Stolpestad William Lychack Essays

Stolpestad

We all live a life filled with everyday procedures and routines. Anything from brushing your teeth in the morning, to picking up your kids on your way home. The human being is a creature of habits, and it is by doing these tasks that we feel safe and secure. Without them, what would our lives look like? Yet, some people are so affected by their everyday routines that they end up being a spectator of their own lives. This is what the policeman, Stolpestad, experience experiences in the short story “Stolpestad” written by William Lychack in 2008. He gets so caught up with his daily schedule that every single day ends up feeling like exactly the same.

The story begins in medias res, and we do not get an immediate presentation of the main character, Stolpestad. Instead we follow along on his workday, where we get to know a little bit about him. The events of the short story are presented in a chronological way, and the text does not jump back and fort forth in time. However, at one point, he does reflect on his childhood when driving by his neighborhood, “back to all the turns you were born, your whole life spend along the same sad streets”(p.1 l.10-11). The events of the story all happen in the time between the end of his shift and late Saturday night.

As the name indicates, the main character of the story is the policeman Stolpestad, and even though we do not get at a complete and precise description of him, we still learn a few things throughout the text. It is told to the reader that Stolpestad is a father of two and has a wife called Sheila. However, the reader does not get an impression of an extraordinary extraordinarily caring father. This is illustrated in the way he thinks about going home to his family, “Wife and pair of boys waiting dinner for you, hundred reasons to go straight to them, but soon you’re an hour away, buying a sandwich from a vending machine, calling Sheila from a payphone to say you’re running a little late”(p.3 l.89-92), It might be an overstatement to say that he is a careless parent, but it seems clear that his family is not the number one priority to him a Saturday night.

As mentioned above, we are reading the story from Stolpestad’s point of view, and we follow along his day of work. Nevertheless, the narrative technique is quit quite unusual. The reader is does not only understanding understand the text from his point of view, we are actually reading it, as if we were the main character, Stolpestad. This is the effect of using a second person narrator, who is speaking directly to us and calling us Stolpestad. “And what’s she think you look like now, you ask, town dogcatcher? Oh, you should be so lucky, she says and gives the address and away we go,”(p.1 l.8-9) it says in the beginning of the text, when he speaks with the dispatcher. This way of writing is, as mentioned before, very unusual and it results in giving the reader a completely different perspective on the story.

The story takes place in a small town, and we know that the main character has been living in this place for many years. Furthermore, we learn that Stolpestad does not have very high thoughts of his childhood neighborhood, “your whole life spend along the same sad streets”(p. 1 l.11) It is obvious that he does not enjoy living and working in this area, and this is one of the most important reasons for Stolpestad to perceive his life as boring and trivial. In the beginning of the story, the narrator talks about his day of work driving around the town, “The coffee shops, the liquor stores, laundromats, police, fire, gas stations to pass—this is your life, Stolpestad”(p.1 l.4-5) Especially the last part, “this is your life, Stolpestad” is important because it symbolizes a life that cannot be changed, as if he is determined to live this way, for the rest of his days.

The main event of this story is obviously the intentional execution of the little boy’s wounded dog. To the reader this seems like a very bizarre and tough task for a police officer to handle, and we get the feeling that he is not very fond of having to do it, too, “you with this hope that the boy will be running any moment to you now, hollering for you to stop”(p.3 l.81-82) This is, of course, a very natural way to think, when having to do such an unbearable task. Also, it is understandable that he decides to hide the wound from the gunshot, to protect the young boy from a terrible sight. However, what is surprising is his reaction, when the boy and his father come to his house to confront him. When driving home, Stolpestad thinks about this situation as something he has gone through before, “the deja vu of a pickup truck in the driveway as you pull around to the house, as if you’ve seen or imagined or been through all of this before, or will be through it all again, over and over.”(p.3 l.102-104) It seems to the reader that he already knew what was coming, when he chose to shoot the dog in that way.

It can be difficult to find an overall theme of this story. “Everyday life” might be the closest we can get to determine a central theme. It’s It is because of Stolpestad’s somewhat boring and predictable life that he no longer seems to care about anything and finds that he has seen it all before.

As far as I can see, there are some strong signs of postmodernism in this text. The way that William Lychack has chosen to write his story is, in my opinion, with a sold called “loss of grand narratives”, which basically means that the text has no major purpose or center. In addition to that, you can also se see signs of “death of the author” in the way that the narrator does not tell a simple story that we have to understand. Instead, this story is only what we bring to it ourselves, and it has no deeper meaning.

Last but not least, the way that Stolpestad is portrayed in the story could, to me, be a symbol of dehumanization. Understood in the sense that he becomes, as said before, a spectator of his own mechanical life. An example of a dehumanization of Stolpestad is to be seen in the last part of the text, where he goes out in the woods, “Sheila arriving to that front door, eventually, this woman calling for something to come in out of the night.”(p.4 l.162-164) It is the word “something” that I find significant. Stolpestad changes from a “someone” to a “something” and because of that he looses loses his individuality to his boring everyday life.

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Skrevet i: Engelsk

Stolpestad

Stagnation is a not an uncommon feeling to most people. It is the sense of being stuck in a routine, a place, a family, a life. It is the realization that the majority of our time is spent doing the same thing: Getting up in the morning, going to work and hating it, returning home, going to bed simply to rinse and repeat the whole process until the day you die. The worst part of stagnation is that it is almost impossible to break free from. The familiar way to work, that you’ve trotted so many times before, has become quicksand and it will not let you go. William Lychack’s short story, “Stolpestad”, is about this exact feeling and is named after the main character, a policeman, who is called in to put down an injured dog for a boy and his mother. In the evening, the father to the boy shows up at Stolpestad’s doorstep to tell him that the dog survived his attempt at killing it, and that the family had to call in a vet to finish the job. This might seem like a very specific and odd story but, in fact, its themes and moral can be applied to any urbanite whose life is nothing but a rerun.

The coffee shops, the liquor stores, laundromats, police-, fire- and gas stations make up the setting for the story, and they are introduced as being all there is to Stolpestad’s dull life[1]. His entire existence seems to have become as monotonous as the “long slow lazy afternoons of summer”[2], and he has to define himself through a place instead of having an actual identity. Stolpestad never expresses any verbal discontent with how his life has turned out, but his actions say more than a thousand words: Instead of returning home to his wife and children after a long day of work, he finds comfort at the bottom of one too many pints in a local pub. This seems to be part of his regular schedule seeing that his wife, Sheila, knows exactly where to call to inform him of the fact that the boy from earlier is currently at Stolpestad’s house along with his father. A pretty clear picture of the main character is beginning to appear: A policeman who has spent his entire life “along the same sad streets”[3] and as a result he has become a bitter, apathetic husband who does not have the backbone to break free from his unhappy life. Even when he gets the opportunity to make a change, he is unable to. This is where the dog becomes important because it symbolizes his trivial life in the suburbs. The entire situation with the dog seems absurd because the most obvious thing to do in a situation like this is to call a vet who knows how to put down an animal painlessly but the mother of the boy rejects this idea with a single “No”[4]. Stolpestad is therefore forced to do the horrible job of actually killing the dog and thus his entire dreary existence, which is what he actually desires. At first, he is reluctant, and he hopes that the boy decides to stop him[5] but alas, he remains in the garden with his mother, and Stolpestad eventually puts down the dog. However, instead of killing the dog in the “traditional” way, which apparently is a shot above the dog’s ear[6], he slides the barrel to the dog’s neck in order to hide the wound[7]. It is meant as being a nice gesture toward the boy so he does not have to find his dog covered in blood, but it’s because of this that the dog survives, and ultimately this shows that Stolpestad is unable to escape the condition he is in. The dog was his chance to finally do something different with his life, but he was incapable of completing the mission, and he is left with a sad excuse for a life.

Stolpestad’s lethargic approach to life is enhanced further through the choice of a second-person narrative. The main character is referred to as ‘you’, which is very uncommon in literary fiction and sounds more like something one would find in a guidebook. This is not coincidental. By having the second-person narrator, the reader never gets to know the reasoning behind Stolpestad’s actions nor what he has done (or, in fact, not done) in his life to end up here and therefore he seems like a very unpleasant and cold man who does not reflect much on what he is doing to himself and his family every day. Just like a tourist is guided through a city by a guidebook, Stolpestad is guided through his life by his endless routines and clichés. It is never revealed who the actual narrator is; it might be Stolpestad who is addressing himself in order to look at his life objectively. Perhaps it is an unknown character who knows everything there is to know about the main character and is able to make the narrative meta by acting as a storyteller: “It has nothing to do with this story, […]”[8]. No matter who is telling the story, the second-person narrative makes it seem like a wakeup call for anyone feeling stuck. It feels like it is directed at the person reading the story, and the fact of the matter is that most people will be able to relate to the theme of stagnation. Stolpestad is everything that we fear to become, and so the story warns us about what will happen if we do not try to change what makes us discontent. We should be able to do what Stolpestad never could: Kill the dog and let go of all that we hate.

[1] Lines 4-5

[2] Lines 1-2

[3] Line 11

[4] Lines 64-65

[5] Line 81

[6] Line 84

[7] Lines 86-87

[8] Lines 11-12

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Skrevet i: Engelsk

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