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English Short Story Analysis

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Saigaurav Purushothaman

on 20 November 2013

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Transcript of English Short Story Analysis

English Short Story Analysis
"When I Lay My Burden Down"
Artwork Relationships
Both stories incorporate elements of racism. In "Poison", Harry insults Dr. Ganderbai with intolerant and racist slurs. He shows no respect to the man who offered his own time to help him. Then in "When I Lay My Burden Down", Momma is mocked by the three powhitetrash girls in her own store as she politely offers her services. However, in both stories, the characters overcome the racism and are tolerant and polite back to their offenders. This is relevant to the artwork on the way that the people of the French Colonies overcame the evils of slavery and abolished it.

Connections Between the Stories
"When I Lay My Burden Down" and "Poison" are interconnected stories which share a multitude of similarities.The stories present the concept of racial discrimination, and the importance of having tolerance when it comes to certain problems such as racism. In "When I Lay My Burden Down", Momma tolerated the racist Powhitetrash girls who frequently made fun of her because of her race. "Poison" presents racism and tolerance when Harry Pope tolerates Doctor Ganderbai while he needed his help even though he doctor was Indian, but when the problem was solved, Harry fired off racist insults to the Indian doctor. The doctor in return tolerated those insults by not taking them to heart.
During "When I Lay My Burden Down", despite the fact that momma and her family own a store and land that the Powhitetrash children live on, the girls treat momma with disrespect because she is black. An example of racial disrespect is shown in the following piece of text from the story: "They came finally to stand on the ground in front of Momma. At first they pretended seriousness. Then one of them wrapped her right arm in the crook of her left, pushed out her mouth, and started to hum. I realized that she was aping my grandmother. Another said ‘Naw, Helen, you ain't standing like her. This here's it.' Then she lifted her chest, folded her arms, and mocked that strange carriage that was Annie Henderson... I thought about the rifle behind the door, but I knew I'd never be able to hold it straight...she sang on no louder than before, but no softer either. No slower or faster." (Elements 360) This text shows the treatment of Grandmother Henderson and how the granddaughter wanted to take a violent approach to the discrimination and disrespect given to her grandmother. Grandmother continued to sing her songs and came out the victor by tolerating the girls' insults and winning without violence.
In "Poison", racism plays a large role in the plot. Harry Pope believes there is a dangerous krait(snake) asleep on his stomach under the blankets of his bed. Timber Woods comes home and finds Harry scared out of his wits. In order to help Harry, Timber calls Doctor Ganderbai, an Indian doctor, to the scene to help exterminate the snake. The doctor comes and they all put their racial prejudices aside because of Harry's dire situation. The story states, "Apart from the button there was nothing on his stomach. We pulled the sheet back faster then, and when we had uncovered his legs, and feet, we let the sheet drop over the end of the bed on to the floor." (Elements 88) At this moment Doctor Ganderbai removed the sheet and found no snake. The doctor believed that the snake had crawled into another crevice of the bed and was still dangerous, but when the snake was not found anywhere, Doctor Ganderbai questioned if there was even a snake to begin with. As soon as Doctor Ganderbai doubted Harry who is a white man, insults towards the doctor and his race went flying from Harry’s mouth. The text says, "'Are you telling me I'm a liar?’ he shouted. Ganderbai remained absolutely still, watching Harry. Harry took a pace forward on the bed and there was a shining look in his eyes. 'Why you dirty little Hindu sewer rat!"' (Elements 89) This shows how once the krait was found out to be nonexistent, Harry immediately turned against the doctor because Harry no longer need help from him. Harry began to lash out on the doctor with racist insults right after he had just trusted him with his life. This story shows how people sometimes treat others kindly with respect only if they need something from them such as help.
In "When I Lay My Burden Down" and in "Poison" racism and tolerance are the major points on which both stories are based off of. Both stories also have antagonistic characters who test the personality of the protagonists. In "When I Lay My Burden Down", Momma had to tolerate the Powhitetrash girls’ racial insults and their hostile comments regarding her differences. In "Poison", Harry only sanctions Doctor Ganderbai's help while he is in need himself, and as soon as the work is done, Harry scorns the doctor and calls him a "dirty little Hindu sewer rat." (Elements 89) Overall, racism is a sickening and repulsive fact of life; however, everyone must do their best to tolerate it to the greatest extent until it is hopefully one day eradicated.
Short Story Analysis Project
By: Saigaurav Purushothaman, Anthony Mazur, Maggie Howell, Cameron Wood
-Poison is a fiction story
-Roald Dahl is a famous children's author. He wrote popular books such as
The Gremlins
. He married Patricia Neal and began writing children's books because he made up stories for his five kids. (Eason)
-"Poison" is taken from his collection of short stories called "Someone Like You." (Eason)

Plot Summary
"Poison" takes place in India during the time of British rule, specifically in Harry Pope's bedroom in a bungalow. During British rule, there was high tension between the colonial British and the Indians. As a result of this tension, there was a high rate of racism and discrimination against the Indians. This adds to the significance of why the story took place in India. The conflict that was directly seen was between the snake and Harry. This could be an example of Man vs. Self or Man vs. Nature. From our point of view the conflict is man versus self(because the snake is a delusion) but to him it is man vs nature. The fear of having a snake on him most likely resulted from him having a bad dream. Another major conflict that arises is Harry’s racial mistreatment of Dr. Ganderbai in which he hurls racial slurs towards him. This can be an example of man vs man because is directly between these two men.The climax of the story is when the blanket is removed from Harry because the whole story lead up to whether or not there actually is a snake under the blanket.The resolution occurs when they see that there isn't a snake on Harry's stomach and that he was delusional the whole time. He insults the Indian doctor for doubting him and sarcastically asking him if there even was a snake to begin with. He hurls racial insults at the doctor, and the doctor finally leaves.

Character List and Descriptions
-Timber Woods:
Static because he doesn't change from the beginning to the end of the story. He helps Harry and the doctor by getting the supplies needed to get the snake off of Harry, but doesn't play a big role in the story. The characterization is Indirect because the story states " I switched off the headlamps of the car so the beam wouldn't swing in through the window of the side bedroom and wake Harry Pope." (Elements 81) From this you can gather that Timber is a considerate person. However, no direct description was given of Timber Woods.
-Harry Pope:
Static because he never learned a lesson during the story that caused him to change. Although at first he seemed kind and respectful, on the inside he had always been racist.
-Doctor Ganderbai:
static because he was kind and helpful all throughout the story, even when Harry insulted him. He worked very hard and spent a great deal of time making sure that Harry would be okay. He could potentially be dynamic due to the fact that he realized that people can be very cruel when they are no longer in need of help from you.

Theme Statement
There are many forms of poison, racism being the one produced by humans.
Diction and Imagery
There is an abundance of imagery in this selection a great
example being when Doctor Ganderbai is pouring the chloroform onto the mattress around Harry's body.... "He began to pull a little piece of the sheet out from under the mattress. He was working directly in line with Harry's stomach, about eighteen inches from it, and I watched his fingers as they tugged gently at the edge of the sheet. He worked so slowly it was almost impossible to discern any movement either in his fingers or in the sheet that was being pulled." (Elements 86) Roald Dahl makes a great effort to go into extreme detail to make you feel like you are right there in the room with Harry, Ganderbai, and Timber which really helps to build the suspense. This is also an example of the diction that Roald Dahl uses, he takes time throughout the story to make sure that you know exactly what's going on by always going in depth into the most suspenseful parts of the story. He uses specific words and word arrangements to add detail and create suspense.
Literary Devices
1.) "The question came so sharply it was like a small explosion in my ear." (Elements 84) This is an example of a simile; it states that the urgent question from Doctor Ganderbai was like a small explosion because of how loud it was. It compares the question to a loud bang using the word like. The significance to the story is that it shows how seriously krait bites were taken and how fatal the outcome could be if Harry were to be bitten.
2.) Situational irony was present in this story. One example being that Harry was afraid of a venomous snake when the only real poison in the story was his own racism. This irony adds a meaningful twist in the story which deepens the story’s overall message about racism.
3.) Another literary device found in this story was symbolism. Symbolism was present in the form of the krait which represented poison, the racist form of poison. Symbolism in this story was important because it allows the reader associate certain elements of the story with each other. In this case, the snake and its venom are associated with the evils of racism.

By: Roald Dahl
By: Maya Angelou
-Maya Angelou is a renowned poet, author, actress, educator, civil rights activist, and much, much more. She was brought up in a world that showered her with discrimination. She grew up with a family that had strong roots in African-American culture and faith. She wrote about her troubles with segregation and racism. (Mayaangelou.com)
-The short story is taken out of the novel I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Nexuslearning.net)
Plot Summary
The setting of the story is in the early to mid-1900's in Stamps, Arkansas (Southern United States). Most of the action takes place in Momma’s store.
The major conflict of the story is when the Powhitetrash children mock Momma because of her race, this is man vs. man with momma against the girls, but the overall conflict was man vs. society because of racial segregation.The climax is when the Powhitetrash girls were mocking momma outside the store and she just keeps singing her hymns. The reader expects that Momma has had enough of this disrespect by now and that she is ready to blow at anytime, but she just keeps singing.The resolution is when momma decides not to do anything to the girls and she keeps singing keeping the satisfaction in herself with her actions and she goes inside singing "when I lay my burden down" to notion in that the girls don't bother her anymore.

Character List and Descriptions
-Momma (Annie Henderson):
Static because momma stays strong in her beliefs throughout the story and doesn't succumb to the foolishness of the Powhitetrash girls. She has a strong will power to maintain her dignity and not stoop down to the level of the Powhitetrash girls. Momma dosen't let them take advantage of her, but she also does it in a peaceful way without lashing out at the girls. Momma was indirectly characterized by her actions and personality throughout the story especially when confronted by the powhitetrash girls.
-Granddaughter/Maya Angelou (Narrator):
Dynamic. The granddaughter at first wanted to violently approach the rude powhitetrash girls, however, later she learned from her grandmother that violence is not always the answer. The granddaughter was never characterized directly by the author during the story. In the background before the story, however, it was mentioned that Maya had been 10 years old when the story took place. Indirectly we could infer that at first she was a person who most likely would resort to violence to solve a problem.
-Miz Helen, Miz Eloise, Miz Ruth (Powhitetrash girls):
Static. They are rude girls who take advantage of their race to indignify momma. This causes them to be the antagonists of the story. They were characterized directly, for the author described them as dirty and grimy.

Theme Statement
Sometimes, winning is all about doing nothing.

Diction and Imagery
With Maya Angelou's specific style of speech and wording, there are many examples of diction in "When I Lay My Burden Down." One example is how Momma addressed the powhitetrash girls as "Miz"; the story states, "Momma never turned her head or unfolded her arms, but she stopped singing and said, '’Bye Miz Helen, 'bye Miz Ruth, 'bye Miz Eloise.’" (Elements 360) Imagery in the story is present as well, one example being, "through the fly-specked screen door, I could see that the arm's of momma’s apron jiggled from the vibration of her humming." This shows how momma was being enveloped by the tune of her song that gave her patience and tolerance against the ignorance and rudeness of the Powhitetrash girls.

Literary Devices
1.) "The dirty little children didn't do that, but they threw their orders around the Store like lashes from a cat-o'-nine-tails." (Elements 358) This is an example of a simile used in the story because the word like is used to compare and show the relatedness to the way the girls spat their orders at the people running the Store and strikes from a cat-o'-nine-tails. The importance to the story is to show the girls’ arrogance towards the family running the store and how influential racism was at the time.
2.) "It was a large heart with lots of hearts growing smaller inside, and piercing from the outside rim to the smallest heart was an arrow." (Elements 361) This symbolizes Mommas resilience and forgiveness towards even the cruelest of people’s actions. Even though their words really could've gone straight to her heart and hurt her feelings she had an infinite love even for her enemies and was able to forgive them as soon as the words left their mouths. The arrow represents the girls and their insulting words and the hearts represent Momma and her never ending love and forgiveness towards others.
3.) "I burst. A firecracker July-the-fourth burst." (Elements 360) This is a metaphor showing how easily angered the granddaughter is but also how limited she was in her options to act against the girls. Even though she was crumbling to pieces on the inside when the racist comments were being thrown at Momma, she kept it together on the outside and didn't make a rash decision to lash out at the girls.This is important to the story because it builds momma’s and the granddaughters personalities and characters, showing how frustrated the granddaughter gets but also how observant and gaining she was from the whole experience. This also shows how tolerant and forgiving Momma was.

Auguste Biard, Francois. Proclamation of The Abolition of Slavery in the French Colonies.
1839. Oil on canvas. Fineartamerica.com.
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