The Short Story: “Samuel”, “Battle Royal” and “The Use of Force”.

April 24, 2006 by aaron

The short story characteristically focuses on a single incident, a bit of action that is usually dramatic and ends in some sort of revelation”a flash of irony, comprehension, or insight. What happens is crucial and pivotal to the story. Because of its length if the story is to make a strong impression on us, it will do so not merely through the intensity of its concentrated action but through the implications the event suggests. This idea is expertly portrayed by three different authors in the short stories “Samuel”, “Battle Royal” and “The Use of Force”.

Samuel by Grace Paley is the story of a boy who was accidentally killed while playing on a train. The accident was caused when one rider pulled the brake cord of the train causing it to jerk to a stop, throwing Samuel from the rear of the train. This one person may or may not have purposefully intended to cause the injury. The story Samuel tends to drive people to look at the actions of the “man whose boyhood had been more watchful than brave” when he “in a citizenly way” pulled the brake on the subway causing Samuel to fall off the train. This single point begins the downward slope of the rest of the story to the point where Samuel’s mother has another child and realizes “never again will a boy exactly like Samuel be known.” The small portion of the story that happens after the death of Samuel leaves many unanswered questions and thoughts in the mind of the reader. Implicitly the story points out that “never again will a boy exactly like Samuel be known” but it does not go into this issue in any way, the author left it a blank, would one be wishing for another person to be like Samuel? What long-term effect did Samuels’s death have on the mother?

Battle Royal by Ralph Ellison is a story of a young black man trying to uphold his dignity while relatively wealthy white men try to degrade him. At the same time he is trying to learn the meaning of his grandfather’s cryptic last words. The pivotal climax of the story occurs after the battle royal itself and Ellison is prompted to give his speech. However, the real climax of the story happens at the end of the story, after he gives the speech and goes home, when he remembers his grandfathers words “Live with your head in the lions mouth” and dreams of receiving a letter with the words “keep this nigger-boy running” written on it. The story speaks to the futility of blacks trying to get ahead in the white-mans world of the 1950’s. To get ahead in life they had to chase the carrots thrown to them by the whites with power. It was not until much later the author learned what his grandfather really meant: take all you can from them and don’t give them a reason to hate you.

The Use of Force by William Carlos Williams is the story of a doctor that realized the human potential for anger in all of us through his actions while attempting to diagnose a child’s illness. In this story the pivotal moment that can focus the reader is when the doctor goes “beyond reason” and is finding it a “pleasure to attack her.” The story has the tendency to build the doctor up from being a an upscale doctor, who thought himself better than the child and her parents to becoming “burning with fury”. It reveals that all people are capable of anything, no matter what the outside appearance may be. It also shows how we do anything to excuse our basis nature and legitimize it “must be protected”one says to one’s self.”

Of course these are just brief introductions to the stories and are woefully inadequate in capturing the entirety of ideas and thoughts that the authors have presented us with.

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