Read Carver’s “Popular Mechanics,” pg. 216
Read Oates’ “HiHowYaDoin” pg. 209
The death of the protagonist with the toothy grin and repetitive welcome is foreshadowed in the very beginning of the story, setting up the tension as he passes the other runners on his way to his ultimate fate.
This short story is told in one complete sentence that illustrates the pace and rhythm of the joggers as they go about their personal exercise routines. The third person narration allows the reader to understand what the other joggers think as they run, lost in their own thoughts and problems. Each character offers insight into the stresses and realities of life, as the setting of the university grounds offers what should be a comfortable, safe environment that all these characters feel safe and secure in. They are all, however, jolted out of their internal dialogues by the man’s greeting. His standard greeting impacts each of the differently, but is always unexpected and awkward. The way each runner reacts symbolizes their individual attitudes and angst, particularly when he passes the final runner whose anger and rage pushes him to answer the repetitive question with a final act of violence. When the protagonist comes upon the final runner, the narrative transitions from the internal “I” thought process to the second person “you” as the mental confusion and rage come together to culminate in the young man finally allowing his anger to spill out as he removes the gun he’s been carrying around for three years from his pocket and shots the protagonist in the head. This final act of murder of a random person illustrates the senselessness that accompanies much of the violence encountered in our culture. It is purely unexpected and shocking in the time and place of a late afternoon university campus running path filled with middle-class professionals going about their everyday lives and, ironically, getting their exercise and relieving their stress.
What does it say that each is so surprised by the friendly comment? What does it say about the protagonist that he feels the need to address everyone he passes with a friendly salutation? How is it ironic that this friendly greeting gets him killed? What does that say about violence in our society?
Carver’s “Popular Mechanics”
This story is steeped in symbolism. The setting is illustrative of a relationship that is dying, as are the plants, and other elements depicted in the house. The need for both parents to be win and take control of the child develops into an insane exchange between the parents, which is very symbolic of the biblical story of “splitting the child in two.” What symbolism do you see in the story? How is it ironic? What do you think happens to the child in the end?
Please take your thoughts and analytical points to the discussion board….