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Gender Relationships in “Orange World” Stories by Karen Russell Essay

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Updated: Aug 26th, 2022

Introduction

The stories by Karen Russell from the Orange World collection are fascinating due to the unusual background setting, twisted plots, and deep, emotional characters. Male and female relationships and feelings are presented more sharply due to integrating the altered reality background setting (Soler 316). The element of the fantastic, unearthly, allows one to abstract from the clichés and routine of everyday life and see partly banal experiences in a new light. This paper explores how two stories from the Orange World collection present male and female relationships by viewing them from the perspective of the altered reality and how the stories reveal the conflicts people face with the opposite gender.

The Tornado Auction

In this story, against the fantastic background setting of magical living elements, the reader gets acquainted with the life story of Robert Wurman, a 73-year-old retired Nebraska tornado farmer. Tornadoes have always been Wurman’s main passion, and he was so captured by them that he had no free time for his wife and daughters (Russell 89). One day, his wife Estelle forbade him to indulge his passion after the farmed tornado broke free and injured Suzy, Wurman’s daughter. Estelle left Robert, and his daughters also did not communicate with him, as he hurt them with his inattention when they were children.

One day Robert goes to the fair and decides to resume his old hobby since no one can stop him. He begins to grow a tornado in a barn, after which the hurricane breaks free, and Robert hopes that he will connect with an actual natural tornado. After learning his decision, the daughters leave many messages on his answering machine, as they are worried about him. However, Robert does not change his decision to follow the tornado to the very end and let it kill himself until he imagines how his daughters will identify his body.

Robert decides to take such a crazy step, as he suffers from loneliness. Too proud to change or apologize for his not-so-good parenting, he expects his daughters to take the first step. However, already on the verge of his suffering and worries, he realizes that he is wrong and refuses to commit suicide. For Robert, this is not a happy ending, but at least he gains some semblance of hope for a better tomorrow.

The plot of the story could be pretty prosaic, like any family relationship, but a non-standard setting allows for a deep empathy with the main characters. Different genders of the related people – father and daughters – do not allow them to understand each other well, and therefore gender is an important obstacle in relationships. Gender stereotypes implying that men did not have to show emotions towards their family led to Robert’s misunderstanding of his main mistake, which lies at the heart of his tragedy of loneliness – his emotional dryness and inattention.

The Gondoliers

This story is distinct in many aspects, but it has similarities with “The Tornado Auction.” Both narratives feature the interaction of people with the elements and explore the theme of loneliness. In both stories, there are marriage relationships destroyed by the man. An older man, Janelle’s passenger, is tormented by guilt for not saving his family from the apocalyptic flood. His agony is compounded by the fact that he is the architect of the dam created to prevent a disaster.

The man is exhausted by loneliness and rejection of an alien post-apocalyptic world, where there is practically no dry land, and the main variety of sensations lies in sounds. He intends to commit suicide by allowing the flood to consume him to be with those he loves. Janelle, the main character, also feels lonely, as she is the only sister born after the world-changing flood. She is tormented by her sisters’ neglect and is desperately looking for a way to gain independence. The blind spot, where no sound is heard, becomes a haven for Janelle and ultimately leads her and her sister to a delightful and, at the same time, monstrous experience of knowing the sounds of a dying and ready-to-rebirth universe.

The story focuses more on women’s feelings and relationships between women, as the sisters’ feelings are at the center of the narrator’s focus. The most significant conflict between a man and a woman occurs when the older man tries to force Janelle to bring him to the foot of the wall to allow the elements to kill him. Janelle knows this is unsafe and refuses, and as a result of the fight, the man falls overboard and drowns. In general, this story is much more optimistic than “The Tornado Auction,” as the main character eventually reaches her goal on the way to knowing the world and herself.

Conclusion

Thus, the two stories from the Orange World collection were examined concerning male and female relationships in the context of altered reality. In “The Tornado Auction,” Robert’s unusual infatuation has become a stumbling block in his relationship with his wife and daughters. His obsession with hurricanes destroyed his ties to his family and brought him to the brink when he decided to commit suicide. In “The Gondoliers,” an old man is tormented by guilt, and the reasons for his separation from family are objective. Despite this, the older man still wants to kill himself since he did not save his loved ones. Unlike Robert, he blames himself for what happened and achieves his goal – death in the hands of the elements. Women in the story are also in a state of conflict; eventually, Janelle resolves it, finding herself in the heart of the flood together with her sister.

Works Cited

Pascual Soler, Nieves. “God is a Female Plant: Femininity and Divinity in the Stories of Anne Richter, Kathe Koja, and Karen Russell.” The European Legacy 26.3-4 (2021): 316-326.

Russel, Karen. Orange World and Other Stories. Alfred A. Knopf, 2019.

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1. IvyPanda. "Gender Relationships in “Orange World” Stories by Karen Russell." August 26, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/gender-relationships-in-orange-world-stories-by-karen-russell/.


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IvyPanda. "Gender Relationships in “Orange World” Stories by Karen Russell." August 26, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/gender-relationships-in-orange-world-stories-by-karen-russell/.

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IvyPanda. 2022. "Gender Relationships in “Orange World” Stories by Karen Russell." August 26, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/gender-relationships-in-orange-world-stories-by-karen-russell/.

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IvyPanda. (2022) 'Gender Relationships in “Orange World” Stories by Karen Russell'. 26 August.

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