Unresolved… Critical Exploration

Hannah McCann


Critical exploration 

Looking at my unresolved story in comparison to Richardson’s, ‘Possessions’, I found many correlations that were consistent themes in not only Richardson’s story, but others she incorporated as well. As I wrote my own story, I often found myself taking Richardson’s ideas and concepts to help my piece expand.  

In terms of the setting, Richardson’s quote “they often appear in places where social change threatens to obliterate any sense of historical continuity” (2). My story argues against this claim. Harstad, being the original PLU, has made many changes throughout the years and still holds its historical value. From 1890 until 2019, PLU continuously brings alumni and anyone else interested through the halls of Harstad to keep its history alive. On the flip side, it’s age alludes to a mysterious and uneasy tone that leaves it residents with the taste of curiosity in their mouth. The social change occurring throughout the years has only enhanced the mischievous activity affiliated with the Harstad building. People continuously share stories they interpreted from others allowing for ambiguity to thrive between each retelling.  

Similar to Richardson, the sense of absence is quite present here. “Things apparently absent may be ‘seething presences” (3). There’s a multitude of components left empty. How’d the lady die? Did the girl have anything to do with it? Was it a premonition, or a coincidence? What happened after? All these unanswered questions leave the audience or listeners puzzled and confused. The absence is a key contributor to the essence of the story, so Judith Richardson intentionally incorporates that into her work as well. The absence in my story is intentional. I don’t want to provide the reader with answers because it forces their brains to run wild and create something out of it for themselves. The idea is to leave them with questions, but also invite a tone of uncertainty.   

“Even he who is not in all things too superstitious, can hardly help peering curiously into the dark places…” (Richardson 10). Just like the girl in my story, people have this natural desire to know the unknown. It’s like a car crash, you don’t want to see someone distraught or injured, but every extremity of our beings tell us to look. When something is uncertain, people want to be certain. It is human nature. For example, stories surrounding PLU travel through campus like wild fire. These stories work their way around and eventually get passed down to other generations; everyone wants to be in the loop. The girl in my story walks into the bathroom and senses activity, naturally, she wanted to further investigate the situation which lead her to find the body. Richardson’s quote perfectly explains the human nature in uncomfortable moments. 

In response to the1868 Legends and Poetry of the Hudson, Richardson states“The rapid rate of development, and thus of obsolescence, and the frequent social shifts bestowed on the region a large number of “pasts” in a relatively brief period, providing a plethora of raw materials from which hauntings could emerge…” (Richardson 23). Like I briefly touched on before, because PLU is ever changing and many fresh faces come in and out of the land scape each day, there is an ample amount of room for legends and tales to spread. This ever changing campus also allows new tales and legends to be reborn. Although the development and renovation of a place can cause the hauntedness of it to deflate, in some cases it may plant a new seed to grow. Things begin to move quicker and there’s more room for stories to be misinterpreted. 

These misinterpretations feed into people and leave an openness to the stories. This openness then invites imagination.“…while these strata of folklore and tales clearly fueled local instances, they have also been supplemented and amplified by a series of religious, cultural, and aesthetic movements in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries” (Richardson 35). My particular story of the girl finding the dead woman could very well have been a simple story that was exaggerated or dramatized. It is possible she just saw feet and never explored further. She could have seen someone in the stall and walked away. It is what the author or story teller chooses to employ in their telling. Leaving facts out or adding ingenuity to the stories keep them thriving throughout the years.

When referencing the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hallow to support her work, Richardson quotes, “Thus when “in the dark shadow of the grove, on the margin of the brook, he beheld something huge, misshapen, black, and towering” (292), and when he is joined by a dark rider whom he is horrified “on perceiving” to be headless (293)” (Richardson 58). Irving questions the idea of perception. Sometimes, when we are in situations that spook our minds, we adjust ourselves into seeing everything that could possibly be unusual. We tune our senses for the situation and may perceive a shadow or sounds incorrectly. The girl in my story already had the fear of finding someone in the bathroom, so she could have easily perceived the entirety of the finding wrong and amplified the remainder of it with her imagination.

Richardson’s statements and approaches helped my story blossom from a small short story into an intriguing piece that fits her mold with my own twist. Her book, Possessions, influenced my critique of my own story and left me with more inspiration for future writings.