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“Back For Christmas” by John Henry Noyes Collier

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The story “Back For Christmas” was written by John Henry Noyes Collier (1901 – 1980). He was a British-born author and screenplay writer best known for his short stories. His stories may be broadly classified as fantasies. They feature an caustic wit and are usually ironic or dark in tone. Collier’s short stories are perfectly constructed and feature a brilliant literary craftsmanship that can easily escape notice. John Collier is considered to be one of the modern masters of the short story and certainly the preeminent writer of short fantasies.

The title of the story under analysis is short but excites many associations. The word ‘Christmas’ always has positive connotations. The text can be connected with a bright, kind and even funny holiday. But in fact this story is rather shrewd. The title produces the exciting effect. It also presents a strong position. The theme of getting back for Christmas is the domineering one in this story from the beginning of it till the very end. The author lays a particular stress upon the title of the story. The story under analysis is about Mr. Carpenter and his wife Mrs. Carpenter. The story opens with the description of the farewell party in the house of Carpenters. Husband and wife were going to America on a lecture tour She promised to bring him back for Christmas. His friends believed her. She managed everything so wonderfully.

The final arrangements for closing the house had been taken care of . The Doctor called her upstairs. He said there was something in the bathroom drain. When she leaned over to look, he struck her over the head with a lead pipe. He knew where to dispose of her body, because he had been pottering about the cellar for some time, trying to scrape out a bin for wine he told her. He hid her body and finally left the country. In New York he felt free at last. The first mail arrived from England. One letter from a building firm, addressed to Mrs. Carpenter, saying that they were starting work on the wine bin, it would be ready for a Christmas present as they had promised. Perfect plans of the Doctor were completely ruined.

The story under analysis is the narration interlaced with descriptive passages and very few dialogs. As the writer concentrates our attention on the problem of misunderstanding between spouses so we can say that this story is of social type. The author touches upon the problems of difficulties in relations between husband and wife, personal loneliness and incorrectness imperious behavior. So the given text is of social type with elements of irony.

The narrator is omniscient, but he doesn’t participate in narration. He is not intrusive, because he doesn’t comment on events, he shows no feelings and emotions. The general tone of the story is ironical, because the main idea of the story is permiated with irony.

The story begins with a dialog, from which we learn an account of events. The author introduces the main characters –Herbert and Hermione Carpenter. There’s no description of their appearance in the story. The only thing we know about spouses is that Carpenters are married for ten years. We learn information about main characters not from the description, but from some phrases and statements. Hermione Carpenter is a bossy wife, who tries to control everything, especially the life of her husband. The irony of the story is that she influenced Herbert’s life even after her death. Herbert Carpenter is calm, obedient husband, who finally accomplished the cold-blooded murder of his wife. During their last evening at home spouses do not even talk to each other, they do not communicate.

At the beginning the scene is set in the house of Carpenters. Later on we’ll observe the juxtaposition: Little Godwearing – New York. The author concentrates our attention on one more important juxtaposition. At the beginning of the story we seen the Doctor with his friends and his wife. He is in society and is not alone. At the end of the story Herbert Carpenter is completely alone in a foreign country and there’s absolutely no guarantee that his future life will be happy.

The story is keeping the reader in suspense till the end. The ending is twisted and unexpected. The letter from the building company brings to light that the Doctor’s happy future is now on pain of prison. But still the ending is open, because we don’t know for sure what will happen with Mr. Carpenter.

The most prominent repetitions of the story belong to Hermione and together with her imperative tone characterize her directly as a very confident and bossy woman. In her speech she uses such model verbs as ‘must’, ‘should’. The phrase ‘I’ll bring him back’ shows her confidence in future. The Doctor’s evasive answers are misleading and contain hidden implication. He knows that his wife’s plan will be ruined, as she will die that very night.

The scene of murder is written in telegraphic style. Mr. Carpenter kills his wife with indifference, without any emotions. The characteristic features of this description are a lack of epithets and metaphors or any words containing emotional coloring, domination of verbs of action. Doctor’s behavior after the murder was described as “light as a cat”. When friends came into the house butting in, the emotional state of the Doctor was conveyed by exclamatory sentences: “Damn them! I’m done! I’m through! I can’t do it!”.

The irony of this story is obvious in the passage where the author describes Doctor’s state after killing his wife. A cold-blooded murderer was looking at the stars and was admiring them. In this passage the inner speech of the Doctor showed us his plans for the future and his happiness. He was finally free.

The given story produces a great impression on me. It is full of ironical, shrewd and nasty moments. The absence of love and understanding in the family produces sad impression on the reader. Was the murderer an appropriate escape from wife’s control? What’s going to happen with Herbert Carpenter? How will his life change? We’ll never know answers for these questions. But this story with such an unexpected ending proves the craftsmanship of John Collier and contains his individual ironical style.

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