The two essays, Morning News by Jerome Stern and The Cough by Harry Humes are both written according to the technique of flash fiction. Flash fiction is an extremely short story usually with no more than 1500 words. This technique is also known as micro-fiction, sudden fiction, postcard fiction and short short story. Despite its shortness, flash fiction normally has a conflict, increasing tension, crafting character and other important components of a story. It goes without saying that being limited to a certain number of words a short short story has to concentrate on one of the serious aspects of the problem. Having chosen the problem, the author narrows the scope and tries to depict the conflict through a bright detail instead of long speculations about the matter. The reader feels the tension from the very beginning, because he almost immediately becomes the witness of the conflict. There is often an open final, but the reader receives enough emotional stimuli for further meditation. The unfolding action is predominantly the only tool for an author to keep heightened attention. The power of implication means staying focused on the action and providing additional information through dialogues and details.
Both Jerome Stern and Harry Humes use the limited space of flash fiction to full effect. In Stern’s story, the narration begins with the reflections of the character about death. The reader gets to know that there were some bad news for the character in the morning, but the author does not specify what news. Instead, the character’s reflections make the reader understand that he has some fatal illness, so the man tries to decide what to do before death. His apathy and scepsis are vividly revealed through his thoughts about the last days of life as well as religion and God, “the ringing of the eternal spheres”. The story ends with the character going to the giant store and buying the biggest television they have.
In the meantime, Humes’ story is also devoted to the tragedy of a common man. The man is rather young and his tragedy is reflected by one of his children. The man is a miner, and the black lung disease is slowly killing him. The story is a slice of his family’s everyday life obviously full of pain and grief. The relationship between mother and father is shown by the exchange of short replicas about his labor. The emotions of the woman are expressed through the depiction of her facial expression and gestures, “her lips a line of impatience and fear”. What is more, the title of the story is not occasional. The cough becomes the main character of the story; it is personified and compared to a child who is always hungry, demanding attention and waking the family up at odd times. The plot has no logical ending, but the story ends with a subtle hint to what is the engine of the Universe. Father is sure that the center of the solar system is the source of planets’ movement and all the resources on earth, but the rest of the family knows another reason for the planet to go and probably to stop the movement.
In both essays there is a reference to the heaven. Both main characters are skeptical and have materialistic worldview. The character of Morning News tries to imagine himself a Puritan, but he has no faith and the conflict between good and evil does not bother him. He stays indifferent to religious fears; consequently, he sees no life after death and for him the life will be over with the death of his body. He is not able to take any spiritual energy seriously, and that is probably his final desperate damnation. The idea of God is substituted by the idea of material accumulation. For the man and his wife, a giant warehouse is a temple where they find their most merciful and generous god – television with 60-inch screen.
The men of technocratic age sacrifice their lives and health worshipping money and wealth. Alike, the character of The Cough, with his black-streaked breath, sees no other way to earn for living except working as a miner with extremely complicated conditions of labor. He is ensured that earning money by any price is his only duty, and does not care about children whom he is going to make orphans and wife whom he is going to make a widow. For him, the system is working simply like an orrery with mechanical sun and mechanical planets. He probably imagines himself the same mechanism functioning until the collapse, and does not make an effort to rebel against such a system.
Both essays raise the very topical issue of a man in the world of capitalistic values. People spend the best days of their lives working at plants and factories, sacrificing their health and often moralities for the sake of tangible achievements. They spend their lives chasing the money and then spend money for the things they are sure they need. In fact, the things they buy are not always needed to make them feel happy. Instead, these needs are artificially instilled by mass media and commercial corporations interested in high rates of trading. People read, watch and listen to what can make their living better, and keep believing the most upgraded IPhone can liberate them from depression and loneliness, provide prestige and popularity.
However, the more technologies are developed, the more dissatisfied people are. They keep willing more and more gains, but they still feel lonely and isolated inside. They make music louder, but it does not help to stop their souls crying. They take drugs, but the effect is short-term and the pain returns to them again and again.
All points considered, the main mistake people make today is forgetting about their true nature, about what they really are. A human being is not a mechanism functioning according to some simple manual printed on a newsprint paper. A human being differs from other creatures by its reason and soul. Many people deny the existence of soul and God. On the one hand, they tend to take the responsibility for their lives on their own. They do not want to admit there can be some force they are not able to control. They prefer to enjoy the feeling that their achievements and victories are only theirs. On the other hand, when misfortunes come, they begin to blame government, weather conditions, neighbors, or any other kind of external circumstances, but not themselves.
Forgetting about spiritual values or ignoring them can have dangerous consequences. It is rather hard to live in harmony with the world around when a person is not able to reach harmony with his or her own self. Moral and aesthetic degradation leads to mental distress and often results in diseases and physical restraints. The link between moral and physical health has been repeatedly proved by scholars. Nevertheless, people keep caring about their teeth and nails, but forget about the hygiene of their hearts. The character of Morning News is a typical representative of modern society. He just does not have a habit to think about God. Faith is unknown to him, and he does not feel like starting something new before death. Instead, he chooses to do what he would usually do – spend money for a new big thing that will tell him what to eat, to say and to do, but will hardly forsake him from death. The character of The Cough is captured by the idea that only hard labor can justify him as a man. He has no courage to listen to his heart and refuse the work that is killing him and making his family suffer.
Both men are the victims of their time. Jerome Stern and Harry Humes both present sketches from miserable lives of ordinary people who have lost their way and have only cynicism in their thoughts and deeds.
Humes, Harry. “The Cough.”
Stern, Jerome. “Morning News.”