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Analyzing Fiction


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Elements and themes in fiction.

Elements

Narrator – Writers may choose to have a character narrate a story or narrate the story themselves, as an omniscient narrator. Sometimes the narrator is unidentifiable. Sometimes the entire story is told from everything a specific character says, hears, thinks, smells, feels and senses. The tense may be present or past (not both). The latter appears when the story is told by a voice who is not a character in the story. This is usually in third person past tense. The omniscient voice allows the reader to learn things that are not within the five senses of major characters. The narrator and the point of view are often discussed together.

Point of View – First person, second person, third person? Present tense, past tense? Explain why you think the author chose that point of view.

Plot is the string of events or scenes that are revealed in the narrative. Think of this as the "who did what to whom" part of the story. Plots can be significant in themselves since chances are pretty good that some action in the story will relate to your main idea regardless of what that element or theme is. Plots can also allow you to make connections between the story you’re interpreting and some other stories, and those connections might be useful in your interpretation. Plot can have similarities to other stories, all having conventional or easily recognizable plots.

Story line – All characters and stories have a story line. For a story, this is also called the plot. For characters, each has a story line that is unique to that character. The story line brings the character into conflict with other characters or other events.

Character refers, in one definition, to the qualities assigned to the individual figures in the plot. Another definition is a reference to a figure in the plot, e.g., a character – protagonist, antagonist, or other character. Consider why the author assigns certain qualities (characteristics) to a character or characters and how any such qualities might relate to your topic. Whatever you do, don't forget that the word character has some eighteen definitions and usages. Use it correctly.

Protagonist – Usually the good character who shows good intent and traits.

Antagonist – Usually the bad character who shows bad or evil intent that conflicts with others.

Major character – Character important to the story and plays a major role in it.

Minor character – Character who plays a lesser or incidental role in the story.

Dialogue and monologue – Dialogue is comprised of the words created by the author to depict two or more characters speaking. Monologue is present when a character is speaking to himself/herself, thinking or dreaming.

Setting is the context in which all of the actions take place. What is the time period, the location, the time of day, the season, the weather, the type of room or building? What is the general mood, and who is present? All of these elements can reflect on the story’s events, and though the setting of a story tends to be less conspicuous than plot and character, setting still colors everything that’s said and done within its context.

Scene is a series of paragraphs or bits of dialogue that make up a conflict or event of some sort. A conflict need not be violent or romantic. It may be a series of events and dialogue that allow a character to recall something vital, or discover some clue. Scenes often include setting, characters, dialogue, monologue, and conflict. A chapter may have one or twenty scenes.

Conflict – A conflict in a story is a set of facts that come together to create suspense and a meeting of characters who have inconsistent or contradictory motives, plans, goals, or intent. A conflict may be shown in one or more scenes and involve more than two characters. It may be shown in dialogue or action.

Climax – The point at which the story culminates. The protagonist and antagonist meet in conflict and one wins (so to speak). Most fiction builds suspense with many conflicts in many scenes up to the climax of the story.

Themes – Concepts using cultural issues, assumptions, and values

The O.E.D. provides these related definitions of theme:

  1. The subject of discourse, discussion, conversation, meditation, or composition; a topic;
  2. A subject treated by action (instead of by discourse in the text, etc.); hence, that which is the cause of or for specified action, circumstance, or feeling; matter, subject;
  3. That which is the subject of thought;
  4. The text of a sermon; a proposition to be discussed;
  5. An exercise written on a given subject, esp. a school essay; an exercise in translation.

SAMPLE OF A FICTION ESSAY USING SCHOLARLY SOURCES IN SUPPORT OF DISCUSSION.

GEW101 – Section #

Prof. W. Dutton

[dated]

Devoted Souls

In the novel, In the Time of the Butterflies, author Julia Alvarez created a fictional story based upon the lives of the four Mirabal sisters. The four sisters,

protagonists Patria, Minerva, Maria Teresa, and Dedé, suffered from oppression (an uncomfortable or distressing sense of constriction) (www.oed.com), by their

dictator, antagonist Trujillo, and fought until the end of their lives for their rights as women and citizens of the Dominican Republic. Dedé, the only sister who

survived, escaped Trujillo’s death trap because she stayed home while her three sisters left to visit their husbands whom Trujillo had put in jail. On their way

home from the jail, Trujillo had his men murder the three girls and their driver. Their courage and determination to overcome the oppression of women is what

makes the Mirabal sisters recognizable today. Alvarez created this fictional story based upon historical events under Trujillo’s regime (method or system of rule

or government) (www.oed.com), and the oppression endured by the Mirabal sisters. Although the tyranny of Trujillo resulted in the oppression of women in the

Dominican Republic up until his death in 1961, the sacrifice and resistance of the Mirabal sisters led to the development of women’s rights in the Dominican

Republic today.

Alvarez provided several examples of resistance against Trujillo through the use of the most educated Mirabal sister, Minerva. Alvarez created a scene in which

Minerva, Patria, Dedé and their father attended a party given by El Jefe (Trujillo) in celebration of Columbus discovering their island (Alvarez 93-102). Before El

Jefe even entered the party, Dedé silently warned Minerva not to drink anything given to her. In monologue created by Alvarez, Minerva explained,

Dedé catches my eye, smiling only after a lag of a second, for we have to seem pleased. She touches her glass and gives me the slightest nod. Don’t drink anything you are offered, the gesture reminds me. We’ve heard the stories. Young women drugged, then raped by El Jefe (Alvarez 95).

The importance of is that it describes how Trujillo took advantage of the women and treated them as if they were his own property, doing whatever he desired

with them. Later at the party, Minerva reluctantly found herself dancing with Trujillo. Alvarez created monologue for Minerva in which she thought, “El Jefe takes

my hand…He doesn’t wait for an answer, but pulls me to him. The smell of his cologne is overpowering…He holds me out in his arms, his eyes moving over my

body, exploring it rudely with his glances” (Alvarez 98). This scene was created to show Alvarez’s portrayal through Minerva of both the physical and verbal

resistance of Trujillo. The lesson that Alvarez taught through the use of this scene is that women in the Dominican Republic pseudo-complied with Trujillo’s

oppression to avoid prosecution.

Several of Trujillo’s actions and verbalizations were extremely inappropriate and insensitive and Alvarez used the scene at the dance to illustrate this. Dialogue

was created between Minerva an Trujillo while they danced in which Minerva asked Trujillo to remove his medals because they were hurting her. Minerva’s

monologue reads, “He yanks me by the wrist, thrusting his pelvis at me in a vulgar way, and I can see my hand in an endless slow motion rise…and come down

on the astonished, made-up face” (Alvarez 100). Alvarez created this scene to illustrate the physical harm that Trujillo implemented towards women during his

dictatorship. The resistance that Minerva showed towards Trujillo by slapping him is what began the imprisonments of their husbands and eventually lead to the

death of the majority of Minerva’s family.

Trujillo did not tolerate any resistance by women. Author Lauren Derby discussed the resistance by women to Trujillo in a journal articled titled, “The Dictator’s

Seduction: Gender and State Spectacle during the Trujillo Regime.” Derby wrote, “Trujillo’s power was based as much on the consumption of women through

sexual conquest as it was on the domination of enemies of state” (Derby 1113). This explicates the argument by Alvarez that oppressed women were able to

actively resist Trujillo by not giving in to his dominating control. By creating the scene in which Minerva slapped Trujillo, Alvarez clearly illustrated the resistance

that the Mirabal sisters sacrificed in order to withhold their femininity.

Trujillo treated women as if they were his property, and he used charm to trick them into believing he was a good person. Alvarez created a scene in which

Trujillo visited the school that Minerva attended. During his visit, Trujillo met a beautiful young girl named Lina, who was also a student. After Trujillo had invited

Lina to his house a couple of times, Minerva and the other girls eventually found out that Lina was pregnant. Alvarez created monologue in which Minerva said,

Lina Lovatón had gotten pregnant in the big house. Trujillo’s wife Doña María had found out and gone after her with a knife. So Trujillo shipped Lina off to a

mansion he’d bought for her in Miami where he knew she’d be safe. She lived all alone now, waiting for him to call her up. I guess there was a whole other

pretty girl now taking up his attention (Alvarez 23).

This scene was created to show the callousness of Trujillo towards women, including his own wife. Trujillo used women for his own personal pleasure and

disregarded the respect that women deserve not only under his regime, but as human beings. Alvarez used this scene to show the power that Trujillo had

against the resistance of the women that he attempted to seduce.

During his regime, Trujillo oppressed women and did not allow them to accomplish what seems routine today, such as continuing their education and becoming

lawyers. Alvarez created a scene in which Dedé reflected upon a memory of her mother and sister, Minerva. In her monologue, Dedé recalled, “For years

Minerva has been agitating to go to law school…Mama says she’s running around with the Perozo girl too much. ‘It’s about time we women had a voice in

running our country’” (Alvarez 10). The importance of this scene is to show how the women felt about being oppressed in the Dominican Republic. This

monologue provides evidence to show that women had little say in running their country, as well as few opportunities to continue their education. If women had

been given the opportunity to go to law school, their voices might actually have been heard, which was clearly unacceptable under Trujillo’s dictatorship.

Women were taken advantage of by Trujillo because they were too afraid to stand up to him because of their fears of his power. In a scene created by Alvarez,

Minerva and her parents meet with Trujillo in his office. During this scene, Trujillo and Minerva play a game of dice in order to determine whether or not Trujillo

will allow Minerva to attend law school. Alvarez created dialogue between Trujillo and Minerva in which Trujillo said, “’I’ll let you toss for the privilege. You win,

you get your wish. I win, I get mine’” (Alvarez 115). This implies Trujillo’s wish was to be able to do whatever he wanted with Minerva, both physically and

sexually. Alvarez created monologue in which Minerva thought, “I can guess what he wants” (Alvarez 115). It is evident that if Trujillo had won, he would have

done whatever he wanted with Minerva. The lesson that Alvarez taught through the use of this scene is that Trujillo treated women as if they were his to do with

however he wished.

Isabel Brown wrote a journal article entitled, “Historiography Metafiction in In the Time of the Butterflies,” in which she discussed the gross oppression of women

committed under Trujillo’s rule. Brown wrote, “The dictator sees women as property and maintains a machista perspective on the role of women in society”

(Brown 101). This supports the lesson taught by Alvarez that Trujillo oppressed women in such ways that they were his property and not to be respected. The

gambling scene was an example of the power that Trujillo could possess over women.

Alvarez created a scene in which Trujillo eventually agreed to let Minerva attend law school. However, when Minerva finally graduated law school, Trujillo refused

to give her the license to practice. To illustrate this, Alvarez created monologue for Maria Teresa in which she thought,

What a shock, then, when Minerva got handed the law degree, but not the license to practice. Here we all thought El Jefe had relented against our family and let Minerva enroll in law school. But really what he was planning all along was to let her study for five whole years only to render that degree useless in the end. How cruel! (Alvarez 138).

Alvarez created this scene to show how pitiless and deceitful Trujillo was to the people of the Dominican Republic, especially the women. Author Helen Safa

wrote a journal article called, “Women’s Social Movement in Latin America,” in which she described the changes of the role women have played in Latin

America’s labor force. She wrote, “There have been more marked occupational changes, including an increasing incorporation of women into the labor force”

(Safa 355). The importance of this quote is that it coincides with the idea that Alvarez created about Minerva attempting to become a lawyer. This presents an

opposition to the oppression of women that occurred during Trujillo’s regime by stating the growth that women have had in Latin America’s labor force over the

years. Alvarez created the scene in which Minerva was denied her license to practice law in order to demonstrate the heartless commonalities Trujillo committed

toward women.

Alvarez used the character of Maria Teresa to show a perspective of the Mirabal sisters through the use of a diary, or journal. Alvarez created a scene in which

Maria Teresa gave up the opportunity to free Minerva and herself from jail because she was not willing to sacrifice the life of the prison guard—who had become

her friend—for the freedom of her own life. In monologue that Alvarez created for Maria Teresa, Maria Teresa thought, “The second note with my story was

lodged further up in my braid…But right then and there, I decided not to drop the second note. I just couldn’t take a chance and hurt my friend” (Alvarez 252).

The importance of this scene is to show that women feared the consequences that Trujillo would have implemented if they had attempted to escape from his

confinement. Author Charlotte Rich wrote a journal article titled, “Talking Back to El Jefe: Genre, Polyphony, and Dialogic Resistance in Julia Alvarez’s In the

Time of the Butterflies,” in which she explains the consequences of attempting to report Trujillo. Rich wrote, “Trujillo will have the prison guards punished or

killed if abuse is reported” (Rich 171). This illuminates the severity of Trujillo’s punishments and the sacrifice that his prisoners had to consider in order to

redeem their freedom. This scene was created by Alvarez in order to illustrate that although Trujillo allowed his women prisoners visitation rights, the fear that

he imbedded within his prisoners was enough to prevent them from attempting to escape.

Alvarez created a scene in which Maria Teresa had stopped menstruating for three months. Although she was in jail and most of the other women there had

stopped their menstruation cycles as well, Maria Teresa feared what Trujillo would do if she was indeed pregnant. In monologue, Maria Teresa narrated,

I missed January, then February, and now most definitely March. I know almost everyone here has stopped menstruating. Delia says stress can do this to a woman…Still, this queasiness is all too familiar. If I am and the SIM find out, they’ll make me carry it to full term, then give it to some childless general’s wife like the story Magdalena told me. That would kill me (Alvarez 240).

This scene vividly describes the threat of death to oppressive women under the regime by Trujillo. His prisoners feared being pregnant because of what he would

do with their babies. Taking away a woman’s baby would be devastating to any mother, but Trujillo was so heartless as to be psychopathic. Author Catherine

Legrand wrote a journal article called “Informal Resistance on a Dominican Sugar Plantation During the Trujillo Dictatorship” in which she wrote, “Trujillo is

regarded as one of the most powerful and ruthless of the Caribbean dictators” (Legrand 559). This explicates that Trujillo was a cruel and merciless dictator who

treated the people of his country with little respect, as if they were his slaves. Trujillo was a powerful dictator who treated all people very poorly and treated the

women however he desired.

Trujillo’s regime resulted in agony, domination, defeat and death for many of the citizens of the Dominican Republic. Oppressed women struggled for their rights

and freedoms, but ultimately Trujillo utterly dominated his country while he was in control. The Mirabal sisters sacrificed their lives in an attempt to generate

change for women under Trujillo’s regime. Although they failed to find improvement during their own lifetime, the deaths of Minerva, Maria Teresa and Patria

were the beginning of a whole new lifestyle for women in the Dominican Republic.

Works Cited

Alvarez, Julia. In the Time of the Butterflies. New York: The Penguin Group, 1994.

Brown, I.Z., “Historiography Metafiction in In the Time of the Butterflies.” South Atlantic

Review, Vol. 64, No. 2 (Spring, 1999), pp. 98-112.

Derby, L., The Dictator’s Seduction: Gender and State Spectacle during the Trujillo Regime.

Callalo, Vol. 23, No. 3, Dominican Republic Literature and Culture (Summer, 2000) pp.

1112-1146.

Legrand, C. C., Informal Resistance on a Dominican Sugar Plantation During the Trujillo

Dictatorship. Vo. 75, No. 4, The Hispanic American Historical Review (Nov., 1995), pp. 555-596

"Oppression, n." Def. 1. The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford

University Press. 27 Apr. 2007 <http://dictionary.oed.com.ezproxy.csusm.edu/cgi/entry/00332871>.

"Regime, n." Def. 2a. The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford

University Press. 27 Apr. 2007 <http://dictionary.oed.com.ezproxy.csusm.edu/cgi/entry/50201208>.

Rich, C., Talking Back to El Jefe: Genre, Polyphony, and Dialogic Resistance in Julia Alvarez’s

“In the Time of the Butterflies.” MELUS, Vol. 27, No. 4, Varieties of the Ethic Experience (Winter, 2002) pp.165-182.

Safa, H. I., Gender and Society: Women’s Social Movements in Latin America. Vol. 4, No. 3,

Special Issue: Women and Development in the Third World (Sep., 1990), pp. 354-369.