We All Walk Through Life As A Stoner

We All Walk Through Life As A Stoner

For some that title is quite literal, which hey if that is what you need to deal with the world we live in, I get it. However, of course I mean this is a metaphorical context after just reading John Williams brilliant novel “Stoner.” This wonderful tale takes us into the ordinary life of a man that could be any one of us, and for me, actually is from time to time. I took note of some of my favorite lines and running themes throughout the book and as you go through them, think to yourself “am I actually a Stoner?”

The story follows the life of a man, William Stoner, raised by parents that only had their farm to call their own, even though the farm actually owned them. Stoner’s father decides to try to give his son a better shot at a future by sending him college for agricultural studies, but Stoner ends up taking a different path that leads him to be a professor of English. The story then follows Stoner’s life as he tries to live as he feels he is supposed to, but never seems to quite be happy or feel like he got it right.

One of the things I noticed throughout the book that was fascinating to me was the way John Williams, the author, uses different forms of the characters’ names depending on the situation, mood, person speaking, etc. This is especially true for the main character. At times he is called by his full name William Stoner, sometimes just as Stoner, characters close to him call him Bill, his wife calls him Billy. Below is my breakdown of what these different versions mean, and I would love to hear from anyone else who read this book if they noticed the same and what they thought of the change in name.

  • When called William Stoner this seems to be a description of something about him from a narrative perspective, almost as if he is being defined or something about him is being introduced. This can also be seen with other characters like his daughter Grace and friends Gordon and Dave.
  • When called Stoner, this represents the stoic version of himself that fights for himself and what he believes is right and/or what is needed to make best of the moment he is in. Whenever Stoner is finally sticking up for himself whether to his wife or colleagues, he is presented as Stoner. When he starts to ease back into the status quo, typically a new version of his name is used.
  • Bill is an endearing term used by those that are closest to him that truly care about his well being. His friend Gordon and lover Katherine are the people who call him by this the most often, and every time they do, you can see Bill relax and be the truest form of himself, strong but vulnerable.
  • His wife, Edith, is intent on calling him Billy which is almost insulting and demeaning. Edith is constantly attempting to manipulate and undermine her husband, and calling him Billy shows her intentions.
  • Towards the end of the book when Stoner is on his death bed and coming to terms with everything in life, he is not called by any other names but him or he as if he were finally free from having to be someone to anyone else and just is.

Are we too addressed differently by different people? What are the motives behind how we are addressed, or is there no motive? Do you feel placed in a specific box in the way some address you?

Now on to the random notes and quotes I jotted down while reading this novel, and further exploration of why they were important to me.

“The knowledge of common misery touched him and changed him in ways that were hidden deep from the public view, and a quiet sadness for the common plight was never for beneath any moment of his living.

There are moments where I read a quote and just feel like it found the words for how I feel better than I ever could have. In the world we live in today, and as a very empathetic person, it is really hard not to grieve for the world around me, even those in it I don’t know personally. There are so many things happening in which we feel powerless to be a positive force for or against, so it is hard not to personally feel that quiet sadness. A few years back I went to a seminar about the depression some people feel about not being able to do more to help the environment. Realizing that we can do the little things, but until those in charge and those that are the big players make changes, the better we seek will never be fulfilled. Stoner is always trying to be the best person and make the right decision for those around him but also for himself, but no matter what, there is always someone or something there pushing back. The confusing thing about this push back, which is very much present in reality, is that many times we don’t understand the motives or where it is coming from. Moral of the story I suppose is rather than pushing back, ask yourself “is this person just trying to be the best and truest person they can, and in their effort to do that, is it truly hurting anyone?”

The presence of war is woven throughout the book, in a very literal sense as the world is at war while Stoner is attending and teaching at the university, but also there is the presence of internal wars with depression, pride, alcoholism, status, etc. All of which are supposed to lead to transformation in the sense for the better, but there are casualties along the way. Makes you wonder if the transformation that comes from war is worth it. Is it worth it to use others to further along your cause and not think of them along the way?

Overall this book is a true masterpiece. It is written so simply, yet deals with the complexity of truth so well. Another gem I may not have never read if not for the beautiful souls that are The Arabian Night book club at my local library.

Stay strong out there and Be Kind.

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