Bewildering Stories

Challenge 371 Response

by Arnold Hollander
and Don Webb

to Challenge 371...

In Marina J. Neary’s “What I Remember About Gena”:

  1. Who might Gena be?
  2. What detail indicates that the narrator in the poem might be a girl?

In "What I Remember About Gena,” Gena is the mother of the narrator.

You may well be right, Arnie; I’d think so, too. But what might give us that impression? The poem mentions a father but says nothing about a mother. Maybe Gena is an aunt, or a family friend.

I guessed “playing with colored buttons” indicated the narrator was a she.

Oh I dunno; I played with colored buttons when I was a kid, and I wasn’t a girl. The sole clue in the poem that I can see: a boy would wear a paper hat; only a girl would wear a “tiara.”

The coldness of the poem, its lack of emotion I found profoundly moving, seeing the child traumatized by the actions of her parents. That is an interesting way to actually show emotion.

It’s the proverbial black cat in the coal cellar at midnight. Can we be sure the child is actually being “traumatized”? The only emotion the child expresses is fear, and that’s mentioned in passing: the child is just reminding herself to watch out for the adults’ feet while she’s playing on the floor.

The image of being squashed like a cigarette box would seem to denote neglect, but it doesn’t happen. Rather: “Gena pulled me up by the ear.” Ouch! But is that good or bad? What’s the result? “And the boys showered me with confetti.” That’s good.

The poem does not tell us what the child thinks; we see the child’s experience through our own eyes. The poem thereby creates a vacuum that sucks emotion out of the reader. Therefore, if the poem has any meaning at all, it’s one that the reader brings to it. The poem tells us more about ourselves than it does about the child... or Gena.

Will Gray’s “I’m Just a Villain” is told largely in criminal slang. What makes the specialized vocabulary easy to decode?

The language is easy to decode, for the most part, because the tale involves a jewel robbery and the English terms can be substituted by American ones. By the way, I loved the story.

Yes, it’s a fun story. And you don’t even have to know American criminal slang in order to understand it: just substitute normal terms. The context makes everything clear. Thus, “porridge,” for example, cannot possibly refer to food in the story; it must refer to jail time.

Does R D Larson’s “Summahtime Woes” reflect the speech of any particular ethnic group? Click here for a hint. Why might the poem parody a “corn-pone” accent?

Larson’s poem evokes the language of a black farm worker, sharecropper, picker and I do believe it is a parody since the terms used do not seem authentic, but I have limited knowledge of that from the literature I’ve read.

Arnie, you really should have clicked on “Click here for a hint”! It would have told you that speech is no indication of ethnicity.

Senator Harry Reid once said he favored his fellow senator Barack Obama as a presidential candidate because he didn’t “talk like a Negro” or words to that effect. Senator Reid’s word choice is so old-fashioned that it’s considered impolite, but it’s also complete nonsense. President Obama doesn’t talk like a person of any color; he talks like himself, just as everybody else does.

Everyone has an accent, and it’s entirely cultural. President Obama’s is probably pure Chicago. If you’d been raised in China, Arnie, you’d have a Chinese accent. Would that make you Chinese? Click here for a hint.

Back to the cotton fields or, more accurately, tobacco plantations. Shortly after moving to upstate New York, I once telephoned a lady to ask about renting an apartment. She sniffed, “I’m sorry, but we don’t rent to black people.”

I laughed. “I’m from North Carolina. And people tell me I’m not black. But thank you for the compliment.” And I hung up.

Proof enough for you, Arnie?

And why might the poem have been written in “accent”? I have no idea. Probably for the fun of it.

Don

Copyright © 2010 by Arnold Hollander
and Bewildering Stories

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