The East Window

by Bob Johnson

The short story, "The East Window," by Bob Johnson depicts a dysfunctional Mennonite-Amish family and raises some intriguing theological possibilities. Is the story more "about" Rodney's experience in the barn? Or about his uncle who observes the disaster? Some of the cultural context is implied by the spellings of rural northern Indiana dialect speech, as recalled from his childhood. Does the use of dialect in otherwise mainstream literature imply condescension—either humor or class bias—by the narrator or author?

Comments for The East Window

  • Ann Hostetler

    On January 26, 2009 Ann Hostetler wrote:

    What is Mennonite literature? This story resembles in some ways the religious fiction of Flannery O'Connor, which is also very "dark" in that it probes human vanity and error. I'd be interested in hearing more about your thinking here. Do you have a sense of how Mennonite literature would (should) be different?

    Post a comment
  • Rob Feightner

    On February 6, 2009 Rob Feightner wrote:

    Blocked raises an interesting question. What makes this story "Mennonite". Like Bob, I grew up near Amish and Mennonites of all degrees. (I do not mean "degrees" pejoratively, I just can't think of a better term.)

    A Mennonite family like this is one that I can visualize and can analogize to people that I have known. The story does not explore in a deep intellectual sense the rejection of one's spiritual upbringing, but certainly explores characters that have rejected the faith and lifestyle of their rearing. This is a universal theme and one very obvious in conservative Mennonite and Amish communities. Cars, Ipods and English clothes are obvious signifiers of this "rejection".

    Personally, I find that Amish and conservative Mennonites that leave the faith and become "English" interesting folks. I have known many of them and believe that they would be interesting characters in fiction.

    BTW, I have read several of Bob's stories and I think this the finest I have read.

    Rob Feightner

    Post a comment
  • Rob Feightner

    On February 27, 2009 Rob Feightner wrote:

    Literature upholding the salient values of the Mennonite faith was, is, and will likely continue to be a dominant strain of Mennonite literature. As it should. When I attend the Mennonite Church here in Albuquerque, NM I am reminded of how central peace and justice are to the message, the faith and the way of life.

    But a story drawn from a culture as distinct as conservative Mennonites must almost by operation tell a Mennonite "story".

    Post a comment
  • Ervin Beck

    On February 28, 2009 Ervin Beck wrote:

    Bob, I'm a bit surprised that no one responded to my deliberately provocative statement, about putting dialect into writing, that I included in the introduction to your story. For instance, spellings like "woulda" and "gonna" and "Gramma" and "Hullo." They signify uneducated speech. However, if we were transcribing the actual pronunciations of the same words by educated people, they might be exactly the same. Why the double standard in orthography? Elements of diction and grammar might indeed indicate uneducated speakers, but if a writer wants to represent phonology in dialect, in print, that's a sticky wicket, since we expect only standard spelling, not phonology, when educated people speak in literature. Is that class bias and condescension?

    Post a comment
  • Bob

    On March 1, 2009 Bob wrote:

    It's any interesting question, Ervin. Neither class bias nor condescension were in my mind, obviously, when I wrote the words. I tend to avoid many deliberate misspellings, as well as italics for emphasis and ellipses for pauses, because I want the context of the moment to indicate attitude, demeanor, socio-economic standing and so forth. It felt right to me to give the grandmother a couple misspellings, but the decision to do so was largely unconscious. Certainly the daughter (Rodney's mother) holds contemptous attitudes toward her mother, and in an earlier version she mocks her mother's speech. The writer uses cues and signposts to indicate to the reader how a character is to be perceived. Your argument that the pronunciations would be exactly the same if educated people had spoken them is sound, but I remember a Flannery O'Connor story (A Good Man is Hard to Find) wherein a young mother has a face "as broad and innocent as a cabbage" and her hair is tied up in a kerchief that seems to give her rabbit ears. We are meant to see her as meek and unintelligent, and the physical imagery guides us to do so. She could just as easily been sharp-nosed with red hair like a fox - many meek and unintelligent people would fit that description - but O'Connor had a job to do, so she dispatched the unfortunate woman with a a short-hand physical description that leads us to see her as O'Connor wants us to see her. Class bias or condescension? I suppose you could make that argument, but it's what writers do.

    Post a comment

Post a comment

Sorry, comments are closed for this journal article. If you have something to share, feel free to get in touch.