Sunday, April 15, 2012

How Willy Wonka Helps Us Suspend Our Judgement

In my book of short stories, Leaping Out On Faith..., my most controversial story, All God's Men, deals with a couple who come from different faiths. Salera, the main character, practices a very old religion from Africa called Yoruba. Her child's father is a Christian and the son of a pastor which ups the ante in this relationship.

Whether from your own experiences, watching TV, or through a friend, you know that when someone is affiliated so closely with an idea or belief, any opposing belief is even more offensive to them.

In All God's Men, the story starts off with a ceremonial event on Salera's behalf to assist her in making the right moves for herself and her unborn child. The opening details some key ritualistic practices that are fairly commonplace in the Yoruba religion. The reader clearly sees from the outset a very different religious viewpoint from one that is usually seen and heard in the West.

As a writer, I enjoy bringing lesser known topics to the fore in prose that is lively, entertaining and sometimes jarring. My goal is to get readers to think about the topics and hopefully engage in conversation with their friends to discuss the ideas expressed in my stories. To me, that is how great literature is born -- the ability to get people talking about a particular topic.

For instance, in Hills Like White Elephants, Hemingway is talking about an extremely controversial issue of his time -- abortion. With his inimical style, Hemingway boldly discussing a topic almost in code making the story even more engaging. The result? A classic short story that had people talking about a topic that needed to be discussed.

In another example, Chambray Curtains Blowing In the Wind (one of the stories in my book), you'll meet Sally, an early 20-something year old woman who is emotionally and physically damaged because she was a victim of sexual abuse in your childhood. Sally watched her mother succumb to the abuse and vowed that was not going to be her. When the time came, Sally removed her attacker so he could not harm her anymore. However, her actions caused great consternation among the people who were her supporters and nurturers.

Sally learns from this that sometimes doing what's best for ourselves is not what's best for the rest. A hard lesson to learn in one's teens.

The 4 stories in my book, Leaping Out On Faith..., all deal with the emotional struggle these women engage in to come up with their own best "right" answer for their current situation. In the scheme of things, did these women make the "right" choices?

That's just it -- who knows? It is all very subjective and depends upon your own previous experiences.

In the best-selling book, The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold's main character goes through a range of emotional experiences before she settles on the "right" one. However, in the process, she greatly harms her father. Is that right? Or, is it a part of the process? Does that make all this character's choices "right" because the end justifies the means?

In the 70's movie, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (with Gene Wilder), Mr. Wonka is certifiably insane, wouldn't you agree? Yet, his feigned nuttiness ultimately served a purpose -- to find a worthy new owner for the factory.

In, Isaac Asimov's, I, Robert (starring Will Smith), the main character is obsessed with the idea that robots are not trustworthy. This belief is the complete opposite of that society's prevailing belief. Yet, it was this one man's unpopular belief that saved their society from destruction in the end.

In essence, these 3 works just mentioned asks you to suspend your judgement for a time to allow you to gather more facts about the worlds in these stories. I ask readers to do the same for my stories. Before leaping headfirst into the ideas and beliefs you are already familiar and comfortable with suspend your natural judgements and see where they lead you. You may be stunned at where the new thoughts lead you...

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