Monday, May 18, 2009

Epiphanies, Dire Straits, and Loose Ends

comes to realize--a type of short story or novel in which a front-rank character is affected by events or an insight to the point of becoming aware of something not previously known to that character before; a dramatic point, often the denouement, in which a character experiences an apiphany that guides subsequent, story-related behavior.

One such epiphany or coming to realize visits Gabriel Conroy toward the payoff of James Joyce's short story, "The Dead." Events at a gathering earlier in the evening have prompted Conroy's wife to revisit a long-ago romance with a young man now dead, causing Conroy to realize there were things about his wife he'd never considered, causing him also to reflect almost in an aphorism about the nature of life and death.

Nearly all other fourteen of the stories in Joyce's collection, Dubliners, has some form of epiphany, making for a convenient source of comes-to-realize narratives. Although originally a religious/mystical insight, the epiphany or comes to realize is a discovery of the solution to a puzzle, the answer to an enigma that has been troubling a character and is now made clear to the character because of some intent or inertia on the part of the character.

Beware the sudden appearance of a character gaining awareness or insight without having had to work for it or experience some significant blast of emotion; sudden appearances of such dramatic material have the deus ex machina effect of being a cheap convenience. Even if the epiphany experienced by a character brings painful awareness, it must be relevant to the theme of the story or the character's goal for it to have resonance with the reader.

Some twenty-first century epiphanies or arrivals at understanding come as the protagonist is about to achieve some sought after goal, status, or discovery, only for the character to realize it is no longer of any consequence.

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