The School: Postmodernist Ideas Essay, Research Paper
The School: Postmodernist Ideas
Barthelme’s “The School” is the first postmodernist story I have ever read.
When I read it for the first time, my lips formed a bitter smile. In my
imagination, postmodernist stories differed from the classical ones in the
arrangement of the ideas and in the standard that postmodernists reject society.
True, ?The School? does differ in composition, for example the absence of
introduction, but though it sounds somewhat comical, it does also have an
incorporated pessimism that makes me reflect on the story. I think this
pessimism is the cause that postmodernists reject society.
The notion of rejection comes in the story through the death cases. It
seems strange why Barthelme uses the notion death in his story, but I think the
reason is that this is the best way to stress that every living thing is losing
its importance. Hopeless pessimism interweaves with the idea of rejection, and I
find them together everywhere, in every death case.
For Barthelme, what is lost is unrecoverable. Pessimism, mostly expressed
in taking death naturally, spreads uniformly all over the story, from the first
paragraph about the orange trees to the last when the new gerbil enters the
classroom. In this school, where the children are supposed to receive education,
everything dies. The fish, the salamander, and the orange trees die though
children take much care of them. The teacher is pessimistic although life goes
on and a new gerbil walks in the school. Edgar says that “life is that which
gives meaning to life,” but still this does not change that Edgar knew that the
puppy would die in two weeks. He had seen worse when some parents died in a car
accident and when two children died while playing with each other in a dangerous
place. What else, but pessimism, could one expect in an environment where every
living thing, including children, is dying?
Death’s dominance in the story shows again that society, which presumably
should foster the growth of the future individuals (i.e. children), destroys
their very existence. By the end of the story, it is easy to understand that
death is the destiny of the children as well, because it would be impossible for
them to live in an environment (commonly known as ’society’) where parents
(symbol of wisdom) die. It is impossible to live in an environment where the
teacher himself is aware that whatever living creature, like the puppy for
example, that enters the school (a social institution) will eventually cease to
At this point, I become certain that “The School” is a demonstration that
pessimism drives postmodernists. As Barthelme stresses in the second to last
paragraph, death is a close companion of life. The very adjacency of death with
the kids, who do as well symbolise life as they are at the very beginning of it,
proves my point. The writer seems, besides other things, to question the very
nature of existence. One should remember the closing paragraph where the kids
ask the teacher whether death gives meaning to life. The answer he gives is that
life is what gives meaning to life. One could justly ask: why is the story full
of images of death then? Because the story seems to be a sketch of the society,
which by breeding death (death in the symbolical sense: death of the ideas, joy,
identity) prompts the postmodernists to reject it.