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Read the short story and answer the questions that follow it. Yesterday when the bright sun blazed down on the wilted corn my father and I walked around the edge of the new ground to plan a fence

J. Stuart



Yesterday when the bright sun blazed down on the wilted corn my father and I walked around the edge of the new ground to plan a fence. The cows kept coming through the chestnut oaks on the cliff and running over the young corn. They bit off the tips of the corn and trampled down the stubble.

My father walked in the cornbalk. Bob, our Collie, walked in front of my father. We heard a ground squirrel whistle down over the bluff among the dead treetops at the clearing’s edge. “Whoop, take him, Bob,” said my father. He lifted up a young stalk of corn, with wilted dried roots, where the ground squirrel had dug it up for the sweet grain of corn left on its tender roots. This has been a dry spring and the corn has kept well in the earth where the grain has sprouted. The ground squirrels love this corn. They dig up rows of it and eat the sweet grains. The young corn stalks are killed and we have to replant the corn.

I can see my father keep sicking Bob after the ground squirrel. He jumped over the corn rows. He started to run toward the ground squirrel. I, too, started running toward the clearing’s edge where Bob was jumping and barking. The dust flew in tiny swirls behind our feet. There was a cloud of dust behind us.

“It’s a big bull snake,” said my father. “Kill him, Bob! Kill him, Bob!”

Bob was jumping and snapping at the snake so as to make it strike and throw itself off guard. Bob had killed twenty-eight copperheads this spring. He knows how to kill a snake. He doesn’t rush to do it. He takes his time and does the job well.

“Let’s don’t kill the snake,” I said. “A blacksnake is a harmless snake. It kills poison snakes. It kills the copperhead. It catches more mice from the fields than a cat.”

I could see the snake didn’t want to fight the dog. The snake wanted to get away. Bob wouldn’t let it. I wondered why it was crawling toward a heap of black loamy earth at the bench of the hill. I wondered why it had come from the chestnut oak sprouts and the matted greenbriars on the cliff. I looked as the snake lifted its pretty head in response to one of Bob’s jumps. “It’s not a bull blacksnake,” I said. “It’s a she-snake. Look at the white on her throat.”

“A snake is an enemy to me,” my father snapped. “I hate a snake. Kill it, Bob. Go in there and get that snake and quit playing with it!”

Bob obeyed my father. I hated to see him take this snake by the throat. She was so beautifully poised in the sunlight. Bob grabbed the white patch on her throat. He cracked her long body like an ox whip in the wind. He cracked it against the wind only. The blood spurted from her fine-curved throat. Something hit against my legs like pellets. Bob threw the snake down. I looked to see what had struck my legs. It was snake eggs. Bob had slung them from her body. She was going to the sand heap to lay her eggs, where the sun is the setting-hen that warms them and hatches them.

Bob grabbed her body there on the earth where the red blood was running down on the gray-piled loam. Her body was still writhing in pain. She acted like a greenweed held over a new-ground fire. Bob slung her viciously many times. He cracked her limp body against the wind. She was now limber as a shoestring in the wind. Bob threw her riddled body back on the sand. She quivered like a leaf in the lazy wind, then her riddled body lay perfectly still. The blood colored the loamy earth around the snake.

“Look at the eggs, won’t you?” said my father. We counted thirty-seven eggs. I picked an egg up and held it in my hand. Only a minute ago there was life in it. It was an immature seed. It would not hatch. Mother sun could not incubate it on the warm earth. The egg I held in my hand was almost the size of a quail’s egg. The shell on it was thin and tough and the egg appeared under the surface to be a watery egg.

“Well, Bob, I guess you see now why this snake couldn’t fight,” I said, “It is life. Stronger devour the weaker even among human beings. Dog kills snake. Snake kills birds. Birds kill the butterflies. Man conquers all. Man, too, kills for sport.”

Bob was panting. He walked ahead of us back to the house. His tongue was out of his mouth. He was tired. He was hot under his shaggy coat of hair. His tongue nearly touched the dry dirt and white flecks of foam dripped from it. We walked toward the house. Neither my father nor I spoke. I still thought about the dead snake. The sun was going down over the chestnut ridge. A lark was singing. It was late for a lark to sing. The red evening clouds floated above the pine trees on our pasture hill. My father stood beside the path. His black hair was moved by the wind. His face was red in the blue wind of day. His eyes looked toward the sinking sun.

“And my father hates a snake,” I thought.

I thought about the agony women know of giving birth. I thought about how they will fight to save their children. Then I thought of the snake. I thought it was silly for me to think such thoughts.

This morning my father and I got up with the chickens. He says one has to get up with the chickens to a day’s work. We got the posthole digger, ax, spud, measuring pole and the mattock. We started for the clearing’s edge. Bob didn’t go along.

The dew was on the corn. My father walked behind with the posthole digger across his shoulder. I walked in front. The wind was blowing. It was a good morning wind to breathe and a wind that makes one feel he can get under the edge of a hill and heave the whole hill upside down.

I walked out the corn row where we had come yesterday afternoon. I looked in front of me. I saw something. I saw it move. It was moving like a huge black rope winds around a windlass. “Steady,” I says to my father. “Here is the bull blacksnake.” He took one step up beside me and stood. His eyes grew wide apart.

“What do you know about this,” he said.

“You have seen the bull blacksnake now,” I said. “Take a good look at him! He is lying beside his dead mate. He has come to her. He, perhaps, was on her trail yesterday.”

The male snake had trailed her to her doom. He had come in the night, under the roof of stars, as the moon shed rays of light on the quivering clouds of green. He had found his lover dead. He was coiled beside her, and she was dead.

The bull blacksnake lifted his head and followed us as we walked around the dead snake. He would have fought us to his death. He would have fought Bob to his death. “Take a stick,” said my father, “and throw him over the hill so Bob won’t find him. Did you ever see anything to beat that? I’ve heard they’d do that. But this is my first time to see it.” I took a stick and threw him over the bank into the dewy sprouts on the cliffs.


1. Analyze the title of short story. Which implications does it suggest? Whose feelings does it refer to?

2. Can you account for the father’s hatred to snakes? Is it people’s typical attitude to the snake?

3. What is the boy’s attitude to his father decision to kill the snake? Go back to the text and support your opinion.

4. Point out the words in the text used to describe a) nature; b) snakes; c) the dog killing the snake, and analyze their emotive colouring. Which mood seems to prevail in the text?

5. In the beginning of the story the father uses the pronoun it and by the end of the story personal pronouns she and he to substitute the nouns snake, blacksnake, bull blacksnake. Can you explain why?

6. Why do you think the father did not kill the male snake? What life experience is the narrator trying to explain?




The Grotesque Key


The grotesque key is typical of passages and whole works which are written to produce a funny or ludicrous effect. This key can be divided into the following subtypes: humour, irony, and satire.


· Sometimes writers make fun of their characters. The tone of a story can be labelled humorous if the story is intended to excite laughter that is kindly and tolerant. Humour is warm, unintellectual, unsatirical. We describe in a humorous key somebody or something we are fond of. Dead-pаn humour occurs when the speaker pretends to be very serious. Black (sick) humour presupposes jokes that are made about subject like nuclear war, disability or disease that people otherwise find too painful to think about. At its highest level, humour is represented by witty observations on life and society, such as those by Oscar Wilde. Humour of this kind is more clever than comic. Examples are ‘ There is one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about’, and ‘Work is the curse of the drinking classes’.


· Authors can make fun of their characters with far less sympathy. The language they use is ironic that is, saying one thing and meaning another in order to be emphatic, amusing, sarcastic, etc.: ‘That’s really lovely!’ said when it’s raining heavily and you don’t have an umbrella on you. Sarcasm — use of bitter, especially ironic, remarks intended to wound somebody’s feelings. It’s harsh and often crude. Compare:

What a fine musician you turned out to be!’ (irony); ‘ You couldn’t play one piece correctly if you had two assistants’ (sarcasm).


· Satire — use of taunting irony or sarcasm that is often directed at public figures or institutions, political situations, or at some moral or social vice. For example, G. Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 attack totalitarianism, the manipulation of people’s actions and thoughts by an all-powerful state.


Amusing effect may be created through the implication of linguistic means (irony, puns, deliberate exaggerations, etc. — revise Unit 5, Part 1; and also words which do not fit in the situation) and extra-linguistic means (amusing characters and actions; unexpected turns of the events; trick endings, irony of the situation, play on the reader’s expectations, a too detailed manner of description or narration, etc.). These are just a few of the ways the language of a work of fiction shapes our reading experience. Slow down as you read and see if you can figure out what the writer is up to.



Exercise 1.

What are the writers’ views in the following texts?

a) My daddy was a loving man,

My father loved his daughter;

My daddy brought himself a van

And with it killed his daughter.


b) The new resort of Karacruz is a paradise for lovers of concrete, plastic and unfinished work of art. Everywhere buildings stand symbolically bereft of doors or roofs or significantly without windows. The place is unique and should be visited by all lovers of the bizarre and grotesque and by all those tourists surfeited with the luxury and comfort of the average resort.


c) The aging rock group the Rolling Stones is again touring the United States. Each show will include three encores and, in all probability, two naps.



Exercise 2.

Read the following extract from J. K. Jerome’s most famous novel Three Men in a Boat and analyze the means of creating humorous effect employed in it.


George said that, as we had plenty of lime, it would be a splendid opportunity to try a good, slap-up supper. He said he would show us what could be done up the river in the way of cooking, and suggested that, with the vegetables and the remains of the cold beef and general odds and ends, we should make an Irish stew.

It seemed a fascinating idea. George gathered wood and made a fire, and Harris and I started to peel the potatoes. I should never have thought that peeling potatoes was such an undertaking. The job turned out to be the biggest thing of its kind that I had ever been in. We began cheerfully, one might almost say skittishly but our light-heartedness was gone by the time the first potato was finished. The more we peeled, the more peel there seemed to be left on; by the time we had got all the peel off and all the eyes out, there was no potato left — at least none worth speaking of. George came and had a look at it — it was about the size of pea-nut. He said:

“Oh, that won’t do! You’re wasting them. You must scrape them.”

So we scraped them and that was harder work than peeling. They are such an extraordinary shape, potatoes — all bumps and warts and hollows. We worked steadily for five-and-twenty minutes, and did four potatoes. Then we struck. We said we should require the rest of the evening for scraping ourselves.

I never saw such a thing as potato-scraping for making a fellow in a mess. It seemed difficult to believe that the potato-scrapings in which Harris and I stood, half-smothered, could have come off four potatoes. It shows you what can be done with economy and care.

George said it was absurd to have only four potatoes in an Irish stew, so we washed half a dozen or so more and put them in without peeling. We also put in a cabbage and about half a peck of peas. George stirred it all up, and then he said that there seemed to be a lot of room to spare. So we overhauled both the hampers, and picked out all the odds and ends and the remnants, and added them to the stew. There were half a pork pie and a bit of cold boiled bacon left, and we put them in. Then George found half atin of potted salmon, and he emptied that into the pot.

He said that was the advantage of Irish stew: you got rid of such a lot of things. I fished out a couple of eggs that had got cracked, and we put those in. George said they would thicken the gravy.

I forgot the other ingredients, but I know nothing was wasted; and I remember that towards the end, Montmorency, who had evinced great interest in the proceedings throughout, strolled away with an earnest and thoughtful air, reappearing, a few minutes afterwards, with a dead water-rat in his mouth, which he evidently wished to present as his contribution to the dinner; whether in a sarcastic spirit, or with a general desire to assist, I cannot say.

It was a great success, that Irish stew. I don’t think I ever enjoyed a meal more. There was something so fresh and piquant about it. One’s palate gets so tired of the old hackneyed things: here was a dish with a new flavour, with a taste like nothing else on earth.

And it was nourishing, too. As George said, there was good stuff in it. The peas and potatoes might have been a bit softer, but we all had good teeth, so that did not matter much; and as for the gravy, it was a poem — a little too rich, perhaps, for a weak stomach, but nutritious.



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