Thursday, May 26, 2016

Grace Paley, "A Conversation with My Father"--Short Story Month 2016—Day 26


            In an interview, Grace Paley said this story is about story telling, generational attitudes, and history.  She says the father in the story is right, from his point of view, for he came from a world where there was no choice, where you couldn't change careers when you were forty-one years old.  Paley has said that the father in the story is patterned after her own father.
            What Paley rebels against in this story is the inevitability of plot, which, because it moves toward a predestined end, is a straight line between two points.  A basic difference between fiction and "real life," Paley suggests is that whereas real life is open and full of possibility, fiction moves relentlessly toward its predetermined end.
            Consequently, as much as the writer might like his or her fiction to be "like life," it can never quite be a similitude of life.  The closest the writer comes to feeling this sense of similitude is when fictional characters are so fully realized that they seem to take on a life of their own and somehow "get away" from their authors.
            After the author tells her second story, the character of the mother does seem to "come alive" both for the author and the father, for whereas the father feels sorry for her as if she were a real person in the real world, the author feels that she has the freedom to do something other than she does in the story. 
            A basic difference between the father's reaction to the woman in the story and the author's reaction is that whereas the father takes her situation seriously, as if she had a separate existence in the world, the author knows that the woman is her own creation; thus, although she feels sorry for her, she never loses sight of the fact that as the author she has the god-like power to alter her destiny. 
            The basic implication of this difference is that whereas the reader can become involved with fictional characters within the predetermined pattern of the plots in which they live, the author necessarily takes a more distanced approach to his or her characters and thus is more apt to see them satirically than tragically.


 Jorge Luis Borges' "Funes the Memorious"

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