In the short stories, ‘The Good Corn’; written by H.E. Bates and ‘The Great Leapfrog Contest’; by William Saroyan techniques such as characters, point of view, setting and structure work together to explore the issue of personal conflict and establish tension between the main characters in each story. An examination of these techniques allow a more enhanced reading of the texts and in turn evoke a particular response from the reader.
In the short story ‘The Good Corn’; there are three main characters which are portrayed in such a way as to allow a tension and personal conflict to be created but only after the reader is positioned to respond favourably to the characters initially. Joe Mortimer and his wife are introduced to the reader first and the relationship established between them is a warm and caring mutual love. At the beginning of the story Joe Mortimer is portrayed as a loving and caring husband who worries about his wife and reassures her about her infertility saying ‘Don’t say that. Don’t talk like that…’; This response initially evokes a positive response from the reader towards the character Joe. Similarly, Mrs. Mortimer is portrayed as comforting, kind and gentle and this womanly nature is conveyed when she says to Joe ‘I want you. Don’t be afraid of that.’; Hence, the relationship established between the farm couple is one of mutual friendship and love. The reader is positioned to respond favourably towards the two characters.
In much the same manner, the short story ‘The Great Leapfrog Contest’; also develops the main characters so the reader responds to each in a positive manner initially. Rosie is portrayed as a tomboy in the opening paragraphs which is demonstrated through the quote ‘Rosie has little use for girls, and as far as possible avoided them.’; She is also conveyed as smart and conniving as she had ‘discovered how to jump over Rex in a way that weakened him’;. The reader is positioned to see Rosie as the underdog due to her gender and because of her headstrong and shrewd manner the reader responds positively towards this character. Rex is introduced to the reader as a ‘natural born leader’; and as ‘very calm and courteous…..with poise that couldn’t be hurried, flustered or excited.’; Due to these admirable attributes he too is also looked upon favourably by the reader. Hence in the two short stories the reader is positioned to like all the characters presented.
However, both stories develop a tension between the main characters despite the openings that portray all the characters in a positive light. In ‘The Good Corn’; the introduction of the character Elsie to the Mortimer’s life sets in motion a turn of events that causes a rift in the Mortimer’s relationship and also initiates a personal conflict in the character of Mrs. Mortimer. The character of Elsie is developed in such a manner as to portray her as flirtatious with her asking Joe ‘how do I bring my thumbs over so that I can blow?’; and eventually as inconsiderate when she breaks the news of their affair in a harsh manner to Joe’s wife. The tension that is created between the farm couple is illustrated when Joe says in the following passage ‘I didn’t think you wanted me;#8230;..I got so as I thought you didn’t want me anymore…’; Due to Elsie’s immorality and betrayal of Mrs. Mortimer’s friendship the reader looks upon her in a negative light. She not only has created problems within the marriage but also causes Mrs. Mortimer to blame herself when she says to Joe ‘I’m sorry. It was me. It was my fault.’; This illustrates the personal conflict Mrs. Mortimer is engaged in as she rationalizes her husband’s behaviour in terms of her belief that she has not fulfilled the duty of a wife through not being able to bear children. The reader therefore is positioned to pity Mrs. Mortimer and at the same time resent Elsie’s interference in their marriage.
The story ‘The Great Leapfrog Contest’; also develops a tension between the main characters but this is not done with the aid of another character. Rather, the characters personalities emerge through the leapfrog game which places Rex and Rosie in opposition with one another. As the story progresses the reader is positioned to form new opinions of Rex as he is conveyed as cold, cruel and brutal when he says ‘It grieved him deeply to have to make a girl exert herself to the point of death, but it was just too bad.’; His actions further perpetuate the notion of him as cold hearted and cruel when he ‘gave her a very effective kick that sent her sprawling’;. In contrast to this Rosie’s persistent and defiant manner in the contest is illustrated when she ‘jumped up and smacked Rex in the mouth’;. The fact that she was the winner of the contest and emerged triumphant while Rex was ‘deeply humiliated’; positions the reader to admire Rosie’s steadfast nature that enabled her, the underdog, to defeat the local bully that had ‘fought and licked every boy in the neighbourhood.’; Hence, in both short stories, the characters are set up in a tension although different means are employed to establish this conflict between characters.
In both stories, the setting is very effective in enhancing the characters personal situations. ‘The Good Corn’; opens with a descriptive passage that
portrays an idyllic haven in which the characters live;
…a few cows and calves, the fruit from half a dozen cherry trees and an acre or two of corn…
This conjures images of a peaceful and thriving natural environment with no invasion of manmade inventions. However, as the personal conflict of Mrs. Mortimer’s sterility is developed the setting complements her feelings of worthlessness and loneliness as the reader becomes aware that the farm is in fact isolated and any outside contact with people is welcomed. This is demonstrated through the passage ‘Whenever the Mortimer’s caught sight of them the children on the train there was a sudden brightness on their faces.’; Similarly, in ‘The Great Leap Frog Contest’; the setting enhances the portrayal of Rosie as the underdog. The fact that the contest takes place on a highway that is made out of ‘dirt and asphalt’; conveys an atmosphere of a fast-paced competition and it is painstakingly obvious that Rosie’s gender does not complement this setting. Hence, she is portrayed as an outsider not only because she is fighting a boy, but also because of the nature of her surroundings.
Both short stories employ third person point of view to enable the reader to see into the lives of all the characters presented. While this doesn’t allow a more personalized insight into the main characters mind it does give the authors freedom to explore all of the characters emotions, although in both cases more insight is given into the characters of Rosie and Mrs. Mortimer which serves to highlight their dilemmas. The character Mrs. Mortimer for example is the main focus as the author continuously makes reference to her inability to conceive by stating that she ‘drew more and more into herself’; and that she ‘stood one morning in the small cow-shed at the back of the house and watched a calf die in her arms.’; Joe’s actions however are not as meticulously documented. The character Rosie is also built up through the use of third person narrative and it is her actions in the fight that are drawn attention to as she ‘bumped Rex’s head a real powerful one’; and ‘Rosie, with great and admirable artistry, finished the job.’; In addition to this, third person narrative also allows the reader to see that the neighbourhood children are cheering for her as it states ‘It was the first time we had ever seen him fuming. By God, the girl was taking advantage of him!’; Therefore, the use of third person enables the characters and their situations to be dramatised that little bit more as insight is given into the minds of other characters as well and is not limited to just the main ones.
The structure of both the short stories is similar as the main characters are introduced to the reader in the opening paragraphs in a positive light. The stories both develop as the main characters are involved in some personal dilemma, be it coming to grips with being infertile or proving one’s self to be just as worthy as a boy. In both stories the character’s internal conflict is resolved as Rosie wins the fight and Mrs. Mortimer ‘went through the rest of the winter as if she were carrying the baby herself.’; However, in ‘The Good Corn’; Mrs. Mortimer also forgives her husband and the tension between the characters is also resolved. This is not the case with Rosie in ‘The Great Leap Frog Contest’; as it states that she ‘talked all the way home’; and Rex was left ‘a confused young man.’; In this story the tension between the characters still remains to the very end.
In conclusion, the techniques of characters, setting, point of view and structure all work together to convey the personal dilemmas and tension between the main characters in the short stories ‘The Good Corn’; by H.E. Bates and William Saroyan’s ‘The Great Leap Frog Contest’;. It is through these techniques that the reader is able to respond to the characters in either a positive or negative manner and a more enhanced reading of the texts is made possible.