Characters dealing with a situation affect each reader differently. The characters reaction to a situation may have a reader feel exactly as the character does, or in some instances, the reader may look more at how differently they would feel in the same situation. In an attempt to answer Henry James on how characters are only as interesting as their response to the particular situation we will look at “The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck and “To Build a Fire” by Jack London. In “The Chrysanthemums” we are introduced to Elisa Allen at her ranch working in her garden.
She is described in the story as: “She was thirty five. Her face was lean and strong and her eyes were clear as water. Her figure was blocked and heavy in her gardening costume, a man’s black hat pulled down over her eyes, clodhopper shoes, a figured print dress almost completely covered by a big corduroy apron with four big pockets to hold the snips, the trowel and scratcher, the seeds and the knife she worked with. She wore heavy leather gloves to protect her hand while she worked. ”(Steinbeck 242) This detail gives the reader the mental picture of Elisa.
The description makes it easy for the reader to know exactly what she looks like. Being around the outdoors and growing up on a farm helps me in picturing how a busy female rancher would look. This sets up the reader for when the wagon pulls up. As the gentlemen from the wagon talks with Elisa in attempt to get her to purchase work from him, I felt there was sexual tension between the two. Elisa attempts to hold her ground in the hopes he would just go away, but he finally breaks through to her by showing interest in her Chrysanthemums.
By showing that they had something in common, the gentlemen is able to break the guard Elisa had put up, and she in turn, gives him work to do by fixing old saucepans. Once the gentlemen leaves, she runs into the house and begins to bathe almost in a way to remove the dirty thoughts. Once out of the bath, she takes her time looking at herself in the mirror and getting dressed; almost as if the thoughts were coming back, all to go away when she heard her husband returning.
That is the way I felt towards Elisa Allen’s character. I am not sure if that is the intended way the author meant. Trying to look at the story from the author’s point of view, I almost see Elisa looking at the wagon as a way of freedom from where she has perfected her Chrysanthemums and looking for something new in her life. Early in the story, her husband jokingly asked about going to the fights and she quickly declined, but towards the end, after her encounter with the traveler, she started questioning how the fights were.
It is almost as if she was looking for something different, something that would give her a sense of adventure to take her away from the monotony of her boring life. In the end she declines the opportunity and the author shows us she has accepted the reality of her life being boring with this excerpt: “She relaxed limply in the seat. “Oh, no. No. I don’t want to go. I’m sure I don’t. ” Her face was turned away from him. “It will be enough if we can have wine. It will be plenty. ” She turned up her coat collar so he could not see that she was crying weakly – like an old woman.
”(Steinbeck 249) Either way it was perceived, the character shows that there is something in her life she is missing and she attempts to fulfill it with the Chrysanthemums. Other readers may find different ways of seeing how Elisa Allen may feel in this story. Without the description of how she was, and the way she reacted to the fights, this may have been a boring story because it would have lacked the information about the character to make her interesting enough for the reader to wonder about her. Next, we will look at “To Build a Fire”.
Right from the beginning the character has no name, only referred to as “the Man”. This gives the reader the chance to put themselves in the story. By not giving the character a name, it allows the reader to fall into the pages, especially with how descriptive the setting is. Each detail brings more and more bitterness on how cold it is. With this cold comes the overconfidence of the man: “Fifty degrees below zero was to him just a precisely fifty degrees below zero. That there should be anything more to it than that was a thought that never entered his head.
”(London 128) This overconfidence leads the man down a path to death. My experiences in scouting and life have taught me to respect Mother Nature and never take her for granted. This also allowed me to put myself in the same situation in the story and imagine all the things I would have done differently. The man’s attitude was that cold is cold, no matter the temperature, and his knowledge will get him through his lack of experience. I became more frustrated with his actions, as I knew he was dealing with each situation incorrectly.
As the story progressed, there was continued hope that his luck wouldn’t run out, but in the end, his handicap of ignorance led to his demise. A reader that has never been in this type of situation may not have understood the severity of the situation and would only be able to see from the eyes of the man. It is also possible for a reader to feel the frustration of him dealing with each of the problems he came across. If the man’s confidence was not as great, there would have been more thought to the situation, and he may have listened to what advice had been given.
It may have also led to the man making different choices, or allowing himself some humility and turned around. This confidence allows the story to be thought of from a point of view that anyone could be put in a similar situation and that any daily life situation can cause our confidence to sometimes gets the best of us. We always think we know more that we do. “All a man had to do was keep his head, and he was all right. Any man who was a man could travel alone. ”(London 132) This excerpt is a perfect example as shortly after this, the snow falls on the fire and the man admits his mistake.
This would have not happened if the man’s confidence had not got the best of him. Additionally, the entire story would have changed, and the character would have had better chance if he would have thought things through or if he would have had someone else traveling with him. Both of these stories can be interesting to the readers from their own personal experiences, or quite simply by the details the authors publish. If the characters would have dealt with the situations differently, or the details of the characters, then they would have been boring.
I believe that this easily answers Henry James because the details allowed my thoughts to wander and kept me interested on what would happen next. Works Cited Steinbeck, John. “The Chrysanthemums. ” Literature: An introduction to fiction, poetry, drama, and writing. 12th ed. Kennedy, X. J. , and Gioia, D. New York, New York 2013. Pearson. pp 242-249 London, Jack. “To Build a Fire. ” Literature: An introduction to fiction, poetry, drama, and writing. 12th ed. Kennedy, X. J. , and Gioia, D. New York, New York 2013. Pearson. pp 127-146.
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