american literature short story character Literature Review

Pages: 3 (1358 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature - American  ·  Written: June 16, 2018

The son reflects on a father figure, Jerry, just as Charlie reflects on his own role as a father figure to Honoria. Yet as a young boy, the protagonist in “I Want to Know Why” has an innocence and a blamelessness about him that Charlie lacks. The boy cannot figure out why a person would behave in such a despicable and unethical way, which is the first step towards his coming of age and maturity. Unfortunately, coming of age entails cultivating a mistrust and cynicism of adults: knowing that people are not perfect. Charlie already knows he is not perfect, and yet he sees that he had once believed that his life was perfect when viewed through the whirlwind of partying. In retrospect, his life was not as perfect as he thought it was, just as Jerry was not as perfect as the boy thought he was. In fact, the boy realizes that Jerry “lied and bragged like a fool,” something that shocks him, and drives him towards gaining a rational understanding of human behavior (Anderson, 1918, p. 1). Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Another theme that the protagonists come to terms with through a reflection on the past relates to gender issues. Both Fitzgerald and Anderson touch upon gender issues from a male perspective, showing how men understand the roles they play in perpetuating sexism and misogyny. Charlie sees how his treatment of Marion resulted in adverse outcomes for everyone in his family, including himself. He had never before considered his personal responsibility in perpetuating misogyny until he revisits his past through careful recollection and self-awareness. Similarly, the boy in Anderson’s story wants to know why Jerry visited the whorehouse and treated women the way he did. Through his reflection on Jerry, the boy understands that men like Jerry are culpable in misogyny. The reader hopes that the boy internalizes his disgust and hatred of Jerry, to promise that he will never repeat the same behaviors himself. Given his reaction to Jerry’s behavior, it can be assumed that rather than emulate his former idol, the boy will in fact aim for a more ethical and virtuous character comportment.

Literature Review on american literature short story character Assignment

In both these stories, specific realizations collide with general ones, allowing each character to draw conclusions not just about their own personality and identity but also the historical and social context in which they live. For example, Charlie “suddenly realized the meaning of the word “dissipate”–to dissipate into thin air; to make nothing out of something,” (Fitzgerald, 1931, p. 1). The insight into the word “dissipate” is metaphoric; nothing literally dissipates in the scene. Yet Charlie sees how the illusion of the pleasures of the past does actually dissipate in the field of his memories. The identity he had constructed for himself might have felt real and meaningful at the tie, but has no bearing on how he should think or act towards himself or others in the present or future. Thus, Charlie realizes the ephemerality of the past, and has to face the concreteness of the present moment. The narrator of “I Want to Know Why” has a similar confrontation with the ghosts of his past. The boy realizes “the air don\'t taste as good or smell as good” as he imagined it did, or as his former self had believed. Memories have the power to influence how a person perceives the world and other people.

The titles of these two short stories, “Babylon Revisited,” and “I Want to Know Why” reflect the themes of reflection, memory, and recollection. The protagonists in each of these stories has been shaped by their past, which continues to haunt them, albeit in different ways. What Fitzgerald and Anderson both end up showing to the reader is that one must come to terms with the past, while also learning from it in order to grow, mature, and move on.


Anderson, S. (1918). I want to know why. Digital edition:

Fitzgerald, F.S. (1931). Babylon revisited. Digital edition: [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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