Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Big Read IV: Shirley Jackson's "Afternoon in Linen"

The Lottery: And Other StoriesAfternoon in Linen

Everyone is in linen. It all sounds very crisp. I think the moment in which the character shifts is right at the beginning when she thinks of Alice.

Like in Alice Through the Looking-Glass, the little girl thought, looking at her grandmother; like the gentleman all dressed in white paper. I'm a gentleman all dressed in pink paper, she thought.
When Alice enters that other world, she must think like a survivor. She must act from the hidden cues, not the obvious ones. This little girl must now act in a way that will horrify her grandmother, because there are other matters to think about than those her grandmother has in mind.

At first she thinks she'll refuse to play the piano just because. That sends her further into the other-rational world of Alice. She must have a reason for not playing. She contradicts her grandmother at every turn. "I don't know any," the little girl said. Then it becomes about saving face in the schoolyard...the boy Harold will tell they other kids she writes poetry. She can't have that.

She still can't avoid the poetry...her grandmother has it in an envelope, and even has the boy fetch it. He laughs and gloats. Harriet is backed into a corner.
He'll tell all the kids on the block, Harriet though. "I didn't write it," she said.
"Why, Harriet!" Her grandmother laughed. "You don't need to be so modest, child. You write very nice poems."
"I copied it out of a book," Harriet said. "I found it in a book and I copied it and gave it to my old grandmother and said I wrote it."
Three times Harriet must say she copied the poems. Now it might even be about impressing the other kids.
Harriet looked at Howard, who was staring at her in admiration. "I copied it out of a book," she said to him. "I found the book in the library one day."
Oh her poor poor grandmother.

This just leaves me sad. Her poor grandmother thinking her granddaughter has been deliberately deceiving her.

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