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 Her metaphorical cross of pain has been replaced by her doing the sign of the cross, representing how Jesus took away the misery she had felt during her life and replaced it with everlasting serenity in Heaven.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!
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?”
“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.