Donald Barthelme’s short story “The School” seeks to explain the meaning of life based on death. He is a post-modernist author whose work tends to be deceivingly simple yet potent and intuitive. Barthelme presents his short story, with a feeling of happiness and liveliness yet his main aim is to give an account of death. He explains through fiction the meaning of life, though the story is presented in a strange manner. Towards the end of the story, the aspect of human death is presented, although through a series of losses that occur and cause major concern when people start to die. The story is based on the school environment that is characterized as jovial, rowdy, and routine because the children are active and lively.
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Death among humans is presented systematically. At first, death takes away an orphan, who could not be saved. The death of the first person marks the beginning of losses as experienced by real people. It progresses to parents and grandparents and finally comes to take away the life of the kids following the demise of Tony Mavrogordo and Matthew Wein (Barthelme, 2014). The last event of death is caused by an intruder who knifes Billy Brandt’s father. Even though Barthelme provides a series of deaths in the story, by using Edgar as the older character, he does not provide an explanation why death occurs. The kids are left with questions lingering as to why death occurs.
Edgar, as any other children, is not sure of what may take place to a person the moment they pass on. It is at this point that the story takes an odd turn. Barthelme drifts away from offering a narrative that could be dealt with in actuality but in its place starts to address greater philosophical inquiries. The hyperbolic stiffness of the children’s discourse only serves to lay emphasis on the strain of expressing such enquiries in real life that is the crack between the occurrence of death and the capacity to understand it.
Barthelme’s story does not draw any support from religion or philosophy as has been expressed for a long time. Numerous philosophers have described life, albeit from different perspectives. For instance, Aristotle based life on the human purpose, Aquinas explained life based on beauty, and Kant looked at life based on the utmost good. According to Jones (2020), Koheleth, who is thought to have written the book Ecclesiastes in the Bible, perceives life as “futility” and compares it to “the pursuit of wind”. Jones (2020) states that the Anglo-American-Australasian philosophers explain the meaning of life in the form of the organized effort to pinpoint what people think regarding this topic or what they are referring to by talking of “life’s meaning.”
In general, Barthelme’s story explains the meaning of life through death. The story presents a series of deaths though people are greatly affected when the first person dies. Ultimately the children at school are disturbed by the events. They try to seek for an explanation from the teacher, Edgar, but he also seems not to understand death. In philosophy the meaning of life is explained in various ways but not in the form of death. Barthelme’s description is therefore unique, although it could as well be understood that his view on the meaning of life ends with death. Once death occurs there is no more life.
Barthelme, D. (2014). The School. Electricliterature. Web.
Jones, J. (2020). The meaning of life according to Simone de Beauvoir. Openculture. Web.