Lydia Davis

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What do you make of Lydia Davis’s “How He Changed over Time”? Do you have any insights as to her message?

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What one makes of Lydia Davis’s “How He Changed over Time” will depend on their perspective and what insights they gleaned from her short story.

One message of the story appears linked to the negative influence of time. Regularly, Davis uses juxtaposition to show how the unnamed man has gone from a robust life to an isolated, dispirited existence. At one point, the man had “commissioned skilled copies of the best paintings by the old masters.” After a time, the man prefers “poor executed” portraits of himself. A similar pattern occurs with music, wine, and books. As time passes, the man finds these emblems of culture and refinement burdensome. Here, Davis’s message seems to be that time can make one wary and lead them to abandon the things that they once coveted.

Another insight of Davis’s story might relate to insecurity. Instead of focusing on how cranky the man comes across, discuss how time can make one unsure of their place in the world. As time goes by, the man starts to believe that “certain people looked down upon him.” Even animals “paid little attention to him.” Paradoxically, as the man distances himself from the world, he becomes a man “who craved attention.” Perhaps the man wants to be noticed because time has altered his identity so significantly. He needs people to affirm what he's become.

Finally, one could pull some insights from the last section of the story, where Davis reveals that the man would portray himself as happy. This, as Davis points out, is “false information.” The man’s inability to confront his true feelings suggests that time, for all the changes that it can create, can still leave one in a superficial state.

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