“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?

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