David Foster Wallace

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Identify and discuss the effective use of story and plot in "Incarnations of Burned Children" by David Foster Wallace, and in some detail, explain how that element contributes to establishing the central theme of the work as a whole.

The story's plot, told primarily from the father's point of view, begins at the high point with a being child scalded. The intensity is sustained because of the plot: we are right there with the father as he tries to help his burned child, who is intense pain. The emotional moment up only ends when the point of view shifts to the child's in the emergency room, the story leaving us with a strong impression of a parent's vulnerability.

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The story begins in media res, or in the middle, so the reader is hit with the emotional intensity of the plot immediately. It is an ordinary day—the father is hanging a new door for his tenant, and in the middle of this he hears his toddler's screams. Already before the story opens, a pot of boiling water fell on the child and scalded him painfully.

The story is told from the father's adult point of view, but the language used brings it down to the level of a child with words like "Mommy" and "Daddy" to describe the parents. These word choices help us empathize with the badly burned child.

The plot unfolds with intense immediacy. We are right there with the father as he tries to sooth the screaming child's burns. We are there as time slows down as it can during an accident, and the father becomes hyper aware of everything, such as the sound of a bird. We are right there, too, as the parents make the horrible discovery that the boiling water has lodged inside the diaper, possibly damaging the child's penis—what was horrible already gets ratcheted up another degree.

At the emergency room, the point of view shifts to the toddler, who distances himself from the traumatic experience:

The child had learned to leave himself and watch the whole rest unfold from a point overhead.

This leaves the ending ambiguous: has the child's soul separated from his body (is he dead?) or has the experience changed how he interacts with world? Whatever the answer, shifting to the child's point of view helps ratchet down the emotional intensity that hit a crescendo inside the father's head. Because of the plot, we are left with a strong impression of a parent's vulnerability.

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