Rock Springs: Formal Features

- Motif: Light and Hope - Symbolism - Character - Narrative Point of View - Imagery - simile/metaphor


Motif: Light and Hope
- Light crops up over and again in the story. There are images of sunsets, Rock Springs glowing in the distance, the trailer park home lights, and the gold mine. - The always act as symbols of hope - purpose, success, escape, etc. - Yet they are always undermined or tainted. - Ultimately they represent the failure of hope, or more gently, they represent hope as illusory

Symbol: The car
- The car can be read as a representation of Earl¶s view of himself. - It is also always a representation of the reality of Earl¶s situation - criminal. - At a wider level, the car comes to represent a crisis of identity for the main character. The tension between these two symbolic levels helps us to understand the tension that exists within Earl.

Symbol: The Oil Light
- It¶s a red light, a warning light, and seemingly insignificant, yet it has control over Earl. - At the philosophical level, it is an aspect of the text¶s representation of uncertainty; the lack of control that plagues modern existence. - Ford has shaped Earl¶s narrative around the red light - at the widest level, it is symbolic of the breaking down of Earl¶s life.

Symbol: The Goldmine
- the goldmine is a representation of a µpurpose narrative¶. It sits alongside the sunset and rainbow imagery that exists earlier. - It is an illusion for Earl. - This illusion is painfully pointed out by Edna, but is eventually realised by Earl in his ³a place I saw a goldmine.´ - I would argue that this shift in attitude towards the goldmine is a representation of Earl¶s shifting attitude towards purpose.

Character: Earl
- I would argue that Earl comes to represent the alienation and isolation of the modern condition. - Alone, living an utterly uncertain existence, slowly realising the unknowability of others, the struggle of knowing himself, the fundamental illusion of purpose, and seeing an odd sense of chaos in the world.

Narrative Point of View
- The speaker is older, wiser, but we get hints from the story that he isn¶t necessarily happier. - My thinking is that Ford is deeply interested in the power of the story in a world where meaning is so difficult to attain. - Ford has said: "It is not that we are connoisseurs of chaos, but that we are surrounded by it, and equipped for co-existence with it only by our fictive powers." - The stories are way out of the meaninglessness that surrounds the narrator; a means of self-understanding, and therefore a way of getting by in an impossible world.

Imagery: Simile/Metaphor
- Rare in Dirty Realism - most writing in the genre avoids imagery. Dirty Realism, works literally, rather than figuratively. - This makes the images all the more powerful - it means they stand out and demand to be read. - The images tend to come at moments where the narrator still doesn¶t understand the situation he¶s creating an image for. - And so I¶d argue that the imagery can read as moments where language fails the narrator and he is forced to resort to imagery to capture something µuncapturable¶.

The Key Arguments
The following are three arguments I think you can make by drawing widely from the text. These are not the only arguments you can make with the text. If you have a belief/interpretation, you are more than welcome to write it, as long as you can support it. You want to be in a situation where you feel you can speak about how the text acts as a representation of ideas much bigger than itself.

1: Purpose/meaning as illusory
- Narratives of success are constantly undermined. Any image or idea that is meant to provide structure, purpose, or meaning to existence in utterly illusory. It simply does not exist. - The image of the rainbow: the importance of ³seems´ - The image of the goldmine: ³a place I once saw a goldmine´ - Most of the light imagery - The demand for µStory¶ to give structure and meaning to existence

2: The nature of the modern human condition
- Fundamental uncertainty - at the core of existence is a state of complete uncertainty - Kants says our world is unknowable, Nietzsche says individual identity is unknowable (and if we are unknowable how can we ever know any one else?), and the linguists say we can¶t communicate because language is fundamentally empty. - Represented in the story by the bleak images of the landscape, Edna¶s monkey story and Earl¶s inability to understand its importance to her, the destruction of that relationship, the oil light, the Negro woman¶s grandson and anywhere else in the story where characters are at the mercy of the universe.

3: The problem of identity in a post-Existentialist world
- Existentialism suggests that our choices determine our identities - We are fully in control of our choices - always, even if the choice is horribly limited - Therefore we must be fully accountable for the identities that we inhabit. - Earl suffers an existential crisis - the fiction of himself is what keeps him optimistic, what keeps him motivated. If he were to drop the fiction and face his actions, he would suffer the pain of seeing the identity he has created.

NCEA Questions...
1. ³µTheme, over and above narrative and characterisation¶ ± this captures the essence of all short stories.´ To what extent do you agree with this view? 2. ³Techniques used by short story writers allow them to say more with less.´ To what extent do you agree with this view? 3. ³Short stories are most often about characters whose lives are solitary, poor, nasty, or brief.´ To what extent do you agree with this view? 4. ³The characteristics of short stories allow readers to explore events from their own life and times.´ To what extent do you agree with this view?