Lew's AUTHOR BLOG

Posts Tagged ‘The Instrument by John O’Hara’

“point of view” in The Instrument by John O’Hara

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 23, 2007

·     O’Hara uses an omniscient narrator. Had he used 1st person (Yank) he would have been forced to write a far more interesting story.

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“plot” in The Instrument by John O’Hara

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 23, 2007

·     we never get to know what’s actually in either of Yank’s plays. O’Hara provides scant detail, probably because he never thought it through himself. Yank uses the people in his life to feed the characters in his plays, which could have been very interesting, if we had been allowed to see it happening.  ·     BIO NOTE: John O’Hara received high critical acclaim for his short stories, more than 200 of which appeared in The New Yorker. But it was mainly his novels, though mostly of dubious literary merit, that won him the attention of Hollywood. Their focus on ambition, class conflict, money, troubled marriages, and promiscuity was the stuff of film melodrama in mid-20th century America. These plots seem trite and barren today, all surface and no depth.

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“endings” in The Instrument by John O’Hara

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 23, 2007

·     Yank has not grown at all, remaining the same totally self-absorbed (but honest) person he was when the story started. There was never any reason to feel any emotion towards him.  ·     Yank has used other people and when he had gotten what he could from them, he moved on. This began with Jiggs, who saved his life, and continued with the string of women. He ends, after Zena’s suicide, confessing to himself that, without Zena, he would never again write anything as good. ·     LAST LINE: “Unless, of course, he could find someone else.”  ·     So we are left with Yank Lucas, writer of plays, incapable of feeling emotion except in the characters his talent (his “instrument” ?) creates for the stage. Hollow.

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“character” in The Instrument by John O’Hara

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 23, 2007

·     in the dialogue … Jiggs to Yank … “I never saw such a miserable, ungrateful bastard in my whole life.”  ·     O’Hara has characters ask each other questions. Jiggs to Yank: “are you a writer?” Ellis Walton (the producer) to Yank … “Where is your home town?” (Ellis asks this out of nowhere) … “What do your people do?” … “Have you ever been married?” … “What was your wife like?” … “Why did you happen to marry her, if you don’t mind my asking?” (finally, Ellis realizes that his questions are intrusive … but he keeps on asking) … “And what finally broke it up?”  This is a lazy dubious approach to characterization.   ·     New characters are often introduced first in the conversation of other characters. Yank and Ellis Walton discuss (and begin to characterize) Zena Gollum, David Salmon, and Barry Payne before we meet them.  ·     characterization is provided through the eyes of a minor character (only possible with an omniscient narrator) … “The porter sized him up …”  ·     Yank’s self awareness: “I’m a genius now, but ten plays from now I may not even be good.”

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“beginnings” in The Instrument by John O’Hara

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 23, 2007

·     O’Hara’s first two chapters (50 pages) are a nice setup for what (I hope) will follow. Interesting characters are introduced, the primary event takes place (the production of Yank Lucas’ play), and a whole range of expectations of interesting story line are established. There has been no mention of what the “instrument” is. ·     first paragraph … “Yank Lucas fell asleep late one night and left the gas burning on the kitchen range. … when the water boiled over … extinguished the flame … the odor of gas … Jiggs knocked on the door.”  ·     I read The Instrument because Sol Stein quoted this first line in his Stein on Writing. Would that Mr. Stein had commented on the rest of the book.

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