Delightful Decorations: Dr. Webster’s Kamikaze Chickens

Apr 21, 2016 | Posted by the IEW Blog Team

Experienced writers know that one of the secrets of an excellent essay is the use of literary devices—what we here at IEW call “decorations.” The decorations taught by IEW are

  1. alliteration
  2. question
  3. conversation
  4. quotation
  5. 3sss (three short staccato sentences)
  6. simile/metaphor

Andrew Pudewa’s mentor, Dr. James B. Webster, was a master of figurative language. In his humorous essay “Kamikaze Chickens,” Dr. Webster demonstrates the power of simple decorations to turn boring, banal prose into a delightfully entertaining story. He employs many other literary devices not listed above, but we have marked five of the six taught by IEW. (Read the complete essay here.)

In Kampala, the capital of Uganda where we lived for a number of years, an average chicken could be bought for less than two dollars, while in the rural north where I conducted research, they cost only fifteen cents each. Following a month-long stretch in the field conducting interviews, I and my mates decided to purchase and transport some chickens back to Kampala. [dramatic anecdotal opening] While in the market, I became carried away with excessive and ill-considered enthusiasm, purchasing one hundred hens and deciding optimistically to ship them south by bus. Eagerly purchasing a large reed or wicker basket in which Africans carry their fowl, we watched as the driver tied the basket with its century of hens on the top of the bus. … None of us in the car considered what we would do if the basket slid off, spilling and spreading spastic hens over the savanna. [alliteration] Would male egos survive leaping through the grasses, falling into holes or stumbling over logs in a scramble for a few pennies worth of chicken flesh before a busload of squawking, gawking, mocking spectators? [question] Men might wrestle hungry lions in such an arena. But chickens?

At about eighty kilometers an hour those daredevil, kamikaze chickens began to wiggle and escape through the raffia. Suddenly flying off in all directions, they looked like an erupting, exploding volcano. [simile] Some remained airborne for a couple of miles, landing far off in the trees or fields. One shot straight up. Into the blue. Momentarily disappearing. [3sss] Catching the jet stream, it took off west still vigorously sailing until it disappeared over the horizon, possibly landing as a dove of peace [simile] during civil strife in neighboring Congo. Those closer to home were landing three hundred meters away in farmers' fields like raining hand grenades sprayed by a helicopter gunship. [alliteration, simile ] Gazing skyward, farmers who had been cultivating routinely must have thought the heavens had opened and sent a miracle much better than manna. … As the bus gained speed, the volcanic eruption intensified until a dozen hens could be seen in a spiral high into the sky. At the top of the spiral, they shot off in all directions like long ribbons of debris bouncing and flapping in the breeze. [simile ] It was a community fowl supper, chicken "take-a-way" or "chicken-to-go.” [metaphor ] That evening in henhouses across northern Uganda, some chickens were claiming kamikaze bragging rights while farmers around their fires had marvelous—even far-fetched—stories to tell. Only six hens reached Kampala and the family stewing pot. Each cost exactly $2.50. [dramatic anecdotal and VSS close ]

In the coming weeks, we will be talking more about when and how to teach IEW decorations, including some advanced techniques for students who have mastered the initial six. It won’t be long before your students’ verbal chickens become Japanese fighter pilots!

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