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Bullet In the Brain by Tobias Wolff Final Presentation

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Brooke Foland

on 26 February 2014

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Transcript of Bullet In the Brain by Tobias Wolff Final Presentation

Bullet In the Brain by Tobias Wolff
Wolff's Works
Tobias Wolff is known for both short stories and memoirs.
Some of these works include
The collection "In the Garden of the North American Martyrs," (1981)
Back In the World (1985)
The Night in Question (1997)
Old School (2003) and
Bullet in the Brain (2001)
Bullet in the Brain
This short story begins in a long line at a bank where Anders, a cranky book critic, is stuck behind two ladies who are loud and obnoxious. One of the tellers puts up a "window closed" sign on her counter and strolls to the back of the store to stand around.
"One of those little human touches that keep us coming back for more," one of the ladies says sarcastically. (1245).
Even though Anders completely agrees with her remark, he replies,
"Damned unfair... Tragic, really. If they're not chopping off the wrong leg or bombing your ancestral village, they're closing their positions." (1245).
What significance do you think Anders's memory had in the theme of the short story?
What other theme is possible other than the meaning of life?
Tobias Wolff
Born on June 19, 1945
He lived in Concrete, Washington where he attended a private boarding school but was later expelled.
He then served in the US army during the Vietnam War.
Tobias earned a First Class Honors Degree in English from Hertford College, Oxford and an M.A. from Stanford Universtiy.
Wolff has been a professor at Stanford since 1997.
The Character of Anders
The Death of Anders
It only takes a few sentences to establish that Anders is a very unlikable person. His job is to be a critic, and it appears that he does not know when to keep his opinions to himself and his job separate from his personal life.
Seconds after this conversation takes place, two men wearing black ski masks and holding guns come into the bank. One of them immediately says, "[If] one of you tellers hits the alarm, you're all dead meat!"
Anders, being the critic that he is, replies, "Oh, bravo. Dead
Great script, eh?..." (1245).
Only moments after a few exchanged words between the robbers and a rude, sarcastic Anders, he finds himself meeting death due to his need to criticize others.
"The bullet smashed Anders's skull and plowed through his brain and exited behind his right ear, scattering shards of bone into the cerebral cortex, the corpus callosum, back toward the basal ganglia, and down into the thalamus. But before all this occurred, the first appearance of the bullet in the cerebrum set off a crackling chain of ion transports and neurotransmissions." (1246)

As many say, right before one dies, they will see their life flash before their eyes. For Anders, it was a bit different.
He did not remember any things that he spent his whole life focusing on. He did not remember his first love, or wife, or daughter, or any poems that he memorized.
Tobias Wolff makes it a point that all of the major events in his life did not come to his mind in that last moment.
All Anders recalled in that time was the way he felt one moment, 40 years ago.
The most obvious, but best theme for this short story, would be "The Meaning of Life."
More specifically, the character Anders is, wasted away his life by being a negitive, bully of a person and made sure that he criticized everyone felt that he needed to, with no filter. Ultimately, this ended up being the death of him, but when his whole life came down to those last moments, none of that mattered. All that he saw was a simple time when the warmth of a summer day made him happy.
Another possible theme might be that humanity is better off keeping the innocence of their youth.
Scholarly Articles
"Bullet in the Brain Summary & Analysis"
Saul Shandly
"Bullet in the Brain"
Felice Aull
Shandly believes that Anders' final memory is for the purpose of showing that Anders used to be a caring individual who knew when to keep his mouth shut.
"This memory reveals this sympathetic Anders still exists hidden behind his persona in the first section."
"It shows that at one point he was capable of falling in love with words and could still feel passionate about the ephemeral.."
"He did not remember his first lover... or what he had most madly loved about her... he did not remember his wife... or his daughter... he did not remember his dying mother saying of his father, 'I should have stabbed him in his sleep.'" (1247).
All of the moments that humans usually can not forget, and will most likely shape who we become, are the moments that Anders did NOT remember in that moment.
After all of the meaningful memories throughout his life, whether full of joy or full of pain, were not even thought of.
Anders' Last Memory
"This is what he remembered. Heat. A baseball field. Yellow grass, the whir of insects, himself leaning against a tree as the boys of the neighborhood gather for a pickup game... Coyle and a cousin of his from Mississippi. Anders has never met Coyle's cousin before and will never see him again. He says hi with the rest but takes no further notice of him until they've chosen sides and someone asks the cousin what position he wants to play. 'Shortstop,' the boy says. 'Short's the best position they is.' Anders turns and looks at him. He wants to hear Coyle's cousin repeat what he's just said, though he knows better than to ask. The others will think he's being a jerk, ragging the kid for his grammar. But that isn't it, not at all- it's that Anders is strangely roused, elated, by those final two words, He takes the field in trance, repeating them to himself... 'they is, they is, they is.'." (1247-1248).
Aull believes that "Bullet in the Brain" "raises issues of randomness and control."
She believes that one of the themes includes a life being wasted, furthermore the meaning of life, or lack there of.
She also points out that this story brings up the issue of loss of innocence and childhood.
I believe that both Aull and Shandly are correct, because the short story does cover all of those issues, but I also believe that the ending of the story is much more important than what they mentioned.
I feel that when Anders meets the southern boy, it is the first time he is exposed to bad grammar.
By repeating his words, "they is, they is..." it shows his fascination, but it also might have been the beginning of his life as a critic.
It is a possibility that THAT moment in his life was the direct link to his early death.
Works Cited
Aull, Felice. "Literature, Arts, and Medicine Database." Wolff, Tobias : Bullet in the Brain. The New Yorker, 4 Oct. 2005. Web. 25 Feb. 2014. <http://litmed.med.nyu.edu/Annotation?action=view&annid=910>.

Shandly, Saul. "Bullet in the Brain by Tobias Wolff Summary and Analysis." Contributor Network. N.p., 18 July 2008. Web. 25 Feb. 2014.

Wolff, Tobias. "Bullet in the Brain." Literature for Composition: An Introduction to Literature. Eds. Sylvan Barnet, Williamurto, and William E. Cain. Boston: Pearson, 2014. 1244-1248.
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