Monday, January 28, 2008

BASS '07: FA's Follow-ups on John Barth's Toga Party

It's almost too late to talk more about Toga Party, but I can't resist but to throw a few more questions out there about the rattlesnake-in-the-mailbox ending and the identity of the narrator. Spoilers abound.

Let me quick talk about the ending of Toga Party by throwing out a few questions to you:

First, as I said before, I read the first half of this story and was about to comment, but then I stopped because I knew it was building up to a rattlesnake in the mailbox, particularly with a bacchanalia and a knife. I half expected someone to die in a bathtub after opening a vein. Sam’s suicide attempt was sort of surprising, but to me, not Dick and Sue’s death. Did you think this was satisfying?

Is it really selfish that Dick and Sue let themselves go? They say that more people are spending their money and leaving their children no inheritance.

I think the narrator is really interesting in this story. My guess is it’s George Newitt. He would be someone who would play golf and be around Sam and Doc (as opposed to the wives) and has the fewest lines in the story. No matter who it is, however, how would he/she know what Dick and Sue’s last words were?


SynecdoChick said...
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SynecdoChick said...

Just a few more comments on "Toga Party" in response to your questions ...

When I said that the Feltons seemed selfish, I meant that they seemed selfish at the allegorical level--to the extent that they symbolize/represent a certain generation of Americans who have constructed and benefited from a petroleum-based society focused on unsustainable levels of consumption. As the consequences of this lifestyle--the narrator mentions resource wars, global warming, natural disasters, etc.--become apparent, it seems quite selfish to take the attitude "I'll be dead by then, so let the next generation suffer the consequences."

At an individual level, I don't know if I would call the Felton's selfish, necessarily. Just passive ... tennis, golf, arranging and rearranging their affairs, marking time. It's hard to fault them too much, because it's difficult to see how individuals can do anything about the country's trajectory ... I don't think Barth offers an answer, just captures the restless tension of people who realize that everything is going to hell, but they can do nothing about it. I think this is related to the isolation the Felton's feel ... problems are created collectively, but people feel alone in facing them because there are no collective movements or sites of political resistence/power from which to act. Is suicide the only action one can take?

What interests me about the narrator is that it uses the collective pronoun "we" in the first three paragraphs. I don't know if the narrator is a character in the story, so much as a narrating voice that appeals to and includes the reader: "we Heron Bay Estaters and others like us from sea to ever-less-shining sea are extraordinarily fortune-favored folks" (14-15).