Rock Springs: Key Quotes
Obviously you can’t learn all of these quotes. My suggestion is to cherry pick a couple from each section. You want quotes that are multi-levelled, so perhaps something that illustrates something about Earl, but also says something about uncertainty, or an image of the goldmine that suggests something about the illusory nature of purpose. This will allow you to remember less quotes, while still being equally flexible in the exam.
General Uncertainty “I don’t know what was between Edna and me, just beached by the same tides when you got down to it.” - metaphor - Earl’s existence is defined by chaos. He doesn’t determine his existence, it is determined by chaotic forces. “…some hawks riding the evening air seizing insects.” - metaphor - In this construction, we can see the likes of Earl as the insects, whose fate is ultimately determined by something entirely beyond his control, just as the insects are at the mercy of the hawks (Edna explaining why she’s leaving) “Here I am out here in the desert where I don’t know anything, in a stolen car, in a motel room under an assumed name, with no money of my own, a kid that’s not mine, and the law after me.” – listing - We’re reminded of how little control Edna has had over her existence. The list is a potent device because it makes that sense of chaos all the more overwhelming. By leaving, Edna is able to regain some “Through luck or design they had all faced fewer troubles.” - Earl laments the chaos that defines his existence – it has meant that he seems to suffer more troubles than anyone else. He reminds the reader that ultimately an individual has very little control over their existence – it either comes down to luck or design, neither of which are actually controlled by the individual.
The Power of Story “Danny was afraid of me because Edna had told him I’d been in prison in Florida for killing a man, though that wasn’t true.” – Story creates truth. Earl isn’t violent but the story constructs a truth for Danny. (While telling Earl the story of the monkey) “And she seemed gloomy all of a sudden, as if she saw some aspect of the story she had never seen before.” - It is through telling the story that the true weight and significance of the moment impacts on Edna. Through the telling of the story she is able to realise some truth, and she seems to have a have a much more potent or significant connection to this distinctly chaotic moment as a consequence of telling the story.
Symbolism Oil Light: “…feeling good about things, when the oil light flashed on in the car I’d stolen, a sign I knew to be a bad one.” - The oil light as a representation of uncertainty.
Oil Light: “ “What’s that light mean, Earl? ... “We shouldn’t run it.” ” Oil Light: “But there wasn’t any light on, and I started wondering if maybe I hadn’t dreamed I saw it…or maybe I was scared of something and didn’t know it.” Oil Light: “…the red light was staying on if I pushed the accelerator at all.” Goldmine: “I stared out at the big, lighted assemblage of white buildings and white lights beyond the trailer community…the whole company of buildings looking like some unbelievable castle, humming away in a distorted dream.” Goldmine: (Earl talking about the gold mine) “…which, I knew now, was a greater from us than it seemed.” Goldmine: “ “…It may mean we’re getting closer. Some people never see it at all.” “In a pig’s eye, Earl,” she said. “You and me see it in a pig’s eye.” ” Goldmine: “I was beginning to think of Rock Springs in a way I know I would always think of it, a lowdown city fill of crimes and whores…instead of a place where I got things on track once and for all, a place a saw a gold mine.”
Light/Dark Imagery (the light images are always undermined – the suggestion of hope, but undermined by the way Ford constructs the images. The story is littered with images of darkness.) “…as the sun was burning up on the Snake River, and everything seemed then like the end of the rainbow.” - Importance of “seemed”, weakens and undermines the sense of hope expressed by the image – suggests that the hope is illusory. “The sunset that day I remember as the prettiest I’d ever seen. Just as it touched the rim of the horizon, it all at once fired the air into jewels and red sequins the precise likes of which I had never seen before and haven’t seen since.” - Again the image of light is undermined it’s fleeting, almost illusory nature. Earl only understand its significance by looking back on it, he never really realised the beauty of it until much later and so as an image of hope it fails because only in hindsight does it become a hopeful image. “Rock Springs…a little glowing jewel in the desert with I-80 running on the north side and the black desert spread out behind.” “…and started back at the dark highway.” “…the clear outline of interstate in the dark with Rock Springs lighting up the sky behind.” “The lights in the mobile homes seemed friendly to me.” “…the plant that was lighted up behind it.” (Earl, talking to the Negro woman about where his car is) “You can’t see it in the dark.” “They shouldn’t be left in the dark by themselves.” “I waved to her as I walked out into the darkness toward the car where it was hidden in the night.”
“…we both stood there behind the cab in the dark.” “I could see out the window past her some yellowish foggy glow in the sky. For a moment I thought it was the gold mine out in the distance lighting the sky, though it was only the interstate.” “…and looked up at the windows along the back of the motel. All were dark except two. Mine and another one.”
Instability of Identity (the difference between our intentions/thoughts of what we want to be and the actions that determine our identities in the world) “I wanted all along to drive the car into Florida like a big success story.” - Earl’s intention is good and pure, however, this action is undermined by the fact that he is driving a stolen car, running from the law. His identity is determined by his actions, not by his thoughts, which Earl can’t quite come to terms with. “…between the thought and the act a whole kingdom lies. And I had a hard time with my acts, where were oftentimes offender’s acts, and my ideas, which were as good as the gold they mined there where the bright lights were blazing.” - Wide array of stuff here. Earl is again showing the division in identity, between thought and act, reminding us that our public identities are defined by acts not intentions. With the connection to the goldmine imagery we are reminded that Earl’s intentions are just as illusory as the gold. The hope that the gold suggests will never actually arrive for Earl, just as the hope that exists in his positive intentions will not ever come to fruition.
Unknowability of Others “She was starting at me darkly, as if the story meant something to her that was real important but that only she could see and that the rest of the world was a fool for.” - Earl can never know the true significance of this story and the quote suggests that no one ever could know. We are ultimately disconnected from others because we can never truly know how they see the world. (Earl talking about his daughter, Cheryl) “And I thought she was about to cry, but she didn’t.” - Even the person Earl is most closely connected to is ultimately beyond his knowledge. The question becomes, if he can’t know his own daughter, who can he know? And the question then extends to our world in the same way.
Direct Address “Would you think he was trying to get his head cleared? Would you think he was trying to get ready for a day when trouble would come down on him? Would you think his girlfriend was leaving him? Would you think he had a daughter? Would you think he was anybody like you?” - By directly addressing the reader, Ford moves beyond just representing Earl’s existence and into implicating the reader into Earl’s world. It demands that the readers compare themselves with to Earl – the way that Ford phrases the question, each revolving around very relatable ideas (girlfriends, family, clearing you head) allows the reader to understand that ultimately Earl’s life isn’t so different from their own.