28 February 2009

Animal Snap: Device and Style

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Modern British fiction is known for its experimental style of writing to portray scenes of everyday life. Two examples of modern British fiction are “At the Bay” by Katherine Mansfield and A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh. “At the Bay” is about a family summering at Crescent Bay, and Handful of Dust is about a couple struggling through infidelity and divorce. The writing styles of the authors are different and on the surface the two tales appear to have nothing in common. The common link between the two stories is the game animal snap. Both authors use the game of animal snap as an element of escape for the characters and a device of comedy for the readers. The difference is that Mansfield’s scene exemplifies, while Waugh’s scene resists, the modern British fiction writers’ drive to experiment with fiction’s style.

The card game animal snap requires the participants to turn over cards and then make animal sounds if two of the same card appears. In “At the Bay” the Burnell children and their cousins gather to play the game. Mansfield shows this is an escape for the children first by the location: “The washhouse was the perfect place for such a meeting because they could make as much noise as they liked, and nobody ever interrupted” (269). The washhouse allows the children to escape from the adults’ supervision and rules. The game also offers the children a method of escape from reality into an imaginary world, because the game requires the players to make animals sounds. Kezia “felt she was a bee” (Mansfield 269) and Pip “charged over the table and seemed to eat the cards up” as a bull (Mansfield 271).

In Handful of Dust animal snap is also used as a method of escape, but it is escape from thinking about the troubles of an adult. Tony is at his house in the country, and he

is waiting for a friend to notify his wife, Brenda, who is in London, about the death of their son. Tony worries that Brenda “may see [a notice of the death] on a placard, or just pick up a paper casually and there it will be” (Waugh 152). Mrs. Rattery, a friend staying with Tony, attempts to distract him with several games, but the only game Tony knows how to play is animal snap. The game offers some escape for Tony because “they were still playing when Albert came in to draw the curtains” (Waugh 154) at five and Tony remarked that it was “only quarter past” (Waugh 151) four when they started playing. Additional evidence is that during the game Tony does not mention his worries as he incessantly had done prior to playing.

The comic elements for “At the Bay” include the amusing animal sounds the players make during the game and Mansfield’s descriptions of the children during the game. Lottie was “a donkey that kept forgetting it was a donkey” (Mansfield 269), so she switches to a dog. After the other children “made signs to Lottie and pointed” so she gets cards, she yells “Hee-Haw! Ke-zia” (Mansfield 271). The Burnells and cousins “tried with all their might to see” (Mansfield 271) the cards as they were dealt for an advantage over the other players. At the end of the game the children realize that it is dark outside and become frightened. They see “pressed against the window was a pale face, black eyes, a black beard” (Mansfield 272), but the face is only the Burnells’ uncle. Mansfield’s descriptions of the issues with the game and the children’s fear create a very amusing scene.

Waugh also creates an amusing scene in Handful of Dust during the animal snap game, but his comedy contains a tragic element. The scene is amusing because animal snap is a children’s game which two adults are playing and making sounds of “bow-wow” and “coop-coop-coop” (Waugh 153). Lottie in “At the Bay” is not the only character to make a mistake during animal snap. Mrs. Rattery reprimands Tony saying, “Don’t be dumb … that isn’t a pair” (Waugh 154). Tony and Mrs. Rattery stop playing animal snap when a servant enters and sees them “clucking like a ‘en” (Waugh 154). Though this is funny, it is also tragic because the servant continues to say “and the little fellow lying dead upstairs” (Waugh 154). The reader is reminded of the reason for the game. It is funny having adults acting like animals, but there is darkness to the comedy because of the death and the worries of Tony are in the background.

Mansfield experiments with writing style in the animal snap scene by using an internal method of writing to introduce the scene: “Round the table there sat a bull, a rooster, a donkey … a sheep and a bee” (Mansfield 269). This internal use of style places the reader in the children’s minds as they imagine they are these animals. Another experiment with style that pulls the reader into the story is switching from third person to second person when describing the darkness in the washhouse: “While they were playing, the day had faded … You were frightened to look in the corners of the washhouse” (Mansfield 271).

Waugh resists experimenting with writing style and uses an external method of writing through dialogue in the animal snap scene. Further evidence of Waugh’s external method is Tony expressing his internal tension through his constant external awareness of the clock. Tony states, “Is that only quarter past?” (Waugh 151) and “Five o’clock. Now that the shutters are up we shan’t hear the chimes” (Waugh 154).

Though Mansfield and Waugh both use the card game animal snap as an element of escape and comedy, Mansfield portrays childhood innocence and demonstrates modern fiction writing style by and experimenting with an internal method, and Waugh reveals adult tragedy through an external method of writing which defies the modern fiction writer’s style.

Works Cited

Mansfield, Katherine. “At the Bay.” Katherine Mansfield’s Selected Stories. Ed. Vincent O’Sullivan. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2005. 269-272.

Waugh, Evelyn. A Handful of Dust. New York: Back Bay Books, 1999. 151-154.

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