Contemporary American Fiction

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Donald Barthelme

“See the Moon,” (1964)

Barthelme’s story alludes to William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow,” a poem considered representative of Modernist aesthetics.  Williams’ echoed the aesthetics of Ezra Pound and the Imagists, when he stated that there should be “no ideas but in things.”  According to these ideals, poetry should be rigorous and concise, focusing on the details of the landscape with the precision of haiku.

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

(1923)

On page 31, Barthelme echoes Williams’ “upon,” but seems to be doing so to produce a different effect.  What questions does Barthelme ask?  What is his intent?

What is the narrator of “See the Moon” like?  Why do you think Barthelme chose this voice?

What do you think the narrator means when he writes, “Fragments are the only forms I trust”?  What does he mean by “fragments”?  Why does he trust them and not another form?  What other forms might he distrust?

What is art?  What is the status of art?

What would it mean to be without a history?

What is the stable ground upon which we base our value system?

What is the distinction between the universal and conventional?

“Sentence,” (1970)

What is the significance of the form?  What is its relationship with the content?

What is literature?

What happens to the author in the course of “Sentence”?

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