Posted in Short Stories

Jean Stafford: Children Are Bored on Sunday

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 2

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Emma spots Alfred Eisenburg at a distance. This is how Jean Stafford’s short story “Children Are Bored on Sunday” begins. After this, Emma, our third person narrator, goes into a stream of consciousness about the differences between intellectuals and rubes. She considers herself one of the latter because of her Great Uncle Graham’s farm.

As Emma ruminates, Stafford drops in lots of paintings and artists that gives the reader the idea that Emma is more knowledgeable than she gives herself credit. Many of the intellectuals Emma thinks about and remembers from her younger days could be considered pseudo-intellectuals or at least shallow intellectuals. Though this is never specifically brought up in the story, Stafford just might be suggesting that there is a difference between a person who is an intellectual and a person who is intelligent. Emma might be considered the latter as opposed to the rube she thinks of herself as.

One of my favorite of Emma’s thoughts goes like this:

Thus she continued secretly to believe (but never to confess) that the apple Eve had eaten tasted exactly like those she had eaten when she was a child visiting on her Great-Uncle Graham’s farm, and that Newton’s observation was no news in spite of all the hue and cry. Half the apples she had eaten had fallen out of the tree, whose branches she had shaken for this very purpose, and the Apple Experience included both the descent of the fruit and the consumption of it, and Eve and Newton and Emma understood one another perfectly in this particular of reality.

And then there is Alfred, with whom, after following for the entire story, Emma finally makes contact at the end and the reader might wonder why she has been so hesitant. He seems a quite decent fellow:

Their recognition of each other was instantaneous and absolute, for they cunningly saw that they were children and that, if they wished, they were free for the rest of this winter Sunday to play together, quite naked, quite innocent. “What a day it is! What a place!” said Alfred Eisenburg. “Can I buy you a drink, Emma? Have you time?”

This is the second story by Jean Stafford that I’ve read. The other one is The Interior Castle which also utilizes a stream of consciousness approach.

This story is included in the collection Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker edited by David Remnick. I read it when I selected the Four of Hearts for Week 2 of my Deal Me In 2020 short story project. Check out my Deal Me In 2020 list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

What about you? How many Jean Stafford stories have you read? What are your favorites?


4 thoughts on “Jean Stafford: Children Are Bored on Sunday

  1. Hi Dale,
    I haven’t read Jean Stafford before (as far as I can recall), but I like her theme that you talk about of “intellectual” vs. “intelligent.” One memory I have from early childhood is of my parents emphasizing the difference between “Stupid” and “Ignorant” (perhaps I had called someone who didn’t know a fact that I did “stupid” – this sounds like a lesson they would emphasize and, sadly, something I might have done before I knew better. Thanks for resurrecting that memory. 🙂

    While I’m reciting memories, my Dad was fond of retelling the following bit of Arabian wisdom:

    “He who knows not,
    and knows not that he knows not,
    is a fool; shun him.

    He who knows not,
    and knows that he knows not,
    is a student; Teach him.

    He who knows,
    and knows not that he knows,
    is asleep; Wake him.

    He who knows,
    and knows that he knows,
    is Wise; Follow him.”

    1. Thanks, Jay, for sharing this bit of Arabian wisdom. It’s worth remembering!

      The only two stories I’ve read of Stafford’s are very similar in the way they are written and the protagonist is very similar. I might have to go back and see if perhaps they are the same character.

      I liked Emma a lot. She seemed very intelligent but didn’t fit in very well with the intellectuals she frequently came in contact with. I think Alfred seemed the same way once the reader “meets” him at the end.

  2. I have never even heard of this author before but you sold me on her use of stream-of-consciousness. I’m a big fan of Virginia Woolf so I’m curious to see how this author uses similar narrative techniques.

    It is always a pleasure reading your wonderful reviews!

    1. Thank you again! I’ve only read 2 of Stafford’s stories. Both seem like they could have the same protagonist. I’ve enjoyed them both. There is an intelligence and a humor to them.

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