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Only the Dead Know Brooklyn

Senior Short Story
by

Patricia Eeckhout

on 15 June 2009

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Transcript of Only the Dead Know Brooklyn

Only the Dead Know Brooklyn BY THOMAS WOLFE
THE STORY PREMIS YOU WILL NEVER LIVE LONG ENOUGH TO KNOW THE WHOLE OF BROOKLYN. IT WOULD TAKE A GUY A LIFETIME TO KNOW BROOKLYN THROUGH AND THROUGH. AND EVEN THEN YOU WOULDN’T KNOW IT.
THE AUTHOR BORN 1900 AND DIED 1938

HE WAS BORN IN ASHERVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA AS THE 8TH CHILD IN THE FAMILY
HE ENTERED COLLEGE, THE UNIVERSITY OF CHAPEL HILL, AT THE AGE OF 15.
HE TRAVELED TO THE WEST COAST AND BECAME ILL WITH PNEUMONIA
HE WAS TRANSPORTED TO JOHN HOPKINS FOR SURGERY WHERE HE DIED OF MILITARY TUBERCULOSIS OF THE BRAIN.

THOMAS WOLFE IN HIS WRITINGS TRIES TO PUT ALL OF HIS EXPERIENCES OF THE HUMAN HEART ON THE HEAD OF A PIN. THE THEME OF THIS STORY IS COMMUNICATION.

The author is an American journalist and essayist. With wit and an eye for detail he describes the outward trappings which reveal the inner meaning behind the attitudes of his subjects.
The story is remarkable and well known for a few reasons. . First, it is written entirely in dialect -- Brooklynese, and that is one of the main reasons it is well known. it is funny in a slightly mysterious way. The plot is almost non-existent: Four guys standing on a subway platform discuss, at times heatedly, how to get to Bensonhurst ("Bensonhoist" in dialect). a summary An unnamed narrator tells the story -- a "big guy" asks how to go to Bensonhurst; a "little guy" doesn't know; the narrator explains how to go; a "wise guy" pipes in with a different route, angering the narrator; the big guy and the narrator get on a train; the narrator discovers that the big guy wants to go to Benshonhurst "jus ... to see duh place." The big guy produces a map of Brooklyn and explains he wants to see all the parts of Brooklyn on the map. The narrator thinks the big guy is insane for riding out to different parts of Brooklyn, just to see them. The narrator decides that big guy is so strange, that he gets off the train before his stop.

THE MOST FAMOUS LINE The most famous line in the story, which seems to express the narrator's belief that the big guy's mission is insanely hopeless, is stated at the beginning: "Dere's no guy livin dat knows Brooklyn t'roo an' t'roo, because it'd take a guy a lifetime just to find his way aroun' duh f----- town." But it is repeated in slightly modified way at the end: "It'd take a guy a lifetime to know Brooklyn t'roo an' t'roo. An' even den, yuh wouldn't know it all."

The narrator ridicules the big guy for wanting to know about Brooklyn. He is clearly an unreliable narrator -- somewhat narrow-minded, dismissive and incurious. He thinks about the dangers the big guy has already faced to gain his knowledge -- wandering around the bars of Red Hook, for example -- and decides it is definitely not worth it. In fact, it is not even worth being in the same subway car with such a nut. The line at the beginning and end, as well as a strange argument the two men have about drowning in Brooklyn, subtly link knowledge or the pursuit of knowledge, and death. . Wolfe subtly changes the repeated line at the beginning and end from third person to second person -- "even den, yuh wouldn't know it all"-- addressing "you" the reader. For the narrator, it just not worth it, but for the big guy, just the beauty of knowing Brooklyn, or really life, is worth it, even if we all end up dead in the end anyway.
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