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Things That Fly by Douglas Coupland

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Liam McLaughlin

on 29 October 2013

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Transcript of Things That Fly by Douglas Coupland

Things That Fly
by
Douglas Coupland
by Liam, Drew, and Carlos
Short Story
Long Analysis by
What's the Story About?
Things That Fly is a recollection of the narrator's uneventful day.
There is no traditional plot structure; it is basically a diary of the narrator's thoughts and feelings.
Things That Fly begins with the narrator waking up in his messy house on a Sunday night. It is obvious that the narrator has just experienced a crisis of some sort based on the distressed state of his living space, being littered with “pizza boxes and crushed plastic cherry yogurt containers” (Coupland 143) and “a pile of CDs glued together with spilled Orange Crush” (143). Not only that, but the narrator also makes comments like “in spite of everything that has happened in my life,” (143) and “So much has happened in my life recently.” (144).
He then goes on to recount the events of earlier that day. His day started with him waking up and “[drifting] listlessly about the house, from silent room to silent room,” (143). Then, the narrator says “after hours of this pointlessness” (144) he drives to his parents’ house, which is just “further up the hill” (144).
At his parent’s house, he notices his mom and dad “walking on eggshells around [him]” (144) because “they knew
about what had happened
recently” (144), so he goes
upstairs to sit in the
guest room.
It is there where the reader gets the first sense of what the story is based primarily on; things that fly.
The narrator looks out the window at “honking V’s of Canada geese” (144) and comments on how “It was peaceful to see so many birds flying – to see all these things in our world that can fly.” (144).
After being upset by a short news story on how Superman was supposed to die above Minneapolis, the narrator goes back downstairs and feeds birds with his father. This relaxes him. He says, “there is something about animals that takes us out of ourselves and takes us out of time and allows us to forget our own lives.” (145) This theme of escape becomes increasingly evident in the story. The narrator sees birds as a “miracle because they prove to us there is a finer, simpler state of being which we may strive to attain.” (145).
Again, the narrator goes back up to the TV room and sees more things that fly on the television. He sees “a pretty grey parakeet who had learned to recognize human things” (146), “tall elegant birds swimming in the wreckage” (146) of a destroyed zoo in Miami, Superman, “whooping cranes doing a mating dance” (147).
Each of these different things that fly causes him to think of “of all the bad things [he] had done to other people in [his] world (146), so much so that he becomes “so fed up with all the badness in [his] life, and in the world and [he] said to [him]self, ‘Please, God, just make me a bird – that’s all I ever really wanted.’” (147).
And at the end of the day, the narrator goes home, steps through his messes, and falls asleep, dreaming about “trying to find a way to protect Superman.” (147).
Theme
The Theme of
The short story “Things That Fly” includes no real plot structure. It is simply a recount of the events that occurred during the narrator’s day that sent him on an emotional journey. This allows for a strong theme to be developed.
Escape
Throughout the story, the narrator frequently escapes from things that stress him.
At the beginning of the story, instead of cleaning up the mess that consumes his home, he flees to his parents’ house. It is obvious the narrator does not actually want to address the clutter when he states that “I drifted listlessly about the house… spinning the wheels if the two mountain bikes on their racks in the hallway and straightening a pile of CDs glued together with spilled Orange Crush in the living room. I suppose I was trying to pretend I had real things to do, but, well, I didn’t.” (143). The fact that the narrator straightened the messy pile of CDs instead of actually cleaning it shows that he acknowledges there is a problem, but does not want to put forth the effort to fix it. He says that he does not have any real things to do, as he is surrounded by clutter, showing that there must be something extremely more important than the mess that he is putting off fixing. He escapes this mystery issue by leaving for his parents’ house.
As soon as he gets to his parents’ house, he notices that as they were going about their everyday tasks “they knew about what had happened recently and so they were walking on eggshells around me. This made me feel odd and under the microscope, so I went upstairs to sit in the guest room to look out the window at honking V’s of Canada geese” (144). Again, we see that instead of openly communicating his issues with his parents, he escapes to the guest room.
When he has returned to normal, he goes back downstairs and feeds the birds on the back porch with his parents. He comments, “I was glad for this activity because there is something about the animals that takes us out of ourselves and takes us out of time and allows us to forget our own lives.” (145). The narrator wishes to forget his own life, to escape all of his problems through watching the birds.
Later, he tells his mom his theory of why humans like birds: “they prove to us there is a finer, simpler state of being which we may strive to attain.” (145). By now it is clear that the narrator likes birds because, unlike him, they are truly free. They have nothing to escape from, and even if they did, they could simply fly away.
The narrator notices “the relief on
their faces when I laughed at the jays, like
I’d been cured, and this depressed me, made me
feel like a freak, and so I went back upstairs, turned on the TV and hid. (146). Once again, he is escaping, hiding from his issue with his parents, and seeking refuge in watching television programs about birds.
In his channel surfing, the narrator comes across a news story about Superman. He says “I have always liked the idea of Superman because I have always liked the idea that there is one person
in the world who doesn’t do
bad things. And that there is
one person in the world who
is able to fly.” (146). This further
proves the narrators obsession
with things that fly. He even
goes on to say “I myself often
have dreams in which I am
flying… Needless to say, it is
my favourite dream.” (147).
The narrator then prays, “Please, God, just make me a bird– that’s all I ever really wanted– a white graceful bird free of shame and taint and fear of loneliness, and give me other white birds among which to fly, and give me a sky so big and wide that if I never wanted to land, I would never have to.” (147). He so desperately wants an escape from his dismal, depressing reality that he would give everything up just to become a bird; to fly away.
Narrative
Voice
This story is narrated in a first person limited point of view and shows a more modern and informal style of narration. This style of writing allows for the main character to speak and interact in a way that seems much more real to life, helping to better connect the reader with the main character. This style is opposed to a more formal style of writing where the narrator may seem more robotic or proper (less relatable to the reader).
An example of this writing style can be seen especially when the narrator states, “And then there was that same news story again about Superman’s dying—except I realized I got the city wrong—he’s supposed to die over Minneapolis. But I was still sad.” (146) Douglas Coupland’s use of sentence fragments in this writing helps him to obtain a narrative voice that is both relatable and engaging.
Narrative
Techniques
Sentence Length
Douglas Coupland uses varied sentence length very frequently throughout the short story. His contrasting use of extremely long and extremely short sentences creates the true feel of a first person narrative
“On another channel there were pictures of a zee in Miami, Florida, which had been whacked by a hurricane and there were pictures of ducks and tall elegant birds swimming in the wreckage except they didn’t know it was wreckage. It was just the world.” (146).
The run on sentence creates the feeling of the reader being inside of the narrator’s head, experiencing every unedited thought.
Casual Diction
The author uses casual diction to add to this, portraying a true, relaxed first person narrative.
Sentences like,
“Today went like this: I was up at noon; instant coffee; watched a talk show; a game show; a bit of football; a religious something-or-other; then I turned the TV off.” (143)
make the reader feel like they are reading a legitimate account of the day’s events.
None of the listed activities were important, and the diction supported that.
Other Stuff
Allusion:
“According to the TV, Superman was supposed to die in an air battle over the city with supremely evil force, and while I knew this was just a cheesy publicity ploy to sell more comics—and I haven’t read a superman comic in two decades—the thought still made me feel bad.” (144)
Personification:
“On another channel there were pictures of a zoo in Miami, Florida, which had been whacked by a hurricane…” (146)
Similes:
“The cold air sparkled and the maple leaves were rotting , putting forth their lovely reek, like dead pancakes.” (144)
“a new crystal city all shiny like quartz rising over the Midwest corn fields. (144)
“Yo-yo darted about the yard like a pinball.” (145)
yo yo ^
The Use of
Symbols
The mess of the narrator’s house is a symbol of the misfortune in his life.
“straightening a pile of CDs glued together with spilled Orange Crush” (143)
is symbolic of how the narrator knows there is a large problem that needs addressing (the pile of sticky CDs), but choses to avoid it, to focus on trivial things (straightening it).
The sophisticated parakeet the narrator sees on TV is a symbol of his struggle to see the point in life.
“There was a pretty grey parakeet who had learned to recognize human things… and to speak the words for them… The parakeet made me realise how hard it is to learn anything in life, and even then, there’s no guarantee you might need it.” (146).
Although the parakeet can do all of these things humans find interesting, there is no actual benefit in doing it. The narrator struggles to find a benefit in moving on from his problem.
The birds swimming in the wreckage of the zoo is a symbol of how truly unimportant most things in the world are.
“they didn’t know it was wreckage. It was just the world.” (146
Although the damage to the zoo is catastrophic, the birds are impartial to it. The narrator wishes he could be impartial to the catastrophes in his life.
While channel surfing, the narrator comes across a news story about Superman. Superman is symbolic of a perfect being.
“I have always liked the idea of Superman because I have always liked the idea that there is one person in the world who doesn’t do bad things. And that there is one person in the world who can fly.” (146).
The narrator sees Superman as being the ideal human; someone who can deal with his problems, someone who can fix other people’s problems, and someone who can fly.
The narrator dreams of flying.
“I simply put my arms behind my shoulders and float and move. Needless to say, it is my favourite dream.” (147).
His dream is symbolic of how he wishes he could be
The pair of whooping cranes on TV is symbolic of the carefree love the narrator wishes he could experience.
“If only I could be a whooping crane and was able to float and fly like them, then it would be like always being in love.” (147).
This makes the reader infer that the trauma the narrator experienced could
have been caused by relationship troubles (possibly divorce).
Throughout the short story, there are many things that fly. These are all, in one way or another, symbolic of freedom; a pleasure the narrator wishes he had. He prays,
“Please God, just make me a bird—that’s all I ever really wanted—a white graceful bird free of shame and taint and fear of loneliness, and give me other white birds among which to fly, and give me a sky so big and wide that if I never wanted to land, I would never have to.” (147).
To the narrator, the ability to fly means the ability to be truly free. He says,
“birds are a miracle because they prove to us there is a finer, simpler state of being which we may strive to attain.” (145).
Here, his idolization of the freedom birds
superior creature to humans because they can fly.
goes so far as to imply that they are a
MESS
THE
THE
PARAKEET
INDIFFERENT BIRDS
THE
THE ONLY
SUPERMAN
THE
DREAMS
free like Superman, able to fly away from his problems.
THE
CRANES IN LOVE
THINGS
THAT
FLY
THE IMPORTANCE OF
SETTING
The setting is important in the short story, “Things that Fly” because it effectively helps to reveal the main characters mental state. The author begins his narrative explaining the state of his apartment. He shares that he has,
“…just woken up from a deep deep sleep on a couch shared with pizza boxes and crushed plastic cherry yogurt containers.” (143).
Due to the mess of the setting, it is clear at this point that the main character is not in an average state of mind.
After waking and watching television, the narrator then decides to leave for his parents’ home instead of cleaning his own apartment. The narrators escape from his problems is a common theme throughout the duration of the story.
Even after the narrator escapes to his parents’ house they make him feel, at which point he,
“…odd and under the microscope…”
“went upstairs to sit in the guest room to look out the window at the honking V’s of Canadian geese flying towards the united states from British Colombia.” (144).
This constant escape of setting (where his problems are) helps to reveal the apparent depression that the narrator is dealing with.
In conclusion, the setting is important in this particular short story because it aids in revealing the narrators emotional state.
CHARACTERS
There are three characters in the short story. The main character is the narrator and the two supporting characters are his parents.
CHARACTERIZATION
Characterization is achieved through a first person limited perspective.
The narrator is a COWARD, RELIGIOUS, and MISERABLE character in the story
The narrator shows his cowardice when he wants to be free from his problems and decides to go to his parents’ house.
“So much has happened in my life. And after hours of this pointlessness I finally had to admit I couldn’t take being alone one more minute. And so I swallowed my pride and drove to my parents at their house further up the hill.” (144).
Even when he arrives at his parent’s house, the narrator tries to avoid any discussion about what happened to him recently.
We can see this when the narrator starts to pray to God so his problems could disappear.
“Please, God, just make me a bird – that’s all I ever really wanted – a white graceful bird free of shame and taint and fear of loneliness… But instead God gave me these words, and I speak them here.”(147).
The narrator is miserable when he reflects on all the badness in his life.
“It made me think of all the bad things I had done to other people in my world – and there have been so many bad things I have done. I felt ashamed. I was feeling as though none of the good deeds I had ever done had ever mattered.” (146).
He sees himself as a bad person although he admits to having done good deeds, making him truly miserable.
The narrator is a gloomy, religious coward which doesn’t help him because instead of taking action towards his problems he avoids them and hopes it will solve itself and go away, (his messy living room is an example of this).
INCLUSION OF
CONFLICTS
The main conflict in the story is
The narrator wants to be a bird because he sees them as animals with freedom. As a bird, he wouldn’t have to deal with all the stress and problems he has faced. The narrator thinks he is not free and can only pray to be free.
“If only I could be a whooping crane and was able to float and fly like them, then it would be like always being in love.”(147).
Another conflict of the story is
CHARACTER VS SOCIETY
CHARACTER VS SELF
The narrator doesn’t see society as being free. The one person the narrator sees as free is Superman because he doesn’t do bad things and has the ability to fly.
“I have always liked the idea of Superman because I have always liked the idea that there is one person in the world who doesn’t do bad things. And that there is one person in the world who is able to fly.”(146).
The narrator doesn’t see himself or society as free.
The
GENRE
and
TONE
The genre of "Things That Fly" by Douglas Coupland is post-modernistic, based on his use of untraditional sentence structure and casual diction, lack of cohesion between paragraphs, and use of minimalistic drawings scattered throughout the story.
Untraditional sentence structure and casual diction is seen in sentences like,
“Today went like this: I was up at noon; instant coffee; watched a talk show; a game show; a bit of football; a religious something-or-other; then I turned the TV off.” (143).
The list could have been structured far more appropriately, and each item could have been more eloquently worded, but Coupland chose not to, staying true to the anarchic ideals of a postmodernist.
The lack of cohesion between paragraphs can be seen between practically every paragraph.
The first paragraph ends with,
“well- let me describe what happened today.” (143)
and the second paragraph begins with,
“Today went like this:” (143).
This style of cohesion strays completely from the norms of traditional literature, making Coupland’s piece postmodern.
The story also includes line drawings depicting what each paragraph mentions. Their basic design gives the short story an almost child-like feel, which acts as an amusing contrast to the deep philosophical thesis that the narrator is attempting to comprehend.
The tone of "Things That Fly" is casual and informal, based on the varied sentence lengths and casual diction found in sentences like the very first one,
“I’m sitting hunched over the living room coffee table on a Sunday night, having just woken up from a deep deep sleep on a couch shared with pizza boxes and crushed plastic cherry yogurt containers.” (143).
This gives it a true first person feel, and creates the informal conversational tone Coupland is trying to achieve.
The Use of
DESCRIPTION
Douglas Coupland is a very quirky writer who uses a great deal of description to effectively produce vivid images in his writing.
Coupland often ignores run on sentences in order to produce an effective description of what the character is doing and what his surroundings are.
Coupland’s descriptions results in a very detailed understanding of what the narrator is feeling and why.
SOME
EXAMPLES
OF
DESCRIPTION
I’m sitting hunched over the living room coffee table on a Sunday night, in a daze, having just woken up from a deep deep sleep on a couch shared with pizza boxes and crushed plastic cherry yogurt containers.” (143)
“I drifted listlessly about the house, from silent room to silent room, spinning the wheels of the two mountain bikes on their racks in the hallway and straightening a pile of CDs glued together with spilled Orange Crush in the living room.” (143)
“And I will add in closing that when I got back home tonight, I stepped through the door over my messes; I fell onto the couch and into a sleep and then into a dream, and I dreamed that I was back in Minneapolis, back next to the corn fields.” (147)
SIGNIFICANCES
THE
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF
THE TITLE
The significance of the title, "Things That Fly", is that whatever can fly is free of problems. Birds don’t have to deal with problems like divorce, job loss, money issues, or stress, and neither does Superman. Superman can make problems disappear that the narrator can’t. The narrator has issues in his life and he doesn’t want to face those problems,
he wants to escape his problems by flying
away from them like in his dreams. The
significance of the title is that the ability to
fly can make one truly free.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF
THE FIRST SENTENCE
In the first sentence the narrator wakes up in his messy living room.
“I’m sitting hunched over the living room coffee table on a Sunday night, having just woken up from a deep deep sleep on a couch shared with pizza boxes and crushed plastic cherry yogurt containers.” (143).
The fact that the narrator is waking up to a mess makes the reader infer that he does not like dealing with problems, would rather escape from it all- would rather sleep. The messy living room represents all the issues he has in his life.
THE LAST SENTENCE
In the last sentence the narrator returns to his messy house and falls asleep, not having dealt with his issues.
I dreamed I had taken a glass elevator to the top of one of the city’s green class skyscrapers, to the very top floor, and I was running around that floor from one face of the skyscraper to the other, frantic, looking though those big sheets of glass—trying to find a way to protect Superman.” (147).
In his dream, the narrator wants to protect the only embodiment of freedom in a human—Superman.
An interesting point to note is that there is a unity of waking up at the beginning surrounded by filth, surrounded by problems, and falling asleep at the end surrounded by filth, surrounded by problems, having not dealt with anything.
RELEVANCE OF THE
AUTHOR'S IDEAS
HUMAN EXPERIENCE
TO
In, “Things That Fly” the main character has gone through an unmentioned emotional turmoil (we presume a divorce).
Since emotional turmoil and sadness are feelings felt by every mentally stable human being, this short story is relative to any reader.
The story also deals with the main characters infatuation with birds and flying.
This is relevant to human experience because bird watching is a very popular hobby.
Also, aviation has captivated the human race for millions of years.
CRITICAL
APPROACH
One could possibly take a psychoanalytical approach to "Things That Fly", analyzing, in-depth, each of the symbolisms portrayed throughout the short story, and what they mean to the narrator.
One could even diagnose the narrator with some sort of psychological disorder based on these symbolisms. An interesting quote to analyse comes after the narrator retreats to the TV room the second time where he reflects,
“I got to thinking about all of the bad stuff that has happened in my life recently. It made me think of all the bad things I had done to other people in my world – and there have been so many bad things I have done. I felt ashamed. I was feeling as though none of the good deeds I had ever done had ever mattered.” (146).
The narrators total disregard of all the good deeds he has done and exclusive focus on the bad things he has done sends him into a spiral of depressive thoughts and is a major delusion that could be diagnosed in a psychoanalytical approach.
Works Cited:
Coupland, Douglas. “Things That Fly.” Imprints 12. Toronto, Canada: Nelson
Education, 1987. 143-147. Print.
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