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Archeology, By Jennifer Egan Essay

1096 words - 4 pages

“Archeology” is a short fiction story written by Jennifer Egan relaying her dreams and aspirations as a child and how they change through adolescence and early adulthood as she learns more about herself and forms her identity.
As a child, Egan desires to be a surgeon, then in adolescent years discovers a particular aversion to blood and switches her pursuits to archeology, as that field is very popular at the time. Many pivotal discoveries made the press in the early seventies and inspired her young mind with visions of adventure in exotic places. She tells of her youthful naivety, when during her senior year in high school, she wrote to several prestigious graduate programs offering her services to their archeology digs, thinking that she could get paid to explore in the upcoming summer. A reality check comes though, in the form of the single reply letter she receives enlightening her that graduate students pay them to go on digs and she is nowhere near adequate for the position. Still not giving up on her dream, Egan uses her hard earned money to pay for participation in a far less illustrious excavation venture for three weeks in Kampsville, Illinois. The pitifully small town is far removed from the extraordinary places she envisioned exploring and investigating through the years. The dig itself is anticlimactic to her preconceived notions of archeology in that she is allotted only one square metre of earth and not allowed to dig or even sit down. She has to squat down and painstakingly scrape away the soil with a scalpel in the sweltering summer sun. She sticks it out though, and completes her three week stint in Illinois, resigned to the fact that the life of an archeologist, just as that of a surgeon, was not her preferred path. The story concludes as she returns home to San Francisco and back to her café job, but now, with a new plan – she will save up money and travel to Europe. Egan is not dismayed at the demise of her previous dreams, but positively reflects on her experience, still retaining the wonderment and excitement of exploration and discovery. It is important to have dreams and goals, as well as to actively pursue them, for even if we fail or decide to change our course, we have still succeeded in a fundamental objective: learning about life and ourselves.
The story is fittingly told in first person narration and would not make sense told in any other way, for it is about the character’s personal aspirations and learning experiences. Egan is naive and impressionable but full of energy and enthusiasm. She saw archeology as glamourous and envisioned herself “prying human bones and lustrous vessels from the soil of Asia or Africa..” Ironically, the setting is an archeology dig in a dinky town in Illinois, which compliments the conflict that things are not always what we imagine them to be. The tone is one of ambition and anticipation of adventure. Even when disappointed she is not disillusioned. Egan’s excitement is...

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