Seminar Paper, 2013
10 Pages, Grade: 1
2. DESCRIPTION OF THE SHORT STORY
2.1. WRITING STYLE
2.3. MAIN CHARACTERS
2.3.1. The narrator 3
2.3.2. The narrator's father 4
2.3.3. Mr Gleason 4
2.3.4. Mrs Gleason 5
2.3.5. Phonsey Joy and Herb Gravney 5
3. INTERPRETATIVE QUESTIONS
3.1. HOW DOES CAREY CREATE SUSPENSE?
3.2. WHY DOES MR GLEASON BUILD THE MODEL?
3.3. WHAT IS THE ROLE OF REALITY IN THE STORY?
This seminar paper consists of two main parts: (1) a short description of the writing style, setting and main characters of the short story titled "American Dreams" by Peter Carey and (2) a brief interpretation of the short story.
Carey's short story "American Dreams" is narrated through the perspective of a man who remembers growing up in a small Australian town - it is therefore narrated in the past tense. The narrator is an actual character of the story (although not the protagonist) and seems to be credible and reliable, giving a truthful and non-selective account of his opinion and inner thoughts. He presents the story from a first-person view, but often uses the inclusive plural pronoun we which creates the impression that he can speak for the whole town, for "all eight hundred of us" (Carey 171). The narrator seems to understand and comprehend the thoughts and opinions of most of the townspeople (e.g. "It think it was because of this that my father felt that […] He never said as much, but […]" [Carey 172]; "[…] Johnny Weeks, who now, I am sure, believes […]" [Carey 173]), but he fails when it comes to understanding the reason why Mr Gleason built a wall on Bald Hill. The narrator therefore is not able to allow the reader to gain a full understanding of Mr Gleason's thoughts - which is typical for a non- omniscient first person narrator.
Although characters are sometimes characterized directly (e.g., "this small meek man with the rimless glasses and neat suit […]", Carey 171), the story is dominated by characterizing the characters indirectly through the description of dialogs, actions and reactions of the characters (e.g., "Sometimes you would see her standing with the pram halfway up the Gell Street hill. Just standing there, catching her breath" [Carey 175]). Although no "real" magic happens in “American Dreams” it could be categorized as belonging to the genre of Magical Realism (Whelan par. 3; Slemon 407) because the story is narrated very realistically and believably - just until Mr Gleason builds the wall which after his death attracts lots and lots of Americans - a development that can be described as very unlikely and even absurd.
Carey’s style is characterized by the usage of simple-structured sentences. He also refrains from using unnecessarily difficult vocabulary. Dialogues are often presented in direct speech which makes the story more realistic and lively.
The story is set in a provincial and quiet town in an unnamed country. There are, however, some hints in the story that make it very likely that the country is Australia. Firstly, the narrator speaks of "American dollars" (Carey 180) which could be a hint that the local currency is also dollar, otherwise it would not be necessary to specify it since everybody knows that Americans pay in American dollars. Secondly, in the story the minister for tourism visits the town and Australia is one of the countries which have a minister for tourism. And thirdly, the story is written in British English, which is also typical for Australia. Finally, the story mentions "Bald Hill" (e.g., Carey 173) and "Parwan Railway Station" (Carey 176). These locations in fact do really exist (however the railway station has meanwhile been closed) and are located in the immediate vicinity of the town of Bacchus Marsh in Victoria, Australia (see "Agricultural Farm"; Waugh vol. 85), which is Carey's place of birth (Pons 400; "Where was Peter Carey born?" par. 1).There are also some hints about the timeframe of the story. On page 179 the actors "Kim Novak" and "Rock Hudson" are mentioned, who were most popular between the mid 1950s and the 1960s ("Kim Novak" ch. 2.1; "Rock Hudson" ch.
2). The story also mentions that coloured paint became available which nicely fits to the fact that in the 1950s synthetic emulsion paints were developed (Dredge 54). Finally, in the story there is also a bike with gears, which also supports the hypothesis that it is set in the 1950s/60s because gear bikes were becoming increasingly popular during this period (Driver ch. 8).
In the story, the townspeople do not really appreciate their town although "[t]he hills are green[,] the woods thick[, and t]he stream […] full of fish" (171). Instead it is merely used "as nothing more than a stopping place" (Carey 171) and described as "not where [they] would rather be" (Carey 171).
The now adult narrator tells the story about Mr Gleason and his model of the town. Back then, when he was a boy, he used to steal apples from Mr Gleason's
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