Is Lardner's story, "Haircut," an escapist or interpretive short story?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Escapist literature is purely for entertainment and generally lacks even a loosely implied moral to the story. Interpretive literature is that which intends to convey a theme that is meant to alter a reader's perception of life or living. An example of escapist literature is the Nancy Drew stories. These have no moral nor theme and are intended soley for entertainment value--and they suceed in their intent.

An example of interpretive literature is Lardner's short story "Haircut." To suggest that "Haircut" is escapist would be accepting the narrator's mistaken perspective that Jim Kendall was a great barrel of laughs who amused the whole town and whose pranks were innocent and amusing.

In fact, Jim was anything but amusing and his pranks were anything but pranks and, as such, anything but innocent and amusing. Though the barber-narrator can't see it because of his provincial narrow mindedness (or, as psychologists might say, because of his own fear-based interpretation of Jim's personality and behavior), Jim was a brutal and vindictive conscienceless man who thought nothing of harming the lives of innocent people, like, for example, men and women whom he had never met and his own children.

Jim would look out the train window ... they'd be a sign, "Henry Smith, Dry Goods." Well, Jim would write down the name and ... mail back a postal card to Henry Smith [with] somethin' like "Ask your wife about that book agent that spent the afternoon last week,"

[Jim] decided to try the rough stuff [on Julie]. He went right up to her house one evenin' and when she opened the door he forced his way in and grabbed her. But she broke loose and ... run in the next room and locked the door ....

he didn't have no intentions of bein' there [at the circus] or buyin' tickets or nothin'. He got full of gin and laid round ... His wife didn't have a dime with her ... she finally had to tell the kids it was all off and they cried like they wasn't never goin' to stop.

This understanding of Jim is integral to the theme Lardner intends to convey: condoning bruatality is an evil in its own right and may lead to further evil perpetrated by innocent people trying to protect themselves or others. This theme is not remote and isolated to small town America; it is relevant to our social mileu today what with school and workplace shootings and Internet bullying, to name just a couple.

The message of this interpretive (not escapist) short story is that we must not, as the barber did, condone and turn a jaundiced and blind eye to brutality. The inverse of this is to call brutality what it is and refuse to allow it to be perpetuated.

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