Dream of: 04 January 1998 "A Lot Of Inferences"

The classroom was filled with students sitting at their typical student's desks. From my perspective, I was sitting in the row on the left side of the room, with a wall on my left. I was back in the corner, in the next to last seat of the row, with a girl sitting behind me, and several other students sitting in the seats stretching out in front of me. The teacher was standing behind his desk in front of the room, a fit black man (probably in his mid 40s) who closely resembled the actor Bill Cosby. He was dressed in dark attire, highlighted by a natty sports jacket.

The teacher had just finished reading to the class a section of a novel and was now entertaining questions about what he had read. Every day we had been studying the novel and by now were around three fourths of the way through the book. My copy was lying before me on my desk. The book was a faded red hard-back, with browned and brittle pages, obviously ravaged by time.

As the questions were asked, I had a particular question in mind which I wanted to pose to the teacher. My question was a bit complicated, and I struggled to sort out the details so I could properly ask it. Most importantly, I needed to be sure I remembered the names of the characters in the novel, at least the names of the characters to which my question pertained. So in order to secure the names in my mind, I opened up the front cover of the book and with a pencil wrote the names "John Stout", "May" and "Leroy" at the top of the inside cover. Although these weren't the names of the main characters in the novel, they were the names of some of the novel's minor characters in which I was interested at the moment.

I also knew I would need to put my question in the context of the novel, and I retraced in my mind the setting of the story. In the novel, May was a black woman employed as a servant in the capacious home of a well-to-do white family. I envisioned May as a thin woman, dressed in a long dark coat, not more than 30 years old. The family had been the subject of a scandal which had attracted the attention of the local populace, and a newspaper reporter, a white man by the name of John Stout, had been sent by a local paper to the family's house to cover the story.

Subsequently, May had gone to the office of another newspaper and pleaded with someone in that office (I couldn't remember the name of this person) that the second newspaper should not write any stories which would suggest May was having an affair with the reporter John Stout.

This was the gist of the part of the novel which had puzzled me. I knew from previous readings that May was actually dating a black man named Leroy, and that she had had no relationship whatsoever with the reporter John Stout. The story might have made some sense if May had gone to the second newspaper office and requested that no story be printed concerning her and Leroy – but it made no sense to me that May would be talking about a relationship between her and John Stout. I thought it was possible that the author had simply made a mistake, that he had meant to write "Leroy" when in fact he had written "John Stout." Of course I realized this whole incident was such a minor part of the actual plot of the novel, I hesitated to bring it up. I wasn't even completely sure I had all the names correct. I couldn't remember Leroy's last name and I couldn't recall at all the name of the person at the second newspaper. I flipped back through the pages, hoping to spot the names, but quickly saw such effort was futile. I just hoped I had enough information to make my question intelligible and to verbalize my query. Timidly I raised my hand so I could ask the question.

The teacher first called on another fellow sitting in one of the seats in front of me in my row. After answering that question, the teacher called on someone else in another part of the room, and I looked over there. When I looked back at my row, I saw all the students in my row had left, leaving a row of empty seats in front of me. Now the teacher looked right back at me and pointed in my direction. I was just about to speak, when I realized the teacher had called on the girl sitting behind me. The girl asked her question and the teacher answered it. Again the teacher looked in my direction and this time, when he actually called on me, I laboriously began asking my question.

I first explained that my question dealt with a rather "obscure" section of the text. In fact, the incident to which my question pertained was a minor detail of the whole story, so minor I didn't even see how it related to the whole plot. Nevertheless I continued with my question. As I asked, I fumbled to put my thoughts to words, and the teacher began looking impatient. When I had trouble with the names, he asked me to clarify, and I was glad I could look down at the names which I had written in my book. When I finally managed to spit everything out, I saw a light in the teacher's eyes, as if he finally understood what I was trying to say. Immediately he began giving his answer.

The teacher explained that May knew that, due to the scandal, John Stout would be coming frequently to the house to interview the people who lived there. May had quickly concluded just from the fact that John Stout was visiting the house so often, that the second newspaper might conclude she was dating him. Thus May had simply decided to visit the second newspaper to assure that no incorrect stories would be printed about her and John Stout. I could tell from the way the professor was speaking that even he knew his explanation was reaching, as if he himself weren't completely sure of the answer. I could also see he was impressed I had noticed such an obscure point in the novel. It was obvious that I must understand the main plot of the story, if I could focus on such a relatively insignificant point. When the teacher had finished his explanation, I said, "That's a lot of inferences to make, but I guess it's the only conclusion you can come to."

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