Comparative Essay- Shabine and Emma

The essay below is a response to the following question:

The short stories “Emma” and “Shabine” both contain children whose lives are affected by the actions of adults. For each story:
a) Explain the situation of each protagonist.

b) Explain how each protagonist deals with their situation.

c) Identify and comment on the significance of one literary device used in each story.

The stories “Shabine” by Hazel Simmons-McDonald and “Emma” by Carolyn Cole both have children who had been affected by the actions of adults.  In “Shabine” the main character Justine is an illegitimate child  of mixed race who is forced to live as a social outcast because her father refuses to recognize her as his child and send her to school.  However, in “Emma” the story is told from the perspective of Dorian (Dory) a little girl who tries to emulate her mother Emma, while trying to understand the game of life.  Both stories use literary techniques to illustrate this.

In “Shabine”, Justine’s mother was Misie Cazaubon’s mistress and she is his illegitimate child.  Madame Cazaubon is aware of this and is exceedingly bitter as a result.  She takes this hurt and frustration out on Justine and her mother but mainly Justine.  She treats Justine as if she were a servant, and encourages her husband to go back on his promise  to send her to convent school.  As a result Justine is uneducated and whatever chance she had at a future is destroyed.  This causes her mother to allow strange men to take advantage of Justine, thus earning her the reputation of being loose.

However, in “Emma”, Dory, is shown love and affection by her mother and is a legitimate child.  Although her father is never present, he ensures she is provided for with material things at least.  Dory’s father, Jack, is having and affair with “the lady at the train station”, much like Misie Cazaubon had an affair with Justine’s mother.  Unlike Madame Cazaubon however, Emma is either oblivious to or in denial of this situation.  When Emma finally accepts this reality, the shock causes her to run into the road into the path of a vehicle, which subsequently kills her.  This causes Dory to be without a mother, and be left in the care of her emotionally neglectful father.  The situation is further compounded by the fact that Mr York gets into a relationship with Maria’s mother, Mrs Robinson.  Unfortunately, she keeps her earlier promise to send Maria off to boarding school to “get her off her hands”, but now Dory is included, since Emma is not there to shield her from Mrs Robinson’s desires.

The reactions of each protagonist are quite different, despite the similarities in their situations.  In “Shabine” Justine is resigned to her fate and does not resist when her mother sells her body to strange men.  This is not entirely perceivable as a weakness in Justine’s character, as it seems her  spirit and will to fight had been broken due to her treatment by Madame Cazaubon.  This seems to have lowered her self esteem and as a result she does not reject the men or try to leave the situation, rather , she ends up getting pregnant for one of them when she is seventeen.  However, when the children are older, she seems to start fighting the people who call her “Jamette” for the sake of her children.  This is seen when she chases away the boys who were taunting her when she sees her children about to fight them off.

In contrast to “Shabine”, Dory and Maria of “Emma” show resolve and determination when they are sent away.  They vow to play the game of life smarter this time so that they will not end up losing like Emma.  This is a difference between them and Justine, as they do not take Mrs Robinson’s punishment readily, but seek to make the best of their situation.  They also vow to make their lives better than Emma’s, unlike Justine whose life is not very much different form that of her mother.  However, this is through no fault of Justine, who is a victim of her circumstances and the actions/ choices of the adults around her.

Both stories make use of literary techniques, such as symbolism and flashbacks.  In “Shabine” the flashback is used to inform the readers of the readers of Justine’s past and how she came to be in her current situation.  The author uses the unnamed persona’s memories to illustrate the relationship between Justine and himself.  In so doing, we are able to better understand why they could not be together, and why Justine’s life was as it is presented in the exposition of the plot.  This technique is effective because it enhances the credibility of the accounts and allows the reader to empathize with the persona and protagonist.

“Emma” on the other hand, makes full use of symbolism in the development of the plot.  The “Little Joker” is well presented here.  In the story, Dory likens Emma’s knowledge of the lady in the train station to her knowing about having the little joker in a card game.  In a card game, the player with the little joker is at a disadvantage.  Hence, by not knowing about her husband’s infidelity, Emma was at a disadvantage,therefore, when she did in fact find out, the shock of the truth causes her to run into the road where she is hit by a car and subsequently killed.  In addition, the resolution of the plot sees Dory receive a pack of cards from emma.  When Emma finds out about the affair and is hit by the car, the deck scatters.  Dory rushes to collect these and manages to retrieve all the cards save for one, the little joker which was near Emma’s lifeless hand.  It is symbolic that Emma had the little joker in her hand when she died, meaning that she had lost the game of life because she had refused to accept her husband’s infidelity.  In other words, she was unaware that she was at a disadvantage (had the little joker) and so she died (lost the game of life).

In conclusion, both short stories deal with children who were affected by the actions of adults.  the authors use the literary techniques of symbolism and the flashback to enhance their stories.  These make each story more interesting and allow the readers to understand the struggles of the protagonists.

©2016 Rajini Coore

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