GeorgeSanders’ Tenth of December
Literaryworks have always formed a fundamental component of any society,whether in the contemporary or traditional human societies. Ofcourse, the mediums or modules through which literary works areportrayed have changed with time, but the components are more or lessthe same. More often than not, literary works such as novels, shortsstories, songs, plays and others are aimed at eliminating someunbecoming behaviors or issues from the society and possibly callingfor social change in the society. This comes up given the fact thatmost writers, poets and playwrights base their works on the issuesthat they have identified in the societies within which they live andcome up with ideas regarding the ways in which the societies can bechanged for the better. Essentially, it is not surprising thatliterary works have inspired quite a large number of social changesin numerous societies. While short stories are often seen assubordinate to other literary works, they have been equally educativeand entertaining. Indeed, these brief literary works that usuallyfollow a narrative are the result of earlier oral story tellingtraditions of the conventional or traditional societies and havedeveloped to encompass body works that are sufficiently diverse as todefy easy characterization. At their basic nature, short storiesincorporate minute cases pertaining to named characters andconcentrate on self-contained incidents with the aim of evoking aparticular mood or “single effect”. This ensures that shortstories use resonance, plot, as well as other dynamic components to aconsiderably higher degree that would be typical of anecdotes butstill of lesser magnitude than novels. Of course, it is expected thatshort stories will have varying themes and possibly follow differentstructures. However, there are numerous instances where collectionsof short stories will integrated linked story lines even when thecharacters are different. This is the case for George Saunders’“10thof December”.
In“10thof December” Saunders manages to capture the disjointed sensoryinput, fragmented rhythms, as well as wildly absurd realitiespertaining to the 21stcentury. Like other literary works, his collection of short storiesis inspired by the ills that he sees in the society within which helives, in which case he uses the works to mock the behavior and atleast trigger the desire of people to change for the better. AsCiabattari (1) notes, Saunders mocks the weird institutionalstructures that the contemporary human society has established,immoral goals that are endorsed by rah-rah corporate technotalk,mindless bureaucracies and stale theme parks.
Whilethere may be varying opinions, it is evident that the bookconstitutes a linked story collection. This is evidenced by the factthat the stories seem to be grappling with more or less the sametheme. Indeed, an examination of the short stories that areincorporated in the book reveals a common theme of class and power.In “Tenth of December”, money worries have become been deepenedinto a somber and pervasive mood that weighs the collection with animmense gravity. In the short story “ Puppy” a lady who has beenlifted from dysfunctional roots by her marriage becomes extremelyhorrified by the squalor in which a poor family lives that she isincapable of finding empathy for them. These money issues areexplored from another light in “Home” where a soldier who hasreturned home from Middle East goes unannounced and finds his ex-wifewith a much richer husband (Williamson34). The soldier cannot bring himself to understand how two grownupscan have three cars. Similar worries abide in “The Semplica GirlDiaries” where a father is brooding over the fact that he is unableto provide his family with similar luxuries as their classmates, inwhich case he resorts to prayer asking that “Lord,give us more. Give us enough”.In another part of the book, he expresses his disgust and dislike forrich people who he feels make the poor feel inadequate and poor. Hegoes ahead to console himself that he may not be that poor rather heis middle, which does not change anything as, despite the luck ofbeing “middle”, the rich still make them feel insufficient anddopey.
Similarthematic continuation of the stories would be seen in the case ofmaterialism that is espoused in a large number of the stories. In“The Semplica Girls Diaries” the competitive materialism ofAmerica comes out clearly with the narrator planning to compose asingle page every day for the offspring to see the difference betweenhow life was in the past and how it is now. As earlier stated, he isdesperate that his daughters are incapable of having the materialpossessions that other individuals in their class have (Tarnoff49). This includes the Semplica girls or SGs, who are essentially,women who have run away from third world horrors such as brothels andhuman trafficking through offering their services as lawn ornamentsfor rich Americans. It may be noted that the SGs are suspended aboutthree feet above the ground using microlines that are threaded viatheir brains. This underlines the dangerous materialism that plaguesthe American society to the extent that they see other people asobjects that are to be used and discarded at will. It is quitetelling that the narrator feels suddenly affluent and wealth when hefinally manages to acquire some SGs for the family (Simmset al 32). Similar sentiments come up in the case of “Al Roosten”where the distance between the reality of the characters’ situationand their hopes become evident in the manner in which they thinkabout the situations. In this story, the title character who isdescribed as a “round bald guy” is extremely jealous andself-loathing as he fantasizes about having a richer, better-lookingand happier acquaintance. So self-deluding is Al that he does notrealize that his anger stands in the way of a happier life for him.In such scenarios, it is usually the case that characters would beexpected to put down their morals in order to have a better life.This was the case in “The Semplica Girl Diaries” where theharassed man jots down his efforts to safeguard the best for hisfamily even as he faces unscrupulous big businesses, mounting debtand an extremely materialist society. This is also the case in“Exhortation” where an employer sends a memo to his employees.Initially, the memo seems to be actually propping up a positiveoutlook (Simmset al 35). However, a close examination reveals that it actually is aveiled or hidden threat to the employees to eliminate any morals thatthey have if they hope to succeed.
However,it may be noted that not only does the stories in the collectionmatch up to each other with regard to their themes, rather they alsoshare the same prose and humor in the manner of their narration asother stories that Saunders has written in the past. Indeed, Cowlesnotes that anybody who has ever read the three earlier collections ofSaunders would immediately be acquainted with the gonzo ventriloquismthat imbues comic energy to Saunders’ works. Indeed, it may benoted that Saunders manages to tap into continuous interiormonologues pertaining to the fragile and hopeful characters therebycreating a signature voice that blends demotic and baroquecharacteristics (RankinandMurphy47). This is accomplished through the recognition of the potentialfor floridity of human thoughts, as well as the extent of delusion,selfishness and grandiose that human beings possess at any giventime. The one thing that becomes instantly noticeable is thelanguage, neologisms and enlivening explosion of slang that gets thereader connected to the thoughts running in the heads of theprotagonists whether the stories are captured in third person orfirst person. The most distinguished accomplishment of the collectionis the fact that the readers are not jammed with the author’s ownobservations in the thoughts or words of the characters, as well asthe skillful capabilities pertaining to the depiction of the mannerin which daydreams and fantasies color the thoughts of theindividuals.
Ofcourse, the short stories are underlining or espousing darkunderlying sense of class anxiety and a desperate need to defineoneself in an age of shifting and even non -existent definitions ofclass and identity. In “The Semplica Girls Diaries”, the poor mansees the need to perceive himself as middle class, in which case hetakes up all the characteristics that define this class includingbeing inhuman. In fact, the cautions his own daughter about the illsof seeing the Semplica girls that are strung together in a human wayor feeling sorry for them and goes ahead to explain that the moneythat they would receive for their services as breathing, living lawnornaments at the end of the contract would go a long way in allowingthem to take care of their loved ones when they go back to whicheverwar-torn or impoverished home from which they were obtained (Amodio67). This is a clear demonstration that the rise of an individual toanother class necessitates that he or she eliminates or discards hismorals. Indeed, it may be acknowledged that the poor man has a moralcompass that is similar to that of rationalizing technicians in“Escape from Spiderhead”, who often administer mood-alteringchemicals to inmates so as to come up with the formula that wouldgive human beings total mastery over volatile emotions such assadness, anger and lust (RankinandMurphy54). At one time, the test-subject narrator of the story comprehendsthe lengths that he is expected to go for the sake of science andprofit for the pharmaceutical industry, something that makes him gocrazy and vow to defy. Of course, his act of defiance imbues in thereaders the thought that it is possible to achieve redemption for thesociety, something that was considered impossible even by thejailers.
Thereis also a shift from the surrealism that was initially evident inSaunders’ works towards some form of wintry. This comes to the forein the case of stories such as “Puppy” where class prismsdistorts the vision of a women pertaining to another that she doesnot see the possibility of empathy despite the fact that she used tobe there in the past. Of course, some scholars feel that the Saundersdoes not see Middle Class as existing, rather he sees it as a fictionthat allows downwardly mobile characters try to find someconsolation. In these stories, every person is either rich or theyare simply going down. For instance, in “Puppy”, the wealthyMarie is appalled by the dry aquarium that is holding theencyclopedia volume and the spare tire that is kept at the diningroom table or even the partial red pepper floating in green paintcan. As much as Marie tries to maintain a positive demeanor, she endsup fleeing in her magnificent car when she sees Bo, Callie’s sonchained to a tree so as to save him from his own recklessness. Thisstory has a typical nature where one woman is wealthy while the otheris not. The difference between the two becomes so arbitrary that itseems funny as it degrades one woman while forcing the other to adoptsome element of hypocrisy (RankinandMurphy56). The stories, however, are far from being unbearably grim anddespairing, rather they are extremely entertaining and brisk, whichmay be attributed to the fact that the author retains his compassion,even as he seems to take a wicked delight in the characters’misfortunes.
Amodio,Mark. TheAnglo-Saxon Literature Handbook., 2014. Print.
Brown,Mark. George Saunders becomes first winner of UK`s newest literaryprize. ArtsCorrespondent,UK, 2014. Retrieved fromhttp://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/mar/10/george-saunders-tenth-of-december-first-winner-folio-prize>
Clark,Alex. George Saunders: `The things we felt about American culturecouldn`t be reached by simple realism. It had to be a little nutty`,TheGuardian,US, 2014. Retrieved fromhttp://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/mar/13/george-saunders-folio-prize-winner-interview
Cowles,Gregory. Rays of Hope: ‘Tenth of December’ by George Saunders.The New York Times, New York, 2013. Retrieved fromhttp://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/03/books/review/tenth-of-december-by-george-saunders.html?_r=1
Rankin,Estelle M, and Barbara L. Murphy. ApEnglish Literature, 2014-2015., 2013. Print.
Simms,William G, James E. Kibler, David Moltke-Hansen, and EhrenFoley. WilliamGilmore Simms`s Selected Reviews on Literature and Civilization., 2014. Internet resource.
Tarnoff,Ben. TheBohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who ReinventedAmerican Literature., 2014. Print.
Williamson,Jennifer A. Twentieth-centurySentimentalism: Narrative Appropriation in American Literature., 2014. Print