Saturday, July 7, 2007

Rest Described in “The Dead Man” (Annotation G2-3/Goddard)

Horacio Quiroga’s “The Dead Man” is less than 1500 words. The text describes an ordinary day in a banana grove, a landscape intimate to the writer. The only character in the story, of course, is the dead man. After a fall onto his machete in the second paragraph, the rest of the story has one logical conclusion. The subtext of the story is the idea of rest, work, and obligation. The beauty in this dark, macabre, little story is the obligation of rest at the end of life.
“Consequently the man cast a satisfied glace at the brush he had cleared out and started to cross the wire fence so he could stretch out for a while in the grama grass” (Quiroga 5). In his last hours of life, the man works his banana grove, it is morning, and he always works mornings. Being satisfied with his work, he is simply looking for a place to have a little siesta. “Every day he has seen the same things” (Quiroga 7). “Doesn’t he come every morning to clear it out? Isn’t that banana grove his banana grove?” (Quiroga 6) In this text the reader sees the man lying on his side, hears his thoughts as he surveys his world. As the man falls from the fence and lies dying on his machete, he sees the everydayness of the work he has always done.
Insidiously, the machete plays a huge roll in this short piece. Obviously, the man has fallen on it. Craning his neck to see the steel blade through his belly, he sees the handle: “still damp from the sweat of his hand” (Quiroga 5). The handle comes up again as the life drains from him, “the handle of his machete (it’s worn down now; soon it will have to be changed for another)” (Quiroga 7). Despite the rest, he was searching for before the fall he is unable to rest seeing all the things needing to be done.
“Everything, everything, exactly as always: the burning sun, the vibrant air, the loneliness, the motionless banana trees, the wire fence with the tall, very thick posts that soon will have to be replaced....”(Quiroga 6).
In this short-short account of the dead man, the sweetest rest comes in the final four words: “who has rested now” (Quiroga 8).

Quiroga, Horacio. “The Dead Man.” Trans. Margaret Sayers Pede. A Hammock beneath the mangoes: Stories from Latin America. Ed. Thomas Colchie. New York: Plume, 1992. 4-9.   

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