Baldwin’s, O’Connor’s, and Ozick’s Short Stories


The most peculiar feature of the short stories that we are going to analyze in this essay is the extensive use of symbols through which the authors render their message. Overall, this genre sets certain standards for writers because their have to express their ideas in a very succinct manner and a symbol is one of the best ways to do it. Certainly, we cannot say James Baldwin, Frank O’Connor, and Cynthia Ozick describe the same phenomenon. Probably, they try to portray various manifestations of cruelty and callosity. This is one of the motifs, which can be traced in their writing.

Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin

In order to substantiate this statement we may refer to the novella Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin. In this work, he explores such theme as suppression of ones inmost feelings, and the negative consequences of such behavior. For instance, when the narrator finds out that his brother, Sonny has been arrested on the charge of drug dealing he is utterly astonished and refuses to believe in it. Moreover, the protagonist is inclined to force the thoughts out of his mind, but something prevents him from doing it. He tries to paralyze or even freeze his emotions, and he says, “A great block of ice got settled in my belly and kept melting

there slowly all day long” (Baldwin, 47). For a very long time, the protagonist has tried to estrange himself from Sonny, the closest person to him. However, after Sonnys play, he can retrieve his ability to love his brother. It seems that this novella is primary based on the juxtaposition of coldness and warmth, especially if we compare the beginning and ending. James Baldwin tells us that it is very dangerous to deny ones own feeling and turn ones hear into stone or ice as in this case. Yet, in this story, warmth and kindness survive and win.

Guests of a Nation, by Frank O’Connor

In this respect, we may also discuss the story Guests of a Nation, by Frank O’Connor, who portrays the relationships between Irish and English soldiers during the Liberation War. At first glance, one may suggest that there is bitter hostility between them, but surprisingly they can find common language and make friends with each other. Bonaparte, one of the protagonists, cannot even imagine that he is at war with these people. In this work, Frank O’Connor gives deep insights into the psychology of a person, who has already understood the futility of military conflict but cannot act against the rules, established in the society.

When, the captives are executed, Bonaparte feels “somehow very small and very lost and lonely like a child astray in the snow” (O’Connor, p 1050). The final scene eloquently demonstrates struggle between his ethical code and the official duty. The main characters can overcome the hostility and cruelty, but others do not follow his example. With the reference to war and its complete senselessness we need to mention the short story The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick., the author believes that the main form of cruelty is selfishness. At the very outset, the writer says, “Stella, cold, cold, the coldness of hell” (Ozick, 1060).

Her coldness, callosity and egoism lead to the deaths of other people. By protecting only herself, she practically betrays other women. She takes the magic shawl, which saved them for so many days, and this exposes them the enemy soldiers.


To a certain degree, all of the above works through light on different forms of cruelty, such as suppression of ones feelings, fanaticism, selfishness. Apart from that, the authors of these novellas argue that cruelty and evil can be defeated but this takes a lot of courage, altruism, and empathy.


Ann Charters. “The Story and Its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction”. Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press, 1991.

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