Analysis of Idea in "Haircut"

Topics: Robert Penn Warren, Practical joke, Cleanth Brooks Pages: 5 (1826 words) Published: November 29, 2005
Analysis of Idea in "Haircut"
In accordance with the writings of Hugh H. Paschal, "Idea is often equated to theme, the central meaning of a literary work" (67). To reiterate, it may be said that idea is the central objective thought the author is attempting to impress upon his reader through his writings. The importance of idea in literature lies in the fact that usually it goes beyond a single statement such as might be found in an essay to include many provocative insights into a diverse number of areas.... It is not unusual for a single literary work to present simultaneously ideas in several categories dealing with various subjects. (Paschal 70) Idea is often connected to the formation of new social movements. This in itself might be regarded as a potential cause of social change. Being that "Ideas are one of the things that distinguish serious literature from the everyday variety" (Paschal 86), it can be said that idea in literature is a harbinger of social revolution. To illustrate this point, one may examine the idea put forth in Ring Lardner's "Haircut"; that being, when a man loses his sense of human perception and feeling, playing brutal jokes as a way of inflating his own ego, he will be caught in the destructive consequences of a joke whose destructive nature for other people he could have never understood or cared about (Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren 145).Of the numerous choices of manifesting that idea, Lardner employs the use of direct first person statement through the character of Whitey,It is he who tells about Jim's relationship troubles and failure as a provider to his family (Paschal 203). Next, Lardner uses the actions of his character, Jim, to depict this idea, by having him send postcards to random people in the hopes of bringing about at least a small amount of stress to their lives. Finally, Lardner uses the episode of Jim's seeking revenge on Julie Gregg by preying on her affections for Doc Stair to develop this theme (208). It is through the employ of these techniques that Lardner is able to portray Jim as the tortured comedian, seeking refuge from his personal fallacies by preying on the weaknesses of others, and revealing his self-destructive intent.

The first method of idea presentation employed by Lardner in his story is Whitey's monologue on Jim's relationship with his wife. Often a persons personal problems may weigh heavily on his or her life, and Jim may be understood as trying to relieve the stress thathis failed marriage has brought him. In the beginning of the story, Lardner alludes to Jim's marital problems; Hod Meyer makes the loaded remark, "Neither would your wife!"(201) referring to both Jim's drinking and relationship troubles at the same time. Later however, Lardner goes into more detail using Whitey to elaborate: "She'd of divorced Jim, only she seen that she couldn't support herself and the kids and she was always hopin' that some day Jim would cut out his habits and give her more than two or three dollars a week" (202). On this Melvin Goldstein notes that Jim's failure as a societal being is representative of his sadistic penchant (66). He then goes on in his paper to quote Theodore Reik: Actually, it is only the increase of the unconscious feeling of guilt that causes a person to become a criminal. The crime, an action that substitutes for the fulfillment of the strongest unconscious wishes of the pressing instinctual feeling of guilt to something real and present. The deed serves the purpose finding a place for this feeling of guilt that has become too great. Or, in other words, the crime is committed in order to grant the proscribed drives a sub-gratification and to give the pre-existent feeling of guilt reason and relief. As a result, punishment, according to crime, becomes, under certain psychological conditions extremely common in our culture, the most dangerous unconscious stimulus for crime because it serves as gratification of the unconscious feeling...

Cited: Brooks, Cleanth, and Robert Penn Warren, eds. Understanding Fiction. 2nd ed. New York:
Appleton, 1959. 145-150.
Goldstein, Melvin. "A Note on a Perfect Crime." Literature and Psychology 11 (1961): 65-66.
Lardner, Ring. "Haircut." Love Nest and Other Stories Scribner, 1925.
Paschal, Hugh H., ed. A Formalistic Approach to Freshman Composition, Course One. 7th ed.
Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt, 2002.
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