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Willi

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Submitted By negra2282
Words 2441
Pages 10
Achingly meditative, the story is one of apocalyptic vision, set in Galicia just before World War I will bring to an end the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Formalist in treatment - at points a metafiction - the story strikes the familiar Oedipal note. The young protagonist, Willi, witnesses his mother's act of infidelity and subsequently both desires and betrays her, inexorably bringing about his family's doom. I was the agency of [my father's] downfall. Ancestry and myth, culture, history, and time were ironically composed in the shape of his own boy" (33).

"Willi" is a fiction of memory, but memory that has been filtered, and that is still being filtered through a narrator - now child, now adult - presenting an impression of immediacy yet of subtly detached understanding. "We posit an empirical world, yet how can I be here at this desk in this room-and not be here? ... memory is in the ontological sense another reality" (29). This fluid point of view fuses adult-observer and youth participant into one narrative voice, making it possible for Doctorow to avoid both the limits of language and the limited perspective of youth and thus encompass all three visions.

Thirteen-year-old Willi has lived the most sheltered of existences: aside from his famiily and a tutor who lives on the premises, he is totally "alone, isolated on our estate ..." (32). Doctorow focuses precisely on the absence of any contact with other children. In his rural isolation Willi "has no friends": he is "not allowed to play with the village children, or to go to their crude schools" (32). Nor is he "permitted to play with the children of the peasants" who work on his parents' estate. In such limiting circumstances, Willi has made a "trinity of Mother and Tutor and Father" (31).

Doctorow's use of the words "crude" and peasant" clearly reflect both the prominence and the arrogance of the father, who is for Willi "the god-eye in the kingdom, the intelligence that brought order and gave everything its value" (32). The young son is "in awe" of and in effect worships this patriarchal figure, seeing him as a sort of mythical presence. "He lived in the universe of giant powers by understanding it and making it serve him . . ." (32). "A strong man, stocky and powerful" (32), Willi's father is fiercely independent, existing in "the pride of the self-constructed self" (33). "A Jew who spoke no Yiddish, and a farmer raised in the city" (32), his father denies "every classification society imposes," living "as an anomaly, tied to no past . . ."(33), "in the state of abiding satisfaction given to individuals who are more than a match for the life they have chosen for themselves" (31). In this essentially autonomous world, Willi places his father as its "owner and manager" (32), even as its creator. Papa," the narrator as grown-up son says, "I see you now in the universe of your own making" (29).

The mother - many years younger than the father - is also for Willi the object of deep affection, fully as significant in his life as the father. His reference to her at one point as "my kind sweet considerate mother" (31) scarcely catches the intensity of his feelings. It is she to whom Willi turns in moments of trouble, wanting her "to hug me and to hold my head and kiss me on the lips as she liked to do, I wanted her to make those wordless sounds of comfort as she held me to her when I was hurt or unhappy..." (30). And, as with the father, there is a sort of reverence, as if she is for him a madonna at whom he gazes "in wonder and awe" (35).

Altogether secure in this adult world but lacking the companionship of his peers, Willi spends much of his time alone, wandering the fields. His youthful response to nature is characteristically romantic. He feels "rising around me the exhalations of the field, the moist sweetness of the grasses, . . . the golden hay meadow, the blue sky" (27), and sees himself as an intimate of this world that has "chosen" him, communicates with him, and indeed "was giving [him] possession of itself" (28).

Against this solid sense of security and this radiant natural backdrop, Willi is forced to see with blinding sight another, darker universe. The climactic epiphany takes place within the first two of the story's nine pages: thereafter all is denouement. And it is precisely this drawn-out ending, with its fluid chronology, that affords the temporal dimension necessary for Willi to become an initiate into the multi-ocular stage of vision, in which he accepts that it is possible for a person to both love and betray at the same moment.

The earlier visions are dramatized in a single five-page unbroken paragraph. The first, set "one spring day" in a sun-drenched meadow, depicts one of those enchanted and enchanting moments in which the child does not exist apart from the world but is "mingled in some divine embrace" (27). In Joycean fashion, style and content here coalesce: the sweeping rhythms of the sentences perfectly conjoin Willi's ecstatic state of consciousness, a "trance" in which he remains "incredibly aware."(1) Such states, the narrator tells us, "come naturally to children. I was resonant with the hum of the universe, I was made indistinguishable from the world in a great bonding of natural revelation. . . . and I rose and seemed to ride on the planes of the sun" (27-28).

The felt immediacy of the boy's mystical ecstasy, the shock of recognition that propels him into manhood - these first visions of experience are rendered episodically and constitute the body of the narrative. But the stereoscopic is given only in brief flashes of philosophical insight by the narrator-protagonist, who has come to accept that no action, no sentiment, no person is simple or consistent. "I know now," he says, that "each moment has its befief and what we call treachery is the belief of each moment, the wish for it to be as it seems to be. It is possible in joy to love the person you have betrayed, and to be refreshed in your love for him, it is entirely possible" (30).

As is characteristic of stories dealing with initiation, Willi faces his traumatic experience alone. And, in what William Peden describes as "an appalling climax . . . out Kafka-ing Kafka" (268), the young protagonist is cast out of his edenic state into a holocaust that tears his world apart. Doctorow has Willi move 'along the white barn wall . . . to the window, a simple square without glass" (28), meeting - in mid-sentence, with no stylistic shift - the epiphanic moment of shock. From sun and sky, he is cast down into the awful mystery of some bestial floor:

I moved my face into the portal of the cool darkness, and no longer blinded by the sunlight, my eyes saw on the straw and in the dung my mother, denuded, in a pose of utmost degradation, a body, a reddened headless body, the head enshrouded in her clothing, everything turned inside out. . . .all order, truth, and reason, and this defiled mama played violently upon and being made to sing her defilement. . . . My heart in my chest banged in sickened measure of her cries. (28-29)

"I was given," the narrator says, double vision, the kind that comes with a terrible blow" (31). This montage vision, with its violently opposed contradictions, is expressed in the boy's ambivalent summing up: "I felt it was my triumph, but I felt monstrously betrayed" [emphasis added] . . . I wanted to leap through the window and drive a pitchfork into his back, but I wanted him to be killing her, I wanted him to be killing her for me" (29).

Doctorow carefully dramatizes this double vision," juxtaposing to the scene of degradation its contrast: a dining room where Papa sits admiring and admired, godlike at the head of his table. Here the light is focused sharply on the mother's face. "Mama is so attentive. The candle flame burns in her eyes." In her "long neck, very white, . . . a soft slow pulse beats . . . Her eyes are for her husband, she is smiling at you in your loving proprietorship, proud of you, pleased to be yours, and the mistress of this house and the mother of this boy" (30).

The defiled body, the saintly face. Willi sees through each glass, clearly, but he cannot focus these opposing visions into one person. Nor can he find in Ledig, his tutor and his mother's adulterous partner, any duality, "any sign of smugness or leering pride or cruelty. There was nothing coarse about him, nothing

The ending of the five-page paragraph signals the end of his childhood: "this unholy trinity of deception . . . had excommunicated me from my life at the age of thirteen. This of course in the calendar of traditional Judaism is the year a boy enjoys his initiation into manhood" (31).2 The sordid vision of his mother, headless on the barn floor, prevails. He cannot purge from his mind "the image of her overthrown body, . . . her shoed feet in the air" - an image reenacted nightly in his dreams, with Willi himself as the violator.

Moving from panorarnic to scenic, the narrator-as-adult holds time still to describe the mother as the young Willi gazes at her. Focusing on the physical, Doctorow suggests in ambiguous phrasing the adolescent vision of the mother both as chaste and as object of sexual desire. "She was incredibly beautiful, with her dark hair parted in the center and tied behind her in a bun, and her smafl hands, and the lovely fullness of her chin . . . her neck, so lovely and slim . . . the high modestly dressed bosom . . ." (34-35).

For several days the boy watches his mother, feeling such shame and terror that he is 'continuously ill" to the point of nausea and "terrible waves of fever" (33). Having pitched the story to such a level of intensity, Doctorow pushes toward a second epiphanic moment in two brief and brilliant sentences holding both panorama and scene: "I made her scream ecstatically every night in my dreams and awoke one dawn in my own sap" (33). Guiltridden, Willi blurts out to his father as he mates a pair of hunting dogs, "Papa, they should be named Mama and Ledig" (34). The son, in Saltzman's words, "completes the Freudian wish by destroying the father" (87).

The final scene of the story constitutes one fiarther crushing "terrific blow." Willi's father, who has been for him the embodiment of commanding dignity and self possession - "the intelligence that brought order and gave everything its value" 32) - is suddenly wrenched into unleashed animal fury. In this deconstructive final section, Doctorow's masterful handling of time (worthy of Borges or Faulkner) affords glimpses of all three visions - a sort of dialectic of past and what would become future, dissolving into observations by a narrator in the present. Structurally, this fluid chronology is here largely accomplished with a single interpolated sentence: "I have heard such terrible sounds of blows upon a body in Berlin after the war, Freikorps hoodlums in the streets attacking whores they had dragged from the brothel and tearing the clothes from their bodies and beating them to the cobblestones" (35). It is a remarkable sentence, exactly placed. Temporally, it bisects the scene, bringing the violent streets of the future into the bedroom of the past. That one brief statement huris time forward into World War II, beyond the final sentence, which alludes to the destruction wrought by World War I. Rhetorically, it reduces the mother to "whore," the father to "hoodlum." The verbal constructions - "attacking," "tearing," beating" - dramatize with terrible immediacy the possibilities of rage in the most disciplined of men.

And from this stereoscopic point of view, the mature Willi is forced to see in his younger self these same contradictions of love and betrayal. Both shocked and excited by the screams of his mother, terrified but "undeniably aroused," the boy attempts to retreat, "shouting at my father to stop, to stop." Then the narrator, as if escaping into the present, shifts radically from lyric passion to flat prosaic statement in an independent coda of two brief sentences that mark the end of youth, of empire, of all but memory: "This was in Galicia in the year 1910. All of it was to be destroyed anyway, even without me." Yet, in Saltzman's words, the protagonist keeps witness and takes responsibility" (87). In its almost unbearable dramatic intensity "Willi" exemplifies not only a boy's terrible thrust into manhood but his maturation into the artist-writer, who is "now a man older than my father when he died" (29).

At 13, Willi is like the speaker in Houseman's Last Poems. "a stranger and afraid / In a world [he] never made" (Housman 79). E. L. Doctorow's small masterpiece catches the precise moment in the young protagonist's life when he is most happy, and most vulnerable. The author holds the binoculars steady, bringing the contrasts into a focus so sharp and clear that Willi's vision is irrevocably altered to a world that will hereafter include both beauty and terror, both the "divine embrace" of the beginning and the expulsion of the end.

1) In his review of Lives of the Poets, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt comments that "Willi" begins in "a mood of Whitmanesque-hippie ecstasy that is somewhat at odds with its setting and period" (15). The mood may indeed reflect Whitman's belief in the divine unity of man and nature, but such a state can hardly be confined to a particular "setting and period," nor would a writer of Doctorow's genius bring here to his uninitiated protagonist a "hippie ecstasy." Rather, Doctorow tells us, and at once, that all children experience such deeply felt states. Figures as diverse as William Wordsworth and Auguste Comte attest to the universality of the child's concept that he and the natural world are one.

(2) In referring to this dining room scene, Arthur Saltzman states in his incisive and illuminating chapter on Lives of the Poets that ". . . stifled by the manufactured composure of his mother, father, and tutor in the face of his intolerable knowledge, Willi traduces his mother to his father" [emphasis added] (87). But at this point, the father is unaware of his wife's deception, and the phrase "manufactured composure" can apply only to the mother and Willi's tutor.…...

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...role, but remains Board Chairman. The new CEO is Jim Willis, who joined the company as VP for the HR software division five years ago. Before coming to Blue Sky Willis was an executive with a major accounting/consulting firm. Blue Sky is divided into three divisions: Machine Tool Software—This division develops machine tool software used in the auto industry. Some of the software is utilized by the major manufacturing companies, but mostly they serve suppliers of parts and components. HR Software- This division has developed Human Resource Management software to be used in the retail industry. Their major client has been the Best Dollar Retail Chain, which sells upscale style, but affordable clothes for teenagers. They have retail locations in most parts of the country, except for the mid Atlantic and New England states. Most of their stores are in medium to small cities. Heath Payment Software- This division has developed software for state governments to help manage their Medicaid provider payment systems. They provide this software for 15 states scattered across the country. Each division is headed by a Vice President: Machine Tool—Michael James- was one of the founders of the company, and has been with Blue Sky since the beginning as VP for Machine Tool Software. This was the first business line for Blue Sky. HR Software- Mary Garrison- she has just started with Blue Sky, and replaced Willis when he became CEO. She had previously been an......

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That One Speech

...otherwise we’ll all die. Do you want to die? I sure don’t. Alright now back to the K Now for our card we read. This card is way better than yours. If cards were watches this would one would be a Rolex. Extend our Willis, Nakamura, Lee, Stephaney Meyers, Preston, Peter, Gilley, Soap Ayodeji Cole Bender Fender Bender card. Our card by Willis, Nakamura, Lee, Stephaney Meyers, Preston, Gusterson, Soap Ayodeji, Cole Bender Fender Bender the best in the round because Willis, Nakamura, Lee, Stephaney Meyers, Preston, Gusterson, Soap Ayodeji, Cole Bender Fender Bender actually wrote their article instead of slapping a keyboard to see what comes out. Willis, Nakamura, Lee, Stephaney Meyers, Preston, Gusterson, Soap Ayodeji, Cole Bender Fender Bender are the biggest experts because they all are literate and wrote an article about Capitalism that’s way cooler than anything you read in this round. Now in conclusion judge you don’t vote on their stack of garbage they call evidence or that dump truck of a speech it was delivered in. You vote aff because our Willis, Nakamura, Lee, Stephaney Meyers, Preston, Gusterson, Soap Ayodeji Cole Bender Fender Bender, evidence has the best qualifications, the best warrants, and the smartest authors. And if you don’t vote on Willis, Nakamura, Lee, Stephaney Meyers, Preston, Gusterson, Soap Ayodeji, Cole Bender Fender Bender, then you’re probably just too stupid to understand it....

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