Keith: Hi, this is Keith, Jill and David back together again for another short story chat.
We will be looking at three different stories today, the first being "Penny in the Dust," the second, "Death of a Snow Machine," and the last one is "The Whale." The first story, "Penny in the Dust," it is set in the "point of view" section of the anthology that we are looking at. It is a short story about a young boy who is back home for the funeral of his father. He and his sister are reminiscing of old times, and his sister brings up the question, "Do you remember that time you were lost?" and from that point, the story launches into all the events that led up to him being lost, and the significance of that story to him.
So, we'll start this off with the question: Why do-Jill or David-why do you think this story was set in the point of view section of the story? Why is the point of view in which this story was written-why is that significant?
Jill: Well, I think it was set in the point of view section because it was written in the first person, from the point of view of the son, the father's son. The story is basically about him recalling a memory from his youth-his childhood, rather-that his sister didn't know the whole story to that memory, and I'm sure the mother didn't either. So he was the only one who could retell it accurately.
David: I think I would have probably guessed where it would belong in discussing point of view before you told me that, because at the beginning of the story he's struggling to-there's limitations to a point of view, I suppose, and there's an attempt in the story for him to describe his father. He's-it's meandering. He's saying, "If I tell you he's this, he's not this. If I tell you this, you'll get the impression that he's this, but he's not really that." So, if point of view has anything to do with interpretation, I suppose this story has a lot to do with how he interprets his father and how he interprets this scene that occurs, that's most significant in his life. And also, I found it interesting that he was struggling to give an anecdote about how to describe his father. And at the end, with the penny, it's not really definitive, but I think that something about the father that is-rather than saying, "He is like this," he tells us a story. It's even hard to describe what you can gather about the father from that, but somehow-anyway, I felt that I sort of knew him a little bit better just by hearing that story. Keith: By him telling the story, you the reader learn more about the father than him saying, "Yes, he was not very friendly, and he didn't talk much." The story, without a doubt, by the end-I personally appreciated the father. The father figure was-to me, actually I made an association to my own father. In many ways, that's the way my own father was, or is. I'm writing him off already! [laughter] Based on that story, the number of words that somebody could choose to describe the relationship-the list is long. If you could choose one or two words to describe what the relationship between father and son was, what word would you choose, or what short phrase would you choose?
David: Well, I'd probably say "typical." I think that's probably not unusual with a lot of sons and fathers. Other than typical-it's hard, because I want to say-I'm struggling to describe the relationship, the way he struggled to describe his own father. I don't know. It seems informal, but obviously, there was something, some undercurrent that was unspoken through the entire relationship that they had, where it was a truly deep affection. But it never seemed to manifest in any way, other than through that small act of holding onto that penny, I think. I can't do any better than that. Jill: The word I would use to describe the relationship is "unspoken," because I believe there was clearly a very strong, unspoken bond between them. Clearly the father was a great man and a great father, even though on the surface-if he hadn't given us the little anecdote, we would have thought that he was maybe cold and unaffectionate and all those other things, but he clearly wasn't. Even though he was quiet and didn't demonstrate a lot of affection, the son obviously felt very loved and still very close to his father. Even just how the sister says that when they couldn't find the son, he dropped everything he was doing and took off running, looking for him, and he'd never done that before for anything else. So I mean, clearly he had a lot of love for his children, and he just was a quiet person who didn't really demonstrate a lot. Keith: I think the character, the father character, is very typical of-I hesitate to categorize all farming folk in this area-but especially on the prairies where I grew up, many fathers were like that, and behaved much like the father in the story-stoic and not demonstrative in any way. But, the children knew they were loved. It didn't have to be said out loud. You knew that you were part of a family, you were loved, and you were important. I think it has a lot to do with the character of farmers, especially around the turn of the century. I'm going to assume that this was approximately written, or based on, I would say, 1930's-1950's type of time. Farming is a tough life, and those who did it had to be tough. Being the emotional sort just didn't fit the character and harsh lifestyle of being a farmer, and I think that is sort of where that character comes from. It's not an unusual character in my recollection.