The speaker is an older child, studying at boarding school, who returns to his family's home for a visit. His younger relative (probably a brother) has been hit by a car and killed. The speaker is clearly upset, but is also distressed by the more overt and public-facing expressions of mourning that he encounters. His parents' need for comfort, as well as his friends' and neighbors' attempts at expressing condolences, seem to alienate him and make it hard for him to think about or express his own emotions. Only when he is able to see the remains of his loved one in private, and grieve in an introspective rather than a public or ceremonial way, is the speaker able to confront the reality of his loss.
A subversion of traditional gender roles marks the mourning process of the speaker's parents. His father greets him upon arriving and is deep in emotional turmoil, signaled by inconsolable weeping, though he usually doesn't express strong emotion at funerals. His mother, meanwhile, stoically avoids crying and instead expresses anger. This subversion of gender roles may mark the extent to which the child's death has upset the family's normal functioning. A child rather than an elder dies, in a terrible subversion of the normal life cycle, and another child (the speaker) must take on an unusual role of support for his parents. The reversal of gender norms, in a much less dramatic fashion, also hints that normalcy has been disrupted.
Big Jim Evans
Jim Evans is the only one of the mourning family's visitors to be referred to by name, hinting that he has an unusually close relationship to the family. The specificity of his name and words establishes the speaker's familiarity with his family home, letting us know that he's stepping back into a space he knows well, even though the circumstances he's encountering are atypical. The familiarity of Jim Evans also displays, through juxtaposition, just how uncomfortable and unfamiliar the speaker feels with some of the other mourners in his home: his own loss is exacerbated by the fact that he must make conversation with people he hardly knows.
The actions of a baby—context indicates that it is another of the speaker's siblings—create an uncomfortable irony. The baby is unaware of the tense, melancholy mood around it. It laughs and coos, in contrast to the tears and whispers of the adults present. The baby's unexpected cheeriness is both hopeful and distressing, since it is a reminder that, despite the apocalyptic-feeling loss of the speaker and his parents, many others (even family members) feel unaffected.
The speaker's brother is a character in a loose sense, since he is not alive at any point during the narrative. However, the speaker's descriptions of him consistently remind us that the two are deeply familiar with one another. The speaker enumerates and describes his brother's various bruises and cuts, detailing how his appearance after death differs from his appearance when alive in a way that lets us know how familiar he is with his brother's normal appearance.
Mid-Term Break Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Mid-Term Break is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.