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The School: Postmodernist Ideas

Oct 08, 1999 572 Words
The School: Postmodernist Ideas

Barthelme's "The School" is the first postmodernist story I have ever read. When I read it for the first time, my lips formed a bitter smile. In my imagination, postmodernist stories differed from the classical ones in the arrangement of the ideas and in the standard that postmodernists reject society. True, "The School" does differ in composition, for example the absence of introduction, but though it sounds somewhat comical, it does also have an incorporated pessimism that makes me reflect on the story. I think this pessimism is the cause that postmodernists reject society.

The notion of rejection comes in the story through the death cases. It seems strange why Barthelme uses the notion death in his story, but I think the reason is that this is the best way to stress that every living thing is losing its importance. Hopeless pessimism interweaves with the idea of rejection, and I find them together everywhere, in every death case.

For Barthelme, what is lost is unrecoverable. Pessimism, mostly expressed in taking death naturally, spreads uniformly all over the story, from the first paragraph about the orange trees to the last when the new gerbil enters the classroom. In this school, where the children are supposed to receive education, everything dies. The fish, the salamander, and the orange trees die though children take much care of them. The teacher is pessimistic although life goes on and a new gerbil walks in the school. Edgar says that "life is that which gives meaning to life," but still this does not change that Edgar knew that the puppy would die in two weeks. He had seen worse when some parents died in a car accident and when two children died while playing with each other in a dangerous place. What else, but pessimism, could one expect in an environment where every living thing, including children, is dying?

Death's dominance in the story shows again that society, which presumably should foster the growth of the future individuals (i.e. children), destroys their very existence. By the end of the story, it is easy to understand that death is the destiny of the children as well, because it would be impossible for them to live in an environment (commonly known as 'society') where parents (symbol of wisdom) die. It is impossible to live in an environment where the teacher himself is aware that whatever living creature, like the puppy for example, that enters the school (a social institution) will eventually cease to exist.

At this point, I become certain that "The School" is a demonstration that pessimism drives postmodernists. As Barthelme stresses in the second to last paragraph, death is a close companion of life. The very adjacency of death with the kids, who do as well symbolise life as they are at the very beginning of it, proves my point. The writer seems, besides other things, to question the very nature of existence. One should remember the closing paragraph where the kids ask the teacher whether death gives meaning to life. The answer he gives is that life is what gives meaning to life. One could justly ask: why is the story full of images of death then? Because the story seems to be a sketch of the society, which by breeding death (death in the symbolical sense: death of the ideas, joy, identity) prompts the postmodernists to reject it.

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