“Mr. Shakespeare speaks to you across three hundred years, Mr. Stoner; do you hear him?………
Sloane was speaking again. “What does he say to you, Mr. Stoner? What does his sonnet mean?
What if? The powerful wordy duo ruminate in the silence of my room, its vestiges drawn-out to the smooth voice of Lee Ann Womack guiding the overwhelming metaphors through the darkness, hoping that I would dance. For hours after I closed a page on Stoner, defying the nudging of Womack, the audibility of the thunderous rain collapsing into my inaudibility, I pondered: – “What if?” The soil chemistry had overridden the realms of literature. The illusion of love had surrender to the innocence of love. The prosperous loneliness had depleted in impoverished companionship. What if, William Stoner had never stepped in the corridors of the University of Missouri? What if he had never met Edith? What if he had never attended Sloane’s lecture? The reverberations of Arthur Sloane’s words pulsated right through my ponderings; the mirror within wiping a speck of its vagueness. Mr. Stoner speaks to you across decades, do you hear him? Life miles away from the rural landscape, a life esteemed in mediocrity, do you hear him?
The past gathered out of the darkness where it stayed, and the dead raised themselves to live before him; and the past and the dead flowed into the present among the alive, so that he had for an intense instant a vision of denseness into which he was compacted and from which he could not escape, and had no wish to escape.
We are the proverbial mirror fabricating our perceptions of the world around us. Our aspirations educated through harmonizing the inner conflicts flourish in the capacity of subtle companionships. The colossal world of books, language and literature, rinsing the murkiness of the mirror reflecting the opaque mysteries of life. A thousand facets learned from the pages of the books, the thought of rising above the common herd braving the unthinkable nuance of life’s journey, further and further in the permanence of bleakness whilst cherishing the consuming ripples of fresh vistas. To quote Anatole France – “We chase dreams and embrace shadows.” Stoner chased his dreams however inconsequential they have seem to the life pundits and alongside embraced numerous shadows carving a tedious path of loneliness and cynicism distracted with a feeling of hopelessness. A naive farm boy setting on an explorative journey of a life beyond the rural Missouri milieu into the colossal realms of English Literature yearned to carve a niche as a faithful teacher staying true his art of knowledge. Stoner’s life brims with overreaching simplicity plagued with incessant hardships, pain of desolation and endurance to clichéd absurdities. His tumultuous relationship with Edith, the love that he discovered with Katherine, the loyalty he hoped from Finch and the complexities of manipulative diplomacy he encountered with Lomax and later with Charles Walker, veered towards psychosomatic severity. The shadows intensified into the ruthless politics escalating in the narrow world of the University impacting a profound change within Stoner paving a rational route in normalizing irrationalities in the competency of an “asylum”, a rest home disquieted minds.
Am I romanticising William Stoner? I dare not! Do I concur with the author (John Williams) inferring Stoner to be a hero? If heroes are depicted as a larger than life saviour aura of sword wielding knights, an underdog rising to the thrilling destined zenith, then I shall speak otherwise. Heroes are not only born by winning a war, battles are fought every day, the elected battlefield either stately or pedestrian, not all those who survive are heroes and not those who die are less heroic because in a war there are no winners or losers, just sufferers. Stoner’s potency shimmered when he faced his optimistic parents with his own pessimism. The audacity of his convictions braved his own battles with Walker and the probing academia. Behind the curtains of monotone prose and rhetoric clichés, sparkle unlikely gems illuminating the notion of gallant life interchanging through the hope of future and the conflict of past and present and being the doomed instrument of change no matter how negligible amid the potential menace of stagnation.
The women in Stoner’s life endure similar psychosomatic maladies succumbing to the polarities of passivity, stoicism and antagonism dispositions. The contemplations are asserted by the domestic education of Edith Bostwick: –“Her childhood was an exceedingly formal one, even in the most ordinary moments of family life. Her parents behaved toward each other with a distant courtesy; Edith never saw pass between them the spontaneous warmth of either anger or love. Anger was days of courteous silence, and love was a word of courteous endearment. She was an only child, and loneliness was one of the earliest conditions of her life.”A convoluted maze of behavioural inheritance hovers over the fate of the characters, perpetually in an ongoing tussle to escape the belligerent irregularities of their upbringing, be it Stoner or the people around him. This stays true especially to the women who are in habitual pandemonium to change the rules of the emancipation and break away from from the protocols of their familial rearing. Stoner’s mother who never opposes her husband’s sentences passively agreeing to every decision made on their behalf; Edith who is stuck in her own commotion of sympathetic self- liberation in the unsympathetic societal didactic obligations, Katherine, who charts her own way to individualism and Grace , defining herself from her past discrepancies . Each of these women influenced by their circumstances and realities are inexorable in the fair and unfair hostilities, yet somehow not unalterable.
Stoner’s colleagues, who held him in no particular esteem when he was alive, speak of him rarely now; to the older ones, his name is a reminder of the end that awaits them all, and to the younger ones it is merely a sound which evokes no sense of the past and no identity with which they can associate themselves or their careers.
A solitary carnation may adorn the grave, the hopefulness of a name mislaid amongst the forename gradations on a wooden board nailed on the wall outside the Bursar’s Office, merely having the singular opportune alumni reminiscence, the essence of the individuality crumpled within the washed up ink of an old newspaper, the love for language and literature ebbed into nothingness and the mulish earth stoically consuming the enigma of the mind and heart. The Midwestern Don Quixote may not have his Sancho to arbitrate his madness, his dreams and morality to the world, nonetheless akin to Don Quixote, William Stoner has a story to tell, his very own.
Much has already been said, yet there is much more to be told and then there shall remain volumes untold. For every mind, every heart that walked the hallways, the extensive corridors of academic institutions, gently knocked on the least decorated door courteously nodding to a pair of anxious eyes peeking through the stack of books , dreamers and realists, both taking refuge in a world far more unreal and yet real, has had a probable chance of encountering an equivalent persona of William Stoner; the passivity of mediocrity imparting the triumphant lessons of life irrespective to its unsentimental consequences. Do you hear William Stoner? A good man or a weak man, who’s to blame and who’s to claim its share, do you perceive the rumbles of his life? What does Stoner say to you? YOU, the reader!