The Girl in the Flammable Skirt Analysis

Aimee Bender

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story is told in a nonlinear fashion, more like a series of snapshots of moments in the girl’s life than a story in which one event leads to another. However, all the vignettes are connected, even the joke about the rats, which at first seems like a digression. The point of the joke is that a dog and rat, two very dissimilar animals, have come to resemble each other. This alludes to the fact that the girl, in carrying the stone backpack, has come to resemble her father. Just as there is something unnatural about a dog that looks like a rat, it is equally unnatural (although not equally amusing) for a teenage girl to have to carry the burdens of her father.

The language of the story is strongly metaphorical. The use of metaphorical language in what is otherwise a normal everyday situation gives the story its unusual flavor. The first section, for example, cannot be understood on a literal level because it does not make sense for the father to have a backpack made of solid rock. However, it establishes heaviness as one of the three governing images of the story. Heaviness has to be understood in all its ramifications, including the psychic heaviness of the existence of both girl and father. A second image, that of the tissue the teacher brings her, is the opposite of the stone image. It conveys lightness and weightlessness and serves as an image of the ideal psychic condition that the girl attains only once, briefly and precariously. The third governing image is that of the burning skirt, which is an image of neither heaviness nor lightness but of life on fire with itself, burning with its own passion. Thus in the images of stone, tissue, and burning skirt, Aimee Bender conveys three completely different states of the human mind and heart.