Interior monologue the narrator has that changes the reader’s perspective
Irony that is shown through the narrator’s actions and thoughts
In the short story “Red Meat, Cigarettes” by Josh Capps, a young man and his girlfriend go to a peace protest opposing George Bush’s doctrine on shipping over eight hundred U.S. troops, as the narrator says, “to die.” While they are at the protest, the man is aggravated by the protesters for being “synonymous with pussy.” He believes that the more reliable way to stop the war would be utilizing weapons and violence. His girlfriend sees a group of veterans who “looked ragged in their beaten green jackets.” He watches them and tries to decipher their mood on the protest. After the protest is over, his girlfriend offers to get some “cheeseburgers and cigarettes”, even though he earlier mentions in the story that he protested smoking. The story ends with him and his girlfriend driving in their car, listening to Eminem, and discussing the protest. He realizes that he was being too hard on the protest-goers, and that they were fighting the same war he was, in their own special way.
This story intrigued me because of how the narrator’s actions almost completely contrasted with his thoughts. It seemed like every little thing that took place at the protest aggravated the narrator. He complains about how the peace movement was too soft and did nothing to drive its ideologues onto others. The frustrated narrator articulates,
We needed to change minds, dammit! We needed to beat our chests until the blind saw light! Then, we probably needed to take back Washington, piling this administration into a naked pyramid and hooking electrodes into their genitals!
He believes his forcefulness can be justified by his build:
I played college sports, I’m tall, and I’m still very active at the gym. I often feel a bit out of place and identity-less at these rallies, like a steroid-munching Gulliver.
This quote also confirms that he sticks out as a more masculine-looking man in an emotionally-charged setting. However, he clearly believes that the protest and its causes are important, that
mousy pockets of cliques, well-represented, a litany of left-wing causes, most of which I’d fight for, to the grave, or in a heated room, on another day.
He may be irritated with the people at the protest, but he definitely is fighting for the same cause, as seen in this quote:
I felt much more forgiving to our fellow protesters. They were good people, in the end. They hated the war, too, just in their own way.
His perceptive girlfriend, Nadine, spots a group of veterans at the rally. The narrator describes the veterans as “ragged” and “numb to the shivers.” We cannot infer much about the veterans as the narrator does not describe them as much as he does the other protesters. For example, when the narrator was unfolding the couple that made an original composition, he affirmed that they:
Delivered all six verses of “This World Needs A Lot More Caring, Sharing, and Love” (couldn’t they have, at least, swapped ‘Soul-Bearing’ for ‘love,’ if only for the sake of rhyme), and though the duo suggested we sing along to keep warm, the chorus was far too lame to pass by the lips, even for those with no sense of self-respect. The repetitions lingered in our brains.
He then looks back at the veterans to deduce their outlook on the duo, and only recites:
The veterans continued to look ragged in their beaten green jackets. Their breathing was still labored and sad. They didn’t shiver.
Their flag was still there.
The author leaves us with little context of the veterans, but we can assume that they play an important role in this story. Even towards the end, when the man and Nadine were reflecting on the protest, Nadine mentions the veterans, and his outlook on them is not described. He just shakes his head and grips the steering wheel tighter. This demonstrates that the veterans did have an effect on the man’s position, but what? Perhaps seeing real veterans standing against the war made the man see the Bush doctrine situation in a much more serious light. Perhaps they just frightened him. The emotion invoked in the man from the veterans is up to the reader’s perspective.
Instead of analyzing the text for now, let’s discuss the techniques Josh Capps uses in his writing. First of all, most of the story is told with interior monologue. Interior monologue is simply a piece of writing that expresses a character’s inner thoughts, but from this perspective we are able to see a lot more happening in a story instead of from a 3rd person’s, or outsider’s, perspective. For example, in this piece the author uses interior monologue as a way to show the reader the protest from the narrator’s aggravated angle. This brings a certain emotional aspect to the story we may have not had if it was in 3rd person. We are able to read his thoughts and past experiences, and we can tell a lot more about his character than if we just saw him as a burly man sticking out at a peace protest. Interior monologue works well with this story, as well as in most social situations, because it brings much more compassion and feeling into the story.
Another technique the author uses really well is irony. This story is practically overloaded with irony, especially from the narrator’s interior monologue, which is where most of the irony comes from. An example in this story includes
…even though it was a peace rally, it was mostly aggravation that kept me warm.
This line sets off the whole experience for the narrator for he sees something traditionally passive as something irritating that needs more action. Another line similar to this is when he adds that
This circus was braving the cold to stop a war, dammit, not to end Hate Speech or Take Guns Out of Every Home in America! We were trying to stop a war! Hell, we might even need Hate Speech and Guns.
It sounds like he’s proposing a war to stop another war from happening. The story even includes smaller bouts of irony, like when he was “suddenly wishing to retract” his ass-kicking boast he earlier declared in the story once he saw the veterans. He also mentions being against smoking that is quickly countered by Nadine offering cheeseburgers and cigarettes. Perhaps it was a metaphor?
As established before, Josh Capps uses interior monologue and irony as great techniques in this story. Both of these elements would be very helpful to use in my writing. The irony could be used as humor in my stories and could greatly improve my writing in a sarcastic way. Also, interior monologue would be a good way to display emotion in an overwhelming setting. I could use this technique to help readers better understand my characters. I believe George Saunders uses this technique a lot in his stories, what with his following the character’s train of thought so well. This really aids people to know the characters closer than anything else. On the other hand, irony was used in Donald Barthelme’s story “The School” and ended up making it very humorous and easy to follow, despite the strange things going on in the school. Both of these techniques are very useful to me as a young creative writer, and I was lucky to find a story such as “Red Meat, Cigarettes” that displays them beautifully.
- What are some other examples of interior monologue and irony you guys can find in the story?
- If you had to guess, what would you say the theme of “Red Meat, Cigarettes” is?
- What is something you noticed in the story that you liked that wasn’t interior monologue or irony?