Pearls Before Swine
Where you are can explain who you are. Why you are in a particular place and how you got there tell an outside observer about your decisions and the inferred motives behind those decisions. In “Ex-Basketball Player,” John Updike introduces a character whose surroundings emulate his success in life: Flick Webb. Flick’s momentary success did not remain later in his life. Because setting partially defines a person, Updike uses it, along with tone and irony to remind readers that success is as fickle as humans themselves. Just as an individual's location often reflects his or her relative success, Flick’s success can be approximated by his current location. Updike brings his audience to “Pearl Avenue,” a seemingly promising location. “Pearl” represents the idea of materialistic value, as a pearl originates from a lackluster grain of sand. However, Pearl Avenue abruptly “stops, cut off.” His life stopped progressing after high school, so abrupt as to be without regard for the future. Pearl Avenue ends “before it has a chance to go two blocks, at Colonel McComsky Plaza.” This symbolized an opportunity for Flick: a literal turn in his life’s journey. The appearance of “Colonel McComsky Plaza” at the end of Pearl Avenue represents a respectable career in the military service, a possible destination along his life’s road; however, Flick fails to exploit this opportunity. Beyond the plaza, Flick finds himself at “Berth's Garage... on the corner facing west.” When the sun veers to the west side of the sky, the day is dying, and Flick faces westward, towards the latter part of his dimming life. The people’s impressions of Flick can be determined by the tone of the narrator. The narrator lists objective, emotionally detached facts about Flick Webb in the fourth stanza, such as: “he never learned a trade, he just sells gas, checks oil and changes flats,” and “Once in a while, as a gag, he dribbles the inner tube.” The narrator simply states the truth...
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