This Is Me--2024 A to Z Theme

My A to Z Themes in the past have covered a range of topics and for 2024 the theme is a personal retrospective that I call "I Coulda Been" which is in reference to my job and career arc over my lifetime. I'll be looking at all sorts of occupations that I have done or could have done. Maybe you've done some of these too!

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Greatest Short Story Ever Written?

Everything That Rises Must Converge
Everything That Rises Must Converge (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

            My next few posts are partially intended for information gathering for an upcoming series on the topic of why we have certain preferences.   Questions will be asked with which I hope you will assist me by providing your answers.    I will also be making some statements that to me are true to some extent, but some of you may find so outlandish and provocative that my opinions may annoy or even anger you.  On the other hand some of you might agree with my claims.   Please keep this caveat in mind and be willing to offer your own opinions.

"All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless and brutal."—Flannery O'Connor
The Set-up

          Recently I accompanied my wife to the doctor and for once I brought along a book to read since I had a feeling we'd be there for a while.  Flannery O'Connor's short story Revelation had been on my mind in recent days prior to going with my wife so I figured that would be the ideal opportunity to go back and reread this story by one of my favorite authors.

          If you've been reading Tossing It Out for any length of time you might recall my mentioning Flannery O'Connor since she is one of my favorite writers.  In fact you can find two complete posts here and here.
Revelation is available at a number of places on the internet if you'd like to read it.   One particularly easy to read version can be found here.

          After rereading the story Revelation, I am convinced that this is the best short story ever written based on the short stories I have read.   A general consensus of readers and critics might suggest that O'Connor's story A Good Man Is Hard to Find is her greatest story.    That story is certainly among the greatest ever written, but I maintain the Revelation edges out Good Man ever so slightly.

The Story

          The short story Revelation comes from Flannery O'Connor's collection Everything That Rises Must Converge.   O'Connor was a Catholic author from Georgia who wrote in the often dark tradition of Southern Literature.   Her stories typically have to do with characters who are facing a spiritual crisis but are often not aware of the nature of that crisis.  Flannery O'Connor died at age 39 leaving behind a relatively small, but substantially powerful and influential body of work.

         There are basically two scenes to Revelation.   The first takes place in a doctor's office waiting room and the second is after the main character goes home to reflect on the events that transpired in the waiting room and the revelation that comes to her as she thinks on those events.  The main character of this story is introduced in the story's opening line:
The Doctor’s waiting room, which was very small, was almost full when the Turpins entered and Mrs. Turpin, who was very large, made it look even smaller by her presence.
       To me this is one of the best opening lines ever written for a short story.   The scene is immediately set as we meet this woman who is who is not merely physically imposing, but who has a "presence" that will become more apparent as the story goes on.

        In the first few pages we become intimate with a cast of characters who are vastly different from each other yet mundane examples of the typical types of people one might meet in the town where the doctor's office is located.   A combination of simple but keen observations of the characters' appearances and mannerisms along with realistic clever dialogue puts the reader right there in the waiting room.

        An example is the following exchange which comes after Mrs.Turpin and another lady discuss their admiration of a clock in the waiting room:
The woman with the snuff-stained lips turned around in her chair and looked up at the clock. Then she turned back and appeared to look a little to the side of Mrs. Turpin. There was a cast in one of her eyes.
"You want to know where you can get you one of them there clocks?" she asked in a loud voice.
"No , I already have a nice clock," Mrs. Turpin said. Once somebody like her got a leg in the conversation, she would be all over it.
"You can get you one with green stamps," the woman said. "That's most likely where he got his'n. Save you up enough, you can get you most anythang. I got me some joo’ry.”
Ought to have got you a wash rag and some soap, Mrs. Turpin thought.

        This passage had me laughing out loud in the doctor's waiting room I was in while I read the story.  It was one of many passages that had me laughing.   It's a funny story in places, but it's also sad and even disturbing.   The characters show racism, bigotry, and self-centeredness and yet they are just regular people who mostly mean well and believe that they are right in thinking the way they do.   The story illustrates the conflicts and misunderstandings between classes and cultures.  Mrs. Turpin's "revelation" at the end of the story might be life-changing for her or only a momentary enlightenment.  For me her vision and realization was moving and memorable.  

        I think that a short story need not have much in the way of action--in fact too much action in a short story is cluttered and confusing.   The short story should focus on one very special idea and, through the characters and the plotline, convey this idea to the reader.   A good short story should have a "moral" (though not necessarily stated as in a fable), teach a lesson, or clarify some specific idea.   By necessity due to its length, the story should be limited in scope from the standpoint of time depicted, geographical range, and number of characters who are specifically introduced.

         The best short stories deal with common events illuminated by an uncommon light then processed back into the reader's mind leaving a lasting impression due to emotion or a thought that lingers long after the story has been read.   A short story of value must engage and entertain for the duration of the reading while at the same time giving the reader something to take away to ponder in interim after reading and have the indelible stamp of the story lodged firmly in the memory.

          Revelation effectively fills all of these criteria.   The writing is basic, simple, and accessible to even readers of relatively low reading skills, and yet the images and ideas are presented with an elementary elegance that spurs imagination.   There is no stumbling over complicated wording or pedantic phrasing.  This is modern writing for readers who have little patience for reading with a dictionary by their sides or stalling to grasp what the author is saying.  O'Connor says what she is going to say with forthrightness.  She delivers complexity with simplicity.  This is truly breathtaking writing.

         I cannot think of any other stories other than others by O'Connor that approach the greatness of Revelation.   Certainly I have a very limited reading experience when put up against all of the stories ever written, but I'll go out on a limb to say that Revelation is the greatest short story ever written.  It's certainly one of my favorites.

My Questions For You

1)    If you have read this story, do you think it is the best short story ever written?
2)    What do think is the best short story ever written?   Why?
3)    What is your favorite short story?   Why?
4)    For you what is it that makes a short story good?   What makes for a great story?

If you happen to read Revelation for the first time as a result of my essay, please let me know your reactions to it.

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  1. Hi Lee,
    I've clicked on your link and can't wait to read it - I'll report back later - but first I must head out, enjoy the sun and tackle some overgrown weeds. In regards to your other questions I have never been good at answering 'favourites' type questions, as I always feel like I am forgetting something special... I do agree with your ideas of what constitutes a good short story in fact I believe your points cover what every good story should have, long or short :)

  2. Not sure about short stories, generally don't read them although sometimes I get hold of books which are anthologies. Jeff Hargett writes some good short stories. As for the best ever written isn't that a case of beauty is in the eye of the beholder?

  3. I liked Rappacini's Daughter by Hawthorne and also The Gift of the Magi by O Henry.

  4. What I like most about this post, Lee, is your ideas on what makes for a good short story. It's got me ponderin' ...

  5. First, I have not read this short story. I am now considering borrowing this book from the library. I don't read short stories all that often and maybe I should change that.

    Back in school we had entire textbooks full of short stories. I do not recall a single one that I read. However, my brother often did his homework/reading in the morning before school. He wasn't the best student (cough, cough).

    Anyway, one morning I come down for breakfast and he is at the kitchen table crying. Crying. I can still picture this scene vividly. So, I sit down and ask what is wrong.

    He says that it was this story he just read. It was about a couple who has a dog. Then they have a baby and worry about the dog being alone with the baby. Big dog. Small baby. Not all dogs like babies. Considering their fear I don't know why they leave the dog and the baby alone (I didn't read the story) but they do and come back to find a blood trail, no baby, and the dog. The man shoots the dog in his rage.

    Of course, right after this hasty rage-filled action, they follow the blood trail to a dead wolf. And then the baby cries from the safe place the dog put the baby before he fought and killed the wolf.

    So there we sat at the kitchen table both of us sobbing over this story. Which he read and I only heard about as he cried his way through the retelling. And tears are once again coursing down my cheeks as I type this comment.

    Good dog.

  6. I've not read a lot of short stories, usually preferring the longer format of the novel. I'm trying to read more of them now, have studied them online, and am trying to write some myself. It's great practice for being concise and trimming the frills.

    I do not think, however, that a story should have a moral. I got tired of reading fables as a child, so reading certain short stories of this type is likely what made me avoid them. I also found I didn't like stories that made me cry that much. I cried when my mother sang me songs of kids lost or dogs dying. Sheesh. Southern gothic for sure.

    I'm curious as to what you will gather from our replies. . .

  7. PS - forgot to say I went and read the whole story at the easy link. So you did accomplish getting one new reader of that story.

  8. I've read a lot of O'Connor and always found him an amazing story teller.

    I'm not sure I'd say Revelation is my favorite. I'm more partial to The Lame Shall Enter First, even if it is one of the of darkest tales.

    The Lottery has been in my head since I read it in high school. And The Rocking Horse Winner by D. H. Lawrence is another one that haunts me.

    There are so many short stories I love, so now that you've shaken my brain awake that I'll have to give them some thought again.

  9. Errr! Make that "her" (O'Connor) stories. My brain's on overload today. :-)

  10. 1) If you have read this story, do you think it is the best short story ever written?
    I read the story years ago and then again today. I love all her stories but I don't want to answer your question as it is too much like what she was always doing! What is best? Right now that was a good story for me to read.

    2) What do think is the best short story ever written? Why?
    Same answer! One of my favorites is by Alice Munro - "Boys and Girls"
    3) What is your favorite short story? Why? "Boys and Girls" like your fave captures the essence of being human without sentiment or artifice. The characters seem true and the questions raised breathtakingly authentic.
    4) For you what is it that makes a short story good? What makes for a great story? Truth. An emotional landscape that I either recognize or need to. Language. Length.

  11. Well, I don't have time to get into all of your questions, but I can say this:

    I read a bit of Flannery when I was younger, and I was never overly impressed. But, then, I've never been a short story kind of person, either. That said, the short stories that have really left impressions on me were
    "The Lottery"
    "A Sound of Thunder"
    "The Most Dangerous Game"

  12. Ida -- I usually have a hard time picking a favorite. Usually I can't remember them all so I stick to some stock answers I always use.

    Jo -- You've given a standard answer regarding preference and one that I think holds true for the most part.

    JoJo -- I have not read the story by Hawthorne, but have read the one by O.Henry. O.Henry was one my earliest favorite authors of the short story form.

    Suze -- Hope you come back with the results of your ponderin'.

    Robin -- That's sounds like a pretty tough story emotionally speaking. Was it fair for the author to use such an obvious tear jerking device? How was the writing? This story sounds manipulative but successful in doing so judging by your brother's and your response.

    DG -- The overtly stated moral is rather a trite device that works okay for fables, but not for quality literature. I think an inferred moral can work well if it is something the readers must come to after reflecting a bit on the story. Slapping readers in the face with meaning is the sign of an unskilled writer and makes for weak storytelling.


  13. C.Lee -- When I was in junior high and high school short stories were mostly what I read. I still have several anthologies that I bought back then. I need to go back to reread some of those stories.

    Jan -- Thank you for the answers. O'Connor like many writers tell and retell the same or a similar story many times. I probably like O'Connor's stories because I'm interested in her message.

    Andrew -- Maybe you need to read O'Connor again now that you're older. Depending on what stage of your life you were in when you read some of her work, you probably weren't interested in what she was saying at that time. "A Sound Of Thunder" sounds very familiar to me. Was that something about dinosaurs? Wasn't there a movie based on that story?


  14. There have been several movies based around "Thunder." It's Bradbury short and, yes, it has dinosaurs.

  15. I too am off to get th r book. Hope to give some answers soon but I really don't have favorites but O'henry , Saki and Jeffery archer are real good. As well as Ruskin bond.
    Can't really decide on a best one.

  16. I remember studying this story in college but I don't remember how I felt about it. I think my favorite would be something by O. Henry, probably The Last Leaf because it's always stayed with me..

  17. Lee - I realized when I read your response to mine that I hadn't been clear! I meant that I didn't want to classify the story because that is what Mrs. Turpin was always doing - was it better to be this or that? Not O'Connor who I think was one of the best of the best. Sorry for my fuzziness. Another story that I find simply marvelous is 'An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge' by Ambrose Bierce. Everything about this story thrills me and I think you'd like it too if you don't already!

  18. Those are mighty big questions, and require some thinking, remembering. I will get back to you on this.

  19. Andrew -- Yes, I remember seeing one of those movies and then reading about it on the internet to learn about the original story which I have not yet read.

    Inderpreet-- Revelation is available online--follow the link I've provided. Most of O'Connor's stories can probably be found online.

    L.D. -- O.Henry is popular with many probably because of his twist endings.

    Jan -- No I thought your answer was very clear, but you've elaborated on it excellently--very appropriate. I have read the Bierce story as well as seen the short film that was used as an episode on Twilight Zone. It is very good though it breaks the "dream" rule. It's kind of like the song "Green, Green Grass of Home".

    Susan Kane-- I hope you will give your answers as I value your opinion.


  20. I don't read much in the way of short stories any more (more of a cyclical thing than anything else) but one of my faves was written by Sean Doolittle called "Care of the Circumcised Penis" which was featured in a short story anthology called Noir @ The Bar.

    It's one of the few that I never get tired of reading. About the only reason why I think its my fave is that it simply resonates with me. I work in the city and come across people like that (i.e. street smart, urban arrogance) every day.

    I think what makes a story good for me is if I can readily identify with the characters and/or plot.

    Father Nature's Corner

  21. What is a best in anything is relative and subjective. I've read this story, but I have to say I like A Good Man.. a lot better.

    Of the short stories I've read, there are so many I love for different reasons-- Carver, Bradbury, Munro, Chekov, Tagore, Maupassant, Katherine Mansfield, Lydia Davis, Junot Diaz-- but one that especially comes to mind is Amy Hempel's In the Cemetery where Al Jonson is Buried.

    Perhaps I love this Hempel story because it has personal resonances for me-- but it would always be one of my favorites.

    Good discussion, Lee.

  22. I've read many, many short stories, and since I like so many of them, I can't seem to pick a best ever! I feel that way about books. I have many favorites, but I don't think I could ever pick an all-time greatest.

    From a writer's view, I like Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants". Its subtly, imagery, symbolism, and succinctness is masterful. "Cathedrals" and "What We Talk about When We Talk about Love" by Raymond Carver and "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman stand out to me as well. I don't know if any of those are the best ever, but they are certainly short stories every writer should read.

    And I agree that Flannery O'Connor's short stories are excellent.

    Happy reading and writing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

  23. I read Revelation for the first time tonight. I love the description - it really helps place the reader in the story.
    Thanks for sharing it with me.
    The View from my World

  24. I have not read this story. I find short stories hard work as I have to get into each one. Once I have started a novel it is easy to keep reading. The short story I remember from school is "The machine stops". I do not remember the author. Have you read it? Sue (trying for the second time to post this comment, which I did not bother to copy the first time.) :-(

  25. Hi again Lee - Thanks for recommending the story - I loved it though (just like a short story should) it has me pondering many things about that era and the writer herself. It ticks all your boxes and does what so few short stories do for me, left me satisfied. So many leave me feeling like I want to know more...

  26. I'd certainly include it in a list of top short stories by American writers, though there are some I personally prefer (Hawthrone's "Rappacini's Daughter," Willa Cather's "Paul's Case," Eudora Welty's "Why I Live at the P.O." and a slew of stuff by Fitzgerald and Hemingway. Oh gosh, and John Cheever. And Raymond Carver.). Open up the door to non-American writers, and there's so much great stuff by Kafka, Chekhov, du Maupassant. Don't know if I could pick.

  27. GB -- The story you mention certainly has a provocative title. I agree that it helps when you can identify in some way with the characters or have a familiarity with those types.

    Damyanti -- I read the Hempel story and living in Los Angeles I recognized many of references. In fact I have visited Al Jolson's grave and explored that cemetery. A lot of famous names there.

    Laura -- It would actually be difficult to say any one story is the best since there are different standards that we judge by.

    Mary -- Thank you for reading and giving me your thoughts on the story.

    Sue -- On the contrary I find short stories easier because of the lesser investment of time.

    Dawn -- My time on the computer certainly interferes with the amount of time I spend reading.

    Ida -- If a story sticks with me then I feel like the author has made a worthy accomplishment.

    Kelly - I can eat one Lay's potato chip more easily than I can pick one favorite story, movie, song, or anything similar.


  28. 1. I haven't read this story. But will add it to my TBR list!

    2. I've recently just started reading short stories, so I don't know of one that I'd call the best short story ever written as that is a huge title and there are many short stories out there I haven't read.

    3. Is it bad to say my own short story, Hurricane Crimes, is my favorite? Then I'll also say Fearless by Christine Rains. This is the most recent short story I've read and I'm calling it my favorite of the year so far.

    4. For me, a good short story has something happening on the first page and it doesn't let up with the action/suspense/romance (whatever the main ingredient is) until it ends, since a short story doesn't have long to hook a reader.

    A great story has engaging characters and emotion.

  29. Hi Lee,

    Delighted you liked that short story. I think the opening line in the short story is too long. It, as far as I'm concerned, weakens it. The conjunction word, "and" is overused.

    I have no idea what I think is the best short story ever written. A short story that captures my attention from the opening line onwards, pleases me.

    Enjoy the rest of your weekend.


  30. 1- I did just read the story. Not my genre, so I don't think I would vote for it. Perhaps there is a subtle humor to it, but all I see are the many ways the Message can get mis-transmitted, and how many will be fooled by false interpretations. I would have liked to have seen a more extensive "pay-off" at the end.

    2. "Best" is far too subjective and far too wide ranging a group to judge. Even if I was as well-read as you, I would not venture beyond "favorite".

    3. Agh! Hoisted on my own petard! I would say perhaps The Devil and Daniel Webster, though it has been years since I read it.

    4.If it catches my attention and gives me positive feelings in the end. I would say that a great story would have to take an important idea and make it clear where the author stands on it.

  31. I like that kind of writing because it captures the reader immediately and doesn't let go. It's deceptively simple. Truly, there is a lot of skill behind those words.

  32. I have not read this story. In fact I seldom read short stories anymore. And I don't think I could call any one story or book my favorite, unless it was the Greatest Story Ever Told: The Bible.
    Life & Faith in Caneyhead

  33. Thanks for this Arlee - I'm not familiar with the author. I agree that opening sentence is terrific! Time place and persons come alive immediately.
    I enjoy short stories. I have on hand Hermann Hesse: Stories of Five Decades. Roald Dahl is a master of the contemporary short story eg. Switch Bitch.
    How to answer all your questions ..
    Oscar Wilde's:The Happy Prince moves me every time. What makes a short story good? I suppose the unexpectedness of it. Excellent writing that evokes appreciation for it. And of course the content that makes me reflect on it ..

  34. Chrys-- Sometimes though I think the depth of thought in a short story is more important that ongoing action. Simplicity works well for me.

    Gary -- I like to hear a few examples of what you think is a good opening sentence of a short story. Are you saying "and" has been overused in the example I've offered or in all literature. Along with "the", "a", "of", and other similar words "and" is used a lot for good and obvious reasons.

    CW -- "Devil and Daniel Webster" is a chestnut I've haven't thought of in many years. I recall liking it when I was in junior high. Not sure what kind of pay-off you'd be looking for at the end of "Revelation", but I come away feeling like a spiritual millionaire at the end of the story. I'm not sure why you'd think a good story should leave you with a positive feeling at the end. Do you mean as in a happy ending?

    Lynda -- The complexity of simplicity is exactly what I see in O'Connor's writing.

    Barbara-- I think that's what I like about O'Connor. Her stories are rooted in Biblical messages without being overt about it.

    Susan Scott -- Your stated criteria are good elements of good stories. The storyteller should deal with concepts we understand and present them in new or interesting ways.


  35. I just read the story and found it... interesting.
    I am not sure what to think of it. It was disturbing (slightly) but I think it had to do more with the main character's misconceptions and the like than the attack. I felt, to get the "protagonist" to the end, the story would have been better served by a different device than the girl just "going off".

    I don't really have a favorite short story (I don't have a favorite novel or poem, either) but "They're Made Out of Meat" stuck with me fairly well.

  36. Jennifer -- This is a story that might improve for you in subsequent readings.

    I just read "They're Made Out of Meat". Pretty strange.

    Tossing It Out

  37. I mean, as in something that doesn't leave me thinking a substantial part of the story got ripped out of the book. What did she get from the vision, if anything? Did it make her change her life? After listening to her internal debate the whole story, why cut it off at the end?

    I was disappointed in The Grapes Of Wrath for the same reason. It felt like there was a chapter and a half missing from an otherwise entertaining read. I'm not saying all problems need to be solved, but if I am to envision what happens next, I need a direction in which to go. I don't think it was too much to ask in either case to go just a little farther.

  38. CW -- As in much great literature I think the ending here is left with some ambiguity in order for the reader to contemplate the message and come to their own conclusion. Mrs Turpin has at least a moment of "revelation"--or an understanding of Matthew 20:16 which talks about the last being first and the first last. Her encounter at the doctor's office has given her some insight about her perceptions of what she has believed and the way it should be. Whether or not she's a creature of habit and will go back to her old ways of thinking is not the important issue, but the fact that she has at least come to a recognition is the meaningful part of the story. And for me it was satisfactory because I have witnessed this character arc within the parameters of the story.

    If you want a maddening unresolved movie ending check out the John Sayles film Limbo. I was so befuddled by the ending and I know many have been frustrated by it. It took me several days to get it and when I did I realized that the open ending was brilliant.

    Often I think some of the best literature and films have ambiguous endings that we have to resolve for ourselves.


  39. Now following you on GFC.

    1- No, I haven't read the story.

    2- I'm not sure about best. I recall one I read in college, I'm fairly certain it was called "We're Poor." I didn't like it the first time around, but it grew on me. The child in the story talks about his life, how much he likes his life, and how he sees his life. It isn't until after you think about it for a while that you realize the child character is poor. That they don't eat potato soup six nights a week because it is his father's favorite, but because it is all they can afford. It's the subtle reveal of reality, not spelling it out for the reader, that make it so wonderful. (I'd love to give you a link to it, but I can't seem to find one. A shame.)

    3- The Tell-tale Heart is my favorite. I love the characters.

    4- Being memorable is what makes it good. I'd say making me laugh makes it great, but I haven't read enough humorous short stories (outside of Reader's Digest, though the ones I'm thinking of tend to be under 100 words).


  40. Lenni-- Edgar Allen Poe was the master of short story and he wrote some great ones for sure. In regard to a story "being memorable" that is part of the question. Why is the story memorable? What are primary components that make the story memorable? Off hand I can't think of many humorous short stories, but O'Connor uses a dark humor in many of her stories and I like that balance of humor and seriousness.


  41. Alright, you made me curious, so I read it.

    "a big green glass ashtray full of cigarette butts and cotton wads with little blood spots on them."
    I can hardly imagine how going to the doctor could possibly spread disease. *Captain Sarcasm*

    "it was one thing to be ugly and another to act ugly."
    That was my favorite line.

    I can't help but wonder where Native Americans fall on Mrs. Turpin's class list. I'm slightly offended that "my kind" didn't even make it. And would all the tribes be lumped together- what am I saying, of course they would, but I'll go on anyway- or might a few get to be above white trash in her mind?

    "And it was not just that they didn't have anything. Because if you gave them everything, in two weeks it would all be broken or filthy or they would have chopped it up for lightwood. She knew all this from her own experience. Help them you must, but help them you couldn't."
    That explains how nearly all people seem to feel about at least half of the population of the world. (Even those people who are the ones that the attitude is toward.)

    The story certainly became gripping when the ugly girl went off. It had me needing to know the reason. My first thought is a dead boyfriend. I'm typing this as a read, by the way.

    "There had even been a pig astronaut."
    It wasn't until this line that I really noticed how 'young' this story must be. Somewhere in the 1940's I'd guess.

    It seems like she learns something of equality in the end. If only calling people a wart hog were all it took to change them. Amazing that the ugly girl had so much passion for equality. Was there a big movement at Wellesley College?

  42. ps- As for what makes one thing memorable and another not, I'm probably the wrong person to weigh in. I still have no idea why the Kardashian family is memorable. People keep telling me, but I still haven't figured it out. I knew a tree once that was very memorable. It got cut down so a cable could be run easier. No, I really am the worst person in the world to ask why anything is memorable.

  43. Lenni --Revelation was written around 1961 or so. That accounts for a lot of the brash racist thinking though some of this has not changed. O'Connor was dealing with extremist thinking and contrasting types to show that deep down we're not all that different.
    In the end she learns about equality in the Biblical sense and what she learns is far different that she had previously believed. I think the lesson is revealed in a remarkable way.

    You might also want to read O'Connor's A Good Man Is Hard to Find as it is a remarkable story with a striking ending.

    In the Kardashian sense of memorable I think the constant pummeling from the media is why we know these people at all. Likewise, a number of great works of literature are made memorable because we study them in school, talk about them, and they are so frequently referenced by others. Part of memorable comes from rote memory I think.


  44. When you say "Tossing it out" you really mean it! I subscribe to your blog via email (not a G+ girl at all) so I have been mulling over your questions which have popped up in my email this week, this one and the BOTB. This one is more difficult. I confess that I don't think I read "Revelation" before today, and I thank you for the link! Astounding imagery with simple words.

    1) I just read it for the first time, so is it the best short story ever written? I would say that for me it's definitely a very very good short story.
    2) I hesitate to give that title to any story. I know that's a wishy-washy answer, sorry. To say that would be to elevate a story above the boundaries of genre and culture, and I'm not ready to do that.
    3) I am not a huge short story reader, but a few stick out in my mind : "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry, "The Necklace" by Guy de Maupassant, "The Tell-Tale Heart" by E.A. Poe, "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson, and "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card (There may still be some people who don't know that the novel and all its sequels came from one short story, published in Analog back in 1977. I first read it in an collection called "Unaccompanied Sonata and other Short Stories" which was published in 1981. That book had quite a few other good stories in it, too.)
    4) I remember these stories partly because of their concise use of the language to create concrete images, like O'Connor did in "Revelation" - her use of dialect and choice of simple but descriptive words created vivid images of her characters. Good short stories don't waste space with any word which does not serve a specific purpose. But the most important thing about all of these is that "twist" at the end, the unexpected element that these authors leave as a parting gift to make their readers think about their initial perceptions in light of the "truth behind the curtain," that "I see dead people" moment, where the audience gasps together as they understand what happened. No further resolution is required.

    Ex credit: Yes, I just read "Revelation" for the first time and was struck by the masterful use of language and lablels...the ugly girl, the pleasant woman, the white trash, etc. I could picture them all quite easily. (side note: I notice about myself that I start to label people in this way when I am tired and unable to any longer see them as individuals...I know it's time to leave if I start thinking of people in labels like "Stinky feet guy" or "Muffin-top girl"...) In the story the other best thing was the inner monologue of Mrs. Turpin and her implausible choices. (If Jesus made me...) fighting against her own impulses to be like the lady (and the pharisee of Luke 18?) who thanks God that she is not like other people. (even if she wants to think of it as simple gratitude for her own blessings) It's a very thought-provoking monologue in the midst of this slightly humorous but somewhat dark setting. It now has the additional value of being a "period" piece complete with all the non-PC language that comes with it.

    I feel like I have just completed an essay test! Not that there's anything wrong with that, professor Arlee. Keep "tossing it out"... I like this essay test blog format, sir :-)

  45. Lee-

    Written in the 60s, but did it take place in the 60s or the 40s? (Or the 50s, though why they'd still be talking about the pig in space then..., well, I suppose it's possible.)

    I agree that the reveal of the lesson learned in uncanny.

    Ah yes, we remember what we are over exposed to. That's the "gift" of advertising- anyone and anything can be famous if there's enough funds.

    Or, as my favorite pirate said, "but you have heard of me."


    -J (who read The Great Gatsby in school three times for three different classes)

  46. Forty -- Thank you for the great essay. You get an A+ for your perceptive reading and observations. I agree with the things you said here. Mrs. Turpin's inner dialogue adds so much to the humor only because it all sounds so absurd to us. I think many of us label people just for convenience sake. It's dangerous when we take the labeling to an offensive extreme though.
    Next topic tomorrow (Wednesday June 4) is movies. Be happy for you to submit your essay on that topic as well.

    Lenni--I think the Russians started sending animals into space in 1956 or after. They sent pigs, dogs, and monkeys before they sent the first man which would have been right around 1960 I believe. I'm guessing the story is taking place around 1959-1961 and they'd be talking about pigs going into space because that was the era of the Space Race between U.S. and USSR and it was all over the news.
    "but you have heard of me" brings to mind Andy Warhol's statement about the 15 minutes of fame. Hopefully the Kardashians' 15 minutes is almost up.



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