Thursday, February 03, 2000

A Conversation with My Father / Flight Patterns

Dear Ms. Sullivan,

It was my pleasure to review and evaluate your essay regarding 'The Heart of Storytelling in “A Conversation with My Father” and “Flight Patterns”'. I thought your essay was exquisitely written and your comparisons were very well documented. I would be very happy to accept your essay for our Rasmussen College Magazine.

In your introduction, I liked how you addressed the short stories “A Conversation with My Father” and “Flight Patterns” as “stories within stories”. I did find in both short stories that the protagonists and antagonist characters did play off each other in how each interrupted the other. I do agree with your statement that their “perception of others are fundamentally altered by the exchange of stories.”

To summarize “A Conversation with My Father”, I want to highlight some points that I believe are important. In the story, the narrator's “86 years old father...with a bloody motor as a heart” encourages the narrator to write another short story “the kind de Maupassant wrote, or Chekhov - just recognizable people”. (32) The narrator proceeded to write a short story about the people who lived across the street from them; thereafter, would read it out loud to the father. In the process of writing, verbalizing the story and rewriting the story, a dialogue is taking place between the narrator and the father in how they each views life. The father who has been a “doctor for a couple of decades...an artist, and still interested in details, craft and technique” (33) sees life as “a lot more to it” than just only facts. (33) In comparison, the narrator has fun developing her stories and characters, but at the same time, she has a conflict between satisfying the father's wishes verses her own way how a story should be written. With each narrator's attempt in developing the characters and plot and conclusion in the short story, the father critiques the story with questions with comments “What were her parents like, her stock? That she became such a person. It's interesting, you know.” “For god sakes, doesn't anyone in your stories get married?” “Doesn't anyone have the time to run down to City Hall before they jump into bed?” (33) The narrator's retorts that the story is about “a simple story about a smart woman...full of interest, love, trust, excitement, and very up-to-date...married or not, it is of small consequence.” (33) The story continues with the narrator's short story being reconstructed; at the same time dialogue is being conveyed between the narrator and father. It is not until the narrator's final written story where the father's true feelings come out. The father believes the narrator “has a nice sense of humor.” - “can't tell a plain story” - “and feels sad for the mother (in the narrator's short story), because she is “Alone. Probably sick?” (34) He also justifies the narrator's ending with “The end.”with “tragedy. The end of a person.” (35) The narrator response to the father's opinion is that the mother (in the narrator's short story) “could be a hundred different things in the world as time goes on”. The father's quickly responses “Jokes -As a writer that's your main trouble. You don't want to recognize it. - Plain tragedy! - No hope. The end.” (34) For a father believes people should have truth and character in their life. That sometimes it includes tragedy. The creator of characters and responsibility for the conclusion of the short story belongs to the narrator's belief; whereby, in real life “it could really happen that way” (36) and life's end isn't necessarily a tragedy. (Norton Introduction to Literature, pp 32 – 36, 2006)

In the short story “Flight Patterns”, the narrator named William, was a Spokane Native American, a family man, who was an “obsessive-compulsive workaholic” (38) think-tank developer who had a fear of flying. The story takes place after the September 11 event and during the time frame of the narrator's departure from his home to the airport in a taxi cab. The story plot develops around a revealing conversation between William and the taxi cab driver named Fekadu. William realizes how insulting profiling is to one person, yet for himself he understood why “other travelers were always sniffing around him” , (40) because he also was “a brown-skin man with dark hair and eyes” just like the 'fundamentalist' terrorists they might be looking for. (pg 40) Subconsciously, William enjoyed stereotyping and profiling other people that were around him. (Norton Introduction to Literature, pp 36-40, 2006)

The initial contact between William and Fekadu could be described as awkward. For William, “no matter where he lived, he always felt uncomfortable”, but he” enjoyed other people's discomfort”.(43) Fekadu thought William was a “strange American”. (42) William was hoping for peace and quiet during his ride to the airport in order for him to contemplate his fear of flying. Fekadu broke the silence by asking questions about his own observation of William. To William's surprise, his replies were “honest and poetic”. (44) Eventually, the question and answer session between the two men turned more into an intriguing exchange. Fekadu finally exposes that he is an Oxford educated, Selassie's fighter pilot who “dropped bombs on his own people.” (48) Over time, this has created so much guilt in Fekadu that unbeknownst to his family, he decided to defect and leave behind his family who he loved and cared for. For both men, lies or fiction, the ride to the airport turned out to be an inspiring, interesting, and thought provoking. (Introduction to Literature, pp 42 – 44, 2006)

I believe in both stories, the element of redemption came out loud and clear. The narrator in “A Conversation with My Father” had the belief “Everyone, real or invented deserves an open density of life” (32). At the same time, the narrator acknowledges the father's feelings “the end of a person”.
Even in the story “Flight Patterns” where William's thoughts and conversational exchanges with Fekadu was amusing, and colorful at times; Fekadu's “Su-num-twee” autobiography may have brought both men to a redeeming understanding of fears and tragedy in one's life.

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