The use of the frame story, an overarching narrative used to connect a series of loosely related stories, pervades literature. An example of a frame story on a large scale – tying together a whole book-length work, not a simple short story – can be found in Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel MAUS. Each of the narrative’s six sections is framed with snatches of the interaction between Vladek and Art during the “interview” that supposedly occurred to create the book. This framing helps us learn about Vladek’s character, which we would not know about from his rather flat, unemotional Holocaust narrative.
In coming to understand this book, we must also take into account the fact that no work of literature exists in a vacuum, and all literature is affected by the social and cultural contexts of its author and its reader. MAUS is no exception. In MAUS, the use of frame stories helps to establish personal, social, and cultural context for the “main” stories told within.
In this effort to give literary works some sort of context, it seems that there are three “filters” through which any work of literature can be viewed. The first of these is what I will call the “personal context”, that is, the information we amass about the previous experiences of the protagonist and other central figures of the work. Clearly, what has happened to a person, real or fictional, in the past will indelibly inform their present and future actions and emotions. The second “filter” is the “social context”: the relationships that characters form among themselves. (In MAUS, I will also refer to this as the “familial” context, since the central relationship in the book is…
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…e graphic novel. This helps to clarify the cultural context in which Vladek views himself.
In conclusion, three different types of context are established by the “frame story” in the book. These are the personal, social, and cultural contexts which I have described. Perhaps there are others, but these three seem to be the most central to understanding the interaction of literature with its background culture. As there is reader-response criticism, perhaps we might propose a school of culture-response criticism, devoted to understanding the ideas portrayed in literature in light of the surroundings in which they were created.
“Captured in a photograph, without a frame,
You see her standing tall but you see no face to blame.”
Tara MacLean, “Let Her Feel The Rain”
Spiegelman, Art. Maus. New York, Toronto: Random House, Inc. 1973.
Impact of Death on a Relationship Explored in Home Burial by Robert Frost
Robert Frost’s “Home Burial” is a tragic poem about a young life cut short and the breakdown of a marriage and family. The poem is considered to be greatly inspired and “spurred by the Frosts’ loss of their first child to cholera at age 3” (Romano 2). The complex relationship between husband and wife after their child’s death is explored in detail and is displayed truthfully. Among many others, the range of emotions exhibited includes grief, isolation, acceptance, and rejection. The differences in the characters emotions and reactions are evident. The husband and wife in Robert Frost’s “Home Burial” react to their son’s death in stereotypical fashion and interact with each other with difficulty and resistance.
As the wife weeps constantly over the death of her son, the husband is more in control of the situation and is obviously the stronger of the two. Immediately, the husband assumes the stereotypical male role in this type of event. He buries the son, conceals his emotions, and offers to be there with support for his wife. Unlike his distruaght wife’s methods, “His strategy for dealing with death and grief is to appeal to community standards and to larger natural continuities, and thus to avoid taking loss too personally” (Norwood 59). By behaving in this manner, he is able to accept the situation and begin to move on with life.
The husband does not in any way ignore the death of his son, but actually creates a continuous link to him. In order to unify himself, his son, and their ancestors; “He packages the family graveyard in comfroting language” (Norwood 60). He refers to those who have died as his people, and now his son is part of that group. This approach to looking at the dead displays that the husband has a large…
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…ll, he solidifies the fact that he needs her and cannot live without her.
Robert Frost is able to capture the intensity and sadness that accompanies this type of event by paying great attention to the detail and word choice. He is able to tell the story in a manner that the reader is immediately able to understand, but he also makes the reader think about what is going on. He makes the reader wonder why the characters are acting the way they are. He forces the reader to question the complex nature of grief and sadness that ultimately leads to the feeling of abandonment. The characters of the mother and father in this poem react to their son’s death in their own ways, and these ways do not merge with each other.
Frost, Robert. “Home Burial.” Robert Frost’s Poetry and Prose. Ed. Edward Connery Latham and Lawrence Thompson. New York: Holt. 1972.