Donald Barthelme's Short Story 'The School'

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In Donald Barthelme’s 1974 short story “The School” revolves around a school that has many unfortunate events with trying to keep things alive. The narrator is a man by the name, Edgar, who is a teacher of thirty students. Edgar describes to the reader about catastrophes they have had with their class pets, projects and, family members. The story itself is broken into three parts, at the beginning of the story the scenarios are light-hearted and even funny. By the middle of the story, or the second part, the descriptions become deeper and darker. The ending itself returns to lightheartedness, leaving the reader satisfied. Throughout the story, Barthelme helpfully uses dark humor to make a serious point about understanding death and life.…show more content…
One of the children had found the stray and brought it to school, in which the children had named the puppy, Edgar, after their teacher. By this point Edgar assumed it would die sooner than later, “‘I bet it will live for about two weeks and then…And that’s what it did’” (Barthelme 94). Edgar clarifies that the puppy might have died from distemper or something like that due to it being a stray. Since the puppy had been residing in the supply closet, it had passed away in there one day when teacher Edgar looked in on it. He then “gave it to the custodian” (Barthelme 94). So far everything Edgar had elaborated was worded in a comical way, allowing humor to flow into the seriousness of the narration. Allowing the reader to find humor in it as the story…show more content…
The children asked Edgar “‘where did they go? the trees, the salamander, the tropical fish, Edgar, the poppas and mommas, Matthew and Tony, where did they go?’” (Barthelme 95). Edgar replies with telling them that he doesn’t exactly know where they all have gone or where they went. The children were not content with this answer and continued to ask their teacher the usual, why and how. The children asked about death saying, wondering if it was death that gave meaning to life. Edgar says that they’re wrong and that it’s life that gives meaning to life. At the mention of life and love, they exclaim “will you make love now with Helen…so that we can see how it is done? We know you like Helen” (Barthelme 95). The children asked this strange request because after so much death they wanted to see life and love. Edgar immediately shut their ideas down, saying that it’s not appropriate to do so in their presence. The children begged him saying “‘please, please make love with Helen we require an assertion of value, we are frightened’” (Barthelme 95). Edgar assured them that they shouldn’t be frightened and proceeded to kiss Helen on the brow. When a knock was heard, Edgar went to open the door and “the new gerbil walked in; the children cheered wildly” (Barthelme 95). This last sentence is extremely important because, during sadness and sincerity, humor makes a
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