – most of which were devoted to herding longhorn cattle.

+ What role does the setting play in the story?
The house on the prairie gives an impression of being far removed from everything else.  Sure, there are neighbors nearby, but they are unavailable.  Jerry is out of reach and far above all help for that Saturday night.  His prison may be a gilded one, but it’s a prison, nonetheless.

+ What is the main character's conflict? Not just the physical, obvious one?
Jerry’s mind is full of ideas.  His heart is full of compassion.  Yet he cannot follow-through with his thoughts and concern, so he tries to distract himself from his current situation.  His efforts are unsuccessful because he cannot physically remove himself from the situation, so he then tries to come to terms with it by looking over at Berta May.  Round and round he goes with this, trying to find some comfort, some way out, some solution, but eventually all he can do is wait to be rescued, himself.

+ The writer is an art lover. How does that translate into his writing if at all?
The writing was very visual.  The descriptions were long and quite detailed.  You could see him paint one word-picture after another and you felt like you were right there in the tub, on the horse, etc.

+ What are we to make of his dream?
Our dreams often mirror the stresses in our lives.  They help us dissect our problems and process them so that they do not destroy us.  Obviously, death was a huge issue for Jerry at that time.  Perhaps the whore symbolized the desire he felt for young Berta May – a desire that was now, in more ways than one, deceased.  Finally, I think the part with the cattle and the quicksand was emblematic of his inability to rescue the helpless girl on the floor, as well as a representation of his loss upon her passing – like a part of him had been ripped away.

+ What does the story say about getting older?
Jerry’s body may have gotten old and crippled, but his mind is as sharp as ever, as young as always.  That is why he reminisces so about his days as a cowboy.  They weren’t fun, in retrospect, but they were exciting and just the very act of being YOUNG was full of pleasure and exhilaration.  Most of us wouldn’t trade the wisdom age brings us for the virility of youth, but when we were young enough not to know better, waking up every day was an adventure.

+ Talk about the story's last line.
Jerry cared about the young woman who took care of him.  There was nothing he could do to save her, nothing more he could do for her upon her death, accept give her body the respect and priority she deserved.  I think he was also feeling ornery, like if he couldn’t get himself out of the tub, he’d just die there.  He may have also been feeling guilty to have lived so long that he could no longer take care of himself, while his very young caretaker, a young lady who SHOULD have had her whole life ahead of her, lay dead on the bathroom floor.  Perhaps he simply preferred to sit there and mourn her passing a while longer.

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Write a two-page (about 500 words) essay involving one of the pieces we've looked at so far (story, film, song). 

Your goal is to make a clear argument about the story's "meaning" (remember no morals of the story or how we should live life; just how life "is.") and how a particular character in the story illustrates it. Then PROVE that argument with an organized essay that uses examples from the piece to prove your point. Please don't "stack" quotes. After using quotes explain why they made your point.

I'm looking for a strong beginning, middle and end. Open in an interesting manner. Stick to your main argument. Find a creative way to look at the piece.


My first ENGL 1302 essay )

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I do apologize about the length here.  I tried to do a cut, but LJ is just all screwed up right now and I can't even begin to figure out how to fix it.


My thoughts were all over while reading this story, so I answered each question as it came to me – not necessarily in order.  Reading back over them, I can see my thoughts evolving (or devolving as the case may be) the further I delved into the story:

+ Comparisons to "The Death Mask of Pancho Villa"?
In the previous story, the narrator and his friend had grown apart and were unlikely to share as many crazy adventures as they once had.  In this story, the insanity has yet to meet its end.  Also, this story was narrated by the one friend who was least likely to grow out of such behavior, whereas “Death Mask” was narrated by the other side.

+ What's the role of setting here?
It started out fairly benign… almost magical.  As the story, and the drinking, progressed, however, it became more and more malevolent.  Perhaps it was meant to lull us into a false sense of security – just two old friends fishing, what harm could there be in that?  Then the ploys begin to be revealed… disable the car, move the bonfire by hand (no mention of getting burned?), steal horses and take them out into the surf to drown?!?  The idyllic setting became more and more terrifying with each paragraph.

+ What does the story say about marriage?
Maybe I’m reading my own life into this, but I believed it was saying that life is best spent sharing everything with one very special person who really cares about you and not just themselves.  The narrator was manipulating Kirby.  Kirby should have been more understanding about the dogs and cared for them both as he cared for Tricia.  Tricia had every right to be angry and Kirby shouldn’t have thrown his little passive-aggressive tantrums by ignoring her dog and then running off on some foolish, and possibly deadly, adventure with his crazy friend.

+ What do you make of the last line?
I think the narrator was putting the responsibility of fear and caution onto the poor horses!  Or maybe he thought it was a perfect scheme to get his friend out deeper into the ocean so they could drown together.  I find it interesting that this story is written from a perspective of looking back, and yet it ends rather abruptly with no indication that they ever got home.

+What stereotype comes up for you when you think of two men fishing?
I remember a Sunday Morning comic my Dad once cut out and kept.  I believe it was “Rick O’Shay.”  One of the characters was “fishing” – he had his pole propped up and a line in the water, but instead of watching for a bite, he was lying back on the grass with his cowboy hat over his eyes.  Another character walks up and asks if the fish are biting… he says they are not.  The second character asks what bait he’s using… he says he’s not using ANY bait, because “I don’t want any fish botherin’ me while I’m fishin’.”  I think most men fish as an excuse to sit around, drink beer, shoot the sh*t, escape the chaos of everyday life and just enjoy nature for a while… not that any of those reasons are necessarily bad ones.

+Did the men in this story ever feel afraid?
I did not sense any true fear while reading this story.  Truth be told, I didn’t even sense any real CAUTION… I think the characters were both too drunk to be cautious.

+What do you think of the voices and actions of the men? Who do they remind you of? What literary techniques does the author use to provide the above effect?

All I could think of was that they were drunk and stupid.  This seems to be a recurring theme in the stories we’ve read, so far – is this one of the stereotypes of Texas?  I sure hope not!

Perhaps the narrator was enacting some jealous ploy to have his friend all to himself… perhaps for eternity?  Maybe I’m reading too many dark themes into this story, but that’s all that makes sense to me.

+What role does the ocean play?
All I could think was that it was the tiger waiting at the door.  Either the depths or the currents or the temperature exacerbated by the wind and water or the sand trapping their car or some airborne infection permeating the wounds on their hands… one way or another, their lives were in danger from the ocean.

+Discuss your thoughts on how the opinion of the narrator toward Tricia fluctuates through the story.
I have to wonder if the characters, particularly the narrator, were slowly dying of hypothermia and alcohol abuse.  Their ideas just got wilder and stupider.  Perhaps the narrator’s jealousy was diluted by the alcohol.  Perhaps his memories of her became more pleasant as the temperature dropped.  Considering when this was written, at least a decade before cell phone usage became common, and taking into account that their car was horrendously stuck, perhaps the narrator was calling Tricia to tell her goodbye from his friend – perhaps he knew they would meet an untimely end.

+One paragraph in the story appears to stand out, with a different voice, page 500, "It was like a murder or sin..." What do you make of this paragraph, and the symbolism within?
I found it interesting that they would go to such trouble to catch one fish, mutilate it, toss all but the juiciest bit and use that only to catch another fish – especially when trout are just as likely as redfish to bite a live shrimp.  Perhaps this was a hint to the narrator’s dark intentions.


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+ What do you make of the style of this story? Who is the narrator?
The style kept me interested.  It was just offbeat enough to make me wonder what sort of twist lay in store at the end.  Turns out, the ending was surprisingly anti-climactic, but as such still made for an interesting twist – the narrator turned out to be a far more decent individual than I’d expected.

I believed, for a while, that the narrator WAS God.  By the end of the tale, I believed it was more a representation of all the greedy developers who tend to sweep in and take over – but this story was written over 30 years ago, and my opinion may be influenced by more recent trends.  Perhaps it was merely an illustration of all of the easy corruptibility often found around big fish in small ponds.

+ The word "imaginative" is used a lot. Discuss.
It’s interesting that this word was not considered a positive description.  People in power often have a very limited imagination.  Perhaps those with broader imaginations are too easily distracted to focus their energies into achieving power.  I loved the puzzle-piece idea, and I liked how the narrator went to the people affected by the changes to get their input on finding a solution.  Perhaps the poor and downtrodden are more imaginative because there is so very much outside of their reality.  When you’re rich and powerful, there’s very little left to imagine that you cannot make real.

+ What does the story say about God?
I thought the story made a good, if vague, point about the inability for mere humans to understand God.  God allows terrible things to happen, but also provides in imaginative ways.  It’s not easy to play God.  It’s not possible to have all the answers – more questions will continue to arise from every answer you think you have.  We humans do not have the imaginative capabilities to be gods.

+ What do you make of the last line? Comparisons to "Whores"?
I think this reference to no children is actually much more selfless than the one in “Whores.”  In the previous story, I felt the narrator didn’t want kids because he didn’t want to really commit to anything – he didn’t want to get too involved.  As a mother, I can attest to the level of involvement parenting requires – it is absolutely mandatory!  In this story, however, I felt that the narrator had learned something from his Galveston experience and refused the school board position because of his lack of experience (and involvement) with children.  Whoever “they” were, they may have been impressed with his money, power, charisma, what-have-you, but they never stopped to think if he was qualified to hold any position of authority over children.  Or, perhaps, they IMAGINED he’d be good at anything, but his own imagination or lack thereof, convinced him otherwise.

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1. What is the significance of the colors of the vans and the mountains through the years?
The protagonist starts out feeling very much a part of his surroundings.  He is a part of the town, a part of the region, a part of the Mexican purple of the nearby mountains.  He never notices the green… why should he?  He is an American citizen and they are no threat to him.  But they don’t immediately recognize his belonging and begin to challenge it.  With each new challenge, he begins to see himself as NOT belonging as much as he’d originally believed.  He begins to challenge them back, as any red-blooded American would.  However, the act of each challenge makes him take his freedoms less and less for granted, while simultaneously separating him from the purple of the mountains.  By the end of the story, he can no longer be a part of both worlds.  In order to protect his freedom, he must be on his guard and separate himself from the men and women who run rather than challenge, who say nothing more than “yes, sir,” and bow their heads and allow themselves to be hand-cuffed, rather than reminding the officers of their rights and defending their personal boundaries.  In the beginning, he was attentive to his roots and proud of them – in the end, he is more focused on survival and, therefore, more aware of the adversary and their movements.

2. Why do you think that there is mention of the fence?
I think the fence symbolizes the extremely fine line between the free man he is and the fugitive the officers suspect him to be.  He knows it wouldn’t take much, in fact, would take much LESS, to allow himself to be labeled an illegal, arrested, tried and deported to Mexico.  Just today, I read about a famous British spy and novelist who recently admitted that he was once tempted to defect to the Soviet Union just to experience the FULL reality of what life was like on the other side of the Iron Curtain.  He’d been so very, extremely close to it all as a spy, and the curiosity to know more was almost overwhelming enough to lure him into changing sides without any genuine exchange of allegiance.  I believe our protagonist feels that same draw, that same curiosity to know more about a world that is so alien, yet such a part of him by way of lineage, alone.

3. Game references are made in the beginning of the story, but not in the end. It seems as though there is protocol wherever you go. Could our whole lives just be analyzed as a game?
I’m sure some people see life as a game.  I don’t think that is a healthy attitude, especially for Americans who have a reputation for putting winning far above sportsmanship.  I think of it as more of a laboratory – part classroom, part Petri dish.  Here is where we learn and grow and fizzle and explode.  Usually, the outcome of our experiments cannot be adequately predicted.  Games have rules, but life generally re-writes the rules as we go – especially in the areas of love and war.

4. Did you notice the "cold blue stare" reference when the border patrol officer stops him. I think that it is reference to the race of this particular officer. What do you think?
It could also be a reference to the arrogant authority associated with men in uniform (do Immigration Officers wear blue?) or it could be alluding to a certain perceived bloodlessness in the officer’s face.  “Cold” and “blue” just naturally go together, but I wouldn’t automatically discount the possibility that the officer’s eyes were blue.

5. In your opinion, do you think that El Paso is as much a melting pot as any other major city in Texas? Why?
I don’t think this story really gave us enough information to deduce the answer to that and, since I’ve never lived near or even visited El Paso, it’s hard for me to say either way.  I felt like this story was more about the dehumanization of security – security in our rights as American citizens as well as the service of the security industry.  Officers carry no responsibility for decisions or mistakes so long as they’re “just doing a job.”  New rules are put in place to thwart clever law-breakers, but they only serve to make life more miserable for the law-abiders and challenge law-breakers to get even SMARTER!  And people who don’t carry specific identity on them at all times are more often treated as criminals, whether they are at fault or not.  The burden of proof is placed upon us.  No longer are we innocent until proven guilty.  Why, not long ago, during a very difficult financial period, a bank refused to cash a paycheck for me because my State ID had expired and I had misplaced my passport.  They’d been cashing my checks for weeks without any issue and I had used both my passport and my ID interchangeably, but either a new rule was initiated or someone began enforcing old rules more stringently.  For whatever reason, the very same girl who’d seen me every Friday for over a month suddenly refused to cash my check.  She and her supervisor just spouted rules and regulations to me, blaming the computer system, not caring that I couldn’t get my ID renewed WITHOUT getting that check cashed or that my family was on the verge of homelessness.  I completely lost it when the girl told me, “Ma’am, I simply cannot tell WHO you are without valid ID!”  As if my citizenship, my very name, ceased to exist from one day to the next!  As if my soul, my humanity were encased within an amalgamation of toner, paper and laminate!  That’s what I was thinking of when I read this story.  I don’t believe the moral pertained as much to racial discrimination as it did to an inequity of power– especially since one of the harassing officers was also Hispanic.

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+ What role does the television play in the story?
I believe this is the main character’s way of escaping his current reality. I think he’s going through some changes, maturing, but not entirely willingly. These changes are coming at a difficult time for him and it’s just too much for him to process, so he escapes into television. It could also be symbolic of how things are going in his life – nothing’s really appealing to him on the job market, but he’s making an effort anyhow.
+ What is the main character's conflict? Is it similar in some ways to Ritchie's in "Nancy Flores"?
There’s a past vs. present/future conflict, as well as the young punk vs. responsible man. It’s a hard truth to accept that you are content, maybe even happy, being someone that you once found boring and swore you’d never become. In both stories, the main characters are having to let go of a beloved friend, as well as an old lifestyle and/or dream. They have to let go of the person they thought they’d always be.
+ Why the death mask of Pancho Villa in the story? What does it add?
I think it, too, adds a certain level of symbolism. Gabe showing up so late (or early) and the main character tolerating it, but not going along, is a representation of the end of one lifestyle and the beginning of another. It’s practically the nail in the coffin of the main character’s old life. He is watching himself and judging himself and noticing the changes. He sees what his old life looks like, but realizes that it is dead to him now. In the end, the reminder of things that USED to be important to him makes him smile. Even dead, an old identity can be a fun thing to take out and look at. The fact that the mask is from a famous revolutionary, and that his role as an inspiration to other revolutionaries is mentioned, could also allude to the revolution that has taken place in the main character’s life.
+ The main character says he hasn't had a good time in a long while. What does he mean?
I’m sure he hasn’t allowed himself to relax in quite a while. He’s stressed. He’s processing the changes in his life, and in himself, and without work, there probably isn’t a lot of surplus funds for leisure. Then again, since he’s become a responsible man, he hasn’t had the opportunity to kick back and be crazy, or even just foolish, like he was in his youth.
+ The last line is "What's the difference?" Discuss...
He doesn’t have a job to go to, so what does it matter how late his friends call? Gabe is his best bud, so he’s always welcome at any time – or maybe it’s just that Gabe doesn’t know the difference, so why should anyone try to nail him down to a schedule? Lastly, does it really matter where the hands of a clock point when fate is revealing a remarkable evolution?
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+ What are your stereotypes of Dallas and how do they play into this story?
Having lived in Dallas for about 5 years, I can tell you that it wasn’t what I expected. In fact, it was less Texan than anywhere else in this state that I have lived. No ten-gallon-hats or big hair. Most of the people I met (and now maybe this was due to my own narrow interests) were Geeks, Goths and artistic Freaks. Few even spoke with any kind of accent. Everyone there DID love Chuck Norris, though.

One thing I noticed was the palpable difference between Dallas County and Tarrant County. Dallas, both the county and the city, really kind of wanted to be New York. Downtown was ALL business and the sidewalks practically rolled up at 5pm – any nightlife was bound to cost you an arm and a leg just to PARK! Tarrant County was more laid-back. Sure, the people there knew they were part of the biggest Metroplex in Texas, and they did enjoy that fact, but they were more interested in enjoyment than business. The suburbs of Ft. Worth were very homey and clean with good schools, unlike some of the gang-filled areas around Dallas. Downtown Ft. Worth came alive on nights and weekends – the parking was free after 6pm and all weekend long just to entice locals and tourists into spending time and money there. Even the shopping districts were more geared to the working class. I enjoyed living in Tarrant County, but Dallas left me cold.

+ What does the story say about artists living in the "real" world?
Artistry is not a big commodity these days. Neither, really, is intelligence or hard work, but smart, hard-working folk can usually play the game well enough to make a living despite their assets and ethics. Artists tend to think they’re above all that, and so they starve.
+ What role does the biker-brother play in the story?
The brother is not only comic-relief, he’s the catalyst for change in the story – both by bringing the kid early and by inciting Leo to leave.
+ The biker-brother says, "Trisha stays calm through everything, she runs the show." What do you make of this statement?
I think it means that Trisha is the only really responsible one in the whole bunch. She takes care of everyone. She stays calm because no one else will.
+ The last line talks of Leo "unencumbered as light itself." Who is this Leo and why does he merit the title of the story?
I think perhaps that Trisha envies Leo. She’s as much his opposite as she is his peer. Both are artists who want more than they have, but she’s the one who’s really putting an effort into their basic survival. She has more needs to fill in order to survive than Leo does both because she is a woman and because she is a mother. His needs are few, and while it’s true that she is giving more to him than he gives to her, he can still survive without her better than she can without him.
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+ What is the main character afraid of?
I think Walter is afraid of really living… and failing at it.  He’d rather let alcohol take control of, and all the blame for, his mediocre life than actually take a crack at it, himself.

+ Who are the real "whores" of the story?
It would seem that all the local townspeople, including and especially Walter, were whores for choosing money and a comfortable, uneventful life over following their hearts and dreams that might lead them down rocky roads and to heartbreak as easily, or more so, than to glory and true love.

+ There are some very beautiful lines in this story. Tell us your favorite.
I loved the line where Walter first introduces the idea of “Mexico!”  I could see and feel the word picture there more brilliantly than in any other part of the story.  It reminded me of my own feelings and reactions when someone says, “Montrose.”  That word, the name of an Inner Loop community in Houston, Texas, is a reminder of my youth, my first exposure to the sins and kinks of the big city – as an observer only, of course (unless you count my first viewing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” as participation), but that was enough to awaken this small town, good-little-Baptist-girl to a whole new world of lifestyles and choices.  I’ve been a City Girl ever since.  And while I can no longer live in Montrose, and even just driving through breaks my heart to see how the wild and eclectic has been replaced with the trendy and expensive, Montrose will always live on in my heart as it was then and those memories will forever make me grin like the not-yet-naughty 16-year-old, bolstered by the presence of my older, wiser cousin, sneaking into places that Mama wouldn’t want me in.

Of course, I also liked the line, “I think I’ll go to Mexico and get fucked.”  For once, some blunt, naked honesty!

+ What role does Lacy play in the story?
I think Lacy represents everything Walter fears.  He’s the man who aimed higher and fell short – even with the beautiful wife he professes to love.  With Elena, Lacy again aims for more, but cannot hit the target.  Walter refuses to give in to the temptation of wanting more because he doesn’t want to be like Lacy.

+ What are we to get from the way the department chairman dies?
It was very like the lives of everyone else around him, and so, I would assume, very much like his own life… uneventful.  He could have called out for help.  He could have crawled back onto the porch and knocked at the door.  He could have just lain where he fell and hoped someone would notice before it was too late.  Instead, he didn’t want to make a fuss.  I wonder if he gave any thought to how he would be discovered or the trauma it would cause Marsha to find him, alone and unsuspecting and completely helpless to do anything but cry and lose her mind?  I suppose mediocre people don’t think about much outside their own comfort – if they did, they might realize that the world could be a better place if they just put a little effort into it.

+ Give your thoughts on the last paragraph of the story.
Walter will continue to avoid anything resembling REAL living.  Without Lacy, he needs a companion in his misery, so he’ll marry someone he doesn’t love and who won’t try to change him and he’ll never, ever give himself any reason to truly care about anything for the rest of his mediocre life.

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This was a story about a first love that ended the way most first loves in Jr. High do -- the wrong things were said, the right things weren't.  The main character grows up ever influenced (for the better, eventually) by his memories of that first love gone wrong.


This story brought back more memories of teen and pre-teen angst than I care to count. There was the first crush-from-afar, the first crush-from-not-so-far, the first almost-boyfriend, the first if-I-knew-then-what-I-know-now-he-would-have-been-my-boyfriend and, finally, the first unrequited love.  Lest you think me a TOTAL loser (which, let’s face it, I sorta was), shortly after that last one, I finally got it right... a real boyfriend, that is.
My mother always said Junior High was Hell on Earth. She began telling me this not long after I started First Grade, hoping to prepare me. She was successful, for the most part. I was ready for the Evil Girls and the Idiot Boys, but I was unprepared for the spiteful teachers or for just how INCREDIBLY, indescribably, stupid the boys truly were. I learned a lot, though – too bad most of it had little to do with Math or Science.
I learned that putting ice down a boy's shirt was NOT a good way to tell him you liked him. I learned that, despite this fact, a boy who liked YOU was just as likely to tell you so by “accidentally” kicking your hand and landing it in a splint for a few weeks. I learned that ANYTHING you did to impress a boy had about a 50/50 chance of earning you a trip to the doctor. I also learned that once a teacher realized she had a romance budding in her class, she would put all her energy into destroying it, and all parties involved, completely, utterly and thoroughly. Without Jr. High, I'm convinced Psychiatry would be a non-existent profession.
In addition, both then and in the years immediately following, I learned just how detrimental a lack of communication can be to a relationship. Good friends could, with a few well placed looks and several unsaid words, evolve into star-crossed lovers and explode into bitter enemies in a matter of minutes -- seconds, even. And I learned that, despite good looks and intelligence, a young man’s confidence could be so exceedingly subterranean that he would honestly believe a girl he's known for years would consider dating Beavis & Butthead's dumber cousin over him. Ironically, looking back now, I've come to realize just how much confidence makes the man... and that maybe I SHOULD have dated Beavis & Butthead's cousin, after all.
Finally, I learned, as did Richie, that it really doesn't matter how a relationship ends so much as what you learned from it. Without all that angst, and without so many entertainingly doomed relationships since, I wouldn't be happily married to a man who loves me (anyway) just the way I am.
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