The Art of Fictional Short Stories: Saint Joseph's University Edition Lori Gallagher

Property of Lori Gallagher


"Reading without reflecting is like eating without digesting” (Burke, 2007, p. 1). Too often do readers simply read without reflecting on what was written, yet this reflection is what makes reading worthwhile. The issue is that this reflection is challenging for many. Are you a student who agrees with this? Do you struggle with English because it is too vague, complex, or boring? If so, then welcome to "The Art of Fictional Short Stories: Saint Joseph's University Edition." This textbook will preface, demonstrate, and allow you to think deeper and more critically about a topic, specifically fictional short stories. By reading this textbook, you will learn how to effectively read, comprehend, and analyze short stories. You will also learn about some ideals of the Jesuits and how to implement these ideals into your own life.

Objectives for Chapter 1

1. You should be able to better read, comprehend, and analyze fictional short stories.

2. You should be able to identify and define the following terms: Short Story, Fiction, Non-Fiction, Thesis, Tone, Imagery, Personification, Irony, Point of View, Third Person Omniscient, First Person Point of View, Dialogue, and Symbolism.

3. You should be more aware of the Jesuit ideals of cura personalis and forming and educating agents of change and how to implement these ideals into their own lives.

Property of Lori Gallagher

Property of Lori Gallagher

Property of Lori Gallagher

Lesson 1: Fictional Short Story

  1. Beckson and Ganz (1960) state that a Short Story is a prose narrative briefer than the short novel, more restricted in characters and situations, and usually concerned with a single effect (p. 257). Short stories can either be fictional or non-fictional. Beckson and Ganz state that Fiction is a narrative, usually in the form of a novel or short tale, that tells an imaginative story, as distinguished from non-fiction, which may present historical or biographical fact (p. 89). This chapter will focus specifically on fictional short stories, so it is important to understand what they are before reading them.

Before Reading

As a student, you will be asked to read, comprehend, and analyze texts, such as the following stories, in school, but there lies a challenge within all three of these tasks. 1. You must actually read the text. 2. You must understand what it is saying. 3. You should be able to analyze the text on a deeper level than what is exposed on the surface.

Step 1. Read. You must fully read the text, and not skim. This step sounds fairly easy, but students often do not read assigned works and get summaries from their friends or the Internet. This is not conducive to the educational process, and the person is not improving their reading skills, so the only way to improve is to actually read. It is similar to learning how to play an instrument. You cannot kind of learn to play an instrument and expect to be amazing at it; you need to struggle in the beginning to improve, and eventually, you will be great at playing. This same lesson applies to reading in that it is difficult at first, but it becomes easier the more you do it.

Step 2a. Comprehension. Once you have read the text once, think about if you understood it or not. While reading, do not distract yourself. Ask yourself comprehension questions throughout so you can pause on what you have read, reflect, and ensure that you understand the content. You can also annotate the work after you have read it once so you know what to look for. This helps for reflection afterward because you can read the comments later on and get your many thoughts onto paper into their appropriate areas within the text. Try these different tactics and see what works best for you. Reading and understanding a text is essential before you can analyze it.

Step 2b. Thesis. One of the most important aspects of literature is the thesis. Beckson and Ganz state that the thesis is a proposition to be maintained, especially one laid down for formal defense or proof (p. 282). Many authors write not only for the enjoyment of writing, but also to present a certain thesis to the world so as to educate others. To construct a thesis, a person needs to read, comprehend, and then reflect on what could be the most important lesson from the story. Theses may vary, and there may be more than one thesis in a story, but try to remember what main lesson you learned from the story, and that is generally the thesis.

Step 3. Analyzing. This step is the trickiest for most readers. People often do not challenge themselves to think more about what an author is really trying to convey, or they believe that they are incapable of it. First of all, everyone is capable of looking at a text and analyzing it if they are given the proper guidance and if they support their thoughts with textual evidence. By looking deeper into a text, the text can gain a new life and new meanings, making it more special and entertaining.

Even if one does wish to analyze a text further, he or she may be unsure of where to begin. Here are some questions that you can ask yourself to spark analytical thoughts:

a. What is the title and what does it mean both by itself and to the story?

b. What point of view is this written in and why?

c. How does the dialogue, if any, affect the story?

d. Is there figurative language, and how does this affect how the story is written?

e. How complex is this story in terms of plot and the way it is written? What are the implications of this?

Clearly, there are so many avenues one can travel down when beginning to analyze a text. The important thing to remember is to not get overwhelmed. Choose a path, think about it and everything associated with it, and then go on another path. Ideas will form as you think and you may surprise yourself with what you find.

Brianna Wisniewski, alumni of Saint Joseph’s University Class of 2010, wrote the following short story entitled “Sono Qui Sempre.” Try your best to fully read, comprehend, and analyze the story based on what we have covered so far.

"Sono Qui Sempre" by Brianna Wisniewski

Around the world, thousands give Him praise and glory. He alone brought smiles to people’s faces, cured the sick, had faithful followers, and loved and taught everything He knew from His heart. Yet in His one moment of agony and grief, he is immortalized on the corner of Lake Street and Avenue S. His body hangs limply off the oak, nails embedded deep in the hard timber. He does not flinch. The color has morphed slightly from flying saliva, and the unkempt small garden encircling him has died. The grooves had deepened from rapidly changing weather and the shine has lost its luster. The smog tarnished the small golden plate bearing the name of the beloved parish pastor lost to cancer the previous year. The cross was simple from far away, but was the bearer of the most exquisite detail when approached. The city streets were abandoned, the black tar reflecting the heat of the day. Most days, many would sporadically walk by, pull up their newspaper and stay steady on the straight path. Others looked up at the carving in disgust imagining the better usage of trees. Some would scowl and jeer. Each time He relived the nightmare all over again. Now he felt the nagging pain, and though He was made of hollow wood, a single drip scurried down His cheek.

The sky darkened and the clouds picked up the pace racing to a destination that, unbeknownst to them, did not exist. The world became somber and fragile and the wind blew gently making the silence deafeningly audible. The strain upon His shoulders tightened and he slipped lower on the cross. Instantly, the skies opened and spots appeared on the reluctant sidewalk. He thought he heard a shattering sound somewhere in the distance, but instead it was a pitter patter inching ever closer…

She paused in front of the crucifix deliberately, knuckles clenched, aching feet pounding from the abrupt stop. The storm picked up, but she was already drenched from head to toe. Her breaths matched those of the gusts of wild wind, the thunder rolled, her teeth grit. Her running shoes would no longer support her. The rubber souls flailed every time they hit the pavement and the colorful twisted swoosh was tearing. The colors, once beaming vibrantly, had faded and the predominant white became ivory, became beige, became sickly yellow.

He slowly lifted up His head. He didn’t have to look to see. The flood of salty tears stung the air, bleeding brightly through the torrential down pour.

She picked up a rock and halted poised, her arm aiming for the crown of thorns. Her muscles refused to move and she stood, chaos erupting around her, chest heaving.

With ease, he released himself from the confines of the nails, and stepped down to the cement. She saw the wooden figure coming at her and became as light as her hand. The rock had slipped, and its integrity was now severely compromised on the curb of the street. He stood before her unstirred by her reaction, and the ends of His mouth curled. The sun had nestled herself into the knot in her stomach and her limbs relaxed as He embraced her.

Her hand dropped, the rain peacefully showered them both as He leaned into her ear:

Sono qui, sempre. I am here, always.

She didn’t know when she had started running again, but she found herself forming the cross on her torso instead of struggling to bear it on her back, and raising her finger to the air in jubilation instead of in questioning and anger. He once again outstretched His arms knowing he will always have to bear this, and that with every pain will come a moment where His love will rise above it all.

This is where Wisniewski's short story ends. I have annotated my own copy of this short story as an example of not only elements that will be analyzed later, but to also demonstrate how you can effectively annotate a text. Do not annotate every word, but make sure you take note of important aspects of the story that have to do with meaning and style. It is best to be concise if you need to explain why you are annotating something. Also make sure to be organized and not write your points messily or too close to one another. Space everything out and also utilize different colored pens or highlighters if they are available because using different colors can make your points stand out and you can remember them better.

Page Two of "Sono Qui Sempre"

Analysis of "Sono Qui Sempre"

While reading the analysis below, make sure to refer to this annotated version of the story and you can see where certain points are expressed.

Let’s begin with Wisniewski’s “Sono Qui Sempre.” From the title alone, we can see that this title is in Italian and it translates to “I am here, always.” A reader may not know that, so this is information that would need to be looked up. Research is necessary for some texts to gain the full meaning, so if you are unaware of a detail, look it up. It may change a text completely. In this case, research has led to a translation of the title, which acts as a prelude to one or several aspects of the story. Therefore, research is very important when analyzing a text.

This title has deep meaning within the context of this short story, but before we look at the title thoroughly, we will analyze the story. Before you read, be aware of the title's translation if it is not in your native language, and then read. After reading, reflect on the story and see how it relates to the title.

The story begins with pronouns such as “he/him” being capitalized. Immediately, one may believe this capitalization is a typo, but it acts to describe a man, Jesus, so great that he deserves capitalized pronouns to describe him. This is commonly used in religion, so one may note that this is a possible explanation. Another explanation could be that Wisniewski felt it necessary to capitalize the pronouns due to the immense power of the subject, but the former reasoning makes more sense given the subject matter.

A factor that changes throughout the story is the tone. Beckson and Ganz state that in general, critics use the term attitude to refer to the author's relationship to his material or to his audience, or both. These attitudes, as they appear in the work itself, constitute or determine its tone. (p. 282). The story begins by talking about the great aspects of Jesus and the tone is joyous and uplifting: "He alone brought smiles to people's faces, cured the sick, had faithful followers, and loved and taught everything He knew from His heart" (Wisniewski 1). However, this quickly turns to the depressing and lowly description of the crucifix: "The color has morphed slightly from flying saliva, and the unkempt small garden encircling Him has died" (Wisniewski 1). These few sentences take a hard left turn and act as an attention-grabber for the audience. Eventually, the tone shifts to an uplifting and positive one toward the end: "She didn't know when she had started running again, but she found herself forming the cross on her torso instead of struggling to bear it on her back, and raising her finger to the air in jubilation instead of in questioning and anger" (Wisniewski 2). This change demonstrates the journey that both Jesus and the narrator take. It goes back and forth from positive to negative, representing how life does the same. One can also say that this story mirrors Jesus’ life in the path it takes. It begins on a high note by describing how, "around the world, thousands give him praise and Glory" (Wisniewski 1). This joy can be paralleled to the joy of Jesus' birth at the beginning of his life. As the story unfolds, it becomes dark and somber: "Now He felt the nagging pain, and though He was made of hollow wood, a single drip scurried down his cheek" (Wisniewski 1). This parallels Jesus's crucifixion and death. At the end, there is a newfound life in the story and it is glorious again: "He once again outstretched His arms knowing He will always have to bear this, and that with every pain there will come a moment where His love will rise above it all" (Wisnewski 2). This parallels Jesus resurrecting from the dead, which was momentous and euphoric for all because Jesus was able to open the gates of Heaven and let weary souls finally rest in peace. The tone changes often throughout this piece to convey the journeys that these two characters have been on and it is written in this way to convey the story more fully.

Reading further, a crucifix is described through the use of imagery. Beckson and Ganz state that this is the use of language to represent descriptively things, actions, or even abstract ideas (p. 119). Wisniewski never explicitly uses the word “crucifix” anywhere in the story, but by the descriptions and the use of capitalized pronouns, it is evident that this is what the speaker is discussing: "His body hangs limply off the oak, nails embedded deep in the hard timbre (Wisnewski 1). This quote never explicitly states that this is a crucifix, but by describing it in an artistic way, the audience can grasp what Wisniewski is talking about. A great example of imagery is the following quote: "The flood of salty tears stung the air, bleeding brightly through the torrential downpour" (Wisniewski 2). This description could be written as "Jesus cried;" however, Wisniewski puts effort and creativity into this sentence to allow the audience to see the moment of Jesus crying as opposed to just reading simple words about this moment. Imagery can really make a story more entertaining to read because it takes a dull moment and describes it in a creative and intelligent way. Wisniewski does a great job in this instance with this line because the audience can clearly envision what is happening, and it is told in an imaginative way. As entertaining as imagery can be to read, it also portrays deeper nuances within the story, and is ultimately imperative to the understanding of the story.

This story has a few examples of personification. Beckson and Ganz state that this is a figure of speech in which inanimate objects or abstract ideas are endowed with human qualities or action (p. 198). Jesus is seen merely as a little statue connected to a piece of wood until the story unfolds more and gives him life. He is described as a crucifix, yet this crucifix takes on human qualities, such as the ability to cry and walk: "With ease, he released himself from the confines of the nails, and stepped down to the cement (Wisniewski 2). The crucifix acts as a literal representation of Jesus. One can interpret the course of events as the actual Jesus emerging from the cross and helping the girl. Another interpretation that is the opposite of the former is that this is the essence of Jesus helping the girl. Jesus is risen, so Jesus is not physically on Earth anymore. Because of this, it is impossible for Jesus to be there physically, but he can be there in spirit and help those who need him, like the narrator. As the title states, “I am here, always,” Jesus will always be there for everyone, though not always in a clear way. This is Jesus’ way of speaking without any words; he merely uses actions. It is through this personification that this is demonstrated.

In this story, there is some irony. Beckson and Ganz state that this is a device by which a writer expresses a meaning contradictory to the stated or obstensible one (p. 132). It is ironic that Jesus, who is seen as the weakest character in this story at first, is truly the most powerful. Jesus is suffering on the cross and scoffed at by people who pass by, yet he is the most powerful because he has an abundance of love in his heart, and this gives him power beyond measure. Love is power in this story, because with love, one has ultimate power: ""He once again outstretched His arms knowing He will always have to bear this, and that with every pain there will come a moment where His love will rise above it all" (Wisnewski 2). Even if Jesus does endure pain that weakens him, he uses love to not only empower himself, but to empower others, such as the narrator. This irony causes the reader to pause and reflect on how Jesus can be both weak and powerful, which adds to understanding his character better and seeing how complex characters can be.

Another aspect to pay attention to is point of view. Beckson and Ganz state that this is the point from which a story is told (p. 210) . This is written in third person omniscient. Beckson and Ganz state that this is a point of view that enables the writer to present the inner thoughts and feelings of his characters (p. 210). Because there are other point of view choices to choose from, it is important to think about why the author wanted a specific point of view. In this story, Wisniewski may have favored this point of view because it allows an omniscient perspective, similar to God, to tell the story. The audience does not become the characters, but they can act as an observer to what is happening. This parallels how in life, God is ultimately in control and a person, or the audience, needs to follow his will. Point of view affects not only how the story is told, but also what aspects are revealed, if at all.

As we draw to a close on this first day of working, reflect on what you have learned and keep it with you for the following lessons. Your homework is to review what we have learned today and to annotate your own copy of Wisniewski's story. Thank you very much and I will leave you with this meme.

See Citation Six

Property of Lori Gallagher

Property of Lori Gallagher

Property of Lori Gallagher

Lesson 2

Let's jump back into Wisniewski's "Sono Qui Sempre." So far, we have covered most of the aspects of the story that we will analyze, but we have a few more to go.

There is the speaker, who is later identified as a girl. There can be several different interpretations of her role in the story. For one thing, she is the clear narrator and is there to give the audience a set of eyes to see the story through. One interpretation is that she is struggling in life and is going to die or endure more pain. The chaos she is meeting is represented by the storm in the story. She sees Jesus and he comes to life in front of her. He walks toward her and takes her away to Heaven. Her metaphorical cross of pain has been replaced by her doing the sign of the cross, representing how Jesus took away the misery she had felt during her life and replaced it with everlasting serenity in Heaven. Another interpretation can be that she is not dying; rather, she has a transfiguration. She meets the statue and is in a bad place in her life, struggling with something. Jesus approaches her, not literally, but in her mind or heart. She receives comfort from his words and is healed. Either interpretation is valid, particularly because she is not so clearly defined as a character. Because she is so ambiguous, her meaning in the story is up for audience interpretation.

Let's get back to the title now that we have analyzed the text thoroughly. The title can be taken two ways; either Jesus is talking to the girl or the girl is talking to Jesus. Jesus says this line in the story, so by using it as the title, Wisniewski emphasizes the importance of this message that Jesus is saying. He will be here for everyone, at every time. This offers reassurance to not only the girl, but also to the audience. The title could also be the girl talking to Jesus. Although she never says this message to Jesus anywhere in the story, she shows this message through her actions. She is there for Jesus when nobody else is because everyone else walks away or evens scoffs at the crucifix. She is the only one to walk to the crucifix and meet Jesus. Her actions show that she is here, always, for Jesus. Either interpretation is hopeful and valid. The title could be written in Italian either because this takes place in a location of Italian speakers or because although Wisniewski is an American writer, using a title written in a foreign language demonstrates that these events can happen anywhere.

Let's create a thesis for this short story. Everyone does not need to agree that there is one exact thesis, but every thesis needs to be supported by examples from the text. One thesis that can be taken from the text is that Jesus is always there for people. You could even take the religious context out of this story and see if as a person being comforted by something, demonstrating that pain is not everlasting. Another interpretation can be that if you are depressed or furious, take a moment to go to something good, like a crucifix, and allow it to heal you. It is mentioned that most people walk by the crucifix, but the speaker decides to approach it, and by doing this, she is healed of her pain.

Lastly, let's discuss how this short story can reflect the Jesuit ideal of Cura Personalis. This ideal translates to, 'care for the individual person.' The article, "What is a Jesuit Education?" (2014) states that cura personals is respecting each person as a child of God and all of God’s creations" (p. 1). This value reflects how the Jesuits strive to care for all and ensure that all are loved because everyone is a beautiful creation of God. This story reflects this ideal in that the narrator show care for the crucifix, and vice versa. It is explained earlier that people would often walk past the crucifix and show hatred toward it, but the narrator is the one person that actually shows love and respect for the crucifix. The crucifix also shows love and respect for the narrator because the crucifix comforts the narrator in her despair. They are both caring for the other person; therefore, this ideal is clearly reflected in this story. It is advocated for in that this story encourages the audience to strive to live out this ideal so as to not only help others, but to also honor the creations of God.

Clearly, this short story brought about many different ideas, demonstrating that although texts can be very complex and deep, it is still important to analyze them so as to fully comprehend them and appreciate what the author wrote. By analyzing the story carefully and in order, one can successfully do this. One can also make notes and build upon these notes after an analysis has been done.

It can be difficult mentally to read, comprehend, and analyze a text, so I have incorporated little "study breaks" in between lessons to help you refresh your mind. Do no linger on them, because there are more stories to be read and new skills for you to still develop.

I think it is important to have study breaks while doing English because it can be strenuous to think critically about literature, so enjoy the following English memes!

See Citation Nine
See Citation Five
See Citation Seven

I hope you enjoyed those memes, and I hope you feel better about reading, understanding, and analyzing literature from the Wisniewski example. Let’s practice with another example of a short story. As you read, utilize some of the tactics described in the previous pages before reading the final analysis. By doing this, you can understand what you can do on your own and see what struggles you have with the reading process. Lori Gallagher, Saint Joseph’s University Class of 2020, wrote the following short story entitled “Smoking Wisdom.”

Smoking Wisdom-Lori Gallagher

Walking along the old, broken street of my childhood home, I found myself drifting toward an old man sitting on a curb. His face was partially hidden by his long, grey beard that fell down like bullets of rain in a thunderstorm. Underneath his unkempt hair was his wrinkled skin that displayed many aging spots. He wore an old plain T-shirt, ripped jeans, and flip-flops that were dirty and held together by duct tape. He had a small drawstring bag next to him that he focused on. When he heard me walking towards him, he did not look up or change his position; he merely sat there as if I was going to drift away with the wind and leave him alone.

“Hey,” I began.

He didn’t reply or even look at me. He sat and stared at his bag.

“Hey,” I tried again, but the same outcome resulted. “You know, I’ve been looking for you for awhile, but I never thought to look back here where I was a child. It’s kind of ironic, isn’t it?”

He suddenly looked up at me with dejected eyes. They were green and bloodshot. He opened his bag and pulled out a damp cigarette and a book.

“Got a lighter?” he asked.

“Can we get back to me, please?” I asked, more eager than ever.

“I asked if you got a lighter,” he replied louder. “I don’t care about you. I want a cigarette. Do you want one?”

“No, I don’t,” I answered, hoping this wouldn’t be a waste of time. “I just want to talk to you.”

“We’re talking now, aren’t we? Be a good person and get me a lighter.”

“Seriously, can we just talk?”

“I know you have one. It’s in your right back pocket along with a dollar and a polaroid of your mom.”

I paused, not sure of how to respond. “How did you know that?”

“You know the answer to your own question,” he replied.

“Well, I guess so. Now, can you help me?”

“Not until I get my lighter that I asked for two minutes ago,” he replied coldly.

Frustrated, I gave in with a growl and handed him the God-forsaken lighter. He had a slight smile on his face and lit the cigarette. A look of pure serenity painted his face as he inhaled the nauseating fumes.

“That’s good,” he breathed, completely content. “You don’t know what you’re missing.”

“That’s because you won’t help me,” I replied with spite oozing from my tone, not thinking about my manners anymore.

“Listen, I know why you’re here. It’s why they all come here. You want something from me, but I want something from you, too.”

“What do you want?”

“I want to be used,” he said, serious now. “I want to be acknowledged. I want to be.”

“Well, I want to know why,” I began, not able to hold back my tears or worries anymore. “I want to know why an innocent lady, like my mother, is in the hospital right now. Why is she dying when she deserves to live more than I do? Why is she on a breathing machine while my lungs can work wonders? Why is she unable to eat or drink or go to the bathroom by herself while I can do all of that easily? Why am I arguing with an old man on a disgusting street? Why?”

“I can’t answer any of that,” he explained. “I know you came here to learn why, but you can’t. What’s happening?”


“What’s happening?”

“You know exactly what’s happening!”

“Maybe, but do you? What’s happening?”

“My mom is in the hospital,” I breathed, sorrow escaping with every regretful syllable. “She has been there for months. They tell me she won’t get better. She’s… she’s dying.”

“To whom is this happening?”

“Okay, are you sure that’s a cigarette you’re smoking?” I asked, bracing myself to possibly run away if he turned out to be absolutely insane.

“I’m sure as I can be. To whom is this event happening?”

“My mom,” I answered, picturing her pale, translucent skin that blanketed her fragile body. I saw her closed eyes, tears escaping the corners of them while she slept. Her hair was no more. Lifting a pinkie was an effort. I saw all of these things, but for the first time, I saw my mom in this image of a broken life.

“When is this happening?” he asked.

“Now,” I replied.

“Where is this happening?”

“At the hospital down the street,” I answered again, hoping for less answers on my part and more on his part.

“That’s all you can know,” he finished, taking a long drag of his cigarette.

“Wait, what? What? No! No, I don’t believe you!”

“You don’t have to believe the truth, but you have to live with it,” he sighed. “You want to know why. That’s the reason you came here. Let me tell you the truth; ‘why’ is not for now, ‘Why’ is for later.”

“But I want to know why now,” I snapped, almost sounding like a complaining toddler.

“You can’t walk faster than your own feet, so don’t try to. Walk with a slow and even pace, and eventually you’ll catch up to your mind. That’s all I can say right now because you haven’t learned the rest yet. Life will teach you that one.”

I was shocked, miserable, and furious all at the same time. He was supposed to tell me the answer to my question, not give me more questions to find answers to.

“Okay, you know what?” I cried. “I don’t need you. I can figure this out on my own.”

I started to walk away, but his words pulled me back like I was a fish on a hook.

“Not quite,” he sang in a matter-of-fact tone. It was almost like this was amusing for him. “You need me to be able to figure out everything, but I won’t tell you directly. Use me. Here.”

He held out his cigarette to me. I walked over and tried to take it, but he quickly pulled his arm back.

“No!” he cried, and then held it out again. “Here.”

I tried to take it again, but he pulled away again.

“Okay,” I said, fury oozing out of my tone, “listen here, smoky, I’m going to punch you so hard-”

“I don’t believe you,” he taunted. “You don’t hurt that which you need; you use it. So, try again.”

He held out the cigarette again, but this time, I was able to grab it from him. I twiddled it in my fingers, contemplating what to do now. I was acting on no directions and little time.

Maybe that was the point.

I had little directions all of my life, and when I needed them the most, I had them the least. Perhaps there were no directions; rather, I had to make the map up myself.

Almost without thinking, I took a long drag of the cigarette. I coughed uncontrollably until I could stomach the putrid gas penetrating my lungs. Once the cigarette was almost gone, I grabbed the book he took out earlier and opened it up to a random page. It had no words on it, but there were markings all over. The markings were not intelligible words, but they were angry pen marks and fallen tears. I looked at the cigarette and placed it on this page. I turned the page slowly, crushing the cigarette between the previous two pages. I saw that the next page was a bit clearer. The following pages cleared up more and more until the last page had just one dot of ink on it. No page was completely clear, but there was beauty within each tragic pen-mark and teardrop.

“That was my last cigarette,” he said.

“Yeah, but that was my first,” I replied. “Thanks.”

“Thanks for using me,” he replied.

I stole one more glance at him before walking toward the hospital. When I arrived, the nurses had told me that mom had died. They said they were so sorry. I didn’t cry that night out of anger or confusion like I did all the previous nights of her illness; I cried thankfully because I knew something.

I knew that I don’t know why. That question has no answer now because I cannot grasp it. I can understand what happened, to who it happened, when it happened, and where it happened.


That is wisdom I cannot smoke.

This is the end of Gallagher's piece. Below is the annotated version. Reference this as you read the analysis below.

Page One of "Smoking Wisdom"
Page Two of "Smoking Wisdom"
Page Three of "Smoking Wisdom"
Page Four of "Smoking Wisdom"
Page Five of "Smoking Wisdom"
Page Six of "Smoking Wisdom"

Analysis of "Smoking Wisdom"

This short story is entitled "Smoking Wisdom." This title is somewhat misleading on its own because it causes people to assume that this story is about gaining wisdom through smoking, which is an awful and unhealthy act. In fact, this story does not advocate for this at all. Smoking in this story represents thinking that leads to wisdom, but this will be discussed more heavily after the initial analysis. Ultimately, it is important to know that this story does not talk about smoking in its traditional form as a health issue; rather, it is used in a deeper and symbolic way which will be discussed later.

Although both this piece and the former are short stories, they have different elements that separate them. For instance, this short story is written using the first person point of view. Beckson and Ganz state that this point of view is solely that of the character telling the story (p. 210). The author does this so the audience can see into the head of the narrator. The narrator is never described physically, but their thoughts are clearly heard and this conveys to the audience who this character really is. To contrast, the man in the story is vividly described physically, but his personality remains a mystery. This is because using this particular point of view can only give so much information, such as outward appearances, and it relies on elements, such as dialogue or audience interpretation, to reveal another character's traits and desires. This point of view allows the audience to understand every thought and emotion of the narrator so the audience can take on these thoughts and emotions in a direct way. This point of view allows the audience to fully feel the impact of these events in the story and connect with the story even more so.

An important aspect that is seen in Gallagher's piece but not Wisniewski's piece is dialogue. Beckson and Ganz state that dialogue is the speeches of characters in a narrative or a play, especially the latter (p. 61). This piece uses dialogue, sometimes very vague, to carry the story. The dialogue varies from short, choppy interactions to longer monologues that carry deep messages. Gallagher makes this story mostly about the power of words as opposed to creative description because it is through so much dialogue that the audience can grasp the themes and understand what is going on. This can also be done by writing longer descriptions as opposed to more dialogue, but Gallagher wished to write it this way to demonstrate the importance of dialogue and the messages found within it. The dialogue of the old man is very mysterious, as he is as a character. To contrast, the dialogue of the narrator is frustrated and raw, which mirrors the narrator and his or her feelings about the issue of the mother in the hospital. It is through dialogue that these characters are best and most prominently revealed, so by paying close attention to this dialogue, the audience can fully grasp the impact of this story.

Let's talk about characterization. There are two characters, the old man and the narrator. The old man's physical appearance is described very vividly, yet he is extremely mysterious. It is never explicitly stated who he truly is or why he is there, but audience interpretation is necessary to fill in these gaps. His words are complex, but it is through these words that one can better understand him and his motives. He supplies wisdom to people because he represents wisdom. He explains that people do not use him as much as they should, and he feels isolated due to it: "'I want to be acknowledged. I want to be'" (Gallagher 2). This conveys that people do not seek out wisdom as much as they should, and that is a part of the reason why tragedies are so devastating; people do not think fully about them and only focus on their pain from them. On the other hand, the narrator is never described physically, but heavily described intellectually and emotionally. The narrator's emotions are vividly written and the audience can clearly see why the narrator is feeling the way he or she is. Not as much interpretation is needed for the narrator because more questions are answered about the narrator as opposed to the old man, but interpretation is essential to fully understand both characters. The old man and the narrator juxtapose each other because the old man is clearly described physically, but not mentally, and the opposite is evident for the narrator.

Symbolism is heavily used throughout this story. Beckson and Ganz state that this is making a person, object, or concept stand for something else (p. 273). There are many different objects and people that stand for something else, such as the old man. The old man can be interpreted several ways. One way is to think of the old man is that he symbolizes wisdom. It is never explicitly stated, but the narrator is searching for wisdom, which is the old man. The narrator wants wisdom to tell him or her why his or her mother is so ill. The old man is never direct in answering this question, in the same way that wisdom can be tricky. Wisdom does not come easily nor immediately, but it can come eventually and help people understand something better. Even with wisdom, one may not fully understand something. Eventually, the old man helps the narrator understand his or her mother's illness. The old man can also represent the narrator talking to himself or herself. This entire story could be a dream-sequence of the narrator thinking in a vivid and imaginative way about his or her mother's illness. The narrator could be talking to himself or herself via the old man. This infers that the narrator knows the answer to his or her own question, but he or she needed to look deep within himself or herself to find the answer. There are other symbols in this story, such as the cigarette and the book. The cigarette symbolizes a means to thinking, or the ability to think. Once the narrator smokes, he or she is able to learn the answer to his or her ultimate question. This is because he or she uses the cigarette, or thinking, to do so. The book is symbolic of the story of the narrator's life. The ink marks in the book represent the dark periods, such as the one the narrator is going through with the mother being sick. As the pages progress, there are less ink marks, conveying how as time continues, there will be less darkness in the narrator’s life and he or she will cope with the tragedy better. There is never a clean page, meaning that the tragedy will always exist, even if minimal. The narrator puts the cigarette into the book, shuts it, and throws it away, demonstrating how the narrator will rely on his or her own power and wisdom to cope with life. Clearly, symbolism is one of the most imperative aspects of this story because it helps to not only explain it further, but add creativity to it, so symbolism is an important element of figurative language to analyze in short stories.

The tone is dejected and mysterious throughout. It is this way to support the thesis that life is difficult, and sometimes, some questions cannot be answered and mystery remains. An example of dejection can be found within the first sentence: "Walking along the old, broken street of my childhood home, I found myself drifting toward an old man sitting on a curb" (Gallagher 1). The street is described as "old" and broken," and both are negative adjectives in this case. Automatically, Gallagher puts the audience in a somber mood using this tone. This tone remains consistent throughout the piece, but there is some levity towards the end when the narrator has his or her epiphany: "I can understand what happened, to who this happened, when it happened, and where it happened. Why? That is wisdom I cannot smoke" (Gallagher 6). Although this is still a somewhat disappointing ending because the narrator did not discover why, it is uplifting because the narrator has gained knowledge in a way that he or she did not expect, and that is what the narrator was ultimately seeking. This levity parallels the journey of the narrator because his or her journey throughout the story began very dejectedly and it ended with some clarity that contains subtle disappointment. The tone can act to guide the reader through the emotions of the story.

Now let us discuss what the title could mean. This is entitled "smoking wisdom." This title is very odd and unconventional, but it has a very specific meaning within the text. As seen within the story, the old man smokes, as well as the narrator. When they smoke, they are thinking; therefore, in this story, smoking represents thinking/pondering. The next word, "wisdom," is what the narrator is seeking, but cannot find until he or she smokes. This title infers that smoking, or thinking, leads to wisdom. The last line restricts the title in that it says that a person cannot find out everything by thinking: "Why? That is wisdom I cannot smoke" (Gallagher 6). This summarizes the entire story in saying that it is beneficial to think in order to learn new things, but some questions cannot be answered, no matter how much someone thinks about them. There is some wisdom that people cannot smoke, but this story still has this title to convey that people should smoke wisdom, or think to obtain wisdom, if they are able to because it can lead to revelations about life.

That is the end of today's lesson. Tonight's homework is to review the terms described in this analysis and annotate your own copy of "Smoking Wisdom." Thank you and I will leave you with this meme.

See Citation 1

Property of Lori Gallagher

Property of Lori Gallagher

Property of Lori Gallagher

Lesson 3

Let's discuss what the thesis/ theses could be. One lesson that this story conveys is that a person cannot know everything, and once he or she learns this, he or she is truly knowledgable. This may sound contradictory, but it is not because when someone is smart enough to realize that they cannot know everything about life, they have truly reached a deep level of wisdom that many people do not reach. People can only know certain things, such as "who" and "what," but they cannot know exactly "why" something is happening. The narrator seeks out these answers at the beginning of the story. but once he or she realizes that he or she cannot know why, he or she is truly enlightened and can take this mentality with him or her throughout life. Another lesson that is demonstrated is that one needs to put in effort of some sort to discover something. Had the narrator not gone to the old man to seek out wisdom, he or she would have never learned the important lesson of knowing the reasoning behind situations. Because of this, the audience should see the importance of putting in effort to find something out so as to achieve more knowledge.

This story represents the Jesuit ideal of Forming & Educating Agents of Change. The article "What is a Jesuit Education?" states that this is teaching behaviors that reflect critical thought and responsible action on moral and ethical issues" (p. 1). This ideal emphasizes thought to achieve positive change. This story is all about using thinking to achieve wisdom that can aid in accepting an occurrence and moving forward in life. The narrator seeks out the old man to find out the answers of why his or her mom is in the hospital, but through thinking, the narrator realizes that he or she cannot understand why this is happening now, but he or she will understand eventually. People cannot understand God and his mysterious ways, but people must accept what God's will is and learn to better follow him because of what happens in life. This story expresses this ideal very clearly through the plot and it encourages the audience to follow this value in life. The narrator is able to benefit from following this value, so the audience can, as well.

We have reached the end of the first chapter of this textbook. Today, we will have a class discussion on both Wisniewski's and Gallagher's stories and we can say our final thoughts on them. In addition, I want to discuss what skills we have gained in reading, comprehending, and analyzing fictional short stories. We will play a game at the end of class involving information from the lesson. Students will get into two teams, one student from each team will come up with a whiteboard and answer a question that I will ask about the lesson. If both students get the question right, they both get points. If one gets it right, then only one student will get the points. If both students get it wrong, then neither student will get points. At the end, students will take their individual number of points, divide it by two, and that is how many bonus points they will get on their essay. In addition, these individual points will go to the team total and the winning team will receive a prize. Thank you for putting in so much effort to learn about short stories and let's enjoy the game!

Your homework is to watch the following video on writing compare and contrast essays because you will have one tomorrow on these two short stories. I am not extensively going over this because I want to see what you make of it. Thank you and have a nice day!

Property of Lori Gallagher

Property of Lori Gallagher

Lesson 4

Now I will assign you an essay prompt. In a 4-5 paragraph essay, compare and contrast Wisniewski's lack of dialogue to Gallagher's immense use of dialogue. How does each author use dialogue or not use dialogue to reveal the themes within each short story? Make sure to write some notes or an outline of what you will write about beforehand. You have the entire period to write this essay.

To conclude, I hope that you have been able to meet the lesson objectives and thoroughly enjoyed learning from this chapter. If you still feel as though you are struggling in English, it is perfectly okay. English can be a very difficult subject that requires a particular form of approach to effectively understand it, but with time and effort, you will surely understand how best to approach English and enjoy learning from it. That you very much and always remember the following quote from Harper Lee:

See Citation Four

Works Cited

Academic Memes. (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2017, from

Beckson, K. E., & Ganz, A. (1960). Literary Terms. New York: The Noonday Press.

Burke, E. (n.d.). A quote by Edmund Burke. Retrieved April 17, 2017, from

Dunn, B. (2010, September 07). Chicken ranch mac & cheese. Retrieved April 17, 2017, from

Interesting A sandwich, with words. (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2017, from

Funny cartoon - Its called reading - Jokes, Memes & Pictures. (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2017, from

Jesus says - Jesus says Get back to work. (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2017, from

[Smrt English]. (2012, November 15). Comparison/Contrast Essays. [Video file]. Retrieved from

View joke - - You look so much thinner ! - Thanks, I had my appendix removed . . . (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2017, from

What is a Jesuit Education? (2014, January 06). Retrieved April 17, 2017, from

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