Эссе: Critical Essay by Judith A. Hamer and Martin J. Hamer

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... Others, like believability, eloquent use of the vernacular, showing as opposed to telling, were added as twentieth-century critics strove to better define the form. There has long been a movement away from the tight plot. Chekhov is credited with having struck out the beginning and the end of the story, leaving us with the so-called plotless middle action. The plotless story gives us another variation, where nothing is resolved and a particular, isolated action simply moves to a more general plane. Or it allows the author to begin as near as possible to the end of an action, compressing an event in an attempt to reach its core. In other plotless tales, the "action is small, [but] its meanings are large."8 Yet none of these criteria has limited this increasingly sophisticated art form. For the short story, Nadine Gordimer tells us, has the power to show us exactly "that quality of human life where contact is more like the flash of fireflies & where the only thing one can be sure of [is] the present moment."9 The short story can also probe the labyrinthine recesses of the tormented soul. Perhaps that is why revelation, epiphany, and the moment of illumination are so appropriate to the genre, for in life as in this art insights often occur during that one moment of focused intensity. Thus, we have two sets of criteria: the denotative definitions laid down by Poe and elaborated upon by later critics, and the connotative standards developed by writers as they experiment with the form. These criteria, of course, are race- and gender-neutral. To claim anything else--that because the criteria were established by white writers they do not apply to blacks, or that black women should be held to different standards--marginalizes the importance of all black writers' work. While one's liking a story or not is often a matter of personal taste, a knowledge of criteria can only help in making a decision. As the black critic George Kent eloquently states, a critic is a kind of intelligent (hopefully) reader mediating between the writer and the audience, with very strong obligations to both. Obligations to the writer in trying as hard as you can to know what he's doing, and obligations to the audience & to try to speak stimulatingly enough about the work so that the audience will understand [its] particular customs and conventions & and how [it] relates & to its own tradition.10 Hence, we offer the following critical road map. In 1859 Frances Ellen Watkins Harper published "The Two Offers." Although African-American men had already published three tales, none qualifies as a modern short story. ...