Identifying Conflict in Two Texts

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Journal Two: Identifying Conflict in Two Texts

Read About Journals in ENG125: Introduction to Literature for more information about the purpose and expectations for journals.

This week, you continue writing your journal entries. This journal entry is designed to help you document ideas about conflicts in literature, which will contribute to the information required for the Week Three Draft and the Week Five Literary Analysis. Recognizing conflict is essential to understanding the various commentaries literature can provide.

In Journal One, you identified conflict as it might appear in our everyday world and from other sources. Now, consider the following definition of conflict and how it relates to literature from the textbook or the story/poetry links provided under the requirements for the Literary Analysis:

Conflict is opposing actions, ideas, and decisions that hold a plot together...the struggle that shapes the plot in a story.

Chapters 1-7 of our text contain a number of stories and poems, each of which rely on at least one conflict. Choose two of this week’s assigned literary works and write about the conflicts presented in each of them. In 250 to 500 words

  • State the specific conflicts you see in each work.
  • Describe the characters, forces, and/or entities that are at odds.
  • Explain why you think the conflicts are significant and what meanings/understandings they provide to the texts.
  • Paraphrase, quote, and/or summarize content from the works to support your observations. Don’t forget to add in-text citations for the works you draw from.
  • Explain how each conflict has meaning beyond the work in which it appears. Why is it important to be able to recognize conflict in a literary text and extend that understanding of conflict to the world at large?
  • From the stories you are reading, how much do similar elements of symbolism, metaphor, allusion, and/or allegory apply and add depth to an idea raised in the literature?
    • For instance, in George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, the pigs and farmers can be seen as symbolic of workers versus managers to make points about class struggles, calling into question the idea of equality in society.
    • In another example, in the “Story of an Hour,” the main character expresses personal conflict in her process of coming to terms with her husband’s supposed death. But this moment symbolizes more than just her personal grief. What does it suggest about societal expectations regarding women and how they should respond to grief? How might those expectations of grief still apply to women’s roles? How does the symbolism show a conflict between Mrs. Mallard and her own desires? Are these “women’s desires” in conflict with current social norms?

LITERARY PIECE 1 FOR REVIEW


The Gift of the Magi1

O. Henry (1906)

The exposition phase of the plot provides background: Della feels pressure about being unprepared for Christmas.">i

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

Third-person point of view; narrator describes Della's situation and actions—and makes an interpretive comment directly to the reader.">i

There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.

While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy 2 squad.

Exposition continues as the narrator describes Della and Jim's living conditions . . .">i

In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name "Mr. James Dillingham Young."

. . . and their relationship.">i

The "Dillingham" had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called "Jim" and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.

Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn't go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling—something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.

There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.

Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. Her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.

The plot's rising action begins as the narrator describes Della's mental struggle and decision-making process.">i

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim's gold watch that had been his father's and his grandfather's. The other was Della's hair. Had the queen of Sheba3 lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty's jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon4 been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

Plot now becomes intentionally active.">i

So now Della's beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.

On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.

Where she stopped the sign read: "Mme.5 Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds." One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the "Sofronie."

"Will you buy my hair?" asked Della.

"I buy hair," said Madame. "Take yer hat off and let's have a sight at the looks of it."

Down rippled the brown cascade.

"Twenty dollars," said Madame, lifting the mass with a practiced hand.

"Give it to me quick," said Della.

Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim's present.

The rising action intensifies as Della buys the expensive gift.">i

She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation—as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim's. It was like him. Quietness and value—the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.

Although Della appears in a "cooler," more controlled frame of mind, the tension increases as she—and the reader—anticipate her husband's arrival.">i

When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends—a mammoth task.

Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.

"If Jim doesn't kill me," she said to herself, "before he takes a second look at me, he'll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do—oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty seven cents?"

At 7 o'clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.

Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit for saying little silent prayers about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered:

"Please God, make him think I am still pretty."

The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two—and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.

Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.

Della wriggled off the table and went for him.

"Jim, darling," she cried, "don't look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn't have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It'll grow out again—you won't mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say 'Merry Christmas!' Jim, and let's be happy. You don't know what a nice—what a beautiful, nice gift I've got for you."

"You've cut off your hair?" asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.

"Cut it off and sold it," said Della. "Don't you like me just as well, anyhow? I'm me without my hair, ain't I?"

Jim looked about the room curiously.

"You say your hair is gone?" he said, with an air almost of idiocy.

"You needn't look for it," said Della. "It's sold, I tell you—sold and gone, too. It's Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered," she went on with sudden serious sweetness, "but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?"

The narrator comments directly on the plot structure, promising the reader further insight into Della's actions later in the story.">i

Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year—what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.

In an unexpected plot development, Jim brings out his gift for his wife. Both Della and the reader are surprised.">i

Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.

"Don't make any mistake, Dell," he said, "about me. I don't think there's anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you'll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first."

Combs are used here as a cultural symbol, representing high social status and wealth.">i

White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.

For there lay The Combs—the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jeweled rims—just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: "My hair grows so fast, Jim!"

And then Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, "Oh, oh!"

Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.

The climax of the plot—the revelation of the gifts—occurs at the highest point of the tension. During the falling action, Jim changes from feeling bewildered to realizing that unselfish love allows whatever happens "at present" to be accepted—and points favorably toward what may happen "in a while."">i

"Isn't it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You'll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it."

Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.

"Dell," said he, "let's put our Christmas presents away and keep 'em a while. They're too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on."

In the resolution phase, the narrator wraps up the plot with the promised comment about "unselfish sacrifice— the greatest human gift." Notice the ironic tone in the narrator's comment/advice.">i

The magi, as you know, were wise men—wonderfully wise men—who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.This selection is in the public domain.___________1 In the biblical story of Jesus' birth, the Magi are the three wise men (kings from the East) who brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
2 The practice of begging.
3 Ruler of an ancient Middle Eastern region referred to in the Hebrew Bible.
4 A biblical king who ruled the Kingdom of Israel 900 years before the beginning of the Christian Era (BCE).
5 Abbreviation for "Madame" in French (married woman).



LITERARY PIECE 2


Hills Like White Elephants

Ernest Hemingway (1927)

The distant hills suggest an exquisite landscape, beautiful and life giving, the very opposite of the immediate bare surround-ings. This striking contrast in the natural setting has symbolic importance as the viewpoints of the two char-acters in the story become known.">i

The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white. On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun. Close against the side of the station there was the warm shadow of the building and a curtain, made of strings of bamboo beads, hung across the open door into the bar, to keep out flies. The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building. It was very hot and the express from Barcelona would come in forty minutes. It stopped at this junction for two minutes and went to Madrid.

"What should we drink?" the girl asked. She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.

"It's pretty hot," the man said.

"Let's drink beer.""Dos cervezas," the man said into the curtain.

"Big ones?" a woman asked from the doorway.

"Yes. Two big ones."

The woman brought two glasses of beer and two felt pads. She put the felt pads and the beer glass on the table and looked at the man and the girl. The girl was looking off at the line of hills. They were white in the sun and the country was brown and dry.5

Ironic symbol">i

"They look like white elephants," she said."I've never seen one," the man drank his beer.

"No, you wouldn't have."

"I might have," the man said. "Just because you say I wouldn't have doesn't prove anything."

The girl looked at the bead curtain. "They've painted something on it," she said. "What does it say?"

"Anis del Toro. It's a drink."10"Could we try it?"

The man called "Listen" through the curtain. The woman came out from the bar.

"Four reales." "We want two Anis del Toro."

"With water?"

"Do you want it with water?"15"I don't know," the girl said. "Is it good with water?"

"It's all right."

"You want them with water?" asked the woman.

"Yes, with water."

"It tastes like liquorice," the girl said and put the glass down.20

Theme: One of several references by the girl to "being fine," including her comment in the final line of the story. This is not just a flat remark in a superficial conversation. It expresses the story's underlying message, which broadly deals with meaninglessness. More specifically, the theme centers on the emptiness that can occur in human relationships, including casual romantic relationships that are convenient but not connected to values that engender responsibility.">i

"That's the way with everything."

"Yes," said the girl. "Everything tastes of liquorice. Especially all the things you've waited so long for, like absinthe1."

"Oh, cut it out."

"You started it," the girl said. "I was being amused. I was having a fine time."

"Well, let's try and have a fine time."25

The setting is described objectively, without emotion (even though, we discover, the matter Jig and the American are discussing has significant emotional aspects).">i

"All right. I was trying. I said the mountains looked like white elephants. Wasn't that bright?"

"That was bright."

"I wanted to try this new drink. That's all we do, isn't it—look at things and try new drinks?"

"I guess so."

The girl looked across at the hills.30

The girl gazes again at the distant hills, which she earlier thought resembled white elephants. For her, they are not a restorative source of beauty or strength. She is aware only of their vague outline and their elephant-like coloration. Her separation from a natural source that ordinarily lifts the human spirit symbolizes her aloneness, her state of emotional disconnection. Her isolation is increasingly apparent as she talks with the American whom she is close to but separated from in significant ways.">i

"They're lovely hills," she said. "They don't really look like white elephants. I just meant the colouring of their skin through the
trees."

"Should we have another drink?"

"All right."

The warm wind blew the bead curtain against the table.

"The beer's nice and cool," the man said.35"It's lovely," the girl said.40

There's an underlying edginess in the tone of their conversation.">i

"It's really an awfully simple operation, Jig," the man said. "It's not really an operation at all."

The girl looked at the ground the table legs rested on.

"I know you wouldn't mind it, Jig. It's really not anything. It's just to let the air in."

Although never directly stated, it's clear they are discussing an abortion, which the American wants the girl to proceed with.">i

The girl did not say anything.

"I'll go with you and I'll stay with you all the time. They just let the air in and then it's all perfectly natural."

"Then what will we do afterwards?"45

Look for verbal irony related to love and caring.">i

"We'll be fine afterwards. Just like we were before."

"What makes you think so?"

"That's the only thing that bothers us. It's the only thing that's made us unhappy."The girl looked at the bead curtain, put her hand out and took hold of two of the strings of beads.

"And you think then we'll be all right and be happy."50"I know we will. You don't have to be afraid. I've known lots of people that have done it."

"So have I," said the girl. "And afterwards they were all so happy."

"Well," the man said, "if you don't want to you don't have to. I wouldn't have you do it if you didn't want to. But I know it's perfectly simple.""And you really want to?"

"I think it's the best thing to do. But I don't want you to do it if you don't really want to."

"And if I do it you'll be happy and things will be like they were and you'll love me?"

"I love you now. You know I love you."

"I know. But if I do it, then it will be nice again if I say things are like white elephants, and you'll like it?"55"I'll love it. I love it now but I just can't think about it. You know how I get when I worry."

"If I do it you won't ever worry?"

"I won't worry about that because it's perfectly simple."60

The girl's sarcasm not only reflects her feelings, but also contributes to rein-forcing the theme of the story. Neither personal responsibility nor sensitivity to the girl's mental deliberation can penetrate the American's nonchalant outlook. Their conversation is occurring in a vacuum.">i

"Then I'll do it. Because I don't care about me."

"What do you mean?""I don't care about me."

"Well, I care about you."

"Oh, yes. But I don't care about me. And I'll do it and then everything will be fine."

"I don't want you to do it if you feel that way."

The girl stood up and walked to the end of the station. Across, on the other side, were fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro. Far away, beyond the river, were mountains. The shadow of a cloud moved across the field of grain and she saw the river
through the trees.65"And we could have all this," she said. "And we could have every– thing and every day we make it more impossible."

"What did you say?"

"I said we could have everything."

"We can have everything."70

The American's insincerity may have become blatant dishonesty—further supporting the theme. The girl realizes that human actions cause change that should be acknowledged responsibly, not glossed over or denied. At the same time, she also knows that there is no shared capacity in their relationship to deal with change in a purposeful way. Again, the underlying theme of meaninglessness is highlighted.">i

"No, we can't.""We can have the whole world."

"No, we can't."

"We can go everywhere."

"No, we can't. It isn't ours any more."75

The distant mountains and the river are symbols of separation; the girl is far from experiencing a resolution of her dilemma.">i

"It's ours.""No, it isn't. And once they take it away, you never get it back."

"But they haven't taken it away."

"We'll wait and see."80

Here, the disparity in their views is fully exposed: Faced with a life-changing question, he is responding in a lackadaisical way, barely aware of the feelings associated with the issue; she searches for a deeper level of human response, one that reflects understanding of fundamental human emotions relevant to their situation. Love, of course, is one such human emotion that could endure their changing circumstances, but, as further evidence of the story's theme, there is little hope for such a lasting connection between them.">i

"Come on back in the shade," he said. "You mustn't feel that way."

"I don't feel any way," the girl said. "I just know things.""I don't want you to do anything that you don't want to do—"

"Nor that isn't good for me," she said. "I know. Could we have
another beer?"

"All right. But you've got to realize—"

"I realize," the girl said. "Can't we maybe stop talking?"

They sat down at the table and the girl looked across at the hills on the dry side of the valley and the man looked at her and at the
table.85"You've got to realize," he said, "that I don't want you to do it if you don't want to. I'm perfectly willing to go through with it if it means anything to you."

"Doesn't it mean anything to you? We could get along."

"Of course it does. But I don't want anybody but you. I don't want anyone else. And I know it's perfectly simple."

"Yes, you know it's perfectly simple."

"It's all right for you to say that, but I do know it."90"Would you do something for me now?"

"I'd do anything for you."95

The girl reveals not only her frustration with the American, but also the strength she's going to need to resolve her dilemma.">i

"Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?"

He did not say anything but looked at the bags against the wall of the station. There were labels on them from all the hotels where they had spent nights.

"But I don't want you to," he said, "I don't care anything
about it.""I'll scream," the girl said.

The woman came out through the curtains with two glasses of beer and put them down on the damp felt pads. "The train comes in five minutes," she said.

"What did she say?" asked the girl.

"That the train is coming in five minutes."

The girl smiled brightly at the woman, to thank her.100"I'll scream," the girl said.

The woman came out through the curtains with two glasses of beer and put them down on the damp felt pads. "The train comes in five minutes," she said.

"What did she say?" asked the girl.

"That the train is coming in five minutes."

The girl smiled brightly at the woman, to thank her.100"I'd better take the bags over to the other side of the station," the
man said. She smiled at him.

"All right. Then come back and we'll finish the beer."

He picked up the two heavy bags and carried them around the station to the other tracks. He looked up the tracks but could not see the train. Coming back, he walked through the bar-room, where people waiting for the train were drinking. He drank an Anis at the bar and looked at the people. They were all waiting reasonably for the train. He went out through the bead curtain. She was sitting at the table and smiled at him.105"Do you feel better?" he asked.

An ambiguous statement–"There's nothing wrong with me." Are her inner feelings unchanged? Is her mind made up about what do to? How strong is she? Frequently, Hemingway's characters are engaged in a search for personal meaning, in many instances a search for courage and dignity. Is Jig seeking a personal code in dealing with her complex situation?">i

"I feel fine," she said. "There's nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.

1 A liqueur with a licorice taste. Description of its bittersweet qualities emphasizes the woman's ambivalence.

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