Incarnations of Burned Children – Story Review

What can be said about a three page short story? What can be said about this one is that I think the child has died by the end of the story. It is, of course, open for interpretation. It could just as easily be the child moving beyond a feeling of pain to a certain “otherness” that somehow displaces it from pain. But the description is too close to the stereotypical “near death” experience for me to go that route. But this is the last and least interesting of the instances of characters separating themselves from reality. The first instance is the wife upon discovering the child has dumped a pot of boiling water over itself. She is essentially and stereotypically panicked, bordering on useless. The other instance is the father rushing in, seeing his child severely hurt and burning and displacing himself out of necessity to be able to act. 

For the father it is an act of necessity, for if he “could hear the screams they would freeze him.” So the only way he can act is by displacing his emotional self from his psychological self. If he would allow himself to feel, those feelings would literally cripple him.

Which ties back into the woman’s reaction and women being, again stereotypically, more “emotional” than men and more open to the flood of emotions such an event would surely cause.

Given the almost blatant stereotypical reaction of the woman, though also an entirely understandable reaction, the most interesting duality is forced upon the father and the child. For the father, removing himself from the emotions of the situation allows him to act. In fact, the only moment where he  hesitates is upon removing the diaper, realizing the greatest majority of the scalding water has been trapped there, and seeing the horror of the disfigurement of his son’s genitalia (left mercifully un-described).  there could be a tie-in between the father’s ability to act when displaced from his emotions, and the son’s ceasing his crying when he seems to have distanced himself from his own body. 

There cold also be something in there between the discovery of the child’s genitalia being damaged and the child’s ceasing his crying. Having his emasculation discovered, the child may have given up his tie to the world or, if you believe the child is still alive but just distanced from the pain, that the discovery of this mutilation was equivilant to being outed and not having to bear the weight of it any longer.

In the end, it’s really a very short story that seems to be just story. It can be tied into larger themes throughout the collection but, at the same time, it doesn’t seem to have the depth to hold up a look at just itself. So at the same it is easily the most accessible story in the collection, the quickest and easiest read, but it also lacks the most depth.


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2 Responses to “Incarnations of Burned Children – Story Review”

  1. Oblivion by David Foster Wallace – Book Review « Loose Leaf Bound Says:

    […] Incarnations of Burned Children […]

  2. Kayla Says:

    Am I crazy to think this was the mother’s doing and not at all an accident the first time I read it?

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