“Kansas” and “Teenage Wasteland”
Short story literature work may differ from or appear similar to each other in several aspects. These may be such as; writers tone, style and use of language; plot of the story; characters; setting, point of view and themes. These aspects provide a basis for critical analysis of literature work. This paper will present a comparative analysis of; “Kansas” by Stephen Dobyns and “Teenage Wasteland” by Anne Tyler based on a thematic point of view. In both literatures, human beings are depicted as natural problem solvers as they struggle to undo the wrongs in their lives.
The short story “Teenage Wasteland” by Anne Tyler revolves around the life of a teenage boy named Donny. The life of Donny can be described as that of rebellious teenager who often finds himself on the wrong side of things. In this story, Donny is described as; noisy, lazy and disruptive; always fooling with his friends, and who would not respond in class. His parents, Daisy and Matt, were often summoned to Donny’s schools because of mistakes Donny had committed. When it became too much Donny’s parents were advised to take Donny to a psychologist who then recommended Donny to a private tutor, Cal. Cal became a big influence on Donny’s life, making Daisy to become anxious about this developing relationship. Things turned to worse when Daisy received a phone call, informing her that Donny had been expelled from school. After this incident Donny’s parents decide to enroll Donny in a public school and cut off his tutoring lessons. Donny was not happy with this decision and after some period he ran away from home never to be seen again.
Anne Tyler has utilized various styles of writing in this short story. Symbolism is one of the styles that have largely been utilized in the story. Symbolism refers to use of words that have deeper meaning that what the words describe (Kriszner). For example, after Donny was expelled from school, the authors describes Daisy’s action in the following words; “when an hour hand passed, she phoned the school” (Paragraph 68). Anne Tyler also develops a flawless prose style characterized by some dialogues and vivid description of situations, people and places. The flow of Tyler’s narration is a key strength of the short story (Kriszner). At several occasions, Tyler has employed use of dialogue to bring out a clear picture of what was happening. These accassions are such as; when Daisy was having a telephone conversion with Donny’s history teacher (p 43- 50). Tyler has also used very clear and vivid description in things in her writing. The story begins by describing Donny in the following way; “….As he grew older, his hair grew darker, and he wore it longer- past his collar even. It hung in lank, taffy- colored ropes around his face,” (p 1)
“Kansas” by Stephen Dobyns on other hand, is a story about a boy’s encounter with a farmer which changes his entire life. The boy was standing on the roadside when a farmer in an old pick-up pulled over and offered him a lift. Ones in the vehicle, the boy noticed that the farmer was agitated and had revolver lying on his seat. He later realized that the farmer was in pursuit of his wife whom he believed was running around with another man. The boy had in deed spotted a vehicle carrying a man and a woman passing by him shortly before the farmer arrived. Due to the farmer’s emotions, the boy was afraid to convince him not to go ahead with his plan and alights from the pick-up leaving the farmer to move along. The boy did not inform anybody about the incident. We are then introduced to the boy, later in life, after he has grown into an adult, married and having children of his own. Even in his old age, he still wonders how event could have unfolded after he got out of the pick-up. Various images and versions of how incidents with the farmer would have turned out if he had handled the situation differently, ran through the man’s mind throughout his years. The man eventually passes on with the questions on what transpired that day and what could have happened if he had done things differently, still lingering in his mind.
Stephen Dobyns has also made use of symbolism as one of the style of writing in the short story, “Kansas” (Kriszner). The author, while describing how the farmer’s action would stand in the way of the boy’s dreams utilizes the following words; “The farmer and his forty- five seemed to stand between him and that future. They formed a wall that the boy was afraid to climb over,” (10). The authors also uses the following words when describing the farmers resolve; “It had been like a chunk of stone and compared to it the boy had felt as soft as a piece of white bread” (20). Dobyns also make wide use of dialogue and descriptions. At several occassions in the story, the farmer engages in dialogue conversions with the boy. Clear descriptions have also been used to provide a clear picture of the characters, objects and the setting of the story. Dobyn describes the actions of the farmer in the following way, “The farmer had a boil on the side of his neck and he kept touching it with two fingers” (10). Dobyns also clearly describes the place the boy and the farmer were driving through, “The wheat on either side of the road was coated with layers of dust, making it a reddish color, the color of dried blood” (19). The author also vividly describes the man’ death and the removal of his body from his death bed (50).
One theme that is brought out in the two short stories, “Teenage Wasteland” and “Kansas”, is the problem solving nature of human beings. Human beings encounter different problems in their lives and struggle to do all things possible to find a solution to this problem. In “Teenage Wasteland” there was a problem involving the behavior and life of Donny. This problem gave Donny’s parents a lot of concern and especially to Daisy, Donny’s mother. Daisy throughout the story was so preoccupied in solving Donny’s problem. She attended all the school conferences she was summoned to, supervised Donny’s homework and encouraged and praised Donny’s efforts however little or insignificant they were. At some point, we see Daisy neglecting her other duties as she had dedicated much of her time to solving Donny’s problem. We are informed that her preoccupation with Donny’s homework made her lack time for her other child, Amanda. When Donny was taken to a tutor, Daisy changed Dinner time to very earlier in the evening and sometimes she left the table earlier leaving others behind.
When Daisy’s efforts to help Donny failed to bore fruit she became very disappointed. In her conversion with the principle she expresses her disillusion with Donny’s situation, “We don’t let him watch TV on school nights…., he tells us he doesn’t have homework or he had done it in the hall. How are we to know what to believe?” (3). She also gets very disappointed when Donny eventually ran away from home. She keeps asking her self questions concerning what went wrong and when or whether she could have done things differently to change this situation. It is evident that, Daisy felt that it was her duty as Donny parent to solve the Donny’s problems. When all efforts seem to have failed Daisy feels that she was responsible for how things turned out. A similar situation is presented in “Kansas”. The boy in “Kansas” meets a farmer who had issues with his marriage and was about to kill his wife. The boy is intimidated by the farmer’s emotions at the time and does little to convince the farmer not to go ahead with his intentions. Afterwards, the boy feels that he would have handled the situation differently and prevented the farmer from carrying out his plans. He spends the following few days browsing newspapers looking to find news on whether the farmers pushed through with his threat. Though it never became clear to the boy on whether the farmer did actually kill his wife and her lover, the boy lives the rest of his life in guilt; thinking that he was in a position to solve the problem but did not. This feeling of guilt arises from the human nature that drives the perception that, it is the responsibility of a person to solve a problem if he is a position to do so.
It was also not clear on how things would have turned out, if the boy would have made efforts to convince the farmer not carry through with his plan. It was possible that, such efforts would have bore no impact on the farmer’s decision or that it would have made the situation worse, for instance, making the farmer to harm the boy. Despite these possibilities, the boy did not find any justification for his failure to solve the situation and live the rest of his life in guilt. Even during his death, the farmer had no peace because of what transpired on that fateful day.
In conclusion, “Teenage Wasteland” and “Kansas” are two short stories that are similar and different in various aspects. These include the style of writing that the authors have used, the plot of the stories, characters and characterization. These stories can also be compared in terms of theme that they propagated. This paper provided a comparative analysis of a theme propagated by the two stories. Both “Teenage Wastelands” and “Kansas” depict the human being nature as problem solvers.
Dobyn, Stephen. “Kansas” Kriszner and Mandell 237- 241
Kirszner, Laurie G. and Stephen Mandell, eds. Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. 7th ed. Boston: Wadsworth. 2010
Tyler, Anne. “Teenage Wastesland.” Kriszner and Mandell 785- 792