Themes and Meanings
“The Storytellers” is one of Fred Chappell’s ten short stories about Jess’s childhood in North Carolina that make up the novel I Am One of You Forever (1985). Throughout the novel, the adult Jess tries to come to terms with his past, to deal with the question that even the dead come back to ask him: “Are you one of us?” The volume ends with Jess’s affirmation, which is the title of the book.
This affirmation is much more than just an assurance that Jess will always remember the place and the people who made him what he is. One could do that while still maintaining a comfortable emotional distance. What Jess means is that he has become incorporated into the life of his people, so that there is now no distinction between the subject and the object: They are one. In “The Storytellers,” Chappell suggests that such a mystical surrender of the self is essential if one is to deal effectively with personal memories or, through the creative imagination, to produce a work of art.
Thus the two storytellers of Chappell’s own story can be seen as symbols of the right way and the wrong way to approach both art and life. Jess’s father is not a bad man; he has a good heart and an abundance of charm. Nevertheless, the same lack of self-discipline that sends him off to fish when he needs to work the farm, and impels him to play practical jokes without contemplating the consequences, also makes it impossible for him to become an artist. He cannot give himself to his story. When he recounts Homer’s Iliad , Joe Robert adds props, such as the photograph of the film actress Betty Grable, whom he casts as the legendary beauty Helen of Troy; he interpolates his own comments on the action; and he concludes...
(The entire section is 482 words.)