Compare two stories from Opening Worlds which explore the idea of conflict – ‘The Winter Oak’ and ‘The Red Ball’ Essay

The two short stories, ‘The Winter Oak’ and ‘The Red Ball’, are set in completely different cultures. For example, ‘The Winter Oak’ is set in Communist Russia and ‘The Red Ball’ is set in Port of Spain, the capital city of Trinidad and Tobago. This is the main difference between the stories. ‘The Winter Oak’ is set in Russia where the main belief is of equality, while ‘The Red Ball’ is set in the very relaxed Caribbean country of Trinidad and Tobago. The technique of the authors shows this great contrast in culture. However, although they are both set in different cultures, they are both set at around the same time. They are both set in the mid 20th century, a time of tragedy and war!

Both the stories are written about ‘outsiders’ (people who don’t fit into their society). For example, ‘The Winter Oak’ is written about a young schoolboy who doesn’t fit into society, and who lives very much in his own little world. In the classroom, his fellow classmates ridicule the boy, who is called Savushkin, as he is regarded as inferior. He is very caught up in his own world, which seems to revolve around a winter oak tree.

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‘Savushkin stood up in his desk, and shouted out in a ringing tone: ‘Winter oak.’ The children began to laugh’

This sentence tells us that the boy isn’t like any of his classmates, as they all laugh at him. The other children realise this and find it amusing. The young boy, Savushkin, clearly isn’t like any of his fellow classmates.

‘The Red Ball’, is also written about a young boy who doesn’t fit into society. Ismith Khan, the author, tells us that the boy is ‘an outsider’, as he is yet to adjust to a new life in Port of Spain, after having moved away from home. However, the ‘outsider’ attempts to fit into the society, unlike the boy in ‘The Winter Oak’, through cricket. He is later accepted into the society, although he doesn’t show any keen interest in doing so.

‘You want to come back and play tomorrow?’ they asked as they stood on the corner of Frederick and Prince Street, eating black pudding and souse from a vendor who had a charcoal brazier going on the street corner.’ The boy jerked his shoulders up and down in an indefinite gesture as he watched the other boys buy an inch, two inches, three inches of the black blood sausages, sizzling in a large tray on the pale red embers.’

This tells us that the boy is brought into society through the sport of cricket, as the other players recognise that he is skilful and that he is no longer inferior. Their attitudes change towards the boy after having been quite rude and abrupt to him at the start.

‘Aye… Thinny Boney! You want to play? … ‘Match-stick foot! You playin’ deaf. You want to play or you don’t want to play?’ These two sentences tell us that the cricket players, realising that the boy is new to the society, are rude to him. However, this was soon to change!

Both the stories are about young boys who don’t fit into their society and are regarded as inferior, however, only in ‘The Red Ball’, does the ‘outsider’ attempt to fit into society.

The authors of both ‘The Winter Oak’ and ‘The Red Ball’ use a narrator to tell the story. Both Ismith Khan and Yuri Nagibin don’t portray what is happening in the story from the eyes of any of the main characters. This is a major similarity between the two stories, and it enables the reader to have a neutral view of what is happening in the story, as it is not written from the eyes of one of the characters.

For example, in ‘The Red Ball’, it says… ‘In his childish way, the boy had understood that if he answered to any of the names they coined for him, he would have to live with it forever.’ From this sentence we can see that it is a narrator who is speaking, and that it is not written from the eyes of one of the characters.

However, if it was written from the eyes of a character, the telling of the story would almost certainly be biased. Both Khan’s and Nagibin’s writing techniques enable the reader to make up their own minds about the story, and in my opinion, this is very important.

Apart from the fact that they are both written about ‘outsiders’, the two stories are also similar because they are both written about conflicts between the characters (and society). In ‘The Winter Oak’, the conflicts are between the teacher and the school, (the teacher and the pupil), and between the ‘outsider’ and the Russian society. In ‘The Winter Oak’, the teacher realises that the pupil doesn’t fit into the society, and she tries to help him. He brings her ‘into his own little world’ by showing her his beloved winter oak tree, and here he becomes the teacher, as his life seems to revolve around the winter oak.

For example, in line 192 it reads, ‘No, Anna Vasilevna, I’m swaying this branch, and that’s its shadow moving.’ Anna Vasilevna bit hr tongue. Clearly here in the forest she had better keep quiet.’ These three sentences tell us that in the forest, Savushkin, the little boy, is the teacher, while Anna Vasilevna is the pupil. Nagibin here uses a clever technique in which he reverses the roles of the teacher and the pupil.

The relationship between the pupil and the teacher is quite strong, as she feels sorry for him. He also treats her with respect, for after all, he is her teacher.

However, the relationship between the boy and society isn’t as strong. He doesn’t fit into society at all, as he lives very much in his own world. He is an outsider, and the teacher and his classmates know it. He is very much isolated in the story, and the reader can’t help but to feel sorry for him.

In ‘The Red Ball’, there are several conflicts. In my opinion, the most important conflict is between the boy and society. He doesn’t fit into the society, as he is a newcomer to Port of Spain, in Trindad and Tobago. At the start of the story, he is very much isolated. It tells us this in lines 2-7.

One of the boys called out to him, and although he had heard and knew they were calling him, he kept pulling out the red petals of the hibiscus flower, tore off their bottom ends and blew into the fine pores of the needle holes at the base until the petals swelled out into a thin balloon of pink skin which he pierced with the straight pin which kept his shirt front closed’. In these few lines, we can also tell, like in ‘The Winter Oak’, that the boy is isolated from society.

However, as time goes on, the boy attempts to join the society through playing cricket with the natives. This is different to the other story, as Savushkin makes no real attempt whatsoever to join the society. The relationship between the boy in ‘The Red Ball’ and the society strengthens as the story progresses.

The second conflict in ‘The Red Ball’ is the conflict between the boy and his father. In the story, the father appears to be vicious. This is backed up in lines 138-143.

‘No-way, no-way… You beginning to play big shot! You could talk better than you moomah and poopah. Boy! You don’t know how lucky you is to be goin’ to school. When I was your age…’

The father later had to be told by his wife to ‘leave the child alone’. This tells us that the dad is vicious towards the son. We are also told here that the father is jealous of the son because clearly his speech is better than his fathers and he has the opportunity of going to school, unlike his father. The father is jealous of the son because the son is more superior than the father, and the father can’t accept that. This is the main reason why he and his son don’t get on well.

The third conflict in ‘The Red Ball’ is between the father and the society. The father is clearly uneducated and we also find out that he is a bit of an alcoholic. ‘His father left the sentence incomplete as he put the nip to his mouth and gargled the rum as though he were rinsing out his mouth, then swallowed it.’ Furthermore, the father is also a newcomer to Port of Spain. This tells us that he too is an ‘outsider’ because he too doesn’t fit into the society. He too is somewhat isolated from society.

There are many conflicts in both ‘The Red Ball’ and ‘The Winter Oak’. Both the stories are very similar as all of the conflicts include a person or people who don’t fit into society. This is a very important fact, as both of the stories are written about ‘outsiders’.

There is however one small difference between the stories. In ‘The Red Ball’, the boy doesn’t fit into society because he is a newcomer. This is not the case with the boy in ‘The Winter Oak’. Although they are both ‘outsiders’, the boy in ‘The Red Ball’ attempts to fit into society and will soon, in my opinion, be part of it. However, Savushkin, in ‘The Winter Oak’ isn’t a newcomer. He just naturally doesn’t fit into society. He is very much stuck up in his own little world, but this is not the case with the boy in ‘The Red Ball’. The boy in ‘The Red Ball’ (although he doesn’t show it) desperately wants to fit into society, but Savushkin shows no intention of this. He is content being excluded from society, for all he is bothered about is his winter oak. However, apart from that little factor, the stories are very similar.

As a conclusion, I can safely say that the two stories are based about ‘outsiders’, as this is their main similarity. The main difference between the stories is the cultures in which they are set, but apart from that they are very much similar. Nagibin and Khan both use similar writing techniques, as they both write from the eyes of a narrator. They are both very similar stories.

They were both an enjoyable read, but my favourite has got to be ‘The Winter Oak’. This is because the author makes us feel sorry for Savushkin. Also, the author is very clever when he reverses the role between the teacher and the pupil. It is a very exciting and interesting read.

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