I have found two common, linked problems under scrutiny in three short stories by non-American authors. The three stories are And of Clay We Are Created (Isabel Allende), The Laugher (Heinrich Böll), and The Street-Sweeping Show (Feng Jicai), and the problems these stories share are those of mediation and the power of images. These stories deal at least in part with how images are used or consumed and what these images impart and how. Because these stories deal with modern structures of society and the problems seem inextricable from these structures, and because each narrative works to subvert these problems by at least shedding light on them, I will call the narratives postmodern stories.All of the characters in each of these postmodern stories exhibit the need to preserve images. Ultimately, and to simplify, this need is destructive or dehumanizing, either for these characters or implicitly for the society the characters inhabit. In Allende's story the image is used for extracting personal meaning from a catastrophe, but paradoxically this need to understand is harmful to the self and is an indictment of the way we try to understand the world in an information society. In Böll's story the image is preserved ad infinitum and its mediator is reduced to an object of consumer society. And in Jicai the image is promulgated for public consumption though no one believes in it any longer (or maybe never did).
[...] And out of the desire to know she creates her own narrative and meaning, one in which catharsis can be realized, but for Rolf. Thus the narrator also creates resolution for herself out of the desire to know, even though the means of resolution is entirely unrealistic. Now on what is lost. The narrative focus on Rolf that elides Azucena is important because readers would expect Azucena to be the subject of the story, since she is indeed the story of the mudslide—she is a “symbol of the tragedy” for the narrator and the public (Rubenstein and Larson 47). [...]
[...] For instance, when the regular people witness the “majestic” procession of the mayor and city dignitaries, “they realized that they were in the presence of no ordinary mortals” (Rubenstein and Larson 247). But the language in the quotation is ironic—ironic not in the sense that the people should not feel that way but that they do not feel that way at all. There is no majestic procession, only the umbrella understanding that the procession is supposed to be majestic. Likewise the mayor is not venerated; he is bald fat one in blue” (Rubenstein and Larson 248). [...]
[...] The subordination is a result of the narrator's focus on Rolf and the narrator's unreal intimate knowledge of Rolf's inner thoughts. The narrator is a character in the story, but her near absence from it and her knowledge of Rolf's interiority make the narration almost third-person. In a way the character half of the narrator-character is not there; she is merely a voice narrating Rolf and the events surrounding him. The first glimpse of a subordination of the narrator-character begins as the narrator sits “planning the long hours without when Rolf leaves to cover the mudslide. [...]
[...] Secretary Zhao and the mayor list the groups: “‘We've got the heads of every office in the city—the Athletic Committee, the Youth League Committee, the Federation of Trade Unions, the Federation of Literary and Art Circles.'” The mayor then names Women's Federation” and its subgroups: “Working Women's Red Banner Pacesetters,” “Family of Martyrs,” and “Model Workers” (Rubenstein and Larson 247). All of these participants sound like productive social groups, and perhaps at one time they were splinter groups. Or perhaps they were conceived by the city or state. [...]
[...] The image is studied as if catastrophe could be used to tell us some deep truth about ourselves, and the image is also studied, for the narrator, as if catastrophe could tell us some deep truth about the other. The lack of a self-conscious narrator-character and the lack of a serious self conscious Rolf during the mudslide catastrophe leave the reader with a sense of hopelessness, because any consciousness gained is unconvincing, a simulation. It is like listening to a person who watches too much day-time TV. [...]
Online readingwith our online reader
Content validatedby our reading committee