Date of Award
Honors Thesis (Open Access)
Colby College. English Dept.
Jennifer Finney Boylan
I have always been fascinated by collections of short stories; I love how authors manage to seamlessly tie different crests of life together, uniting both theme and motif. Theme of place is particularly useful, notably as a starting point. If the short stories all take place within the same universe, a cameo from an earlier short story lends an air of magic to the tales. However, I do greatly appreciate the less-magical stories featuring life at its pinnacle of unacknowledged third-person agony. The concluding message is what really intrigues me, though. Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories almost always conclude with an overbearing sense of guilt or unfinished business. Uwem Akpan’s collection of short stories each finish with an adolescent fleeing, suggesting helplessness and hopelessness. The conclusion of each in a collection of short stories not only unites the tales, but also reiterates a central message.
For “Life in Color,” I’d hoped to compile a significant collection of short stories united by location and motif. For location, I chose Milwaukee, Wisconsin in and around the year 2008. In many ways, this was my formative summer in Milwaukee. I finally succeeded in becoming a real person, defined by my own actions and character rather than in relation to another person. Almost every one of these short stories stem from my experiences that summer, though the specific content of most of these stories are pure fiction. I worked as a leasing agent on the Lower East Side in the same building as a law office. I spent what little free time I had volunteering at a home for the elderly and with my grandfather, a real estate mogul. I ran into an old friend who had drastically changed and I got closer to a new friend who had lost herself in her worship of men. There was a beauty and a poignancy and a magic in each of those moments and lives that I have tried to capture in this collection.
The over-arching motifs of these stories are obsession with the superficial and helplessness in the face of fate’s puppets. I hope the titles of each of the short stories in conjunction with the title of the greater collection help to realize my first motif; we tend to focus on, and even obsess over, the material objects which seem to simplify, amplify, or complicate our lives when they are merely shades and shadows of the true colorful beauty of the life that surrounds us, of the life we express. My second motif is, admittedly, a personal struggle with injustice in a world which could, if only for a few softer hearts, work fairly. In the face of so much bias and injury, what’s left? My hope was for these stories to explore this bleaker version of our world in hopes of arriving at some closure.
Ultimately, I feel as though I have achieved my goals of writing a complete collection of short stories, of recreating Milwaukee through people and places, as well as of finding closure after an exploration of a world of injustice. I feel as though I have seen into the hearts of my characters and have captured them at their best, or worst, moments. I follow a series of characters through maturation, struggles with fate and inevitability, and the ultimate decision to choose beautiful self-delusion over cruel reality.
With the conclusion of this collection, I want to continue to explore the darker side of a bleak life, perhaps delving deeper into the realm of the gothic, the surface of which ‘Grey Snow, or Fall’ scratches. Why do we keep going when life has so much to throw at us? What drives us to fight against the inevitable? While the exact answer is elusive, there is beauty in our struggle to live life in color.
despair, hope, triumph, humanity, inevitability
Recommended CitationWilhelms, Lucy, "Life in Color" (2012). Honors Theses. Paper 661.
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