Jean Thompson’s “It Would Not Make Me Tremble to See Ten Thousand Fall”

Please address one or more of the following questions in your response.  Remember to keep these brief–about a paragraph or so in length.

1) What’s the POV (point of view) in this story, and why do you think Thompson chose it?  Would you have preferred to see Kelly Ann or one of the other characters as narrator instead?

2) Is Jonesy useful to the story?  What about the killdeer?

3) What’s the significance of the scene on page 58-59 (in which Kelly Ann, Jack, Lucy and Pete talk about childbirth)?

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23 responses to “Jean Thompson’s “It Would Not Make Me Tremble to See Ten Thousand Fall”

  1. I beleive that the Jonesy character was effective in the sense that it connected Kelley Ann to a time in her life when things were much simpler. A time of innocence, and a time before responsibilty of a child, and a husband off to war. Also the Jonesy character was used as a method of declaring Kelly ann’s true intentions of joining the Army. Thompson had me beleiving that her intentions were to be closer to Jack, when in reality her intentions were of escaping an existence that she dreaded and despised. The mention of being a warrior could be a signification of Kelly Ann summing up her inner strength. While the killdeer reference could have been used to describe the need for Kelly ann to spread her wings and to fly away from the town of Leota.

    • Thanks, Colin. Interesting point re. the killdeer–I think it serves more than one function, and I’m not sure that it’s successful in all of them. I’ll be interested to hear more people’s thoughts on this one.

  2. 1.)The story being written in third person was the only way I could really see it working. If it was from one characters perspective or another, there wouldn’t have been much of a story. The way it was written allowed you to see into the characters in a way a first person narration wouldn’t.

    2.)Jonesy was a nice way to draw parallels between jack and Kelly Anne’s shared experiences, while at the same time showing how different their intentions were on the inside. the killdeer could have been left out. It seemed thrown in there as an afterthought.

    3.) You get a sense in that scene that Kelly Anne is rather strong willed and not squeamish. looking back on it you could say that the allusion to wounds on the battlefield made by her foreshadow her desire to be a warrior.

  3. The third person narrative was a little odd because it didn’t have a specific voice but it also wasn’t omniscient. It was slanted towards Kelly Ann’s point of view through the better part of the story with few exceptions. I found myself asking “according to whom?” upon a second reading. “He’d be safe as houses.” (pg.46) sounds good but is that what Jack said or what Kelly thought? “They looked as alike as purebred puppies.” (pg. 52) would be Kelly Ann’s perception but it’s followed by a statement about Matt and his being “just drunk enough.” I think that if, at least, Kelly Ann’s character had been more developed – perhaps through a first-person narrative, maybe not – it would be a better story. But, really, I think a more inclusive omniscient third person narrative would have included what Jack, his parents, her parents, Jonesy and even the recruiter, Sergeant Crissy were thinking and could make it a deeper, more engaging story. In short, I don’t think the characters were developed enough.

    The significance of the conversation on page 58-59 was that it reveals the distance (beyond the physical) that has developed between Kelly Ann and Jack. He lets Pete talk disrespectfully about the concept of witnessing the birth of their child without intervening or qualifying the momentous occasion (or so she thought) in their life with a defensive statement. It also raised some doubts for me as to whether “So far she wasn’t too impressed with the class of people the Army attracted.” (pg. 59) really allows the reader to understand Kelly Ann’s motivation in deciding that she wanted to join it in the end.

    I also think that the killdeer rings hollow…an attempt at a symbol that falls short because we are told that (and why) she is like the killdeer rather than allowing us to find the meaning through the story.

    • Definitely on the nose re. the distance between Kelly Ann and Jack. But I also wonder about how that scene, taken in the context of the rest of the story, might serve as a kind of turning point for Kelly Ann. Others?

  4. 1) I thought that the story was told from Kelly Ann’s point of view. Jean Thompson wanted to convey a specific message. I believe that she wanted to inform the reader that having a loved one enlisted in the army can be tremendously difficult on the people back at home. In the bar scene, she met this guy named Matt and all she could think about was Jack: “She thought about Jack, about making love to him,…” and “She wondered if he was thinking about her that very moment, lying on his bunk in the barracks, surrounded by the soldiers’ unquiet sleep” (page 51). The story line would have had a different message if it was told from Jack’s, Jonsey’s or even Sergant Crissy’s perspective.

    2) Yes, Ms. Jonsey is an imperative character in the story. The author first introduces her as a high school english teacher. Ms. Jonsey’s evidently highlight’s Kelly Ann’s motive for joining the army. Jonsey asks: “Did we ever do that ballad in class, the one about the girl who disguises herself as a soldier to go look for her true love on the field of battle?” (page 68) Ms Joney also recites a poem with a powerful message. The first part of the poem indicates that a girl who is small and petite should not enlist since it is typically a man’s job. However, a brave and nobel girl can fight in the army despite the small stature. The poem is very reassuring for Kelly Ann who had to endure a lot of criticism for being small. I agree with Dan Krees’ response in regards to the killdeer. I felt that the killdeer could have been left out.

    3) On page 58 and 59, Jack and Kelly Ann are interacting with another married couple, Peter and Lucy. Peter’s attitude about child birth is not very good, which catches Kelly Ann off guard. She responds, “That’s funny talk for a solider” (page 59). The scene with Peter and Lucy indicates that love and family is imperative to Kelly Ann. The unconditional love that a family has to offer should not be taken for granted. She also wants to be in close proximity to her family which is the main reason why Kelly Ann enlisted.

    • You’re absolutely right–this story gives us Kelly Ann’s perspective, from the third-person point of view. It’s called third-person close. I don’t know if Kelly Ann’s motivations are quite so family-oriented as she may have wanted the other characters to think. As a follow-up, it might be interesting to think about how this third-person close point of view allows Thompson to maintain that tension between Kelly Ann’s actual and feigned reasons for enlisting.

    • Hi Klaus,
      I’m glad you identified the point of view as being Kelly’s since it brought to light a term I didn’t know – third person close – that I didn’t know (even though I’ve used it in the past!)

      I think it’s interesting that you point to the bar scenario with Matt as an example of how difficult it is for those with loved ones in the military because I read it a bit differently. Though it can’t be denied that Kelly Ann is thinking of and missing Jack, she also has the added problem of being so young and already married with a husband and child. And the husband is absent on top of that making it even harder for her to play the roles of wife and mother. I thought that it was important that she and her girlfriends are at that bar pretending to be college students. The exchange with Matt seems to me to show how she has no desire to ever be one of “them” – the college students. Especially when she defends Jack when Matt starts mouthing off at her about her “boyfriend” in “oh-oh Oklahoma.” I saw her as having a moment when she identifying one of the things that she is not and does not want to be on the road to figuring out who she is.

  5. 1. I think this story touches on the idea of fulfilling one’s sense of purpose in life. Sometimes we don’t have much choice in life while other times we are able to choose paths that dictate our future. Quite often, though, we unconsciously fall into certain roles or find ourselves living lives we hadn’t chosen. Even though both characters, Jack and Kelly Ann, have what is considered a “good” life—spouse, child, house, car, etc.—the life they have is the result of something accidental (Tara), something they may not have chosen if given the chance. In the story, Thompson shows us two characters that are both faced with a life they hadn’t expected and a desire to find a sense of purpose outside that life. I enjoyed the 3rd person narration because I was able to get to know Kelly Ann (as though she were narrating it) while also having a broader view of the story and other characters.

    2. Jonsey connects Kelly Ann to her past self and a time where she had limitless choices and possibilities for a future. When Jack first mentions Jonsey, Kelly Ann’s response suggests embarrassment and regret for having gotten pregnant and dropping out, as though she wished she could undo it. The introduction of Jonsey marks the point in the story where we start to see that Kelly Ann is unsatisfied with her life and lacks a sense of purpose. The way the killdeer leads possible predators away from her eggs represents the way Kelly Ann is leading people away from the real reasons behind her actions. The killdeer is a good allegory that I wished could have been more developed throughout the story and not just present at the end.

    3. The conversation about childbirth on pages 58-59 give us a deeper understanding of Kelly Ann’s strong-willed personality and her desire to break out of the role in which she has found herself. When Peter tells her she “hardly looks big enough to have a baby,” Kelly Ann is quick to respond and does so almost defiantly, as though trying to prove to him that she is more than what she seems. This scene helps the readers realize that she is tired of being the person that everyone sees her as and expects her to be.

  6. 1) The POV in this story is third person and I think Thompson chose it to show his descriptive ability in his creative writing. The omnipresent view of the story allowed me to clearly follow the intentions and thoughts of the characters. To answer the second question, I would not have preferred the narration in any other point of view but the author’s, the reason being that I was able to recreate the story through the emotions that arose from the characters. For example, when Jack left for basic training, the author described Kelly Ann’s hollow chest, “her heart like a drum banged over and over, beating out the word gone”.

    2) Jonesy, who was Kelly Ann’s High school English teacher, was useful to the story in that she made Kelly Ann realize that she was hiding behind her lies just to be closer to Jack. The author describes Kelly Ann being like the killdeer, which dragged its wings to lead intruders away from its nest. She used the army to lead others away from her true intentions of one day being with Jack. However, Kelly Ann also wanted to live a fulfilled life and it was almost as if she was killing two birds with one stone.

    3) In my opinion, I feel that the significance of the scene was to show the awkwardness of the situation, particularly between Kelly Ann and Jack. The two have not seen each other for months and Thompson really tries to point out the effect of that. When Jack had mentioned to his army friend that he was there for Kelly Ann’s childbirth, she wanted him to talk about “what a wonderful experience it has been” (p.59). However, Jack did not show any type of care towards Kelly Ann, an emotion that she yearned for.

    • Two killdeer with one stone? 🙂 Very good point re. Kelly Ann wanting to live a fulfilled life. It would be interesting to consider where else in the text Thompson presents evidence for this.

  7. 3) I do think the conversation on pg 58 was very important to the story and it showed a lot about Kelly Ann’s character. Kelly Ann cannot understand how a man who enlisted in the army is not tough enough to witness childbirth. And on top of they she comments that Pete’s attitude is “funny talk for a soldier. Throughout the story Kelly Ann has always held soldiers in high regard and this comes across during this conversation. She has always had respect for soldiers from her Dad, to Jack and Sergeant Crissy. Kelly Ann isn’t “too impressed with the class of people the Army attracted” and doesn’t like how Pete and Lucy acted.

    This is also when Kelly Ann’s body comes in, Pete says “You don’t hardly look big enough to have a baby. A shrimp like you.” She rejects that comment and later we see why Jonesy’s character is necessary for the story. Because she recites the poem about a woman who is light and slender, but still willing to fight. Kelly Ann finds herself emotional after hearing it because she connects with the poem. This was an important part of the story because we see that even though Kelly Ann is small she is still strong enough to have a child and enlist in the Army.

  8. This story was written in the third person close POV. This worked best for the story because we were able to see Kelly Ann’s viewpoint as well as other details that the first-person point of view would not have given us. I would not have preferred to see the story written in first person. I agree with Dan when he said that “there wouldn’t have been much of a story” if it had been written in first person. Most of the time, Kelly Ann and Jack are in separate places so the story would not have been able to give details of the other person that helped the story progress and remain interesting.

    Jonesy is very useful to the story. She is used as a way to tell the story of Kelly Ann’s past and also to help Kelly Ann discover for herself what she really wants out of life. Jonesy was able to give Kelly Ann more strength and confidence to enlist through her talks and poems.

    I think that the conversation between Kelly Ann, Jack, Lucy, and Pete about childbirth was somewhat of an awakening for Kelly Ann. She expected Jack to be much more enthusiastic and encouraging about the birth of their child, and instead he was dull and speechless. It was then that she realized that family is not as important in Jack’s life as she thought it was or as important as it is in her life. He was doing what he wanted to do with his life and shortly after, she would do the same by enlisting.

    • Very true re. first person. I like your reading of the Kelly Ann-Jack-Lucy-Pete scene as an awakening. Though I wonder–how important is “family” to Kelly Ann throughout the story? It’s clear throughout that she loves her daughter, but who’s watching Tara most of the time?

  9. 1. I agree with Elyse and Dan (and others) that this third person close POV was the most useful approach to telling this story. I think that had it been written in the first person, it would have felt almost too personal, as though it were an account of this one woman’s experience and not a larger commentary on war, family, relationships, living the unplanned life, among other things. Yet without the closeness to Kelly Ann, her voice often intermingled with the narrator’s, or at least ambiguously indistinguishable, it would be difficult to feel connected to the story or the characters in it. An omniscient narrator, either in the third or first person, can sometimes provide too much certainty in a story that needs some air of obscurity. The uncertainty forces the reader to really pay attention to the meaning of the actions of the characters and the overall message trying to be conveyed. There is no one voice particularly “wrapping up” or reflecting too intently on what has happened. Instead that voice must be our own, asking ourselves “what does this mean?” We get to know Kelly Ann closely, but not so closely that we can be certain of exactly who she is or what her (or any of the other characters) intentions are. I agree that “there wouldn’t have been much of a story” in the first person, by which I mean that the story wouldn’t have been as meaningful. It would have felt too particular.

    2. I agree with Julia’s assessment of Jonesy that she connects Kelly Ann to her past, to who she was and who she might have become, had things been different. I also think she’s significant because she appears twice. First, to Jack after he has enlisted and then to Kelly Ann after she has enlisted, both times reciting a poem, and therefore marks Kelly Ann at two very different points in her life, whereas Jonesy appears to remain constant. I think the line “There were so many people, Kelly Ann thought, that she never wanted to be like” (pg. 68) helps to provide part of the meaning behind her choice to enlist. She doesn’t want to be like the college girls, who “looked as alike as purebred puppies” (pg 52), or like Jonesy who seems to stay the same. It helps enforce the idea of Kelly Ann’s desire to change, to be someone who changes, who is broken to be built back up like a warrior, who has “a life worth remembering” (pg 69).

    As for the Killdeer, I am torn. Some have said Thompson should have omitted it, while others think it should have been more developed. Part of me agrees with both. But another part of me sort of enjoys the ambiguity of it, created by its small role within the story. Thompson does, as Kris has noted, tell us “that (and why) she is like the Killdeer rather than allowing us to find the meaning through the story” but I also find it an interesting contrast that the Kelly Ann “drags her wing to lead intruders away from her real reasons” (pg 69), while the Killdeer drags her wing to lead Kelly Ann away from her eggs, her nest. Maybe I read too much into this, but I found the contrast about what needed protection interesting. In a way, Kelly Ann had a nest (her home) and eggs (Tara), but the focus in the comparison to the Killdeer is her intentions for leaving both, her real reasons for enlisting. And part of what seemed like one of her real reasons was her need to change, to escape the nest she had built out of necessity, the child she hadn’t intended to have. She allows people to believe she enlists to serve her country, to be closer to Jack, but really she enlists to save herself, her life, to change her future. And she protects this idea like a secret, like the “brotherhood of secrets” (pg 62) that became “the best part, [the] real and secret life” of those who had joined before her.

    • “Kelly Ann’s desire to be someone who changes”–very nice, and very perceptive reading overall.

    • Frankie,

      What you have to say about the story is really beautiful. I have a tendency to be overly critical and I like what you’ve pointed out, particularly about the killdeer.

      Thanks! Kris

      • Frankie Zelnick

        Thanks Kris!! I tend to over analyze and am not always certain if what I read into/write about things makes any sense to anyone other than me, so thanks for the kind words! You made my day 🙂

  10. 1) I prefer the third person narration that this story decided to go with. If it was told through just Jack or Kelly I think the story would be a little more difficult to understand and biased. The third person narration was pretty perfect because it could focus on Kelly for short periods, but also explore the feeling and thoughts of other character as they came up for a better perspective of the whole story.

    2) Jonesy was essential to the story because she, as many people have said, connected Kelly Ann with her past. She was thinking about her life now and how it had become something she didn’t really want anymore, and how she had changed herself to almost become the doting wife who stays at home all the time and does nothing else. When she was signing up for enlistment she was lying to herself as much as anyone else about her reasons for signing up. Jonesy helped her realize that she had once been a very good student and hard worker, and that made he realize the real reason she wanted to enlist is because she wanted to change her life.

    The killdeer was a really badly forced metaphor for Kelly Ann. It has almost no recognizable significance until the very last paragraph, where the author just come right out and tells the reader the symbolism as if he were bashing you over the head with it. The story would pretty much be the same even if all mention of the killdeer was omitted, and would probably even be better.

    3) The scene where they are talking about childbirth shows the huge disconnect between her and Jack, as well as the phone calls that come in later. It also shows her what she probably believes is a mirror image of what her and Jack might become one day. She saw Lucy as a completely dressed up housewife, and her husband as someone who doesn’t even care for her feelings, even going so far as to offend her repeatedly in public. She sees that Jack seems emotionally detached and probably fears he will become that way too, and also that she will become like Lucy.

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