Bizarre Satire–Short Story

Bizarre Satire–Short Story

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Week 7: Bizarre Satire
Week 7 (Sept. 30–Oct. 6): Bizarre Satire
These stories explore the madness of mind and society.
Weekly Readings
Bierce, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”
Faulkner, “A Rose for Emily”
Jackson, “The Lottery”
My lecture on short fiction and methods of madness
Weekly Activities
Complete assigned readings and post responses to the discussion forum
Submit paper #1, due Wed., Sept. 30th
Weekly Objectives
To contemplate madness lurking in cultural and social forms–and in the very form of the
human mind
To consider ways that madness may be structured and presented in short fiction
To realize that fictive madness may yield satire and other revelations
Week 7 Lecture: Bizarre Satire: ENGL-225-70 10/2/15, 3:59 PM Page 1 of 5
Week 7 Lecture: Bizarre Satire
Week 7 Lecture: Bizarre Satire
Below is this week’s lecture, followed by discussion questions and video versions of all three stories.
Dark Fantasy and Bizarre Satire
We saw in our readings at the start of the semester that the modern short story was birthed as tales of
dark fantasy, developed with supreme meticulousness by two American Dark Romantics, Poe and
Hawthorne. Hawthorne’s stories are often rooted in a specific place and past (New England
Puritanism) and preoccupied with ethical problems, whereas Poe’s stories are typically “out of space
and out of time” and concerned with effects rather than morals. Nevertheless, both writers explore
many of the same subjects. Their dark fantasies focus on the demons that lurk within, the monstrous
distortions and power that can rise from the subconscious mind and its symbolic manifestations. The
deep dark woods in “Young Goodman Brown” remind us of the subterranean vault in “The Fall of
the House of Usher” and perhaps of the way the house is eerily reflected in the mountain tarn.
Woods and vaults . . . we sense that these are perhaps not just physical places but also places of the
mind, especially the subconscious mind, although multiple interpretations are possible.
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mind, especially the subconscious mind, although multiple interpretations are possible.
Such subconscious exploration is the tradition so alive (or so deadly?) in the writers we’re reading
this week. All three of our stories this seventh week have carefully constructed and deeply
impressive plots—so much so, that I don’t want to say too much about these stories ahead of time for
fear of spoiling them for you. All three stories draw darkly upon the subconscious mind. If you
haven’t read these stories previously, you’re in for treats and even more tricks and thrills. All three
stories also use their dark fantasies to reveal and perhaps satirize certain psychological and social
features that we might otherwise ignore.
William Faulkner’s famous (or notorious) story “A Rose for Emily” is in the “Southern Gothic”
tradition and derives from Gothic writers like Poe. In its turn, “A Rose for Emily” has influenced
other works, such as the movie Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte, although that movie never pushes quite
to the bizarre extremes of the Faulkner story. Much of Faulkner’s work has a brooding, dust-filled,
time-trapped, thought-trapped, morbidly introspective quality that naturally lends itself to Gothic
effects and explorations of abnormal psychology anyhow. He is one of the world’s greatest masters
at producing emotional effect from diction and syntax, especially in arguably his best novel,
Absalom, Absalom! You might consider what is being revealed in “A Rose for Emily” about various
Southern traditions, the sense of time, the townspeople, and Emily herself.
The Bierce and Jackson stories are so famous, and so anthologized, that you’ve probably read them
before, but they’re worth revisiting. I know Ambrose Bierce primarily for his biting, indeed
chomping satire. The Devil’s Dictionary is a masterpiece. (A sample entry: “Alone, adj. In bad
company.”) The satire is more oblique in “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” but this eerie
psychological tale does make us think in new and strange ways about our mind and perceptions.
Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” published in 1948 in The New Yorker (the premier US magazine for
publishing new fiction), produced more reader response via letters to the editor than any story in that
magazine’s distinguished history. The story is spare, almost like a fairy tale in its simplicity, yet
powerful in its effect and social satire. You might think about the time when “The Lottery” was
published (a few years after WWII) and consider what the story suggests about some unfortunate
human impulses and social rituals.
Jackson is also a master of Gothic horror—her novel The Haunting of Hill House is one of the best
“haunted house” narratives of all time, comparable in psychological effect to Henry James’s novella
Week 7 Lecture: Bizarre Satire: ENGL-225-70 10/2/15, 3:59 PM Page 3 of 5
The Turn of the Screw. Jackson’s conception of a house alive owes something to Poe’s “The Fall of
the House of Usher” and anticipates the haunted hotel in Stephen King’s The Shining.
Both the Jackson novel and James novella have been made into superlative movies. The Haunting,
directed by Robert Wise in 1963, stars Julie Harris in a stellar performance. Ray Bradbury once
called it “the most terrifying movie ever made.” (The remake a few years ago is heavy on
computerized special effects but weak on nuance and psychological probing and thus not nearly as
terrifying.) The Innocents (1961), directed by Jack Clayton and starring Deborah Kerr, does
wonderful justice to the psychological complexity of the James novella. I recommend both movies
Also interesting are the film adaptations of King’s The Shining: the 1980 Kubrick movie (starring
Jack Nicholson) and the 1997 TV-miniseries based on King’s own teleplay and which follows the
novel much more closely than does the Kubrick movie. Unlike the Kubrick movie, the King
miniseries was actually filmed at the Stanley Hotel (Estes Park, Colorado), the inspiration for the
novel. (The Stanley is called the Overlook in the novel and both film adaptations.)
If you feel like checking into the Stanley Hotel, here you go:
Link (
I’m sure it’s where Roderick and Madeline Usher stay whenever they are in Estes Park.
King got his inspiration for The Shining while staying in Room 217. Perhaps at the Stanley you’ll get
your inspiration for your next paper! Just make sure it’s your inspiration, not your expiration.
YouTube offers video tours of the Stanley Hotel and “ghost hunter” investigations of the hotel in
recent years. If you’re curious, simply do a YouTube search on “Stanley Hotel.”
Please post discussion responses to two of the following questions and then post replies to two of
your fellow students’ posts:
1. Discuss the way that time is presented in “A Rose for Emily.” Why does the narrative move
around so much and with such convolutions in time? What effect is produced? What is Faulkner
suggesting about Southern life?
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suggesting about Southern life?
2. Discuss the way that “A Rose for Emily” is narrated. Who do you think is telling the story? What
is suggested satirically about the people of Jefferson?
3. Jackson’s “The Lottery” and Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” both depend upon a
revelation at the story’s end. Pick one story and discuss this revelation. (Yes, I’m trying to write
questions that don’t give away plot!) What is being satirized through this dark ending?
4. Discuss the way that “The Lottery” is narrated. How does this narrative method contribute to the
story’s suspense and satire?
Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”
Link (
Jackson’s “The Lottery,” Part 1
Link (
Jackson’s “The Lottery,” conclusion
Link (
Week 7 Lecture: Bizarre Satire: ENGL-225-70 10/2/15, 3:59 PM Page 5 of 5
Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”
Link (

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