Throughout literature, the theme of revenge and justice is explored extensively. This sample essay explores the writings of Andre Dubus and offers a unique insight into the realm of realistic fiction that centers around minimalist diction and blunt speech.
Essay on Irony of Justice
The writings of Andre Dubus provide contemporary readers with a unique avenue to examine the human condition. Rather than wrap his themes in metaphors and symbolic figures and objects, Dubus uses blunt and minimalistic diction to make the themes of his fiction clear. In doing so, the reader is forced to confront the complexities and contradictions of the human experience. Andre Dubus’ short story, Killings, tells a story of revenge and justice and asks the reader to negotiate the balance between these ideas. However, Dubus doesn’t provide the reader with any easy questions.
The elegant simplicity of his writing provides his audience with a structure to reflect on these difficult questions without becoming trapped within the abstraction that is characteristic of other forms of American fiction. Specifically, in Killings, Dubus explores the irony of justice, including its potential to rob individuals of the very solace that they seek.
Realism and the human condition
Although the pantheon of American literary works are filled with titans that shaped and revolutionized the American psyche and philosophical perspective, the various forms of metaphor, allegory, and mysticism used within early American literature present as many obstacles as they do penetrating explorations of the human condition. Uncovering the hidden messages behind the diction of Emerson and even the symbolism of Hawthorne can appear impossible. Certainly these authors contribution to the American literary tradition is priceless, but just as certain is the fact that understanding their messages requires an aptitude that many modern readers lack.
Given this obstacle, the realism movement in the 20th century has provided a venue for readers to examine the dark places of the human soul. Foremost of many of these contemporary modern writers is Andre Dubus. His short story, Killings, demonstrates the power and ability of realism to undercover the complexities of the human condition. The motif and tension between justice and revenge throughout the story reinforce the irony of Matt’s actions as he avenges the death of his son.
Taking place in a small New England town, Killings tells a story about a middle age man, Matt, who unexpectedly buries his son, Frank, who was and shot and killed by Richard Strout. Frank was romantically involved with Richard’s soon to be ex-wife Mary Ann. As Frank is watching television one night with Mary Ann’s children, Richard Strout shoots Frank in the head. Forced to wrestle with agony of burying a child, Matt and his wife, Ruth, struggle to move on and bury their pain. Matt, unable to do so, constructs a plan to avenge his son and kills Richard Strout. However, as Matt buries Richard in a gravel pit, his guilt and anguish are anything but buried.
Revenge as a Theme
From the onset of the narrative, the reader is quickly pointed to the theme of revenge. Beginning with a funeral, the reader knows that someone has been killed, but only one person. The title of the story is Killings, so the reader knows that as Frank’s brother bitterly claims, “I should kill him,” (Dubus, 1979, p.197) more blood will be shed and more individuals will have to wrestle with grief. However, though the reader knows that more characters will die, expanding the definition of death unlocks a more complex theme of the story. While Matt successfully exacts his revenge on Richard Strout, it is unclear whether or not this revenge assists him in overcoming his grief. Furthermore, it can be argued that, as Matt murders Richard, he effectually kills himself.