Toward the End: Closure and Structure in the American Short Story

By John Gerlach | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
Antistory and Story: From Tralfamadore to Tale

The Semblance of Narrative

In Kurt Vonnegut Slaughterhouse-Five, Billy Pilgrim, bored with the only book in English left for him on his trip to Tralfamadore (the book happens to be The Valley of the Dolls), asks for a Tralfamadorian novel. The one he is given, containing "clumps of symbols separated by stars," he cannot read. He guesses that the clumps are telegrams; his Tralfamadorian host tells him that his surmise is in some ways wrong but also in certain respects correct:

Each clump of symbols is a brief, urgent message--describing a situation, a scene. We Tralfamadorians read them all at once, not one after the other. There isn't any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time. 1

Although Vonnegut is not defining the short story in this passage, the quotation does serve as an emblem of the basic impulse that generated compressed form and imagist form- the impulse to forsake narrative, its linear movement, causality,

-144-

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Toward the End: Closure and Structure in the American Short Story
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction - Purpose, Methods, and LImits 1
  • Chapter 1 Antecedents 7
  • Chapter 2 The Early Nineteenth Century 24
  • Chapter 3 The Later Nineteenth Century 51
  • Chapter 4 Converging Closure and the Theory of Openness 74
  • Chapter 5 The Twentieth Century: New Forms 94
  • Chapter 6 The Twentieth Century: Extending the Frame 119
  • Chapter 7 Antistory and Story: From Tralfamadore to Tale 144
  • Chapter 8 Conclusion 160
  • Notes 166
  • Selected Bibliography 184
  • Index 189
  • About the Author 194
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