The Importance of Story

I used to blog more often. I’m not sure when that changed. I’ve actually had a few ideas for posts just tumbling about in my head, and this topic seems to address several of those ideas at once.

First, I found out late Friday night after checking my Gardner-Webb email that I passed my comps–the comprehensive exams that I needed to pass before graduating. All that’s left of my M.A. now is writing my thesis. For my comps, I had three parts: 1) a literary terms test; 2) an analysis of one passage of literature, using literary & historical contexts, literary theories, literary terms, etc.; and 3) a comparison/contrast of two passages of literature using those same areas. I wrote 11 pages (between parts 2 and 3) in three hours.

The email I received Friday was the confirmation that I’d passed part 3, the last confirmation I was waiting for. For this part of my exam, I compared the opening passage of Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God and the opening passage of Tim O’Brien’s story “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong.” On the surface, these stories are very different. A 1930s novel highlighting the journey of an African-American woman’s search for love and a story about soldiers in Vietnam should seemingly have little connection. But the truth is that both of these texts highlight the importance of storytelling: having a story to tell, the method and purpose of storytelling, and the importance and power of language used to tell one’s story. I was so stoked to find this connection between two of my favorite works that I studied in grad school.

Second, I seem to be becoming more entranced with superheroes lately. I’ve seen X-Men: First Class and Captain America in theaters this summer, and I’ve been reading more comic books as a result (not to mention that superheroes are prominent in all the geek blogs and newsletters I read on a daily basis). I find it interesting that I spent much of my time as an undergrad railing against fairy tales in our society, even writing my honors project about how fairy tales have influenced Christian women. I have a love/hate relationship with fairy tales, and I absolutely adore studying how these fairy tales and other folklore have survived in our culture. I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that superheroes are the new fairy and folk tales. We need superheroes to combat our super-problems in society, and we need someone to look up to. That’s always been true, and it will always be true. It’s just fascinating to me to see how the stories we revere change over time.

Finally, I did a creative writing activity with my class today. I put up pictures of several paintings–including Edvard Munch’s The Scream and Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks–and had my students work in groups to tell stories of what was going on in the pictures. Most of the stories were fascinating–the character in The Scream is schizophrenic, or a spy, or a cancer patient. But at the end of each discussion, the students wanted to know what the “real story” is. I tried to explain that sometimes we know what inspired the artist to paint, but sometimes we don’t. I was just once again amazed at how driven our society is by the concept of story. We need to know the “true story.”

I’m so grateful to be a child of a God who created Story. And I’m so amazed that I get to devote my calling and my life to studying and creating stories.