“How to Tell a True War Story” by Tim O’Brien is not a story in the traditional sense. It does not follow a straight, chronological path from start to finish. Rather, it is a collection of small stories interspersed with instructions about “true” war stories.
The story opens with the words,’ “This is true.” The narrator then goes on to tell the story of his friend Rat Kiley, who writes a letter to the sister of his buddy who had been killed a week earlier. It is a long, heartfelt letter. He waits for two months for a reply to the letter, but the sister never writes back.
The story then shifts to commentary. “A true war story is never moral,” the narrator instructs. The narrator asks the reader to “listen to Rat” as he spews obscenity, as, according to the narrator, a true war story is committed to “obscenity and evil.”
In the next section, the narrator reveals that Curt . . . Read More
Rivera’s “The Harvest” is a brief story, covering in some editions no more than three pages. However, springing up from this spare narrative are the archetypal themes of initiation and search, and one archetypal character, that of the Wise Old Man. These structural patterns are archetypal in the sense that they recur in many different myths and literatures of the world and seem to reflect universal human desires and life processes. Since the most prominent of these themes in “The Harvest” is that of initiation, the story can be classified as an initiation story.
The term “initiation” was originally employed by anthropologists to describe the rituals used in primitive societies to mark the passage from boyhood to manhood. Such rituals might include a period of seclusion, an ordeal involving the endurance of physical pain, or the killing of a wild animal. There may be ceremonies, feasts, and dances, all with the purpose of . . . Read More
Chicano Migrant Workers
Migrant workers are those who are employed on a temporary, often seasonal basis and who come from a community, state, or nation other than where they are temporarily employed. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the majority of migrant farm workers in the United States were recent immigrants from Asia or Europe, but with the growth of the sugar beet, fruit and vegetable, and cotton industries in the early twentieth century, the number of Mexican and Mexican American migrant workers rapidly increased. Each spring they would travel from Texas to the north central, mountain, and Pacific Coast states. At the end of the season, they would return to Mexico or towns on the Mexican border.
Rivera’s parents were part of this migration of Mexican Americans north. He recalled that one of his earliest memories was of waking up in a farm in northern Minnesota where his parents and relatives worked in the beet . . . Read More
In his introduction to “The Harvest,” Julian Olivares quotes from an unpublished manuscript in which Rivera commented on the construction of a short story: “The conflict or problem of each story is what interests us as a story. The more intriguing the conflict, the more the story will interest the reader.” This, says Rivera, is because every reader has a natural desire to find out how the conflict is resolved. In “The Harvest,” the interest is generated by the problem, or mystery, of exactly what Don Trine does when he goes off on his walks. The development of the mystery dictates the structure of the story, which proceeds in alternating sections of narration and dialogue. With each section, as the youngsters continue to speculate about what Trine does, the reader’s interest in the mystery grows. It is only in the last section, which is longer than all the others, that the mystery is . . . Read More
The young boys who speculate about Don Trine have a limited, materialistic vision of life. Although they work on the land, they have no real connection to it. This may be understandable since they are migrant workers often on the move, but it is clear that they can conceive value only in terms of money. A man like Trine who goes off in secret must be hiding money. Perhaps the attitude of the youngsters reflects the hard and impoverished life led by Mexican American migrant workers. As low-paid workers without many material resources, they see the accumulation of money as the principal goal of life. Although their ethnic heritage is Mexican, they live in the United States, the most abundant culture in the world from a materialistic point of view, and they have acquired its values. Acquiring these values has come at the expense of a true relationship with and understanding of nature and its cycles. At the end of the story, one of the . . . Read More
“The Harvest” is divided into seven short sections. It is set somewhere in the Midwest at the end of September and the beginning of October. The unnamed narrator, a migrant farm worker, thinks this is the best time of year because the work is nearly over and he and his fellow workers will soon be able to return to Texas. Then the main character, Don Trine, is introduced. He walks through the fields every afternoon, and he prefers to do this alone, becoming angry if anyone tries to accompany him.
The next section is a dialogue between a group of unnamed workers, who work alongside Don Trine. They discuss the possible reasons for Trine’s walks, which puzzle them. One says that it is Trine’s business what he does; another thinks it is strange that he walks alone.
Next, the narrator reports on how the rumors about Trine spread. Some of his fellow workers have tried to spy on him, but he would get wise to what was happening and turn around . . . Read More
Written in 1968, Grace Ogot’s short story “The Green Leaves” takes place over the course of one night and the following morning. Yet within this short time frame, Ogot effectively illustrates the negative effects of colonialism on indigenous people in East Africa. She does this by developing a number of different conflicts that are both internal, as seen in Nyagar’s conflicted emotions, and external, as rendered in the verbal exchanges between the European police officer, the clan leader, Olielo, and Nyamundhe, Nyagar’ s wife. Ogot uses third-person omniscient point of view as a method of revealing the clan’s vulnerability to colonization due to deteriorating communal values. What were once beliefs and values that they assumed to share are now in flux. These changes disrupt the clan and create conflicts among them. Ultimately, “The Green Leaves” is an indictment of the British colonial period in Kenya that divided communities and . . . Read More
When discussing the writing of Ogot, it is difficult to separate her work from its historical and cultural contexts, particularly its precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial contexts. At the time of writing “The Green Leaves” in the early 1960s, Kenya had just achieved independence from British colonialism. The road to independence was tortuous and extremely violent. Beginning in the 1920s with the demand for labor and land reform, it carried through to the 1950s, when violence between nationalist groups and white settlers and police became more frequent. As J. Roger Kurtz notes in the historical context to Majorie Oludhe Macgoye’s novel Coming to Birth, during the State of Emergency that the British enforced in Kenya during the 1950s, nearly 15,000 native Kenyans died in the struggle for independence. Therefore, the significance of these struggles was not lost on the literary generation coming of age in newly formed African nations such as Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, . . . Read More
First and foremost, Ogot has a direct and precise style that does not lack in dramatic action. Her storytelling abilities are directly influenced by stories her grandmother told her while growing up in western Kenya. Thus, not only does she rely on myths and legends of the Luo people from whom she is descended, but she also uses traditional elements of oral storytelling in her work. One can see this most clearly in her use of direct rather than metaphoric or figurative language. Her rich descriptions bring her stories to life, and her narrative pacing create suspense and excitement. The beginning of the story is most memorable for its ability to get the reader quickly involved in the action surrounding the pursuit of the cattle thieves.
Ogot is also known for incorporating Luo rituals into her stories. For example, in “The Green Leaves,” she describes Nyagar taking traditional medicine to calm his nerves . . . Read More
Traditional Life versus Modernization
The major conflict of the story revolves around the traditional ways of Nyagar’s clan as represented by the clan leader, Olielo, and by Nyamundhe, both of whom defy the condescending views of the European policeman who epitomizes the rational, modern subject in his need to charge one individual with the murder of the supposed thief and then subsequently, after the discovery of Nyagar under the leaves, to take the body away to do an autopsy rather than respect the death rituals of the clan. The differing rules and regulations that structure Luo and Western societies regarding death and justice result not only in misunderstanding between the clan members and the policeman but also contribute to the attitude of superiority of the European policeman when he claims, “How many times have I told you that you must abandon this savage custom of butchering one another?” This form of cultural . . . Read More