JOB HISTORY BY ANNIE PROULX, SUMMARY Flashcard
In the short story “Job History” Annie Proulx uses its mid-western setting to explore key aspects of theme and characterisation.
It tells of fifty years of the life and tribulations of a man named Leeland Lee set against the harsh backdrop of Wyoming life in mid-western America.Proulx’s fiction has a habit of bestowing less than ordinary names upon its everyday people. In “Job History”, this extends to the name places. “Unique” is the town in which Leeland is raised and perhaps the reader should go beyond an ironic interpretation and view it as a central component of her fiction – that no two lives are identical despite how recogniseable they may be.
The blankness of the story’s title is replicated in her unemotional prose which adopts the style and tone of a newsreader and this device underlines the notion that the town’s name symbolises. It lends equal weight to both the minor and major events in his life – the tragedies, the joys and the everyday. Most noticeably we see it in the closing stage of Leeland’s life;”Leeland hurts his back and in the same week Lori learns that she has breast cancer and is pregnant again”By the story’s close we recognise and remember Leeland’s life as “Unique”.Another notable use of setting that Proulx employs is by showing the encroachment of the federal highway system upon Wyoming life. Proulx chooses to coin “Highway 16” as the road that is superseded by the new road four miles south of it.
It should be noted Annie Proulx has clearly used a reversal of the famous Highway 61 – a road that begins in Wyoming and connects the northern states down the Mississippi to Louisiana. The diminishing role of the highway that was previously the main tourist route sees Leeland’s job pumping gas with Ed Egge come to an end;”One day a hundred cars stop far gas… The next day only two cars pull in”This ‘bypassing of life’ can equally be seen in the way Proulx structures her narrative.
Leeland’s life is chronologised through major events in America in the latter half of the twentieth century such as the Selma civil rights protests, the Jonestown massacre and Vietnam at the end of each decade of his life. However the opening and final paragraphs are closed with the following receptively ;”There is no news on the radio””Nobody has time to listen to the news”They happen in the background, to these people it is not ‘news’. However the highway in representing changing times shows us it surely does affect them, even if they are tragically unawares. Perhaps this helps us understand Leeland’s ignorance when he sets up business with a ranch supply store even though we were previously told “business in Unique falls flat”. He relies on what he think he knows of people with the thought;” people will be glad to trade at store that saves a long drive into town”.The way Leeland is oblivious to the way the environment shapes his life is summed up when we are told of his views of the country as he travels the country on his long haul trucking job;”He travels all over the continent, to Texas, Alaska.
..He says every place looks the same.”This brings us to another of the themes Proulx explores – the cruel hand of fate that seems to afflict Leeland and by extension, the people of Wyoming. We feel the gods fighting against him.
It is by no coincidence that when something positive happens in Leeland’s life it is immediately counteracted by a stark negative. For example, a pilot (whom he helps to load deer meat onto his plane) gives Leeland a $100 dollar tip only to crash it drunk. When his oldest son becomes the first in the family to graduate from high school, we are told that he then opts to join the army.Taking on a symbolic status in the story, alcohol seems to possess an anesthetizing effect upon the people of Unique to the cruelty Wyoming life will afford them. With a foreshadowing role, we are told as a child Leeland’s “eyes are as pouchy as those of a middle aged alcoholic” as if it and sadness, and weariness was part of their genetic code.
This notion is repeated when Leeland “quiets (his baby’s crying) with a spoonful of beer” . An obvious example of this cruelness of the land is when Ed Egge is killed as he hits a steer in his truck – an animal synonymous with the cattle state. Moreover, in a period when Leeland is jobless and is suffering the ignominy of looking after the baby, it is prefixed with Proulx telling us of “this long winter”.On first impressions the lives described in “Job History” seem as unremarkable as the narration which seems to almost tell events in passing . Yet the subtle techniques Annie Proulx uses of which setting is foremost, reveal the tragedies of life with which we can all empathise with yet they are almost exacerbated in the context of the hard, unforgiving landscape.
Like the other, lengthier stories in the “Close Range” collection, the link between land and life in Wyoming is unmistakable.