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Short Story Bullet in the Brain
The book Bullet in the Mind (a short story) by Tobias Wolf is typically comical writing. The
story uses a third person, ironically separating the narrator’s voice from what happens in the story
(Wolff). The story begins in a late queue before the bank closes, with disgruntled customers
lamenting the service they receive from tellers. This is when Wolff introduces his main character
in the story Anders. He painted alders as an angry man, and he said alders had a bad temper. The
story begins and ends with a flashback of alders’ life. Then the robbers came in with the purpose
of robbing the bank. Anders was not as afraid as the others, so he could find time to make fun of
the thief’s words. Even though the story shows alders is a clown, we can notice that he treats
everyone the same, which is what caused his death. He died after he was shot. What is this? Does
that make alders die in the story? He laughed at the bandits every time they used movie language
like “capiche,” “dead meat,” and “bright boy.” A robber dressed Anders in shorts after warning
him separately. The story later recalled Anders’ past life, when he played baseball in the summer
with his wife and daughter. This story is a whimsical and interesting writing, very consistent,
using suspense, as it creates a pleasant feeling of knowing the result and the climax of the story.
Although many writers use many methods of humor, I think Wolff’s method is the best one.
The first image I get from the story about Anders is not good at all. He is the kind of person
you don’t want to be with. He was picking on the robbers, teasing them with his gun. He warned
of being insulted, but he wouldn’t listen. However, he is not so bad, we heard that he likes his book
review work. This story is usually about memories that keep the story going. The memory is in his
brain, although its owner does not know, but he is dead or unconscious. He was shot “900 feet per
second” through the brain, breaking bones like the hypothalamus. From his memory, we can see
that he was once a happy boy, playing baseball with his friends. These memories led me to try to
assess why anders decided to become an editor, remembering a sentence from one of his friend’s
Cousins, especially the last two words, “they are.” He doesn’t care about grammatical mistakes,
but recites the whole sentence over and over again.
Another interesting thing about this story is the analysis of anders’ nostalgic memories of
being shot in the head. This example could be a very critical part of a bullet to the head. He
remembers only his childhood, not his manhood. He remembered playing baseball with the other
boys, but he did not remember the time of death of his wife, his daughter, his mother, or professor
Joseph. Wolff made a statement that I think is important to note that anders would not have
remembered if he had been able to recall something. Wolff said anders did not remember things
that should have been recalled, such as his wife, daughter, professor, a suicidal woman, mother’s
death and his years of work. This is what he remembers, his childhood. It was, to be precise, what
Cousins said. He was excited and excited for “they are”. These two words were very important in
Andersen’s past life, because they fully defined his childhood. Nothing in his life could be better
than this word. Emphasize these two words, we know that Andersen’s life is based on language
and words, which makes him reach the peak of life, is still the cause of his death.
Wolff balances tension and humor in the first part of the story. He did it so well that we
couldn’t help laughing no matter what terrible thing happened. Humor comes from the story of
anders guffas the bandit. He used sarcasm, comedy and nostalgia to dig his grave. Later in the
story, we learn about his life, his childhood and past adulthood, and how he enjoyed the language
that later killed him. Ironically, anders can only understand life through short experiences.
Wolff’s brilliant story will always be about a character like anders.
Works cited
““Bullet in the Brain” by Tobias Wolff.” 11 2018. All Answers Ltd. 03 2019
Wolff, Tobias. Bullet in the Brain. New York, 1995.
Bullet in the Brain
Bullet in the Brain
Anders couldn’t get to the bank until just before it closed, so of course the line was endless and he
got stuck behind two women whose loud, stupid conversation put him in a murderous temper. He
was never in the best of tempers anyway, Anders – a book critic known for the weary, elegant
savagery with which he dispatched almost everything he reviewed.
With the line still doubled around the rope, one of the tellers stuck a “POSITION CLOSED” sign in
her window and walked to the back of the bank, where she leaned against a desk and began to pass
the time with a man shuffling papers. The women in front of Anders broke off their conversation
and watched the teller with hatred. “Oh, that’s nice,” one of them said. She turned to Anders and
add, confident of his accord, “One of those little human touches that keep us coming back for
Anders had conceived his own towering hatred of the teller, but he immediately turned it on the
presumptuous crybaby in front of him. “Damned unfair,” he said. “Tragic, really. If they’re not
chopping off the wrong leg, or bombing your ancestral village, they’re closing their positions.”
She stood her ground. “I didn’t say it was tragic,” she said. “I just think it’s a pretty lousy way to
treat your customers.”
“Unforgivable,” Anders said. “Heaven will take note.”
She sucked in her cheeks but stared pas him and said nothing. Anders saw that the other woman,
her friend, was looking in the same direction. And then the tellers stopped what they were doing,
and the customers slowly turned, and silence came over the bank. Two men wearing black ski
masks and blue business suits were standing to the side of the door. One of them had a pistol
pressed against the guard’s neck. The guard’s eyes were closed, and his lips were moving. The
other man had a sawed-off shotgun. “Keep your big mouth shut!” the man with the pistol said,
though no one had spoken a word. “One of you tellers hits the alarm, you’re all dead meat. Got
The tellers nodded.
“Oh, bravo, “Anders said. “Dead meat.” He turned to the woman in front of him. “Great script, eh?
The stern, brass-knuckled poetry of the dangerous classes.”
She looked at him with drowning eyes.
The man with the shotgun pushed the guard to his knees. He handed up the shotgun to his partner
and yanked the guard’s wrists up behind his back and locked them together with a pair of handcuffs.
He toppled him onto the floor with a kick between the shoulder blades. Then he took his shotgun
back and went over to the security gate at the end of the counter. He was short and heavy and
moved with peculiar slowness, even torpor. “Buzz him in,” his partner said. The man with the
shotgun opened the gate and sauntered along the line of tellers, handing each of them a Hefty bag.
When he came to the empty position he looked over at the man with the pistol, who said, “Whose
slot is that?”
Anders watched the teller. She put her hand to her throat and turned to the man she’d been talking
to. He nodded. “Mine,” she said.
Tobias Wolff
Bullet in the Brain
“Then get your ugly ass in gear and fill that bag.”
“There you go,” Anders said to the woman in front of him. “Justice is done.”
“Hey! Bright boy! Did I tell you talk?”
“No,” Anders said.
“Then shut your trap.”
“Did you hear that?” Anders said. “’Bright boy.’ Right out of ‘The Killers’.”
“Please be quiet,” the woman said.
“Hey, you deaf or what?” The man with the pistol walked over to Anders. He poked the weapon
into Anders’ gut. “You think I’m playing games?”
“No,” Anders said, but the barrel tickled like a stiff finger and he had to fight back the titters. He
did this by making himself stare into the man’s eyes, which were clearly visible behind the holes in
the mask: pale blue, and rawly red-rimmed. The man’s left eyelid kept twitching. He breathed out
a piercing, ammoniac smell that shocked Anders more than anything that had happened, and he was
beginning to develop a sense of unease when the man prodded him again with the pistol.
“You like me, bright boy?” he said. “You want to suck my dick?”
“No,” Anders said.
“Then stop looking at me.”
Anders fixed his gaze on the man’s shiny wing-top shoes.
“Not down there. Up there.” He stuck the pistol under Anders’ chin and pushed it upward until
Anders was looking at the ceiling.
Anders had never paid much attention to that part of the bank, a pompous old building with marble
floors and counters and pillars, and gilt scrollwork over the tellers’ cages. The domed ceiling had
been decorated with mythological figures whose fleshy, toga-draped ugliness Anders had taken in at
a glance many years earlier and afterward declined to notice. Now he had no choice but to
scrutinize the painter’s work. It was even worse than he remembered, and all of it executed with the
utmost gravity. The artist had a few tricks up his sleeve and used them again and again – a certain
rosy blush on the underside of the clouds, a coy backward glance on the faces of the cupids and
fauns. The ceiling was crowded with various dramas, but the one that caught Anders’ eye was Zeus
and Europa – portrayed, in this rendition, as a bull ogling a cow from behind a haystack. To make
the cow sexy, the painter had canted her hips suggestively and given her long, droopy eyelashes
through which she gazed back at the bull with sultry welcome. The bull wore a smirk and his
eyebrows were arched. If there’d been a bubble coming out of his mouth, it would have said,
“Hubba hubba.”
“What’s so funny, bright boy?”
Tobias Wolff
Bullet in the Brain
“You think I’m comical? You think I’m some kind of clown?”
“You think you can fuck with me?”
“Fuck with me again, you’re history. Capiche?”
Anders burst our laughing. He covered his mouth with both hands and said, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,”
then snorted helplessly through his fingers and said, “Capiche – oh, God, capiche,” and at that the
man with the pistol raised the pistol and shot Anders right in the head.
The bullet smashed Anders’ skull and ploughed through his brain and exited behind his right ear,
scattering shards of bone into the cerebral cortex, the corpus callosum, back toward the basal
ganglia, and down into the thalamus. But before all this occurred, the first appearance of the bullet
in the cerebrum set off a crackling chain of ion transports and neuro-transmissions. Because of
their peculiar origin these traced a peculiar patter, flukishly calling to life a summer afternoon some
forty years past, and long since lost to memory. After striking the cranium the bullet was moving at
900 feet per second, a pathetically sluggish, glacial pace compared to the synaptic lighting that
flashed around it. Once in the brain, that is, the bullet came under the mediation of brain time,
which gave Anders plenty of leisure to contemplate the scene that, in a phrase he would have
abhorred, “passed before his eyes.”
It is worth noting what Ambers did not remember, given what he did remember. He did not
remember his first lover, Sherry, or what he had most madly loved about her, before it came to
irritate him – her unembarrassed carnality, and especially the cordial way she had with his unit,
which she called Mr. Mole, as in, “Uh-oh, looks like Mr. Mole wants to play,” and “Let’s hide Mr.
Mole!” Anders did not remember his wife, whom he had also loved before she exhausted him with
her predictability, or his daughter, now a sullen professor of economics at Dartmouth. He did not
remember standing just outside his daughter’s door as she lectured her bear about his naughtiness
and described the truly appalling punishments Paws would receive unless he changed his ways. He
did not remember a single line of the hundreds of poems he had committed to memory in his youth
so that he could give himself the shivers at will – not “Silent, upon a peak in Darien,” or “My God, I
heard this day,” or “All my pretty ones? Did you say all? O hell-kite! All?” None of these did he
remember; not one. Anders did not remember his dying mother saying of his father, “I should have
stabbed him in his sleep.”
He did not remember Professor Josephs telling his class how Athenian prisoners in Sicily had been
released if they could recite Aeschylus, and then reciting Aeschylus himself, right there, in the
Greek. Anders did not remember how his eyes had burned at those sounds. He did not remember
the surprise of seeing a college classmate’s name on the jacket of a novel not long after they
graduated, or the respect he had felt after reading the book. He did not remember the pleasure of
giving respect.
Nor did Anders remember seeing a woman leap to her death from the building opposite his own just
days after his daughter was born. He did not remember shouting, “Lord have mercy!” He did not
remember deliberately crashing his father’s car in to a tree, of having his ribs kicked in by three
policemen at an anti-war rally, or waking himself up with laughter. He did not remember when he
began to regard the heap of books on his desk with boredom and dread, or when he grew angry at
Tobias Wolff
Bullet in the Brain
writers for writing them. He did not remember when everything began to remind him of something
This is what he remembered. Heat. A baseball field. Yellow grass, the whirr of insects, himself
leaning against a tree as the boys of the neighborhood gather for a pickup game. He looks on as the
others argue the relative genius of Mantle and Mays. They have been worrying this subject all
summer, and it has become tedious to Anders: an oppression, like the heat.
Then the last two boys arrive, Coyle and a cousin of his from Mississippi. Anders has never met
Coyle’s cousin before and will never see him again. He says hi with the rest but takes no further
notice of him until they’ve chosen sides and some asks the cousin what position he wants to play.
“Shortstop,” the boy says. “Short’s the best position they is.” Anders turns and looks at him. He
wants to hear Coyle’s cousin repeat what he’s just said, but he knows better than to ask. The others
will think he’s being a jerk, ragging the kid for his grammar. But that isn’t it, not at all – it’s that
Anders is strangely roused, elated, by those final two words, their pure unexpectedness and their
music. He takes the field in a trance, repeating them to himself.
The bullet is already in the brain; it won’t be outrun forever, or charmed to a halt. In the end it will
do its work and leave the troubled skull behind, dragging its comet’s tail of memory and hope and
talent and love into the marble hall of commerce. That can’t be helped. But for now Anders can
still make time. Time for the shadows to lengthen on the grass, time for the tethered dog to bark at
the flying ball, time for the boy in right field to smack his sweat-blackened mitt and softly chant,
They is, they is, they is.
Tobias Wolff

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