Monday, February 24, 2014

Reader's Diary #1098- Stella Benson: The Desert Islander

Yesterday I found this old Slate.com article about a term paper assignment Kurt Vonnegut gave his students which sounded like a fun task. Basically they had to pick three stories from Masters of the Modern Short Story and write about them (what makes it fun were the specific instructions). Anyway, I decided to see what stories were included and which I'd read. I decided to pick one of those for Short Story Monday, but I won't be giving it the full Vonnegut treatment today. (I'm not blogging for credit, after all.)

The story is Stella Benson's "The Desert Islander" about a Russian named Constantine, who decides to beg at the home of an Englishman living in war-ravaged China. Despite being a beggar, Constantine is none too short on confidence and seems to take most pride in being unique. This becomes a sticking point as the Englishman keeps making generalizations about him as a beggar and as a Russian. However, Constantine develops a little more humility when the Englishman diagnoses him with life-threatening gangrene and rushes to save his life.

About halfway through the story, I began to see this story as a conservative vs. liberal (or republican vs. democrat, if you're American) metaphor, and the leftists don't come across too favorably. But perhaps I was way off the mark on that assessment as the ending, which came out of nowhere and certainly doesn't support my metaphor theory.

It was an engaging story but would take a few more readings before I could process it fully. That'd be fine for a term paper, but I've got my own term paper to write at the moment.

(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below.)

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