“Bullet in the Brain” Write Up by Ignatius Lines

Techniques tracked:
-Use of repetition to surprise the audience
-Character building through Anders’ attitude towards others

Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain” begins with our main character Anders walking through a bank clearly annoyed with two women. After he insults one of the women for being rude two robbers come in intending to rob the store while Anders makes snarky comments towards them. After a back and forth between him and one of the robbers he is shot in the head and the story recaps many of his memories as well as his last one about him as a young boy about to play a baseball game before one of his teammates makes a grammar mistake and he focuses on it until the bullet goes through his brain and kills him.

Bullet in the Brain is mostly split into two parts. The first part is relatively simple, Anders comes into the bank and seems particularly annoyed but at what we are never told. After waiting in line behind two chatty women the teller takes a break causing one of the women to insult the teller behind her back to Anders. Though Anders is annoyed with the teller he seems much more keen on being aggressive towards the woman in front of him now.

Anders had conceived his own towering hatred of the teller, but he immediately turned it on the presumptuous crybaby in front of him.

This line tells us that Anders does not seem to have any directed hate, he is simply just cynical and looking for things to lash out at as he makes a sarcastic comment to the woman in front of him. Two robbers come in pointing guns at people and yelling yet still Anders makes sarcastic comments much to surprise and horror of the woman in front of him

“Oh, bravo, ” Anders said. “Dead meat.” He turned to the woman in front of him. “Great script, eh? The stern, brass-knuckled poetry of the dangerous classes.”

This shows us that Anders is not just in fact snarky in social situations, but humorous to a fault. We do not know why Anders does this, showing that even though the story in the poem seems very concrete certain parts are left up to the reader’s interpretation.

After making enough sarcastic comments one of the robbers gets annoyed with him and pulls a gun to Anders’ chin. Even then Anders seems to be almost calm, although he does what the robber says he still finds himself snickering at a feminine cow painted on the ceiling of the bank. This causes him to laugh followed by the robber demanding he stop laughing before Anders laughs even harder because of the robber’s cliche language, the robber then shoots him in the head.

This is extremely shocking, as normally in a realistic crime thriller or something of the like the main character stays alive to experience it with the reader. Or if they do die it’s usually near the end.

This is when the second part of the story begins. As the bullet travels through his brain, a narrator explains past events of Anders’ life. This part gives us hints into Anders’ character as it states he loved his wife until “she exhausted him with her predictability.”

This hints at him having a relationship with his wife until he somehow snapped. It is not said specifically why he broke up with her but this further allows the reader to make their own assumptions. Additionally this part has a rather well built up turn around as we are described some of Anders’ memories but before each one the narrator says that Anders “Did not remember” So when he states “This is what he remembered” the reader is more drawn in on what could possibly be the one he remembered after all this build up. It turns out it was simply a baseball game he played in as a young boy. While discussing positions before the match one of his classmates says that “Short’s the best position that they is.” Anders becomes asphyxiated on this grammar mistake, repeating it in his mind before the poem closes off.

This story shows how you can develop a character without directly telling the reader the details of their character or their backstory. The reader can infer whatever they want about his motivations and decisions. The tonal switch unlike many stories is done very well in this simply because of how intentionally unexpected it is. Every part of the story is carefully worded and place so at to allow the reader to immerse themselves into the character, and be surprised when he is shot in the head. Simply ending it where it did instead of overexplaining or dragging things on gives the reader just enough to care yet so little they can still theorize. Overall This is a clever story that makes use of the reader’s expectations very well and is very easy to become invested in.

Discussion questions:

Why does Anders not seem fearful of the robbers?
Why did Anders focus on the other teammate’s grammar error so much?
Is the memory that Anders remembers mean something significant or was it simply a random thought?

“There Will Come Soft Rains” Write Up by Ivan Josic

Techniques Tracked:
-Time as a structural and thematic device
-Symbolism through setting, characterization, and personification

In “There Will Come Soft Rains,” Ray Bradbury begins with a setting/character of a futuristic, semi-sentient house. Yet, no one lives in the house. As the day goes on, the house goes along its daily routine with no one to tell it to stop, and eventually, we are clued in to the fact that the family has been vaporized, presumably by nuclear war. Later, a dog, covered in tumors and sores, enters the house when the house recognizes it as the family dog. The dog dies quickly, and the house cleans its corpse with an emotionless efficiency. The afternoon and suppertime roll by, and the house continues its routine. It conjures card tables, makes dinner, and reads an emotional poem to Mrs. McClellan, the mother. That night, at 10, a falling tree bough breaks a window and knocks over a bottle of cleaning solvent, starting a fire. The house tries its best to fight the fire, using all its water supply and fire-suppressing chemicals, but the fire wins out. The next day, only a wall of the house is left. All that it can do is repeat the date, again and again and again.

Time plays an integral part in “There Will Come Soft Rains,” both structurally and thematically. Structurally, the time divides the story into manageable pieces, each showing a different window into the world Bradbury has painted. For example, at the beginning of the story, the house blurts out the time like an alarm, setting the scene for the story.

In the living room the voice-clock sang, Tick-tock, seven o’clock, time to get up, time to get up, seven o’clock!

Thematically, time plays, arguably, a more important part. The house keeps a certain routine every day, no matter rain or shine, and time is a central part of this routine. The house tells time at constant intervals and uses it to perform certain actions, such as making breakfast. However, the routine is of no use. No humans ever eat the meals or use the nursery or listen to the poems the house reads. And the house knows this.

The dog ran upstairs, hysterically yelping to each door, at last realizing, as the house realized, that only silence was here.

Yet the house goes on because the instructions are wired too firmly into its brain. Bradbury takes perfect advantage of this quality of the house. After the house burns down, one wall still stands, and, determined, it tells the date again and again.

Among the ruins, one wall stood alone. Within the wall, a last voice said, over and over again and again, even as the sun rose to shine upon the heaped rubble and steam:

‘Today is August 5, 2026, today is August 5, 2026, today is…’

This scene shows the reader, without telling, how determined the house is to keep to its routine.

Keeping on the topic of the house, it is more than it seems. In truth, the house symbolizes the last touch of humanity on the world. As stated, all other buildings were destroyed in the nuclear blast.

The house stood alone in a city of rubble and ashes. This was the one house left standing.

The house is alone, but it continues to serve.

The house was an altar with ten thousand attendants, big, small, servicing, attending, in choirs. But the gods had gone away, and the ritual of the religion continued senselessly, uselessly.

In the night, the house reads a poem from Sarah Teasdale meant for Mrs. McClellan. The poem’s meaning in the story is rather obvious. It’s meant to mimic the reality of this world.

Not one would mind …
If mankind perished utterly…
And Spring herself …
Would scarcely know that we were gone

The house, even through the fire, tries to stay alive. It must be the best servant to humans, except there are no humans. When the fire breaks through and begins consuming the organs of the house, it keeps on reading poems, it makes breakfast, it tells the time. For the house, its routine is too well-coded into its artificial intelligence for it to stop. The house only stops when it’s dead.

And one voice, with sublime disregard for the situation, read poetry aloud in the fiery study, until all the film spools burned, until all the wires withered and the circuits cracked.

And even after the destruction of most of the house, the last wall stays on, doing its job as best it can.

The fire that killed the house also stands for something greater, an abstract quality. The fire symbolizes the encroach of nature and its taking-back of what humanity had seized from it. Ray Bradbury intentionally personifies it to create a kind of symbolic, human struggle between the house and fire.

The fire crackled… The fire lay… the fire was clever.

The fire, nature, wins. The house, without human civilization, is nothing.

In summary, the house symbolizes the last piece of humanity. Everything else that matters is destroyed or dead. It makes breakfast and reads poems, knowing full well that it doesn’t have to. The fire, symbolizing the encroach of nature, battles against the house and wins. Without humans to beat it back, Mother Nature takes back everything eventually. Yet the house, determined in each circuit, keeps the time and date always, even after most of it is charred, radioactive dust.

There is a lot to learn from Ray Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains.” First, Bradbury writes with such careful detail in his prose it almost feels like one is reading a poem.  

“In the kitchen the breakfast stove gave a hissing sigh and ejected from its warm interior eight pieces of perfectly browned toast, eight eggs sunnyside up, sixteen slices of bacon, two coffees, and two cool glasses of milk.”

Sight, taste, touch, and hearing are all woven into one sentence that one cannot help but to visualize the scene in one’s head with a ravenous hunger.

“The house was an altar with ten thousand attendants, big, small, servicing, attending, in choirs. But the gods had gone away, and the ritual of the religion continued senselessly, uselessly.”

The sentences like this spark up the mind with thought and establish an even stronger connection between reader and writer, which every writer struggles to realize.

In addition, Bradbury uses elements like time or pattern to establish grand themes in his stories. For example, the element of time is used to organize “There Will Come Soft Rains,” but it is used so much that, like a refrain, Bradbury uses it for theme in his ending of the story.

“Dawn showed faintly in the east. Among the ruins, one wall stood alone. Within the wall, a last voice said, over and over again and again, even as the sun rose to shine upon the heaped rubble and steam:

‘Today is August 5, 2026, today is August 5, 2026, today is…’”

This formula of repetition is easily replicated, and a good writer should always keep it up his sleeve. The repetition almost becomes a kind of inside joke, only known to those who read and so keeps the reader even more invested into what he/she is reading.

Finally, Bradbury’s use of symbolism deserves more praise than a man could give in a lifetime. Every player in “There Will Come Soft Rains” almost always can be symbolizing some greater abstract quality or ideal. From the humans to the sentient house, Bradbury’s work can be almost read as a philosophical debate.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you think the house/fire symbolize? Why?
  2. Are there other minor symbols in this story? If so, what are they?
  3. Who is the main character of this story?

“Variations on an Apple” Write Up by Angelica Atkins

Summary of the story

Yoon Ha Lee’s “Variations on an Apple” begins with Paris, and follows him (mostly) throughout. He gets drunk, and sees three goddesses: Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena. They produce an apple and ask him to choose which one to give the apple to. He refuses all three of them. He instead takes the apple to Ilion, who is the city he resides in. Ilion is in human form as a male, and he eats the apple.

Cassandra, Paris’s sister, warns against the apple, but by then it’s too late. The ships come to Ilion, after which play out different possibilities. One is where Ilion tricks the general, but still ends up giving its respect to the conquerors, though the conquerors then become part of the city. In another, Ilion goes down into an artificial ocean world, and the ships that try to follow become parts of the sea themselves. The third is where Ilion eats all the sentient beings within itself, and becomes a wasteland. In all of these, Ilion is compromised because of the apple.

Ten years later, Ilion is still being sieged. Paris almost wishes the apple never came to him. The enemy fleets withdraw, and Ilion gives all of its citizens the task of analyzing why. Paris tries to edit out his need for sleep, but he still finds himself falling asleep. The enemy general’s attack using negative space opens all of Ilion at once. Paris is asleep when that happens.

Paris is locked in grav-weave, and is visited by the general. Paris says that the fairest isn’t a goddess or a city, but this metal warrior, who is Helen. Helen says she must kill him now, as the gods listen in on everything. She raises a gun to his head, and he thinks that “Ilion never stood a chance.”

The acute tension was the siege and downfall of Ilion, while the chronic tension was the destruction the apple brings.

What makes the story interesting?

The relationship between Paris and Ilion is what’s featured heavily, and it stays interesting in the unpredictability of an entire city. This is shown how each time Paris sees Ilion, it is a different person. Lee is able to handle Paris’s relationship with an entire city, and it’s handled almost in the way relationships with gods are handled in modern times.

Paris also is shown as painfully human. The first time the readers see him is when he’s drunk, and he only refuses the goddesses because he’s already in a relationship with Ilion itself. Ilion is also the strongest being he knows, since he says,

“If anyone has a chance of keeping the fortress contained, it’s the oldest and greatest of fortresses.”

Ilion is also an old Greek word for “Troy,” which is why Homer’s epic is called the Iliad.

What kept the story grounded for me was the real life mentions, like Zhuge Liang, Vauban and Mardi bin Ali al-Tarsusi, who are real strategists. There was also the constant references to math and technology and theories, which can get overwhelming at times.

I first highlighted Ilion in different colours, whether it was a city or a human or both. Sometimes the city and human part is indistinguishable, which I want to take away. People write odes to cities, but I’d never seen a city humanized in this way before. Ilion isn’t a nice city:

Ilion threaded his fingers through Paris’s hair. It almost didn’t hurt.

That casual mention stuck out to me. Paris is used to this kind of pain coming from Ilion.

Another thing I highlighted was the transition from myth to technology, and ways that the myth was turned upside down: Cassandra lives in the circuitry but can still see things others can’t, Hector is a ship, Ilion is in space, Helen is the conquering metal general and made out of metal, and Paris can edit out his need for sleep. Lee keeps the goddesses as goddesses, which is what hooked me was the very beginning, because Paris is drunk, and suggests that the goddesses choose who to award the apple to by random number generator.

The final thing I highlighted was the apple and the mention of choices. Both Cassandra and Helen imply that Helen had the same choice, and refused it. There is also the question of fate, and whether Ilion can escape the apple’s nature, even without Helen. But even in all of the different versions, Ilion manages be compromised in some way. In the end, Paris describes it as “Ilion never stood a chance.”

What can I imitate in my own writing?

I definitely want to take away the personification of a city. Ilion felt like a character, especially when there were grey areas when I couldn’t tell whether the city or the human manifestation was talking/acting. I also want to use the author’s comment on fate, and how even though parts of the myth are converted into tech, Ilion still falls. Ilion falls in each version of the story, because it cannot escape the apple’s nature. I also wanted to take away how much importance the author put on a seemingly insignificant object. The apple, in the original story, was the source of the conflict with Troy in the original myth, but the readers and the characters soon forget about it as the gods and the mortals get wound up in their own hubris. By shifting the focus to the apple instead of the war itself, Lee created a new perspective on an old story. I want to recycle ideas and put my own focus on them, too.


Even though Ilion was doomed from the moment it took the apple, did you hold out any hope that it would survive?

Did Paris and Ilion have a loving relationship?

How did the existence of gods in this otherwise science fiction plot work for you? Was the universe believable?