Andre Dubus’ “The Curse”
Andre Dubus’ short story “The Curse” illustrates one man’s inner struggle with guilt. Dubus includes the essential elements necessary to create a successful classic story in that it contains a high emotional level, complication, rising action, and a climax. The story is also successful because it deals with a realistic circumstance.
Mitchell Hayes, as the protagonist, is a very dynamic character. The story revolves around his thoughts and actions. He is also dynamic because the reader watches him transform from a relatively light-hearted, self-assured man to a man unable to escape the guilt that grips him. The complication, or initial conflict, of the story is the raping of a girl by the bikers. Mitchell is held back and therefore prevented from helping her.
Mitchell’s inability to accept the fact that he could not have prevented the rape of the girl grows into an obsession, hence the “curse.” This is illustrated as Mitchell says, “I should have stopped it. I think I could have stopped it” (539). Mitchell is unable to dismiss it from his mind, even as he gets older, the longer he thinks about it, the more he thinks he could have stopped the rape from occurring.
The rape is also critical because it represents a turning point in Mitchell’s life. He did not feel young anymore; he suddenly felt like he knew what it was like to be old. Mitchell considers age and determines it must be like experiencing “fatigue beyond relieving by rest, or sleep” (538). The rape effected Mitchell as much as it did the girl.
Another interesting aspect of Mitchell’s character is that he was unable to deal with the rape even immediately after it occurred. All he could bring himself to do was pick up the girl’s sneakers and placed them beside her. He struggled to speak and wanted to reach out and comfort her, but he could not. His inaction and his subsequent inability to console the girl after the rape are also part of the guilt that Mitchell has to deal with. Mitchell is unable to comes to term with his guilt, even with the advice of friends, or when Joyce tells him that he will be a good witness. (540) None of the counsel of his friends or family effects Mitchell, for it is his own conscious he must deal with. Dubus is illustrating the strength human emotion by allowing the reader to witness Mitchell’s inability to cope with his grief.
Dubus works solely with Mitchell’s point-of-view throughout the entire story to emphasize his inner struggle. This painful inability of knowing how to handle his guilt is the rising action of the story and is extremely critical to Mitchell’s character, as it effects his self-worth. It is also important to not that Mitchell is never full able to recover from the trauma of the rape. This is also an incredible irony in the story in that the rape obviously has a tremendous effect on the girl, but it does on Mitchell as well. They will both carry the weight of that terrible act for the rest of their lives. By keeping the point-of-view exclusive to Mitchell, Dubus effectively demonstrates the horror of rape from another perspective.
Through careful selection of details, Dubus is able to paint a sad and painful picture for the reader. Mitchell is like any other human being: he is confronted with a bad and frightening situation and does want to deal with it, nor does he know how. Dubus illustrates the frailty of human nature through Mitchell, as well as demonstrating the difficulty in overcoming guilt. By skillfully employing the technique of conscious detail to one man’s emotional journey, Dubus makes a convincing point.
Because of the sensitive nature of the story and the fact that he is dealing with something that has happened in the past and therefore, something he cannot change, the only solution for Mitchell is to somehow deal with the situation the best way he can. This does not leave much room for a resolution in the story, which again, is very representative of life. Through Mitchell, Dubus is able to explore the complexity of human emotion.
The Curse” is an excellent illustration of how man must cope with uncontrollable circumstances in life and how he must live with his moral choices, even though he is unable to fully comprehend their scope. In Mitchell, Dubus paints a picture of every man, fallible and frail.
Roberts, Edgar. Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall. 1995.
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