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Literary Analysis Essay

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Difficult Lives

When the drama attains a characterization which makes the play a revelation of human conduct and dialogue which characterizes yet pleases for itself, we reach dramatic literature. - George P. Baker.

The elements in fiction; plot, setting, point of view, character, theme, symbolism and language, give the author of a short story the prospect to sculpt their words into a beautiful piece of art. Two elements, dialogue and characterization, are approached differently in the two short stories even though both authors use indirect characterization to reveal information about the characters through their own thoughts, words and actions. Without dialogue, neither story would be able to progress. "The Cousins," relies solely on dialogue through the letters written between the women to move the story forward. In "Old Boys, Old Girls," there is much less dialogue but the conversations that do take place help to make the story more believable and realistic.

In "The Cousins" the reader gets a feel for both women through the letters that they write to one another. In this epistolary short story, Oates presents the opportunity to gain insight through this technique which lends much realism and believability to the story. Both women in the story are conflicted in their own ways. Rebecca is suffering from cancer and discovers that her long, lost cousin Freyda, whom she thought was dead for the last fifty years is still alive and living in the United States. As you can tell from Rebecca's excitement at this news, she truly loves this cousin she has never met, and who was promised to her as a sister over fifty years ago.

Freyda's response is no where near as eager as Rebecca's when she first reads the letter from her cousin. Freyda has had a very difficult life due to the fact that she is the only survivor of the Holocaust in her immediate family. She lost everyone else to the Nazi's in the 1940's. Freyda's very stand-offish and defensive personality is believed to be a consequence of her very difficult childhood. Freyda's initial feelings are quite obvious in this passage: "Sorry not to have replied earlier. I think yes, it is quite possible that we are "cousins" but at such a remove it's really an abstraction, isn't it?" (302)

Both women have had very tragic lives and seem to have reacted so differently. Freyda seems to want nothing to do with family maybe because she has a fear of losing someone she cares about again. If she has no one to care about, she can't get hurt. Rebecca seems to need the approval of someone, needs to have someone from her family, other than her son to be close to. Rebecca seems to wish she could go back to the time when she was promised a "new sister" all those years ago, when Freyda and her family were on their way to the United States on the refugee boat. If Rebecca could return to this time, all would be right with the world. Her mother and father would still be alive and she also wouldn't have cancer. She could return to the same care free five year old she had once been.

Later in the story, the women start to develop an intimate relationship. There are things that Rebecca feels she can tell Freyda that she has never told another soul. "Well, I will tell you one more thing: In May 1949 my father, who was the gravedigger, murdered your aunt Anna and wished to murder me but failed, he turned the shotgun onto himself & killed himself when I was 13..." (315)

This passage shows that Rebecca trusts Freyda implicitly, that she feels there is a special bond here because they are family. Something neither woman has experienced in years. The fact that Rebecca has never told this to another person leads you to believe that she is ashamed of who she is.

There is also a point in the story, the climax, when Freyda decides that she really likes her cousin Rebecca and thinks she might want to give this a chance. She finds out that Rebecca has cancer and is furious with her for not mentioning this in their prior letters. "Yes I am very angry with you. I am upset & angry you are not well. You never returned my card. I waited & waited and you did not." (315)

In "The Cousins," dialogue is the only thing that moves the story forward. Everything in this story is communicated between the letters written between the women. This was a very effective form of communication because it kept the story realistic; the reader could follow where each character was emotionally at different points in the story. Through the dialogue, many differences and similarities between these women emerge. It also brought to light the social status of each. Both were well-to-do, Freyda was very educated while Rebecca had not even finished high school. The audience is also able to deduce from some of Freyda's writing in the letters that she was most probably an alcoholic. "Maybe I will send you these ravings, my tenacious American cousin. I'm drunk enough, in a festive mood!" (308)

"Old Boys, Old Girls"



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