Инфоурок / Иностранные языки / Статьи / Reflection and evaluation of the short story “THE ONE WHO WAITS”

Reflection and evaluation of the short story “THE ONE WHO WAITS”

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Reflection and evaluation of the short story

THE ONE WHO WAITS” by Ray Bradbury

в рамках спецкурса по английскому языку “Reading, Thinking, Creating

для учащихся 10-11 классов гимназии

Цель: развитие когнитивно-коммуникативной компетенции чтения и развитие навыков интерпретации текста на примере рассказа Рэя Брэдбери «Тот, кто ждёт»

Usually before supplying the texts, I ask the students what different categories they remember for stories. They come up with almost all of the categories without much prompting. Then 
I supply them with a text asking which category they think this or that story falls into. I encourage them to suggest and justify as many answers as possible. They could even suggest a possible plot line. At this stage, I do not tell any students whether they are right, wrong or close to the truth with their hypotheses. I only ask what they expect to read in the story. Then we analyze the story together and I try to supply them some linguistic knowledge, I explain to them all phenomena I can and it affects their own interpretation later.

The text under analysis is a short story “The One Who Waits” by Ray Bradbury. It is a science fiction story. Like in many other Bradbury’s stories, the action takes place in the distant future, in Martian landscapes. Mars - is a planet of the solar system. The word ‘Martian’ reminds ‘Martial’ (only one letter differs in spelling, two sounds differ in pronunciation). In Rome mythology, it is "воинственный дух". Therefore, the first question to the students is: “What are your associations with the word ‘Mars’?”

Then we read the beginning of the story “I live in a well. I live like smoke in the well. Like vapour in a stone throat. I don’t move. I don’t do anything but wait. Overhead I see the cold stars of night and morning, and I see the sun. And sometimes I sing old songs of this world when it was young. How can I tell you what I am when I don't know? I cannot. I am simply waiting.” I ask the next question: “Is there anything martial in these words?” Not at all! The author goes on: “I am simply waiting. I am mist and moonlight and memory. I am sad and I am old. Sometimes I fall like rain into the well. Spider webs are startled into forming where my rain falls fast, on the water surface. I wait in cool silence and there will be a day when I no longer wait.” We discuss that, on the one hand, the author highlights the quality of the fantastic entity that is both the narrator and the protagonist, and on the other hand, the author is very evasive in the description. He mentions its age (more than ten thousand years), memory (I sing old songs of this world, when it was young), gives a suggestive name of the place of habitation (a Soul Well, on the water surface).

Gradually, students can't but notice a great number of similes (expressive comparisons) used with numerous and widely varying verbs, denoting this mystical creature's strange states and actions. They all are likened to contrasting phenomena: “live like smoke”, “like vapour”, “fall like rain”, “hang like a flower pollen”, “turn like a wheel”, “hover like a dust”.

Above all, there is the multiple repetition of the word ‘wait’. What for? Perhaps, the author makes it easier for us to understand something introducing into the narration this constantly repeated word. What the author can imply? In order to answer this question I ask students to pay attention to the choice of words in the story and they try to find stylistically coloured words (e.g. in the first paragraph) and we find out that they are very important. Moreover, these words predominate over their neutral environment, importing to the context their own value, their own colouring: vapour, a stone throat, mist, moonlight, memory, spider webs, falls, surface, silence, etc. Then I explain to the students that as early as the 18th century Alexander Pope, a renowned poet of the epoch proclaimed: ‘The sound must seem an echo to the sense’. If we make attempts to tie up sounds and sense, we'll find a more or less direct connection between the words and their form: sonorant consonants /m/, /n/ and a sound /s/ predominate over others. They add softness, tenderness, mystery and alarming to the context.  Non-human acoustic sounds of Mars seem to turn into human words, creating the general atmosphere of unidentified danger. 

Perhaps, some more indications might help us in identifying the strange, soft, tender, alarming creature, the narrator and the protagonist of the story. He or she? I tell the students that it is known from books on grammar, those who work on the vessels and vehicles (ships, boats, cars) personify them as feminine, the sun is treated as masculine etc. So who is it that retells the story in the first person singular? It says: “How can I tell you what I am when I don’t know? I cannot.” In the story we have already found words characterizing the narrator: danger, fear. Abstract notions, suggesting these ideas are personified in English as nouns of masculine gender. Masculine gender symbolizes fierceness (not softness), strength (not tenderness).

What or Who? The creature says about him: “Like smoke”, “Like vapour”, “I am mist and moonlight and memory.” These closely connected words accentuate notions that are not palpable and animate; you cannot touch them, though you can feel them. In addition, the creature possesses some human senses, which affect his behavior: “I live in a well”, “Overhead I see the cold stars, I see the sun”, “I don’t move”, “I don’t do anything”, “Sometimes I sing the old songs of this world”, “ How can I tell you”, “I hear a great thunder”, “I hear a metal crushing”, “I smell fire from a distance”, “I listen”. So the creature is capable of doing conscious activities. At the same time, the creature possesses some exceptional for a human being qualities, he can “fall like rain”, “hang like a flower pollen”, “turn in the sun, like a wheel”, “hover like a dust, a cinnamon, upon the soft wind”. But some great events are in the offing - this is the meaning of the word "wait” (the creature can do it), this verb prevails over other verbs. Undoubtedly, it is living material.

And, really, suddenly the description becomes dynamic: "Now it is morning". The general mood of the story changes. A consciously staged show starts. What happens? The plot of the story is the following: a creature with no name or body watches how a spaceship with eight astronauts from the Earth arrives at Mars. The creature has the ability to get inside a human being and get control of human’s body and mind. So one by one, it captures all the astronauts and kills them. The first one, Stephen Leonard Jones dies from an unknown reason. The second one, Captain, shoots himself. All the rest are forced to throw themselves in the well. To be more exact, they are imposed to commit suicide. The creature returns to its previous immaterial condition to wait for another rocket to come to Mars and to take hold of its passengers.

While reading the story, I ask the students not to overlook the significance of indicators, which explain to us what happens in reality. We also analyze the structure of utterances of the text paying attention to a great number of ellipsis, absence of word forms or "operators "(auxiliary verbs, articles, prepositions, conjunctions), words that are very often dropped in informal oral communication. It is typical of careless colloquial speech. At the same time, the absence of connecting elements affects great dynamic strength of the action. Really, the author strengthens, emphasizes, makes more prominent some words, they sound more decisive, more emphatic, they are even printed in italics in the story. Why? To demonstrate the growing intensity of the catastrophe? The souls of astronauts resist death.

Overall, I must say that it is only oral speech, that can be heard, gives us opportunities for judging some hypotheses. The graphic picture of actual speech limits us, so we always try to read a text aloud. And here the total, strong power belongs to its Majesty imagination. Madness of hypotheses is possible. For example, the predominant tense of narration is the Present Simple. It is rather unusual for science fiction. Why is it employed here? If we examine the category of tense, we will be sure to know that the Present Simple tense can express an action of the past and the future , not only that of the present. So the present tense forms are often used with reference to past or future actions. Here is what they call “historical present”. The author depicts past events as if they were in the present for visualizing what is told in the story. It makes the narration vivid and natural on the one hand. On the other hand, verbs in present or present simple can express an elected future action. Everything goes according to the plan of the creature. 
What will change if the third person omniscient author narrates the catastrophe with the astronauts? Of course, composition, wording will be different, the atmosphere of danger and mystery will disappear. There will be no implied information.

At the end of the story, we learn that the creature returns to its previous immaterial condition to wait for another spaceship to come. “Far out, there is a wink of light. Another rocket coming, leaving red marks on space. I live in a well….” Identical beginning and end frame the story. In Russian, it is called “кольцевая композиция”. The story has also an open end, but following the inner logic of the development of the character, it is possible to prognosticate the character's future actions and deeds with sufficient accuracy. 

Then I ask the students to comment on the actual meaning of the title. They usually note the vagueness of the title and I ask them to pay attention to the role of the pronoun "one" in it. It is known that the common form of expressing the idea of indefinite person is the pronoun “one”. However, “one” can be easily replaced by the definite personal pronoun “we”, expressing practically the same idea of indefinite reference. And really in the end “we” appears. I ask students to suggest another title for the story or a contextual synonym for the title. Usually, some of them suggest “колодец душ наших”. I explain to them, that when we read this or that story, they seem deceptively simple, almost primitive. Indeed, all is said, what is there that demands the interpreter's special attention and analysis? However, while reading a text, our first priority is always to reveal the author's point of view, his evaluative perspective, the so-called “idea” of the text, its moral, ethical and aesthetic message, which explains why, and what for the story was written. Approaching the story with this task in mind, we realize that to give answers to these similar questions is not that simple. The author does not pass judgment on the character. To reveal the author's standpoint thus, we have to carefully collect and consider elements of the text structure that might be expressive in this respect. We feel the story is horrifying, but still not pessimistic. It evidently reflects the writer's motto of life: “One should always know and feel how to wait”. The author spoke about inspiration and imagination.

Then I ask the students: “What are you waiting for from this story?” Their answers are different but extremely interesting. There are some of their answers: “The story touches upon the problem of the development of humanity. What can destroy mankind? Human race should be careful about interfering into outer space”. “Nature will live forever, its existence is endless, but human beings are mortal, especially if they come into conflict with nature.” “It's very easy to kill the person's soul by insulting.” “Not all phenomena have logical explanation in the world. Strange and cruel creatures living in us can seize us and people sometimes become dangerous.”
“Forms of life are different. Even on our own planet. The grass, the trees, the horses, the smallest insects have their own ways of life. They are connected in a circle of life where rabbits eat the grass, wolves eat rabbits, and dogs can kill wolves. Dogs live with people. Usually we think that a human being is the strongest one in the world, because of having strong mind, a language, an ability to think.This may be true here, on the Earth. Nevertheless, there are many other planets with different ways of life. If we cannot see them, it does not mean that they do not exist. Moreover, probably these creatures are parts of a greater interplanetary circle of life. And they can capture human’s minds. They can be unpredictably much stronger than people.”

Every act of deciphering a text requires a mental effort and that is why students are expected first simply to take on faith what the interpreter says on the subject matter of the text, sometimes they are allowed to discuss the material at will, just as it suits their inborn dispositions, guided by their individual associations. Gradually general principles underlying the system become more evident for them. More and more notions occupy their own places, their own cells in a net that covers the entire subject of interpretation.

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Reflection and evaluation of the short story

“THE ONE WHO WAITS” by Ray Bradbury

в рамках спецкурса по английскому языку “Reading, Thinking, Creating

для учащихся 10-11 классов гимназии

Цель: развитие когнитивно-коммуникативной компетенции чтения и развитие навыков интерпретации текста на примере рассказа Рэя Брэдбери «Тот, кто ждёт»

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