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Bullet in the Brain

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    The main character in Bullet in the Brain is a middle-aged book critic, who is especially “known for the weary elegant savagery with which he dispatched almost everything he reviewed” (1, L 5). You might even call him a grumpy old man, because basically that is what he is – but more about that subject later on. The story takes off when Anders enters the bank just before it closes, and therefore the line is endlessly long, which puts him in a bad temper. He was never in the best of tempers anyways, Anders”(1, L 4), but it certainly does not help when the two women in front of him start complaining about one the bank tellers leaving her position. Anders “conceive his towering hatred of the teller” (1, L 15), and instead he turns his frustrations towards the “cry-baby” in front of him and sarcastically utter “Tragic, really. If they’re not chopping off the wrong leg, or bombing your ancestral village, they’re closing their positions” (1, L 17-19).

    Obviously Anders is not the most likable person ever, and even though it is hard for ordinary people to get along with him, it is even harder for bank robbers to do so, which becomes crystal clear when two of these lowlifes suddenly make an appearance in the bank. Usually bank robbery is not exactly a desirable scenario to be present at, but nonetheless seems strangely amused by the situation, especially when one of the bank robbers says “one of you tellers hits the alarm, you’re all dead meat. Got it? ” (2, L 33) Anders, taking special notice of the phrase “dead meat”, cannot help himself from uttering “Great script, eh?

    The stern, brass-knuckled poetry of the dangerous classes” (2, L 36-37) to the whiny woman from before, as if he has been possessed by the evil demon of book criticism and that starts analyzing everything. At this point of the short story it is becomes frightening visible that Anders has totally lost his sense of reality, and either he has a strong death wish or does not understand the seriousness of the situation. Still the bank robbery continues unrestrained, and the teller mentioned earlier is having a hard time with the robbers.

    Once again, Anders simply cannot hold his mouth shut as he says “justice is done” (2, L 55), referring to the situation earlier in the text. It is indeed a bad decision to tempt fate twice, as this time he draws the attention of one of the thugs. “Hey! Bright boy! Did I hear you talk? ” (2, L 56) the criminal yells at him, but a verbal warning simply is not enough since Anders recognises the use of “Bright Boy” from a Hemingway short story, and instead Anders digs his own grave a notch more by continuing speaking.

    Therefore the robber is forced to put himself in respect by poking his gun in Anders’ gut, which instead of scaring Anders gives him a tickling sensation. To stop himself from having a laughing-outburst Anders focuses on the eyes of the guy having a gun to his stomach. “The man’s left eyelid kept twitching” (3, 69), which does not help evening the odds of survival for Anders – usually a twitching eyelid is a sign of nervousness, and nervousness in addition to a gun is normally not a good sign. The intense staring does indeed freak out the robber, and he forces Anders to look up unto the ceiling.

    The sentences “the domed ceiling had been decorated with mythological figures whose fleshy toga-draped ugliness Anders had taken in at a glance many years earlier and afterwards declined to notice” (3, 83-86) pretty much says it all; the ceiling is definitely not a Da Vinci – actually it is pretty comical instead – and particularly one drama being portrayed on the ceiling of Zeus and Europa, “portrayed as a bull ogling a cow from behind a haystack” (3, 93) cracks Anders up. Of course the robber does not understand the reason behind Anders’ uncontrolled smiling, and he feels provoked – which is fully understandable.

    This leads to the robber being fed up with Anders fooling around, and he gives our beloved book critic one last chance: “Fuck with me again, you’re history. Capiche? ”(4, L 4). The poor and not intellectual robber has now said three cliche and stereotypical phrases usually used by criminals in books, and that results in Anders bursting in to laughter with absolutely no concern or regard for his life. “Capiche – oh god, capiche” (4, L 7) becomes Anders’ last words in this world, as the robber pulls the trigger and the bullet enters the brain.

    After Anders being shot, the storytelling suddenly changes and becomes very descriptive, and the tempo is lowered into something slow-motion-like, as “after striking the cranium the bullet was moving at 900 feet per second, a sluggish pace compared to the lightning that flashed around it” (4, ? ). So the bullet is moving incredibly slow compared to the sudden amount of brain activity, and it sets of a crackling chain of ion transports and neuro-transmissions inside Anders’ brain, and “because of their peculiar origin these traced a peculiar pattern, calling to life a summer afternoon ome forty years past, and long since lost to memory” (4, ? ). So Anders starts remembering, but as the narrator says “it is worth noting what Anders did not remember, given what he did remember”.

    Most people imagine that when dying, all their happy moments with friends and family and lovers will flash by, because these things are normally what we associate with happiness – but no, not in Anders’ case. He has had lovers, a wife and even a daughter, who is now a “sullen professor of economics” (4, ? – But, being a grumpy man and all, Anders has simply become irritated by all of the people that might have been close to him throughout life. The memory he does remember from some forty years back is instead pretty concrete experience from his childhood, where he played baseball with some of his friend from the neighbourhood. One of the boys has brought his cousin from Mississippi along, whom Anders pays no special attention to until the cousin suddenly says “short’s the best position they is”.

    In adult life a grammatical error like this would have put Anders in a “murderous temper”, but the young Anders chooses not to correct the southern boy, since he does not want to appear mean or vicious. Instead he is strangely roused by the two final words “they is”, and he sort of likes their “unexpectedness and music”, and the story and memory ends with Anders running around the baseball field, softly chanting “they is, they is, they is”. Anders is indeed a weird specimen of a nutcase.

    In adult life he has become a grumpy old man, whose only pleasure is to be sarcastic and rebuking towards other people. He gets annoyed by little mistakes and flaws, and therefore he has not been able to have a decent and normal relationship to anybody throughout the majority of his life. He slowly grew irritated on his first real love, and he dumped his wife because she was too predictable – and he even grew tired of his job, because he” began to regard the heap of books on his desk with boredom and dread” and he “grew angry on the writers for writing them”.

    He is apparently not on good foot with his own daughter either, and one of the memories he does not remember (but the narrator informs us about) is of him “standing just outside his daughter’s door as she lectured her bear about his naughtiness and described the truly appalling punishments Paws would receive unless he changed his ways”. In my opinion this daughter/bear-relationship actually displays the Anders/daughter-relationship with Anders constantly picking, correcting and lecturing his own child if she made mistakes.

    Of course this is merely just assumptions, but to me it seems odd, that the narrator would tell us about this particular memory unless it was of some importance. But if we sum it all up, the picture is pretty clear – Anders was not exactly having a terrific time in life, instead he was more likely having a miserable time – and perhaps he actually commits indirectly suicide by intentionally provoking the robbers into killing him, simply because he is fed up with living as a hermit.

    Another opportunity is that he has simply lost contact with this world, since he analyzes and criticises everything around as if his surroundings were artificial or part of a book. It might seem as if he has lost the ability to distinguish reality from fiction, and that is why he acts so utterly stupid in the bank – he is purely analytical and does not understand the seriousness of the circumstances, and perhaps does not even think he can get shot at all.

    The scenario on the baseball field shows us, that Anders has not always been an egocentric and supercilious individual, whose only love is to correct other people and their mistakes. He quickly noticed the grammar-mistake made by the cousin, but he did not say anything out loud – so back then, he actually had some sort of empathy and did actually care about what other people thought of him.

    Somewhere along the road things changed though, but we do not know what made him the not very likable person he is as a grown up. To be honest I think most of the memories mentioned in the text are of great importance to Anders, but none of them are as significant as the childhood memory. Why? Because this was a time were he could actually take part in life and the little pleasures it brings, instead of just standing on the sideline and criticizing the world and everybody in it.

    He became an unpleasant monster as he grew up, which ultimately led to him being lonely and distancing himself from society, but even though he might seem like a cold-hearted and numb person, he does actually miss his former self, which is displayed by the fact that exactly that long lost memory pops up, when the bullet enters the brain. In my opinion the morale of the text is to watch the bigger picture and appreciate life to the fullest, and not get stuck by the annoyances and frustrations you are constantly met by in everyday life – and that is all for now folks.

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    Bullet in the Brain. (2017, Mar 14). Retrieved from

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