To Kill A Mockingbird: Dramatica Story Analysis

by Katharine Elizabeth Monahan Huntley

 “I ain’t cynical, Miss Alexandra. Tellin’ the truth’s not cynical, is it?”—Dill

The events in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird are told from the point of view of six-year-old Scout Finch, as she witnesses the transformations that take place in her small Alabama town during a controversial trial in which her father agrees to defend a black man who is unjustly accused of raping a white woman. The narrative voice, however, is that of a mature woman, looking back on these events from the perspective of adulthood. Her story depicts the gradual moral awakening of the two children as they come to appreciate their father’s courage and integrity in resisting the pressures of small-town bigotry and injustice. They come to realize that things are not always what they seem and that the individual must sometimes be willing to defend unpopular views if he believes that he is doing what is right. (Angyal, 1986, p. 1677)

The boy next door to main character Jean Louise (Scout) Finch in Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird is Charles Baker (Dill) Harris—a character based on Harper Lee’s childhood friend, fellow writer Truman Capote. Dill comes to Maycomb each summer to visit his Aunt Stephanie Crawford. Scout describes Dill as “a curiosity . . . his hair was snow white and stuck to his head like duck-fluff; he was a year my senior but I towered over him. . . . We came to know Dill as a pocket Merlin, whose head teemed with eccentric plans, strange longings, and quaint fancies” (Lee, 1960, p. 8).

Scout’s impact character, the “Boo” next door, is shy recluse Arthur Radley:
“The Radley Place jutted into a sharp curve beyond our house. . . . The house was low, was once white with a deep front porch and green shutters, but had long ago darkened to the colour of the slate-grey yard around it. Rain-rotten shingles drooped over the eaves of the veranda; oak trees kept the sun away. The remains of a picket fence drunkenly guarded the front yard . . .” (Lee, 1960, p. 9).

In addition to fulfilling the sidekick role, Dill serves as an echo of Boo’s loneliness:

“Why do you reckon Boo Radley’s never run off?” Dill sighed a long sigh and turned away from me. “Maybe he doesn’t have anywhere to run off to . . .” (Lee, 1960, p. 159).

Yet unlike Boo, Dill can entertain a hope of escape:

“I think I’ll be a clown when I get grown . . . there ain’t one thing in this world I can do about folks except laugh, so I’m gonna join the circus and laugh my head off” (Lee, 1960, p. 238).

Atticus Finch, Scout’s father, counsels Scout: “You never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them” (Lee, 1960, p. 308). The following Dramatica througline synopsis and act order describes Boo Radley’s storyline, the “mockingbird” in Lee’s masterpiece, where Scout ultimately discovers “. . . just standing on the Radley porch was enough” (Lee, 1960, p. 308).

Arthur (Boo) Radley’s Throughline Synopsis
As a young boy Boo Radley fell in with the wrong crowd causing his father to shut him away in their home. Boo is not seen or heard again for fifteen years until he coolly stabs his father’s leg with a pair of scissors, causing fresh scandal and contributing to the neighborhood legend of the Radley house of horrors:

“You reckon he’s crazy?” Miss Maudie shook her head.” “If he’s not he should be by now. The things that happen to people we really never know. What happens in households behind closed doors, what secrets . . .” (Lee, 1960, p. 51). The children of the neighborhood are equal parts fascinated and terrified of Boo, but as time goes by, they come to realize he is only a gentle soul who has their best interests at heart.

“I sometimes felt a twinge of remorse, when passing by the old place, at ever having taken part in what must have been sheer torment to Arthur Radley—what reasonable recluse wants children peeping through his shutters, delivering greetings on the end of a fishing pole, wandering in his collards at night?” (Lee, 1960, p. 267)

Throughline as it relates to Manipulation
Boo Radley must maneuver within the confines of the way people think about him. Keeping Boo hidden away creates a mystique fueled by ignorance and fear to surround Boo, undermining his efforts to function in the outside world.

Concern as it relates to Developing a Plan

In order to make friends with the children without frightening them, Boo comes up with the idea of leaving them gifts in a tree.

Thematic Issue as it relates to Circumstances
Boo Radley is very unhappy with his environment. He is a recluse, and the implication is that is it is not by his own choice. He makes several attempts to alleviate his lonely state by trying to befriend the children. He eventually is able to make a positive impact on the children, Scout in particular; they come to understand he is not a monster, and the circumstances surrounding his life were and are beyond his control.

Thematic Issue Counterpoint as it relates to Situation

A reasonable evaluation of Maycomb finds Boo Radley as only one of its many eccentrics.

Thematic Conflict as it relates to Circumstances vs. Situation
Boo’s living situation is desolate, which leaves him emotionally deprived of friendship.

Problem as it relates to Desire
Boo’s drive to befriend and protect the children is a problem for him because, in the Radley family way of doing things, his older brother wants him to keep to himself. As an example, after discovering Boo has been putting gifts in a tree for Scout and Jem, Nathan Radley fills the knot-hole with cement to stop him from continuing.

Solution as it relates to Ability
When the children are in danger of being killed, Boo is able to save their lives, which enables him afterward to come forward and meet them, “He turned to me and nodded towards the front door. ‘You’d like to say good night to Jem, wouldn’t you, Mr. Arthur? Come right in'” (Lee, 1960, p. 305).

Symptom as it relates to Projection

The probability that Scout will never meet Boo is a problem for her, as she will never learn to accept him until she does:
“But I still looked for him each time I went by. Maybe someday we would see him . . . It was only a fantasy. We would never see him. He probably did go out when the moon was down and gaze at Miss Stephanie Crawford. I’d have picked somebody else to look at, but that was his business. He would never gaze at us.” (Lee, 1960, p. 267)

Response as it relates to Speculation
Scout spends a considerable amount of time fantasizing about ever meeting Boo, as she looks for him each time she passes by his house, “‘You aren’t starting that again, are you?’ said Atticus one night, when I expressed a stray desire just to have one good look at Boo Radley before I died. ‘If you are, I’ll tell you right now: stop it'” (Lee, 1960, p. 267).

Unique Ability as it relates to Circumstances
Boo must carry Jem back to the Finch’s for medical attention. These circumstances result in Scout, in her own home, to literally confront her personal problem—the man she has prejudiced herself against.

Critical Flaw as it relates to Senses
Boo has been made an invisible being by his family. As no-one can see or hear him, his efforts at making friends are blocked.

Benchmark as it relates to Changing One’s Nature
As Boo overcomes his shyness toward the children he is able to envision ways to make friends with them.

The Impact Character Throughline Act Order:
Impact Character Signpost 1 as it relates to Playing a Role

Boo Radley appears to the townspeople to be:
“. . . a malevolent phantom. People said he existed but Jem and I had never seen him. People said he went out at night when the moon was high, and peeped in windows. When people’s azaleas froze in a cold snap, it was because he had breathed on them. Any stealthy crimes committed in Maycomb were his work.” (Lee, 1960, p. 9)

Impact Character Journey 1 from Playing a Role to Changing One’s Nature

Boo’s impact on the children changes from them looking t him as being a horror locked away from the light of day to becoming a strange and curious friendly spirit:

“‘ . . . he’s crazy, I reckon, like they say, but Atticus, I swear to God he ain’t ever harmed us, he ain’t ever hurt us, he coulda cut my throat from ear to ear that night but he tried to mend my pants instead’. . . It was obvious that he had not followed a word Jem said, for all Atticus said was, ‘You’re right. We’d better keep this and the blanket to ourselves. Some day, maybe, Scout can thank him for covering her up.’ ‘Thank who?’ I asked. ‘Boo Radley. You were so busy looking at the fire you didn’t know it when he put the blanket around you.’ My stomach turned to water and I nearly threw up” (Lee, 1960, pp. 79-80)
Once Jem realizes Boo is the one leaving gifts for the children, he is able to overcome his fear of Boo and decides to write him a thank you note to continue this new line of communication, “‘Dear sir,’ said Jem. ‘We appreciate the—no, we appreciate everything which you have put into the tree for us. Your very truly, Jeremy Atticus Finch'” (Lee, 1960, p. 68).

Impact Character Signpost 2 as it relates to Changing One’s Nature

Although the children still think of Boo as a frightening phantom, his actions have transformed him into more of a friendly ghost than an evil apparition ready to cause harm.

Impact Character Journey 2 from Changing One’s Nature to Conceiving an Idea
As Boo becomes more human in the children’s eyes, they cannot conceive of why he has remained in what must be a miserable existence:
“‘Why do you reckon Boo Radley’s never run off?’ Dill sighed a long sigh and turned away from me. ‘Maybe he doesn’t have anywhere to run off to . . .” (Lee, 1960, p. 159).

Impact Character Signpost 3 as it relates to Conceiving an Idea
The children spend countless hours devising ways to meet Boo Radley:
“Dill had hit upon a fool-proof plan to make Boo Radley come out at no cost to ourselves (place a trail of lemon drops from the back door to the front yard and he’d follow it like an ant).” (Lee, 1960, p. 159)

Impact Character Journey 3 from Conceiving an Idea to Developing a Plan

Up until Scout and Jem are really in danger, the ideas Boo has come up with to make friends with the children have left his identity ambiguous. Once he sees Bob Ewell terrorizing them, he devises and implements a plan to save them, that in turn reveals to the children he is the man who has watched over them for many years.

Impact Character Signpost 4 as it relates to Developing a Plan
Boo has the idea “his” children are in danger and comes up with a way to protect them, that ultimately saves their lives.

Sources Cited:
Angyal, A. J. (1986). To Kill a Mockingbird. In F. N. Magill (Ed.), Masterplots II (pp. 1677-1681). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press
Lee, H. (1960). To Kill a Mockingbird. London: Mandarin.

It Came From Outer Space: The Iron Giant: Dramatica Story Analysis

by Katharine Elizabeth Monahan Huntley

Fascination with aliens—paranoia (overall story thematic counterpoint-threat) in progressive (overall story concern) times. Reaction to the unknown is the topic explored in the politically subversive, amazingly stellar, animated feature, The Iron Giant. Inspired by Ted Hughes, written for the screen by Tim McCanlies and directed by Brad Bird, The Iron Giant is a “top notch” children’s story for adults and a Dramatica grand argument story relevant far beyond its retro time period—the 1950’s Cold War (overall story domain-universe).

“Hogarth Hughes. Ready for action” (main character approach-doer) is an imaginative boy with a sense of adventure (main character domain-physics) that, more often than not, lands him in hot water. Collecting strays (main character signpost 1-obtaining) he finds on outings is a source of affectionate exasperation for his single working mother. When Hogarth saves the metal man (impact character) who fell to earth (story driver-action)—the nine-year-old is wise (main character thematic counterpoint) enough to know this is one innocent creature that should not follow him home. The “strange invader,” however, is determined to attach himself to Hogarth (main vs. impact character story domain-mind).

Hogarth: Stay. . . . I mean it!

One train wreck later (overall story problem-effect) convinces Hogarth the robot with regenerative powers needs a hideout, before he is found out. And the town “wigs out.” The local scrap yard, run by resident beatnik Dean, is just the place. Dean introduces Hogarth to espresso and philosophy. Hogarth introduces the “Frankenbot with out-of-state plates” to the stunned sculptor: “Dean stares at Hogarth in expressionless shock.”

Hogarth: He needs food. And shelter. . . . He can stay?!

Dean: Tonight. Tomorrow, I don’t know . . .

Complications arise with the arrival of an officious government agent, on the scene in the interest of national security (overall story thematic issue).

Kent: Kent Mansly. United States Government. Unexplained Phenomena Department.

It is not too long before Mansly takes a room at the Hughes’ and zeroes in on Hogarth (main character critical flaw-security):

Kent: Hey, mind if I ask you a few questions . . . Buckaroo? Now why would you tell your mom about a giant robot, Slugger? . . . How big is this thing, Ranger? . . . . You know, Hogarth, we live in a strange and wondrous time. The atomic age. But, there’s dark side to progress (overall story concern).

Hogarth gives Mansly the slip and bikes over to Dean’s. Momentarily casting worries (main vs. impact character story thematic counterpoint) aside, Hogarth plays (main character concern; overall story dividend-doing) with the Iron Giant—the “greatest thing since television.” He teaches the “robotron” the difference between heroic Superman and villainous Atomo and solemnly explains issues of life and death:

Hogarth: Things die. It’s part of life. It’s bad to kill, but it’s not bad to die.

Giant: You die?

Hogarth: Well, yes. Someday.

Giant: I die?

Hogarth: I don’t know. You’re made of metal. But you have feelings. And you think (impact character thematic issue-thought) about things, and that means you have a soul. And souls don’t die. . . . Mom says it’s something inside—all good things. And that it goes on forever and ever (main character solution-unending).

Hogarth returns home. His mother is working the late shift and Mansly is in full G-man mode. Mansly confronts Hogarth with factual (overall story catalyst) evidence of the Giant and announces the Army will arrive in the A.M.

Hogarth and Dean manage to circumvent the military operation—but an incident far more disturbing occurs. They discover the Iron Giant’s capacity (main vs. impact character story inhibitor-ability) to effect (impact character problem) annihilation:

Hogarth: It was an accident. He’s our friend!

Dean: He’s a piece of hardware, Hogarth. Why do you think the Army was here? He’s a weapon. A big gun that walks!

The Iron Giant is ashamed and clanks off—only to be spotted by the retreating Army. Meanwhile, Dean determines the cause (impact character solution) of the Giant’s transformation (impact character benchmark-becoming) is direct threat (overall story thematic counterpoint) and that he is only reacting defensively. Dean attempts to intervene before the Army can destroy the Iron Giant—but Mansly exacerbates the situation. An all out attack turns the Iron Giant into a killing machine—until Hogarth stops (main character growth) him:

Hogarth: You don’t have to be a gun. You are what you choose to be. You choose.

At this time, Mansly, insane with power, orders the missile launch that will destroy the Iron Giant—and take out the United States. Once the Iron Giant comprehends an atomic holocaust is at stake (limit-optionlock)—he heroically jets to the sky with his afterburners supercharged—Superman (impact character resolve-change) saving the world at the cost (being) of his own life: “The ROAR of his engines fades into silence as a look of peace falls over his iron face. . . . The blackness of the night sky goes brilliant WHITE.”

What is recovered is delivered to Hogarth. An iron part that will surely find its way back to the Iron Giant:

Hogarth is awakened by a RATTLING SOUND. He looks to see the scorched PIECE OF IRON on his dresser as it drops to the floor and starts moving toward his window. Hogarth BEAMS . . . and opens the window to release it (main character resolve-steadfast). MUSIC SOARS as the boy watches the piece of metal GO, his mind swimming with new possibilities (main character judgment-good).

“Question authority.” “Trust No One.” From The Iron Giant producer Pete Townshend’s time to the new millennium, a child who understands television is good and the government is suspect is a wise (main character unique ability) one indeed. Hogarth represents a new era of enlightenment (main character thematic issue), and the Iron Giant statue erected in the (Norman) Rockwell town square serves as an indicator of progress (overall story goal; outcome-success) towards intelligent life on earth.

Quotations are transcribed directly from the film and/or The Iron Giant screenplay by Tim McCanlies and Brad Bird; July 11, 1997 Draft by Brent Forrester and Brad Bird; Screen Story by Brad Bird

Arsenic and Old Lace: Dramatica Story Analysis

by Katharine Elizabeth Monahan Huntley

Frank Capra’s Arsenic and Old Lace “. . . is a Halloween tale of Brooklyn, where anything can happen and it usually does.” Mortimer Brewster, dramatic critic and main character, finds himself in the situation (mc domain-universe) of “The guy who wrote the bachelor’s bible finally getting hooked himself.” Standing in line to obtain (relationship story concern) his and his intended’s (Elaine Harper, the influence character) marriage license, he attempts to avoid (mc solution) publicity by whispering: “I don’t want this to get out for a while” to the court clerk (mc thematic issue of delay), and dodging photographers by wearing dark “cheaters” and ducking (mc approach-doer) into a telephone booth.

Exasperated by the problems this endeavor (rs domain-physics) has created, Mortimer sounds off to Elaine: “Don’t you understand (rs signpost 1)? How could I marry you? Me, the symbol of bachelorhood! (rs thematic issue of self interest) I’ve sneered at every love scene in every play! I’ve written four million words against marriage! Now I’ll be hooked to a minister’s daughter (rs thematic counterpoint-morality)! . . . I won’t go through with it and that’s that (rs inhibitor-commitment)!” Elaine, dewy-eyed faithfulness (rs response), patiently waits out his tirade and they go on to get hitched.

The newlyweds taxi over to the Brewster sisters’ house. Elaine is the proverbial girl next door, having grown up in the parsonage next to Mortimer’s maiden aunts (“they’re like pressed rose leaves”). The young couple’s intention is to announce the marriage to their respective relatives, then set off for a honeymoon in Niagara Falls. Meanwhile, the aunts and Reverend Harper are taking tea, discussing Mortimer and Elaine’s relationship. Reverend Harper voices his disapproval of Mortimer’s book, Marriage: A Fraud and a Failure: “No man with this published attitude on marriage should take any man’s daughter any place, anytime.” (mc symptom-oppose)

Reverend Harper departs. Mortimer enters and reveals his newlywed status to Aunt Abby and Aunt Martha. They are thrilled, as this is what they had hoped (ic thematic issue) for Elaine and their nephew all along. When Mortimer asks for the hidden notes on his forthcoming novel, Mind over Marriage, the critic’s concern for his future indicates conflict between private and public persona—yes he may be a married man, at least on paper, but in the eyes of the public he is the quintessential bachelor. In the search, Mortimer discovers a dead body in the window seat (story driver-action). Further, his aunts are the ones responsible (os catalyst) for killing him and a dozen or so others with kindness in the form of arsenic in elderberry wine. From this point on the objective story is emphasized, particularly in the storytelling, to the near exclusion of the main characterinfluence character, and relationship story throughlines.

The objective story domain is psychology, and the characters’ different ways of thinking are what causes problems. “Charge” is the battle cry of Mortimer’s brother, believing himself to be Teddy Roosevelt. Long lost other brother Jonathan is a psychopath with a cold body of his own and no qualms about rubbing out immediate family. Aunt Abby and Aunt Martha’s pursuit (os problem) of lonely old gentlemen to poison (“Murder Incorporated”), thinking it the charitable thing to do, is a dilemma—Mortimer scolds: “I don’t know how I can explain this to you, but it’s not only against the law, it’s wrong! It’s not a nice thing to do! People wouldn’t understand. . . . this is developing into a very bad habit!”

The story goal of becoming is somewhat nebulous, however, becoming as an objective story concern is quite evident. Elaine becoming part of a wacky family: “You wouldn’t want to set up housekeeping in a padded cell . . . insanity runs in my family—it practically gallops!”—Jonathan becoming the “prodigal son”—his Boris Karloff countenance undergoing a physical transformation at the tremulous hands of Dr. Einstein–the burly cop on the beat becoming a playwright, and so forth. The thematic conflict of commitment vs. responsibility is also quite marked. O’Hara takes over Officer Brophy’s responsibilities for protecting the neighborhood, a nephew’s responsibilities to his family take precedence over the commitment to a new bride, much discussion is given to committing Teddy to Happydale.

“Egads!” Mortimer comes across a new body (Jonathan’s victim) in the window seat and demands an explanation from Aunt Abby. She’s outraged: “It’s a stranger. . . . It’s getting so anybody thinks he can walk in this house . . . That man’s an impostor! And if he came here to be buried in our cellar he’s mistaken!” Mortimer is exasperated: “Aunt Abby how can I believe you!” (os symptom-disbelief) He feels he must prevent (os solution) his aunts from becoming Sing Sing inmates for their well-intentioned misdeeds. He takes the necessary steps (mc mental sex-male) to commit Teddy sooner than originally planned. Mortimer’s thinking is, if anyone becomes wise to the bodies buried down in Panama (the cellar), Teddy can take the rap “. . . everybody knows he’s crazy.”

The nocturnal activities of Jonathan and his henchman, weaselly Dr. Einstein, skulking about with their body (Mr. Spinoza), and the aunt’s fussy preparations to hold funeral services for their murder victim (Mr. Hoskins), not to mention a near hysteric Elaine running in and out of the household (ic benchmark of preconscious) alerts Officer O’Hara. He stops in—but instead of clueing into how things are going (forewarning of progress), he pitches his play to Mortimer (os inhibitor of self-interest). Madness, mayhem, double takes and pratfalls continue until Teddy’s blasted bugle brings in Lieutenant Rooney.

Temporary sanity sorts out the confusion—Jonathan is carted off by New York’s finest—Mr. Witherspoon packs up Teddy’s duffel for Happydale (after pitching his play to the dramatic critic)—Aunt Abby and Aunt Martha avoid the slammer by committing themselves as well, but not before letting Mortimer in on a family secret. He is not really a Brewster, but the “son of sea cook”—a happy fact he shouts to the world as he kisses his wife for all to see (mc resolve-change) and starts (mc growth) his happily ever after (outcome-success; story judgment-good).

Postscript: I once spotted Abe Vigoda “Fish” at Diablo Valley College “The Rock.” His nephew was in a school play.

My So Called Life and Buffy the Vampire Slayer

by Katharine Elizabeth Monahan Huntley

Forget academics. When it comes to high school, the rule is to be cool. For main characters Angela in the My So Called Life episode “Self-Esteem” written by Winnie Holzman and directed by Michael Engler, and Xander, in Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “The Zeppo” written by Dan Vebber and directed by James Whitmore Jr., image is of utmost concern.

Both episodes of the critically acclaimed television dramas are Dramatica grand argument stories. Each emphasizes the thematic conflict of worth vs. value. In My So-Called Life, feelings of self-worth are explored in the overall story domain of fixed attitudes (mind)-and are directly related to the problem of expectations-high and low. For example, Renee Lerner, the high school math teacher calls out in the hallway:

Angela Chase! Why weren’t you in geometry review? 
Angela, you need this. . . . How do you expect (overall story problem) to pass your midterm? [To other teacher] It breaks my heart, some of these girls. They are just so smart and yet . . .

It’s called low self-esteem.

The thematic issue of worth is carried on when Rayanne and Sharon express disapproval of Angela and Jordan’s (impact character) relationship-one that is confined to kissing in the boiler room:

Why is he keeping you two a secret?

How do you know he’s keeping us a secret?

Rayanne told me.

Look . . . we care about you. When I was drinking and drugging, you wanted me to stop (main character growth), as my friend.

Wait. You’re comparing me making out with Jordan Catalano to you getting your stomach pumped?

You don’t see the connection?

The connection is self-respect. . . . You deserve, like, so much better.

Just because he’s not Kyle and he doesn’t parade with me down the halls holding hands.

In an effort to save face, Angela brazenly lies to her friends, telling them Jordan has asked her to meet him at a music club. Rayanne and Sharon force the issue by accompanying Angela to the Pike Street club. Angela is humiliated when Jordan blatantly ignores her-compelling Rayanne to confront the beautiful, brooding boyfriend:

You know you like her. Would it kill you to admit it? Maybe treat her halfway decent? Because, you know, she deserves it. And she’s not going to wait around for you forever (main vs. impact direction-unending).

Two objective character subplots offer thematic parallels. In one, Angela’s father, Graham, is undergoing a career crisis. Determined (overall story solution) to do what he loves and excels in, instead of what is expected (overall story problem), is behavior Graham’s father-in-law, Chuck Wood, finds indulgent:

Where’s Mr. Fixit tonight?

He’s taking a [cooking] class.

He ought to be pulling his weight. . . . [You should] get one of those . . . headhunter[s]. That’s what you need. Somebody to get him a job . . . [so he can] stop sponging off his wife.

Dad, this is between me and Graham. Okay, please? You don’t know all the particulars.

I’m your father. That’s the particulars. And you deserve better.

Graham’s renowned culinary teacher turns out to be drunken disappointment, prompting a classmate to comment: “We deserve better. I mean, don’t we?”
Much to his and Patty’s surprise (overall story problem-expectations), Graham later informs her: “They want me to teach the class.”

In another subplot, the new English teacher attempts to convince a student to sign up for the drama club:

Why are you doing this? This is not something I am gonna do. I’m not the sort of person who joins things, okay?

I’m really sorry, but no, that’s not okay. . . . Well, I mean, come on, I’m a teacher. How do you expect (overall story problem) me to react to a ridiculous statement like that-you don’t join things? Who are you, Groucho Marx-you’d never belong to any club that would have you as a member? . . . Look, what is holding you back here? That I’m not cool enough? Don’t let the fact that your English teacher is a dork stop you from fulfilling your potential. Just pretend-that I’m a track coach. I happen to notice that you can run fast. I need you on my team (overall story problem-expectation)! It’s as simple as that, Enrique.

Stop calling me that! Why are you calling me that?

I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I keep forgetting. It’s just, it’s just-gee whiz, it’s such a great name. When I was in high school, I hated my name. I hated it.

I don’t-hate my name, I-I just . . .

Oh, oh good. I’m really glad. No-nobody should hate who they are.

After “being made a fool of by the only person I’ll ever love” (main vs. impact thematic issue-fantasy), Angela surreptitiously meets Jordan one last time:

The truly frightening thing, is that even after everything that happened, Jordan Catalano left a note in my locker to meet him in the boiler room. The nauseating part is that I went.

She demands he admit: “That all of this happened (main vs. impact thematic counterpoint-fact). That you have emotions. That you can’t, like, treat me one way in front of your friends then the next minute leave me some note.”

Success (outcome) is illustrated when Jordan, in front of everyone, asks Angela “Can we, like, go somewhere?” (impact character resolve-change) and her immediate response (story goal-preconscious) is “Sure.” With all eyes upon them-they parade down the hall, holding hands (main character judgment-good).

For Xander in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the real horror show in high school is not necessarily Sunnydale’s proximity to the Hellmouth (overall story domain-universe) and the always impending end (overall story focus) of the world, but combating the role (main character concern-being) of the “boy who has no cool.”

It must be really hard when all your friends have, like, superpowers (impact character thematic conflict-experience vs. skill). Slayer, werewolf, witches, vampires, and you’re like this little nothing (main character thematic counterpoint-ability).

. . . I happen to be an integral part of that group (impact character). I happen to have a lot to offer (main vs. impact thematic conflict-worth vs. value).

. . . Oh, please.

Xander obsesses (main character domain-psychology) over his “lack (main character growth-start) of cool,” and sets out to discover what will make him unique (mc thematic issue-desire). In the midst of apocalyptic evil (overall story thematic counterpoint-fact), Xander is only allowed to run inconsequential errandsleaving idle time that allows for running with the wrong crowd-like becoming (main character journey 2) the wheel man for zombies.

At story’s end, Xander comes to realization (main character resolve-change) that cool is not about show and tell-but quiet grace (main character judgment-good) under unexpected (main vs. impact-solution) pressure.

Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness

by Katharine Elizabeth Monahan Huntley

“Well, there are never enough entertaining movies. . . . But there’s entertainment, and then there’s engagement.  And ideally both can happen.”—Todd Solondz

Todd Solondz, an original voice in the independent film world, creates family relationships that are immediately, if not uneasily, recognizable.  Welcome to the Dollhouse is a grand argument story.  Happiness is not, it is instead: “. . . five separate tales of modern alienation, romantic woe, and shocking transgression into a merciless critique of American lifestyles . . .” (“That Lovin’ Feeling” 37).

The title Welcome to the Dollhouse serves as ironic commentary on main character Dawn Wiener’s throughline, neither welcome nor a pretty doll the eleven-year-old is put in her place and must stay there.  She is the quintessential middle child of a middle class family in suburbia, New Jersey.

Dawn’s main character throughline is an exploration of her present situation.  Ignored at home and designated “dogface” at school, she is not accepted.  Typical conversation is: “Why do you hate me?”  “Because you’re ugly.”  Nevertheless, when confronted with a dilemma, Dawn takes immediate, external action.  In one scene, she shoots a spitball back at the boys who have antagonized her.  Unfortunately, it hits a teacher right in the eye.  When she explains to her parents in the principal’s office: “I was fighting back!”  Dawn’s mother’s response is: “Who ever told you to fight back?”

The impact character function is handed off between two characters; Brandon, a junior high classmate of Dawn’s, and Steve, lead singer of Dawn’s older brother Mark’s garage rock band.  They each contend with issues of image.  Brandon puts on a cool juvenile delinquent act; Steve is a longhaired wannabe rock star popular with the girls—high school and junior high.  Neither is onscreen at the same time, both irrevocably impact Dawn.

In the main vs. impact story throughline, teen crush takes on new meaning when Steve, adored by Dawn, humiliates her after weeks of encouraging the infatuation:


I was wondering if . . . well, I’ve been thinking seriously of building another clubhouse, and I wanted to know, would you be interested in being my first honorary member?


What are you talking about?


The “special people” club.


Special people?


What’s the matter?


Do you know what “special people” means?




Special people equals retarded.  Your club is for retards.

Dawn and Brandon continue on in the main vs. impact story throughline, learning the “mechanics of the dance,” a courtship ritual that necessitates vicious dialogue to protect their vulnerability:


Brandon, are you still going to rape me?


What time is it?


I don’t know.  But I guess I don’t have to be home yet.


Nah, there’s not enough time.


Thanks, Brandon.


[Affectionately holding her close] Yeah, but just remember, this didn’t happen.  I mean no one . . . because if you do, I really will rape you next time.



The overall story throughline addresses what happens to those who have ideas about what makes them unique, ideas that differ from the accepted norm.  They fail.  Steve goes off to New York:


He dropped out of school and left town.  He wants to try making in New York as the next Jim Morrison.


Stupid idiot kid.  He’ll never make it.


Yeah, that’s what I told him.  He’ll never get into a good school now.


Oh, he won’t make it.


Never make it.



Brandon is unfairly expelled for drug dealing (a crime he does not commit), and his father’s reaction is to send him to the reformatory.  Instead, Brandon ends the impact character throughline by running away to New York, after first asking Dawn to accompany him.  An offer she cannot accept.


Wait—I’m so sorry.


Well, it’s too late.  I’m getting’ outta here.  And who knows, maybe I will deal drugs now.

Dawn takes a trip to New York as well, but unlike Steve and Brandon it is not to make a new start, it is a reaction to her little sister’s kidnapping.  She searches for Missy to bring her desolate family back into balance and hopes it will finally give her the love and acceptance she desperately needs.  The Wieners barely notice her absence:


Is mom really upset?


Not really, actually.  They found Missy this morning.

Todd Solondz’ grand argument against conformity concludes when, unlike Ibsen’s Nora, Dawn doesn’t leave the dollhouse.  She instead takes a school bus to Disneyworld, just one of the Benjamin Franklin “Hummingbirds” numbly singing her junior high school song: “. . . now put on a smile then wipe off that frown . . .”

Solondz revisits New Jersey (“a state of irony”) in his next film, Happiness, which is anything but.  His disturbing depiction of American life (carried over from Welcome to the Dollhouse) stings with caustic humor as it attacks pretension and reveals aberrant behavior behind closed doors.  Happiness is fleeting, illustrated when one sad sack announces: “I am champagne,” then later commits suicide.

Happiness is not a grand argument story.  It is Solondz’ indictment against adults who are egocentric and perversely afflicted.  The characters are loosely related to three sisters, Trish, Helen, and Joy, and not a jot of fun is to be found in this family’s dysfunctions.  Solondz’ denouncement of grown-ups can be inferred from a scene in which Trish’s husband Bill Maplewood, a psychiatrist, allows to his psychiatrist:


My patients are ugly.  Their problems are trite.  Each one thinks he is unique.  On a professional level they bore me.  On a personal level I have no sympathy.  They deserve what they get.

The relationship between Bill and his eleven-year-old son, Billy, has the makings of a main vs. impact story, but it is not fully developed.  What is certain is an unhappy ending; Bill’s stoic countenance masks his anguish as he admits his pedophilia to the shattered boy.

Solondz does concede a hint of hope for humans and their frailties, indicated in an exchange between Kristina and Allen:


(while eating her sundae)

Anyway, so then I had to cut up his body, plastic bag all the parts . . . I’ve been throwing it out gradually ever since.  There’s still a little left in my freezer.


So you cut off his . . .


No.  I left it attached.  I didn’t want to have to touch it again. . . . Can we still be . . . friends?


Um . . . I guess . . . Yeah . . . I mean, we all have our . . . you know . . . pluses and minuses . . .

Happiness is a bold statement that is brave in its subject matter.  Unlike Welcome to the Dollhouse, however, it is not a grand argument that examines the problems from the overall story, main vs. impact story, main character, and impact character points of view.  Without all four of these perspectives it remains just one auteur’s harsh, albeit darkly humorous, opinion.

Works Cited

Solondz, Todd.  Happiness.  Screenplay, 1997.

Solondz, Todd.  “That Lovin’ Feeling.”  With Scott Macaulay.  FILMMAKER 7 1998: 37-39, 104-05.

Welcome to the Dollhouse.  Dir. Todd Solondz.  Screenwriter Todd Solondz. COL, 1995.

House of Yes & Death on Long Island

by KEM Huntley

Parker Posey Hangs on the Wall of Hové® New Orleans.
The House of Yes and Love and Death on Long Island are two indie presentations that have more than 90210 cast members in common. Without getting too caught up in histrionics and endless details that often attend melodrama, each film offers the same premise: mad love exists.

Each film holds the same expectation, as well. The viewer will not look askance at the “all’s fair in love and war” tactics, but will instead nod their head in affirmation that the heart does what it damn well pleases.

For recent widower and recluse, Giles De’ath (John Hurt), the main character in Love and Death on Long Island, written and directed by Richard Kwientniowski and loosely based upon Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, the story begins as he ventures into the present day (overall story concern) after accepting (story driver-decision; overall story solution) an invitation to be interviewed on the “wireless.” When asked if he uses a word processor for his novels, he is bemused, tartly replying he is a writer; he does not “process words.”

It is here established that the notable British author is completely out of touch with the 20th century (overall story domain-universe), illustrated again as the camera focuses on him ruefully looking through the front door mail slot at forgotten house keys, his gaze taking in an archaic life.

As Giles is locked out and must wait before his niece is available to bring the extra set of keys, he decides to go to the cinema. He mistakenly walks into a matinee of “Hotpants College II,” instead of the latest E. M. Forster adaptation. Rising to leave (main character symptom-reaction), he is dumbstruck by the beauty of its dreamboat star, impact character Ronnie Bostock (Jason Priestly), a screen heartthrob he will later compare to a painting of the writer Chatterton hanging in the Tate Gallery.

At this point, emphasis in the overall story throughline is placed upon the thematic conflict of attraction vs. repulsion, the clash between obsolescence and technology (overall story benchmark-progress) and high art and popular culture.

Giddy Giles begins the quest his own fictitious characters engage in (main character domain-physics) to learn (main character concern) all about the object of his desire. Hampered by the ministrations of his nosy parker housekeeper, and well-intentioned literary agent (main character problem-protection), he restricts their possible interference (main character approach-do-er) of his foray into “finding beauty where no-one (at least in his milieu) seems to look”: fan magazines, situation comedy, B grade movies.

While mooning over Ronnie, Giles comes to terms with the present (outcome-success). He is compelled to purchase and master the video player and “goggle box,” open an account at the video store (to rent the Ronnie film festival, “Tex Mex” and “Skid Marks”), hook up an answering machine to take messages while cutting and pasting his Ronnie collage, and finally, jetting to Long Island (main character response of proaction), where he will strategize (main character thematic issue) how to meet the actor.

Giles holes up in the roadside motel of Ronnie’s town, run by yet another interfering and overprotective landlady. Inside he scratches out tactics to determine his film idol’s whereabouts: “1. Hire detective 2. Bribe postman” (logical problem solving style), but it is his painstaking investigation (main vs. impact story catalyst) that pays off when he ascertains Ronnie’s exact location and trumps up a relationship with the lovely Audrey, Ronnie’s fiancée (overall story dividend-learning).

Like an infatuated schoolgirl, Giles sits anxiously by the telephone for hours (main vs. impact character inhibitor-need), until the beautiful couple rings up with a dinner invitation. Ronnie represents the emotional manipulation (impact character domain-psychology) of mass media, yet he repudiates (impact character problem-non-acceptance) his teen beat status-despite his photogenic “files of smiles” he wants to be a serious actor (impact character benchmark).

His initial appraisal (main vs. impact character thematic issue) of the old gentleman is based on Giles’ fabrication and the teen’s own conviction that “British stuff is cool,” yet this first impression (appraisal) is his critical flaw. Giles flatters the boy with what he needs (impact character thematic issue) to hear-he has “the look of a young Olivier” and the potential (main vs. impact character story problem) for Shakespeare.

Astute Audrey understands, however, that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark” and arranges (impact character unique ability-permission) to effectively remove Ronnie from Giles’ advances (main character growth-stop).

Giles reacts (main vs. impact character story symptom) to Ronnie’s impending departure by confessing (main vs. impact character response-proaction) his desperate love to the boy in the local hamburger dive. That each has a different point of view (main vs. impact character story domain-mind) is underscored as they face each other from across the vinyl booth. It is clear Giles is as steadfast (main character resolve) in his disdain for the popular arts as he is in his devotion to Ronnie, contemptuously dismissing Ronnie’s adolescent audience and American “contacts” and entreating the actor to fall in with a traditional European relationship of mentor and student, on the order of Rimbaud and Verlaine.

Rattled, Ronnie refuses to consider the offer (overall story consequence-conscious), and the relationship, heretofore certain (main vs. impact character story solution) to flourish is ended. In the erstwhile author’s world, the quest is not a success without sacrifice.

Giles faxes a love letter to Ronnie that includes a revised scene for “Hot Pants College III.” On the way to the airport he inquires of the cabby if faxes can be retrieved. Shaking his head no, the cab driver asks Giles if he would like to return to the motel anyway. Giles knows there is no turning back (story limit-optionlock). With a smile (judgment-good), he slips on the new wave sunglasses-a gift from Ronnie-and waves the driver to continue on (main character solution-inaction).

Ronnie’s change is depicted on-screen in his new film as he delivers Giles’ eulogy to his character’s mother, an indication he will now aspire to something more than performing for the “rabble in the pit.”

In the House of Yes, written and directed by Mark Waters, the overall story concern is how the memory of the day JFK died–the same day Daddy tried to leave:

“Everybody remembers that day. Exactly what they were doing.”

The overall story goal, in particular, is the memory twins, (main vs. impact story domain-universe) Jackie-O (Parker Posey) and Marty (Josh Hamilton), share of their illicit affair that occurred the day they attended an Ides of March party . . . Jackie O costumed as Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy pirouetting:

“. . . in a pink Chanel suit and pillbox hat and blood on my dress. Well, ketchup actually and other stuff too, like macaroni kind of glued on like brains. It was more tasteful than it sounds.”

Jackie-O is another main character zealous (do-er) in her efforts (main character domain-physics) to fulfill desires (main character problem). When impact character Marty, comes home to Washington D.C. Thanksgiving 1982-“20 years after the Kennedy assassination”-and announces (story driver-action) his engagement to Lesly (Tori Spelling), he has sealed his fate (main vs. impact character issue).

The circumstances (main vs. impact character domain-universe) of the twins’ relationship are such that any plan for a normal life Marty attempts to implement (impact character concern-conceptualizing) is anarchy (main vs. impact character problem-chaos).
Marriage is an act the unhinged Jackie-O will steadfastly (main character resolve) not allow.

Mama (Genevieve Bujold), very French Gothic, demands a private word with her son: Mama: You, a fiancée here, why?
Marty: I love her and I’m just trying to follow procedure (impact character symptom-order).
Mama: Marty, your sister has been out of the hospital less than six months. Last week she nearly lost it because the seltzer water was flat and you bring a woman home! Not just a woman, a fiancée! An anti-Jackie! Are you trying to push your sister over the edge?Marty: No.
Mama: Just what, then, are you trying to do?
Marty: Be normal.

Family secrets and lies (overall story thematic counterpoint-falsehood), exposed or withheld, are the weapons used against artless Lesly, the fiancée who smells like powdered sugar. The family knows (overall story symptom) Marty is making a mistake. Marty had loved a lizard; Jackie-O flushed it down the toilet.

Lesly’s perception overall story problem) of Marty’s glamorous twin is mistaken-she calls Jackie-O spoiled to which Jackie-O replies-“Oh please. If people start telling the truth (overall story thematic issue) around here, I’m going to bed.” What Lesly doesn’t consider (overall story benchmark-conscious), until almost too late, is that Jackie-O is insane (overall story solution-actuality) and extravagantly dangerous.

An unexpected hurricane extinguishes the electrical power and all but Marty and Jackie-O retire for the evening. By candlelight, the twins play their favorite game, the reenactment of Jack Kennedy’s assassination. This leads to a reenactment of their own affaire d’ amour, unaware Lesly is watching. Crushed, Lesly allows the twins’ younger brother, Anthony (Freddie Prinze, Jr.), to make love to her, unaware Mama is watching.

Confronting the naïf with what she knows (overall story symptom): “A mother doesn’t spy, a mother pays attention!”-she thinks (overall story response) Lesly will now leave alone. Instead, Lesly persuades Marty to believe the man she fell in love with is the man he truly is (impact character thematic issue of state of being), not the image he has of himself (impact character thematic counterpoint-sense of self). She implores Marty to return with her to New York.

Destiny (main vs. impact character catalyst), however, prevails. Jackie-O cajoles her brother into one more dead Kennedy charade, with the promise he may leave afterwards. He foolishly does not suspect (impact character critical flaw) she may fire the pistol they have used to pretend, despite the fact Jackie-O has shot him in the past (main vs. impact character concern). Marty is gunned down, and buried in the back yard next to his father-the romantic memory of gallant men: Jack, Daddy, and Marty, preserved intact (outcome-success).

In voice-over, Jackie-O reassures us: “Don’t worry about Marty. A close family like ours has to stick together. We cleared out a nice place for him out back, next to Daddy so he would stay right here with me, where he belongs (story judgment-good).

Love and Death on Long Island and the House of Yes approach obsessive, irrational love with humor and compassion for its main characters, and a distant nod to their impact characters. Emphasis in each is placed upon the main vs. impact story, almost to the exclusion of the overall story throughline, much like lovers heedless to the world around them.

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All Who Wander Are Not Lost

by Kerrin Ross Monahan

 “All who wander are not lost.”—Tolkien

“Everything comes from somewhere.”—Rushdie

The way to avoid tragedy is to cultivate a sense of it” (Robert D. Kaplan). Aidan Chamber has said that the classic definition of story is: “What happens to whom, and why,” and since, as he reminds us, “story is everywhere,” we need to look everywhere in order to find exactly what it is we should be searching for.

We should start with oral tradition, with what Seamus Heaney calls: “the directness of utterance” by the skalds, bards, jongleurs, troubadours (and Rushdie’s the “Shah of Blah”), and from there progress through the arts up to the present.

A quest is a search or pursuit made in order to find or obtain something. There is a testing of some importance and obstacles to overcome. The goal or prize could be: The Holy Grail, hidden treasure, a castle or kingdom or fair maiden. It could well be something intangible such as: salvation, redemption, revenge, justice, peace, truth, glory, courage, strength, wisdom, faith, love, or hope. Sometimes one isn’t certain what it is that she/he seeks. Some fail, others do reach their goal.

The quest occurs in all types of literature, music, and historic events the world over, and all forms reflect the historical and cultural base in which they are embedded. There is a universality, however, a basic humanism about them all—a transcending core that resonates with everyone.

The quest can take the form of a grand and sweeping heroic epic, can appear in a short poem, a long narrative, an interior monologue, a small gem of a fable, a “pourquoi” story, a nursery rhyme. It can be found in certain films, music, plays, opera, novels, and rock songs. It can take the form of a chivalric romance, fairytale, folktale, mythology, legend, or nationalistic or religious saga. It can be emotionally heavy, or light and airy, and may contain both elements of tragedy and comedy. (Barzun points out that the word “tragedy” means “goat song” and in the Renaissance the word “comedy” meant any sort of play—drama in general.) He also states that the epic, thought of as a serious genre, is “often close to burlesque.”

The quest can be in the form of a cautionary tale, allegory, rules of conduct, a coming-of-age work or nationalistic propaganda. It can be gorgeous and soaring in tone, and heartwarming, whimsical, and quaint, or raw, ugly, and petty—but always passionate and always magic. It can entertain (hopefully, always), anger and disturb, instruct and uplift, enchant and inspire: one should come away thinking, analyzing, considering and questioning—and be receptive to and expressive about the core meaning of each story.

In each instance the characters could be any of the following: druids, oracles, pookas, banshees, piskies, kelpies, leprechauns, trolls, elves, menehunes, water sprites, Baba Yagas, dwarves, goblins, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, wizards, nissers, sorcerers, ogres, mummies, monsters, fairies, witches, queens, gremlins, brownies, golems, giants, genies, Black and Tans, angels, kings, dragons, devils, talking animals, and of course, larger-than-life heroic warriors (both male and female), their evil human counterparts, and naturally, a large cast of “common folk” such as farmers, innkeepers, “hoors,” hobbits, beggars, and children.

Props include: ancient books and parchments, thunder and fire, magic swords, cloaks, wooden legs, riddles and runes, shoes and lamps, talking cats, flying horses, snakes and toads, secret doorways and curses, spells, passwords, boats, bikes, rafts, umbrellas, whales, Cadillacs and taxis, dreams, visions, portents and nightmares, poisons and elixirs, trees and burning bushes, vast quantities of beer, wine, mead, and weed, and of course, gold rings.

Because, on the whole, we in this country have been exposed to mostly Western Canon, some may not be aware that there is a plenitude of much admired, and many revered, works of all genres that come from a global cultural base. Much of Western art, in fact, is based upon, or drawn from, ancient worldwide customs and lore.

The following is not meant by any means to be all-inclusive; the selections are certainly subjective. If they are top heavy with works from Great Britain, it is because (until fairly recently), our nation’s literary canon has derived mainly from and has glorified our “motherland’s” literature.

I Western

Great Britain and Ireland

The Cuchulain CycleThe Finn Cycle, (Fin M’Coul), two pre-Christian Celtic epics: The Hound of Ulster and Queen MabBeowulf: Anglo Saxon epic Christian poem composed sometime between 650 ad and 900 AD. Seamus Heaney, Irish Nobel Laureate Poet, renders a brilliant translation. King Arthur, Knights of the Round Table, Merlin, The Holy Grail, and Robin Hood. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (author unknown). The Crusades, St. George and the Dragon, William Langland’s Piers Plowman, Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, the Welsh White Book of Rchydderch, Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d’ Arthur. Morality plays and mystery plays for example, Everyman, dramatized allegories of Christian life: a quest for salvation.

Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, Shakespeare’s English and Roman histories, tragedies and tragic-comedies. He was extremely knowledgeable about the volatile social and political issues of his day: the escalating patriotism and nationalism, the new colonialism, and concerns about the royal succession. A.L. Rowse tells us that he (Shakespeare) “. . . knew too well how thin is the crust of civilisation; how easy for society to break down, to fall into what dark waters beneath.” In these works, Shakespeare’s quest is for order and obedience to authority.

Milton’s Paradise Lost, John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders, Richardson’s Clarissa, Fielding’s Tom Jones, Edward Fitzgerald’s (translation) The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam, Wordsworth’s The Prelude, Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, Blake’s The Four Zoas and Jerusalem, Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound, Keat’s HyperionThe Eve of St. Agnes and La Belle Dame Sans Merci, Byron’s Childe Harold, Sir Walter Scott’s historical novels and ballads, Dicken’s Bleak HouseDavid CopperfieldGreat Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities, Robert Browning’s Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, Tennyson’s Ulysses and Idylls of the King, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Kipling’s Just So Stories, Sir James Barrie’s Peter Pan, Hugh Lofting’s Dr. Doolittle, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins, Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit, James Joyce’s Ulysses, Yeats’ Fairy Tales of Ireland, T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Ring Trilogy, C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, Roddy Doyle’s A Star Called Henry, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series

North America

Highwater’s Anpao (the Native American UlyssesThe Sedna Legends of the Inuits, Paul Bunyan’s tall tales, the tales of Pecos Bill the Cowboy, Melville’s Moby Dick, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus Stories (a retelling of stories brought from overseas by African slaves), L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man, the Russian born Nabokov’s Lolita, Steven Spielberg’s E.T., and, with George Lucas, the Indiana Jones sagas and Star Wars series.

French Canada
The Adventures of Petit Jean

Mexico/South America
Why the Burro Lives With ManThe Tale of the Lazy People and many legends and myths from the Incas and Aztecs and Mayan civilizations

Homer’s The Iliad, The OdysseyAesop’s Fables

The Roman poet Virgil’s The Aëneid, the poet Dante’s The Inferno, the poet Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered

El Cid (the epic poem El Cantar de Mio Cid), Cervante’s Don Quixote

Comoën’s The Lusiads

The deeds of Charlemagne, Le Chanson de Roland, Jean de Neun’s Roman de la Rose, La Fontaine’s Fables, Perrault’s folktales (Cinderella), Villanueva’s Beauty and the Beast, Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, Saint Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince, de Brunhoff’s Stories of Babar

The Nibelungen Saga (heroic sagas), the tales of the Brothers Grimm, Richard Wagner’s Opera CycleThe Ring of the Neibelung

The great sagas involving Valhalla and the gods Thor, Odin, Freya, and Loke; Hans Christian Andersen’s tales


The Elder EddaThe Younger Edda (ancient manuscripts), from these comes The Volsunga Saga


The saga The Kalevala


The Legend of the Firebird, Pushkin’s fairy tales, Vasilissa the Fair

II Middle East

The sacred texts: The Holy BibleThe TorahThe TalmudThe Koran. Firdavsi’s Shah (collection of legendary Persian epic folktales), the splendid Arabian Nights, the Islamic legend The Night Journey (Mohammed’s Night Ride to Heaven) Nobel Laureate Isaac B. Singer’s Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories

III India

The Fables of BidpaiThe Jatake Tales of Buddha, the cycle of fables in the Hindu collection of the Panchatantha, Vyasa’s Mahabharata, Valmiki’s Ranayana, Salman Rushdie’s Shame and Haroun and the Sea of Stories

IV Africa

Tribal tales of witchdoctors and brave warriors, folktales like Anansi the SpiderPodhu and AruwaUnanana and the Elephant

IV Far East

Great shogun and samurai exploits, folktales such as The Tongue-Cut SparrowThe Enchanted Sticks

Fantastic tales of empresses and peasants, warlords and courtiers. Folktales like Ah Tcha the SleeperThe Story of Wang Li

V Oceania (Australia)

The wonderful Aboriginal “dream-time” experiences and folktales such as Dinewan the Emu

Many fantasy tales of how their islands were fashioned; from Hawaii we get the myth: How Kana Brought Back the Sun and Moon and Stars. To quote Heaney, all of the foregoing are universal stories of “mythic potency.”

To return to the main question: What should we be looking for, and why? Tolkien said: “Myth is invention about truth.” Joseph Campbell states that the hero’s journey is about “overcoming the dark passions . . . to control the irrational savage within us,” and that “the journey is a life lived in self-discovery . . . the ultimate aim of the quest must be . . . the wisdom and the power to serve others.” The hero acts “to redeem society.” Dostoyevsky said: “Man is a mystery.” The author was “an investigator of the human spirit” always searching for truth. In Richard Tarnas’ preface to his grand The Passion of the Western Mind (and this could certainly apply to the rich and varied canon of world literature as well), he states: “The history of Western culture has long seemed to possess the dynamics, scope, and beauty of a great epic drama . . . [containing] sweep and grandeur, dramatic conflicts and astonishing resolutions . . . a stirring adventure and epic heroism . . .” He also talks about: “A common vision . . . to see clarifying universals in the chaos of life . . . the attempt to comprehend the nature of reality.” Bruno Bettelheim says that through fables and fairy tales we can find ways “to gain peace within ourselves and with the world . . .” In a new volume of Yeat’s essays, Writings on Irish Folklore, Legend and Myth he tells us that in fables, “mortals are transformed into ‘perfect symbols of the sorrow and beauty and of the magnificence and penury of dreams.'” Harold Bloom feels: “We read to find ourselves . . .[to gain] an enhanced sense of freedom . . . to prepare ourselves for change and the final change, alas is universal.”

Certainly there are skeptics among us: the poet W. H. Auden said: “poetry makes nothing happen” and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road narrator (“the road is life”) says “. . . nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old . . .” And U2’s Bono laments “. . . and I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” To all that, Tolkien’s Gandalf could well answer: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

During the rest of our lifequest we must: read, write, travel, attend plays, opera, museums and films, watch television and sporting events, listen to music, political debates, talk shows, gossip, and propaganda. We must sing and dance and work and love, all so that we may connect in some positive and meaningful way with our ancestors, peers, and children, thus hopefully discovering our higher selves. By doing so, when our grand quest comes to the inevitable and unavoidable end, we will be able to leave behind a brilliant, universal ensemble cast with a balanced and harmonious script full of recurring motifs such as unity and integration, a magnificent work, a gift of love and peace to our vast audience—all of humankind’s descendants.

“The world is sacred,
It can’t be improved.
If you tamper with it, you’ll ruin it.
If your treat it like an object, you’ll lose it.”—Lao-tzu


Barzun, Jacques. From Dawn to Decadence. New York: HarperCollins, 2000.
Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment. New York: Simon, 2000.
Bloom, Harold. How to Read and Why. New York: Simon, 2000.
Campbell, Joseph. The Power of Myth. New York: Doubleday, 1988.
Chamber, Aidan. Introducing Books to Children. 2nd ed. Horn, 1983.
Doyle, Roddy. A Star Called Henry. New York: Penguin, 2000.
Heaney, Seamus. Beowulf. New York: Norton, 2000.
Kerouac, Jack. On the Road. New York: Viking, 1957.
Lao-tzu. Tao Te Ching. Trans. Stephen Mitchell. New York: Harper, 1988.
Maxym, Lucy. Russian Lacquer, Legends and Fairy Tales. 2 vols. New York: Siamese Imports, 1985-86.
Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M.H. Abrams. 5th ed. 2 vols. New York: Norton, 1986.
Oxford Companion to the English Language. Ed. Tom McArthur. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1992.
Porcaro, Lauren. “Book Currents”: rev. of Writings on Irish Folklore, Legend and Myth by William Butler Yeats, New Yorker 1, Apr. 2002: 21.
Riverside Anthology of Children’s Literature. Judith Saltman. 6th ed. Boston: Houghton, 1985.
Rowse, A.L. The Annotated Shakespeare. Vols I and II. New York: Clarkson, 1978.
Rushdie, Salman. Haroun and the Sea of Stories. New York: Viking, 1990.
Tarnas, Richard. The Passion of the Western Mind. New York: Ballantine, 1993.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit. New York: Ballantine, 1967.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Ring Trilogy. New York: Ballantine, 1982.

The Butcher Boy

by KEM Huntley

In a Dramatica grand argument story, it is the influence character that has the most impact on the main character. The influence character, wittingly or unwittingly, will compel the main character to remain steadfast to their particular paradigm or change to the influence character’s point of view.

Typically, the influence character is one person or single entity. In the case of Neil Jordan’s The Butcher Boy, and Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, the influence character is the society in which the main character functions.

The Butcher Boy, an adaptation of Pat McCabe’s novel, is a brutal account of one boy’s moral destruction set against the “duck and cover” environment of fear that emanated from communism, specifically the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Precocious and full of Gaelic charm, “The Incredible Francis Brady” (main character) is an ebullient twelve-year-old with a wide Irish eyes smile and an unfortunate set of parents-a beautiful and suicidal mother, and a father who ” . . . was the best drinker in the town.” Francie sets up the story with a voice-over narration: “When I was a young lad . . . I lived in a small town where they were all after me on account of what I’d done [to] Mrs. Nugent.”

What follows is a cinematic treatise on the making of a psychopath.

Francis steals apples from Mrs. Nugent’s tree and extorts Green Lantern comics from her bespectacled son, Philip. Mrs. Nugent tells his mother exactly what she thinks of the Bradys: “Pigs!” igniting a feud (story driver-action) between the boy and neighbor that erupts in unholy carnage. During the course of the story, Francie’s pranks evolve from the malicious to the unconscionably vicious. He is sent to a reform school where he easily manipulates his release, a mental institution where he escapes, and even fools his parish priest who exhorts the townspeople to ” . . . pray for the redemption of Francis Brady . . .” Each personal tragedy, most notably the death of his mother and perceived betrayal of best friend Joe Purcell, exacerbates the sins he commits against Mrs. Nugent and the small community. Finally, the town’s authorities ” . . . put Francie Brady in the ‘garage’ for bad bastards.” (ic resolve-change)

Like anti-hero Alex in A Clockwork Orange, none of Francie’s actions are excusable, but there is a margin for understanding. In one of the film’s most poignant moments, Francie lists his losses on the steamed up kitchen window with his finger-unaware his abandoned soul is the most tragic loss of all.

The Catbird Seat

by KEM Huntley

The short story does not usually lend itself to a Dramatica Grand Argument. Moreover, there often is not enough “real estate” to properly explore all four throughlines. Nevertheless, it can be done. In answering key Dramatica questions, an analysis of James Thurber’s satire, The Catbird Seat, provides an example.

1. What is the title of the story?

The Catbird Seat

2. In a short paragraph, describe what The Catbird Seat is about.

This short story explored the horrors of “downsizing” long before the term became a fashionable catchword for the elimination of jobs and subsequent mass firings of loyal employees who often don’t see it coming. However, if you are one of those with an eye on the ball and few tricks up your buttoned-down shirt sleeve, you may just end up sitting pretty in the catbird seat.

3. Who is the author?

James Thurber

4. Where does the story take place?

New York, early 1940’s

5. Determine and describe the main character-the figure with whom the reader will most identify.

Mr. Erwin Martin: “Cautious, painstaking” (239)

6. Determine and describe the Impact Character-the figure that will have the most bearing on the main character.

Mrs. Ulgine Barrows: “Her quacking voice and braying laugh . . . . had appalled Mr. Martin instantly, but he hadn’t shown it. He had given her his dry hand, a look of studious concentration and a faint smile. ‘Well,’ she said, looking at the papers on his desk, ‘are you lifting the oxcart out of the ditch?’ Later: “The faults of the woman as a woman kept chattering on in his mind like an unruly witness. She had, for almost two years now, baited him. In the halls, in the elevator, even in his own office, into which she romped now and then like a circus horse, she was constantly shouting these silly questions at him. “. . . Are you tearing up the pea patch? Are you hollering down the rain barrel? Are you scraping around the bottom of the pickle barrel? Are you sitting in the catbird seat?’ . . . Mr. Martin dismissed all this with an effort. It had been annoying, it had driven him near to distraction, but he was too solid a man to be moved to murder by anything so childish.” (239-40)

7. Determine and describe all the characters concerned with the overall story.

  • Mr. Erwin Martin-particular and remarkably efficient in his work; model employee
  • Mrs. Ulgine Barrows-loud, vulgar, crass; she has quite a lot of power
  • Mr. Fitweiler-the susceptible boss that is taken in by Barrows
  • Old Roberts-personnel chief
  • Joey Hart-assistant to Mr. Martin
  • Miss Paird-assistant to Mr. Martin; she is not above eavesdropping for Mr. Martin’s benefit
  • Miss Tyson-ex-employee
  • Mr. Brundage-ex-employee
  • Mr. Bartlett-ex-employee
  • Mr. Munson-ex-employee
  • Dr. Fitch-Mr. Fitweiler’s psychiatrist
  • Stockton-employee
  • Fishbein-employee
  • Mrs. Powell-employee

8. At the end of the story, has the Main Character changed or remained the same (MC Resolve)?

Mr. Martin is steadfast in his drive to maintain his filing department and his position as its head.

9. Does the Main Character need to grow out of something (Stop) or grow into something (Start)?

Mr. Martin must stop the madness that is Mrs. Ulgine Barrows.

10. What is main character’s approach to solving problems? Does he at first confront a dilemma head-on (Do-er), or does he adapt himself to the situation at hand (Be-er)?

Although quiet and unassuming, Mr. Martin is nevertheless a do-er. Once Mr. Martin believes his department is Mrs. Ulgine Barrow’s next target he knows: “He must act quickly. . . . Mr. Martin stood up in his living room, still holding his milk glass. ‘Gentlemen of the jury,’ he said to himself, ‘I demand the death penalty for this horrible person'” (241).

11. Determine and describe the main character’s use of linear or holistic problem– solving techniques.

Mr. Martin uses linear thinking to solve his problems. Not only is his daily life extremely routine, his plan to “rub out” Mrs. Ulgine Barrows is done step by step.

12. Determine and describe the actions or decisions that drive the plot forward.

Actions drive the plot forward, first described in the backstory:

. . . Mrs. Barrows had met Mr. Fitweiler at a party, where she had rescued him from the embraces of a powerfully built drunken man who had mistaken the president of F & S for a famous retired Middle Western football coach. She had led him to a sofa and somehow worked upon him a monstrous magic (impact character domain-psychology). The aging gentleman had jumped to the conclusion (overall story symptom-deduction) there and then that this was a woman of singular attainments . . . . A week later he had introduced her into F & S as his special advisor (overall story response-induction). (240)

Later, Mrs. Barrows’ actions are the cause of Mr. Martin’s decision “to rub out Mrs. Ulgine Barrows. The term ‘rub out’ pleased him because it suggested nothing more that the correction of an error-in this case an error of Mr. Fitweiler” (239).

13. Determine and describe how the story has reached its conclusion (Story Limit). Is it because time has run out (Timelock), or because all the options (Optionlock) are exhausted?

Mr. Fitweiler has the option to either believe Mrs. Ulgine Barrows or Mr. Martin’s account of what had transpired between the two in determining which one will remain employed at F & S:

“Mrs. Barrows is under the delusion (impact character domain-psychology),” continued Mr. Fitweiler, “that you visited her last evening and behaved yourself in an-uh-unseemly manner.” He raised his hand to silence Mr. Martin’s little pained outcry. “It is the nature of these psychological diseases,” Mr. Fitweiler said, “to fix upon the least likely and most innocent party as the ­uh-source of persecution. These matters are not for the lay mind to grasp, Martin. I’ve just had my psychiatrist, Dr. Fitch, on the phone. He would not, of course, commit himself, but he made enough generalizations to substantiate my suspicions. I suggested to Mrs. Barrows, when she completed her-uh-story to me this morning, that she visit Dr. Fitch, for I suspected her condition at once. She flew, I regret to say, into a rage, and demanded-uh-requested that I call you on the carpet. You may not know, Martin, but Mrs. Barrows had planned a reorganization of your department-subject to my approval, of course, subject to my approval (main character problem-reduction). This brought you, rather than anyone else, to her mind-but again that is a phenomenon for Dr. Fitch and not for us. So, Martin, I am afraid Mrs. Barrows’ usefulness here is at an end.”

“I am dreadfully sorry, sir,” said Mr. Martin. (244-45)

14. Is the outcome of the story a Success or Failure?

This is a success story. Mrs. Ulgine’s dismissal from F & S means the potential (overall story solution) for more departmental reorganization, therefore disruptions, is eliminated.

15. At the end of the story does the Main character feel Good or Bad (Judgment)?

Mr. Martin, without having to literally “rub out” Mrs. Ulgine Barrows has still effectively removed his nemesis, thus relieving his angst:

“I regret that this has happened,” said Mr. Fitweiler. “I shall ask you to dismiss it from your mind, Martin.” “Yes, sir,” said Mr. Martin, anticipating his chief’s “That will be all” by moving to the door. “I will dismiss it.” He went out and shut the door, and his step was light and quick in the hall. When he entered his department he had slowed down to his customary gait, and he walked quietly across the room to the W20 file, wearing a look of studious concentration. (245-46)

16. Describe the four points of view (domains): Overall, Main Character, Impact Character, and Relationship.

  • Overall Story-Universe: F & S is a company that thrives on its systems-and will employ whatever methods to make certain it runs with the utmost efficiency.
  • Main Character-Physics: Mr. Martin is a staunch defender of his department-even to the point of engaging in activities to “rub out Mrs. Ugline Barrows” (239)-the woman who threatens to dispense with it and he as its head.
  • Impact Character-Psychology: Mrs. Ulgine Barrows is a master manipulator. She has Mr. Fitweiler firmly under her thumb and the fate of the company in her hands.
  • Relationship Story-Mind: Mrs. Ulgine Barrows is determined to eliminate Mr. Martin’s department; Mr. Martin is just as determined to keep it intact.

17. What is the Goal of the story? Describe.

How the “system” of F & S stands (Present) is the story goal. Although the company president, Mr. Fitweiler, has hired Mrs. Ulgine Barrows “to bring out the best in him and in the firm” (240), “. . . in Mr. Martin’s mind . . . . Mrs. Ulgine Barrows stood charged with willful, blatant, and persistent attempts to destroy the efficiency and system of F & S” (240).

18. What thematic conflict in the Overall Story is explored?

The workplace of F & S, has been in an uproar since the “. . . day confusion got its foot in the door” in the arrival of Mrs. Ulgine Barrows. Her attempts at reorganization, with no prior professional experience, are depicted negatively, whereas those who are suited for the task at hand are shown in a positive light (work vs. attempt).

19. What is the problem in the Overall Story?

Mr. Fitweiler’s total reliability on Mrs. Ulgine Barrows’ judgment (certainty) creates problems for the employees of F & S:

After Miss Tyson, Mr. Brundage and Mr. Bartlett had been fired and Mr. Munson had taken his hat and stalked out, mailing in his resignation later, old Roberts had been emboldened to speak to Mr. Fitweiler. He mentioned that Mr. Munson’s department had been “a little disrupted” and hadn’t they perhaps better resume the old system there? Mr. Fitweiler had said certainly not. He had the greatest faith in Mrs. Barrows’ ideas (impact character concern-conceiving). (240)

20. Describe what conflict (Concern) occurs in the four throughlines.

  • Overall Story-Present: A self proclaimed efficiency expert has insinuated herself into F & S-and is wasting no time in having it run her way (overall concern thematic issue-expediency). It is a situation of concern to all involved: “She had begun chipping at the cornices of the firm’s edifice and now she was swinging at the foundation stones with a pickaxe” (240).
  • Main Character-Learning: Mr. Martin is concerned to learn his department is next on Mrs. Barrows’ hit list; Mr. Martin is concerned that no one learns of his part in Mrs. Barrows’ “rubbing out.”
  • Impact Character-Conceiving: Mrs. Ulgine Barrows is influential with her ideas: “Mr. Fitweiler . . . had the greatest faith in Mrs. Barrows’ ideas. ‘They require a little seasoning, a little seasoning is all'” (240).
  • Relationship Story-Conscious: Considerations are the source of conflict between Mr. Martin and Mrs. Ulgine Barrows. Mr. Martin is sensible to the fact Mrs. Ulgine Barrows is contemplating a reorganization of his department which is problematic for him; Mrs. Ulgine Barrows underestimates Mr. Martin, not for a second taking his devotion to his department-and what he might do to protect it-into consideration.

21. Describe the sequence of events for the four throughlines (Signposts).

Overall story: In the past (Signpost 1) F & S was a staid, old firm operating quite efficiently, until the day:

[Mrs. Barrows’] . . . quacking voice and braying laugh had first profaned the halls of F & S on March 7, 1941. . . . It was competent, material, and relevant to review her advent and rise to power. Mr. Martin had got the story from Miss Paird, who seemed always able to find things out. . . . Mr. Martin came now, in his summing up, to the afternoon of Monday, November 2, 1942-just one week ago. On that day, at 3 P.M., Mrs. Barrows had bounced into his office. “Boo!” she had yelled. “Are you scraping around the bottom of the pickle barrel?” Mr. Martin had looked at her from under his green eyeshade, saying nothing. She had begun to wander about the office, taking it in with her great, popping eyes. “Do you really need all these filing cabinets?” she had demanded suddenly. (241) Much to Mr. Martin’s alarm, Mrs. Ulgine Barrows’ progress (Signpost 2) in turning F & S upside down includes the “reorganization” of his department. Mr. Martin shares his (phony) future (Signpost 3) plans with Mrs. Barrows that includes blowing up their boss. Once she reports his extremely out of character behavior to Mr. Fitweiler, her state of mind is questioned, and she is dismissed (Signpost 4-present). Mr. Martin is successful in stopping her from steam rolling his department and wreaking any further havoc at F& S.

Main Character: Mr. Martin bought the pack of Camels on Monday night in the most crowded cigar store on Broadway. It was theatre time and seven or eight were buying cigarettes. . . . If any of the staff at F & S had seen him buy the cigarettes, they would have been astonished, for it was generally known that Mr. Martin did not smoke, and never had (Signpost 1-obtaining). No one saw him. It was just a week to the day since Mr. Martin had decided to rub out Mrs. Ulgine Barrows. The term “rub out” pleased him because is suggested nothing more than the correction of an error-in this case an error of Mr. Fitweiler. . . . The project as he had worked it out was casual and bold, the risks were considerable. . . . And therein lay the cunning of his scheme. No one would ever see in it the cautious, painstaking hand of Erwin Martin, head of the filing department at F & S, of whom Mr. Fitweiler had once said, “Man is fallible, but Martin isn’t.” (239) Mr. Martin understands (Signpost 2) he must be very careful not to make any mistakes as: “If he ran into anybody, he would simply have to place the rubbing-out of Ulgine Barrows in the inactive file forever” (242). His plan is put into action (Signpost 3-doing) once he finds himself in her apartment: “Mr. Martin looked quickly around the living room for the weapon. He had counted on finding one there. There were andirons and a poker and something in a corner that looked like an Indian club. None of them would do. . . . When Mrs. Barrows reappeared, carrying two highballs, Mr. Martin standing there with his gloves on, became acutely conscious of the fantasy he had wrought. Cigarettes in his pocket, a drink prepared for him-it was all too grossly improbable. It was more than that; it was impossible. Somewhere in the back of his mind a vague idea stirred, sprouted. . . . The idea began to bloom, strange and wonderful. She put the glasses on a coffee table in front of a sofa and sat on the sofa. “Come over here, you odd little man,” she said. “Well,” she said, handing him his drink, “this is perfectly marvelous. You with a drink and a cigarette.” Mr. Martin puffed, not too awkwardly, and took a gulp of the highball. “I drink and smoke all the time,” he said. He clinked his glass against hers. “Here’s nuts to that old windbag, Fitweiler,” he said, and gulped again. The stuff tasted awful, but he made no grimace. “Really, Mr. Martin,” she said, her voice and posture changing, “you are insulting our employer.” (243) The following day, Mr. Martin learns (Signpost 4) his department will stay intact once Mr. Fitweiler deems Mrs. Barrows mentally incompetent, after she had reported a fantastic account of Mr. Martin’s evening visit.

Impact Character: Mrs. Barrows and her big ideas (Signpost 1-conceiving) are upsetting the apple cart at F & S. Her role (Signpost 2-being) as special advisor to the president has a profoundly negative effect on the company, and particularly on Mr. Martin. She comes dangerously close to becoming (Signpost 3) a corpse at Mr. Martin’s hands-but it is her self-righteousness that finally does her in. The concept (Signpost 4) that “such a drab, ordinary little man” (245) as Mr. Martin could cause her demise changes (impact character resolve) her from the office tyrant to a blithering idiot:

She stopped yelling to catch her breath and a new glint came into her popping eyes. . . . She glared at Mr. Fitweiler. “Can’t you see how he has tricked us, you old fool? Can’t you see his little game?” But Mr. Fitweiler had been surreptitiously pushing all the buttons under the top of his desk and employees of F & S began pouring into the room. “Stockton,” said Mr. Fitweiler, “you and Fishbein will take Mrs. Barrows to her home. Mrs. Powell, you will go with them.” Stockton, who had played a little football in high school, blocked Mrs. Barrows as she made for Mr. Martin. It took him and Fishbein together to force her out of the door into the hall, crowded with stenographers and office boys. She was still screaming imprecations at Mr. Martin, tangled and contradictory imprecations. (245)

Relationship Story: Whereas Mrs. Ulgine Barrows doesn’t give Mr. Martin a second thought (Signpost 1-conscious), Mr. Martin is very conscious of her threat to his department. He recalls (Signpost 2-memory) the description of her “ducky first-floor apartment” (242) as he makes his way to surprise her at home:

“‘Well, for God’s sake, look who’s here!’ bawled Mrs. Barrows, and her braying laugh rang out like the report of a shotgun. He rushed past her like a football tackle, bumping her. . . . ‘What’s after you?’ she said. ‘You’re as jumpy as a goat (Signpost 3-preconscious)'” (242). Instead of bumping Mrs. Barrows off, Mr. Martin acts out of character, fully cognizant that she will be driven to report his odd behaviour to Mr. Fitweiler the next day. She does, and to her great fury (Signpost 4-subconscious), finds Mr. Fitweiler thinks she’s crazy and her employment is terminated-much to the satisfaction of Mr. Martin.

Source Cited:

Thurber, James. “The Catbird Seat.” Studies in the Short Story. Ed. Adrian H. Jaffe and Virgil Scott. 3rd ed. New York: Holt, 1968. 239-246.

Boogie Nights

by KEM Huntley

This ’70s joyride through LaLa Land’s exotic erotic film scene is a fresh twist on the extended family and the curious ties that bind. Writer/Director Paul Thomas Anderson presents a story that coolly dismisses accepted societal standards. He populates his screenplay with empty souls who follow their own (a)moral code, yet instead of alienating the audience, he convinces it to care.

A key component of this success is its underlying story structure. An exact storyform, however, is not immediately evidenced. At times it feels like an overall story with a goal of obtaining—the characters all want something: sex, drugs, fame and fortune. Other times the goal appears to be being—the characters believe their lifestyle is temporary and want to take on another role.  Buck dreams of being his own boss—ruling the “Super Cool Stereo World.” Following the grand argument may be somewhat difficult when the plot progression falters, for example, after Dirk Diggler (main character) and Jack Horner’s (influence character) falling out, the relationship story steps aside for a considerable amount of screen time in favor of the other three throughlines. Still and all, dressed in its best polyester double knit, Boogie Nights turns story into film art as the acting, cinematography, soundtrack, and so forth spins you through its disco party.

What follows is one “rolleroid” snapshot perspective of this Goodfellasesque epic:

Pornographic film director Jack Horner opens the door to his private paradise as the setting for the overall story. “It resembles the Jungle Room at Graceland” and comes complete with Jacuzzi, swimming pool, and its own (basement) film studio. Talent resides at this secure (thematic issue) funhouse where reality is distorted by white lines and Cuervo Gold. It is here where the changing industry (story goal of progress) is debated:


The video revolution is upon us—and our role is critical.


Jack, please understand that this is not an argument . . . this is a fact (overall story catalyst).




I think that there is a serious case to be made for the price and the gamble on the whole idea of a home video market . . . two, three years from now, everyone’s gonna be able to walk into their local supermarket and buy or rent a videocassette . . . film is just too damn expensive . . . the theaters are already planning converting to video projectors.

Jack represents a different way of thinking. He has the ability (thematic issue) to direct “stellar, sexual standouts” but his true desire (thematic counterpoint) lies in making porno films with “stories.” Jack discovers (story driver–action) the next big thing, Dirk’s big thang, and the relationship story throughline sets in motion as each takes a fixed position on what it means to be a director and an actor. The thematic issue of confidence illustrates the positive aspects of their relationship. Jack is certain of Dirk’s value (relationship story catalyst), and this assuredness plays out–making the director amenable to the kid’s ideas—his  own stage name and his own action series (Brock Landers: Angels Live in my Town).

Sweet-natured and trusting (main character symptom), Dirk is a physics character, whose first approach to a problem is to work it out externally (doer). His male mental sex has led him to an environment where he can be “a big, bright, shining star.” An inexperienced (thematic counterpoint) actor, Dirk’s raw skills (thematic issue) are applauded in the adult film world (“Diggler delivers a performance (doing) worth a thousand hard-ons”).

The relationship story concern is explored in the preconscious, where Dirk’s anywhere, anytime, sexual impulses (“I can do it again if you need a close-up”) are filmed under the direction of Jack. The fantasy world Jack fabricates for Dirk eventually inhibits their relationship. Dirk boasts he blocks his own sex shots “. . . and he (Jack) gives me flexibility to work with the character . . .”  His vanity pricked, Jack laughs it off.

Jack’s tolerance (problem of accurate) of Dirk’s escalating ego and cocaine habit reaches its limit, illustrated when Dirk, strung out, screams, “YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!” (solution of non-accurate) and Jack immediately fires him (overall story consequence of preconscious).

Anderson deftly indicates how the effects of the objective characters’ individual circumstances create dilemmas for them: the effect Amber Waves’ career choice has on her custody battle (no visiting rights), the effect Little Bill’s wife’s flagrant sexual escapades have on her husband (murder in cold blood), and particularly, the devastating effect Dirk has on Scotty (heart wrenching humiliation).

For Dirk, doing the hustle no longer means choreographed booty shakes—it’s risky street business with ill effects (main character problem). Trapped in a nightmarish parody of his own action films (Guns! Firecrackers! Sister Christian!) Dirk finally realizes he has no other option but to stop his wayward Wonderland course—that only he can be the agent (cause) of his change—a solution shared in the overall story.

Stripped of his pride, a wiser (unique ability) Dirk stumbles back to his Hollywood home. By this time, Jack has resolved his own problem of sticking to the proven method of producing porno on film to successfully using videotape (unproven). Preparing for his next feature with Jack, Dirk’s angst has evaporated (story judgment good). He is cool. He is sexy. He chants to his mirror image—“I’m a star, I’m a star, I’m a star, I’m a star, I’m a star, I’m a big bright shining star”—and karate kicks to the credits.