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Train Dreams
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2013 Book Discussions > Train Dreams - Chapter 2 (June 2013)

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Sophia Roberts | 1324 comments What does the novella tell us about the nature of survivors such as Arn Peeples (chapter two) versus those who perish? How do the characters understand death?


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Krystal (KrystalAnn1216) | 10 comments I think that the novella tells us that survivors like Arn Peeples are extremely rare and lucky given the living conditions and time period the story is set in, whereas those who perish are more commonplace. The feeling I get from the story about how the characters understand death is that it is expected and almost a part of their daily lives. Especially given the setting of the book being in the forest cutting down large trees and constantly struggling with overall life.


Sophia Roberts | 1324 comments Arn Peeples certainly survived for a long time given his chances. One gains the impression that a world has been reduced by a stark division: between those who survive against astounding odds and those who succumb.

The novella contains many powerful scenes of backbreaking manual labour through which human beings 'triumph' over nature. Are any of these characters aware that this is civilization against wilderness? Or are they only concerned with whatever drew them to this life?


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Krystal (KrystalAnn1216) | 10 comments Sophia wrote: "e any of these characters aware that this is civilization against wilderness? Or are they only concerned with whatever drew them to this life?"

I don't think that any of the characters are aware of the battle between civil progression and untamed wilderness. Or at least any that are really brought to light. They are more concerned with the task at hand and accomplishing the goal. The characters seemed more focused on their internal problems/struggles and trying to stay alive.


Lily (joy1) | 2456 comments My interest in Arn Peeples began with his introduction -- how the author brought him into the story, with few preliminaries and suddenly we were in the midst of Peeples's story. I also sort of knew when it felt like Arn's story was over and I would probably hear little or nothing about him again. I don't know what this writerly technique would be called, but I was fascinated by it (view spoiler)

(Spoiler relates only to technique, not plot.)


Lily (joy1) | 2456 comments River Basin

I wondered about the proximity to British Columbia. This map helped.


Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
Thanks for the map. I should have looked at one sooner.


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Lily (joy1) | 2456 comments Sophia wrote: "...Are any of these characters aware that this is civilization against wilderness?..."

I rather doubt those men thought of that contrast quite the way we do today, with our awareness of sometimes egregious human encroachment on unsullied, tangled native lands previously largely devoid of humans. In fact, except for the impact of fire, in the early part of the century, the huge bulldozers and other large equipment were still not in use, so the impact, while often large--especially if there was strip lumbering, may seem contained by later standards.

This may be another case of O'Hagan's "Old Testament certitude" applying --

Genesis 1:28 "God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ 29 God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so..."

http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Gene...

A sense that the world existed for man to subdue!?


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Lily (joy1) | 2456 comments It amazed me how Johnson was able to take a character (Arn Peeples) through much of a lifetime in a few deft sentences and less than seven pages -- possibly not to be heard about again.

I felt a bit like I was reading the story of one of the minor warriors felled in The Iliad. The epic sense for a short story was rather uncanny to me.


Sophia Roberts | 1324 comments Lily wrote: "A sense that the world existed for man to subdue!? "

Definitely. It was God's gift - freely given...


Sophia Roberts | 1324 comments Krystal wrote: "I don't think that any of the characters are aware of the battle between civil progression and untamed wilderness. "

No. Neither were they aware of the cost. Which is what this book asks - on their behalf; namely is the cost of human society and so-called civilisation perhaps just too high?


Sophia Roberts | 1324 comments Lily wrote: "My interest in Arn Peeples began with his introduction -- how the author brought him into the story, with few preliminaries and suddenly we were in the midst of Peeples's story. I also sort of knew when it felt like Arn's story was over and I would probably hear little or nothing about him again. "

Johnson has considerable talent to conjure peripheral characters from a few deeply considered, gruff sentences: "I worked on a peak outside Bisbee, Arizona, where we were only eleven or twelve miles from the sun. It was a hundred and sixteen degrees on the thermometer, and every degree was a foot long. And that was in the shade. And there weren't no shade." We can immediately appreciate that this is one tough man – if he has survived this lot. And what’s more we aren’t inclined to doubt him; because the language only gives us the facts about the physical location. He doesn’t even say, “It was very hot” (!)

This is indirect presentation. This refers to what the character says or does. Because we don’t know what s/he thinks the reader is obliged to infer a character’s motives and what s/he thinks. It mimics how we understand a person in the ‘real’ world.


Sophia Roberts | 1324 comments Casceil wrote: "Thanks for the map. I should have looked at one sooner."

Yes, thank you.


Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments While Train Dreams is rich in the spirit and sometimes style of the Tall Tale, having lived in Arizona now for almost half my life, I can say that this: "... And that was in the shade. And there weren't no shade." is merely a reasonably accurate description of a typical Arizona summer.


Sophia Roberts | 1324 comments Phew!


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Lily (joy1) | 2456 comments Peter wrote: "...I can say that this: '... And that was in the shade. And there weren't no shade.' is merely a reasonably accurate description of a typical Arizona summer."

..."merely" elicited a quiet chuckle at this unseemly hour of a June day! (3 am)


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Lily (joy1) | 2456 comments Sophia wrote: "This is indirect presentation. This refers to what the character says or does. Because we don’t know what s/he thinks the reader is obliged to infer a character’s motives and what s/he thinks. It mimics how we understand a person in the ‘real’ world...."

Sophia -- thanks for the appropriate terminology!


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