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“Impulse” Short Story by Conrad Aiken Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Oct 12th, 2021


Conrad Aiken is an American poet, a novelist and writer for short stories. Many of the works of Aiken have a reflection on his interests about the psychoanalysis and the progress of identity. Aiken was born in Savannah, Georgia in August 5th 1889 and experienced a kind of trauma after knowing that his parents died and actually saw their dead bodies when he was eleven years old. Aiken’s father was an excellent physician though unsteady and was the suspect on killing his own wife, Aiken’s mother, and ended his own life after killing his wife (Martin, 1962). It had a great negative impact on Aiken as what was depicted on one of his essays, Ushant: an Essay, which was a kind of autobiographical narrative. In his essay, he narrated that he was depressed and possessed upon the tragic experience of seeing his parents dead.

Aiken studied in various private and prominent schools. He was raised in Massachusetts by his great- great aunt and was able to maintain a high quality of living even though without the supervision of his real parents. Aiken was married thrice, first was with Jessie McDonald and next was to Clarissa Lorenz who was also a writer and finally to Mary Hoover. He has two daughters with Jessie McDonald, Joan Aiken and Jane Aiken Hodge.

A lot of Aiken’s works has a theme of Psychology. He was profoundly influenced by a style of symbolism most especially in his literary works before. During the 1930s, Aiken received an award of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his chosen poems. Aiken settled in Savannah and spent the rest of his eleven years in the place where he grew up. He died with pride and his writings marked his readers on the way he expressed his ideas uniquely (Martin, 1962).


Reading the shot story, Impulse, was indeed a kind of story which will give you a question mark at the end why such thing needs to happen. Impulse is a story about a young married man with a wife and children who ended up in jail because of a sudden urge of doing something without even thinking. The story took place in the year 1920s. Michael Lowes, the main character in the story, was arrested and sentenced to be jailed in three months upon the act of shoplifting in a drugstore.

He was caught by a detective from the store (Wilbur, 1963). Initially, before the act of theft, Lowes had a good time drinking with his co- workers and separated with the idea of doing something whatever they have according to their impulses. Because of the scenario of being put into jail, his wife left him and hat started the ruining of his life.

As what was illustrated in Aiken’s masterpiece, Impulse has a series of action and it is like the progression of a theory into an application. Basically, the impulse starts and there exist the feeling of being enticed by a certain idea. After that, a person who has that idea will become excited to initiate that idea into action and a strong motivation will occur in his actions or the temptation comes in. the desire of seeing the result and outcome of that idea will come next until the start of sin. It was said to be a sin if you plan something in your mind with regard to negative things and becomes a real sin when you did something wrong though you know that it is not right. Apparently, this sin can lead to death if not managed accordingly and let the sin grow into a much bigger problem affecting the people around.

That was actually the main point why a question will bug your minds after reading the story. To think that why a sudden thinking would affects your behavior and just take the risks without even studying different consequences that can harm your life at the end of the day. Indeed, as what Aiken depicted in his work, a small sudden impulse can change one’s whole life (Wilbur, 1963). Prior to the paranoia of the main character, impulse was used as a defense mechanism to escape from the real world however, it lead to a more miserable life. The series of action in the story was focused on the daily actions of Lowes as what was narrated in the story.

Consequently, insanity can be an issue why a certain scenario happens. There are people who engage in such particular case but provided that they have a firm reason. Mostly, the people who are put to jail because of theft or robbery are because of the need for money to be able to pass a particular difficulty in life.

Michael Lowes appeared to be pitiful as how he suffered in jail and apparently left by his wife because of a sin he made. Sympathizing with Lowes, he would have been thought of that action first before applying it into reality. He was drunk though but it was not a n excuse of committing a crime with the influence of his friends. Considering the fact that Lowes, being a loser can add up to the desperation of escaping from his failures. It was never really an easy thing to feel the feeling of paranoia. Paranoia is described as a disturbance of the process of thinking of a person by an extreme kind of trepidation or nervousness that sometimes leads to the state of craziness and figment of the imagination. And that was exactly what happened to Lowes as what his impulse resulted to.

Generally, the logic behind the story of Impulse was some kind of a fictional story. It happened during the year of 1920s and at that time it can be viewed that the kind of thinking of people was not totally blunt as they do not have the complete freedom to commit a sin that will happen in just a glimpse. However, what the main character did is a mere expression of what he feels at that time and was commanded by his unconscious mind.

He was considered unconscious at that time because Lowes was under the influence of an alcoholic drink, remembering that he came from a drink with his fellow workers and having a happy time before getting into the scene of reality (Martin, 1962). As what the state of paranoia literary means, the word originally came from a Greek writing that pertains to the “outside mind” which basically means insanity or madness. More often than not, what happened to Lowes can also be counted in the sense of a phobic action to disregard his own feelings and thoughts.

In the era today, the act of the main character is not a tolerable act which will just result to a sentence of three months in jail; however the justice system perhaps varies. The situation between Michael Lowes and his wife is also a major area to consider.

The main plot of the story revolves around a psychological fiction. Theft, paranoia, divorce, psychological matters and imprisonment are the highlights of the story. There was vagueness on the story whether it was either a fiction or a real thing. It can be both though (Wilbur, 1963). Losing everything just because of the sudden impulse was not valid and it appeared to be in the fictional side of the story. There was no argument on the consequences of being under the influence of alcohol because it somehow made the character act in a subliminal way.


The writer was undeniably excellent in conveying his ideas and expressing what he is actually into. It was said earlier that Aiken had a traumatic experience on the death of his parents and that exactly what can be depicted on his portrayals of the story, poems, novels and other literary works he had (Martin, 1962). The tone of Aiken’s works is some kind of a melancholic one and pertains to abnormalities of a person. Thus, Aiken’s works are not appropriate for young audiences because it may affect one’s thinking. On one of Aiken’s poems ‘All Lovely Things Will Have an Ending’, it is obvious that the writer goes in the dark side of the world. A lot of people will relate to the despondency of Aiken’s works and jeopardy sometimes leads the way.


Martin, J. Conrad Aiken: A Life of His Art. Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1962, pp. 248.

Wilbur, R.H. Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature, Vol. 4, No. 2 (1963), pp. 245-249.

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