A Guide to Understanding and Writing the Short Story: Tutorial 3

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Tutorial 3

This tutorial, the final in the series, provides an analysis of a short story which should serve as an example of how students should go ahead in analysing the short story

An Analysis of the Short Story, The Surprise Birthday Party


The Surprise Birthday Party

from the collection Life, Love and Laughter : Stories and Poems to Make You Laugh by Jamesa J Fabien

It was finally Sunday, May 24, 2003, the day of my eleventh birthday. I was so excited! I had the most fun day planned. First my mom would make me English muffins and sausages for breakfast, my favorite breakfast! Then I would go to the beach with Robby and Susana , my two best friends. We would build sand castles, go surfing and have clam burgers for lunch. After lunch I would hurry back home to watch the ‘That’s So Raven Marathon’ with my sister, Yuffie. My day would be so much fun, I thought.

I jumped out of bed eagerly. I took a nice warm bath, put on my favorite outfit and styled my hair in the prettiest way possible. Then I rushed downstairs where my mother stood awaiting me.

“Hi Honey,” she said. I didn’t have time to make you a birthday breakfast. Sorry, I have to go to the hospital now. One of the other nurses called in sick.” She gave me a kiss on the cheek and then rushed out the front door.

Oh well, I thought. I’ll just have cereal. I gobbled down a bowl of fruit loops and then called Robbie to see if he wanted to go to the beach.

“Sorry,” he said. “ I’ve got to babysit my little sister, Robbeisha.”

When I called Susana nobody answered the phone so I hung up sadly, feeling depressed. Just then Yuffie came downstairs.

“Wanda,” she called. “You have to go grocery shopping for Mom.”

“Why can’t you go?” I asked crossly.

“Because I have too much homework ,” she replied. “I won’t even have time to celebrate your birthday.”

Having said that she went back upstairs leaving me with forty dollars , a grocery list and an even heavier feeling of depression.

Grocery shopping had to be my least favorite thing to do. It took me several hours to get all the things that my mother needed. By the time I returned home it was late afternoon. I was mad at my friends and family for treating me so cruelly on my special day. I swung open the front door angrily only to receive the greatest surprise of my life.

“Surprise!” My family and all my friends stood there laughing, dancing, blowing whistles and singing for me. I was so surprised, I could n’t move, I could n’t speak and I could n’t believe it! The people I had been so mad at just seconds ago stood there throwing a surprise party for me. It was the happiest day of my life! I was in complete shock. “Thank you all,” I managed to whisper, then I fainted right there on the spot.

The Title

The title, The Surprise Birthday Party, clearly indicates what the story is about and gives a hint of the surprise which comes at the end.

Style

The writer employs a combination of narration and dialogue, but maintains Standard English throughout. This is good when aiming at an international readership. Her style is simple as is expected in a child writer. Her strength lies in her diction which adds vividness to the story. She makes use of action words which bring movement and feeling to the narrative. The story is fast-paced up to the dramatic end.Below is a list of phrases which illustrate the writer's handling of diction, particularly action words.

  1. I would hurry back home…- line 5
  2. I jumped out of bed eagerly … - line 7
  3. I rushed downstairs…line 8
  4. Then rushed out the front door... - line12
  5. I gobbled down a bowl of fruit loops…- line13
  6. I asked crossly… - line19
  7. an even heavier feeling of depression ... - line 23
  8. treating me so cruelly... - line 26.
  9. I swung open the front door angrily... - lines 26 and 27
  10. dancing, laughing, blowing whistles and singing...- line 28
  11. Complete shock... - line 29
  12. I managed to whisper... - line 30


Opening

The opening presents the main character who informs that it is her birthday and that she has great plans for the day. She states that she is excited and the child reader will probably be infected with her excitement.

Wanda’s plan for her birthday is to have a fun day. Her activities will include all her favourite people. She plans to:

  1. Have her favourite breakfast of English muffins and sausages
  2. Go to the beach with her best friends; they will build sand castles and go surfing
  3. Watch the 'That's so Raven Marathon' with her sister
  4. Have clam burgers for lunch


Problems/Obstacles

It appears that her day is going to be ruined by a number of problems:

  1. Mom can’t prepare her favourite breakfast
  2. Robbie can’t go with her to the beach
  3. Susana won’t even answer the phone
  4. Yuffie claims to have so much homework that she can’t spare the time to celebrate with Wanda.
  5. She is sent to do grocery shopping, her most detested task.


Climax

Wanda returns home from shopping to find her house filled with all her favourite people. They have planned a surprise party for her birthday. They had not forgotten her after all.

Resolution

Wanda's birthday turns out to be a joyous affair after all even if it is not what she had planned. She is reassured of the love of her family and friends


Ending

Although not totally unexpected, the story does have a surprise ending. It is also the happily ever after type of ending that children love.



Plot

Incidents

The plot is made up of six closely linked incidents:

1. Wanda awakes on the day of her birthday full of expectations for a fun-filled day

2. Mom greets Wanda with the news that there is no special breakfast for her that day as she has been called to work unexpectedly.

3. Wanda’s friends all let her down:

- Robbie says that he can’t go to the beach with her because he has to baby sit his younger sister.

-Susanna does not answer the phone

- Yuffie says that she can’t celebrate Wanda’s birthday because she has too much homework.

4. Wanda is sent to do grocery shopping, her most detested chore.

5. Wanda returns from shopping to find her house full of family and friends – a surprise birthday party.

6. Wanda faints

Characterization


Method: action, behaviour and dialogue

Main character – Wanda

Traits - Evidence

  1. Creative – She has planned a day of activities on her birthday which allows her to spend time with her mother, sister and best friends. - lines 1-6
  2. Sensitive – After being let down by her mother, Robbie and Susanna, Wanda is sad . When Yuffie tells her that she has to go shopping she becomes cross. She leaves the house with a heavy feeling of depression. She returns home much later, still mad at her family and friends. - lines 7-26
  3. Mature and responsible – Despite the feeling that she has been treated badly she goes out to do the assigned task. - lines 22-25
  4. Emotional – When she opens the door and discovers that a party is awaiting her she is so overwhelmed that she cannot move or speak. Then she faints. - lines 24-32

Minor characters

Name – Trait – Evidence

  1. Mom – good at make believe – She wishes Wanda Happy Birthday, apologizes for not being able to prepare a birthday breakfast and rushes out of the house. - lines 10-12
  2. Yuffie – provocative – “ I won’t even have time to celebrate your birthday, " she tells Wanda insensitively, or so it appears. - lines 20-21
  3. Susanna - not sure of herself - She is not sure how to handle the situation so she chooses not to answer the telephone. - line16
  4. Robbie – good at keeping a secret - He simply says that he has to baby sit his little sister - line15


Setting

Time - Place - Sociological factors

Time

  • Sunday, May 24, 2003 - the entire day
  • Period – modern times/present day

Place

  • At the narrator’s home
  • Close to the sea

Sociological factors/background

  • Single parent family, close knit family
  • Average/middle class family


Theme

Theme Statement: One can always count on the love of family and friends/loved ones

Themes - (Brought out through: 1. Characters 2. Situations)

  • Family love/family relationships

- Wanda - On her birthday she sets aside time to spend with her sister and she is looking forward to enjoying a breakfast prepared by her mother.

-Mom and Yuffie -They plan a surprise party for Wanda

  • Friendship

- Wanda - She sets aside time to spend with her friends Robbie and Susanna.

- Robbie and Susanna -They do not let out the secret because they want the surprise party to be a complete success.

  • Betrayal (perceived) by family and friends

- Wanda is depressed and resentful over the fact that her family and best friends are neglectful towards her on her special day.


It is hoped that this tutorial will be useful to students who are preparing for the English A examinations.

It is also hoped that all three of this three-part tutorial will meet the objective of helping students and teachers to handle short stories more efficiently.

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