Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Box: A Literary Example

So I've previously mentioned that I'm taking English 1102 this semester.  We had our first essay today.  I would like to mention that it's been a -long- time since I really had to write an essay.  I'll see once we get our grades, but I anticipate this is going to go one two ways:  A.  He gets it and I do well.  or B.  I -really- messed this up.  (lol)

The Assignment:

Diagnostic essay worth 50 points

Write a 5-paragraph essay reacting to the horror story below.  Your reaction can be in any form, but must respect the formal conventions of essay writing (no 'you' or 'I', no contractions, etc.).  It could be your take on the story, a personal experience that is related to the story, the message of the story etc.  Your essay should be written in the simple present tense and the material you reviewed from A Writer's Reference will be of enormous help.  Note that the story doesn't have a title, but you must give your essay a title.

"A woman is sitting in her old, shuttered house.
She knows that she is alone in the whole world; every other thing is dead.
The doorbell rings."

Here's my essay.

The Box:  A Literary Example, by Janin Wise

Having grown up a fan of science fiction, fantasy and horror, both in the literary form as well as the screen and film versions, Apocalypses, supernatural creatures and psychological thrillers are almost common place.  The three sentence short story
         "A woman is sitting in her old, shuttered house.
         She knows that she is alone in the whole world; every other thing is dead.
         The doorbell rings."
attributed to Thomas Baily Aldrich can be interpreted to have a deeper psychological meaning, but one can also accept the credibility of the literal surface meaning of the words.  These three sentences are filled with more questions than they are answers.

"A woman is sitting in her old, shuttered house."  Why is she alone?  Is she actually alone or does she only think that she is?  How old is this woman?  How did she come to be in possession of this house?  But more importantly, in the modern world, although many older houses have shutters, they are almost always used merely as decoration.  Why are they being used for their intended purpose?  Why are they actually shuttered?  Is it to keep out the cold or rain, or is it to make it harder to tell that anyone is in the house?

"She knows that she is alone in the whole world; every other thing is dead."  Is she mentally insane and only thinks that she is alone in the world?  Is she suffering from Alzheimer's and has forgotten everyone else?  Is she an older person whose friends and family have all passed away and so strangers are as no one to her?  Or what if it is accepted that the author meant exactly as it is written, then she may be the sole survivor of an apocalyptic event.  Was it war?  Was it natural disasters?  Was it a biohazard?  It can be assumed that all human life is dead, but does this mean that there are no animals and no plants as well?  How can she survive in such conditions?  And more importantly, how much longer can she have left to live?

"The doorbell rings."  If all humans are dead, and she is the only thing alive in the whole world, then what rang the doorbell?  Was it a glitch in the electrical wiring?  Did a tree limb fall just right?  Could she be hearing things that are not real?  Could it be someone that she does not care about, and so in her world, does not exist?  A nurse?  The mailman?  Or could it be a zombie with really good manners?  Who or what is ringing the doorbell?

The most intriguing thing about this story is the unanswered questions left to be speculated.  There are simply no known answers to any of them.  It is the perfect literary interpretation of 'the box'.  A child comes across a closed box and asks his Grandfather what could be in it.  His Grandfather answered that absolutely -anything- could be contained within:  a toy, a pet, a door to another world-- anything at all... until the box is opened and discover that it is not.  Then, it can only contain what is inside of it.  With this three sentence story, there are any number of possible reasons for her to be in this situation, but without further detail, absolutely any of them could be right.

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