Sunday, September 2, 2012

Study Guide for East of Tiffany's: Chapter 13

Chapter 13 — Analysis of “Luke, Postmodern Man”


For many readers the words ‘postmodern man’ in the title of the story may be a put off since we tend to think of something postmodern as beyond our conventional taste and understanding; we tend to think of postmodern ideas as unreal, as frigid simulacra.
To go even further, we think of ‘postmodern’ as disrupting the social order, fragmentation, chaos and disorder; to which we tend to respond with pessimism and panic.
Although we can see that Luke —by his own admission— is quite chaotic and panicky, as Luke himself says: “Despite my quirks, Trish seems to like me, and is of great help to me. She brings order and stability to my Department; and I like this since I’m quite chaotic.”
Yet the story is quite conventional as it deals with staple notions of a modern world: love, compassion, faith and death. Where postmodernism fits in is in Lukes’ —the protagonist and narrator—  personal taste in music and literature, as contrasted to other characters’ preferences.

Major Characters

Luke: is the protagonist and narrator of the story. Being a business executive, Luke is by no means a literary man; as a result readers —much like Dostoevsky’s Underground Man— may find abrupt transitions, digressions, and halting timelines. In addition, some of his metaphors and similes are not only prosaic but also careless. The fictional fact to consider is that Luke is mandated by his psychiatrist to write about his problems, as a form of therapy.
Although Luke might suffer from bipolar disorders of highs and lows, no one can say that Luke is disturbed; on the contrary one can say that he is determined to disturb others (readers included).
Erica: is Luke’s “Viking golden girl,” who leaves him only to return to him, Luke being her last refuge.
Melissa: a decent and level-headed young lady that Luke meets through his dating service in the internet. Melissa seems to be the countervailing force to Luke’s bipolar disorders.
Trish: Luke’s administrative assistant who not only watches his back but also keeps him well informed of what is happening in the office.
Nick Santoro: a sanctimonious, ambitious, and obnoxious executive; Luke’s nemesis.
Doctor Lori Twinrivers, MD, Ph.D.: the psychiatrist that by her peculiar therapy cures Luke.
Mr. Guerrero: Luke’s boss and a friend of his family.

Themes and Plots

Luke, the narrator, makes it easy for the reader to discern what his story is about; in that, he is aware that people who read fiction have the tendency to get a quick idea, right at the outset, what the main topic is all about—all in one eyeful and up front.
As if wishing to challenge the reader, Luke says:
Those of you who look for themes, leads, and topic sentences when you read, I’ve got news for you: you won’t find any. In real life we don’t live by themes and selected topics, but only by the cluster of events that happen around us as we go in our daily lives. But if you insist, I will admit that what follows are true events that despite the life and death detours ends well, or bad—depending on your point of view.
What Luke is trying to do with his narration is to drag readers into the story and by immersing themselves find out that the real themes are ultimately life and death—in perspective.
A recurrent subtheme —though not quite as strident as the main themes— is the notion of suicide.


Negatives as Sentence Openers

When narrators use negative words, these negative words have the tendency to create negative thoughts and negative impressions in readers:
Nothing can be more humiliating than to see your colleagues titter, guffaw, and short-laugh right in front of you.
Nothing delights me more than this insane game.
Unlike many couples, we had no financial woes. Erica was the chief counsel for a highly respected woman’s magazine; a nice, high-salary, high-power job.


1.      Use of Similes
Surprised all I could do was to sink my head into my collar like a turtle withdraws into his carapace.

To say that she was startled would be a fib: she was shaken; her composure and poise melting like cheese on a grilled burger.

I don't know what she did besides her embrace, but whatever it was it did me wonders, for my hysteria lifted like a helium balloon.
When I registered her I was a cool dude on the outside, but inside I felt as hot and panicky as a lobster that’s to be dunk into boiling water.
I quickly ran my hand over the top of my head and the stubble felt like the fuzz on a tennis ball
2.      Use of Zeugma
History teaches us that when these bubbles burst, people lose not only their moral compass and shirt, but also their underwear, minds, and even their lives.

Last year because Nick’s sales went down, his bonus also went down; yet, my bonus was rather hefty, if not obese.

3.      Use of Alliteration

Unwanted, unwelcome, and unwell, she decided to come back to New York, to Manhattan, to the only person in the world who had ever loved and cared for her—to Luke. Yes—me!

If you see a tall dude, with a close-shaven head and a magnificent, majestic Mohawk on top, that will be me.

Study Questions

Is Luke’s constant preoccupation with hair the root of all his problems?
Is it ironical that both Luke and Erica lose and regain their hair? And what is the significance of Erica’s prayer, to include the quote from Luke 12:7?
Do elite educational institutions —in particular those Luke mentions— put too much pressure on students, to the point that they become nervous wrecks?
What relation does Kafka have to the story?
Is Luke aware that doctor Lori Twinrivers is a Native American? And what explicit clues in the text might point to this?

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