Tuesday, June 8, 2021

To the Lighthouse: Twist/Surprise Ending

A twist or surprise ending is a narrative device that makes a radical change in the direction or expected outcome of a work of literature. It intends to re-shape the reader's perception of the preceding events, or to introduce a new conflict that places the focus of attention in a different context. There are various methods used to execute such a twist, for example, withholding information from the reader or misleading the reader with ambiguous or false information.

Interestingly, this literary device has been widely and effectively used by haiku and tanka poets during this pandemic. For example, in Dance into the World: Tanka Society of America Twentieth Anniversary Anthology, 2020;

cold rain
lashes a grey huddle
on the platform
commuters wrapped
within their own disquiet                                     

Anne Benjamin

At the end of L4, Anne Benjamin creates the expectation that the commuters will be wrapped in raincoats or jackets. Instead, the commuters are wrapped/within their "own disquiet" (L5), a line layered with multiple meanings, individual/psychological and communal/societal ...

an old Samsonite
across a gravel border road
the only item left
not damaged by hate                                              

Mike Montreuil

Prior to L5, the reader is led to expect that the Samsonite suitcase is the only thing the traveller owns.  At the end of L5, the reader is introduced to a different context, a sociopolitically charged one. The traveller, correctly speaking, now the refugee or exile, is worn down, carrying the burden of hate. 

And in the first three prizes of  the 2021 Betty Drevniok Award:

something blue
I tie the knot
of your hospital gown

First Prize

Antoinette Cheung

A wedding is suggested ("tie the knot") in the first two lines; however, L3 tells a different life story.

father's suit
how he left it behind
without his smell

Second Prize

Dejan Pavlinovic

In most haiku about grieving for the recent loss of a loved one, L3 is more likely to be "with" his smell, a line used to trigger the speaker's memories/emotions. Dejan Pavlinovic's surprising L3 effectively adds extra emotional weight to this heart-wrenching haiku.

picking out
the brightest star
I ask Dad how he is

Third Prize


The first two lines seem to be a cliched image of wishing upon a star (the brightest one in L2); however, L3 turns into fear or at least uncertainty and we, the speaker and readers, can only hope for the best.

To conclude today's "twist/surprise ending" post, I would like share with you the following tanka, which  is based on a tragic event that happened last Sunday in London, Ontario, Canada:

This Brave New World, VIII

as usual
in the breezy evening
strolling together 
a Muslim family of five
mowed down by a truck

This happy, devoutly religious/Muslim family life scene depicted in Ls 2-4 is thematically and emotionally enhanced by L1, "as usual." However, the tragic event/the senseless loss of lives in L5 places the focus of attention in a sociopolitically charged context of anti-Muslim hatred in the post-911 world/the global war on terrorism.

And on a second/repeated reading (L1 ... L5; L1 ... L5 ...), this tanka, bookended by "as usual" and the violent act/"mowed down by a truck," seems to suggest that the violence itself is "as usual" -- normalizing the abnormal/violence (FYI: We as a society haven't done anything to get rid of this hatred against Muslims since the 2017 Quebec City mosque shooting; on the contrary, the Quebec government passed the law to ban public religious symbols in 2019 and none of federal political party leaders did anything about this (veiled) anti-Muslim law)

And be honest with you, I'm pessimistic about Canadian political leadership.

at the briefing
the photogenic PM talks
of racism
this nightlong buzz
from a streetlamp

Prune Juice, 33, 2021

Chen-ou Liu

Added: The Brave New World, IX 

wearing a hijab 
Ardern said a Muslim prayer 
to open a sitting
of New Zealand's parliament ...
We're here for you, Trudeau's nice words 

Thematically speaking, Ls 1-4 and L5 are about government responses to anti-Muslim attacks and public mourning. However, the difference are highlighted by Ardern's solidarity action (Ls 1&2) and Trudeau's nice/empty words (L5). Therefore, a twist in L5 is not a narrative one, but a tonal one. The concluding words, "nice" words, feel  quite sarcastic.

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