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Lucy the Landscape

The title of Margaret Atwood’s “Death by Landscape” is vital to knowing why Lucy disappeared and is also a critique on modern society. Landscape paintings tend to reverse what a viewer pays attention to in a painting. Rocks, trees, and streams always serve as the background to beautiful picnics, happy families and smiling faces, but a landscape painting brings the background to the foreground. Suddenly the part that no one pays attention to becomes front and center. Lucy was very much like a painting, a beautiful wealthy girl who had a great experience filled life. She had a boyfriend before Lois and everything Lois thought was exciting she thought was simply ordinary. It is easy to see that Lois envied her life. She was too caught up in the foreground to notice the background. Lucy had troubles like a stepfather she didn’t like and an adulterous mother. She sleeps a lot and potentially suffers from depression. It’s these things, the background, the landscape of Lucy’s life that kills her. It’s why Lois owns so many landscape paintings. Of course she lost Lucy to a landscape, but she also wants to remind herself not to forget about the background, the issues beneath the surface. She knew that she became lost in the beauty of Lucy’s life. How care free she seemed. How she had experienced so much more than she had. In this way, Atwood is trying to tell the reader that there is depth to every situation and that nothing is truly how it appears on the surface. She wants us to know that if we don’t heed this warning, we might also suffer or cause, a death by landscape.Atwood says that the landscape paintings are “Where Lucy is” which makes sense because the landscapes were who Lucy was.

Mysteries in Nature

The second to last story we read, “Death by Landscape” by Margaret Atwood, and the final story we listened to by Dave Eggers had similar settings and themes. I also thought it was interesting to compare the reading and listening to see which story seemed the most mysterious or creepy purely based on the context it was understood in.

The similarities are as follows:

1. Both stories had nature and woodsy themes. “Death by Landscape” was set in a camp and the mysterious event took place on a cliff while they were on a canoe trip. You can really get a sense of the isolation and nature aspect while they are discussing the canoe trip. “It took them the same two days to go back that is had taken coming in” (pg. 343) suggests that they are far from any civilization and had to take two days just to get back and get the police. This is similar to Dave Eggers’ story when he discusses Francis’ situation. Francis was in a remote part of a park near a deep lake. She was completely alone when she rowed out to the center of the lake. Both stories have outdoor settings in fairly isolated areas.

2. The girls in the stories both mysteriously disappear. In “Death by Landscape”, Lucy screams and disappears after she was left alone to go to the bathroom. This is a mystery because we do not know if she fell (or jumped) off the cliff, she was kidnapped, or she disappeared by some supernatural force. The characters in the story never find out because neither they nor the police search team ever found evidence. In comparison, there is one piece of evidence in Dave Eggers’ story. “…on it were four words… They said, ‘I did knock first’” (pg. 2) Although this is a clue, it does not tell you what happened to Francis when she was out on the lake. It is quite the mystery because her disappearance seems to be the cause of something supernatural or something we would not be able to understand easily.

Through these similarities, both stories told a tale of a disappearance out in the wilderness. Based on the reading or listening contexts, I think that creepiest story was the one that was listened to. Dave Eggers’ voice portrayed his words in an ideal, mysterious way. The sound effects and pauses increased my anticipation and caused goose bumps to form when the knocking first occurred. It is quite the mystery and truly intrigues me in to wanting to know who was knocking and what happened to Francis.

Creative…Nonfiction?

During class today, we learned about the genre of creative nonfiction while discussing Joan Didion’s “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream.” This was a totally foreign concept to me because, as I said in class, I immediately think of my biology textbook when nonfiction is mentioned. I thought nonfiction was always an extremely factual, cut and dry account of a specific topic. However, after talking about Didion’s short story, I learned this new genre allows facts to intermingle with an author’s opinions. Creative nonfiction can also be organized more organically. Because this genre is so new to me, I decided to research a bit more on the subject.

According to University of Vermont, “Creative nonfiction merges the boundaries between literary art (fiction, poetry) and research nonfiction (statistical, fact-filled, run of the mill journalism). It…employs the same literary devices as fiction such as setting, voice/tone, character development, etc.” This makes sense, considering most of our class did not realize that Didion’s story was based off of real events. She writes in a way that encompasses all of the necessary facts but has an organization that flows and reads like a narrative. Not only this, the subject matter is a clue that hints at creative fiction. The author’s style employs both creative and factual details, especially when she describes the San Bernardino Valley. Instead of simply and didactically writing it “lies only an hour east of Los Angeles,” Didion includes more lyrical sentences such as “It is the season of suicide and divorce and prickly dread, wherever the wind blows” as well (3). The short story also has Didion’s own sidebar comments and opinions throughout. For example, she mentions that Lucille and Arthwell’s affair “began to resemble instead the novels of James M. Cain, the movies of the late 1930’s, all the dreams in which violence and threats and blackmail are made to seem commonplaces of middle-class life” (15). By likening the affair to literature and historical cinema, Didion makes the piece more than a listing of facts. However, her tone in many places is direct and includes many accurate details, such as the addresses where the characters live and their testimonies. By weaving reality with creativity, the author has written an engaging story that is sure to keep readers of all genre preferences interested. Now that I know more about this genre, I plan to seek out more creative nonfiction.

The Bumps in The Road

Today in discussion a comment really piqued my interest: there is no conflict in the story.  I would have to respectfully disagree because aside for the external conflicts like their hunger, lack of a stable shelter, and the harsh elements, there are deep internal conflicts battling inside the father. 

Some conflicts we already see include:

  • Memories of the past – His reminiscing of olden days gives us a taste of what life like in contrast to the misery and pain he and his son are going through right now.  These flashbacks show that his mind is not completely ready to let go of the past, and he is afraid what might lie in the road ahead of them, so he clings on to the little remaining humanity that is left – his memories.  This is evident when they go into the father’s old home and have this exchange: “We should go, Papa, [the son said]. Yes, the man said.  But he didnt.”
    • His wife – She is a recurring memory and is clearly one that affects both the son and the father
    • Apocalyptic transition – The clear obstacles of an apocalyptic world are lack of the basic necessities, but what I mean by this transition is that the man knows how the world was like before, but the son does not.  This difference in knowledge is a conflict because while the son was born into this new world, the man must carry the burden of knowing what was lost.  It’s almost a blessing that the son does not know the old world because he now doesn’t have to remember and reopen old scars as his father does.
  • Safety (and comfort) of his son – Although he is concerned about his son’s safety, he also realizes the world they live in is unforgivable, so he asks himself if he would have the strength to kill his own son when the time comes.  This is implied on page 29 when he asks himself if he could ‘do it’: “He watched the boy sleeping.  Can you do it?  When the time comes?  Can you?”

These very real, personal, and ethical conflicts just draw us into this heart-wrenching story.  That is why many people did not find this “plodding” story boring.  Now I’m just anxious to see their journey unfold as they continue to the end of their road.

Exotic Daydreams

Anthony Eastwood’s imagination is what led him to meet a foreign woman who in part inspired him to write his new novel.

In “The Mystery of the Spanish Shawl” by Agatha Christie, Anthony Eastwood’s imagination went wild as he was trying to think of new material for a story. Eastwood discusses the female characters he writes most about with an ivory pallor and big eyes. His editor also prefers female characters with exotic, foreign qualities. Then in his daydream, he meets a woman that matches this description precisely. “She really had the ivory pallor… And her eyes!… She was not English, that could be seen at a glance. She had a foreign exotic quality” (190-191). This description of the woman in the upstairs shop room describes the type of character Eastwood was thinking about right before his daydream began. It would be too coincidental for this to have been reality. Her ivory pallor is parallel to the character of Sonia or Dolores in which Eastwood was debating about putting in “The Mystery of the Second Cucumber.” Being able to tell she is foreign at a glance and describing her as having exotic qualities implicates that she is the type of character Eastwood’s editor would want in a story. Eastwood’s desire to think of a great new mystery novel to make money would encourage him to want to include elements that his editor would pay a lot of money for. Eastwood’s worry about finding a new plot and his ideas impacted his daydream by pulling in pieces of his thoughts into a coherent, mysterious adventure.

Pickling the Cucumber

In “The Mystery of the Spanish Shawl” by Agatha Christie, the word cucumber is used to foreshadow the occurrence of Anthony Eastwood getting into a “pickle” or a difficult situation.

 

In this story, the cucumber is used as opposed to any other vegetable because it can be soaked in vinegar and turned into a pickle which makes it a good candidate to represent the difficult situations Anthony Eastwood gets himself into. Anthony was not in distress when he first typed “cucumber”, or even when he said it to the old lady in the shop. The trouble happened when he acted upon the word and marched up the stairs the old woman pointed out after the “cucumber” pass code was said, right into the vinegar, and got himself in a pickle. He walked straight into the trap set by the girl at the top of the stairs as he was “never one to miss opportunities, [and] echoed her fervently” (p.191). It seemed that his curiosity was the vinegar in this case. The “cucumber” by itself, or just saying that word, was not the problem; the situation was only aggravated by Anthony’s curiosity, but he would not have gotten himself into a pickle if there had not been a cucumber in the first place. It seemed that the longer he spent with the girl, trying to satisfy his curiosity, the longer he metaphorically soaked in the vinegar, which gave her accomplices time to get there and completely put him in a pickle. In this way, the word “cucumber” seemed to foreshadow trouble for Anthony. If Anthony had suppressed his curiosity and had not acted upon the word cucumber, he would not have gotten himself into a problematic situation.