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Single Effect in The Benchmark by Michael Dorris Essay

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Updated: Jun 16th, 2020

Literary works are aimed at exerting a certain emotional effect on the readers. In turn, various elements such as the narrative mode or characterization should be combined in order to produce a certain impression on the audience. To some degree, this approach is derived from the ideas of Edgar Poe who argued that different components of the narrative should serve the same purpose (Kennedy 79). This idea continues to affect the work of many writers, even though they cannot always follow the principles outlined by Poe.

This paper is aimed at examining Michael Dorris’ short story The Benchmark. Overall, it is possible to argue that the author strives to evoke readers’ compassion for the main character who understands that he could have contributed to the misfortunes which struck his family. More importantly, the protagonist can derive consolation only from his work, but other people cannot understand his emotional state. This person is overwhelmed with the feeling of loss. In turn, Michael Dorris wants the audience to understand the feelings of this individual. These are the main issues that should be discussed in greater detail.

At first, one should mention that Michael Dorris chooses the first-person point of view in order to give readers better insights into the worldview of the protagonist. This approach is beneficial because it enables the author to highlight the feelings of the main character. He is an individual who wants to share his feelings with other, but, unfortunately, he is deprived of this opportunity. In turn, this narrative enables him to give vent to his feelings. For instance, the readers can learn about the protagonist’s relations with his father. In particular, one can mention the way in which the main character’s father taught his various peculiarities of pond construction.

Moreover, the narrator feels proud of meeting the standards set by his father (Dorris 802). However, the first-person point of view also helps the author show the main character’s sadness when he admits that he “apprenticed no successor” (Dorris 802). He regrets that no one can share his life-long attachment to his work. This is one of the points that can be distinguished. Furthermore, the readers can look at his recollections of the events that contributed to the death of his son. The use of the first-person narration is important for illustrating the inner world of this person. Certainly, this approach to story-telling implies that the narrator’s comments may not be true. Nevertheless, this technique illustrates the emotional state of the protagonist. In contrast, other forms of narration may not be useful for achieving this goal.

Additionally, one should pay close attention to the characterization. Michael Dorris wants the readers to form their own conclusions about the protagonist’s attitudes or values. Moreover, the narrator does not intend to speak about his character traits. Instead, he focuses on the events that shaped his later life. To a great extent, this approach to characterization is more useful for evoking readers’ empathy which is important for understanding the inner world of the person. They are prompted to place themselves in the protagonist’s position. This is one of the details that can be singled out.

Moreover, it is important to speak about the style of this short story. At the very beginning, the author focuses on the peculiarities of the main character’s work. In particular, the readers can learn about various aspects of pond construction. For instance, at the very beginning of the story, the character states that “the naked eye deceives” and it is “the first lesson of making a pond” (Dorris 801). Additionally, the narrator uses various technical terms, and these details show that the protagonist is immersed in his work. Moreover, one can see that this person takes pride in his work. Thus, one can say that the word choices highlight his commitment to his work. This is one of the points that can be made. Nevertheless, the readers later learn that the main character unintentionally caused the death of two boys.

It should be noted that he constructed a pond in which two boys drowned and one of them was his son. Thus, it is possible to say that this character is overwhelmed with the feeling of guilt, even though the death of his son was caused by a tragic coincidence. Still, this awareness deprives this person of emotional wellbeing. Moreover, this person does not want to admit that he will not be able to find happiness once again. This is one of the things that can attract the readers’ attention.

Furthermore, it is important to speak about the plot of this short story. The author relies on the non-linear plot which includes several flashbacks. The use of flashbacks helps the writer show that the memories of his wife and son are of great value to this person because in this way he can recollect the moments of happiness. This is why the narrator depicts his relations with his son and father. Moreover, the readers can see that the past events turn him into a very detached individual who is concerned only with his work. The use of non-linear plot is appropriate in this case, since it illustrates how the inner world of the protagonist was transformed. This is the main advantage of this technique.

Thus, it is possible to say that Poe’s theory of single effect can be relevant to modern-day writers. Moreover, it is possible to align different literary elements so that they could serve a single purpose. This approach is useful for increasing the impression produced by the narrative (Liu 3; Kennedy 79).

In turn, Michael Dorris combines various literary elements in order to make readers emphasize with the protagonist. They produce a combined effect on the audience; so, this method is important for the unity of this literary work (Liu 3). Admittedly, one can say that writers do not always follow the principles outlined by Edgar Poe in his theory of single effect. Nevertheless, this particular short story demonstrates that sometimes writers are able to reach this literary standard. Michael Dorris’ short story how literary elements can serve a single purpose. This is the main attribute of this novella.

On the whole, the examples discussed in this paper show how various literary elements can be applied in order to produce a certain effect on the reader. Michael Dorris relies primarily on the narrative mode, setting, and plot in effort to awaken the readers’ compassion for the protagonist. This short story illustrates how writers can make various literary elements consistent with one another. It is possible to say that Michael Dorris successfully achieves this objective. These are the main arguments that can be put forward.

Works Cited

Dorris, Michael. “The Benchmark.” The Water and Culture Reader. Ed. Kristen Painemilla. New York: Fountainhead Press, 2011. 801-807. Print.

Kennedy, William. A Historical Guide to Edgar Allan Poe, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Print.

Liu, Xiumei. The Unity Effect in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”, New York: GRIN Verlag, 2007. Print.

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