Notes and Quotes – American Short Story 2

– Notes and Quotes –


American Short Story 2


Joyce Carol Oates (1938-present), Heat (1991)


human passions/conditions


Mrs. Kunkel, 8 kids, Rhea & Rhoda Kunkel, twins, youngest, stole $6 from granny.

The names in order, Rhea always first. Dead, 7th grade, twin coffins, buried First Methodist.

“heat sometimes all night long”

The thermometer on the First Midland Bank read 98 degrees Fahrenheit at noon.

Mother would hug her and pray

“there was a girl she loved as her daughter that was me and loved more than that girl deserved.”

dead dog

Strip! Power.

Mr. Kunkel, construction worker, in police custody for threatening to kill the Whipples, Roger, for killing the twins. Roger didn’t remember, bathing in the middle of the day. Roger, “hung like a horse,” says his sister. The twins circled him with their bikes. Rhea, thirsty, Roger got ice. Something to show the girls, under Roger’s bed, show them one at a time, can’t tell the twins apart. Rhea went first as always.

Roger dead by 31.

Mrs. Whipple and Iris were home, claiming to only hear children playing in the yard.

Rhoda pretended to leave, angry at her sister (wished her dead) for leaving her, keeping her waiting, and stealing the money from their grandmother. Rhoda entered the house, called for Rhea, encountered Roger flushed and sweating (crime of passion, “heat” of the moment, unable to remember).

Mrs. Whipple became a shut-in, died of cancer before Roger’s death.

The Whipples had called the police, the bodies hidden in the ice house.


The narrator, married, has an affair for 2-3 years, “heat”, passion, leaving her unable to remember or recognize who she was.


“The things people do,” in the heat of the moment, lie, cheat, steal, tease, rape, murder, and every action with a reaction, every cause with an effect.


Perhaps a transposition occurs between the narrator and her adult affair behind the ice house with the affair between the Kunkel twins and Roger.



John Edgar Wideman (1941-present), Fever (1989)

Philadelphia – irony

equality (to disease)

no freedom to blacks

Paragraph breaks – shift in time/place/voice



James Baldwin (1924-1987), Sonny’s Blues (1957)

classic short story

the trembling cup of courage

racial identity – “sociology is not art”

Baldwin – criticized for not being a voice in civil rights (writes)

“It” – unspeakable problem, Sonny’s situation, drug raid

math/music – languages

music – whistle – jukebox – poetic devices

musicians – reputations as drug users


we all live in private space


compare with Hemingway’s “A Clean Well Lighted Placed”

making misery tolerable




Bobbie Ann Mason (1940-present), Big Bertha Stories (1988)

what America did to Vietnam

what Vietnam did to America

Dirty Realism – British critics


(Jayne Ann Phillips, Tobias Wolff)

American realists: Twain, James, Howells, Wharton

caves – interactions

plot vs. character

reaction against 60s & 70s

social idealism, war, protest

war effects everyone

focus on pop culture


contaminated realism

minimalist – iceberg effect

less is more, or can be

characters – rootless wanderers

(Peter Rugg, Wandering Jew, homeless)

mental illness



Sandra Cisneros (1954-present), What Sally Said (1989)

prose poetry

condensation of language


absurd humor – marshmallow salesman

Prison – flowers/floor, cake/ceiling