Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Little Dose of Humility

humiliation--the stripping away of the self-esteem of a character who has been parading on the moral high ground; a significant goal of humor, in which some posturing individual or organization is brought to the extreme public ridicule of laughter. Much is to be learned about a character from the way he or she deals with a humiliating situation; the individual who brandishes humility is often arranging the stage for his or her own undoing. The character who becomes the deliberate prosecutor of his own humiliation earns the reader's admiration.

Humiliation, or public exposure of the emperor's nudity is seen by many readers and writers as the ultimate argument for the presence of cosmic justice. In his short story "The Cat-Bird Seat," James Thurber double downs on the famed Edgar Allen Poe icon, "A Cask of Amontillado," making his revenge-by humiliation seem even more effective and, in the process, more a public affair. In a remarkable display of the understanding of humiliation, Jack London presents a character who inflicts humiliation on an adversary from beyond the grave in his short story"A Loss of Face." (See Wile E. Coyote for added dimensions on persistence in the face of humiliation)


payoff--the orchestrated result of the ending of a scene, a short story, or a novel; the outcome of a dramatic narrative after the denouement; the target for which the writer aims and the characters strive. Scenes, stories, and novels, unlike the slot machines at a casino, have some payoff in the coin of emotion. If an ending does not produce some clue to the author's directed attention to what he wants the reader to feel, the ending is sending forth a 911 call for rescue. Readers of course love to see characters caught up in any or all the potential puzzles of the human condition, their delight increasing exponentially as the puzzle becomes more complex, potentially volatile and threatening.

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