I once heard that if you get executed with a guillotine you feel, see and hear when your head hits the ground. I don’t know if it’s true. A friend of mine told me that he once killed a hen. He held it tightly to the woodblock, he was intended use, and when he brutally separated its head from its body he led go of the hen and it ran headless around for several seconds. I know that’s true. I read that when you get shot in the head and the bullet smash into your brain, destroying everything which makes your mind and body work, the split-second that passes before you die give you the time to remember massive amounts of memories.
If that’s true I hope my memories will be different than Anders’. “Bullet in the brain” is a small story written by Tobias Wolff. It starts in “in medias res” which is characteristic for a short story. It contains very few characters; actually it acts around the main character Anders in the entire story except for the flashbacks where we get introduced to Anders past, which is also typical for the genre. Anders has similar with several others a way of focusing on the negative around him. Your first sight of this is on p. “Anders couldn’t get to the bank until just before it closed, so of course the line was endless…” (p. 1 l. 1). In stead of being glad that he made it to the bank before it closed he focus on the line. This first impression of Anders is confirmed already on l. 3 where is says that Anders never was in a good temper, and known for his way of dispatch almost every book he reviewed as a book critic. What separates Anders from many other pessimists is that he seems not to care about anything. When the bank gets robbed Anders doesn’t get frightened like the rest of the costumers.
It seems completely idiotic that he answers the robber back though he holds a gun to his head. Anders is dominant of the situation and he actually makes the robber insecure. “Hey! Bright boy! Did I tell you to talk? ” “No Anders said” “Then shut your trap. ” “Did you hear that? ” Anders said. “Bright boy. Right out of the killers” (p. 2 l. 9) Anders continues to provoke the robber which is what leads him to his death. Whether he has realized this or not is hard to tell from the text. Anders reacts very calm to the situation and even has the energy to notice the arts on the ceiling, which accidentally akes him laugh out loud. Anders is a book critic and has therefore read and reviewed thousands of written cliches. He has a sarcastic attitude above normal and is careless in every point of life. The title of the short story “Bullet in the brain” matches Anders’ way of thinking extremely well. It is utterly objective, and gives the reader no clue of the action what so ever. The feeling of time is remarkable in the story. There is only one scene and I believe that the entire action happens within 15 minutes.
According to the additional text time is subjective and the brain observes time different whether the mind is occupied or not. Anders is at the beginning waiting in a line, and therefore he feels that time stands still. This part of the action only fills up half of a page even though I believe that the actual time of the waiting is far longer that the robbery. It is worth noticing that when the action gets more and more tense the time moves slower for Anders. Half of the story is present and mainly direct dialog between Anders and the robber.
The last part is different, because it contains Anders’ flashbacks. It’s here we get to know the inside of him, and the typical highpoints of his life. “It is worth nothing what Anders did not remember, given what he did not remember. “ (p. 3 l. 30). When the bullet strikes Anders’ head the time stops in the story, and the flashbacks take over. The flashbacks tell us the story of Anders’ life from the cradle to the grave, or at least what he could have remembered before dying. But this has no meaning to Anders because he has no interest in his life anymore.
He is not afraid of dying, but don’t wish for it to happen. Anders’ life was filled with joy, but he ended in some sort of a midlife crises. Examples of this is shown on page 4 line 6 “He did not remember the surprise of seeing a college classmate’s name on the jacket of a novel not long after they graduated, or the respect he had felt after reading the book. He did not remember the pleasure of giving respect” This part shows us that Anders once upon of time did care for the people surrounding him. That he once cared for his job which now fills him with boredom and anger.
But the last thing he remembers before he dies has nothing to do with the many remarkable events in his life. He remembers an episode from his childhood where he is playing baseball with some of the other kids from the neighborhood. “… He looks on as the others argue the relative genius of Mantle and Mays. They have been worrying this subject all summer…” (p. 4 l. 16) It’s in this part described how Anders feels that the fact that his friends has discussed the case all summer, is an enormous amount of time. This is according to the additional text because long periods seem to past slower for a child than an adult.
A summer passes like a flash for a grown or older individual, but seems eternal for a child. The time where the bullet hits Anders until he dies seems endlessly long although it probably last few seconds. The flashback he has is described very carefully and it seems like the memory last for several minutes. An example of this is shown on page 4 l. 19 “… A baseball field. Yellow grass, the whirr of insects, himself leaning against a tree as the boys of the neighborhood gather for a pickup game. ” The ending of the short story is also quite interesting.
Here we really get to see how time is being view completely different to him in his very last seconds. The bullet is in his brain, and there is nothing he can do about it. No hope of surviving. Still Anders feels that he has a great amount of time left to experience his memory because it mind is moving extremely fast. “Time for the shadows to lengthen on the grass, time for the tethered dog to bark at the flying ball, time for the boy in the right field to smack his sweat-blackened mitt and softly chant, they is, they is, they is” (p. 4 l. 31) Anders has still plenty of time left.