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An African Story by Roald Dahl

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Dahl was born in Llandaff, Glamorgan in Wales on September 16, 1916 as the son of Norwegians, Harold Dahl and Sofie Magdalene Dahl. Dahl's parents named him after the famous polar explorer, Roald Amundsen. Dahl was a very interesting man, never going to college and fighting in World War II at age 23. Some of his most life-changing experiences took place during WWII. On August 1, 1942 while Dahl was living in Washington, the Saturday Evening Post published his first work ever, “Shot Down Over Libya”, now called “A Piece of Cake.” Dahl used his experience in war when the RAF sent him to meet his squadron in Libya and an Italian machine-gun shot him, forcing him to make a crash landing in the desert. Another popular topic for his stories was drawing upon his experiences from school, such as a teacher at St. Peters for Miss Trunchball in Matilda. Fighting in WWII is where Dahl got most of his ideas for stories. The book, Over to You, is a book of short stories based on different experiences Dahl had during the war. Dahl's mother also helped him to develop stories. When Dahl was a boy, she used to tell his sisters and him stories about Norwegian creatures, which Dahl mentions in The BFG and others. He is one of the most successful and well-known writers of children's books. His most well known story is “Lamb to the Slaughter.” People have translated his books into 34 different languages. He received many awards and honors for his books, including the Edgar Allan Poe Awards, the Outstanding Books Award, the Whitbread Award, and the World Fantasy Convention Lifetime Award and Federation of Children's Book Groups Award. Dahl died on November 23, 1900 at age 74 in Oxford, England.

“An African Story” is about a pilot stranded on an island and talks to old man who tells him story. The pilot writes down the story and the pilot's friend finds the story after the pilot dies. Judson kills the old man's dog because of the dog's annoying yelping. The old man ends his dog's life to take away his suffering and seeks revenge on Judson. “An African Story” takes place in September 1939 during World War II. The war does not affect Kenya Colony, but the narrator mentions the time period to make us realize how little supplies there is of things like milk. The story takes place in East Africa in Kenya Colony. Dahl bases the story upon the manuscript the pilot's friend finds after the pilot dies in training. The mood of the story in the beginning is peaceful because the pilot is describing what the old man feels Kenya Colony is like. The old man is calm, even while he has to take his dog's life away. After he kills his dog, he shows his anger to Judson for beating his dog. There is an eerie feeling while the old man stays up at night wrapped up in a blanket to see who is stealing the milk from the cow. The only thing he can see in the blackness of the night is the black cow and the black Mamba snake going upwards to get milk from the cow. The tone of the author is anger, peace, and joy. The anger comes in when the old man has the urge to hit Judson after Judson hits his dog. There is a peace about Kenya Colony in the beginning and after Judson dies from the black Mamba snake's bite. The old man finally feels peaceful and joyful because he does not have to worry about Judson's complaining and cruelty towards animals.
The protagonist, the old man, is revengeful, deceptive, lonely, crippled, kind, and has an anger management problem. When Judson hits his dog after the annoying yelping finally annoys him beyond a point he can take, the old man thinks of a way to get his revenge on Judson. The old man is deceptive in telling Judson he does not know who is taking the milk from his cow when in fact, he knows a Mamba snake is. The old man tells Judson to kill the “boy” because he knows the snake will kill Judson. Judson believes him and is the Mamba snake kills him. The old man is very lonely because the only thing he has to talk to is his cow. He also has his dog before Judson beats him. The old man did not like talking to Judson and would prefer to have him dead than to have his company. The old man has to walk with a stick because he cannot walk without the stick. The old man hits his dog to kill him after Judson beats him because the old man cannot stand to see his dog in so much pain. This shows his kindness because he would rather end a life in suffering than allow the thing to live. The old man yells and screams at Judson after Judson beats his dog because he is unable to contain his anger. The antagonist, Judson, is an insane/crazy person. The most common sounds annoy him, such as the dog's whimpering and the “crunching” of the cow eating grass. Judson is a very stupid and gullible man. He falls for the old man's trick of the old man not seeing the person who is stealing the milk and to lie in a ditch to try and shoot the “person” stealing milk. Judson shows cruelty towards animals. When an animal's sound annoys him, he either hurts the animal by beating them or kills them, shows cruelty because he thinks not having the things, which annoys him around, is worth taking an animal's innocent life away. The minor characters are the stranded pilot on the island who meets the old man. Dahl bases the pilot on himself because when Dahl was flying a plane in WWII, he had to make an emergency landing in the desert after receiving the wrong coordinates. The pilot's friend, who is the narrator, until the story about the old man, Judson, the cow, and the Mamba snake begins. The dog is not in the story for a long time. He is only in the opening paragraph or two when the old man, his owner, hears him whimpering and takes the dog's life away to get rid of the dog's suffering. The cow is the old man's only company after his dog is taken away from him. The cow has a relationship with the Mamba snake by allowing the snake to take milk from her udders. The Mamba snake is the cause of the death of Judson and the black snake drinks milk from the black cow late at night.

The old man has the internal conflict with himself if he should hit Judson after Judson beats his dog. This is an internal conflict because the old man has to overcome his feelings of hatred towards Judson inside himself and overcome if he thinks hitting Judson is worth the possible consequences. Judson and the old man have an external conflict when Judson “kills” the old man's dog. The old man believes Judson had no right to beat his dog and Judson justifies his actions by telling the old man the dog's whimpering was annoying him. The complications the old man faces is Judson killing his dog and what to do about the thing stealing milk from his cow. The old man decides to overcome the complication of Judson's cruelty to animals by telling Judson a boy is stealing the milk from the cow when in reality the thing is a Mamba snake. The old man tells Judson he should sleep outside in a ditch and kill the boy when he comes to take the milk, knowing the snake will come and kill Judson. The snake killing Judson solves the complication of the stealing of the milk. The old man even exclaims to himself the snake can have Judson's share since Judson is no longer around. The rising action is the dog whimpering because in the beginning, we do not know what is making the whimpering. We also do not know the dog belongs to the old man. When the old man goes to get an iron bar to kill his dog, we do not know why he gets the iron bar and if he will hit Judson with the iron bar. Judson and the old man discovering something stealing the milk is another big part of the rising action because we do not know what is taking the milk. The old man's plot to make Judson kill the “boy” which steals the milk is part of the rising action because we know there is not a boy stealing the milk, but a snake. The falling action is the old man finding out who is stealing the milk because we now know what is stealing the milk. Judson waiting for the “boy” to kill is part of the falling action because we have an inkling something is going to die. We do not know if Judson or the snake will die, but we know something will. The Mamba snake killing Judson is the climax because after Judson dies, the old man feels a peace. The old man has gotten his revenge on Judson and now he does not have to worry about Judson. The resolution is the old man letting the snake have Judson's share of the milk because the old man knows he does not need all the milk the cow can offer.

Five of the many literary devices Dahl uses in “An African Story” are similes, imagery, irony, characterization, and personification. Dahl uses similes to make a comparison of two things using the words like or as, “…moving its jaws regularly, mechanically, like a metronome in slow time.” (Dahl, 28). The simile tells us the cow is chewing in a slow, steady beat. A metronome is a musical device which keeps a steady beat for the quarter notes (one beat notes) so you know how fast or slow to play. “It was shady under the acacia tree, and the country surrounding him looked lush and pleasant after the long rains, for the grass grows green up in the Highlands of Kenya; and at this time of the year, after the rains, it is green and rich as any grass in the world. Away in the north stood Mount Kenya itself, with snow upon its head, with a thin white plume trailing from its summit where the icy winds made a storm and blew the white powder from the top of the mountain. Down below, upon the slopes of that same mountain there were lion and elephants and sometimes during the night one could hear the roar of the lions as the looked at the moon.” (Dahl, 28) demonstrates imagery because we can see the greenness of the plains and the snow on the mountain, smell the freshness of the ground, feel the coldness from the “icy winds”, and hear the lions as they roar. “‘You killed him,' he said. ‘You broke his back.'” (Dahl 27) shows irony because Judson was not the person who kills the dog; it was the old man. The old man takes a heavy iron bar and hits the dog over the head to end his suffering, “The man saw what he wanted. It was a heavy iron bar standing against the wall near the mattress, and he hobbled over towards it, thumping the hollow wooden floorboards with his stick as he went. The eyes of the dog followed his movements as he limped across the room. The old man changed his stick to his left hand, took the iron bar in his right, hobbled back to the dog without pausing, he lifted the bar and brought it down hard upon the animal's head.” (Dahl, 27). “…his black hair falling all over his long, red face; standing there tall and skinny, muttering to himself and sweating through his greasy white shirt. His mouth hung open in an odd way, lifeless way, as though his jaw was too heavy for him, and he was dribbling gently down the middle of his chin. He stood there looking at the small white dog which was lying on the floor, and with one hand he was slowly twisting his left ear; in the other he held a heavy bamboo.” (Dahl, 26 and 27) shows direct characterization of Judson because Dahl gives us his appearance and some of his character traits. “Then, as the tide of anger rose and gave him strength, he found more words.” (Dahl, 27) shows personification because anger cannot be a tide. Anger can only exist or not exist and because anger cannot give you strength. Anger is just an emotion you feel.

There are many similarities and differences between “Beware of the Dog” and “An African Story.” The similarities are both have a pilot who is stranded somewhere. The pilot in “Beware of the Dog” is stranded in France and in “An African Story”, the pilot who dies is stranded in Kenya Colony. Dahl mentions the same world event, World War II. The writing style is very similar because both stories contain similes and other literary devices. Loneliness is the main feeling the main character feels. The pilot in “Beware of the Dog” feels lonely because he is in the enemy's country and the old man in “An African Story” feels lonely because he cannot talk with anyone. Both protagonists suffer some kind of crippling. The pilot in “Beware of the Dog” does not have his right leg and the old man in “An African Story” has to walk with a stick and limps. The contrasts are the setting because “Beware of the Dog” takes place in France and “An African Story” takes place in Eastern Africa. The types of characters are different. “Beware of the Dog” has army characters and a nurse and doctor where as “An African Story” has farmers. “An African Story” has a story within a story because the beginning is an introduction to the story the pilot wrote down from the old man. The mood in “Beware of the Dog” is hopelessness and giving up whereas “An African Story” is eerie and peaceful. “Beware of the Dog” has the theme of no hope of getting away form the enemy and “An African Story” has the theme of using your wits to overcome obstacles.

I liked “An African Story” best because I liked the way Dahl incorporates the WWII theme into the story without directly talking about war. I could relate easier to the story because even though the story takes place during a war, war was not the focus of the story.





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