James Alan McPherson

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What is the climax in James Alan McPherson's "A Loaf of Bread"?

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Climax - Green gives away his goods for free, and Reed is left in the empty store. This scene is where so many of the story's narrative threads tie together, as well as where it reaches its highest expression of emotional intensity.

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Stories are usually structured around the climax . Through the rising action, we see much of a story's plot take shape, along with the gradual ratcheting up of a story's internal tension via elements such as character interactions and conflict. In its climax, that tension will reach its breaking point....

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This is a story's most dramatically intense moment, in which that tension will usually be resolved (though not necessarily: in some cases, it can be left unresolved).

"A Loaf of Bread" follows a dispute surrounding a grocer, Harold Green, who was found to be selling at inflated prices in an African American neighborhood. Knowledge of these practices spurred picketing outside his store.

Through rising action, we see the basic conflict take shape as Harold Green continually digs his heels in. He attempts to defend his practices and his character, claiming that he has done nothing wrong and that if he had not taken advantage of these people, someone else would have in his stead.

His wife instructs him to spend eight hours giving away his merchandise for free. At the same time, the protest is continuing to gain traction under the leadership of Nelson Reed. Reed and Green meet, with Green hoping that if he can explain his position, this conflict would be resolved, but he fails in achieving this goal. Later that day, Green's wife repeats her conviction that Green will give away all his merchandise so as to convince himself of his own moral decency.

All these events and interactions lead up to the story's climactic scene, where Green opens his store on the day of the picket and, in a wave of euphoria, begins giving away his merchandise for free. There is an almost unrestrained, Dionysian excess to his actions in this scene and to the intensity of the emotions and the activity unleashed. Within the narrative itself, it is compared to madness.

That is the scene I would point to as the climax of the story. This is where so many of the story's narrative threads tie together, as well as where it reaches its highest expression of emotional intensity. Nevertheless, the euphoria will pass, and the story will close on the scene of Green and Reed in the empty store.

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Identifying the central conflict of a short story can help indicate the moment of climax. The climax will typically feature one of the more dramatic moments of a narrative, and the reader will often feel that the conflict has led to an outcome. I'll offer a brief summation of the story but leave it to you to decide where the climax occurs and how to best support your argument.

“A Loaf of Bread” is largely a story concerning racism. The owner of a grocery chain, Harold Green, is caught selling goods at inflated prices in a neighborhood mostly inhabited by people of color. Led by Nelson Reed, customers organize and picket outside the grocery store demanding equal access to goods. The conflict consists mostly of this injustice. Additionally, in response to the news coverage the incident has attracted, the grocer's wife (Ruth Green) tells Harold that he won't see his family again unless he agrees to give away free groceries for eight hours at the end of the week. Harold believes that he's simply running his business in an economically efficient way. As the date approaches, the protesters gain traction and Harold continues to rationalize his viewpoint. In a private meeting, Green fails to convince Reed that there's nothing wrong with charging different prices in different neighborhoods. Reed pays for his coffee, walks out of the meeting, and goes home to organize another picketing outside Green's store. The following morning Green must either give away goods or risk severing contact with his family. His first customer is Betty Reed, whose smile seems to inspire a change of heart in Green. As the word about free groceries spreads, picketers and an array of other customers stream into the store for free goods. Eventually everything is taken from the shelves except a lone bottle of wine.

Up until this point, the conflict appears to be all but resolved. Harold's prejudice has been revealed and acknowledged, and it seems he might act differently in the future. Finally, Reed comes back into the store with the intention of settling up for the loaf of bread his wife allegedly forgot to pay for. The reader knows the payment wasn't forgotten, and expects Green to reconcile his relationship with Reed, but he accepts the money instead. The resolution of the conflict is called into question, and the story ends with Reed holding out a dollar bill.

Does the climax occur when Betty Reed inspires Green to give away free goods? The reader feels a release of tension in this scene, but the conflict between Nelson Reed and Green is left unresolved. Does the climax occur when Nelson Reed refuses to accept Green's free bread? Does Reed refuse to accept Green's act of charity because he's set on lower prices, or is he testing Green to see if he'll continue to act fairly? If you're still having trouble locating the climax, look to other characters, motifs, figurative language, and literary devices for help in your investigation.

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