The story I am presenting is The Meanest Thing To Say by Bill Cosby. In this story Little Bill encounters a bully at school. He is caught up in a game that will hurt the feelings of anyone who plays. In his efforts to make sure he is not hurt he learns a different game from his dad that will help him feel better about himself and teach the bully that the are other ways to make friends without controlling them.
Several key words throughout the story with denotative and connotative meanings are one of the major structural components of this story. The first words are "start trouble." The denotative meaning of start is, to begin. The denotative meaning of trouble is, to disturb the mental calm. The connotative meaning is, "bully." The next word is, "better," denotative meaning is, of superior quality. The connotative meaning is, "I control." Another set of words "I 'couldn't' do my homework" has the denotative meaning of; I 'cannot' do my homework.
The connotative meaning is, "my mind is on something else." The next word, "ready" is used twice. The denotative meaning is, completely prepared. The first connotative meaning is "I want to win." The second meaning is "my dad helped me feel secure." The word "So" is used over and over again. The denotative meaning is, in the way or manner indicated. There are several connotative meanings for example; "what difference does that make" or "and your point is?"
The next two major structural components of this story are the persona and the locus. This story is told by Little Bill, which means the persona of this book is in the first person. There are four loci in this story, Little Bill's classroom, the playground, his bedroom and the kitchen.
The last major structural component is the climax of the story. There are several small climaxes throughout the story. The first is at the end of the first confrontation with Michael when Michael points his finger at Little Bill and say's "I'm not finished with you." The next one is when Little Bill is upset with his dad because he does not seem to understand his problem at school and all he can say is "so." He say's "When I looked around the table, everyone was smiling." The main climax of this story comes at the end of Michael's outburst. He wants to be in control and is trying to get Little Bill to play the game his way. When Little Bill does not get upset, only says "so," and laughs at him, Michael does not know what to do. At the end of his tirade he shouts "What's wrong with you anyway?" This is where the conclusion of the story starts.
The most obvious major aesthetic component of this story is variety and contrast. The variety between the characters is shown when Michael wants everyone to play the game, Playing the Dozens. Little Bills friends Jose and Andrew are easily influenced and start right away. Little Bill and his cousin Fuchsia are not impressed with the game so they don't. The contrast is between Little Bill and Michael. Little Bill is a friend to many and Michael is a friend to none. Michael has to do something to make him feel like he is in charge of the situation. He does not care if he hurts others in the process of getting followers. At first Little Bill wants to join in the game but he does not have time to start playing because the bell rings ending the game for the day. He goes home with the intent of being the best at Playing the Dozens until he realizes he does not have to say mean things to other people to win the game. He learns rather quickly that he can win the game in a nicer way by just saying "so." The contrast between Little Bill and Michael is like good and evil.
Another major aesthetic component is the balance and proportion of the story. The first part of the story is the conflict between Little Bill and Michael. It builds intensity as the two face each other on the playground, as Little Bill tries to thing of a million mean things to say, and while Big Bill is responding to Little Bills complaints with "so." The folcrum of the story comes after Little Bill gets frustrated with his dad because all he can say is "so." He looks at his family around the table and sees everybody smiling. That is when he realizes what his dad is saying. The second part of the story tells how Little Bill is able to overcome the bullying of Michael using the trick his dad taught him. Every time Michael says something mean to him he returns with "so." As Michael gets madder Little Bill finds the things he says funny and laughs at him when he says "so." This brings Michael to almost start crying because he does not understand why Little Bill is not upset about the mean things he is saying. He is not winning at a game that it appears he always wins at. Little Bill is not following the rules of the game. He is not getting upset or crying the way Michael thinks he should. Not knowing what else to do Michael runs back to the classroom. Little Bill feels bad for making Michael so upset. He asks him if he would like to join the rest of them when they play basketball during recess. Andrew says he can be on his team. Little Bill says "He's a lousy player," Michael catching on says "so."
The story has a rhythm in the short sentences that make up the conversation between Little Bill and his dad, and Little Bill and Michael. For example:
"D-a-d. Michael Reilly is a creep!"
"Dad! He's bad."
The back and forth play with words creates a rhythm between father and son. Another example of the rhythm of the story is when Michael is upset:
"This isn't how you play the game! You have to call me names. Call me stupid! Call me mean!" It continues. "You're supposed to be getting angry. You should be crying by now. What's wrong with you anyway?"
The rhythm helps create the feeling of intensity between the characters.
The style of this story creates understanding for young minds by using short sentences that are specific and to the point of the story. The author does not go into great detail or explanation. He is precise and to the point. Michael is being mean. Little Bill is upset. His dad helps him understand what to do. He does what his dad said. Michael is upset. Little Bill makes friends with Michael.
The choice of words help the children that are listening to the story understand what is happening. Even if the adult does not quite catch the full meaning behind the story the children will. The tone set by the words helps in the understanding. Michael has a flamboyant flair with his bully attitude, while Little Bill has a more hesitant attitude until he gets home by himself. Then he becomes as flamboyant as Michael. "I am the best, the greatest, the smartest kid in the world!" When he is called on his attitude he realizes that it is not important to be the best, it is important to be smart and a friend.
The characters in this book are: Little Bill, Big Bill, Jose, Andrew, Kiku, Fuchsia, Michael, Mom, and Alice the Great.