Journeys in Fiction

14Sep 2021 by
 1. You have just read Andre Dubus’s “Killings.” The first things I’d like you to talk about are the characters Matt Fowler and Richard Strout.  Do you think the protagonist, Matt Fowler, is a static character or a dynamic character?  Why or why not?  Next, when we are first introduced to the antagonist, Richard Strout, he is portrayed as an unsympathetic “blank” character.  How does Andre Dubus turn him into a round character? By the end of the story, are you at all sympathetic to him, or do you think he got what he deserved?
2.  Next, as I mentioned in this week’s lecture, I think that the structure of this story follows the model of Freytag’s Pyramid.  In particular, I think Dubus is highly skillful in creating tension during the rising action part of the pyramid.  Describe some of the ways Dubus creates suspense in the story.
3.  Finally, throughout the story, the protagonist, Matt Fowler, frequently thinks about Richard Strout’s unnamed and unseen girlfriend.  Why do you think that is? What do you think Dubus is trying to say? The first story this week is a superb short story by Andre Dubus: Killings.  It is a compelling tale of revenge, and it approaches the subject in a different way than what we are used to in American fiction and movies.  The desire for vengeance is a tricky emotion.  Most religions tell us that forgiveness is what we should strive for, that we should turn the other cheek when someone wrongs us.  And yet revenge feels good to us.  Scientific studies have shown that when people are asked to think about taking revenge on someone who wronged them, brain scans reveal that the pleasure centers of the brain light up (Schirber). If you ever watched the movie Taken, Im sure you enjoyed watching Liam Neeson torture and kill all of the people who had a role in kidnapping his daughter. (I know I did.)
But in the real world, actually executing a plan of revenge and the emotional consequences of revenge are far more complex than our fantasies can imagine. That is what Dubus story is all about. As you read, think about the main character, Matt Fowler.  Is he a static or dynamic character?  That is, do his views change over the course of the story, or do they stay the same?
Also, think about the “villain” in the story, Richard Strout. Note how Dubus avoids making him into a flat character. As the readers progress through the story, they realize that he is more than just “the bad guy.”
Finally, In addition to the complexities of revenge, this week I would like you to consider how Dubus constructs the plot of the story. He starts with a funeral and the quotation I should kill him. From there, the plot proceeds in a linear fashion, with frequent flashbacks in order to give the reader appropriate background information. As you read, think about how the arrangement of the story contributes to the suspense of whether or not the main character, Matt Fowler, will kill Richard Strout. And also think about how Dubus inserts certain details into the story that complicate the rationale for revenge.
 
The second selection is a short story by Gail Godwin entitled A Sorrowful Woman.  It is a sad and gentle tale of a woman, a wife and mother, who is suffering from profound depression. It begins with the words “Once upon a time,”  which would seem to indicate that this is a fairy tale like the ones we read last week.  But even though it does have a dreamy, unreal feel to it, the topic is very modern and very serious.  The next paragraph reads, “One winter evening she looked at them: the husband durable, receptive, gentle; the child a tender golden three. The sight of them made her so sad and sick she did not want to see them ever again.”
As you read think about the ways Godwin constructs the round character of the protagonist, how she is filled with complex and contradictory feelings. 
Also, think about the plot structure of the work.  While I think Dubus’ “Killings” tends to follow the traditional story structure I outline in the video on the previous page, I don’t think that “A Sorrowful Woman” follows that structure.  We will be talking about this on the discussion board!
Notes
Schirber, Michael. “Brain Scans Reveal That Revenge Is Sweet.” Scientific American (2004): n. pag. Web. 11 Dec. 2016.

Please remember that you have to put up one initial post of at least 250 words and that you have to reply to at least one fellow student with a post of at least 100 words, and remember that these are minimums; more is usually better. 

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