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Character and Setting in a Story by Ha Jin

Presentation Notes for Approaching English Literature, week 2
by

Jeff Clapp

on 19 September 2013

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Transcript of Character and Setting in a Story by Ha Jin

Interpretation shows that there is much more under the surface!
Tip of the Iceberg:
The Characters and Settings of Ha Jin's short story "In Broad Daylight"

Interpreting Characterization 2: Mu Ying
Interpreting Characterization 1: White Cat
Interpreting Characterization 3:
The Red Guards
Who is Ha Jin?
He is a real person you can write email to: xjin@bu.edu
He was born in China in 1956, which makes him 57 years old now
He was in the People's Liberation Army
He went to the United States in 1986 to study English literature
He has become one of the most famous Chinese novelists writing in English, mostly because of the novel WAITING, published in 1990.
Explanation describes the top of the iceberg.
What is a short story?
There have always been stories which are short, including myths, fables, and parables.
But when we use the phrase "short story" today, we are talking about a specific type of written fiction.
In fact, the "short story" is a "genre."
Stories that are short:
PLAYS
FICTION

POETRY

Genres of English Literature
Short Stories
We'll talk about short stories now!
Novels
We'll talk about novels later.
We'll talk about plays later.
We'll talk about poetry later.
Genres of English Fiction
What are the characteristics of the short story genre?
Formal characteristics of the short story
Short enough to read in one sitting
Focused on a small number of characters, settings, and events
Begins "in medias res"
Depicts a single perspective
Many of these ideas were first clearly
described by Edgar Allan Poe,
a nineteenth-century American writer
Historical characteristics of the short story genre
Established in the nineteenth century

Based on widespread literacy
Produced for consumption in magazines and journals
Written to sell: so, like today's movies, often very dramatic, even violent.
Like "In Broad Daylight."
Understanding Characters
Understanding Settings
"Characters" are the people in a story.
Authors like Ha Jin use "characterization"
to create characters.
Major Characters
Hero and Villain
Protagonist and Antagonist
The Antihero
Traditionally, stories have one central good character, and one central bad character. They hate each other and the good character always wins.
Often in short stories, no characters will be clearly good or bad, even if they conflict with one another. No telling who will win. So these terms are better.
In recent fiction, sometimes the main character is just bad.
Minor Characters
Minor characters
Stock characters
The Foil
The minor characters in a work of fiction are the people who enter the story, but who may not have names, and who may not appear again.
Many minor characters are easily recognized, standardized types.
When an author uses a minor character to help show us something about a major character, the minor character is called a "foil."
Major or Minor?
Round versus Flat
If we have so little information about a character that we can only look at him or her in one way, that character is flat.
Every new piece of information about a character makes him or her a little more round.
Static Versus Dynamic
If a character changes in a short story, the character is dynamic. If at the end of the story they haven't changed, the character is static.
Round + Dynamic = Major
Flat + Static = Minor
Two Types of Characterization
Direct Characterization
Indirect Characterization
If the narrator of a story simply tells you about a character,
the characterization is direct.
If the narrator of a story reveals details about a character which help you form a picture of a character, the characterization is indirect.
Types of Indirect Characterization
1) Name
2) Appearance
3) Associated objects and places
4) Actions
5) Thoughts and speeches
6) Opinions of other characters
So ALL the information an author gives us about a character
makes up that character's CHARACTERIZATION.
Ha Jin's Settings
Ha Jin's Characters
White Cat
Bare Hips
Old Whore/Mu Ying
Grandma
hundreds of children and grown-ups
Red Guards
Meng Su
tall young leader of Red Guards
Big Shrimp
a young man in glasses
a slim woman red guard
a middle-aged man
several middle-aged men
a stout young fellow
a farmer
a small fat girl
a few farmers
a woman Red Guard with a huge Mao badge
boys from East Street
Cross Eyes
White Cat's house
White Cat's street
Mu's street, Eternal Way
West Street
playground at White Mansion
every street
east of the the train station
the station
the bus stop
In a Chinese village
during the
Cultural Revolution

"Settings" are the times and places represented in a story.
Settings can act almost like characters, shaping the experiences of the story's protagonist.

Authors choose times and places they want to write about. But they also choose times and places which help them tell their stories.
Varieties of Setting
Time
Place
Clock time and historical time
Particular versus general
Are hours or years more important to the story?
Morning or 9:33AM? 1592 or "the Renaissance"?
Vivid versus Vague
Is the temporal setting only part of the background? Or is it crucial to understanding the story?
Physical location versus political/historical location
Are rooms or nations more important?
Physical walls or geographical borders?
Particular versus General
The third bedroom on the left or "a room"?
Saarbruecken, Germany or Europe?
Vivid versus Vague
Is the physical setting only part of the background?
Or is it crucial to understanding the story?
Interpreting Settings 1: Streets
Interpreting Setting 2: Breeze and Heat
Interpreting Setting 3: Territory
White Cat's Characterization
Jin shows that although White Cat is a little boy who is about to have an important experience--one which he is old enough to understand.
A little boy:
"rushed"
"a wooden scimitar"
"charged"
"waving our wooden weapons"
A young man:
"almost empty"
"tell her what was going on"
Mu Ying's Characterization
The description of Mu Ying reveals her to be a beautiful woman even though she is probably guilty of the crimes of which she is accused.
More importantly, though, Mu Ying's characterization shows us how his experience will change White Cat during the day. His own perceptions shift him away from those of on authorities like his grandmother.
The Red Guards' Characterization
These minor characters are each given one or two pieces of direct characterization.
The overall effect is of the characters' frightening power, and their single-minded sense of the justice of their actions.
These characterizations should be contrasted with the much fuller,
more complex description of Mu Ying.

Setting a story in the streets
From the first paragraph, Ha Jin has contrasted private places, like houses, with public ones, like streets and courtyards.
The emphasis on streets dramatizes how Mu Ying's private life has been forcibly brought out into the public.
Also, White Cat's familiarity with the streets of his village emphasizes how small and tightly-knit his community was before the arrival of the Red Guards.
One Moment
Settings are not always fully described. Here two vague ideas about setting help develop the story.
The BREEZE which blows Mu's hair away probably represents the passing of time, which will both regrow Mu's hair and erase the crowd's memory of this day. White Cat will not forget.
The HEAT of the day primarily justifies the observation that the crowd smells bad. Here setting acts almost a FOIL to develop characterization.
The Territory of the Children Living There
This is one of the most important paragraphs of the story, because here the local setting--the streets of a village--is directly related to the historical and political setting: China during the Cultural Revolution.
The setting--and the cruel actions of the territorial children--are subtly, but directly, used to introduce the Red Guards, who are mentioned here for the first time in the story.
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