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Lady Liberty

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Lady Liberty is a short story that Akira H wrote for a Year 11 Literature task called ‘One Story, Two Narratives’.

The brief: Use a real-life experience or event (one of your own or one about which you have read) as an inspiration for a fictional short story. Then write the same story using a different narrative approach – you could change the narrative point of view, the tense, the perspective, the style of narration, or even the ideological position.

This is the resulting story.

Un

Everything felt better in the rain. The few rays that escaped the clouds shimmered in the streets, turning the cobblestone glassy. Almost royal, he thought. The effect lasted only seconds, before the swell of people pushed on. The whole city, it seemed, was charged by the spark of anticipation in the air. Louis just knew it.

“Louis! Eyes up, you’re best to be quick. Once you’ve sold all ’em newspapers, you too can join ’em!” The lad was only just older than him, proportions slender and his speech slick. To be a newsboy in the heart of the city required nothing less.

Louis glanced down to his stack of newspapers, sighing. The crows continued surging forward. Businessmen holding down their top hats as they measured their strides, efficiency in every step. Mothers stern and proper, fussing in their native tongues with children who splashes through the puddles. Even the Jews has emerged from their part of the urban expanse. Slavic greetings muddled with German scolding over Italian laughter.

He couldn’t wait.

“Putain de merde! Come back Louis. The boss ain’t gonna be happy.” With his hands full of newspapers, all Pierre could do was watch as Louis bolted away.

“Je m’en fiche. Catch me if you can, Pierre!” He pushed through the crows and saw a glimpse of his mother, a red bonnet through the grey. Weaving in and out, he crept up on her.

“Bonjour mama.” He took a heavy breath before grinning as she turned around, her face glittered like a precious jewel. My jewel, he thought, as she greeted and linked arms with him.

They walked on, through the snaking streets, past the butchers and past the markets.

“Hurry along now, we shan’t be late. Here, let’s take a shortcut.” His mother quickened her steps and led him around a sharp corner, away from the flow of the crowd. The street they walked down grew narrow and up ahead, ragged men blocked the path. This crowd, Louis thought, seemed less excited.

“Ladies lack liberty! Ladies lack liberty!” A chant, frail and faint, seemed to come from beyond the crowd.

As Louis moved through the legs of the crowd, he came to see women pressed up against a shopfront. They held white banners with bold letters reading “Land of the free man” and stood tall in tight uniforms. Against them, the crowd grew louder with jeers. This wasn’t a celebration.

“Mama, why are those people not joining in with the rest of us?” He asked, frowning. The women looked angry; bitter. He clenched his fists – how were they not proud of America?

His mother had a softer expression. Pity for their stubbornness. He tugged on her sleeve, unsettled.

“Did I not say hurry along, Louis?” Agitated, she pulled him away and they passed the burly men still laughing. She was quiet, eyes fixed ahead.

His mother had started to brighten up as they edged closer to their destination, even she had a spark in her expression. Finally, they reached the piers, which were teeming with people.

They had made it. A hush feel as the great veil fell.

And there she stood, Lady Liberty, looking down over the whole bay. The newspaper descriptions could not capture the shine of the bright bronze. Louis looked in reverence, it was American grandeur. A beacon of hope for the future.

Lady Liberty
Deux

Turning your face to the sun makes the shadows fall behind you.

The few rays that escaped the clouds that day were weak in fending off the dark shadows. They faltered and flickered, losing to the dreary weather. Light shone on the surging city crowd to no avail. Marie didn’t want to follow this thick current.

Perched on the granite steps of an office, she scanned the street. The crowds continued surging forward. Businessmen with eyes locked ahead, pompous and pretentious. Mothers hobbling back from a day shift in the cotton factories, still finding the energy to keep their children in line. Just like her, with her little Louis who finds everything endlessly entertaining. He would’ve loved the farm back in France, with all the grass and animals and rivers. Finally, she found the street she meant to turn down and started advancing. She couldn’t wait.

“Bonjour mama.” Startled, she turned around to see her little Louis heaving from running. She was too wrapped up to ask where he’d been. He’d come with her. They walked through this street and then that street, she’d heard the location a thousand times.

“Hurry along now, we shan’t be late. Here, let’s take a shortcut.” They had arrived at the street, and she cut away from the crowd. Up ahead, ragged men blocked the path. They seemed less excited.

A change could be heard, cutting through the chatter, “Ladies lack liberty! Ladies lack liberty!” It was as valiant as she remembered.

There stood the women from the factory, up against a shopfront. They held white banners with bold letters reading “Land of the free man” and stood tall in elegantly stitched uniforms. The flock of ladies glittered like jewels. She felt dull next to them, leathery even.

They had their faces turned to the sun with the crowd of jeering men lying in their shadow. Whispers of the planned protest had wafted through her factory and it was the only thing she was excited by. The endless sowing and stitching of fabrics grew old quickly in the factory. She wanted the feeling back of sewing the tiny blouses for Louis as a baby.

“Mama, why are those people not joining in with the rest of us?” Louis suddenly burst out. She studied his hesitant gaze. His feet dug into the cobblestone.

Marie furrowed her brow, feeling an inexplicable friction to the courage she couldn’t muster. The friction tightened as Louis tugged on her sleeve and she snapped.

“Did I not say hurry along Louis?” Agitated, she pulled him away and they passed the burly, laughing men. She remained quiet, eyes fixed ahead.

As they edged closer to their destination, she started to absorb the energy of the people around her. At the piers, the mood changed. A hush fell as the great veil fell. Marie stared, transfixed.

The statue looked down over the whole bay. It was exiled from France, weeping in the rain. Lady Liberty was the mother of exiles, the poor and the huddled masses. Marie shed a tear of her own.

Author’s commentary

The construction of these two narratives revolves around the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty. The dominant perception of the Statue of Liberty is as a symbol of American industriousness, ingenuity and ideals (liberty, freedom and hope). This is contrasted with the disappointment of European immigrants who came in search of a better life, only to be poverty struck and face prevailing inequality. French phrases and expressions in the story subtly sets the characters up as French immigrants which further impacts how the Statue of Liberty is interpreted as a French gift.

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