“The Overcoat” by Gogol
I know Gogol was a realist, that he preferred to write about “dull and repulsive” characters, but there does seem to be an optimism there. However mundane Akaky’s work and life are, there is still this possibility that hovers beneath the surface of the story, telling the reader to choose creative work, that if one isn’t lucky enough to secure a life’s work doing something creative then it’s essential to have some kind of creative outlet. Also, this story demonstrates the tragedy that there are some people who work and work and work for so little material reward. Blah. Blah. Blah. The story just made me think how having creativity and love are what make life worth living. Akaky was dull and repulsive, but there was a hint that he could have been something more, and that is why we care about his sad fate, and why his story makes us reflect and take inventory of our own lives.
“A Company of Laughing Faces” by Nadine Gordimer
“She longed to break through the muffle of automatism with which she carried through the motions of pleasure. There remained in her a desperate anxiety to succeed in being young, to grasp, not merely fraudulently to do, what was expected of her.” This story is about loss of innocence and how society, its expectations and conventions, assault the individual. The “one truth and the one beauty” for Kathy is not just the sight of the dead boy, but also what he stood for: innocence, curiosity and awe.
“Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
How easily our faith is shaken. Hawthorne’s naming of Goodman Browne’s wife was no accident. Evil exists. People are weak and flawed. You’ll be miserable if you let the knowledge of that shake you.
From “He is More Than a Hero” by Sappho
“If I meet you suddenly, I can’t speak—my tongue if broken; a thin flame runs under my skin, seeing nothing, hearing only my own ears drumming, I drip with sweat, trembling shakes my body and I turn paler than dry grass. At such time death isn’t far from me.”
In my experience, I’ve only felt this way about someone who is still what I imagine them to be, because I haven’t spent sufficient time with them to see them for who they really are. This kind of infatuation is more of a self-love—a worshipping of our own imagination. There are far deeper loves, though they are less showy, than that.
“Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston
I admire authors who do dialect well. It’s something I’m not so confident in. Maybe I lack a refined sense of the sound of language. Maybe I’ve focused too much on word meanings. Anyway, Sykes got what he deserved and now Delia can live free. This story seems to be warning about how our sins come back to haunt us—snake and all.