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If you can get a piece of Virginia Creeper, bring it to school with you and see if you can find any defects in Mr. Stack's description; or, better still, try your hand at an accurate description of a flower, using Mr. Stack’s paragraph as a guide.
Description of Four Persons.
The four persons in Hawthorne's story are sketched rather than fully described in the first paragraph:
One afternoon of a cold winter's day, when the sun shone forth with chilly brightness, after a long storm, two children asked leave of their mother to run out and play in the new-fallen snow. The elder child was a girl, whom, because she was of a tender and modest disposition, and was thought to be very beautiful, her parents, and other people who were familiar with her, used to call Violet. But her brother was known by the style and title of Peony, on account of the ruddiness of his broad and round little phiz, which made everybody think of sunshine and great scarlet flowers. The father of these two children, a certain Mr. Lindsey, it is important to say, was an excellent but exceedingly matter-of-fact sort of man, a dealer in hardware, and was sturdily accustomed to take what is called the common-sense view of all matters that came under his consideration. With a heart about as tender as other people's, he had a head as hard and impenetrable, and therefore, perhaps, as empty, as one of the iron pots which it was a part of his business to sell. The mother's character, on the other hand, had a strain of poetry in it, a trait of unworldly beauty — a delicate and dewy flower, as it were, that had survived out of her imaginative youth, and still kept itself alive amid the dusty realities of matrimony and motherhood.
- NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE: The Snow Image.
Can you shut the book and visualize these characters, that is, see them as if they were present before you? Try it.
Description of a Woman's Face.
Here is a description that you will not soon forget. Some of you already know that a “mutch” is a Scotch word, meaning a cap, or coif, worn by elderly women:
By this time I saw the woman's face; she was sitting on a sack filled with straw, her husband's plaid round her, and his big coat with its large white metal buttons over her feet. I never saw a more unforgettable face - pale, serious, lonely, delicate, sweet without being at all what we call fine. She looked sixty, and had on a mutch, white as snow, with its black ribbon; her silvery, smooth hair setting off her dark-gray eyes-eyes such as one sees only twice or thrice in a lifetime, full of suffering, full also of the overcoming of it; her eyebrows black and delicate, and her mouth firm, patient, and contented, which few mouths ever are.
- DR. JOHN BROWN: Rab and His Friends.
How to Describe.
There is no need of giving further examples, for you will find them in every book that you read. The art of description is the art of seeing clearly. Do not attempt to describe any object till you have seen it, at least in imagination. Look at it, think about it, reproduce it in thought, until you can shut your eyes and still see it; then make it as vivid to your reader or hearer as it is to you. If it looks like some other and better known object, say so. Stevenson compares the Bay of Monterey to "a bent fishing-hook”; Thoreau said that Cape Cod is like "a bended arm"; Wordsworth said that the valleys of his beloved Lake Country reminded him of “the spokes of a wheel"; Victor Hugo described the battlefield of Waterloo by telling his readers to imagine a big capital A. These are all simple and well known objects, and each description gains in vividness by the use of them. But, above all, think through your description from beginning to end before you begin to write or talk.
Narration is concerned not with objects but with incidents and events. It is found in short stories, novels, biographies, and histories. Letters are sometimes narrative, sometimes descriptive, and sometimes expository; but they are more frequently all three combined. The best way to study narra-. tion is to read carefully some of the great American short stories. Our literature is full of them and they are told with an art and charm and interest that have made them famous in all lands. Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Bret Harte, Joel Chandler Harris, and 0. Henry are some of our best known writers of short stories, and their works furnish the best models for narration. Every short story, you will find, has three parts: first, the background, or setting; second, the plot; and third the characters. The background, or setting, tells when and where the story takes place; the plot gives the bare incidents or events that make up the story; and the characters are the persons about whom the story is told.
Now the only one of these three parts that calls for narration pure and simple is the plot. Plots are narrated, or told; background and characters are described. Let us study narra
tion, then, by trying to reproduce some of the plots of stories that we have read.
The Plot of The Great Stone Face.
The plot of Hawthorne's story, reduced to its narrative essentials, would be like this:
In the White Mountains of New Hampshire there is a freak of nature known as the Great Stone Face. The Face has a noble countenance, and the people in the valley believed that some day a great man would come who would resemble the Great Stone Face. He would be a sort of saviour of the people. Ernest, a little boy living in the valley, was taught by his mother about the Great Stone Face; and, by looking at the Face and thinking of the great man that was to come, Ernest grew better and wiser as the years passed. Three famous men did come at long intervals, “Old Mr. Gathergold,” “Old Blood-and-Thunder,” and “Old Stony Phiz.” The people threw up their hats and acclaimed each of them in turn as the long expected benefactor, but Ernest knew better. At last, when Ernest had become an old man, a poet came to the valley and, after looking long at Ernest and the Great Stone Face, said: "Behold! Behold! Ernest is himself the likeness of the Great Stone Face!” It was true. But as Ernest walked slowly homeward, he still hoped "that some wiser and better man than himself would by and by appear, who would bear a still closer resemblance to the Great Stone Face.”
Around this core Hawthorne has built one of the best short stories in our literature; but, as there is a great deal of description and exposition in The Great Stone Face, the bare plot does not do the complete story justice.
The Plot of The Gift of the Magi.
O. Henry's story, The Gift of the Magi, has also much charming description in it but only one paragraph of exposition. The plot is as follows:
Jim and Della, husband and wife, live in a cheap flat in New York. They are poor but brave and hopeful. It is Christmas Eve and Della, who has only $1.87 left, is wondering how she can buy a worthy present for Jim. Jim's chief treasure, next to Della, is a handsome gold watch; but he has only an old leather strap for a chain. She will buy him a platinum fob chain, worthy of his watch. But the chain costs $21. She determines to sell her hair, her chief treasure next to Jim. With her hair gone she hurries home, clasping the chain in her hand. When Jim arrives, he stares fixedly at her but is speechless. "You don't know what a beautiful gift I've got for you,” she says. But Jim has brought a present for her. "If you'll unwrap that package,” he says, throwing it on the table, "you may see why you had me going awhile at first.” There lay a handsome set of combs, side and back, combs that she had longed for to match her beautiful hair. But Jim had not seen his present. As she hands it to him, she says, “Isn't it a dandy, Jim? Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it.” “Dell,” said he, "let's put our Christmas presents away and keep 'em awhile. They're too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs.”
Can you repeat the plot of The Gift of the Magi? Choose your own words but do not disarrange the order of events. If you do, the plot will fall to pieces. Better still, read the story for yourself, or ask your teacher to read it aloud to the class.