Images and Imagery
Generally, images are defined as figures of speech that appeal to the senses of the reader. Therefore, there can be visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, taste, or kinesthetic images. By appealing to the readers’ senses, images help make the literature more immediate and visceral. Images often take the form of metaphors or similes, and are symbolic in nature.
Although Bobbie Ann Mason uses simple language in her stories, her images are nonetheless vivid and clear. Early in the story, she uses visual imagery to establish a clear contrast between the house Mary grew up in and the house her husband Stephen wants to buy. Mary says of the old homestead, ”I loved its stateliness, the way it rises up from the fields like a patch of mutant jimsonweeds. I’m fond of the old white wood siding, the sagging outbuildings.” When Stephen describes the house he has found, it sounds like anyone one of a hundred tract homes one would see in any suburb: “it’s a three-bedroom brick with a two-car garage, finished basement, dining alcove, patio …”
Mason contrasts concrete images of the natural world with abstract metaphors of the financial world. For example, she makes several references to the corn growing in the field in front of the house. Stephen, on the other hand, speaks in terms of liquid assets and maximizing their potential. The two images coalesce in Mary and Larry’s Monopoly game. Mary says,”I shuffle my paper money and it feels like dried corn shucks. I wonder if there is a new board game involving money market funds.”
Perhaps the most terrible—yet most important—image in the story is the rabbit in the road. Mason writes, ”In the other lane I suddenly see a rabbit move. It is hopping in place, the way runners will run in place. Its forelegs are frantically working, but its rear end has been smashed and it cannot get out of the road.” The image is disturbing to Mary, who experiences it as a “tape loop.” The image is also disturbing to the reader who realizes Mary’s identification with the rabbit.
Barbara Henning asserts that “When a scene ends in Mason’s work, it almost always ends with a focus on a specific image.” This is certainly true in “Residents and Transients.” The final scene of the story is of Brenda the cat, her eyes shining red and green in the porch light. Although readers are uncertain what Mary will decide, the after-image of the cat’s eyes is a haunting one.
Allusions are references to other works of literature, pop culture, historical events, or fictional or historical characters. Sometimes writers allude to music, drama, or television to give their works immediacy and cultural currency. Mason is noted for her use of allusions from popular culture. In In Country, for example, Sam and Emmett watch reruns of the television show M.A.S.H. and the characters from the television show almost seem to become characters in the novel. What is notable in ”Residents and Transients” is the absence of such allusions. Instead, Mason includes an important allusion to a famous poem by Dylan Thomas. The allusion is an important one for readers to grasp, because it reveals the heart of Mary’s anxiety.
In the poem, the poet recalls the days of his youth. “And I was green and carefree, famous among the barns / About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home …” Like the poet, Mary longs to return to the days of her childhood. Furthermore, Thomas reflects on the way youths do not care about time and change, although by the last stanza it is clear that he regrets both. As a youth, he did not care that he might ”wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.” This is, however, the concern of an adult. Likewise, Mason’s use of this allusion suggests that Mary herself has deep anxieties about the sale of her family farm, and that she is leaving the land childless, with no progeny of her own to take over the farm.
Ira Mark Milne (Editor), Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 8, Bobbie Ann Mason, Published by Thomson Gale, 2000.