Summary Part 1: Rylan
In T.C. Boyle’s “Chicxulub,” the speaker talks about his daughter being alone walking out on the sleek rode late at night and how someone who is not drunk would still have difficulty navigating the road. He interrupts himself, then goes on to talk about the explosion from a meteorite in the Tunguska River in Russia. He describes the power from the explosion suddenly reaching and killing a reindeer and a man very far from the initial explosion. How the explosion cleared seven hundred square miles of siberian forest, and talks about the possibility of it exploding over St. Petersburg and killing more people and suddenly eliminating the historically important city. The narrator makes his point and says that we should simply pray this doesn’t happen to us and explains earth’s asteroid cycles. He goes back to his daughter and talks about how he she is out and alone. He says he and his wife bought her the safest car, but it was in the shop and she was supposed to be brought home by Kimberly after sushi at the mall. Then he says that, Alice K. Petermann lost control of her car. It is just past midnight, and he goes back to back his present reality. He is naked waiting for his wife in the bathroom and listening to the sounds of her getting ready, presumably for sex. The phone then rings. His wife worries to that it might be his daughter Maddy, then he goes back to describing the sky the night Tunguska exploded. He talks about how this effect was minimal compared to what could have happened if a larger object had crashed into the earth. Then he speaks to the inevitability of this because of the natural orbit of the Earth. He talks about how when this happens there will be nothing left, no sun or crops for at least a year. Going back to his reality, his wife is on the phone with a nurse who tells her they identified a crash victim as their daughter because of her id. The woman won’t tell her the current status of her daughter over the phone, and the two hurriedly get dressed and rush to the hospital. Then he begins to describe Chicxulub, a cataclysmic meteorite that ended the dinosaurs and disrupted all earthly ecosystems. He then says that the odds of an event like this occurring is the same as dying in an automobile accident in the next six months, or living to one hundred in the company of your spouse. He then arrives at the hospital and says he only sees an endless row of windows and he and his wife hurriedly exit the car and run into the hospital.
Summary Part 2: Isobel
Maureen and Ted rush over to the hospital after receiving a call that said that their daughter had been in an accident. The couple rush into the hospital and rush to the lady at the front desk to ask where there daughter is and what condition she’s in. The nurse isn’t able to give much information, saying that she only knows that the girl was in an accident and brought in by paramedics. After learning that, Maureen pulls Ted through the corridors. While they are walking, Ted thinks about Chicxulub and how, in reality, we are all insignificant and have no control over what happens to us. When he comes back to reality, Ted sees that he and Maureen have been brought into a new room with a new nurse who isn’t able to give any new information.Ted loses his temper and yells at the nurse, who in response, leads the couple to a new room and asks them to wait for the doctor to come. Maureen begins to sob, and Ted tries his best to comfort her, but he is also really nervous.
Summary Part 3: Adele
The narrator, the dad of Maddy, Ted, and his wife Maureen are still waiting to hear the news of their daughter when a young doctor comes in telling the parents that he is sorry, which is news that the parents take as their daughter is dead. Ted cuts to talk about if another meteor hits the Earth at the right place, then thousands of kilometers of surface and rock will be pushed up towards the atmosphere and causing series of events to take place that include natural disasters. And everything that is to happen because of the meteor is unchangeable by Ted and the people on Earth. Everyone is powerless. The story comes back to the parents as they stand among gurneys being led towards the one that holds their daughter. Neither parents has the strength to lift the sheet but when Ted thinks about how he and his wife created the daughter they would see beneath the sheet, it gives him what he needs to lift the sheet. When the sheet is lifted, it takes time for the parents to realize, but they tell the doctor that the girl who died isn’t their daughter. Their daughter is alive and in her room at home while her friend, Kristi Cherwin, had Maddy’s ID and is the one who died. Ted tries to imagine the parents of Kristi before they find out their daughter has been killed. He tries to imagine them before Chicxulub comes for them and ruins their lives. Chicxulub hasn’t struck Ted and his family, but it has for the Cherwins.
The acute tension of Chicxulub is Ted and Maureen thinking that their daughter is in the hospital, dying.
The chronic tension of Chicxulub is the looming presence of death.
For my part of the story analysis I will be discussing the point of view, and characterization within the story.
When it comes, the meteor will punch through the atmosphere and strike the Earth in the space of a single second, vaporizing on impact and creating a fireball that will in that moment achieve temperatures of sixty thousand degrees Kelvin, or ten times the surface reading of the sun.
The entire story is told from beginning to end from the father’s point of view, but at some points in the text he seems omniscient and can describe events that he did not actually witness with great accuracy and also speak to what other characters are feeling. Now the father as we know him in the story is incredibly smart and seems to instantaneously recall tedious statistics about meteors and the likelihood of death by vehicle accident.
Every other paragraph, he seems to be drawn out of his current situation while he discusses explosions and meteors. When he does this he seems very distant from the current situation at hand, but Boyle would make sure to throw in some reference that would draw him back to his current reality.
I can’t speak. I’m rushing still with the euphoria of this new mainline drug I’ve discovered, soaring over the room, the hospital, the whole planet. Maureen says it for me: “This is not our daughter.
He and his wife both feel relieved at the end when they realize that it is, infact, not their daughter under the sheet but her friend. Understandably so, but the speaker eventually feels wrong because he realizes that someone else’s child is dead. He almost shames himself into feeling remorse for the family that did in fact lose their daughter.
He brings up brief interactions he had with the girl’s parents while they were children to intentionally trigger a melancholy emotional reaction. When in reality, he seems like he may be feeling joy for his daughter being alive, but he is trying to run from that emotion and put himself in a dangerous place.
The characterization of his wife is different than the speaker. She seems more urgent throughout the story and adamant about going to their daughter. He often describes her as being in front of him or already being somewhere when he was just thinking of going there. It is even evident from the beginning when she goes before he does to pick up the phone, she knows it is late and her daughter was supposed to be home by now. So, she was already somewhat worrisome at the beginning of the story. While the speaker didn’t want her to go and was primarily focused on the *cough cough* task at hand.
…a driver who hadn’t consumed two apple Martinis and three glasses of Hitching Post pinot noir before she got behind the wheel of her car, would have trouble keeping the thing out of the gutters and the shrubbery…
From what the speaker says he has details that aren’t readily available from just looking at a situation. In the beginning of the text he says that he knows the exact number and types out drinks that Alice had when she went out driving. Although he couldn’t know that. This may have just been an exaggeration for the story, but the point of view was definitely unrealistic throughout the story.
My point? You’d better get down on your knees and pray to your gods, because each year this big spinning globe we ride intersects the orbits of some twenty million asteroids, at least a thousand of which are more than half a mile in diameter.
But my daughter. She’s out there in the dark and the rain, walking home. Maureen and I bought her a car, a Honda Civic, the safest thing on four wheels, but the car was used—pre-owned…
Then the question of when is occurring throughout the story. The alternate paragraphs where the speaker is talking about the explosions and meteors seem like he’s reflecting on past events, but the other paragraphs seem like he is in the moment while he is describing what is going on around him. First person is a very difficult point to write from because you have to be able to convey other characters’ emotions without breaking from the limited point of view of the speaker.
I can’t help myself. It’s that neutrality, that maddening clinical neutrality, and can’t anybody take any responsibility for anything?
“I don’t have that information,” the nurse says, and her voice is neutral, robotic even.
Though this break is what fuels the reader’s bridge between the nurse and the speaker and makes the reader have distant and possibly angry feelings toward them.
Our daughter has, unbeknownst to us or anyone else, fudged the rules a bit—the smallest thing in the world, nothing really, the sort of thing every teen-ager does without thinking twice. She has loaned her I.D. to her second-best friend, Kristi Cherwin, because Kristi is sixteen and Kristi wants to see—is dying to see—the movie at the Cineplex with Brad Pitt in it, the one rated NC-17.
Another example of this is when the sheet is pulled back and the narrator instantly knows how and why the girl ended up with his daughter’s id.
- Why did the author choose to have the father constantly reference extinction-level events and statistics about them?
- Why did the author make the speaker hold resentment for the nurses?
- Artistic Purpose
In the beginning of “Chicxulub” we see that Ted and Maureen are just about to enjoy a night without there daughter Maddy when they receive a call from the hospital saying that their daughter has just been in an accident. After receiving this call, Ted and Maureen rush to the hospital concerned that their daughter might be injured or dead. This uncertainty and fear of the unknown is one of the forms of conflict that I noticed early on in the story, and it continues throughout the rest of the short story as well. The couple struggling to get more information on what has happened to their daughter is what helps keep the story going and keeps tensions high.
When Ted and Maureen first get to the hospital, they go to a nurse in the front to ask her about what condition their daughter is in. The nurse tells them that their daughter is in surgery, and when the couple asks for more information, then nurse responds with.
“There was an accident,” the nurse says. “She was brought in by the paramedics. That’s all I can tell you.”
Shortly after, the couple is brought into another room where there is another nurse. They try to get information from her, but she tells them that she doesn’t have any information on the state of their daughter. This causes Ted to get upset and yell at the nurse.
I can’t help myself. It’s that neutrality, that maddening clinical neutrality, and can’t anybody take any responsibility for anything? “What information do you have?” I say, and maybe I’m too loud, maybe I am. “Isn’t that your job, for Christ’s sake—to know what’s going on here?”
If we are going in terms of man vs ____, I took this conflict as man vs the unknown. I guess it could also be man vs man because Ted had to ask the nurses about his daughter, and he ended up yelling at one of them due to that conflict. However, another form of conflict that I saw was man vs the uncontrollable (or fate I guess). Throughout “Chicxulub”, Ted begins to understand just how little control we actually have over our lives and just how fragile and insignificant life really is. This understanding and realization can be seen through the following quotes:
You’d better get down on your knees and pray to your gods, because each year this big spinning globe we ride intersects the orbits of some twenty million asteroids, at least a thousand of which are more than half a mile in diameter.
The thing that disturbs me about Chicxulub, aside from the fact that it erased the dinosaurs and wrought catastrophic and irreversible change, is the deeper implication that we, and all our works and worries and attachments, are so utterly inconsequential.
Ted feels like his daughter’s life is in the hands of god now, and that he has no actual control over the outcome of his daughter’s accident.
If I claim Maddy as my own—and I’m making deals again—then I’m sure to jinx her, because those powers that might or might not be, those gods of the infinite and the minute, will see how desperately I love her and they’ll take her away just to spite me for refusing to believe in them.
There are multiple moments in the short story where Ted is thinking about how he has no control and about god and how he wants to be able to help but can’t. I took this as Ted struggling to take control of the situation when he feels like he has not control over anything. He also believes that in the future another meteor like Chicxulub will hurtle into earth, and that there is no way to stop it from happening. He thinks that the gods have all the control, so that’s why I believe that this exemplifies man vs. fate.
The final form of conflict that I saw was Ted and Maureen thinking that their daughter had died in the end of the short story. After the doctor comes into the room saying that he is sorry for the couple’s loss, Ted feels like he has lost everything and he and Maureen walk up to where Maddy’s body is, only to find that it’s not their daughter who has died.
The second technique that I highlighted in the story, was artistic purpose. In the beginning of the story, Ted interrupts his thoughts of his daughter walking home by herself to talk about a meteor that hit an area in Russia, then he also talks about Chicxulub. The reason I think that Boyle decided to add the meteors in his story was to compare losing a loved one to a meteor hitting earth. Ted mentions things in the story like:
…day became night and that night extended so far into the future…
Astrophysicists call such objects “civilization enders,”…
I also think that Boyle included the information about Chicxulub to explain just how big the death of someone is. Just based off of the quotes from above, I could say that Chicxulub and the death of a loved one could cause someone’s world to turn upside down and seem to end their world all together. Also, when Ted and Maureen think that Maddy died, Ted begins to talk about when the meteor enters the earth’s atmosphere and destroys everything. This helps the reader understand that Ted feels like his entire world is ending. So, the reason the author included the information about Chicxulub is to help show some of Ted’s emotions and to show the severity of a death.
In the beginning of “Chicxulub”, Ted and Maureen are about to enjoy their night without their daughter, and they both seemed pretty happy. I think that the author included this small scene of the couple being happy to help with the symbolism of Chicxulub. I won’t go into the symbolism of Chicxulub, but just like Chicxulub fell quickly into earth’s atmosphere, death fell quickly onto the lives of Ted and Maureen. Another thing that I found interesting about the purpose of this scene, is that it goes with Ted’s realization of just how insignificant people’s lives are. The scene of Ted and Maureen being happy is so small compared to the rest of the story, showing that their life isn’t really that important compared to everything else.
The final thing that I highlighted for artistic purpose was Maddy not dying, and it ends up being her friend who died. There was a part in the beginning of the story where Ted says:
…calculate the chances that a disaster of this magnitude will occur during any individual’s lifetime at roughly one in ten thousand, the same odds as dying in an auto accident in the next six months…
I think that the artistic purpose of keeping Maddy alive was to keep the short story aligned with the idea of Chicxulub. Since the odds of another meteor like Chicxulub happening in your life time is small (just like the odds of dying in an auto accident in the next six months), I think that Boyle wanted to keep Maddy alive to show just how small those odds are. Ted and Maureen were lucky that the odds were in their favor and that their Chicxulub didn’t hit them, and instead hit Maddy’s friend’s family.
- Was there any form of man vs self in “Chicxulub”? If so, where was it?
- How did the death of Maddy’s friend go along with the idea of Chicxulub?
There is a lot of symbolism in this story, mainly featured around meteors and the connection to the situation Ted is in. The symbolism begins when Ted talks about Tunguska in Russia, a smaller meteor that burned up and exploded before striking the Earth.
This was the site of the last known large-body impact on the Earth’s surface, nearly a hundred years ago. Or that’s not strictly accurate—the meteor, which was an estimated sixty yards across, never actually touched down.
This was mentioned before Ted even mentions his daughter or how she got into a car accident. It was almost like foreshadowing of the news that was to come. This is the least severe of all of the meteors or large-impacts that is brought up, showing that Ted doesn’t know the news yet and is still in a situation that is joyful, like the way that Tunguska never touched down and where the explosion took place was sparsely populated so there were not any known casualties, leaving the world still in peace and comfort. Sure, it affected some people, but it wasn’t at the same level as something worse. And this connects to when Ted finds out it wasn’t his daughter that died. The meteor, or loss of his daughter, hadn’t hit him yet and nor had the news.
The next reference of symbolism was still connected with Tunguska but more with the affects it had on the rest of the world and places that weren’t right by the impact site. A symbol for the situation of Ted and his wife finding out that it wasn’t their daughter. Even though it wasn’t their daughter, they were still affected by the fear since at first, there was confusion as to who the girl was and how the doctors thought she was Maddy. In the end, Maddy’s parents weren’t the one’s who lost a child, but they still had to deal with the shock of it before knowing the truth.
The night of the Tunguska explosion the skies were unnaturally bright across Europe— as far away as London people strolled in the parks past midnight and read novels out of doors while the sheep kept right on grazing and the birds stirred uneasily in the trees. There were no stars visible, no moon—just a pale, quivering light, as if all the color had been bleached out of the sky.
The main symbol in the story was the asteroid that the story was named after, Chicxulub.
When it came down, day became night and that night extended so far into the future that at least seventy- five per cent of all known species were extinguished, including the dinosaurs in nearly all their forms and array and some ninety per cent of the oceans’ plankton, which in turn devastated the pelagic food chain.
This asteroid and the mentions of it symbolize the final impact of the loss of their daughter. Chicxulub was seen as the end of life on the planet, one of the six mass extinctions. This correlates to Ted and his wife. When they thought their daughter died, the felt like their world was ending. And this is why there are so many mentions of it after this point, because when the asteroid struck, everything was ravaged and not much survived due to the after effects. The same goes for the parents of Maddy. They love their daughter so much and losing a child is so hard on a parent that it was like Chicxulub struck them.
Ted, while mentioning Chicxulub once more, explained that everyone is powerless to the events that will occur. Even the gods. When Chicxulub struck, there was no surviving it or finding a way. The only species that really survived lived because of the way that their bodies were. They had no choice in their lives and they didn’t prevent the impact or the extinction of the organisms that weren’t biologically lucky.
So, what does it matter? What does anything matter? We are powerless. We are bereft. And the gods—all the gods of all the ages combined—are nothing but a rumor.
This continues the symbolism of Chicxulub to the situation Ted is in because of how he feels powerless to change anything that happened and how his daughter supposedly died.
The rock is coming, the new Chicxulub, hurtling through the dark and the cold to remake our fate. But not tonight. Not for me.
For the Cherwins, it’s already here.
In these last two sentences, Chicxulub better is seen as a symbol for the pain and loss and end of someone’s world. The parents of the girl who did died are unaware that their daughter is dead, unaware of the news they will receive. But when they do, they will feel helpless and like their lives are over. Just like Chicxulub.
This symbolism was very beneficial in this story because it helped to show the severity of the situation for the characters and it gave insight into how the characters felt. Ted’s point of view directly told how he was feeling, but the symbolism with Chicxulub and the other meteor, showed the reader how Ted was feeling without the straight up telling. It also helped the reader understand how Maureen was feeling as well, which was important because she too was dealing with the thought that her daughter died but the story wasn’t in her point of view.
Setting was very important to this story because it helped to place the reader into the situation and better visualize where the characters are. The setting in this story changed a lot because of how the characters moved from placed to place, like their home to the hospital. And there were small mentions of a different setting where Ted wasn’t but were still important to mention since they connected to his daughter and where she was or to Tunguska or Chicxulub.
…a town as safe as this—and it is raining, the first rain of the season, the streets slick with a fine immiscible glaze of water and petrochemicals, so that even a driver in full possession of her faculties, a driver who hadn’t consumed two apple Martinis and three glasses of Hitching Post pinot noir before she got behind the wheel of her car, would have trouble keeping the thing out of the gutters and the shrubbery, off the sidewalk and the highway median…
This was a description of the setting of the entire town where Ted and his family lived. Naturally, it’s placed at the beginning of the story so that the reader can understand throughout the rest of the story. This description of setting was especially vital because it gave some insight into more of the severity of the situation. This quote can tell the reader that one of the only reasons why Maddy could ever get into a car accident was due to how the streets were wet from rain, mainly because the town is so safe.
This is the main setting, the vast part of it and where the story takes place. But specific settings are described later that shows exactly where the characters of the large-mass impacts were. However, the settings of the impacts weren’t as detailed or described because it wasn’t as needed. The only settings that were given a lot of detail were where the plot was. Chicxulub, as important it was to the story, wasn’t directly incorporated into the plot and the characters weren’t there. It also makes sense because the story is from the point of view of Ted and he wouldn’t know too much detail about something he didn’t see with his own eyes. It maintains the realism of his thoughts.
…a cookout at their place, the adults gathered around the grill with gin-and-tonics, the radio playing some forgotten song, the children, our daughters, riding their bikes up and down the cobbled drive, making a game of it, spinning, dodging, lifting the front wheels from the ground even as their hair fans out behind them and the sun crashes through the trees.
This is the last described setting in the short story. It is very detailed for somewhere that Ted wasn’t, yet it wasn’t an exact situation, so Ted didn’t need to get his facts completely correct. The point of the description of this setting wasn’t to just show the readers where the characters are, but it was also to show that the Cherwins were in a happy setting and they were going to get news. It better showed the beginning before getting bad news and all the joy is gone. Almost like a representation of obliviousness.
The setting in this story wasn’t just to help the reader visualize where the characters were, but also as a sign of the emotion that was happening at the moment. Like with the rain, a common sad symbol, but shown as a setting to give the reader an idea of what was to come. Setting was an aspect of “Chicxulub” that was for more than just description.
- Was it the author’s intention to use Tunguska and Chicxulub as symbols for the emotions of the characters or was it for another reason?
- Why did the author include that last description of setting?