English comp ii # 5

Draft 5A

Your assignment for Draft 5A is to 

  • choose a story to write about from those listed in this module
  • create a topic/thesis for that story
  • pick four or five quotations to support that topic/thesis
  • for each quotation, tell five things about the quotation, as listed below.

Choose a Story to Write About

Let’s imagine that in Paper 5 you were going to deal with “The Necklace” which is available online. (It is NOT a story listed in this module, so you should NOT write about “The Necklace for this assignment.)

Choose a Topic/Thesis for That Story

Let’s imagine that you are thinking about the following topics to apply to “The Necklace.”

  • how Mathilde changes, grows, improve as a person over the course of the story
  • daydreaming and its effects on a person
  • thrift, making do with what a person has
  • aspiring to a life that one cannot ever achieve
  • poverty, hard work and their effects on a person
  • honesty with ones friends, acquaintances, others
  • dishonesty with others
  • accepting a person’s lot in life, fate
  • working to overcome ones lot in life
  • communication between husband and wife, between friends
  • the importance of material possessions or their lack of importance

From this list, let’s imagine that you have decided to deal with the topic of dishonesty toward others, as seen in “The Necklace”

Pick Four or Five Quotations to Support That Topic 

After choosing the topic, find four or five quotations in the story that deal with the topic. Then, turn the topic into a possible thesis statement.  Give your topic and your thesis statement.  Then, finid four or five quotations in the story that deal with that topic and support your thesis.

For each quotation, give the following:

  • A. the situation or context in the story in which the quotation appears
  • B. the quotation itself
  • C. what the quotation says literally (a paraphrase)
  • D. what the quotation may mean figuratively (figurative or symbolic meaning)
  • E. how the figurative meaning of the quotation relates to the chosen topic or theme.

Example of the Assignment 

Story: “The Necklace”

Author: Guy du Maupassant

Topic: Dishonesty in “The Necklace”

Thesis Statement: Each of the characters in the story is dishonest with one another; this dishonesty does nothing but harm each of the characters in turn.  

Quotation One

A. The story begins with the following words that tell the position in life that Mathilde occupies; these ideas prepare us to understand why Mathilde borrows the necklace.

B. “She was one of those pretty and charming women, born, as if by an error of destiny, into a family of clerks and copyists.  She had no dowry, not prospects, no way of getting known, courted, loved, married by a rich and distinguished man  She finally settled for a marriage with a minor clerk in the Ministry of Education” (4).

C. Mathilde was pretty and charming and seemed to be born into her family by accident of fate.  Hers was a lower middle class family where the men were mostly clerks and copiers of manuscripts and documents.  She did not have money to give to her husband-to-be; she had not way of being known and courted by rich men.  She seemed destined to marry into her own class, not upwards.  Finally, knowing she would never marry a rich man, she settled for the man who is now her husband, a man who is only a minor clerk.

D. Mathilde seems to recognize that she will never marry above her social class in life and so settles for her husband.  Even though she settles for this man, there seems to be no love for him as a motivation for her marriage.  However, as a woman in her place and time, she must rely on her husband for a livelihood since women of the day did not work outside the home.  All this, taken together, suggests that her later daydreaming comes about because she knows she will never have any better life than she has now, even if she is not satisfied with it and must resign herself to her present circumstances.

E.  The author does not tell us that Mathilde tells her husband-to-be that she does not love him, nor does he tell us that she says to him that she is merely “settling” for him rather than a rich or important man.  Telling him that would be cruel.  However, if we think that marriage should be entered into because of love, then we know that Mathilde is not honest with her husband.  There is no indication that she marries for love.  She is, instead, merely dishonest by not saying what is true. 

Quotation Two

A. Mathilde’s husband has secured the promise of money for a pretty dress for the fancy dinner, but she thinks she needs some fine jewelry to set off her dress.  To an old friend whom she no longer sees she goes to borrow that jewlery.

B. “Suddenly she found a superb diamond necklace in a black satin box, and her heart throbbed with desire for it.  Her hands shook as she picked it up.  She fastened it around her neck, watched it gleam at her throat, and looked at herself ecstatically.  Then she asked, haltingly and anxiously: ‘Could you lend me this, nothing but this?’  ‘Why yes, certainly.’ She jumped up, hugged her friend joyfully, then hurried away with her treasure” (7).

C. In a black satin box, Mathilde finds a wonderful diamond necklace that she adores and wants.  She is so excited by the necklace that her hands shake as she picks it up.  Around her throat she fastens the necklace and then admires in the mirror how it gleams and makes her look even more lovely.  Then she asks her friend if she can have only this necklace and the friend tells her yes.  Mathilde hugs her friend and hurries away with the necklace.

D. We know of no meeting between Mathilde and her old school chum between the time they left school and now.  We can guess that since the two are of such different levels of wealth that they are probably also in different social classes.  As we watch Mathilde admire the necklace and herself, we come to believe that Mathilde is possibly a bit vain about her beauty.  We don’t see Mathilde hug her friend as they meet, but we do see her hug the friend after finding just the right necklace to set off her gown for the party.

E.  Coming to see an old friend after not meeting her for a long time is dishonest.  Mathilde seems to be using her friend for what she wants–a jewel for her dress.  Further, this is the time when the friend could tell Mathilde that the necklace is costume jewelry. Surely there is a great difference between letting a friend borrow a diamond necklace and letting a friend borrow a piece of costume jewelry.  Mrs. Forrestier is not being honest about the necklace with Mathilde.  See how wild with joy and admiration Mathilde is about the necklace, Mrs. Forrestier surely understands that Mathilde thinks the jewel is real.  However, Mrs. Forrestier says nothing, and so Mathilde is left thinking that a cheap necklace is worth a fortune.  This could be seen as not telling the truth since Mrs. Forrestier says nothing. Mathilde is also dishonest with others when she wears the jewelry; it is not hers but we can imagine that she will tell no one at the party that the necklace is borrowed. 

Quotation Three

A. Mr. Loisel has left the house for the streets of Paris to find the lost necklace.  Having searched everywhere and not found it, he is desperate.  He tells his wife the following.

B. ” ‘You’ll have to write to your friend,’ he said, ‘that you broke a clasp on her necklace and that you’re having it fixed.  That’ll give us time to look around’ ” (9).

C. Mr. Loisel tells Mathilde to write a letter to Mrs. Forrestier telling her that she has broken a clasp on the necklace and can’t return the necklace until it is fixed.  He does this to buy time for search for the necklace.

D. Mr. Loisel tells his wife to write a lie.  She does.

E. Mr. Loisel is lying when he says that the clasp of the necklace has been broken.  He is lying when he says they are fixing the clasp.  He is lying to save himself and his wife from the embarrassment of telling Mrs. Forrestier that they have lost the necklace.  Mathilde is just as dishonest as her husband because she writes the lie that he dictates.  

Quotation Four

A. Mr. Loisel dictates a letter to Mrs. Forrestier.  

B.  “She wrote as he dictated. By the end of the week they had lost all hope.  And Loisel, looking five years older, declared: ‘We’ll have to see about replacing the jewels’ ” (9).

C. Mathilde writes the lie that her husband tells.  Soon enough, they lose all hope of ever finding the necklace.  Mr. Loisel has aged just by worry from looking for the necklace.  He finally declares that he and his wife will have to replace the lost necklace.

D. The fact that Mr. Loisel ages five years as they look for the necklace is a foreshadowing of the aging that his wife will do in the next ten years of hard work and scrimping and saving.  She will age so much that she will not be recognizable to her friend.

E. The letter that the two write is dishonest.  It says that they are replacing the clasp when really they are not.  However, the two are honest when they decide that they will replace the necklace with a new necklace that is just as much like the original as possible.  That is, they think the original necklace costs a fortune, so they replace it with one that looks like the original and costs a fortune, too.  This is one of the first honest things the two do in the story. 

Quotation Five

A. After having paid off the debt of 38,000 francs, Mathilde meets up with her former friend, Mrs. Forrestier.  Mathilde has changed so much that Mrs. Forrestier doesn’t recognize her.  Mathilde still recognizes Mrs. Forrestier and blames her former friend for all her troubles.

B. “‘Hello, Jeanne.’  The other gave no sign of recognition and was astonished to be addressed so familiarly by this working-class woman.  She stammered: ‘But . . . Madam! . . . I don’t know . . . You must have made a mistake.’ ‘No.  I’m Mathilde Loisel.’  Her friend cried out: ‘Oh! . . . My poor Mathilde, you’ve changed so much.’  ‘Yes, I’ve had some tough times since I saw you last; in fact, hardships . . . and all because of you.’ ” (10-11).

C. Mathilde says hello to her friend, but the friend does not recognize her and is amazed and surprised to be talked to so boldly by a working-class woman.  Mrs. Forrestier thinks the woman has made a mistake, but Mathilde tells her own name and her friend is even more surprised to see how much Mathilde has aged since she last saw her.  Mathilde acknowledges that she has changed and says that it is because of the difficult life she has lived since last they saw each other, a life made difficult all because of what Mrs. Forrestier has done.

D. Mathilde has aged because of her life of work and poverty.  She is not sure if she should say hello to her former friend but does so anyway.  When she does, she tells her former friend that her aging has come about because of difficulties brought on by what Mrs. Forrestier has done.  Here, Mathilde does not admit any wrong doing herself.  Instead, she blames all her troubles on Mrs. Forrestier.  What Mrs. Forrestier has done, to Mathilde’s knowledge is to loan her a necklace when asked.  This is Mathilde blaming another person for her own troubles instead of shouldering the burden for her actions herself.

E. Mathilde is not being honest.  This time, she is not being honest with herself.  It is she who borrowed the necklace, she who wore and then lost the necklace, she who decided to replace the lost necklace.  At this time, she does not know that the necklace was only costume jewelry, but she takes pains to blame her friend for all her own fate in life.  If Mathilde were a better person, one who had grown from her misfortunes, she would not blame another person for the choices she herself has made in life.  This is Mathilde at her most dishonest–dishonest with Mrs. Forrestier, but more importantly, dishonest with herself.  If she were honest with herself, she would admit her mistake and move on.  That is not what she does. 

Quotation Six

A. Mathilde tells Mrs. Forrestier is the cause of all her distress, and Mrs. Forrestier is flabbergasted.  Mathilde explains how everything is Mrs. Forrestier’s fault.

B. Mathilde says, ” ‘ You remember the diamond necklace that you lent me to go to the part at the Ministry of Education?’  ‘Yes.  What then?’ ‘Well, I lost it.’  ‘How, since you gave it back to me? ‘I returned another exactly like it.  And for ten years we’ve been paying for it.  You understand this wasn’t easy for us, who have nothing . . . .  Finally, it’s over, and I’m damned glad.’  Mrs. Forrestier stopped her.  ‘You say that you bought a diamond necklace to replace mine?’ ‘Yes, you didn’t notice it, eh? It was exactly like your.’ And she smiled with proud and childish joy” (11).

C. Mathilde tells Mrs. Forrestier that she lost the necklace that she was loaned and then replaced it with a diamond necklace which has taken her ten years to pay for.  Mathilde goes on to say that she is glad those years are over since it was so difficult for her to pay for the replacement necklace.  When Mrs. Forrestier questions her if the replacement necklace were a diamond necklace, Mathilde laughs with  self-satisfaction and “childish joy” (11) that Mrs. Forrestier hasn’t noticed the replacement since it was so much like the original.

D. Mathilde tells Mrs. Forrestier that the replacement necklace was a diamond necklace, exactly like the original. She is proud and joyful that her trickery has not been noticed by her rich friend.  

E. Mathilde now takes joy and pride, like a child, in her lie.  She tells the truth, finally, that the original necklace has been lost, but the point of her story to Mrs. Forrestier is how Mrs. Forrestier has been tricked, duped into thinking that the replacement was the original necklace.  Here, Mathilde tells the truth, but it is her lie that she is proud of . 

Notes on Internal Documentation for a Short Story

When you quote from the story, remember to use quotation marks around the words you take from the story. 

Remember to cite a quotation from the story by using the author name and page number inside parenthesis if you are quoting from the paper copy. (Omit the author name if you have already identified the author in your paragraph.) Remember to cite a quotation from the story by using the author name only if you are quoting from the online copy. number inside parenthesis if you quote from the online copy.  If you wish to omit one or more words from the quotation, you should use ellipsis to indicate the omission.  If you wish to change or add one or more words to the quotation, you should use brackets to indicate the change or addition.

In your quotation, if you use words of dialogue or other words already in quotation marks in the story, you should change the original quotation marks to single quotation marks and add double quotation marks on the outside around the quotation.  

More on Using Quotations from a Story

To see more about using quotations in a story, see a discussion of quotations in papers about literature 

Recap of the Assignment for Draft 5A 

1. Work with the story you are writing about for Paper 5, chosen from this module.

2. Create a topic to write about for that story.  Create a thesis about that topic. 

3. Pick four or five quotations from that story that support and/or explain that thesis.

4. For each quotation, give the following:

  • A. the situation or context in the story in which the quotation appears
  • B. the quotation itself
  • C. what the quotation says literally
  • D. what the quotation may mean figuratively
  • E. how the meaning of the quotation relates to the chosen topic.

5. Give the author and title of the story, as demonstrated in the example above.

6. Give the topic and thesis you have chosen to write about, as demonstrated in the example above.

7. Write the assignment in a word processing file.  Work with the file, editing and proofreading and revising as necessary.  

Paper 5 Requirements

1. Paper 5 focuses on your interpretation of the theme (meaning, important point)  of one story. Choose one of the following stories listed in the file called “Reading Some Stories” in this Unit.

2. Paper 5 uses at least two quotations from a secondary source found in the Literature Resource Center database.

3. The paper has a short introduction paragraph, which includes 

  • a lead-in line to get the paper started [don’t start the first line of the paper with the thesis]; this is just a general statement of the topic of the paper, 
  • the title of the story [in quotation marks],
  • the name of the author of the story, 
  • the thesis [your opinion about what the story means or its major theme or idea].

4. The thesis makes one arguable point about the theme (point, meaning, your interpretation) of the story. Your thesis is arguable; that is, it takes a stand that other people who read the story might disagree with but one which you support. The thesis is your interpretation of a theme, point, or meaning of the story.

5. The body of your paper contains several paragraphs. In the body paragraphs, you will want to 

  • thoroughly explain all your ideas, 
  • make every sentence clear and understandable to the reader
  • not use any contractions,
  • avoid using first (I, me, mine, our…) or second (you, your, you are…) person point of view in a formal college essay.
  • use the literary present tense of verbs to talk about your story.  For example, the boy walks through the house, not “walked”; or the poem is about a young boy, not “was.”

6. Back up your ideas in your body paragraphs with quotations from the story. Put quotation marks around the quotations. After the quotation, put the page number in parenthesis. Be sure to lead into the quotation before giving the quotation. After the quotation tell what the quotation suggests to you or your interpretation of the quotation. Link this discussion to the topic sentence of the paragraph and to the thesis of the paper.

7. Back up your ideas in your body paragraphs with at least two quotations from the secondary source. Or, you may use quotations from the secondary source that run counter to your own interpretation of the story.  Put quotation marks around the quotations. After the quotation, put the name of the author of the secondary source in parenthesis if you have not already mentioned him/her in your paragraph.  If you have already mentioned him/her in your paragraph, do not cite his/her name in parenthesis again. Remember, though that you will NOT use a page number for an electronic source).    

In this paper you are NOT asked to summarize what you read in the secondary source.  You are NOT asked to use the same thesis that the secondary source uses.  You are NOT asked to agree with what the secondary source has to say about the story.  You are merely asked to use two quotations from the secondary source.

8. You may also back up your ideas in your body paragraphs with summaries and paraphrases from the secondary source.  Or, you may summarize and paraphrase ideas from the secondary source that run counter to your own interpretation of the story.  Do NOT put quotation marks around summaries and paraphrases.  After the summary and paraphrase, put the name of the author of the secondary source in parenthesis if you have not already mentioned him/her in your paragraph. If you have already mentioned him/her in your paragraph, do not cite his/her name again in parenthesis. 

9. When you quote, quote accurately.  Use ellipsis to indicate any omissions you have made from the original quotation.  Use square brackets to enclose any change you make in the original, including ellipsis. Use the single quotation marks inside double quotation marks to indicate words already in quotation marks in the story.  If your quotation from the story is long (more than 4 lines of your paper), display the quotation as a long quotation.

10.  End the paper with a short conclusion paragraph that echoes or mirrors the thesis in some way and that wraps up the entire paper.  

11. In word processing, type an outline page (with at least As and Bs under each Roman numeral), the paper itself, and a Work Cited page.  

12. Write the words “Paper 5” somewhere on the title page of your paper.  

13. Give your paper a title that is NOT the title of the story. Type the title, at the top and centered, on the first page of the paper itself.  

14. Assigned length: 1000 words or more.   

15. Underline the thesis in your introduction paragraph. It should be the last sentence of the introduction paragraph.

Writing Draft 5B 

Write a draft of at least six paragraphs for your Draft 5B. In your draft, include 

an introduction paragraph

  • underline the thesis in your introduction paragraph 

at least four body paragraphs

  • write topic sentences in the body paragraphs (usually the first or second sentence of the body paragraphs)
  • make sure the topic sentences directly and explicity support your thesis
  • use quotations from the story as supporting evidence; cite with in-text citations 

a conclusion paragraph

  • make sure the conclusion paragraph wraps up the essay and brings it to finality. 

If you are ready to do so, you may include information from the secondary source. If you include information from the secondary source, be sure to cite it. You are NOT required to use information from the secondary source in your Draft 5B

Finding Secondary Sources for Paper 5 

Now, it is time to find a secondary source on the story you want to write about.  To do this, you will be using the database in the Virtual Library called the “Literature Resource Center.” Click on the link called “Literature Resource Center–LRC” and enter the password when you are prompted to do so. If you are working from your campus, you will not even have to give the password.  If you are working from home or other non-campus locations, you will need to give the password. 

password = “elvis” (with NO quotation marks) 

Literature Resource CenterAccess the Literature Resource Center (LRC)from the link below. Enter Password when prompted:Literature Resource Center – LRCPassword: elvis 

Tillie Olsen

About Literature Resource Center

Before you enter the Literature Resource Center, you might try the Guided Tour, below,  to familiarize yourself with the Literature Resource Center.

Using the Literature Resource Center Database

Now, let’s use the Literature Resource Center to find a secondary source for the story you will be writing about in Paper 5.

Here’s how: 

1. Click on this link: Literature Resource Center – LRC and enter the password “elvis” (with no quotation marks) when prompted to do so.

2. At the Search screen select “Advanced Search”.  

3. In the Keyword search box, enter “Tillie Olsen” (for an author we are going to search for);

4. In the Name of Work search box , enter “I Stand Here Ironing” (for the story we are going to search for);

5. Click on “Search”.

6. The Search Results screen will appear showing the “Literature Criticism” tab search results and you will now be given a list of critical essays which are secondary sources that have “Tillie Olsen” as keyword and “I Stand Here Ironing” as title.

LRC Search Results

7. Click on the title of each listing to view the article. 

(On February 10, 2008, there were 23 essays returned for the above search settings in the Literature Resource Center search engine.) 

Finding Information for the Story YOU Are Writing About

The above information will help you find secondary sources for Tillie Olsen’s “I Stand Here Ironing.”  Of course, you will use the author and story title for the story you are writing about to find secondary sources you will need.

Source 5C

  • Find the secondary source you plan to use for Paper 5,
  • Copy that secondary source into a WORD file or send the article to yourself from inside the Literature Resource Center, and
  • Post a copy of that secondary source to the discussion board called “Source 5C”. 

An Example of the Assignment 

Limming: or Why Tillie Writes

Critic: Ellen Cronan RoseSource: The Hollins Critic, Vol. XIII, No. 2, April, 1976, pp. 1-13. Reproduced by permissionCriticism about: Tillie Olsen (1913-)

Nationality:  American 

[(essay date April 1976) In the essay below, Rose explores Olsen’s philosophy on writing and suggests that Olsen, a renowned feminist, is as powerful at depicting men as she as at depicting women.]

Tillie Olsen was born in Nebraska 65 years ago. In 1960, when she was 50 years old, she published her first book, a slim volume of short stories called Tell Me A Riddle. In 1974 she finally published a novel–Yonnondio–she had begun in 1932 and abandoned in 1937. To women in “the movement” she is a major literary figure, not so much despite as because of the paucity of her publications.

Since 1971, when Delta reissued Tell Me A Riddle in paperback, Olsen has been stumping the country, speaking about women who have been prevented by their sex from utilizing their creative talents. These are her words:

In the twenty years I bore and reared my children, usually had to work on the job as well, the simplest circumstances for creation did not exist. When the youngest of our four was in school, the beginnings struggled toward endings. . . . Bliss of movement. A full extended family life; the world of my job; and the writing, which I was somehow able to carry around with me through work, through home. Time on the bus, even when I had to stand, was enough; the stolen moments at work, enough; the deep night hours for as long as I could stay awake, after the kids were in bed, after the household tasks were done, sometimes during. It is no accident that the first work I considered publishable began: “I stand here ironing.” In such snatches of time I wrote what I did in those years, but there came a time when this triple life was no longer possible. The fifteen hours of daily realities became too much distraction for the writing. 

As for myself, who did not publish a book until I was 50, who raised children without household help or the help of the ‘technological sublime’ . . . who worked outside the house on everyday jobs as well. . . . The years when I should have been writing, my hands and being were at other (inescapable) tasks. . . . The habits of a lifetime when everything else had to come before writing are not easily broken, even when circumstances now often make it possible for the writing to be first; habits of years: response to others, distractibility, responsibility for daily matters, stay with you, mark you, become you. I speak of myself to bring here the sense of those others to whom this is in the process of happening (unnecessarily happening, for it need not, must not continue to be) and to remind us of those (I so nearly was one) who never come to writing at all. We cannot speak of women writers in our century without speaking also of the invisible; the also capable; the born to the wrong circumstances, the diminished, the excluded, the lost, the silenced. We who write are survivors, ‘onlys.’ One–out of twelve. 

I heard Olsen speak these words to a class at Dartmouth College last year, and I observed their galvanic effect on the students–mostly women–who heard them. My first exposure to Tillie Olsen was to Olsen the feminist. It was with this preparation that I first read Tell Me A Riddle and Yonnondio. I was thus unprepared for their impact on me.

For in her books, Olsen is no politician, but an artist. Her fictions evoke, move, haunt. They did not seem, when I read them, to belong to any movement, to support any cause.

And so I returned to Olsen’s words about the situation of the woman writer to see if there was something I had missed, something the women’s movement had missed.

In “Silences: When Writers Don’t Write,” originally delivered as a talk to the Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study in 1963, Olsen asks, “What are creation’s needs for full functioning?” The answer women have heard is an echo of Virginia Woolf’s “�500 a year and a room of one’s own”–independence, freedom, escape from the restriction of traditional feminine roles. This is the answer Olsen herself gives on the lecture circuit. But in this early Radcliffe speech, her question seems not so much political as aesthetic.

Wondering what keeps writers from writing, Olsen turns to what writers–men writers–have themselves said about their unnatural silences, not periods of gestation and renewal, but of drought, “unnatural thwarting of what struggles to come into being, but cannot.” She points to Hardy’s sense of lost “vision,” to Hopkins, “poet’s eye,” curbed by a priestly vow to refrain from writing, to Rimbaud who, after long silence, finally on his deathbed “spoke again like a poet-visionary.” She then turns to writers who wrote continuously, in an effort to understand what preserved them from the unnatural silences that foreshortened the creativity of Hardy, Hopkins, Rimbaud, Melville, and Kafka. She cites James’s assertion that creation demands “a depth and continuity of attention,” and notes that Rilke cut himself off from his family to live in attentive isolation so that there would be “no limit to vision.” Over and over in these opening paragraphs of “Silences,” Olsen identifies the act of creation with an act of the eye.

In order to create, the artist must see. Margaret Howth, in Rebecca Harding Davis’s novel of that name, is the type of the artist for Olsen, “her eyes quicker to see than ours.” And one of the special handicaps of the woman writer, confined traditionally to her proper sphere in the drawing room or the kitchen, is that she is restricted to what Olsen calls “trespass vision” of the world beyond that sphere. But although she echoes Charlotte Bronte’s lament that women are denied “facilities for observation . . . a knowledge of the world,” Olsen does not equate the reportorial with the creative eye. Vision is not photography. Olsen quotes, approvingly, Sarah Orne Jewett’s advice to the young Willa Cather: “If you don’t keep and mature your force . . . what might be insight is only observation. You will write about life, but never life itself.”

In Rebecca Harding Davis’s Life in the Iron Mills, to which Olsen has added an appreciative biographical afterword, the distinction between vision and mere seeing is dramatized in the reactions of two viewers to the statue Hugh Wolfe has sculpted out of slag. The mill owner’s son has brought a party of gentlemen to see the mill. On their way back to the carriage, they stumble on Hugh’s statue, the crouching figure of a nude woman, with outstretched arms. Moved by its crude power, the gentlemen ask Hugh, “But what did you mean by it?” “She be hungry,” he answers. The Doctor condescendingly instructs the unschooled sculptor: “Oh-h! But what a mistake you have made, my fine fellow! You have given no sign of starvation to the body. It is strong,–terribly strong.” To the realist, a portrait of starvation must count every rib. But Mitchell, who is portrayed as the dilettante and aesthete, a stranger to the mill town and of a different cut than the doctor, foreman, and newspaperman who round out the party, “flash[es] a look of disgust” at the doctor: “‘May,’ he broke out impatiently, ‘are you blind? Look at that woman’s face! It asks questions of God, and says, “I have a right to know.” Good God, how hungry it is!'”

So Olsen’s vision is, in a sense, trespass vision. It is “insight, not observation,” the eye’s invasion of outward detail to the meaning and shape within. It is this creative trespassing that Rebecca Davis commends in Margaret Howth, whose eyes are “quicker to see than ours, delicate or grand lines in the homeliest things.” And it is precisely that quality in Rebecca Davis herself that makes her so significant to Tillie Olsen, who says of her that “the noting of reality was transformed into comprehension, Vision.”

Tillie Olsen’s edition of Life In the Iron Mills, published by the Feminist Press, is central to an understanding of what she means by the creative act. It may or may not be one of the lost masterpieces of American fiction. Olsen herself admits that it is “botched.” But it fascinates her because it is a parable of creation, a portrait of the artist. And significantly, that artist is a sculptor.

One of the unsilent writers Olsen quotes in “Silences” is the articulate Thomas Mann, who spoke of the act of creation as “the will, the self-control to shape a sentence or follow out a hard train of thought. From the first rhythmical urge of the inward creative force towards the material, towards casting in shape and form, from that to the thought, the image, the word, the line.” Vision is perceptive seeing, which sees beneath and within the outward details the essential shape of the meaning of the thing perceived. Doctor May saw only the anatomy of Hugh’s statue; Mitchell saw through to the woman’s soul.

Sculpting is cutting away the exterior surface to come to the shape within the block of marble. Hugh spends months “hewing and hacking with his blunt knife,” compelled by “a fierce thirst for beauty,–to know it, to create it.” His struggle is first to see the beauty within and then to give it form, Mann’s urge towards the material and then casting it in shape and form.

Olsen writes of Davis’s art in similarly sculptural words: “It may have taken her years to embody her vision. ‘Hewing and hacking'” like Hugh. The first pages of Life in the Iron Mills are the narrator’s injunction to the reader to “look deeper” into the sordid lives of the mill workers, to ask whether there is “nothing beneath” the squalor. This preamble concludes with the artless confession that “I can paint nothing of this” inner reality, “only give you the outside outlines.” But the strength of the tale is in Davis’s ability to sculpt that inner reality, to dissolve the outside outlines and uncover the moral shape of her simple tale. For Olsen it is “a stunning insight . . . as transcendent as any written in her century.”

Vision is not photography. Sculpting is not cameo carving. Rebecca Harding Davis excoriated the Brahmins she met on her trip north from her native Wheeling, West Virginia. Emerson and Bronson Alcott, she wrote in her journal, “thought they were guiding the real world, [but] they stood quite outside of it, and never would see it as it was . . . their views gave you the same sense of unreality, of having been taken, as Hawthorne said, at too long a range.” In other words, they imposed their vision of the world on the world of fact, pasted their carvings on the surface of things. Davis criticized them for ignoring the “back-bone of fact.” To see the inner shape, you have at least to acknowledge the contour of the surface.

In her own tale of the down-trodden, Yonnondio, Olsen addresses the Brahmins of our day: 

And could you not make a cameo of this and pin it onto your aesthetic hearts? So sharp it is, so clear, so classic. The shattered dusk, the mountain of culm, the tipple; clean lines, bare beauty–and carved against them dwarfed by the vastness of night and the towering tipple, these black figures with bowed heads, waiting, waiting. 

The aesthetic eye sees “at too long a range.” It abstracts from surface detail a pleasing pattern. But the creative eye, the visionary eye, apprehends the surface in order to comprehend the inner shape which gives it meaning.

Thus by accreted detail, Olsen’s definition of the creative act comes into focus. The artist stands, always, in relation to a world of fact. He can record it or he can transform it. In the one case, the standard by which he measures his achievement is fidelity to fact. In the other, his standards are formal. Between these extremes, Tillie Olsen places the creative act. Fidelity to fact, but essential fact. Form and pattern, but exposed, not imposed.

It is not surprising that, of all the literary people she met on her northern trip, Rebecca Davis should have been drawn to Hawthorne. This aesthetic stance in relation to reality that I have discerned in Olsen and Davis is also, as I understand it, the method of Hawthorne’s romances. Coming to Hawthorne’s tales early in her life, Davis was “verified” in her feeling that “the common-place folk and things which I saw every day had mystery and charm . . . belong to the magic world [of books] as much as knights and pilgrims.” Ethan Brand, that tale of another furnace tender, sees under the surface of fact a fable of the unpardonable sin; Life in the Iron Mills, as Olsen points out, is about “another kind of unpardonable sin,” but its method of uncovering that sin is akin to Hawthorne’s. It is not an abstraction from reality–that is the method of the cameo cutter, the formalist–but a reduction of facticity to its primary form.

When I began this study of Tillie Olsen, I was motivated by my sense that beneath the polemic about the predicament of the woman writer lay something like this more comprehensive aesthetic. What gave me this sense, or suspicion, was Olsen’s fiction, which transcends her oratory. But before I turn to an appreciation of that fiction, I want to examine briefly the source of the disparity between Olsen’s real aesthetic and her current feminist articulation of it.

Throughout her non-fiction writing, as we have seen, Olsen uses the metaphor of sculpture to define the creative act. To be a writer, one must “be able to come to, cleave to, find the form for one’s own life comprehensions.” But in an article published in College English in 1972, “Women Who Are Writers in Our Century: One Out of Twelve,” Olsen uses this sculptural imagery to describe, not the artist, but the situation of women, who are “estranged from their own experience and unable to perceive its shape and authenticity,” prevented by social and sexual circumscription from the essential act of self-definition and affirmation. The paradox of female reality, as Olsen understands it, is that immersion in life means loss of perspective, or vision.

The artist-visionary can supply that perspective, can “find the form” which constitutes the “shape and authenticity” of what Olsen calls “common female realities.”

Thus in “One Out of Twelve” and on the lecture circuit, Tillie Olsen exhorts women artists to take women’s lives as their subject matter, finding a therapeutic link between the situation of women in our society and the peculiar kind of discovery implicit in the aesthetic creation. Accordingly she feels “it is no accident that the first work I considered publishable began: ‘I stand here ironing‘.”

It is possible to read the first of the four stories that comprise Tell Me A Riddle as an exemplum of Olsen’s feminist aesthetic. The mother-narrator of “I Stand Here Ironing” looks back over a life where there has been no “time to remember, to sift, to weigh, to estimate, to total.” Caught in the mesh of paid work, unpaid work, typing, darning, ironing, she has suffered, but never had time and leisure to perceive and shape, to understand, the passionate arc of motherhood. Helplessly she looks back over her memories of her daughter’s childhood and concludes, “I will never total it all.”

What Olsen does, in “I Stand Here Ironing,” is to perceive and give form to the meaning of her narrator’s motherhood, that “total” which the mother has no time to sum. As every female reader I have spoken to attests, this story movingly succeeds in articulating what Olsen calls “common female realities.”

It is also possible to fit the title story of the collection into the Procrustean feminist aesthetic Olsen propounds in “One Out of Twelve.” “Tell me a riddle, Grammy. I know no riddles, child.” But the grandfather “knew how to tickle, chuck, lift, toss, do tricks, tell secrets, make jokes, match riddle for riddle.” Why? Clearly because during all the years when she “had had to manage,” to contend with poverty, to raise five children, to preserve domestic order, he “never scraped a carrot or knew a dish towel sops.” The man is free, the woman bound. Women cannot “riddle” or form the experience they are utterly immersed in.

But “Tell Me A Riddle” is far more than a feminist document. In it, Olsen riddles the inscrutable by perceiving the meaning beneath and within the old woman’s life and death. But this service is not rendered solely to the grandmother, but to all the characters in the story, and to the reader as well. Lennie, her son, suffered “not alone for her who was dying, but for that in her which never lived (for that which in him might never live).” And keeping his vigil by the dying woman’s bedside, the grandfather achieves an epiphany, which the reader shares: 

The cards fell from his fingers. Without warning, the bereavement and betrayal he had sheltered–compounded through the years–hidden even from himself–revealed itself,

uncoiled,

released,

sprung

and with it the monstrous shapes of what had actually happened in the century. 

“Tell Me A Riddle” is a story about “common female realities,” but it is also a story about “common human realities.” We are all bound slaves, all immured in immanence, pawns of economic and political forces we cannot comprehend. Stepping from moment to moment, we do not see that we are pacing out the steps of a “dance, while the flutes so joyous and vibrant tremble in the air.”

Olsen has made the mistake, in her recent oratory, of confusing the general human situation and the particular plight of women in our society. What she empathically knows because she is an artist she thinks she knows because she is a woman, that our greatest need is to “be able to come to, cleave to, find the form for [our] own life comprehensions.” In her fiction, if not in her rhetoric, Olsen does not reserve that need to the female half of the race.

Like the mother in “I Stand Here Ironing,” the protagonist of “Hey Sailor, What Ship?”, the second of the Tell Me A Riddle stories, has spent his life day by day, immersed in “the watery shifting” from one port to another, the animal rhythm of work/pay check/binge/hangover. Yet Olsen rescues this inchoate history into meaning, by showing how Whitey fits in to a larger pattern, of which he himself is unaware. To his old friends in San Francisco, to whom he continually returns no matter how wide the arc of his dereliction, he is “a chunk of our lives.” When Jeannie, the ruthless teenager, says, “he’s just a Howard Street wino, that’s all,” her mother insists, “You’ve got to understand.” 

Understand. Once they had been young together. To Lennie he remained a tie to adventure and a world in which men had not eaten each other; and the pleasure, when the mind was clear, of chewing over with that tough mind the happenings of the times or the queernesses of people, or laughing over the mimicry. To Helen he was the compound of much help given, much support; the ear to hear, the hand that understands how much a scrubbed floor, or a washed dish, or a child taken care of for a while, can mean. 

With understanding, Whitey’s sordid life is illuminated and valued. For us, who view it by way of Olsen’s trespass vision, his life has meaning.

If Olsen, like Rebecca Harding Davis, owes her aesthetic to Hawthorne, it is with another American writer that she shares her sympathies. In a revealing remark to a class of Dartmouth students, Tillie Olsen said that when she began writing her tale “From the Thirties” in 1932, she knew she would call it Yonnondio. Furthermore she has another unfinished novel she also calls Yonnondio. Like Walt Whitman’s, from whom she borrowed the name, her fiction is one continuous poem, dedicated to the common man.

Yonnondio, as the subtitle reminds us, is a tale “From the Thirties.” It records several years in the life of the Holbrook family, as they move from a mining town in Wyoming to a tenant farm in South Dakota to the slaughter-houses of Denver. But although the settings and their squalor have equivalents in other writing “from the thirties,” Olsen is neither Upton Sinclair nor John Steinbeck. Yonnondio is not a protest, but a perception.

Olsen told the Dartmouth students she was “fortunate” to have been brought up “working class, socialist.” She thus credited her strength as an artist, not to her sex, but to her roots, her heritage, her sense of belonging to a living culture. It is her sympathetic love for the common people she identifies with that leads her to perceive in their lives the luminous beauty she limns, to articulate the inarticulate, to give voice to what might otherwise be a note as fleeting as JimJim’s song in Yonnondio: 

a fifth voice, pure, ethereal, veiled over the rest. Mazie saw it was Jimmie, crouched at the pedals of the piano. “Ma,” she said after the song was done, “it’s Jimmie, JimJim was singin too.” Incredulous, they made him sing it over with them and over and over. His words were a blur, a shadow of the real words, but the melody came true and clear. 

Olsen’s ears are quick to catch that ethereal melody, and her pen is incomparable at notating it.

Olsen’s fiction is full of privileged moments, instants prized from the flux of time and illumined by a vision of their essential meaning. For the characters, the moments are fleeting. At the end of a day of gathering greens and weaving dandelion chains, a day wrested from the stink and squalor of Slaughterhouse City, Mazie sees her mother’s face transfigured, senses in her “remote” eyes “happiness and farness and selfness.” Anna’s peace suffuses the place where she sits with the children, so that “up from the grasses, from the earth, from the broad tree trunk at their back, latent life streamed and seeded. The air and self shone boundless.” But the sun sinks, Ben gets hungry for supper, and “the mother look” returns to Anna’s face. “Never again, but once, did Mazie see that look–the other look–on her mother’s face.”

For Mazie, the privileged moments are so evanescent that she sometimes wonders if they ever occurred: “Where was the belted man Caldwell had told her of, lifting his shield against a horn of stars? Where was the bright one she had run after into the sunset? A strange face, the sky grieved above her, gone suddenly strange like her mother’s.” Snatched from the grinding, degrading poverty of her life’s daily texture, such moments of beauty as Mazie had with the old man Caldwell, who directed her n�ive eyes to Orion and his luminous companions, are so rare that they might never have existed, might be dreams, or promises, like the books the dying Caldwell wills her and her father sells “for half a dollar.”

More often, the privileged moments do not “come to writing” for Olsen characters. “Come to writing,” a favorite phrase of Tillie Olsen’s, expresses her vitalistic conception of the creative process. It means the inarticulate finding words, the dumbly sensed becoming sensible, the incipient meaning finding, form. For the writer, it is breaking silence. For the actor in an Olsen fiction, it is a moment of perceiving, of knowing that there is shape and direction in the ceaseless flow of what must be. Mazie comes to writing occasionally; so does her mother, Anna, who “stagger[s]” in the sunlight and moves beyond the helpless “My head is balloony, balloony” to sing her love for her eldest child and her joy in motherhood: “O Shenandoah, I love thy daughter, / I’ll bring her safe through stormy water.”

But more often, when Mazie is immersed in a potentially luminous moment, she perceives it as “stammering light” and when “she turns her hand to hold” it, “she grasps shadows.” Anna moves through the daily drudgery “not knowing an every-hued radiance floats on her hair.” As for Jim, her husband, “the things in his mind so vast and formless, so terrible and bitter, cannot be spoken, will never be spoken–till the day that hands will find a way to speak this: hands.”

The hands are Olsen’s hands, grasping her pen to copy a fragment of Walt Whitman’s poem as the epigraph to her novel “From the Thirties”: 

No picture, poem, statement, passing them to the future:
Yonnondio! Yonnondio!–unlimn’d they disappear;
To-day gives place, and fades–the cities, farms, factories fade;
A muffled sonorous sound, a wailing word is borne through the air for a moment,
Then blank and gone and still, and utterly lost. 

Yonnondio! That evocative word is the emblem of Tillie Olsen’s aesthetic. It is her plea, and her pledge: that the unobserved should be perceived, that the fleeting should be fixed, that the inarticulate should come to writing.

Source:  Ellen Cronan Rose, “Limming: or Why Tillie Writes,” in The Hollins Critic, Vol. XIII, No. 2, April, 1976, pp. 1-13. Reproduced by permission.

Source Database:  Contemporary Literary Criticism

Reading and Printing Secondary Sources from the Literature Resource Center 

By now, you have learned

  • how to find the database called the Literature Resource Center at the WSCC library and
  • how to find secondary sources for Tillie Olsen in that database. 

Examining the Search Results

On March 03, 2004 there were 16 items found from a search for Tillie Olsen as a keyword AND as and author AND “I Stand Here Ironing” as any words in a title. (REMEMBER TO CHOOSE “CRITICAL ESSAY” AS THE DOCUMENT TYPE; REMEMBER TO CHOOSE “*ALL DATABASES*” AS THE DATABASE.) 

Some of the results of that search on that date returned the following secondary sources:

1. O’Connor, William Van, “The Stories of Tillie Olsen,” in Studies in Short Fiction.

2. Rose, Ellen Cronan, “Limming: or Why Tillie Writes,” in The Hollins Critic.

3. Culver, Sara.  “Extending the Boundaries of the Ego: Eva in ‘Tell Me a Riddle.” in Midwestern Miscellany X.

and so on. 

Reading the Secondary Source

To read the secondary source, you can click on the blue title of the article. When you do that, you will see the entire article on your screen. As you read through the essay, you will see several words in black bold typeface.  Some of those black bold words are titles; others are the keywords (Tillie Olsen, “I Stand Here Ironing”) that you set up in the search engine values as you began the search.

As you read through the essay by skimming and scanning, do not expect the entire essay to always be about the story you are interested in. (Often these essays compare and contrast several stories by the one author or several stories by several authors.)

Therefore, what is more likely is that you will find one or two paragraphs of interest to you for your paper. Use your skimming and scanning skills to read quickly over the parts you do not need and then to zero in on the parts of the essay that holds interest to you. 

Printing the Secondary Source

When you find a source that has parts of interest to you, you will want to print out the essay or parts of it. There are several ways for you to do that. Here are a few of the possibilities:

1.Using Print from Your Browser

You can print the essay by going to the word FILE at the top of your browser window. Click on File; then click on Print. This works, but it prints out a lot of blank space and often prints extra, blank pages. 

2. Using Print from the Literature Resource Center

You can print the essay by going to the word Print which can be found above the words REVISE SEARCH and CURRENT RESULTS near the top of the page. You will also see an icon of a printer beside this word. This print option is helpful since it doesn’t print a lot of extraneous material from the page. 

3. Printing an Email to Yourself

You can send this essay to yourself as an email. To do that, find the word Email above the words REVISE SEARCH and CURRENT RESULTS near the top of the page. You will also see an icon of an envelope beside this word. This option lets you send yourself an email and then print the email from your email software–good because it does not print a lot of extraneous material from the page. 

4. Using Copy and Paste in Word

You can highlight portions or all of the essay and then copy and paste it in a Word file. To do that, use your cursor to highlight the material you wish to copy. After highlighting, hit CTRL C (or right click) to COPY. Then, open a new page in your word processor, click into the new page. Then, hit CTRL V (or right click) to PASTE. Save the file and then print it. 

Saving the Source Information

Remember to retain the source information (title and author and journal name, etc) as you print out the source material. You will need to use this information later as you cite the source in your paper and as you construct the entry for your Works Cited page.

Critically Reading and Annotating Secondary Sources from the Literature Resource Center 

By now, you have learned how to

  • find the database called the Literature Resource Center at the electronic database library 
  • find secondary sources for Tillie Olsen in that database
  • examine the search results
  • read and quickly skim and scan the source, and
  • print the source or parts of it. 

Now that you have printed out sources of interest to you, you are ready to carefully read the source, annotate the print out of the source, and take notes about the secondary source.   

Here’s how: 

1. Read the secondary source differently from how you read stories, poems, plays.  You will want to see the larger argument (thesis) of the entire essay and find details, examples, explanations, and reasons that support the thesis of the source and how they relate to the points you want to make in your paper.

2. Underline sections of the print out that are of interest to you.  

3. Write notes in the margins of the print out responding to the ideas of the secondary source. 

4. Find information from the secondary source that might support your points. Or, find information that takes issue with or disagree with your points.  You can still use information from a source that you disagree with or that disagrees with you.  You will just want to work the dissenting information into your argument in your own essay–using concession, refutation, acknowledging points of disagreement or ambiguity.

5. Write out paraphrases of sections of the secondary source that are of greatest interest and use to you in your paper.

6. Write out summaries of sections of the secondary source that are of great interest and use to you in your paper.

7. Throughout, think about how you will work the ideas, information, quotations, paraphrases, and summaries into your own paper.

8. Throughout, avoid plagiarism by citing all the ideas, information, quotations, paraphrases, and summaries from the secondary sources.

Now you will want to incorporate material from the secondary source into the draft of Paper 5 you have already written. You will do this in the same manner that you integrated secondary source material in Paper 4.Take a look back at how to introduce borrowed material (ideas, information, quotations, paraphrases, and summaries) from the secondary source into your paper. 

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