In Tobias Wolff's short story "Bullet in the Brain," third-person omniscient narration serves a dual purpose. First, by describing the activity in the bank in third person, the author provides a glimpse of many characters without championing the narrative of one. Though the reader gets a better sense of Anders's personality than that of any of the other characters, the setting is immediately relatable to anyone who has had to wait in line for service. The impatience of the customers and disinterest of the tellers are not personal; they are part of a common shared experience.
The second purpose of third-person is to reveal the bank robbers to the reader as they would be revealed to anyone standing in the bank. In contrast, if the story were told in first-person by any character, the reader would automatically be concerned with the fate of just one character. Because of the omnipotent third-person narration, the reader is left wondering what will happen, watching the interaction between the gunman and Anders as anxiously as anyone in the bank. Additionally, because of the omniscient voice, the point of view of the story could shift at any time, adding to the suspense.
The characters' words do not necessarily convey their feelings. For example, Anders is as frustrated with the teller closing her position as the woman in front of him, but he does not give the woman the satisfaction of agreeing with her. Instead, he says, “Tragic, really. If they’re not chopping off the wrong leg, or bombing your ancestral village, they’re closing their positions" (para. 3), minimizing the woman's frustration. This interaction proves to be illustrative of Anders's personality, as he can't keep himself from antagonizing the gunman, even upon threat of harm.
Bullet In The Brain by Tobias Wolff
- Length: 1132 words (3.2 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
Everything is criticized at every level in this story, the people by the main character, the main character by the author and even the story by the author as well. The cruel egoistic personality of Anders is definitely identifiable through these different levels of criticism. I will prove that the inner motivation of this behaviour derives from Anders' egoistic personality which sometimes makes him cruel against others, sometimes against himself. Furthermore, I will prove that whenever Anders criticizes somebody or something he actually tries to punish because of the imperfectness of the object. In order to make the referring to the different part of the story easier I divide it into three parts. The first part ends when the robbers appear at the door of the bank, the second ends when one of the robbers shoots at Anders and the left is the third part.
First of all, if we have a look at the title, Bullet in the Brain, it is about an inanimate thing, the bullet, and not about the feeling of the person who dies because of it, not even the process that leads to this fatal event or the people's reaction to it, no, it only says something in connection with the small piece of metal. The author totally ignores Anders's emotions in the story by giving such a title to his work. We can say he criticises what the main character does and represents. In the first part Anders' critical behaviour is against others, a teller and a crybaby. In the case of the teller, it seems to be obvious to criticise her because of her negligence but Andrers' remarks on the crying baby shows a little bit too strict attitude. The teller is not doing her best to make the customers satisfied so she deserves to be criticized but the little baby is normally unaccountable for crying. Anders would not make a remark on the baby if he considered not only his own but the baby's feeling as well.
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Since the baby probably suffers from waiting long too.
The second part is much more complicated. Here Anders' criticism is not only against others but also against himself which is confusing. He passes the time by criticising a painting on the ceiling in an extremely grave situation when everyone else do what they are told to by the robbers in order to live through the danger. He even dares to gibe at the robbers and make ironic remarks on their usage of words. By ignoring what the robbers do and say he makes the situation worse as the robbers start to lose their head because of him. Obviously, a nervous robber is much more dangerous than a disimpassioned one. Anders would consider this but he does not and perils the others and, of course, himself as well. He does this even so when he is asked not to do by a woman next to him. Definitely, the woman is aware of the seriousness of the situation unlike Anders and tries to save her and maybe the others' life as well. Such a person who does not take care of a dangerous situation is fatuous but in this case Anders does not take care of the others' safety and considers the criticism more important than the people's life around him.
This expresses his egoistic personality since the robbers could shoot someone else as well out of anger. Maybe the painting on the ceiling is not a masterpiece and the robbers are not professional ones but this does not mean that they are to be punished because of their imperfectness. There are numerous kinds of paintings and each of them is liked by someone as people's taste is quite different. And the robbers' usage of Italian words is probably a mask to cover their emotions that they are as frightened as the people around them. The only difference between these two kinds of fear is the thing people and the robbers are afraid of. People are afraid of the robbers and they are afraid of the police and of the possible consequences of the robbery.
Anyway, it was a good way, I mean to act like professional robbers, to make people think if the try to be a hero in this situation they will die soon. And nobody thinks he or she is like Jackie Chan and can break up three or more people even they are holding guns in their hands so this tactic would work well if there is no Anders there. But Anders is here though he does not try to Chackie Chan' them but by making them really excited he also makes the situation much more dangerous. Again Anders's behaviour is decidedly blameable since he
risks the others life only for his own gratification not in order to save their life.
Also we can not be sure about the happening after Andres' death but the robbers are extremely excited, there is someone they killed, probably the women faint and are crying or fall into hysterics. What will happen next we can easily guess. Someone tries to escape out of fear or worse, tries to fight against the armed robbers and will be killed in a second. Definitely there will be no happy end for this story and Anders provocative behaviour adds oil to the fire and responsible for the others' death. He only cares about his own happiness and this happiness is nothing else but the joy of finding imperfectness in everything.
Actually nobody and nothing is perfect. Even our eyes have different size and the greatest hero or heroin has a weak point. If so, who can blame anybody for being imperfect? No doubt, Anders is not perfect as well but he dares to criticize everybody even a little baby or a painter, who may have been respected by thousands of people, just because he realizes that they are not perfect. He may not be aware of this I am God'-like attitude of him but he behaves like someone who is beyond compare. The only way he can express his egoistic personality is that he scrutinizes and criticizes everything.
In the third part his pathetic attitude works without instructions, I mean the leadership of the conscious part of his mind, and the unconscious area of him continues criticizing by choosing an event to remember which only fits to an ill-minded person. Poor Anders was in love, wrote poems, got married and had a daughter which sometime gave him pleasure but now he is not allowed to remember any of these events only that one his abnormal unconscious chooses. At this point criticism reaches the absoluteness ignoring everything else and punishes his owner finally.