Frank O’Connor said that the short story usually looks at isolated individuals who undergo a ‘frontier experience. ‘ How do the writers in this collection use language to present states of isolation and to show how their characters confront crises? Choose three stories to illustrate your answer. To illustrate this idea in this essay, I have chosen the following three short stories; ‘The Badness Within Him’ by Susan Hill, ‘Killing Lizards’ by William Boyd and ‘Rose for Emily’ by William Faulkner.
O’Connor’s first claim was; short stories represent outsiders in society, both in the sense that stories are about outsiders and the writers themselves are considered to represent these outsiders. Frank O’Connor called his outsiders ‘submerged population groups’ and felt that short stories are essentially about human loneliness and isolation. He felt that the form of the short story is particularly suited to the age in which we live. Each character in the these short stories go through a frontier experience which involves them coming up to a new situation and changing from state to another.
For example in the ‘Badness Within Him’, the frontier experience that Col goes through is childhood to adulthood, this can be seen when he kicks the sandcastle and starts sulking in his own bedroom, this represents his childhood, and the adulthood is shown at the end when his father dies and when he grows up realising the power of the badness within him. At the end of the short story there is purification of his emotions, through the evocation of fear, as in tragedy when Col’s father drowns in the sea and dies.
Similarly in ‘Killing Lizards’, Gavin, like Col goes through the frontier experience of childhood to adulthood. His childhood can be seen when he is killing lizards with his friend Israel. At the end of the story Gavin calls these lizards ‘stupid’ which shows that he has now grown up and realised that it was a childish game to play, showing that Gavin has matured into adulthood that can also be seen when he finally learns that his mother is having a secret affair. He learns how to cope and deal with this secret and how to use it to gain power over his mother.
However, the frontier experience in Faulkner’s ‘Rose for Emily’ is very different. Emily’s transition from life to death symbolises her futile clinging to the traditions of the old South. The other frontier is between her and her acceptance by the community, in which she lives, is one she fails to cross. These two frontiers work together to help maintain her status as an outsider. The character of Col is described as a very violent, selfish, lonely boy with a strong sense of isolation who always wants to quarrel.
This can be seen by his childish behaviour for example; when he kicks at the sandcastle that Jess has built for the baby; ‘Col kicked again at the sand more forcefully’, and when he kicks his sister at the breakfast table; ‘He kicked out viciously at his sister under the table’ which show his violence and selfishness to the reader. In these lines, the writer; Susan Hill has used strong and sharp lexis like ‘kicked’, ‘viciously’ and ‘forcefully’ which contain letters such as; ‘k’, ‘s’ and ‘f’ that produce harsh sharp sounds.
This helps to describe Col’s angry feelings and attitudes when he is going through the frontier experiences of childhood to adulthood. The character of Gavin in ‘Killing Lizards’ is described as similar to Col. It shows that both Gavin and Col are very young teenagers and are desperate to seek attention from their parents. Gavin, like Col is also violent. This is seen when he is killing lizards using his catapult with his friend Israel. Boyd describes Gavin as a ‘thin dark boy with a slightly pinched face and unusually thick eyebrows.
‘ The writer uses pre-modification such as; ‘unusually thick eyebrows’ and ‘slightly pinched face’ to help display Gavin as an outsider by making him look very different and unique in comparison to other young boys in the society by giving an air of seriousness. The way in which the character of Emily in ‘A Rose for Emily’ is described compared to Gavin and Col is very similar. Faulkner uses language to present Emily as an outsider by the use of pre-modified words and similes in his descriptions, that can be seen in the following phrases; ‘eyes lost in the fatty ridges of her face’ and ‘like two small pieces of coal.
‘ The first phrase shows use of a pre-modification; ‘fatty ridges of her face’, which helps to display Emily as an outsider to the reader as it makes her look out of place by setting an unusual image. The use of simile in the second phrase describes ‘her eyes looking like coal’; this represents a deep black colour, which is used to show darkness in her eyes. This sets an unusual image of the features of her face to the reader, which Faulkner has written to display her an outsider by making her ‘eyes’ look strange and out of place.