A Bullet In the Brain

Topics: Tobias Wolff, Short story, Thought Pages: 5 (947 words) Published: August 1, 2014

Instructor, Elizabeth Hair English 102
June 22, 2014

A Critique of the Critical Character
A Bullet in the Brain, by Tobias Wolff, is a short story published in 1995. The story’s main protagonist Anders, is a book critic by profession but shows that he is also critic of the world around him. Anders happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time in this story and finds himself in the middle of a robbery at his local bank. He is ultimately shot in the head by a robber, due to his smug attitude. The story goes on to explore major events in his life, that oddly do not manifest as memories but one seemingly insignificant moment invades his last, dying thoughts. Anders character is an unlikeable fellow, and his disposition makes it difficult for the reader to muster any compassion for him, or to feel concerned about what this dying man’s thoughts might be.

Tobias Wolff’s character, Anders, is so arrogant that it makes him difficult to relate to. The first impression given by Anders is that he is capable of being driven to a “murderous” temper for simply being exposed to the conversation of two women in line in front of him, at the bank for a short period of time. He is also capable of feeling hatred towards a bank teller for closing her station, hatred that he turns on to the woman in front of him for attempting to engage in small talk about their situation. Of course, there will be some readers that will share Anders’ critical attitude but it seems likely that most would be turned off by his contempt for running an every day errand. Most rationale people are probably not driven to hateful thoughts from being subjected to small talk around them. Anders seems to be seeking reasons in life to give him the opportunity to be rude.

The robbers arrive and the reader gets real insight to just how snobbish and foolish Anders is. Not only does he seem more concerned with offending the robbers by making smart aleck remarks about their choice of words, he seems totally unconcerned about potentially negatively affecting the innocent people that surround him. One customer pleads with Anders to stop but he continues to purposefully antagonize criminal men, with loaded guns. Anders, gets a kick out of Tobias Wolff’s convenient choice of words that he applies to the dialog of the robbers. Cliché terms such as, ‘dead meat’ and ‘capiche?’ are cringe-worthy bad-guy catch phrases. Anders responds sarcastically and taunts the men in what seems to be a power struggle. Wit verses handguns. He may have had the same opportunity to respond sarcastically to just ‘dead’ or ‘you got it?’ Perhaps it was not totally necessary to fit the robbers into Anders’ narrative to drive his reactions, but the robbers might have come off more believable if Anders had somehow fit into theirs.

When Anders shows his sarcastic demeanor so assertively he ends up with a gun under his chin, which he has brought on himself, he still does not let up. While he has a gun to his chin he takes time to notice a painting on the ceiling that he finds distasteful and laughs out loud about it. At this point in the story the reader may feel little sympathy for his circumstance and may agree that in some way he has brought this situation on himself. The gun is fired at Anders’ head and while the bullet is traveling through his brain the reader is initially taken on a journey through events in Anders’ life that he does not remember. Although the events seem to be, for the most part, significant, Anders does not remember them. Instead, he remembers an encounter he experienced as a young boy playing baseball with friends. A seemingly insignificant moment when another child uses improper English is this man’s last dying thought and memory. Should one care what Anders remembers or doesn’t remember? He is a pompous jerk.

After the description of memories, that give the reader a glimpse into Anders’ world, that did not come to him as the bullet goes through his brain...
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