CONTENTS

CHAPTER 4

CREATIVE WRITING II – BE SO DRAMATIC 127 133 145 151 155

• Henrik Ibsen: An Enemy of the People • W.B. Yeats: Cathleen Ni Houlihan Acknowledgements Introduction 5 10 • William Shakespeare: King Lear • Marina Carr: By the Bog of Cats • Oscar Wilde: The Importance of Being Earnest CHAPTER 1 COMPREHENSIONS I – SPEAKING OF SPORT 15 21 27 31 37 45 CHAPTER 5 DEBATING AND PUBLIC SPEAKING – MAKING YOUR POINT

• George Orwell: The Sporting Spirit • Tom Humphries: Dónal Óg Sparks a Debate We Need to Have • Roy Keane: The Tackle on Alfie Haaland • Con Houlihan: You Can Run, but You Cannot Hide • Adams and Russakoff: Dissecting Columbine’s Cult of the Athlete • Will Leitch: In Defense of Serena Williams

• Organising a Debate • Mahatma Gandhi: Quit India • Princess Diana: Responding to Landmines • Helen Keller: Strike against War • Mary McAleese: Inauguration Speech • Aung San Suu Kyi: Freedom from Fear

162 165 171 177 185 193

CHAPTER 2

COMPREHENSIONS II – THE DEATH PENALTY 51 57 63 67 71 75 CHAPTER 6 POETRY I – CREATING WORLDS FROM WORDS 203 207 211 215 219 225

• Robert Fisk: A Dictator Created and then Destroyed by America • Jason Burke: Executions in Kabul • Paul Cassell: Why the Death Penalty? • Harold Hall: A Sentence Too Close to Death • Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Bright, Shining Hell • George E. Pataki: Death Penalty Is a Deterrent

• Billy Collins: Introduction to Poetry • Derek Mahon: As It Should Be • Langston Hughes: I, Too, Sing America • Eavan Boland: Quarantine • Edgar Allan Poe: The Raven • Noel Monahan: The Funeral Game

CHAPTER 3

CREATIVE WRITING I – SHORT STORIES AND PERSONAL ESSAYS 84 87 93 99 105 109 119 CHAPTER 7 POETRY II – SONG LYRICS 231 235 239 243 247 251

• Writing a Short Story • Gabriel García Márquez: One of These Days • Maeve Binchy: Marigold • William Carlos Williams: The Use of Force • Susanna Kaysen: Girl, Interrupted • Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich • Frank McCourt: Angela’s Ashes

• Bob Dylan: The Times They Are a-Changin’ • Pulp: Mis-shapes • Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová: Falling Slowly • Coldplay: Viva la Vida • Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire • Sinéad O’Connor: Nothing Compares 2U

CHAPTER 8

POETRY III – POETRY IN TRANSLATION 257 263 267 271 275 279

CHAPTER 11

PICTURES I – MOTION PICTURES (FILM STUDIES) 356 358

• Eduardo Galeano: The Right to Rave • Julia de Burgos: Cry of the Kinky Haired Girl • Paul Celan: Aspen Tree • Pablo Neruda: Sonnet XVII • Anna Akhmatova: Lot’s Wife • Louis de Paor: Love Poem

• An Introduction to Film Studies • Film Codes • Film Reviews: Avatar O Brother, Where Art Thou? Edward Scissorhands The Others

364 366 368 370 372 374

CHAPTER 9

ADVANCED MEDIA STUDIES I – REPORTING WAR 285 291 297 305

Life Is Beautiful The General

• Robert Fisk: Tanks Roll and Guns Fall Silent, but the Clichés Go on Forever • John Pilger: Obama, the Prince of Bait-and-Switch • Jo Wilding: Eyewitness in Fallujah • Howard Zinn: World War II: the Good War

CHAPTER 12

PICTURES II – STILL IMAGES (PHOTOGRAPHY) 378

• An Introduction to Photography • Seven Classic Images: Kevin Carter: Sudanese Child and a Vulture Charles C. Ebbets: Lunch atop a Skyscraper

• Maggie O’Kane: Dead: the Man Who Defied the IRA and Refused to Run Away 311 • Seymour Hersh: My Lai – Hamlet Attack Called ‘Point-Blank Murder’ 317

382 384 386 388 390 392 394

CHAPTER 10

ADVANCED MEDIA STUDIES II – THE MEDIA AS AN INSTITUTION 326 328 332 336

Stuart Franklin: Tiananmen Square Steve McCurry: Afghan Girl Elliot Erwitt: Segregated Water Fountains Dorothea Lange: Migrant Mother Ray McManus: Catch Me if You Can

• The Propaganda Model • Ownership: The First Filter • Advertising: The Second Filter • News Sources: The Third Filter • Working in the Media Miriam Cotton: An Interview with Harry Browne • Text over Substance? Colin Murphy: Media Choose Sensation over Insight in Haiti Reportage

341

349

INTRODUCTION
The NCTE Guidelines for Transition Year (TY) state that a primary aim of TY is: ‘To promote the personal, social, educational and vocational development of pupils and to prepare them for their role as autonomous, participative, and responsible members of society.’ In writing this book, I have taken this guideline very much to heart. What you have in your hands is a collection of texts and tasks that were carefully chosen so as to best fulfil what the NCTE wants to achieve in TY. TY is (or at least should be) the best period of your school years. It is the one year that you can become involved with topics and subjects that you may never otherwise get to study. Free from the constraints of formal assessment, it is a time when teachers and students can enjoy learning for its own sake. It is also the year when you make the transition from being a junior student to being a senior. This is no easy task. The level of work required from a Leaving Certificate student is in another league to that required of a Junior Cert student. TY can help to make that extra work and effort a less stressful experience. The texts and tasks in this book are designed to help you make that step from Junior Cert; they are also designed to be relevant to your Leaving Cert. While TY must not be seen as the first year of a three-year Leaving Certificate programme, it can be a very useful stepping stone. This makes TY an important year, and it must be seen as such: remember, it is a transition year, not a gap year. This book contains a considerable amount of material and it is structured in such a way that you will probably not study everything in it in your TY. What you should do is discuss with your teacher the modules that you would like to study and that he/she would like to facilitate. Take a class or two at the beginning of the year to look through the book, discussing the topics that are presented, and come to a collective (and compromise) decision about what you want to study and what your teacher wants to teach in TY English. In using the book, there is also great scope for cross-curricular and interdisciplinary learning. So, for example, you might like to study the film studies module here and then analyse a French film in French class, or take the photography module in this book and apply what you learn to your art classes, culminating in setting up an art/photography exhibition. The possibilities in TY are huge for these kinds of endeavours – chat to your TY co-ordinator and your class teachers to see what you can come up with. I hope you find TY as rewarding an experience as it should be, and that this book plays a part in making that happen for you. Mark Conroy

10 INTRODUCTION

IN TRANSITION 11

CreaTiVe WriTinG i

Short stories and personal essays can be most enjoyable reads. Part of the fun of them is that, unlike a novel, they can be read in a single sitting. Short stories and personal essays can also be deceptive in how much information is actually contained in them. Like poetry, the authors seek to hint at and allude to things, and we are left to read between the lines. Ireland has a very proud tradition of short story writing, from writers such as Frank O’Connor, Liam O’Faoláin, James Joyce, Benedict Kiely, Maeve Binchy, Edna O’Brien, and many, many others. In this module you will read a selection of very well-crafted short stories and personal essays from a range of the world’s best writers, spanning over a hundred years of celebrated writing.
This module will help you to: • • • • develop your higher-order thinking skills enhance your communication skills, both written and oral develop your reflective skills gain exposure to a range of examples of the aesthetic use of language (the fifth type of language that students should be aware of for the Leaving Certificate) • enhance your understanding of the aesthetic use of language. What you’ll learn At the end of this module you should be able to: • prepare a plan for a Leaving Certificate essay/short story, which makes up 25 per cent of the marks for Leaving Certificate English • create believable characters and settings for your stories • write a short story or personal essay on a number of themes/topics. Links to the Leaving Certificate: • All students must write a prose composition in their Leaving Certificate exam. • This prose composition accounts for 25 per cent of the total Leaving Certificate English mark. • Students often say that they do not get enough practice at this type of writing during the Leaving Certificate years; this module will help change this.

short stories and personal essays
GaBRIEl GaRCía máRQUEz maEvE BINCHy wIllIam CaRlOS wIllIamS SUSaNNa KaySEN alEKSaNDR SOlzHENITSyN FRaNK mcCOURT

Writing a short story
It is said that to create a short story you need to: • get a man • put him up a tree • get him down again. This basically means that you need to create a character in a situation and then resolve that situation in a satisfactory manner. How do we do this? Plan – Create – Decorate Decorate This is where you start to put some flourishes to your story. You might decide to give one of the main characters a catchphrase. You might decide to merge two characters together or split one character in two. You might decide to change the tense (from past to present), viewpoint (from first person to third person), or time (from evening to late morning). You might even decide to write the same story twice, with slight variations, and see if the endings are completely different. Naturally, all of this cannot be done in an exam situation, so Transition Year gives you great scope to start practising. There is a short story exercise at the end of this module. Plan You would not begin to build a house by putting blocks on to the ground. You would first go to an architect and get some plans drawn up. The same is (or at least should be) true of writing a short story or personal essay (indeed, any kind of writing). It cannot be stressed enough how valuable it is to have a plan for your short story. It helps you to keep things focused and in a coherent order. It ensures that you stay on topic. It helps you not to ‘waffle’ (teachers know when you do!) or have to think too much on the spot. A plan does not have to be hugely detailed, though the more time you spend planning, the better your work should be. At a very minimum, you should have notes on the beginning, middle and end of your story and also some notes on the characters, the situation, the setting and the timeframe. For a short story, it is important to ensure that the timeframe is short – one hour, one day, one weekend; you can keep the story of your life for your memoirs! Create When you have a plan that you are happy with, you are now free to start writing your story. This should be a first draft, with more to come. Remember to refer back to your plan regularly; you didn’t write it just for show!

84 SHORT STORIES AND PERSONAL ESSAYS

WRITING A SHORT STORY 85

GABRIEL GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ was born in 1927 or 1928 – apparently, he’s not sure himself. He is a Colombian novelist, journalist and scriptwriter. In 1982 Gabriel García Márquez won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and is regarded as one of the most important writers of the twentieth century. His most famous work is One Hundred Years of Solitude, which gave the world a new genre of literature called ‘magical realism’, whereby magical characters and experiences happen in settings that appear perfectly normal. He has set many of his works in a fictional village called Macondo, the name that has now been given to his home village. ONE OF THESE DAYS Unusually for a Gabriel García Márquez story, this does not use the ‘magical realism’ style. Instead, it uses a very definite, realistic style, telling a tale about corruption and massacre. The story is about a mayor who wishes to have a tooth removed by an unqualified dentist who does not wish to remove the tooth, because he hates the mayor. In the story, we see how the mayor’s power has corrupted him, led to a massacre and caused him to lose touch with ordinary people, though ordinary people do fight back in their own way!

one of These Days
Gabriel García Márquez
MONDAY DAWNED WARM AND RAINLESS. AURELIO ESCOVAR, a dentist without a degree, and a very early riser, opened his office at six. He took some false teeth, still mounted in their plaster mold, out of the glass case and put on the table a fistful of instruments which he arranged in size order, as if they were on display. He wore a collarless striped shirt, closed at the neck with a golden stud, and pants held up by suspenders. He was erect and skinny, with a look that rarely corresponded to the situation, the way deaf people have of looking. When he had things arranged on the table, he pulled the drill toward the dental chair and sat down to polish the false teeth. He seemed not to be thinking about what he was doing, but worked steadily, pumping the drill with his feet, even when he didn’t need it. After eight he stopped for a while to look at the sky through the window, and he saw two pensive buzzards who were drying themselves in the sun on the ridgepole of the house next door. He went on working with the idea

86 SHORT STORIES AND PERSONAL ESSAYS

ONE OF THESE DAYS – GABRIEL GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ 87

that before lunch it would rain again. The shrill voice of his eleven-yearold son interrupted his concentration. ‘Papa.’ ‘What?’ ‘The Mayor wants to know if you’ll pull his tooth.’ ‘Tell him I’m not here.’ He was polishing a gold tooth. He held it at arm’s length, and examined it with his eyes half closed. His son shouted again from the little waiting room. ‘He says you are, too, because he can hear you.’ The dentist kept examining the tooth. Only when he had put it on the table with the finished work did he say: ‘So much the better.’ He operated the drill again. He took several pieces of a bridge out of a cardboard box where he kept the things he still had to do and began to polish the gold. ‘Papa.’ ‘What?’ He still hadn’t changed his expression. ‘He says if you don’t take out his tooth, he’ll shoot you.’ Without hurrying, with an extremely tranquil movement, he stopped pedaling the drill, pushed it away from the chair, and pulled the lower drawer of the table all the way out. There was a revolver. ‘OK,’ he said. ‘Tell him to come and shoot me.’ He rolled the chair over opposite the door, his hand resting on the edge of the drawer. The Mayor appeared at the door. He had shaved the left side of his face, but the other side, swollen and in pain, had a five-day-old beard. The dentist saw many nights of desperation in his dull eyes. He closed the drawer with his fingertips and said softly: ‘Sit down.’ ‘Good morning,’ said the Mayor. ‘Morning,’ said the dentist. While the instruments were boiling, the Mayor leaned his skull on the headrest of the chair and felt better. His breath was icy. It was a poor office:

an old wooden chair, the pedal drill, a glass case with ceramic bottles. Opposite the chair was a window with a shoulder-high cloth curtain. When he felt the dentist approach, the Mayor braced his heels and opened his mouth. Aurelio Escovar turned his head toward the light. After inspecting the infected tooth, he closed the Mayor’s jaw with a cautious pressure of his fingers. ‘It has to be without anesthesia,’ he said. ‘Why?’ ‘Because you have an abscess.’ The Mayor looked him in the eye. ‘All right,’ he said, and tried to smile. The dentist did not return the smile. He brought the basin of sterilised instruments to the worktable and took them out of the water with a pair of cold tweezers, still without hurrying. Then he pushed the spittoon with the tip of his shoe, and went to wash his hands in the washbasin. He did all this without looking at the Mayor. But the Mayor didn’t take his eyes off him. It was a lower wisdom tooth. The dentist spread his feet and grasped the tooth with the hot forceps. The Mayor seized the arms of the chair, braced his feet with all his strength, and felt an icy void in his kidneys, but didn’t make a sound. The dentist moved only his wrist. Without rancor, rather with a bitter tenderness, he said: ‘Now you’ll pay for our twenty dead men.’ The Mayor felt the crunch of bones in his jaw, and his eyes filled with tears. But he didn’t breathe until he felt the tooth come out. Then he saw it through his tears. It seemed so foreign to his pain that he failed to understand his torture of the five previous nights. Bent over the spittoon, sweating, panting, he unbuttoned his tunic and reached for the handkerchief in his pants pocket. The dentist gave him a clean cloth. ‘Dry your tears,’ he said. The Mayor did. He was trembling. While the dentist washed his hands, he saw the crumbling ceiling and a dusty spider web with spider’s eggs and dead insects. The dentist returned, drying his hands. ‘Go to bed,’ he said, ‘and gargle with salt water.’ The Mayor stood up, said goodbye with

88 SHORT STORIES AND PERSONAL ESSAYS

ONE OF THESE DAYS – GABRIEL GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ 89

a casual military salute, and walked toward the door, stretching his legs, without buttoning up his tunic. ‘Send the bill,’ he said. ‘To you or the town?’ The Mayor didn’t look at him. He closed the door and said through the screen: ‘It’s the same damn thing.’

QUESTIONS

1) In what way does this story show that power corrupts? 2) Márquez paints some very memorable images in this story. Discuss. 3) Was the dentist brave or stupid or something else to refuse to see the mayor at the beginning of the story? 4) Do you think this story lacks a sense of an emotional connection?

SUGGESTED aCTIvITy – pERSONal wRITING – SHORT STORy
Write a short story using the same two main characters, but in a different setting.

90 SHORT STORIES AND PERSONAL ESSAYS

ONE OF THESE DAYS – GABRIEL GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ 91

MAEVE BINCHY was born in Dalkey, Dublin, in 1940. She is a hugely popular writer, not just in Ireland, but around the world. After completing a degree in UCD in 1960, Binchy taught for eight years, before becoming a reporter with The Irish Times. Her first stories are studies of the struggles that young women experience, and were published in collections in 1978 and 1980, and then as a single-volume edition in 1983, entitled London Transports. She is regarded as a great storyteller, one who observes her characters with great wit and understanding. She has written many best-selling novels, some of which have been turned into successful films (Tara Road, for example), and others which have been placed on the Leaving Certificate syllabus (Circle of Friends, for example). MARIGOLD You have probably often heard the phrase, ‘what’s in a name?’ This story by Maeve Binchy takes this phrase as one of its themes. The main character is embarrassed to reveal her real name to a man that she fancies, in case he won’t like it. Although in her heart she probably knows it is silly to feel like this, it is nevertheless a cause of constant pain to her. Unknown to her, the man she fancies also has a secret that embarrasses him. The story is a sweet, tender, light-hearted tale of love and the goodness it can bring out in people.

Marigold
Maeve Binchy
SHE COULDN’T BELIEVE IT WHEN HE CAME AND ASKED HER TO DANCE at the big office party. ‘Me?’ she said. ‘You’d like to dance with me?’ ‘That’s the idea,’ he said. They danced easily together as if they knew each other well. And they smiled at the same bits of song. They even joined in at the chorus. Tall, handsome Eddie who worked in the showrooms. Everyone had been looking at him since he came in to the party and now he was dancing with her. ‘What’s your name?’ he asked. ‘Panda, I’m afraid.’ She hated having to tell him. Why could she not have had a nice easy name like Nora or Anne? Or something lovely like Siofra or Aisling? ‘Well, it’s what they always call me. They would, you know. Because I look a bit like a panda, you know, small, dark and fat.’ She gave a little giggle to show she didn’t care. He looked at her thoughtfully. ‘You’re not particularly small, dark and fat, are you?’ ‘People must think so, since that’s what they call me.’ She had her brave face on now. ‘What’s your real name?’ He had such a nice smile and he seemed to be

92 SHORT STORIES AND PERSONAL ESSAYS

MARIGOLD – MAEVE BINCHY 93

interested, not just putting it on. ‘It’s Marigold,’ she said, looking down, embarrassed. A person like her having such a grand name. ‘That’s nice. I like flowers’ names.’ ‘Yeah, but the marigold’s not a great flower, is it? It’s inclined to attract slugs.’ Why had she said that? What a stupid thing to say. No wonder so few people ever asked her to dance or to go out with them. When anyone tried to be halfway nice to her she came out with these silly remarks. The man was telling her she had a name like a flower and she had to bring up slugs. ‘I’m not much of a gardener – I didn’t know that. I thought they were nice happy flowers like orange daisies.’ ‘Yes they are, but it’s too late, I could never be called Marigold.’ ‘Why not? Just tell people it’s your name now.’ ‘They’d laugh.’ ‘Why should they?’ ‘I know what you mean, but won’t it be very hard, reminding people, changing them all the time?’ ‘Nothing is too hard if you want to do it,’ Eddie said simply. She took a deep breath. ‘Right. I’m Marigold O’Brien,’ she said. ‘Great. I’m Eddie O’Connor.’ He took her hand as the music started again and they danced. They danced all night and they sat holding hands as the coach took them back to the city. Then they sat and had a pizza together and talked for hours; there was nothing you couldn’t say to Eddie. Friends of his came over to the table. ‘This is Marigold,’ Eddie said. The world didn’t stop, the people didn’t say that they refused to believe this was her name. ‘Tell them at home tomorrow and tell them at work on Monday,’ he encouraged her. ‘Maybe I’ll leave it – it’s not so important, and it might be hard …’ ‘Nothing’s too hard if you want it,’ Eddie said again. They met every day. Eddie came over from the showroom to the office. ‘Hi, Marigold,’ he said, so naturally that soon others stopped laughing at the name change. He called her at home one night. Her father asked him

what he thought of all this Marigold nonsense. ‘If you have a lovely name, why not use it?’ Eddie had shrugged. ‘He’s too good-looking for you, Panda, he’ll let you down,’ her mother said. At work they were full of foreboding. They said he was unreliable. He had gone out with a girl from Sales and suddenly dropped her, no explanation. This is what would happen to Panda – sorry, to Marigold. He was so nice she refused to believe it. He told her about his father, who wandered from town to town to get work, and how they lived in so many places, he knew every county in Ireland. She asked him why did he not look for promotion, but he was vague. ‘I’m happy in the showroom talking to people. I hate paperwork,’ he said. Then Marigold was sent on a training course. It meant she would be away for two weeks. ‘I’m going to miss you a lot,’ she said to Eddie. ‘Will you write to me there?’ ‘You'll be back soon,’ he said. He had a funny tight smile as he said it; she felt alarmed. ‘He’ll forget you when you’re gone,’ said her mother. ‘He doesn’t want to get involved – that’s what the girl in Sales said,’ they told her in the office. ‘Will you miss me, Eddie?’ she asked simply. ‘Every day and every night,’ he said. ‘So why won’t you write to me?’ ‘Don’t, Marigold. Please.’ There was a long silence. Was he going to tell her that he didn’t love her after all? That he was engaged to someone else? That it had all been harmless fun? ‘I can’t read and write,’ he said. ‘With all this going around the country, you see, I never learned, and now it’s too late.’ He didn’t look at her as he spoke. ‘I never told anyone before, Marigold,’ he said. It was like a wave crashing over her, a wave of relief and love.

94 SHORT STORIES AND PERSONAL ESSAYS

MARIGOLD – MAEVE BINCHY 95

‘Oh Eddie, is that all? Then you’ll learn,’ she said. ‘No, I can’t. It would be too hard now, at this stage.’ ‘Didn’t you tell me that nothing is too hard if you want it?’ asked Marigold, who had once been called Panda, before she knew that you could change the world.


QUESTIONS
1) Why was ‘Panda’ embarrassed about her name? 2) What is your impression of Marigold’s work colleagues who said the relationship would never work? 3) Did you expect the story to end as it did? 4) Does this story have the three elements of ‘get a man, put him up a tree, get him down again’?

SUGGESTED aCTIvITy – maKE a FIlm
Make a short film based on this story. You might also like to put it on your school website.

96 SHORT STORIES AND PERSONAL ESSAYS

MARIGOLD – MAEVE BINCHY 97

WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS was born in 1883 and was a doctor and writer who excelled in both fields. He went to public school until he was 13, then studied in Switzerland and France, before going to college at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. While in college he became friends with a number of poets, most notably Ezra Pound. In 40 years as a doctor, it is estimated that he helped give birth to about 2,000 babies; ‘Williams Medical Center’ is named after him. Yet most of his patients never knew about his artistic abilities. One of Williams’ most noble contributions to American literature was his willingness to help younger poets with advice and information. He himself wrote about the lives of ordinary working people, which was unusual for the time. This, and his experimenting with style and meter, had a big influence on the Beat poets of the 1950s. After his death in 1963, Williams was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his 1962 collection, Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems. THE USE OF FORCE ‘The Use of Force’ is William Carlos Williams’ most anthologised story. It tells of a doctor who is called to a house to examine a sick young girl. The girl refuses to be examined, but the doctor perseveres, with help from her parents. The main theme of the story concerns the idea of exerting force over someone and the ethical dilemma that it raises when this force is being used to help that person. What is so troubling for many readers is that the doctor in the story tells us his thoughts and feelings as he is going about his business; thoughts and feelings that we might prefer not to know.

forCe
William Carlos Williams
THEY WERE NEW PATIENTS TO ME, ALL I HAD WAS THE NAME, OLSON. Please come down as soon as you can, my daughter is very sick. When I arrived I was met by the mother, a big startled-looking woman, very clean and apologetic, who merely said, Is this the doctor? and let me in. In the back, she added. You must excuse us, doctor, we have her in the kitchen where it is warm. It is very damp here sometimes. The child was fully dressed and sitting on her father’s lap near the kitchen table. He tried to get up, but I motioned for him not to bother, took off my overcoat and started to look things over. I could see that they were all very nervous, eyeing me up and down distrustfully. As often, in such cases, they weren’t telling me more than they had to, it was up to me to tell them; that’s why they were spending three dollars on me. The child was fairly eating me up with her cold, steady eyes, and no expression to her face whatever. She did not move and seemed, inwardly, quiet; an unusually attractive little thing, and as strong as a heifer in appearance. But her face was flushed, she was breathing rapidly, and I realized that she had a high fever. She had magnificent blonde hair, in profusion. One of those picture children often reproduced in advertising leaflets and the photogravure sections of the Sunday papers. She’s had a fever for three days, began the father, and we don’t know what it comes from. My wife has given her things, you know, like people do, but it don’t do no good. And there’s been a lot of sickness around. So

The use of

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THE USE OF FORCE – WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS 99

we tho’t you’d better look her over and tell us what is the matter. As doctors often do, I took a trial shot at it as a point of departure. Has she had a sore throat? Both parents answered me together, No … No, she says her throat don’t hurt her. Does your throat hurt you? added the mother to the child. But the little girl’s expression didn’t change nor did she move her eyes from my face. Have you looked? I tried to, said the mother, but I couldn’t see. As it happens, we had been having a number of cases of diphtheria in the school to which this child went during that month, and we were all, quite apparently, thinking of that, though no one had as yet spoken of the thing. Well, I said, suppose we take a look at the throat first. I smiled in my best professional manner and, asking for the child’s first name, I said, come on, Mathilda, open your mouth and let’s take a look at your throat. Nothing doing. Aw, come on, I coaxed, just open your mouth wide and let me take a look. Look, I said, opening both hands wide, I haven’t anything in my hands. Just open up and let me see. Such a nice man, put in the mother. Look how kind he is to you. Come on, do what he tells you to. He won’t hurt you. At that I ground my teeth in disgust. If only they wouldn’t use the word ‘hurt’ I might be able to get somewhere. But I did not allow myself to be hurried or disturbed, but speaking quietly and slowly I approached the child again. As I moved my chair a little nearer suddenly with one catlike movement both her hands clawed instinctively for my eyes and she almost reached them too. In fact she knocked my glasses flying and they fell, though unbroken, several feet away from me on the kitchen floor. Both the mother and father almost turned themselves inside out in embarrassment and apology. You bad girl, said the mother, taking her and shaking her by one arm. Look what you’ve done. The nice man … For heaven’s sake, I broke in. Don’t call me a nice man to her. I’m here to look at her throat on the chance that she might have diphtheria and

possibly die of it. But that’s nothing to her. Look here, I said to the child, we’re going to look at your throat. You’re old enough to understand what I’m saying. Will you open it now by yourself or shall we have to open it for you? Not a move. Even her expression hadn’t changed. Her breaths, however, were coming faster and faster. Then the battle began. I had to do it. I had to have a throat culture for her own protection. But first I told the parents that it was entirely up to them. I explained the danger but said that I would not insist on a throat examination so long as they would take the responsibility. If you don’t do what the doctor says you’ll have to go to the hospital, the mother admonished her severely. Oh yeah? I had to smile to myself. After all, I had already fallen in love with the savage brat; the parents were contemptible to me. In the ensuing struggle they grew more and more abject, crushed, exhausted while she surely rose to magnificent heights of insane fury of effort bred of her terror of me. The father tried his best, and he was a big man, but the fact that she was his daughter, his shame at her behavior and his dread of hurting her made him release her just at the critical times when I had almost achieved success, till I wanted to kill him. But his dread also that she might have diphtheria made him tell me to go on, go on though he himself was almost fainting, while the mother moved back and forth behind us raising and lowering her hands in an agony of apprehension. Put her in front of you on your lap, I ordered, and hold both her wrists. But as soon as he did the child let out a scream. Don’t, you’re hurting me. Let go of my hands. Let them go I tell you. Then she shrieked terrifyingly, hysterically. Stop it! Stop it! You’re killing me! Do you think she can stand it, doctor! said the mother. You get out, said the husband to his wife. Do you want her to die of diphtheria? Come on now, hold her, I said. Then I grasped the child’s head with my left hand and tried to get the wooden tongue depressor between her teeth. She fought, with clenched

100 SHORT STORIES AND PERSONAL ESSAYS

THE USE OF FORCE – WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS 101

teeth, desperately! But now I also had grown furious – at a child. I tried to hold myself down but I couldn’t. I know how to expose a throat for inspection. And I did my best. When finally I got the wooden spatula behind the last teeth and just the point of it into the mouth cavity, she opened up for an instant, but before I could see anything she came down again and gripping the wooden blade between her molars she reduced it to splinters before I could get it out again. Aren’t you ashamed, the mother yelled at her. Aren’t you ashamed to act like that in front of the doctor? Get me a smooth-handled spoon of some sort, I told the mother. We’re going through with this. The child’s mouth was already bleeding. Her tongue was cut and she was screaming in wild hysterical shrieks. Perhaps I should have desisted and come back in an hour or more. No doubt it would have been better. But I have seen at least two children lying dead in bed of neglect in such cases, and feeling that I must get a diagnosis now or never I went at it again. But the worst of it was that I too had got beyond reason. I could have torn the child apart in my own fury and enjoyed it. It was a pleasure to attack her. My face was burning with it. The damned little brat must be protected against her own idiocy, one says to one’s self at such times. Others must be protected against her. It is a social necessity. And all these things are true. But a blind fury, a feeling of adult shame, bred of a longing for muscular release are the operatives. One goes on to the end. In a final unreasoning assault I overpowered the child’s neck and jaws. I forced the heavy silver spoon to the back of her teeth and down her throat till she gagged. And there it was – both tonsils covered with membrane. She had fought valiantly to keep me from knowing her secret. She had been hiding that sore throat for three days at least and lying to her parents in order to escape just such an outcome as this. Now truly she was furious. She had been on the defensive before but now she attacked. Tried to get off her father’s lap and fly at me while tears of defeat blinded her eyes.

QUESTIONS
1) What is your impression of the doctor in this story? 2) Given that there were cases of diphtheria, do you think he was correct to persevere? 3) This story was written in the early part of the twentieth century. Do you think it is a realistic description of something that might have happened then? 4) Discuss how the ‘energy’ of the story changes from the beginning to the end.

SUGGESTED aCTIvITy – FUNCTIONal wRITING – DIaRy
Write the diary entry you imagine the girl might write on the evening of this encounter.

102 SHORT STORIES AND PERSONAL ESSAYS

THE USE OF FORCE – WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS 103

SUSANNA KAYSEN was born in 1948. Her father was a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a former adviser to US President John F. Kennedy. She attended school in her native Boston, before she was committed to McLean Hospital. She was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and received treatment for depression. She was released after 18 months. In 1993 she published a memoir called Girl, Interrupted in which she described her experiences at McLean. Winona Ryder played the lead role in a film adaptation of the book in 1999. GIRL, INTERRUPTED Girl, Interrupted takes its name from a Vermeer painting entitled ‘Girl Interrupted at her Music’. Kaysen describes her experience of living for nearly two years in a mental hospital in the late 1960s in this memoir, basing the details on her medical records. The book was well received by critics and the film adaption was also very successful. In this excerpt, she describes the moment when her doctor suggests and then insists that she must go straight to the hospital. At this point, she has become resigned to her fate and accepts it.

The Taxi
exCerpT froM Girl, inTerrupTeD
susanna kaysen
‘YOU HAVE A PIMPLE,’ SAID THE DOCTOR. I’d hoped nobody would notice. ‘You’ve been picking it,’ he went on. When I’d woken that morning – early, so as to get to this appointment – the pimple had reached the stage of hard expectancy in which it begs to be picked. It was yearning for release. Freeing it from its little white dome, pressing until the blood ran, I felt a sense of accomplishment: I’d done all that could be done for this pimple. ‘You’ve been picking at yourself,’ the doctor said. I nodded. He was going to keep talking about it until I agreed with him, so I nodded. ‘Have a boyfriend?’ he asked. I nodded to this too. ‘Trouble with the boyfriend?’ It wasn’t a question, actually he was already nodding for me. ‘Picking at yourself,’ he repeated. He popped out from behind his desk and lunged toward me. He was a taut fat man, tightbellied and dark. ‘You need a rest,’ he announced. I did need a rest, particularly since I’d gotten up so early that morning in order to see this doctor, who lived out in the suburbs. I’d changed trains twice. And I would have to retrace my steps to get to my job. Just thinking

104 SHORT STORIES AND PERSONAL ESSAYS

THE TAXI – SUSANNA KAYSEN 105

of it made me tired. ‘Don’t you think?’ He was still standing in front of me. ‘Don’t you think you need a rest?’ ‘Yes,’ I said. He strode off to the adjacent room, where I could hear him talking on the phone. I have thought often of the next ten minutes – my last ten minutes. I had the impulse, once, to get up and leave through the door I’d entered, to walk the several blocks to the trolley stop and wait for the train that would take me back to my troublesome boyfriend, my job at the kitchen store. But I was too tired. He strutted back into the room, busy, pleased with himself. ‘I’ve got a bed for you,’ he said. ‘It’ll be a rest. Just for a couple of weeks, okay?’ He sounded conciliatory, or pleading, and I was afraid. ‘I’ll go Friday,’ I said. It was Tuesday, maybe by Friday I wouldn’t want to go. He bore down on me with his belly. ‘No. You go now.’ I thought this was unreasonable. ‘I have a lunch date,’ I said. ‘Forget it,’ he said. ‘You aren’t going to lunch. You’re going to the hospital.’ He looked triumphant. It was very quiet out in the suburbs before eight in the morning. And neither of us had anything more to say. I heard the taxi pulling up in the doctor’s driveway. He took me by the elbow – pinched me between his large stout fingers – and steered me outside. Keeping hold of my arm, he opened the back door of the taxi and pushed me in. His big head was in the backseat with me for a moment. Then he slammed the door shut. The driver rolled his window down halfway. ‘Where to?’ Coatless in the chilly morning, planted on his sturdy legs in his driveway, the doctor lifted one arm to point at me. ‘Take her to McLean,’ he said, ‘and don’t let her out till you get there.’ I let my head fall back against the seat and shut my eyes. I was glad to be riding in a taxi instead of having to wait for the train.

QUESTIONS
1) Was the doctor clever to begin the conversation by asking about the pimple? 2) What differing meanings did both characters ascribe to the line, ‘You need a rest’? 3) Why does Susanna Kaysen call these ten minutes her ‘last ten minutes’? 4) Do you feel that she is being sincere when she says she is glad to be in a taxi rather than having to wait for the train?

SUGGESTED aCTIvITy – pERSONal wRITING – mEmOIR
Continue this memoir, explaining what happens when Susanna Kaysen gets to the hospital.


THE TAXI – SUSANNA KAYSEN 107

106 SHORT STORIES AND PERSONAL ESSAYS

ALEKSANDR SOLZHENITSYN was born in 1918. A Russian writer and historian, his most famous work is One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which tells the story of a day in a Soviet labour camp. Though he served in the Red Army during World War II, Solzhenitsyn himself was sentenced to eight years in just such a camp for making a derogatory comment about Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in a letter to a friend. Solzhenitsyn is credited with bringing knowledge to the Western world of what life was like under Stalin. He did this in his books One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and The Gulag Archipelago. The books met with a very hostile reception from the country’s communist leaders, however, and in 1974 the writer was exiled from the Soviet Union. Just four years earlier he had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 1990 Solzhenitsyn’s citizenship was restored and he returned to the USSR. He continued to write until his death in 2008. ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was first published in a magazine called Novy Mir (New World) in 1962. It was surprising that such a book was allowed to be published in the Soviet Union, given its harsh criticisms of the Gulag – or forced-labour camp – system. The book tells the story of a day in a Gulag. In this excerpt, we read the opening pages of the book, where Shukov is getting up for the day, in temperatures below minus 20 degrees (if it drops to minus 30 or below, the prisoners do not have to go to work). Feeling a bit sick, he is late to get out of bed and, so, is taken by an officer to be punished.

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one Day in The life of iVan DenisoViCh
aleksandr solzhenitsyn
REVEILLE WAS SOUNDED, AS ALWAYS, AT 5 A.M. – A HAMMER pounding on a rail outside camp HQ. The ringing noise came faintly on and off through the windowpanes covered with ice more than an inch thick, and died away fast. It was cold and the warder didn’t feel like going on banging. The sound stopped and it was pitch black on the other side of the window, just like in the middle of the night when Shukhov had to get up to go to the latrine, only now three yellow beams fell on the window – from two lights on the perimeter and one inside the camp. He didn’t know why but nobody’d come to open up the barracks. And

you couldn’t hear the orderlies hoisting the latrine tank on the poles to carry it out. Shukhov never slept through reveille but always got up at once. That gave him about an hour and a half to himself before the morning roll call, a time when anyone who knew what was what in the camps could always scrounge a little something on the side. He could sew someone a cover for his mittens out of a piece of old lining. He could bring one of the big gang

108 SHORT STORIES AND PERSONAL ESSAYS

ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH – ALEKSANDR SOLZHENITSYN 109

bosses his dry felt boots while he was still in his bunk, to save him the trouble of hanging around the pile of boots in his bare feet and trying to find his own. Or he could run around to one of the supply rooms where there might be a little job, sweeping or carrying something. Or he could go to the mess hall to pick up bowls from the tables and take piles of them to the dishwashers. That was another way of getting food, but there were always too many other people with the same idea. And the worst thing was that if there was something left in a bowl you started to lick it. You couldn’t help it. And Shukhov could still hear the words of his first gang boss, Kuzyomin – an old camp hand who’d already been inside for twelve years in 1943. Once, by a fire in a forest clearing, he’d said to a new batch of men just brought in from the front: ‘It’s the law of the jungle here, fellows. But even here you can live. The first to go is the guy who licks out bowls, puts his faith in the infirmary, or squeals to the screws.’ He was dead right about this – though it didn’t always work out that way with the fellows who squealed to the screws. They knew how to look after themselves. They got away with it and it was the other guys who suffered. Shukhov always got up at reveille, but today he didn’t. He’d been feeling lousy since the night before – with aches and pains and the shivers, and he just couldn’t manage to keep warm that night. In his sleep he’d felt very sick and then again a little better. All the time he dreaded the morning. But the morning came, as it always did. Anyway, how could anyone get warm here, what with the ice piled up on the window and a white cobweb of frost running along the whole barracks where the walls joined the ceiling? And a hell of a barracks it was. Shukhov stayed in bed. He was lying on the top bunk, with his blanket and overcoat over his head and both his feet tucked in the sleeve of his jacket. He couldn’t see anything, but he could tell by the sounds what was going on in the barracks and in his own part of it. He could hear the orderlies tramping down the corridor with one of the twenty-gallon latrine tanks. This was supposed to be light work for people on the sick list – but it was no joke carrying the thing out without spilling it!

Then someone from Gang 75 dumped a pile of felt boots from the drying room on the floor. And now someone from his gang did the same (it was also their turn to use the drying room today). The gang boss and his assistant quickly put on their boots, and their bunk creaked. The assistant gang boss would now go and get the bread rations. And then the boss would take off for the Production Planning Section (PPS) at HQ. But, Shukhov remembered, this wasn’t just the same old daily visit to the PPS clerks. Today was the big day for them. They’d heard a lot of talk of switching their gang – 104 – from putting up workshops to a new job, building a new ‘Socialist Community Development’. But so far it was nothing more than bare fields covered with snowdrifts, and before anything could be done there, holes had to be dug, posts put in, and barbed wire put up – by the prisoners for the prisoners, so they couldn’t get out. And then they could start building. You could bet your life that for a month there’d be no place where you could get warm – not even a hole in the ground. And you couldn’t make a fire – what could you use for fuel? So your only hope was to work like hell. The gang boss was worried and was going to try to fix things, try to palm the job off on some other gang, one that was a little slower on the uptake. Of course you couldn’t go empty-handed. It would take a pound of fatback for the chief clerk. Or even two. Maybe Shukhov would try to get himself on the sick list so he could have a day off. There was no harm in trying. His whole body was one big ache. Then he wondered – which warder was on duty today? He remembered that it was Big Ivan, a tall, scrawny sergeant with black eyes. The first time you saw him he scared the pants off you, but when you got to know him he was the easiest of all the duty warders – wouldn’t put you in the can or drag you off to the disciplinary officer. So Shukhov could stay put till it was time for Barracks 9 to go to the mess hall. The bunk rocked and shook as two men got up together – on the top Shukhov’s neighbour, the Baptist Alyoshka, and down below Buynovsky, who’d been a captain in the navy. When they’d carried out the two latrine tanks, the orderlies started

110 SHORT STORIES AND PERSONAL ESSAYS

ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH – ALEKSANDR SOLZHENITSYN 111

quarrelling about who’d go to get the hot water. They went on and on like two old women. The electric welder from Gang 20 barked at them: ‘Hey, you old bastards!’ And he threw a boot at them. ‘I’ll make you shut up.’ The boot thudded against a post. The orderlies shut up. The assistant boss of the gang next to them grumbled in a low voice: ‘Vasili Fyodorovich! The bastards pulled a fast one on me in the supply room. We always get four two-pound loaves, but today we only got three. Someone’ll have to get the short end.’ He spoke quietly, but of course the whole gang heard him and they all held their breath. Who was going to be shortchanged on rations this evening? Shukhov stayed where he was, on the hard-packed sawdust of his mattress. If only it was one thing or another – either a high fever or an end to the pain. But this way he didn’t know where he was. While the Baptist was whispering his prayers, the Captain came back from the latrine and said to no one in particular, but sort of gloating: ‘Brace yourselves, men! It’s at least twenty below.’ Shukhov made up his mind to go to the infirmary. And then some strong hand stripped his jacket and blanket off him. Shukhov jerked his quilted overcoat off his face and raised himself up a bit. Below him, his head level with the top of the bunk, stood the Thin Tartar. So this bastard had come on duty and sneaked up on them. ‘S-854!’ the Tartar read from the white patch on the back of the black coat. ‘Three days in the can with work as usual.’ The minute they heard his funny muffled voice everyone in the entire barracks – which was pretty dark (not all the lights were on) and where two hundred men slept in fifty bug-ridden bunks – came to life all of a sudden. Those who hadn’t yet gotten up began to dress in a hurry. ‘But what for, Comrade Warder?’ Shukhov asked, and he made his voice sound more pitiful than he really felt. The can was only half as bad if you were given normal work. You got hot food and there was no time to brood. Not being let out to work – that was real punishment.

‘Why weren’t you up yet? Let’s go to the Commandant’s office,’ the Tartar drawled – he and Shukhov and everyone else knew what he was getting the can for. There was a blank look on the Tartar’s hairless, crumpled face. He turned around and looked for somebody else to pick on, but everyone – whether in the dark or under a light, whether on a bottom bunk or a top one – was shoving his legs into the black, padded trousers with numbers on the left knee. Or they were already dressed and were wrapping themselves up and hurrying for the door to wait outside till the Tartar left. If Shukhov had been sent to the can for something he deserved he wouldn’t have been so upset. What made him mad was that he was always one of the first to get up. But there wasn’t a chance of getting out of it with the Tartar. So he went on asking to be let off just for the hell of it, but meantime pulled on his padded trousers (they too had a worn, dirty piece of cloth sewed above the left knee, with the number S-854 painted on it in black and already faded), put on his jacket (this had two numbers, one on the chest and one on the back), took his boots from the pile on the floor, put on his cap (with the same number in front), and went out after the Tartar. The whole Gang 104 saw Shukhov being taken off, but no one said a word. It wouldn’t help, and what could you say? The gang boss might have stood up for him, but he’d left already. And Shukhov himself said nothing to anyone. He didn’t want to aggravate the Tartar. They’d keep his breakfast for him and didn’t have to be told. The two of them went out. It was freezing cold, with a fog that caught your breath. Two large searchlights were crisscrossing over the compound from the watchtowers at the far corners. The lights on the perimeter and the lights inside the camp were on full force. There were so many of them that they blotted out the stars. With their felt boots crunching on the snow, prisoners were rushing past on their business – to the latrines, to the supply rooms, to the package room, or to the kitchen to get their groats cooked. Their shoulders were hunched and their coats buttoned up, and they all felt cold, not so much because of the freezing weather as because they knew they’d have to be

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH – ALEKSANDR SOLZHENITSYN 113

out in it all day. But the Tartar in his old overcoat with shabby blue tabs walked steadily on and the cold didn’t seem to bother him at all. They went past the high wooden fence around the punishment block (the stone prison inside the camp), past the barbed-wire fence that guarded the bakery from the prisoners, past the corner of the HQ where a length of frost-covered rail was fastened to a post with heavy wire, and past another post where – in a sheltered spot to keep the readings from being too low – the thermometer hung, caked over with ice. Shukhov gave a hopeful sidelong glance at the milk-white tube. If it went down to forty-two below zero they weren’t supposed to be marched out to work. But today the thermometer wasn’t pushing forty or anything like it. They went into HQ – straight into the warders’ room. There it turned out – as Shukhov had already had a hunch on the way – that they never meant to put him in the can but simply that the floor in the warders’ room needed scrubbing. Sure enough, the Tartar now told Shukhov that he was letting him off and ordered him to mop the floor. Mopping the floor in the warders’ room was the job of a special prisoner – the HQ orderly, who never worked outside the camp. But a long time ago he’d set himself up in HQ and now had a free run of the rooms where the Major, the disciplinary officer, and the security chief worked. He waited on them all the time and sometimes got to hear things even the warders didn’t know. And for some time he’d figured that to scrub floors for ordinary warders was a little beneath him. They called for him once or twice, then got wise and began pulling in ordinary prisoners to do the job. The stove in the warders’ room was blazing away. A couple of warders who’d undressed down to their dirty shirts were playing checkers, and a third who’d left on his belted sheepskin coat and felt boots was sleeping on a narrow bench. There was a bucket and rag in the corner. Shukhov was real pleased and thanked the Tartar for letting him off: ‘Thank you, Comrade Warder. I’ll never get up late again.’ The rule here was simple – finish your job and get out. Now that Shukhov had been given some work, his pains seemed to have stopped. He took the bucket and went to the well without his mittens, which he’d forgotten and left under his pillow in the rush.

The gang bosses reporting at the PPS had formed a small group near the post, and one of the younger ones, who was once a Hero of the Soviet Union, climbed up and wiped the thermometer. The others were shouting up to him: ‘Don’t breathe on it or it’ll go up.’ ‘Go up … the hell it will … it won’t make a fucking bit of difference anyway.’ Tyurin – the boss of Shukhov’s work gang – was not there. Shukhov put down the bucket and dug his hands into his sleeves. He wanted to see what was going on. The fellow up the post said in a hoarse voice: ‘Seventeen and a half below – shit!’ And after another look just to make sure, he jumped down. ‘Anyway, it’s always wrong – it’s a damned liar,’ someone said. ‘They’d never put in one that works here.’ The gang bosses scattered. Shukhov ran to the well. Under the flaps of his cap, which he’d lowered but hadn’t tied, his ears ached with the cold. The top of the well was covered by a thick layer of ice so that the bucket would hardly go through the hole. And the rope was stiff as a board. Shukhov’s hands were frozen, so when he got back to the warders’ room with the steaming bucket he shoved them in the water. He felt warmer.

114 SHORT STORIES AND PERSONAL ESSAYS

ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH – ALEKSANDR SOLZHENITSYN 115

QUESTIONS
1) It has been claimed that One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is one of the harshest criticisms of life in Gulags (work camps). Based on this extract, do you agree with this statement? 2) What crime do you think Shukov committed? 3) What are your thoughts on Shukov’s relationship with the warders, in that he must be very nice to them so he isn’t punished, but at the same time, they are the ones responsible for locking him up and punishing him if they wish? 4) Would you be interested in reading the rest of this novel?

SUGGESTED aCTIvITy – CREaTIvE ENGaGEmENT – DRawING
Draw a picture of what you imagine the Gulag looked like.

116 SHORT STORIES AND PERSONAL ESSAYS

ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH – ALEKSANDR SOLZHENITSYN 117

FRANK McCOURT was born in 1930 in the United States, but grew up in Limerick. He is most famous for his memoir Angela’s Ashes, which tells the story of his Limerick childhood. McCourt was the eldest of seven children, three of whom died very young due to the poverty in which the family lived. He left school at 13 and worked at odd jobs until he moved to America at 19. After leaving the US army he became a teacher, and taught English for 30 years. Angela’s Ashes was his first work, published at the age of 66. It was an immediate bestseller and won its author the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize. McCourt wrote two other books besides Angela’s Ashes – ’Tis and Teacher Man. He died in July 2009. ANGELA’S ASHES Angela’s Ashes is Frank McCourt’s memoir of his early life, a life marred by constant poverty, a father who could not provide for his family and drank too much, and church representatives who did not properly care for their congregation. The book was an international bestseller; it also caused a lot of controversy, with many in Limerick saying it was not an accurate portrayal of the city. A film version of the book was released in 1999, directed by Alan Parker. In this excerpt Frank talks about his first communion, telling us it is supposed to be the happiest day of a child’s life – though mostly for the money, which will get him into the cinema.

anGela's ashes
frank McCourt
FIRST COMMUNION DAY IS THE HAPPIEST DAY OF YOUR LIFE BECAUSE of The Collection and James Cagney at the Lyric Cinema. The night before I was so excited I couldn’t sleep till dawn. I’d still be sleeping if my grandmother hadn’t come banging at the door. Get up! Get up! Get that child outa the bed. Happiest day of his life an’ him snorin’ above in the bed. I ran to the kitchen. Take off that shirt, she said. I took off the shirt and she pushed me into a tin tub of icy cold water. My mother scrubbed me, my grandmother scrubbed me. I was raw, I was red. They dried me. They dressed me in my black velvet First Communion suit with the white frilly shirt, the short pants, the white stockings, the black patent leather shoes. Around my arm they tied a white satin bow and on my lapel they pinned the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a picture with blood dripping from it, flames erupting all around it and on top a nastylooking crown of thorns. Come here till I comb your hair, said Grandma. Look at that mop, it won’t lie down. You didn’t get that hair from my side of the family. That’s that North of Ireland hair you got from your father. That’s the kind of hair you see on Presbyterians. If your mother had married a proper decent Limerick man you wouldn’t have this standing up, North of Ireland, Presbyterian hair. She spat twice on my head. Grandma, will you please stop spitting on my head. If you have anything to say, shut up. A little spit won’t kill you. Come on,

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ANGELA’S ASHES – FRANK McCOURT 119

we’ll be late for the Mass. We ran to the church. My mother panted along behind with Michael in her arms. We arrived at the church just in time to see the last of the boys leaving the altar rail where the priest stood with the chalice and the host, glaring at me. Then he placed on my tongue the wafer, the body and blood of Jesus. At last, at last. It’s on my tongue. I draw it back. It stuck. I had God glued to the roof of my mouth. I could hear the master’s voice, Don’t let that host touch your teeth for if you bite God in two you’ll roast in hell for eternity. I tried to get God down with my tongue but the priest hissed at me, Stop that clucking and get back to your seat. God was good. He melted and I swallowed Him and now, at last, I was a member of the True Church, an official sinner. When the Mass ended there they were at the door of the church, my mother with Michael in her arms, my grandmother. They each hugged me to their bosoms. They each told me it was the happiest day of my life. They each cried all over my head and after my grandmother’s contribution that morning my head was a swamp. Mam, can I go now and make The Collection? She said, After you have a little breakfast. No, said Grandma.You’re not making no collection till you have a proper First Communion breakfast at my house. Come on. We followed her. She banged pots and rattled pans and complained that the whole world expected her to be at their beck and call. I ate the egg, I ate the sausage, and when I reached for more sugar for my tea she slapped my hand away. Go easy with that sugar. Is it a millionaire you think I am? An American? Is it bedecked in glitterin’ jewelry you think I am? Smothered in fancy furs? The food churned in my stomach. I gagged. I ran to her backyard and threw it all up. Out she came. Look at what he did. Thrun up his First Communion breakfast. Thrun up the body and blood of Jesus. I have God in me backyard. What am I goin’ to do? I’ll take him to the Jesuits for they know the sins of the Pope himself.

She dragged me through the streets of Limerick. She told the neighbours and passing strangers about God in her backyard. She pushed me into the confession box. In the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost. Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s a day since my last confession. A day? And what sins have you committed in a day, my child? I overslept. I nearly missed my First Communion. My grandmother said I have standing up, North of Ireland, Presbyterian hair. I threw up my First Communion breakfast. Now Grandma says she has God in her backyard and what should she do. The priest is like the First Confession priest. He has the heavy breathing and the choking sounds. Ah … ah … tell your grandmother to wash God away with a little water and for your penance say one Hail Mary and one Our Father. Say a prayer for me and God bless you, my child. Grandma and Mam were waiting close to the confession box. Grandma said, Were you telling jokes to that priest in the confession box? If ’tis a thing I ever find out you were telling jokes to Jesuits I’ll tear the bloody kidneys outa you. Now what did he say about God in my backyard? He said wash Him away with a little water, Grandma. Holy water or ordinary water? He didn’t say, Grandma. Well, go back and ask him. But, Grandma … She pushed me back into the confessional. Bless me, Father, for I have sinned, it’s a minute since my last confession. A minute! Are you the boy that was just here? I am, Father. What is it now? My grandma says, Holy water or ordinary water? Ordinary water, and tell your grandmother not to be bothering me again. I told her, Ordinary water, Grandma, and he said don’t be bothering him again. Don’t be bothering him again. That bloody ignorant bogtrotter.

120 SHORT STORIES AND PERSONAL ESSAYS

ANGELA’S ASHES – FRANK McCOURT 121

I asked Mam, Can I go now and make The Collection? I want to see James Cagney. Grandma said, You can forget about The Collection and James Cagney because you’re not a proper Catholic the way you left God on the ground. Come on, go home. Mam said, Wait a minute. That’s my son. That’s my son on his First Communion day. He’s going to see James Cagney. No he’s not. Yes he is. Grandma said, Take him then to James Cagney and see if that will save his Presbyterian North of Ireland American soul. Go ahead. She pulled her shawl around her and walked away. Mam said, God, it’s getting very late for The Collection and you’ll never see James Cagney. We’ll go to the Lyric Cinema and see if they’ll let you in anyway in your First Communion suit. We met Mikey Molloy on Barrington Street. He asked if I was going to the Lyric and I said I was trying. Trying? he said. You don’t have money? I was ashamed to say no but I had to and he said, That’s all right. I’ll get you in. I’ll create a diversion. What’s a diversion? I have the money to go and when I get in I’ll pretend to have the fit and the ticket man will be out of his mind and you can slip in when I let out the big scream. I’ll be watching the door and when I see you in I’ll have a miraculous recovery. That’s a diversion. That’s what I do to get my brothers in all the time. Mam said, Oh, I don’t know about that, Mikey. Wouldn’t that be a sin and surely you wouldn’t want Frank to commit a sin on his Communion day. Mikey said if there was a sin it would be on his soul and he wasn’t a proper Catholic anyway so it didn’t matter. He let out his scream and I slipped in and sat next to Question Quigley, and the ticket man, Frank Goggin, was so worried over Mikey he never noticed. It was a thrilling film but sad in the end because James Cagney was a public enemy and when they shot him they wrapped him in bandages and threw him in the door, shocking his poor old Irish mother, and that was the end of my First Communion day.

QUESTIONS
1) Did you find this a humorous piece of writing? 2) Given that this is a memoir, do you think McCourt is being totally honest or is he, perhaps, exaggerating things? 3) What impression do you get of the granny from this extract? 4) Is the granny’s bigotry malicious or just a manner of speaking?

SUGGESTED aCTIvITy – pERSONal wRITING – mEmOIR
Write a memoir of an early childhood memory of your own.

SUGGESTED mODUlE aCTIvITy
Write a short story using one of the following as your title: • • • • • • Arthur and George Crime and Punishment Great Expectations The Stranger A Confederacy of Dunces Tender is the Night


ANGELA’S ASHES – FRANK McCOURT 123

122 SHORT STORIES AND PERSONAL ESSAYS

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