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American Studies
Allegory Assignment

Adventures in Descriptive Writing

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An allegory is a story in which a deeper meaning underlies the superficial or literal meaning. For the storyteller, it's writing or speaking of one thing under the guise of another. That is the intent of this challenge, an excercise in description.

Your challenge:

Describe a barn as seen by a man whose son has just been killed. Do not mention the son, the method of death, or death, and do not mention the man who is, in his thoughts, describing the barn. Since a man is describing, we're to be inside his head. Perhaps the best way to do this is to present the narration using the first person voice. Don't let the picture distract you. Imagine your own barn.

On this first try I'm just expecting a minimum of 1/2 page, but feel free to write more. Remember that this is not a conventional, complete story, but rather a snapshot or scene in the life of the character.

The guru of this allegory method, John Gardner in his book, The Art of Fiction, offers this word of caution about this particular exercise:

"One might be tempted to leap instantly to images of, for instance, darkness, heaviness, decay. But those may not be at all the kinds of images that drift into the mind that has emptied itself of all but the desire to tell the truth; that is, to get the feeling down in concrete details."

Here's an example how one student did this.

By Way of Entry Sinner

To enter was even harder. I came here to remember but i cant help but
regret. The barn was dark and unlived. No one has been here in years. It was
overcome by cobwebs and weeds. It was a living place now, taken over by
nature and void of human influence. It was old and defaced but i could still see
it in its youth. Although they were empty i could still see the restless black
horses in there stables, scratching and crying with there urge to run. I could see
the children who came here to ride and learn. i could see them running about
laughing. I could still remember the few times we spent together. We spent
them here. It doesn't really matter now though does it?

There was the other thing, the thing i came to do. i walked down the long
row of stalls to the back of the barn. I sat down among hay and tools. I sat in
the darkness. I saw his face and my tears began to fall again. He is not the only
reason i am here but i guess you could say it put the nail in the coffin. I was
suddenly distracted by a spider that had crawled up my pants onto the back of
my hand. Normaly i would have shaken it off and crushed it. Today however i
just watched it. I rolled over my hand as it crawled to the other side. I
wondered why i was so quick to crush a creature with such grace. I lowered
my hand and it crawled away. I then reached into my coat and pulled out the
silvery tool. The tool I would use to finish what i came here to do. I felt a chill
as i pressed it against my face. I tried not to think of anything at all. A sharp
pain and then darkness took me over when i pulled the trigger. suddenly my
saddness became immortal

To enter was even harder. I came here to remember, but I couldn't help but
regret.

The barn was dark and unlived. No one had been here in years. It was
overcome by cobwebs and weeds. It was a living place now, taken over by
nature, yet void of human influence. It was old and defaced, but I could still
see it in its youth. Although the stables were empty, I could see the restless,
black horses, scratching and crying with their urge to run. I could see the
children who came here to ride and learn. I could see them running about, and
I could hear their laughing. I could still remember the few times we spent
together. We spent them here, but it doesn't really matter now, does it.

There was something else, the thing I came to do. I walked down the long
row of stalls to the back of the barn, and I sat down among hay and tools. I
sat in the darkness. I saw his face and my tears began to fall again. He was not
the only reason I was here, but I guess he drove the final nail into the coffin.

I was suddenly distracted by a spider that had crawled up my pants and
onto the back of my hand. Normally, I would have shaken it off and crushed it.
Today however, I just watched. I rolled my hand over as this creature so full
of life crawled into my palm. At that moment, I wondered why I had always
been so quick to crush a creature with such grace. I lowered my hand and it
crawled away.

It's time. The thing I came to do. I reached into my coat and pulled out the
silvery object, the tool I would use to finish what I had come here to do. I felt
a chill as I pressed it against my face, but I tried not to think or feel. I pulled its
trigger. A sharp pain, then darkness. And in that moment, my sadness became
immortal.

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