Commentary on Passage from Shirley Ann Grau’s The Keepers of the House
- Pages: 4
- Word count: 757
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This passage is a quintessential example of a modern writer’s take on social impasses, and portrays a character’s marked dissatisfaction with the human condition. The prose is complexly and subtly woven to convey a mood of languid boredom, a character’s sentiments-jaded by the idle luxury of the ‘Southern aristocracy’ in the United States, the lack of care for the well-being of others. A brief colloquy between the narrator (Abigail), Mrs. Holloway, and a certain Mrs. Locke, is characterized by terseness on the part of Abigail, and obvious discomfort.
Through use of brief narrative, tone, diction, and imagery, Grau successfully describes, in her own unique way, the clichi?? scene of Southern discomfort. The reader, upon scanning the first line of the passage, immediately detects a sense of dread, marked by a syntactically broken sentence: “I knew what the tea would be like before I got there. A young woman with flowers on her shoulder, whom I did not know, and all the rest of the women, whom I did. ” It is immediately made known through a tone of cynicism that the narrator does not want to continue on her path, wherever she is going.
The conversation becomes dominated by Mrs. Halloway-it soon becomes apparent to the reader that the chatting is superficial, and that there is a more pertinent but uncomfortable topic hidden beneath the artifice. Abigail, from her own personal inflections and the statements made by others, is assumed to be in a state of emotional turmoil. She’s lost weight, and from her personal analysis of the conversation, is self-identifying as discontent. The word choice is clearly indicative of this notion: “The sound of that was harsh in the tinkle of laughter and voices”, “with a firm hand on my arm she launched me into the crowded room”.
Abigail makes note of the fact that the initial conversation is basically idling around a more pertinent issue. There’s a feeling of being pushed, of pressure. The sentences become tense and short, syntax communicating discomfort. “I said nothing. I could wait. I just didn’t think they could. And I was right. ” The uncomfortable questioning begins, and the descriptions slowly shift to allow the anger within Abigail to manifest itself. She describes Mrs. Holloway: “I looked at the smooth pink face perched atop the round shoulders and the heavy breasts, tightly wrapped in flowered silk.
Soon the reader realizes that Abigail has been deceived in the recent past, and her discontent is absolutely demonstrated by word choice and imagery. The sentences slowly become longer as talk of the barn becomes more matter-of-fact. “They clucked, all of them, nervously, and the fruitcake smell of the house was overpowering. ” The use of commas in a lyrical manner paces the reader, the pauses adding weight to the meaning of each word. The fruitcake smell, as an image, builds atmospheric tension and is a subtle commentary on the state of the discussion.
As the conversation becomes more impolite and less superficial, the mannerisms of the women become tell-tale, and the reader is overwhelmed with the tension in the fictional room. “I caught sight of Jean Bannister’s face. It looks frozen and stiff. ” Guilt among the other women is implied, and Abigail scolds them all, revealing her true emotions. The passage ends, “I went to a window and opened it, the room was stifling. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Louise Allen begin to chew her finger nervously.
Her husband and his brother owned the slaughter yards. ” The diction and tone, as well as imagery, are all perfectly demonstrative of the uncomfortable atmosphere. The terse sentences build and build towards the close of the passage, and the opening of the window releases the pressure building within the room, the social tension among the women filling the room prior. The image of the scent of the sweets is a direct metaphor to the superficiality that Abigail encountered initially, the treats initially pleasing but holding no nutritional value.
Louise Allen, the well-chose image of her chewing on her finger nervously, summarizes the overall sentiment of the other women in the room. The women in the room, in the eyes of Abigail, in their furs, lush and living in luxury, are revealed as morally corrupt and ethically twisted. The reader, through use of excellent prose, is made to experience the atmosphere, as well as identify with Abigail’s dilemma. The pomp and circumstance of the situation, the vapid and blasi?? attitude of the women, are all perfectly communicated by Shirley Ann Grau’s excellent use of the English language.