Thin Ice

“Who I am is just the habit of what I always was, and who I’ll be is the result” (148). I have to say when I read this line in “I’m a mad dog biting myself for sympathy” (by Louise Erdrich in the “Seagull Reader”) I had to stop. What a powerful sentence. In just the first few words of the story, the author manages to portray the exact theme. Everything in our past is carried with us into our futures and plays a part in who we are and what choices we will make.

The narrator in this story is in a storm of feeling sorry for himself. His girlfriend has left him as he says she lives with an older man now and that now “she will know things and he will still be same person that I was the year before,” and he seems disconnected with his parents since he describes not being able to imagine their faces (153). In the depths of his loneliness he is desperate for someone to pay attention. So, he steals a ridiculous stuffed toucan for his ex-girlfriend and steals a car. Only to discover there’s a newborn baby in the back seat. Evading the police he finds himself in the middle of a snowstorm and must therefore abandoned the car, and the child, in order to rescue himself.

This was one of those stories for me that when you read it at first you hate it, probably because I have kids and anything having to do with children being harmed makes my stomach roll. However, after you know the baby turns out ok, your free to re-read and freely analyze what’s going on. The funny thing about having the baby in the story is that all the while he’s talking and explaining what’s going on, but we don’t care. All the reader can focus on is that innocent baby in the back, but I don’t think this is a mistake. Reason being, that the story is in actuality about the infant. To prove the point of the first line he’s telling us that even this event that happened to the baby when it was but three weeks old, regardless of the fact that it was horrendous, will be a part of him forever. As the narrator puts it; “I know I’ll always be inside him, cold and black, about the size of a coin, maybe, something he touches against and skids”(154). No matter how young we are, or how small a memory, they play a part in our future.


13 thoughts on “Thin Ice

  1. It’s interesting that you think this story is about the infant. I didn’t get that. I do think the infant (Mason) played an important role in the story. He helps reflect who the narrator truly is; but I think the narrator is the main character. The infant, for me, represents many things (as told through my blog), but mainly the lost innocence, purity, and perhaps, happiness, the narrator craves.

    Also, you say that you hate this story at first read because you were preoccupied with the baby. After re-reading again, did you like the story more? If so, in what way(s)?

    1. Yes, I liked it better the second time because I wasn’t worrying about the baby anymore. When you have children every time you read about or see that a child has been hurt or put in danger, it makes you think about your own. It was easier for me to relax while I read after I knew the baby ends up fine in the end. I think that every story can be interpreted differently. Like I’ve said before I tend to have a unique perspective sometimes.

  2. I can certainly understand your concern for the baby. I was preoccupied at first, too. But for you, I think it’s an even more sensitive aspect of the story – which is cool in that it seems to draw you in even more. Your newborn is probably what’s going through your head as you’re reading.

    And I love your comment about different interpretations of the story. I couldn’t agree more. I think literature is out there to subjective – similar to my twitter conversation with Keri. We all see literature and life through our own lenses and experiences, so our personal interpretation is valid and awesome – it gives us something to compare/contrast. I like your perspective: the baby as the main character. It would have been cool to have read your blog as this entire interpretation.

      1. Exactly! This is also why it’s important to have people coming from different perspectives and experiences in the same class or discussion group. If everyone comes from the same socioeconomic status, ethnicity, race, gender, religion, belief system, parent status, and life experience, we would miss *incredible* things in these works. Our own perspectives are both necessarily limited and deeply, uniquely insightful. They’re what we bring, and they’re necessary to complete the interpretive loop.

  3. I also like your perspective on the story being about the infant rather than the narrator. I found the story about the narrator, but I too lost interest in him once the baby was put at risk. I also found the first part of the story somewhat amusing (running down the street with a toucan). Once the narrator endangers the baby, the humor ends and I developed an intense dislike for him. This reminded me of the old saying, “It’s all fun and games till someone gets hurt.”

    1. I feel like the story is about both of them but in the big picture it’s about the baby. For me it’s like “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption,” where you could argue the story could be about the narrator or his friend that escaped.

  4. I suppose I understand what he is saying when he says he will always be a part of the baby. The narrators careless actions will no doubt have a profound effect on him for the rest of his life, even if no one ever tells him what happened. His parents will no doubt become helicopter parents – too scared to have him out of their sight for even a second. He will be one minute late coming home from a date and his parents will lose it, and with good reason. I think the thing that bothers me the most about the ending is that he is clearly proud of himself. Perhaps if he had parents who were alive he would have had a chance, but then again, maybe not.

    1. This is an excellent point — the way that this event will affect the parents, what they believe to be true and possible about the world — will necessarily and indisputably affect the baby.

  5. I almost saw this story as the main character embracing who he truly is. He says he’s “not all that afraid. I never am and that’s my problem” (152), and when he pursues the impulsive behavior of stealing the bird he’s crossing a threshold in his mind–one that he can’t come back from. This escalates with each passing event, culminating with the frightening image of when he leaves the baby stranded in the car. I’m reminded of the characters The Misfit from “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, who’s motivations seem to stem from the same place. Everything’s rigged, “the whole thing’s a cheat in general” (149), so why bother playing the game any other way but skewed? I love characters like this, ones that you can equally hate and be fascinated by.

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