Tag Archives: American Literature

Of Mice and Men – The National Theatre Live 

  

Hi everyone! 

So this week I (and a number of students) saw Of Mice and Men in my local cinema at a screening of a National Theatre Live production. I reviewed the book recently, so I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to review this stage version as well. I’ve never reviewed a stage production before, so fingers crossed that this goes well! 

I just want to say how amazing the National Theatre live actually are. This production was from Broadway, New York. There was no way I was ever going to get there to see this. By having it recorded live, audience and all, then streamed back to my local area meant that we have golden opportunities on our door step to see amazing productions from around the world. Thank you! 

Here goes! 

Casting and characters:

George and Lennie were played by James Franco and Chris O’Dowd respectively. I found this casting to be brilliant. What incredibly talented actors these men are. As a lover of Chris O’Dowd I was already expecting amazing things. He didn’t fail to deliver. His every move, the twitches, the way he spoke and reacted was perfect for Lennie. I found myself unable to take my eyes off his hands. He was very much the bear like character Steinbeck created and described him to be. 

James Franco as George was interesting for me. In the opening scene when they had ran from Weed to their next ranch I found George a little too angry. I had never read into his character as angry towards Lennie. Frustrated yes, angry no. At one point in this discussion Lennie was portrayed as being terrified, arms covering his head. It was uncomfortable to see – a sure sign of outstanding acting – getting an emotional response from your audience. However, when George was protecting Lennie I was completely sold. The emotions between them felt genuine and real. The looks between the two made me feel like no one else mattered. That protection was played to perfection. 

The only let down in terms of the portrayal of characters for me was from Curley and his wife, played by Alex Morf and Leighton Meester respectively. Whilst I have no right or qualifications to judge their acting, and please don’t think I am, I expected more from the representation of them. Curley needs to be masculine and aggressive, constantly looking for a fight. I didn’t get that from this Curley. He never raised his voice or appeared to pose a threat. In fact, George appeared to have more aggression than Curley. 

Curley’s Wife was every inch the character she portrayed: beautiful, lonely, awkward and talkative. Yet, something was missing. She failed to have that power behind her to stand up for herself. In Crook’s cabin, a crucial line I was sat waiting for never came. “Well, you keep your place then, Nigger. I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny.” The one time Curley’s Wife has power, and in this production she is stripped of it. 

Nevertheless, I found casting generally brilliant. I had a view on each and every one of them. They brought the stage to life. 

Image from the Independent. 

  



Setting:

Despite seeing this in a large cinema, I’ve probably never felt so claustrophobic in my life. I went hot and my palms started sweating. The setting was really rather incredible. The intense, cramped feel was brought to life with the corregated iron and prison camp beds. When all actors were on stage, I felt trapped with them. It was unnerving but excellently done. As well as this, the brush and the river brought Steinbeck’s description to life. It was probably one of the best stage settings I’ve ever seen. It embodied the dystopian feel of this period for men in America. 

Image from backstage.com

  



Plot:

If my memory serves me well, this adaptation stuck to Steinbeck’s original text well. I only missed a couple things. The first, as discussed above, the missing quote from Curley’s Wife. However, what was impressive, the main quotes we all know and remember were emphasised to show their significant meanings. When Lennie cries out “I don’t like this place, George. It ain’t no good place. I wanna get outa here” boy did I believe it. It’s true! I wanted to be out of that trapped, imprisoned setting too. 

Secondly, I missed the emotion from Candy when his dog was killed. Yes he lay in silence, but the quote “I ought to of shot that dog myself, George. I shouldn’t ought to of let no stranger shoot my dog” was also missing. This quote draws parallels to the ending and it needs to be there. Whilst I felt awful for Candy, I knew that feeling came from me knowing the novel. 

Nevertheless, it stayed true to the text. They explored the themes in depth and the portrayal of the novel was accurate throughout. 

Image from ifccentre.com

  


Overview:

Overall, I found this to be an inspiring, excellent and uncomfortable production. I felt like the men must have done on the ranches – utterly trapped and alone. I had to hold back tears in the final scene between Lennie and George. The tears from James Franco didn’t help there, but again they felt real and genuine. 

Thank you National Theatre for bringing New York, and this incredible production to my door step. Magical! 

Image from Google

  

Big love all xx

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Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

  

Morning all! 

It’s no great secret to those who follow my blog that American literature is a love of mine. Despite it being cut from every English Literature GCSE going, I was able to teach this novella to my year 9 class last half term. What astounds me is the reaction you get from young people about the content and how people were treated during the Great Depression in America. Also, the live stream from the National Theatre Live is rapidly approaching, something I’m very excited about. Therefore, it seems to be the perfect opportunity to review this short but powerful book. 

The novella opens with vast description of a plantation and two migrant field workers during the Great Depression. The surprise at this part being that these men always travel together. Notoriously during this time, men were lonely and were forever moving from place to place, so relationships were difficult to form and hardly worth doing. George Milton is an intelligent man, but uneducated. His friend, Lennie Small is almost an opposite to him.  What has lacks in mental abilities he makes up for in strength and his large size. The men are in Soledad, meaning loneliness in Spanish, on their way to another ranch for work. 

“I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that’s why.” 

The man have massive hopes for the future, and dare I say it, unrealistic hopes for their future. They have a shared dream of settling down on their own piece of land. Lennie’s addition to the dream is he wants to tend the rabbits. Lennie enjoys touching soft things, like animals fur. However, he always kills them, accidentally, because of his strength and over petting. This dream is one of Lennie’s favourite stories. He constantly makes George repeat it over and over. 

At the start of the novella, we meet the men as they are fleeing from their current employment in Weed, California. Unfortunately they have to flee because of Lennie, who we quickly learn is more of a hindrance than a help. Lennie was stroking a girls dress and refused to let go. This resulted in an accusation of rape. George and Lennie are more than best friends. George is Lennie’s protector, despite the irritation Lennie causes him and the disruption to his life. 

‘George’s voice became deeper. He repeated his words rhythmically as though he had said them many times before. “Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place. They come to a ranch an’ work up a stake, and the first thing you know they’re poundin’ their tail on some other ranch. They ain’t got nothing to look ahead to.'”

The men stop for the night in the brush on their way to the new ranch and make a plan in case anything should go wrong. It is repeated by George to ensure Lennie remembers. It is here we see Lennie petting a dead mouse, which George throws into the outback. 

Once the men reach the ranch and are hired, the men realise the ranch is more of a dystopia rather than utopia. The ranch is clearly a dangerous place. They are confronted by the boss, who is suspicious of Lennie (George gave him strict instructions not to speak) and then they are confronted by Curley – the Boss’s son. He’s a small but mean and aggressive person. He dislikes larger men which makes Lennie a target for his anger. It’s mentioned how he keeps a hand soft for his wife. What a charmer! Curley’s wife, who isn’t given a name, arguably because she’s a woman and Curley’s object, also poses as a problem for the men. Lennie is instantly attracted to her. Steinbeck’s description of her homes in the readers connotations of red. But equally, the description of her is one of my favourite pieces of writing. 

‘A girl was standing there looking in. She had full, rouged lips and wide-spaced eyes, heavily made up. Her fingernails were red. Her hair hung in little rolled clusters, like sausages. She wore a cotton house dress and red mules, on the insteps of which were little bouquets of red ostrich feathers.’

Contrastingly, George and Lennie meet the other ranch workers. Firstly, Candy: a kind, old, aged ranch hand, with one fully working hand, and a loyal dog. Secondly, Slim: the kind, intelligent, intuitive jerkline-skinner, whose dog has recently had a litter of puppies. The first (of many) heartbreaking scenes come from when Candy’s dog is killed for being old, smelly and useless. Candy is heartbroken and lies facing the wall in silence. His only friend, gone. Slim gives a puppy to both Candy and Lennie but it isn’t the same. 

There dream does show some sign of life when Candy offers to give the men $350 towards buying a farm at the end of the month, in return for their permission to live there. The trio are the happiest we ever see them. But, it doesn’t last for long. Curley stomps around the ranch looking for his wife, he picks on Lennie and repeatedly punches him. Lennie does nothing without George’s permission. After a moment, George tells him to retaliate. Lennie catches Curley’s fist and easily crushes it. He is immediately upset, he didn’t want to do it. A stark reminder to both Lennie and George that there’s plenty of obstacles in their way before their dream can be a reality. 

“Lennie covered his face with huge paws and bleated with terror.”

Nevertheless, George feels relaxed, since their dream is almost within their grasp. He decides to leave Lennie on the ranch whilst he popped to town with the other ranch hands. Lennie aimlessly wonders into the stable where he meets Crooks. He too is isolated on the ranch. He’s a bitter, yet educated stable buck. He’s black, so has his own room. St first he is hostile towards Lennie being there, but eventually they get along and start chatting. Candy finds them and they talk about their dreams for the farm. Crooks too gets carried away with the idea and asks if he could hoe a garden patch on the farm, despite his initial reaction of scorning the possibility of achieving the dream. 

Curley’s Wife appears and starts flirting with the men. Crooks is visibly uncomfortable with her being there. Contextually, it’s no secret that black people were not treated well at all. Curley’s Wife doesn’t get the reaction she’s looking for, so is spiteful to them, especially Crooks because of his race. She threatens to have him hung. 

“Well, you keep your place then, Nigger. I could get you strung up on a tree so easy it ain’t even funny.”

The very next day, Lennie accidentally kills his puppy while stroking it. Lennie is upset. At this point, Curley’s Wife enters the barn and tries to speak to Lennie. It is here, because of her audience being Lennie and him only, we learn her story. She’s given room for a voice, for a second anyway. She’s incredibly lonely, Curley wants her in the house all day every day. Her dreams of becoming a movie star were crushed. She tries to talk to the ranch men to pass the time, and ease the loneliness. Lennie confesses to her that he likes to stroke soft things, so she lets him stroke her hair. She repeatedly asks Lennie no to mess it, but he doesn’t let go. She panics and begins to scream, thus resulting in Lennie yelling at her to stop. Lennie is frightened and unintentionally breaks her neck. Again, his immediate reaction is sadness. He didn’t mean to, or even want to kill her. 

‘Curley’s wife lay with a half-covering of yellow hay. And the meanness and the plannings and the discontent and the ache for attention were all gone from her face. She was pretty and simple, and her face was sweet and young. Now her rouged cheeks and reddened lips made her seem alive and sleeping very lightly. The curls, tiny little sausages, were spread on the hay behind her head and her lips were parted.’

Lennie remembers the plan he and George made, and runs and hides in the brush. When the ranch hands return and find her, George realises what has happened. Their dream, or the illusion of their dream, is shattered. The men support George and keep him away so rules knows he had nothing to do with it. Curley wants revenge. He wants Lennie dead. George hurries to find him, hoping he will be at the meeting place they pre-organised. George knows that there’s only one thing he can do to save Lennie this time. 

George meets a very unhappy and worried Lennie at the spot. It’s almost a little ironic that Lennie can remember this and not much else. The friends sit together and they share the story they love: the bright future together, yet knowing it is something they won’t get to share now. Whilst Lennie tells the story, George shoots his one and only friend, in the back of the head. His death was painless and Lennie died happy. The other men, Curley, Slim and Carlson find George seconds after he spot Lennie. Only Slim realises that George killed Lennie out of love. Surely it’s better to be killed by your best friend than a mob? Slim leads him gently and consolingly away, whilst Curley and Carlson look on. The mood is subdued. The dream is over. 

“I can still tend the rabbits, George? I didn’t mean no harm, George.”

Whenever I read this novel, I feel heartbroken all over again. The themes of friendship and loneliness run parallel and throughout. This time period in America meant that the common every day working man struggled and was desperately afraid. There are lessons we can earn from this. It’s also almost incomprehensible that so much happens in such a short space of time. This is Steinbeck’s writing at its most honest and finest. 

Big love x

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Filed under American Literature, Book review

The Pastry Book Tag

  
Hi everyone!! 

This tag was created by Aine & Writing on a Vintage Typewriter

I’ve been lucky enough to be tagged by the wonderful Erika @ Bookventureland for this tag. It links books and baking, so naturally I was thrilled to take part! Thanks Erika! I’ve spent some time on my answers for this, so here goes! 


Croissant: Name a popular book or series that everyone (including you) loves.

Series: It has to be all the Harry Potter books. I grew up with it, I’m fairly obsessed with it and I am one of millions who want to go to Hogwarts. If only! I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love it. 

 

Book: To Kill A Mockingbird. I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t love this story. I think it’s a massive shame that it’s been cut from the English Literature curriculum in the UK. It teaches us so much. It’s a classic for a reason. 

  


Macaron: Name a book that was hard to get through but worth it at the end.

For me, this has to be Wuthering Heights. I studied this for A level and it was so difficult to follow in terms of its narration. But, it was well worth it in the end. It’s a brilliant novel with some of the most iconic characters in literature. 

  

Vol-au-vent: Name a book that you thought would be amazing but fell flat.
I’m really sad to say this, but Will Grayson, Will Grayson. I just felt it was a little flat in plot. Also, the narration didn’t really grip me, and the characters I just seemed unable to connect me. Probably because I’m not called Will Grayson. I do love the authors though, especially John Green. 

  

Pain au chocolat: Name a book that you thought would be one thing but turned out to be something else.

This is 100% my own fault. I want to admit that right away. The Casual Vacancy. I loved it, but because it was Rowling I did not expect it to be about normal lives. How silly am I? There was some brilliant character development within this novel though. 

  

Profiterole: Name a book or series that doesn’t get enough attention.

Without a doubt, anything written by Jean Rhys. My favourite is A Voyage in the Dark. Rhys is almost a forgotten writer of the Victorian period. I remember comparing Jane Eyre with Wide Sargasso Sea at university and it just blew me away. She doesn’t discredit or insult Jane Eyre, she just gives a character (Bertha) a voice. And what a voice it is. I reccommend to everyone. 

  

Croquembouche: Name a book or series that’s extremely complex.

Hmmm this is quite tricky because sometimes I find books challenging because of silly reasons like I’m feeling tired or sick. However, one book that was too complex for me was Catch 22. I didn’t even finish it. I have no idea what happened or what went on in that book. I was reading it, but nothing seemed to stay in my mind. As I say, it could have just been me. 

  

Napoleon: Name a movie or TV show based off a book that you liked better than the book itself.

This is really hard. I have a rule that I don’t see the film unless I’ve read the book. I always get a bit worried about movies and TV shows based on books in case they lose some of their magic. I can’t really answer this one. However, one I did enjoy was the book and Robert Downey Junior film version of Sherlock Holmes. It was just brilliant. I’ve watched it A LOT. I’ve heard good things about the latest TV series as well, so I must try and catch up with that. 

  

Empanada: Name a book that was bittersweet.

Of Mice and Men. Every time. The ending. Oh my days. What an incredible book. So much happens, it tests your own beliefs. It’s really interesting for me teaching this to my students and how they react to it. I’ve seen tears from teenage boys at the ending! The film version as well is quite something. The characters of Lenny and George are played superbly. 

  
 

Kolompeh: Name a book or series that takes place somewhere other than your home country:

I love American Literature (I’m not sure if you can tell!) so it has to be The Great Gatsby. Like Holmes, he is one of those characters that I just wish was real, because I so want to meet him. If only I could find someone to love me that much. Ahhh. Again, another little book that packs a massive punch. 

  

Pate a Choux: Name one food from a book or series that you would like to try.

This will sound really greedy, but I would love to experience a proper tea party from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Imagine how chaotic but fun that would be! Naturally you’d have to get all dressed up for it like the book as well. 

 

Thanks again to the lovely Erika for this nomination. I’ve really enjoyed this tag! The only problem is, I now really fancy a piece of cake. 

I nominate:

Trisha Ann @ The Bookgasm 

Nicola @ Book Bunny

Lia @ BookLand

SFARNELL
If you’re too busy, don’t worry! However, I am looking forward to reading your answers 🙂 YOU take part too, why not?

BL xx

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Filed under Literature, Tag

Go Set A Watchman – Harper Lee

 
Morning!!

I realise that there’s been a lack of books on my blog recently, so it’s time I fixed that by posting my review of one of the most anticipated novels of this year. Go Set A Watchman has littered the newspapers, lined bookshelves and generated discussion, both positive and negative, all over the globe. 

I’ll be honest, I was incredibly worried when I first saw the headlines discolouring my beloved Atticus. As a lover of To Kill A Mockingbird, like many others, I didn’t want to read a book which changes my perceptions of characters I’ve had a long relationship with. So, I tried to read this book as a stand alone, to take it at face value and judge it as an individual piece of writing with some smiled character names. 

The novel centres a 26 year old woman, Jean Louise Finch (Scout), who travels from New York to Maycomb, Alabama, to visit her family. The beginning of the novel deals with her return journey and different recollections of incidents around the town as Jean Louise tries to reconnect with her Aunt Alexandra, her Uncle Jack and her father Atticus. Uncle Jack is still being portrayed as a retired doctor in this novel, and Atticus is still a lawyer, and a former state legislator. Henry ‘Hank’ Clinton is a key figure in this novel. Jean Louise reconnects with him as he is a childhood friend, and now works with her father. The controversy in the town now is the NAACP.

“Go away, the old buildings said. There is no place for you here. You are not wanted. We have secrets.” 

On a return trip from home, Jean Louise and Henry are passed by a car of Negroes who seem to be traveling at a dangerously high speed. Henry informs her that negroes in the county have more money now for cars, but they fail to get licenses and insurance. Whisked away in a moment together, Jean Louise and Henry decide to take a swim. The next morning is spent dealing with the the mini scandal this causes. Aunt Alexandra is less than impressed! It is here we see flashbacks to Jean Louise’s youth, time spent with another friend, Charles Baker ‘Dill’ Harris, and her older brother Jem, who has since died of a heart condition that killed her mother. The loss of Jem in this novel is vital for what happens later. I admit, I missed that brotherly bond the two shared in TKAM. But, I appreciate how significant this loss is for the development of is novel. 

As Jean Louise rests in her father’s chair, she finds a pamphlet entitled ‘The Black Plague’ among her father’s papers. With a growing sense of unease, she follows him to a Citizens’ Council meeting, where Atticus introduces Mr Grady O’Hanlon. He delivers a passionate yet aggressive racist speech. Being as she snuck in, Jean Louise watches in secret from a balcony. She’s horrified. As is the world reading this novel. Why is Atticus involved? In another flashback, Jean Louise sees back to her father defending a Negro against a rape allegation. She struggles to comprehend what she’s seen. She cannot forgive him and feels betrayed and flees the meeting. 

“It happened so quickly that her stomach was still heaving. She breathed deeply to quieten it, but it would not stay still. She felt herself turning green with nausea, and she put her head down; try as she might she could not think, she only knew, and what she knew was this:

The one human being she had ever fully and wholeheartedly trusted had failed her; the only man she had ever known to whom she could point and say with expert knowledge, “He is a gentleman, in his heart he is a gentleman,” had betrayed her, publicly, grossly, and shamelessly.”

Jean Louise then has a dream about her old family maid, Calpurnia, who Jean sees as the closest thing to a mother she’s ever had. As Jean Louise has breakfast with her father, they learn that Calpurnia’s grandson killed a drunk pedestrian the previous evening, while speeding in his car. Atticus agrees to take his case in order to prevent the NAACP from becoming involved. (A glimmer into the TKAM Atticus we all know and love?) Jean Louise decides to visit Calpurnia. However, despite being treated politely, she was cold with her, leaving Jean Louise devastated. 

The fact that Jean Louise saw her father at this meeting eats away at Jean Louise. She decides to ask her Uncle Jack about it, whilst lunching one day. He tries to explain to her that Atticus hasn’t become a racist or changed his views, but he is trying to slow federal government intervention into state politics. Her uncle lectures her on the complexity of history, race and politics in the South. He tries to get Jean Louise to come to a conclusion, at which at this stage, she struggles to comprehend. 

“Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends.” “That’s odd, isn’t it?”

Jean Louise decides she needs to see her father, and heads towards the law office. Instead, she finds Henry. They go out for a coffee. Jean Louise, rather honestly, informs him that she doesn’t love him and will never marry him. Aunt Alexandra is also quite opinionated regarding Jean Louise’s choice of future husband. She screams at Henry with disgust about seeing him and her father at the council meeting. Henry tries to explain that sometimes people have to do things that they don’t really want to do. Jean Louise screams that she could never live or love a hypocrite, only to notice that Atticus is standing behind them, smiling. 

Henry leaves and Jean Louise goes into her father’s office. Atticus argues that the Negroes of the South are not ready for full civil rights, and the Supreme Court’s decision was unconstitutional and irresponsible. Jean Louise tries to comprehend, and shows agreement that the South is not ready to be dully integrated, commenting on how the court was pushed into a corner by the NAACP and had to act. Jean Louise is confused and devastated by her father’s position, as they are the opposite to everything he has ever taught her. 

Jean Louise flees the office and returns home to pack her things. As she is about to leave, her Uncle Jack comes home and tells her to think of all the things that have happened over the past two days and how she has processed them. When she claims she can no stand them, he tells her that it is bearable because she has become her own person now. He shows her that at one point she had fastened her conscience to her father’s, assuming that her answers would always be his answers. He informs her that Atticus was letting her break her idols so that he could reduce him to the status of a human being. 

“What would Atticus do?” passed through her unconscious; she never realized what made her dig in her feet and stand firm whenever she did was her father; that whatever was decent and of good report in her character was put there by her father; she did not know that she worshiped him.” 

Jean Louise returns to the office and makes a date with Henry for that evening. I enjoyed the development of their relationship throughout this novel. Jean Louise admits that Maycomb has taught him that’s that she’s missed out on being in New York. Then, she goes to apologise to her father, only to be told that he is proud of her. Atticus wanted his daughter to stand for what she thought was right. Jean Louise admits that she didn’t want her world disturbed, but in this process, was crushing the man who was trying to preserve it for her. Jean Louise admits her love for him and follows him to his car. She silently welcomes him to the human race, seeing him as just a man for the first time. 

I really enjoyed reading this book. It’s what I would describe as a challenging book. It’s also journey through life as a young adult reflecting back onto their childhood. It challenges all our previous preconceptions and thoughts. The father/daughter relationship for me, is incredibly realistic. I’m also only a year younger than Jean Louise in this novel, so I can relate to her feelings well. Most girls have their fathers as an idol, I sure know I do. The family relationships are well developed and poignant. The loss of Jem meant that we see Jean Louise in her head more. The questioning aloud replaced by flashbacks and her own inner thoughts. 

My heart ached for Jean Louise throughout this novel. It’s a process of life realising that times, people, places all change. The critics are divided about this novel, but I’m glad I read it. Will it replace TKAM? No. Does it ‘tarnish’ the reputation of TKAM? I don’t think so. Should Lee’s writing style be respected and praised? Yes, absolutely. This book is well worth a read. For me, it sits proudly on my bookshelf next to TKAM. 

“Every man’s island, Jean Louise, every man’s watchman, is his conscience. There is no such thing as a collective conscious.” 

Big love x

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Filed under American Literature, Book review, Literature, New Books

Present From The Postman – Go Set A Watchman 

So, today I received my highly anticipated and eagerly awaited copy of Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman. 

I’ve been patient and good, I haven’t read the first chapter that has surfaced the internet. I want to experience the novel as a whole. I’ve waited this long, like the rest of us, so I can wait to read it as a whole piece. 

As I’m sure you’re all aware, there’s been a huge amount of press attention over the past few days, both positive and some quite critical responses. I must admit the snippets I have read have worried me. I adore Atticus Finch. He is a character I grew up with, one I respected and admired. What if my impression of him changes? Can he really have changed and become this ‘awful’ character I’ve heard about in some reports? Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see exactly what the novel teaches us. 

I’ve decided to read this book as a stand alone novel, or try to at least. I feel this could bring about some difficulties (I’m an avid Mockingbird fan after all). But, I don’t want to write off the novel before even reading it and basing this on speculation in the press. 

What do you think? Should To Kill A Mockingbird fans be worried? I’ll review this as soon as I’ve read it (like everyone else!) 

Big love x 

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They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? – Horace McCoy 

  

I first read this story when I was at university studying an American Fiction of the 1930s module. It shocked me to the core. It still does today. It is a snapshot into life in America during the Great Depression when people were desperate to make it to the big screen, to Hollywood. It’s a tragic, realistic story. 

The narrator, Robert Syverten is a naive, young man from Hollywood who dreams of being a film director. The story opens with his sentencing for murder. The girl in question is called Gloria Beatty, quite possibly one of the more depressing and depressed characters I’ve ever come across. She repeats throughout how she wishes she was dead. This story of how he knows her is intercut after every chapter with short comments from the judge. The font gets larger as the story progresses. It ends with “May God have mercy on your soul.”

Robert meets Gloria when they both have failed to become extras for Central. (The only way to be on the big screen.) She persuades him into taking part in a marathon dance contest. She is adamant that this is the way to be noticed by studio producers and movie stars. 

Robert meets Gloria on a morning when they have both failed to get parts as extras, with each feeling bitter. ‘Let’s go and sit and hate a bunch of people.’ Like Robert, she is struggling to find work in Hollywood. Gloria and Robert enter the dance contest, which is held at a large amusement pier on the beach, somewhere near Hollywood. Naively they enter thinking they could win and really make it. 

Gloria has every reason to be repetitive in her wishes to die. Her parents are dead, she ran away from a farm in Dallas where her uncle regularly made passes at her, she tried to commit suicide, failed, then ran away to Hollywood. She’s not a beautiful character, being described as plain looking and unlikely to ever find work as an actress. She tells Robert that she does not have the courage to kill herself. “It’s perculiar to me that everyone pays so much attention to living and so little to dying. Why are these high-powered scientists always screwing around trying to prolong life instead of finding pleasant ways to end it?” 

The promotors are desperate to increase attendance at the contest, as this will help make them money. They publicise the arrest of a contestant for murder, stage elimination races every evening and a even a marriage. However the couple due to be married should have been eliminated, but it’s fixed so they don’t. 

Two and three weeks pass and the crowds increase as newspapers cover the contest. Some couples receive sponsorships from local businesses, giving them new clothes and shoes. We are introduced to a lady called Mrs Layden. She attends every evening to watch her favourite couple, Robert and Gloria. She also gets them a sponsorship from a local business. However, she doesn’t have a good impression of Gloria, saying “She’s an evil person and she’ll wreck your life.”

The number of couples that break down physically and drop out increase. The crowd cheers and takes a sharp intake of breath whenever someone falls or trips in the race. Robert is consumed with claustrophobia and repeats his desire to be outside and to see the sun. Gloria too is starting to show signs of struggling. There are a couple of occasions where they narrowly miss out on being disqualified. Robert starts to tire of how bitter Gloria is, saying “Sometimes I’m sorry I ever met you. I don’t like to say a thing like that, but it’s the true. Before I met you I didn’t know what it was to be around gloomy people.”

After 879 hours of dancing, with 20 couples left, the contest is shut down when there is a murder in the dance hall’s bar. Unfortunately, a stray bullet from the shooting hits and kills Mrs Layden. The promotors decide to end the competition and give each dancer left $50 for their efforts. It is believed they would have been closed down anyway, after opposition arriving before. 

Robert and Gloria go outside for the first time in five weeks and sit looking out at the ocean. Gloria takes out a pistol and asks Robert to shoot her. He does. There doesn’t seem to be much a fight or moral dilemma regarding this choice. He reverts back to a memory of when his grandfather shot his beloved horse after she broke her leg. The police push Robert to answer why he shot Gloria. The fact that she asked him to caused them to mock him. “They shoot horses, don’t they?”

American readers of the 1930s were not impressed with this book one bit. Sales were low. It was, however, read in the existentialist circles of France. McCoy’s story here was one of many to be published during this time showing the Great Depression and its effect on people at that time. 

It’s a grim and gory tale, yet it’s one that is physically impossible to put down. It  is short yet packed with drama, tragedy and desperation. A must read for anyone interested in American and/or Existentilist literature. 

BL x

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To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

 

The first time I read this book was 10 years ago when I was studying for my GCSEs. I remember having to perform the courtroom scene for a speaking and listening assessment. It feels like yesterday! I can remember how it made me feel. It opened my eyes and my heart. I love this book – I didn’t think I could love it more, but ten years down the line it shows me that there’s more I understand in this book now, thus strengthening my love for it. I genuinely don’t understand why it has been taken off all the exam boards reading lists! 

I’ve told the students in my class about this book, about how it changed me and started something special in my life – the love of reading. Slowly but surely my copy of the text is making its way around school, even to the most unsuspecting of characters who claim they “never read.”

With the highly anticipated ‘Go Set A Watchman’ being published this summer, I wanted to read this again in preparation. (Can not wait for this by the way!)

To Kill A Mockingbird is set in the Deep South of America during the 1930s with the narrator being a little girl, Scout. By having a child narrator we get to learn with her and understand the world as she does. The novel deals with the emotive portrayal of race and prejudice. Filled with morals and the teaching of many life lessons through Atticus, this novel succeeds in portraying a specific time and place as well as how good can triumph over evil. The book teaches that prejudice must be met, fought and overcome no matter how difficult it may be. 

Scout Finch lives with her older brother Jem and her widowed lawyer father Atticus. It’s summertime and Jem and Scout are happily playing (a reoccurring image throughout the book), they make new friends and stumble across Boo Radley. Boo lives in a neighbouring house and yet is never seen. However, there are a number of rumours regarding him (such as a murderer and a child stealer). Atticus always reminds them to see the world through other people’s eyes. “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” Still as true today as it was 55 years ago when this book was written. 

Scout struggles, but perseveres eventually to try and live life using the advice from her father. He is a model father, and uses childlike terms to help Scout understand what her father believes and the sole principle that he has to live his life. 

Then, we meet Tom Robinson, a black man, who has been accused of raping a white woman. Atticus takes on the case of defending him, despite the fact that this causes problems for him and his family in terms of the actions of the community around them. The community, largely white, are incredibly racist and disagree with Atticus. And yet, “I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.” 

The trial takes up the majority of the book and as a reader I went through a range of emotions. I feel saddened that people could do anything like that, that people could dislike someone so much because of their skin colour, or tell lies to show who has the power in the community. I would like to think that today things have changed but this book, 55 years later, still makes me question modern society. 

Atticus proves that Tom is not guilty, and that the woman seduced him. As her father finds out they twist the story as he was outraged that she wanted to try and sleep with a black man. The evidence was overwhelming in support of Tom but the white jury still condemn him to prison. He is later killed as he tries to escape. The woman’s father, furious about being disgraced in court, follows Scout and Jem home one evening and tries to harm them. However Boo, disarms him and kills him dead. 

Boo is revealed for who he really is and boy is he great! Scout learns from Tom and Boo that it is better and more important to see people for who they really are, and now for how others see them. Another reason why this novel is timeless. 

Boo and the mockingbirds are linked. “Remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy . . . but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” Like the innocent mockingbird, Boo embodies that same trait. He doesn’t harm anyone, he just protects. Yet he has been damaged by his abusive father. The is just one of the clever metaphors that run through the novel. 

This novel is courageous, powerful, evocative, emotional. Atticus is inspirational. We all need someone like that in our lives – someone who believes that gVood will beat evil and that racism is unacceptable. He is the voice of moral consciousness in an age when the novel was written and it represented the hopes and dreams of those who wanted to end racism and segregation. Such a beautiful book. The whole world needs to read this. Now. 

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