Enormous Changes at the Last Minute Analysis
by Grace Paley

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Enormous Changes at the Last Minute Analysis

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Paley once said in an interview that it was “the dark lives of women” that made her begin to write, adding that at the time she thought no one would be interested, “but I had to illuminate it anyway.” Usually the women in Paley’s stories are unwed, widowed, or divorced; although they have children, they are not defined by either marriage or the desire for marriage. This focus on the female without men has resulted, say some critics, in stories that are centrally feminist in point of view, language, and theme. Perhaps the first thing one notices about Paley’s stories is the voice that tells them and the style in which they are told. It seems unmistakably a woman’s voice, even at times the voice of a woman talking to other women, and thus not conditioned by the need either to preserve a social image or to abide by the common conventions of literary storytelling.

Grace Paley is very much concerned with the nature of storytelling in Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, for her narrator is often self-consciously aware of the fact that the characters in the stories are fictional creations. The most frequently anthologized story in the volume, “A Conversation with My Father,” is also Paley’s most explicit treatment of her view of story and its relationship to hope for the future of women. She says that the father in the story, who asks his daughter to write a story for him and then sees the situation of the woman in the story-within-the-story as tragic, is right, from his point of view: He came from a world where there was no choice, where people could not change careers at forty-one years of age.

What Paley rebels against in this story is the inevitability of plot, which, because it moves toward a predestined end, is a straight line between two points. A basic difference between fiction and “real life,” Paley suggests, is that whereas real life is open and full of possibility, fiction moves relentlessly toward its predetermined...

(The entire section is 521 words.)