Sunday, March 26, 2017

Arrive At

Someone or something appears, right now, in a story. The principals don't have time, ability, nor inclination to cope. 

The electricity for the Winfield's home in The Glass Menagerie is turned off. Tom was supposed to pay the bill. He didn't, which builds toward a suggestion he was using the money for a get-away-from-home fund.

Huck Finn's drink-prone and abusive father returns to town, thinking to supervise Huck's dollar-a-day stipend from the treasure he and his friend, Tom Sawyer, liberated in a previous adventure. Pap Finn's arrival triggers the subsequent novel, which is an account of Huck's attempt to escape and his accidental paring with the runaway slave, Jim.

For the story, already underway, this arrival presents the complexity of an intrusion, a rock thrown, if you will, by Fate,a clamor for attention in the life of the characters and the minds of the reader. (See Stranger in Town).

This new arrival signals the presence of a distant or unknown relative, an old friend from a different lifestyle, a romantic ex, an individual your character's parent did not approve of, at the character's doorstep, bearing a cheap gift and an agenda.

The arrival may also be an object, a letter, say, or a legal summons, or a bunch of flowers.

Never mind that the arrival may be at the wrong door, the letter or summons or bunch of flowers delivered by mistake. The effects add momentum to the destabilization inflicted upon the cast of characters when the story begins.

Anton Chekhov's illustrative short story, "The Death of a Civil Servant," begins with the eponymous protagonist, a lowly civil servant,seated at an opera, caught up in his profound enjoyment of the performance. What could possibly arrive in such a place and at such a time to destabilize? 

Funny you should ask. If you know Chekhov--and you should--the answer sidesteps its way in, skirting plausibility. A sneeze. The protagonist sneezes. No biggie, right? People are known to sneeze in any number of circumstances.

The problem comes home to roost when the protagonist realizes some minute traces of his sneeze have traveled to the back of the head of the person sitting directly in front of him. He can see the traces, right there--gulp--on a general who works for the same bureaucracy, although not the same department. 

Our hero tries, for the rest of the story, to apologize. The general keeps interrupting him, telling him the incident does not matter. But the Civil Servant can't let the matter go.

The story ends with the Civil Servant so hopelessly caught up in the downward spiral of his own, imagined consequences, that he goes home, puts on his dress uniform, goes to bed, whereupon he dies.

This one story helps illustrate the influence of Chekhov on modern writers, the added effects of the Arrival, and some of the many ways the growl and gnaw of the inner voice can remind us of how vulnerable a character can become.

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