If Push the Bully represents one extreme of character in Elkin’s fiction, then Ben Flesh, protagonist and narrator of The Franchiser, represents the other. “A Poetics for Bullies” and The Franchiser are also representative of two other aspects of Elkin’s writing. One is generic; there is the story’s depiction of “acute character” manifesting itself in a crisis situation versus the novel’s presentation of “chronic character” manifesting itself over a serendipitously (or whimsically) developed series of episodes. The other difference is autobiographical. “A Poetics for Bullies” and the other stories in Criers and Kibitzers, Kibitzers and Criers were all written before “anything bad” had ever befallen Elkin; The Franchiser was written after the author had suffered heart attacks, temporary blindness, and multiple sclerosis.
“Deprived of all the warrants of personality,” Ben is a man “without goals, without obsession, without drive” but in possession of a substantial inheritance from his wealthy godfather. That inheritance enables Ben, who has “no good thing of his own . . . to place himself in the service of those who had.” For Ben, this means buying franchises (buying names), in effect becoming Evelyn Wood (speed reading), Fred Astaire (dance studio), Mr. Softee (ice cream), Colonel Sanders (chicken dinners), America’s Innkeeper (Holiday Inn), and the like.
(The entire section is 458 words.)