What is the meaning of Terry Bisson's short story "Bears Discover Fire"?I can't find any help about this short story, and it is so hard to understand the true meanning of this story... Thank you...

What is the meaning of Terry Bisson's short story "Bears Discover Fire"?

I can't find any help about this short story, and it is so hard to understand the true meanning of this story... Thank you very much!

Expert Answers
reidalot eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The short story "Bears Discover Fire" by Terry Bisson is a story whose theme concerns loss. This consists of losing family, community, and wilderness. Ironically enough, it is the bears who are literally carrying the torch of civilization as they find a comforting camaraderie sitting around the fire and sharing newberries with each other.

Bisson uses the motif of repairing tires to illustrate Uncle Bobby's relationship to Wallace Jr. as a father figure who is passing down the tradition that Bobby calls an "art." Wallace Jr. has a permanent bedroom at his uncle's house which seems more like home to him than the various bedrooms he has with his folks because his parents "move to a different house every year." Uncle Bobby is stability in Wallace Jr.'s family life.

Bobby and Wallace Jr. also experience the loss of Mother as they sit with the bears around the fire, huddled under the blanket Mother took from the Home. The bears have a sense of community, and this is shared by the three humans. Mother prefers to die with her son and grandson, and most importantly, by the fire in the company of the bears. She chooses to die in this community setting rather than in the coldness of the Home where the television never stops flickering.

The setting of the story illustrates the loss of wilderness and just how it has affected nature and animals. The median of the interstate, I-65, takes the place of the bears' natural home as they keep on the move. In fact, "They don’t hibernate anymore." The natural disposition of the bears has been altered by the encroachment of man and loss of habitat and climate. As well, the bears eat the newberry that grows on the medians. No one is quite sure exactly what type of berry it is or where it came from.

It is clear by the end of the story that the bears have gained what humans have lost, fellowship and a sense of family. This tale is a nostalgic look at values and companionship forgotten in the bustle of today's world.

ladyvols1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Bears Discover Fire" is described by John Clute in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction as a story that "elegizes the land, the loss of the dream of America; it is also very funny".

"Bears Discover Fire" is a story about Uncle Bobby, a 60-year-old man concerned with his dying mother, in a world where bears have, as the title suggests, discovered fire. Fire is a symbol of what separates man from animals.  The bears of the title are mostly an afterthough in the story. They are unimportant to his life except as background curiosity, in which the truely important wonders of our world are lost in in just trying to make it fromday to day. As the bears evolve, Uncle Bobby tries to protect his mom, and accept her dying by easing her out of the world through death. At the same time he is struggling to raise his nephew, to teach him some common sense and morality. As the humans seem to be letting their civilization slip, the bears are founding a society. "Looks like bears have discovered fire," Bobby's brother Wallace drawls at the end of Bisson's story, a dry anticlimax that sums up the story's  ironies into a final, critisim of mankind's failings. Bears have discovered fire. And people have lost it.'

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