What are the conflicts in the story "The Rememberer" by Aimee Bender?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Aimee Bender explains that the idea for her story “The Rememberer” came from a dream. After having ended a relationship, her thoughts were constantly on the loss of a lover. Her story pushes the realm of realism by relaying what seems impossible in a straightforward way. 

The setting of the story is the home of the protagonist, Annie, who also serves as the narrator of the story.  The time is the present.  The basis for the story comes from the idea of evolution but with a twist.  Instead of showing how man has evolved from a lower species, Annie’s lover suffers from an accelerated form of reverse evolution.

Conflicts

Annie faces an unusual problem.  She is facing the loss of her lover. Her conflict stems from her inner turmoil in the forfeiture of her mate. Strangely, rather than fight the process, Annie begins to cover for Ben, her mate, by saying that he has a peculiar illness. 

What does she do?  First, she checks the scientific basis of the problem.  There she receives no help; in addition, she receives wrong information.  The process should take about a year.  It has been a month. Ben is sitting in a bowl functioning as a sea turtle.  As she tries to communicate with him, he stares at her, and she cries into his bowl.

What are her emotions? Her responsibility has become caregiver for the changes that Ben has gone through. She feels intense loss for the person she loved, and this consumes her every thought. Her role is now to keep alive the memories for Ben who has lost the ability to think because he has evolved to a lower specimen.

In addition, the story’s plot circulates around man versus nature.  As Ben de-evolves, each step illustrates what man has gained as he has become a human being.  He sheds about a million years per day.  

It was evident that Ben had become sad about the world.  On his last human day, he said, “Annie don’t you see? We’re all getting too smart.  Our brains are just getting bigger and bigger and the world dries up and dies when there’s too much thought and not enough heart.”

Each day as Annie returns from work, she wonders what changes she will see in Ben.

The steps of the de-evolution began with Ben, who loved to talk and discuss, saying that he hated talking. Then, he decided to start sleeping outside.  One day when Annie returns from work, she discovered that Ben was now an ape.  They sat outside and played with grass.  He spent time as a turtle. His last stage is as a salamander.

Continuing to talk to him at every stage, Annie finally realizes that Ben is no longer there.  Her conflict endures when she realizes that she must return him to the ocean before he becomes no more than an amoeba.  She releases him and watches as the salamander swims out. Some place in her psyche, Annie thinks that someday Ben will return to her having revolved.

Annie’s function has become not only Ben’s caregiver but his memory.  Ben will never be lost because Annie remembers everything about him and their relationship.  She remembers his smell, the feel of his arms, and the way that he talked.  She is his rememberer. 

The conflict within Annie is unresolved because she has no closure.  Despite Annie releasing Ben into the ocean as a salamander, she still hopes that someday he will wash back up on the shore as his old self. She keeps her phone listed; she reads the newspaper searching for news; and finally, she keeps all of the memories locked inside her head and heart. 

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