Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"Wisconsin Death Trip" & "A Day's Pleasure"

--"Wisconsin Death Trip" is an experimental history, trying to capture the kind of experience which doesn't make it into a larger-scale history. What do you make of its use of reports, clippings and photographs as an attempt to capture actual experience of the past?

--"WDT" is also trying to reconsider our vision of small-town American life. Given that it covers the same period in which regionalist literature--with its nostalgic vision of life on the geographic margins-- flourished, how is it different from the regionalist writing we've studied so far? Compare with Jewett or Cable.

--Garland's "A Day's Pleasure" is excerpted in "WDT," given as yet another example of the life of the time. It too is a regionalist work: how does it envision life in its region? How does it diverge from the conventions of regionalism that we've seen previously?


  1. "A Day's Pleasure" depicts life in small-town America rather negatively. There is a distinct division between the class of those who live in town and those who live in the country. Those in the country, poor farming families, live wearisome and miserable lives. They have a large amount of strenuous labor to do, which takes its toll on their health. Their lives are dull and monotonous, particularly for the women. They stay at home most of the time, and have a lot of domestic work to do and have to take care of the children. The only excitement they derive is when they get to go into town, but once there they have nothing to do. The higher class townspeople welcome and provide entertainment for the men from the country. The women, however, are ignored most of the time.

    This story is a much more realistic and believable depiction of a region than seen in previous regionalism. The work of Jewett, for example, presents a stark contrast. Jewett idealizes and romanticizes the live of the region. The people may not have a lot, but they make the most of it, and are always positive and optimistic. They sing and entertain with stories, and have "charming" little homes. Garland's people are miserable, have to make sacrifices, and are not satisfied in their current position. Also, in Jewett's work everyone knows each other and are very hospitable and friendly. In Garland's, the woman doesn't know anyone in town but the Grocer. The town woman's hospitality towards her is depicted as being a rare and unusual occurrence. The hospitality does not seem genuine, but done only to make her feel good about herself for helping someone. The classes do not generally intermingle. Garland's story does not sugarcoat.

  2. The region displayed in "A Day's Pleasure" is not a pleasant one. The region is filled with hunger, economic hardship, hard work, and dust. The story follows the pathetic Mrs. Markham, and because of this everything the reader views seems pathetic. There is an obvious comment about gender in this piece, because Mr. Markham has fun and enjoys himself, while his wife has no money or means for entertaining herself. The story has a pleasing outcome, but that is just one moment of happiness in a life full of drudgery.

    "A Day's Pleasure" differs from the other regional fiction we have read. The most prominent difference is that it is a third- person point of view. Most of the other regional fiction has been first person. It is also mostly from an outsider who is allowed a glimpse inside. In this story the narrator is omniscient. Another distinction can be found in how the story is told and how the region is depicted. It is very unromantic. This story lacks the romanticism that is displayed in other regionalist fiction.

  3. This was an incredibly shocking yet effective way to give a history lesson. It is interesting that through such an intimate look at the people of the time, one gets a clear sense of a lot of cultural dynamics and hardships of the time. The veil that is often put over this time period that gives us a certain stereotype of it is lifted and we see a time period much like our own. It is for that reason that I see this as something that is far more relatable and interesting when compared to a history book. I feel that reading about these experiences is something that gives that intimated vibe that nothing else but stories like these can do. There is not just cultural but social commentary. We get a sense of how things work and in that same breath the way people act. The stories regarding characters such as the tramp who beat the young boy or man who committed suicide when he lost his jobs are amazing examples of walks of life and hardships. Yes, there does seem to be a very negative light in which society is described; however I do not think that it necessarily discredits any of its content. I think that articles and stories like these, coupled with some history book knowledge would go a long way to help get a clear sense of the time and lend an hand to reveling a lot about the time.

  4. In "Wisconsin Death Trip" there is a lot of mentionings of people going insane, arsons, burglary, murders, and suicides, which is quite different from the other regionalist narratives we have read so far. Many narratives talk about the surroundings of the area and how the natives interact with it and each other, but "Death Trip" takes a different route. Instead we get to see the worst possible occurances that the people of the region got to experience. I think that it gives a more realistic, and in some cases a sad and disturbing, view into the past, as there is not just one author telling these stories but reporters of the area. These newspaper clippings show that the life in Wisconsin was harsh at this time as there was the presence of tramps, possibilities that a barn or store would be set on fire, or that the farming life was exhausting on both body and mind which led some to commit suicide.

  5. The only way I can describe these readings are cold. Their lack of emotional ties to anyone in the story leaves the reader in emotional disinterest. Where Cable and Jewett told stories about people, allowing the reader to create some attachment to the character, "Wisconsin Death Trip" as well as "A Day's Pleasure" has a very distant, unemotional appeal. These stories are regionalist, but I would also argue that they attempt to capture a closer picture of the reality of this landscape or at least provides a counterpoint to the rampant romanticism describing regions during this period. The inverted-pyramid, journalistic style is also the perfect medium to help portray a cold, distant tone. This collage of short stories is more telling of the time in 19th century Wisconsin that any history book could tell. Though this work would seem to fall more in the field of anthropology rather than history. I think the this work tries to show that the lives and choices of people are more telling about the region that just the landscape.

    I also thought the writing style of "A Day's Pleasure" was interesting. It was comprised of very short, simple sentences. It also had the same structure of subject/verb/object. It almost created a cadence when you read the story. It seemed to accent the simplicity of the region. I also though the word choice, dialogue and description painted this region more cold and gloomy than other regions we have read about thus far.

  6. --"Wisconsin Death Trip" is an experimental history, trying to capture the kind of experience which doesn't make it into a larger-scale history. What do you make of its use of reports, clippings and photographs as an attempt to capture actual experience of the past?

    The Wisconsin Death Trip seemed very different from the other regional stories that we have read because they are morbid, blunt, and the opposite of romantic. The stories presented in the collection stand out because they seem to have a gossip feel to them. Many of the descriptions include assumptions such as the person dead seemed delusional or made assumptions of the causes of death; for instance an article speaking of the death of a woman may have been caused because she had lost a child a year ago and probably lost her mind and wandered off to freeze to death. There was even an article that proclaimed a man burned his house on fire on purpose and that "everybody knew." The articles probably had a gossip theme to them because the writers were targeting the locals as an audience as well as the fact that science was not available as much to tell cause of death.

    On a side note the pictures stuck out to me as something that would be seen in a haunted house or a horror film. I understand that it was rare to have your picture taken and could take up to hours to complete but the solemn even depressed facial expressions reflect in the articles as well as the "A Day's Pleasure" through the people's mundane routines, and the plenitful suicides, and deaths caused by illness and depression.

  7. WDT is a collection of macabre stories and pictures that portray the darker side of Wisconsin living. Instead of romanticizing the beauty of the landscape and broadly characterizing the people who live there, this collection of dark snippets define the individuals through the accounts of personal sorrows, eccentricities, and bizarre occurrences. The start of one passage in particular, struck me as a scene that a romantic/regionalist author would write;

    "Saturday afternoon J.B. Jolly, of the First ward, accompanied by 2 of his children and little Ruth Felt, went down to the river to enjoy an afternoon's fishing. Mr. Jolly...was convalescent after a long illness and was throughly enjoying the sport, the warm sunshine, and the balmy breezes"

    This scene at first portrays nature as a healing element. However the outcome becomes tragic,

    "Suddenly - no one will ever know how it happened - little Ruth Felt, who was in advance, stumbled, slipped, and fell...Just one glimpse of a blue apron fluttering in the angry waters, and was o'er."

    So the happy day trip becomes a death trip. The WDT seems to frequently point out the dangers of nature, and the imperfections of man through it's short narratives. I don't believe it is realistic to think that the past was wholly depressing as it is described in the WDT, but it does a good job of counterbalancing the lack of realism in romantic writing which focuses so much on nostalgia.

  8. I found "A Day's Pleasure" to be very emotional. I appreciated this story because it did not sugar coat or embellish anything about life during this time period. Not everyone was taking trips to Niagra Falls and writing novels. This was an actual realistic account of what life was really like for women back then. I felt extremely sympathetic towards Mrs. Markham. She was so desperately alone and had no one to talk to. She hadn't even left the house in nearly 6 months! After finally begging her husband to take her to town, he abandons her the second they get there and she is left starving and with a fussy baby. I think this touches on an interesting dynamic between men and women. I found it ironic that men are supposed to be the providers and supporters yet Mr. Markham is very quick to forget about his own wife and family. Also, the men all point out how desolate Mrs. Markham looks but one of the rich wives is the only one to actually do something to help her. Mrs. Hall's act of kindness literally brought tears to Mrs. Markham's eyes, which I definitely think helps portray how alone and lost these women sometimes felt.

  9. I find my self very disturbed by this piece of literature. In fact i found it near impossible to concentrate on the reading because of how disturbed i was by the pictures. I would say that it definitely does a good job of showing how the past really was. For some reason, in my mind, there has always been this fantasy that people then were actually happy. Media likes to make us think that through television shows and movies from that time period, but its just not accurate. This book makes me much more thankful that i live today instead of in that time.

    I still cannot quite get over the pictures of all the dead babies. I realize that it was a way to put them into memory, but the pictures that I saw still haunt me. I cannot imagine people doing that today. It just shows how different it really was. Like I said above, I would never want to be in that time period.


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