Waffling in THREE dimensions.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Essays written after 4am start to fizzle...

Not so great...but I got it done! It fizzles at the end, but I don't care so much. He said 2-3 pages, and I'm right at 3, not including citations, which I'm fairly certain I did not parenthetically cite correctly. Or correctly ever. Whatever. Its the first paper, I'll do better when he gives us a better description of what he wants. Eh..it sucks throughout, I didn't really care for the book that much (or I would have started sooner and whatnot) oh well. I don't think I'll bother showering before class. I got a ton of stuff tonight too! yay!


Analysis of themes in Vernal Promises

A preliminary product search of http://deseretbook.com/ reveals no results for either “Vernal Promises” or “Jack Harrell,” despite his position as a faculty member at a university that is under the same leadership. It is perhaps possible that Signature Books would not permit the sale of his novel there, or perhaps, as it is his first novel, which Deseret Book subsequently failed to notice and stock. Perhaps Jack Harrell never noticed or bothered to correct some clerical error or legality that prevented the sale of Vernal Promises at Deseret Book locations. Perhaps, more likely, Deseret Book refused to carry the title because of its content. Vernal Promises deals with sex, sin, debauchery. Vernal Promises deals with drugs, drills, addictions. Vernal Promises deals with a lot of things: agency, accountability, morality; the search for truth, a common thread. Luckily, Amazon.com carries the title from a number of distributors.

The novel as a whole focuses on Jacob and Pam Dennison’s turbulent reconciliation with their church, from their first miscarriage to their first move and the characters that help and hinder them on this path. To do this Harrell utilizes a third-person narrator with limited omniscience focused on one actor at a time. He frequently switches the focal character throughout each chapter, often showing events from multiple viewpoints and the effects they have on different characters. This style of story telling allows the theme of accountability to be easily embedded in the novel. Examples of this would be the multiple times Jacob abandons his wife Pam, the cascading consequences of which are explored not only from the individual perspectives of Jacob and Pam, but also that of her bishop’s (193), and her mother’s (204). The first chapter ends saying, “There are consequences, he thought. There’s hell to pay. He rubbed Pam’s back and wanted to cry”(9). In this instance, accountability is discussed overtly; more often it is subtly expressed, such as painful side effects Jacob endures after an alcohol binge, inevitable justice for his action. An exception to this is when Jacob learns of an extra material affair he had may have resulted in a pregnancy, and he is not held accountable, although the woman will have to deal with the consequences (286).

As perhaps the most dynamic character, Jacob throughout his various chemical sojourns questions, “If God wanted obedience, why did he make sin so sweet?”(27) Harrell frequently uses freedom, and the perception there of, as a motif through many of the characters, contrasting different viewpoints. For example, Cheryl, a worldly woman, sees freedom as financial security, while Jacob seeks it through various narcotics to remove himself from the guilt he feels as a result of his moral wanderings and self-doubt. While Jacob original desires freedom, only to discover after a battle with Dwayne, the moral antagonist representing Satan in Vernal Promises, that such “freedom” would damn him eternally. The ‘freedom’ that Dwayne promised was a complete rejection of Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice, which Jacob later feels unworthy of. A case could easily be made that the theme of the novel is personal freedom. However, the freedom from guilt Jacob desired, and even the freedom of financial independence Cheryl wanted, coupled with the imminent captivity awaiting Harvey, all come from varying degrees of righteous or unrighteous living, according to the standards set out by the church. Though a few other Christian sects are mentioned, no reference is made to any degree their correctness (although Greg shows a degree of integrity that surpasses that his coworkers), and those that have fallen from the ‘straight’ and narrow are portrayed as unhappy, none more so than Jacob, who shows the difficulty of living in a fallen world with his constant temptations and recessions. Despite his constant pleas, Jacob is free to do as he chooses, following Harrell’s theme of agency.

Because the themes of agency, morality, and accountability are all so intertwined in the Mormon religion, and as such are often discussed together in the frequent passages in which the character of Jacob Dennison debates his standing with himself, and the novel’s antagonist, Dwayne Helper, often with the aid of psychoactive drugs. Their search for truth ultimately leads to a physical altercation, incarceration, and begins Jacob’s reconciliation with the path to salvation. Though like the Jacob of old, Jacob wrestles with the Lord and it is not until he accepts Christ’s salvation that he finds happiness. Neither does Pam truly find happiness (though some semblances of it after her daughter is born as it says, “Pam was pleased with this scene” (316)) until after her husband has returned to the church. In this way, juxtaposed against the character’s previous unhappiness and their rejection of gospel tenets, the themes of morality and its consequences emerge. The novel ends with Jacob surrendering himself to his family and Christ, no longer haunted by his past actions. Harrell concludes, “He wanted to love and give and feel until it became his very nature. This is real love, he thought. This is redemption. He gave himself over to it completely”(342).

Harrell, Jack. Vernal Promises. Salt Lake City: Signature Books Publishing, LLC., 2003.

"Deseret Book - Store." DeseretBook.com. 23 Jan 2007. Deseret Book. 23 Jan 2007 .

"Deseret Book - Store." DeseretBook.com. 23 Jan 2007. Deseret Book. 23 Jan 2007 .

"Amazon.com: Vernal Promises: Books: Jack Harrell." Amazon.com. 23 Jan 2007 .

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