„Spring is Now“ by Joan Williams - an Analysis

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2008 21 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature


Table of content

1. Introduction

2. Biography

3. Historical and Sociocultural background

4. Textual analysis
4.1.Presentation of characters
4.3.Major themes
4.4.1.Reaching adulthood
4.4.3.Developement of identity
4.4.4.Collective vs. Individual
4.4.5.Generation gap
4.4.6.Black-white relationships

5. Symbols
5.1.The golden pin
5.2.Sandra´s hair
5.2.The landscape and the weather
5.4.The title- „Spring is Now“

6. Narrative technique

7. Conclusion

1. Introduction

The following paper is concerned with the short story „Spring is Now“ by Joans Williams, which was published 1968. In the beginning, some of the most important events in the author´s life as well as some insights into the historical and socio-cultural background that characterize the author´s life and the story will be described. After a short discussion of the plot and the protagonists of the story, the main part of the paper will provide some information on themes, symbols and imagery the short story features. The paper concludes with a short presentation regarding the narrative technique of „Spring is Now“.

2. Biography

Joan Williams was born on September 26, 1928 as an only child. She grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, but lived most of her adult life in the Northeast. Mississippi was the place she put great emphasis on in her literary works. She really praised Mississippi in her later years, and her writings centered on this Southern landscape. Williams wrote five novels, a collection of short stories, a teleplay, a number of uncollected stories, as well as some non-fiction. The short story „Spring is Now“ was first published in the Virginia Quarterley Review fall 1968. Williams often visited her relatives in Tate County, which had a great impact on her personally as well as her literary terrain. Even though she spent much of her life in the East, she claimed never to write about the East, not for the reason that there is nothing to write about, but due to the great athmosphere the Southern flavor had on her. Williams´ imagination was often reinforced by the small, family-owned Mississippi stores, since they built the place where people gossiped about life. This inspired Williams in her literary works, what becomes obvious in „Spring is Now“. She was emotionally moved by Mississippi and the hills that she wrote about, and claimed that that landscape and the country provided the perfect background for her and gave her the right motivation to write. Williams´ parents and her grandmother influenced her works partly. Her mother, Maude Moore Williams, lived from 1903-1997 and was born and raised in Arkabutla. Williams´ father, Priestly Howard Williams, born in Humboldt, Tennessee, lived from 1895- 1955, but moved quite frequently among small towns in Northern Tennessee and Eastern Arkansas. Her grandmother had a great influence on „Later Rain“, one of Williams´ works that promted to enter the Mademoiselle college fiction contest while she studied at Bard College and actually won a prize. The subject matter of Williams´ second novel „Old Powder Man“ was under the indirect influence of Williams´ father, as her parents decided to settle in Memphis, Tennessee, where Williams´ father, who was a dynamite broker, decided to start the Priestly Howard Williams Dynamite Company, which was very successful. As a figure who would light sticks of dynamite with the end of his cigarette, Priestly Howard Williams turned to one of Williams´subject, namely that of her second novel „Old Powder Man“.

The fact that Williams was an only child encouraged her sense of loneliness which served as a revelatory force in her fiction. In August 1949 she met William Faulkner, and consecutively they held a relationship that would last five years, what also deepened Williams´ focus and devotion on literature and writing.

March 6, 1954, Joan Williams married Ezra Drinker Bowen, who was himself a writer for Sports Illustrated. The couple moved to New York together and in 1954 their first son was born. Only one and a half years later, after the birth of their second son, they moved to Stamford, Connecticut. In 1958, while Williams was attending the writers´ conference in Breadloaf, she had the idea of a further expansion of the two stories she had written into a novel. „The Morning and the Evening“, a beautiful literary work infused with humor and sharp insights into the human predicament, published in 1961, perfectly focused rendering of the Southern landscape. Williams´ novel won the John P. Marquand Award for the most distinguished novel of the year and was among the finalists for the National Book Award. In 1970 Williams got divorced from Bowen just before the publication of „The Wintering“. Nevertheless, Williams got married again in the same year, namely to John Fargaston of Clover Hill Plantation in Coahama County, Mississippi. There were four books to be published after „Old Powder Man“: „The Wintering“ (1971), which represents a fictionalization of Williams´ friendship with Faulkner. „County Woman“ was published in 1982, „Pay the Piper“, for which Williams was a Guggenheim recipient, in 1988, and her oeuvre also included three uncollected stories which were published between 1989 and 1995 as well as an essay in memory of the poet Frank Stanford, which was published in 1981.

After two failed marriages, Williams found herself to be single again in 1984.

Williams spent the next years busy with the reproduction of two of her novels as part of the Louisiana State University Press´s Voices of the South Series, as well as the publication of two novella-lenght stories in literary reviews. She died on Easter Sunday, April 11, 2004, at the age of 75.

(cf. http://www.olemiss.edu/mwp/dir/williams_joan/index.html)

3. Historical and Sociocultural background

Joan William´s life was marked by many important events in history. Race as a central topic and the Civil Rights Movement fell into this time period, and Immigration and Assimilation got increasingly important, even though it was not until the turn of the twentieth century that assimilation became a major national concern. Williams incorporated all these issues in „Spring is Now“, since they obviously influenced here tremendously and played a major role during her life.

Over 20 million immigrants arrived in the United States between 1890 and 1920, and the US economy grew rapidly in the early twentieth century. President Roosevelt was an important name in this context, since he did not believe that the newcomers should be allowed to maintain their cultural heritage. It was his ideas, however, that were reflective of the dominant mood of the era. In 1917 legislation was passed which virtually excluded all Asian immigration. The legislation, which virtually excluded all Asian immigration, went into effect in 1929, one year after Williams was born. The ideal of Anglo-conformity became continuously important, and more racially exclusive than the concept of the melting pot, those humans of non-Anglo-Saxon origin were considered as inferior. People of north-western European descent, who represented the majority in the U.S were protected through the establishment. Roosevelt had already indicated that he would support coercion to force hyphenated Americans to become simply Americans and he was also clear that non-white peoples were not capable of self-government and therefore never going to be fully assimilated into the American nation (cf. Henderson 2009). Mexican immigration was for instance significantly reduced by the forced repatriation schemes during this depression. Only when the economic situation necessitated cheap migrant labour during the 1940s it got a bit easier for people to immigrate and integrate themselves in the U.S. For those ones who did not have an Anglo-Saxon background, however, entry to the US from the end of the 1920s through to the 1960s was a hard job. All groups had been changed in some ways, and the problems faced by blacks were significantly impacted by the institutional racism of American society. The treatment of a person in a society depends on how the person is defined by that society, and one of the greatest barriers to assimilation was the color line which segregated minorities during that time. The 1960s brought about significant changes concerning the civil rights in order to improve the lives of the racial minorities. Furthermore, it also saw changes with regard to the immigration policy, which embraced a more pluralistic conception of American identity. In addition, an increasing pride with ethnic identity developed, with the growth of immigration, whereas the most overt example of this is the Black Power movement. The greater acceptance of ethnic diversity in the post-1960s led to changes in the way ethnic groups perceived themselves and their place in American society, and with the fading of assimilation and the rise of racial pride and distinctiveness, ethnicity started to become a strategic choice for individuals in order to seek power and seek social change. Nevertheless, it is important to note that there is a crucial difference between white Americans embracing their ethnic heritage and exhibiting this kind of symbolic ethnicity and the peoples of color in the nation encouraging racial pride. The time from 1900 to 1945 could be see as the basis that formed the Civil Rights Movement, and Southern Black Protest. Black southeners lived with the daily injustice of legally sanctioned segregation and ubiquitous racial oppression, as becomes obvious and is thematized by Williams in „Spring is Now“. The period leading up to the Seond World War is one dominated by African-American quiescence in the strictly enforced apartheid of the South, and the white supremacy tried anything in order to constrict the advancement of black southerners during this time. By the 1940s, the foundation of the solid South started to crumble, and African-American women and men had hope for a change again and took action that provided basis of the civil rights movement, which played a key role in the evolving parameters of American citizenship. It is important to note that the black struggle for justice was a long-term process, which contines today, and not only a post-1945 phenomenon. 1954 is often regarded as the starting point of the modern civil rights movement, not least due to the fact that in that year, the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) won a landmark decision in Brown v.Board of Education, which claimed that separate but equal educational facilities were unconstitutional. From then on, the slow dismantling of Jim Crow segregation began and within two years of the Brown decision, Martin Luther King started his campaign for civil rights. The roots of these developments, however, can be traced back to the early twentieth century, whereas the year 1920 is important, when the NAACP held ist first meeting in the South. In addition to the African-American struggle against inequality by the NAACP there were other examples of grass-roots movements in the South as well. A crucial organisation in the civil rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s was the black church. Its role in supplying black leaders and mobilising people has been well documented, as has the ideological contribution they made to the drive for racial integration. The southern labor movement was also influenced by the black church and religion provided a moral foundation for working-class unity. All these groups were important for black people´s struggle for survival, and in many instances it was these community groups which helped to mobilize the thousands of black southeners who took part in sit-ins, boycotts, and marches to end segregation. The established Jim Crow segregation was definitely challenged by black southeners, and the at the beginning non-violent direct action slowly changed to get more aggressive and violent, whereas this willingness of some individuals to meet racial oppression with violence had deep roots in the South. Arguably the most symbolic act of the civil rights struggle of that decade came with the March on Washington in the summer of 1963, when Martin Luther King delivered his famous speech „I have a dream“. The March on Washington movement was a significant period of change in the consciousness of black America. Through the Second World War African-Americans got the opportunity to point out the hypocrisy of the American dream and they did so with increasing confidence. Another important factor is the development of white America´s response to black protest efforts. In the 1930s and the 1940s a gentle breeze of change was to be felt in the southern landscape. The development of racial pride and the refusal to submit to the oppression of segregation and prejudice provided a psychological resistance, which characterized the basis for the mass movement in the 1960s. Refusal to submit to the repression of the Jim Crow South gave black southeners a sense of dignity and provided a psychological revolt against white oppression which was an important foundation for the mass display of organised public disobedience in the 1960s and finally brought segregation to an end (cf Henderson 2009). For some southern blacks the most physical form of protest was to leave the region, and during the first half of the twentieht century thousands of Blacks left the South and migrated northwards to free themselves from the suppression of the white supremacy. The whole process of the civil rights movement depicts one of the world´s most important struggles for basic human rights. It is an important story that needs to be told in depth, not only because it laid the foundation for the civil rights breakthrough of the 1960s, but also because it ensures a more comprehensive appreciation of the struggle for equality, a struggle which continues to this day (cf. Montheith 2008, Henderson 2009, Tallack 1991).



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now“ joan williams analysis



Title: „Spring is Now“ by Joan Williams - an Analysis