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Life Comes Before Death: Narative Structure Essay On "The School" By Donald Barthelme

811 words - 3 pages

The short story "The School" by Donald Barthelme uses subtle wording and references to death making the reader believe this text is written in a pessimistic voice, but, in actuality, the text is extremely optimistic. Unlike most stories, "The School" has no introductory paragraph because the stories main ideas are dispersed subliminally throughout the story. It is written in a conversational tone, but it flows smoothly throughout. It has a unique, contemporary narrative structure, and through this way of writing, the reader realizes this story is not about death but about the idea that life can be created as fast as it is destroyed.One main idea of this story is the school is not a traditional, socially acceptable school. In the first three paragraphs, the reader receives the notion that this school is unconventional. For this school's curriculum, they had the children "planting trees" and "herb gardens" (535). Each child had their own tree and herb garden and was responsible for taking care of it. Also, the children had many pets to take care of including: "snakes," "a tropical fish," "gerbils," "white mice," and a "salamander" (535-536). They had a "puppy" "which they weren't supposed to have" because it was against school policy, but their teacher let them keep it, which most traditional teachers do not allow (536). In traditional classrooms, there is usually just one class pet that way the teacher can make sure it is being properly nurtured. Because each child had to take care of their own plant and their own pet, the plants and animals died from neglect or over feeding or just not being properly cared for. This system did, however, help the children understand what it means to be alive and what it means to be dead. Also, in the last paragraph, the children want Edgar, their teacher, and Helen, his assistant, to make love in front of them as a demonstration. In socially acceptable schools, it is unheard of even asking a teacher to perform intercourse. In this text, they discussed it and pleaded with him to do it. Being unconventional instructors, Edgar and Helen "embraced" each other in front of the class, and he "kissed her a few times on the brow" (537). In traditional classrooms, this would be considered unprofessional and grounds for termination of their employment. This semi-sexual act brings up the notion of procreation [life].The reference to death is...

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