Two Short Stories


This essay seeks to compare and contrast two short stories with regard to the plot, content, and use of literary terms as portrayed by their respective authors. White angel by Michael Cunningham, has its setting in the early sixties, and introduces us to a time when music was the highly praised and valued for its relaxing nature. It depicts the fascinations of a young teen and his indulgence in drugs leading to his demise. Temporary Matter deals with a temporary state of tension brought about by a long kept grudge between a man and his wife. The plots unfold as we learn the source of the problems in each story. They are both told around a family setting, and are both centered on the idea of loses that come with the death of a family member.

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The writer of ‘White Angel’ tells us the story of two brothers, Carlton, aged sixteen and bobby, aged nine, who both secretly decide to indulge in drugs on a regular basis. The setting is put in the sixties where, as the author puts it, music played sang of love. The characters are often seen indulging in some form of musical entertainment at different instances within the plot, like when the father is in his workshop playing his clarinet or as Isabel cooks dinner. The author also lets us in on a regularly occurring party in which music is played to set the mood. As such we can say that the author specifically chose the sixties period with the intention of setting a calmly subtle mood. Attention is drawn to the venue where the boys hide their bottle of alcohol.

A cherub placed in the cemetery guards this secret meeting place where the boys usually hide themselves during the day as their parents work. Carlton is the more influential brother being a teenager, and he encourages his younger brother to take drugs which he said would set them free from worrying. Carlton even emphasizes that the acid tablets he takes were for clarity of vision as Vicks was for decongestion of the nose. In the plot, the parents are merely lenient; they don’t seem to offer a strict hand or some form of discipline for Carlton. His mother, Isabel, is said to bear a grudge towards the menacing boy for doing drugs and roaming every so often without saying where he goes when he goes. Carlton’s drug indulgence is astonishing to say the least, and his friends come across as drug users too. This is brought out at the party before the tragic death that haunts this family as the teens walk into the house in a cloud of dope smoke and half-mast eyes. The story comes to a close with the horrible death of Carlton in their living room as the party goes on.

The suspicion is that Carlton had sneaked into the cemetery momentarily to do drugs while the party was outside on their backyard unraveling the mystery of a flying saucer. He is said to have come running from the direction of the cemetery and runs into the glass door smashing it into many pieces, at which point one piece of glass drives into his neck eventually killing him. The family gets crashed by this tragedy, leaving the family distraught as the mother withdraws and keeps away from the rest of the family.

The author uses a first person narration where Bobby is seen to be telling the story at different times. This can be seen at different instances where Bobby comes across something he sees that he does not understand and his perception is what the reader gets to experience. The author uses onomatopoeia in describing some of the different sounds, such as the hum of the music, and the door thumping.  There is some alluding to the use of fantasy, where we are shown the two brothers in the cemetery after the drugs they take, have taken effect and they are fantasizing about flying to New York and living the good life in their future.

The short story ‘A Temporary Matter’ by Jumpha Lahiri starts ordinarily, where Shoba, is opening received electricity notice saying electricity would be interrupted from eight to nine o’clock in the evening so as to allow for some maintenance to be carried out. This is the temporary matter depicted as the title of the story. The setting of the story is based in their lavish apartment where Shukumar, is seen to be the one cooking dinner, while the wife engages more in her vocation. The plot slowly unfolds bringing the idea that all is not well in this family of two. This is seen when Shukumar’s thoughts are brought into the story. He is seen to look at his wife and judge her appearance as she was in the present, and compare it to how she looked some few months back. The writer uses dialogue between the two characters to bring out conflict. They set their individual spaces within the house where each goes to carry on their vocational activities separately.

Shakumar is the one who finally brings out the reason behind the conflict. He takes the reader back to six months before the present time and tells of the events that occurred, which lead to the tension that is between the couple.  While away at a conference, his wife goes into early labor and ends up losing their child. Since that incident, the relationship between the two had changed drastically with Shoba working more hours at work.
The first day the lights go off, the couple is forced to have their dinner together, unlike other nights when they eat separately, over the light of candles. The darkness somehow makes it easier for them to communicate as Shoba suddenly suggests they play a game, where they share secrets they had kept from each other. The same ritual continues for four nights and it is on this last night, the couple is seen to share a bed for the first time in months. On the fifth night they share their final confessions where Shoba tells Shukumar that she had been looking for an apartment and would be moving out at any time. Shukumar is shocked and this is when he tells her that he had flown back from the conference earlier than he had said and had had the privilege of holding their baby boy before he had been cremated. The couple had decided not to know the sex of the baby until it was born, and so this confession is a huge shock for Shoba, but in a way, also brings them together. The story ends with the couple being seen to be brought together by the confessions they had both shared as they are seen weeping together, because of all that they now knew.

The writer uses a sequence of related events to generate the plot in each story. Conflict is used is ‘A Temporary Matter’ to foreshadow the strange turn of events. It is the intention of the writer to involve the reader emotionally as the plot unfolds, generating suspense and climax  (Microsoft Corporation). In Jhumpa’s story, Shoba has held a grudge for a long time since losing her child. She sets the stage for communication before breaking the ice. Shukumar responds in kind when she suggests she is leaving him. This is brought to an anticlimax when the couple learns the shocking truth from their confessions. Their indifferences ironically bring them together as the story comes to a conclusion.

We can see the authors’ literary genius throughout the short story. Firstly, she develops characters with their descriptions creating human attributes in the mind of the reader and showing us their surrounding by the setting used by the author. A Temporary Matter is for instance set in a quite neighborhood that one can only imagine to be a suburb. The evening walks are characteristic of suburbs and rich neighborhoods with neatly manicured lawns and street walks. The extravagant nature of Shoba at the start of their relationship also goes to support this argument. We feel a change of moods as the writer narrates of a time when Shoba would neatly arrange their pantry and store food, utility items and money for emergencies. It in some way foreshadows her plan to live a separate life. Her loss of focus and devotion as Shukumar’s wife also foreshadows their breakup.


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