Literary Response Essay for Nightingale

Art is a way of saying what it means to be alive. – Richard Powers

Art is not only the desire to tell one’s secret; it is the desire to tell it and hide it at the same time. – Thornton Wilder

Art is lies that tell the truth. – Picasso

 Interpretive Question: What is one truth or message about life that you find in Nightingale?

Your answer to the Interpretive Question will be the thesis for your essay.

As part of your answer, choose one symbol from Nightingale and tell how it helps to explain the truth or message about life that you find in the story.

Here are some symbols that you might use:

  • Nightingale (the title)
  • The map to Fort Steel Academy
  • Getting lost while driving
  • Smell of new mown hay
  • The chair in the chapel (judgment seat)

 Develop a thesis that is a one or two-sentence answer to the interpretive question.

Begin the essay with an introduction that briefly summarizes the story and states your thesis. Focus the summary on identifying main characters and the most important actions in the story. Describe the most important problem that a main characters faces.

Do not tell everything that happens in the story. You have to decide what to include and what to omit. Tell only what is necessary in order to understand the truth or message about life that you find in the story.

Then write four or more body paragraphs that more fully explain your thesis by identifying and explaining the parts of the story that helped you to answer the interpretive question. Use short quotes, details, and examples from the story as evidence to support each paragraph. You must use at least one quote or paraphrase from the story.

One of the paragraphs in your essay should explain a symbol used in the story. Tell what the symbol means and explain how the symbol helped you to answer the interpretive question (and support your thesis.)

End the essay with a conclusion that evaluates the message of the story. For example, here are three questions about the truth or message of the story. You could use one of them to evaluate the message of the story:

How important is this message for people today?

In your opinion, does thinking about this story help people in any way? Why?

Who would be most interested in the message of this story? Why?

Is the message of this story similar to the message of any other stories that you know?

Give your essay a title that has a connection to your thesis.

Format the essay in MLA style

 Solution: Literary response to Nightingale by Tobias Wolff

Nightingale talks about a father who takes his son to a military academy. The child (Owen) has spent his childhood at home and his father hopes that the school will help him grow up into a man. This story highlights the truth about many families. Parents are often so convinced that they know what is best for their children that they barely listen to them. This often results in parenting mistakes that would have easily been avoided by paying attention to the child’s opinion. 

While taking his son to Fort Steele Academy, Dr. Booth revisits his childhood, recalling a false memory about his sisters. He convinces himself that he had grown up much faster than Owen, saying that he had “sold a paper and, played sports and ran for office”. He clearly envisions the academy as an agent of maturity. One that will help his son overcome his childhood tendencies of liking his “lazy dog and the comfortable house.” This is despite the fact that his childhood experience were a result of circumstance rather than choice. Upon arrival at the school, Booth gets apprehensive about leaving his son at the institution. He knows that Owen will struggle in the military like institution, saying that his inability to match was “Owen being himself” but decides to leave him anyway. On his way back, he gets lost and later remembers that his own memories about his childhood were a facade. His vision for his child’s childhood was borne of self-deception about his childhood. Booth remembered that despite having euphoric memories about his childhood, the truth was that his childhood experiences were far from enjoyable. He had taken up menial jobs to survive amidst abject poverty and was unsuccessful in his repetitive bids for an elective seat. Upon realizing this, Booth decides to correct his mistake by fetching Owen from the academy. However, he cannot find his way back and ends up on a hill overlooking an empty landscape. On this hill he finds a button with a military emblem on it and is convinced that something of special significance had happened there.

The academy’s location was hardly traceable by road, given that the map they provided was not accurate. Further, a map of the school portrayed a false image of the compound.  These features all perpetrate the theme of deception. Booth is also lost in self-deception. His flawed decision arises from his determination to make a man out of Owen. Even the knowledge about Owen’s natural childishness could not convince him otherwise. It is through Dr. Booth’s acts that we see that knowledge does not always breed wisdom. Dr. Booth knows that Owen does not want to attend the academy. However, he deceives himself that the academy would serve a greater good for his son, even imagining that Owen might like it. Despite the fact that Owen clearly dislikes the school, Dr. Booth only considers the fact that the institution fits his own vision for a man-like Owen. This vision is borne of his false memories about his childhood achievements. 

The theme of deception is represented by several symbols. The map to Fort Steele Academy represents the Booth’s illusion. This document was supposed to guide Dr. Booth to the institution but only compounded his misery by failing to indicate key features. Dr. Booth gets lost severally both on the way to and from the academy. He eventually discards the map before realizing the truth about his actions. The school’s compound was also represented by a misleading map. Illustratively, a quadrangle was prominently indicated despite the fact that there was no such feature. These false representations cause Dr. Booth to grow suspicious about the academy. He recalls that he had not seen many students at the school, despite claims that the institution had over a thousand students. He even wondered why the corporal had declined a physical meeting. He is worried that he might have made a terrible mistake in leaving Owen at an institution that he hardly knew and resolves to correct his mistake.

This story offers valuable lessons for parents who are willing to impose their will on their unwilling children in the pretense that they know what is best for their lives. Indeed, the present day society is full of families that hardly listen to one another. As was the case with Booth, may people believe that their opinion is the only one that matters. This is especially true for parents who do not consider their children’s opinions to matter. As was the case with Owen, this type of autocratic parenting causes them to detach themselves from their parents. They retreat into their own world, sometimes partaking in deviant behavior. In Owen’s case, his day dreaming was a shield against the harsh parenting style of his father. He knew that he did not have much say, even over his own life and resigned himself to composing songs in his head. The story highlights the importance of listening to one another. Like Dr. Booth, we are all susceptible to self-deception. Giving consideration to alternate opinion can help us realize the folly of our misplaced sense of self-importance and avoid making wring decision.

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