The Eighty-Yard Run

by Irwin Shaw
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What is a critical analysis of the short story "The Eighty-Yard Run"?

In "The Eighty-Yard Run," Irwin Shaw utilizes the story's content and structure to reflect on the experiences, emotions, and thoughts of a man who tends to live in the past because his present in not at all satisfactory.

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A critical analysis of any piece of literature looks closely at the success of the work's structure and content in fulfilling its purpose. Irwin Shaw's purpose in his story "The Eighty-Yard Run " seems to be to reflect on the experiences, thoughts, and emotions of a man who...

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A critical analysis of any piece of literature looks closely at the success of the work's structure and content in fulfilling its purpose. Irwin Shaw's purpose in his story "The Eighty-Yard Run" seems to be to reflect on the experiences, thoughts, and emotions of a man who lives largely in the past and is not successful in his present situation.

The story begins with an exciting football scene, an eighty-yard run by a man named Darling. As we read the first paragraph, we feel excited, as though we are watching this happen in real life, for the author writes vividly from Darling's perspective. We readers almost run with Darling as he heads toward the end zone.

Then the scene shifts, and we realize that this is a flashback. The present time of the story is fifteen years later, and Darling is back on the field where he once made that run, reminiscing about his past. After only a paragraph in the present, the scene shifts once again back fifteen years, and we learn that the amazing run actually happened during a practice, not a game. The young Darling is on top of the world. He has plenty of potential. He is at the top of his game. He has a young woman who loves him and showers him with gifts. He is well known on campus. The older Darling remembers all of this as he sits on the football field.

But Darling's life goes downhill from there. As the story continues, Darling recalls his first years of marriage to Louise. They are happy then, and they have plenty of money. But 1929 brings the stock market crash. Louise's father kills himself when his business fails, sending Darling out of work. Louise goes to work for a magazine, and their lives change drastically, as does their relationship.

Louise meets new people and develops new interests; Darling turns to drink. They grow apart, and eventually, Darling takes a job as a traveling salesman. Louise does not try to stop him. This is why Darling is sitting on the football field remembering. His life has not turned out at all as he once expected. He is not a football star. He is not admired and loved. His own wife doesn't really care all that much if he goes or stays.

Through this series of memories, then, we readers receive a well-developed picture of the young Darling and the older Darling as well as of Louise, who has also changed throughout the years. The eighty-yard run Darling made in that practice session is presented as the high point of their lives, and everything has gone downhill from there, partly through circumstances beyond their control but also partly through their own choices.

As the story ends, Darling notices a young couple on the football field. A little embarrassed, he tells them that he once played there. These young people remind us (and Darling himself) of the way Darling and Louise used to be: innocent, hopeful, and convinced that their world is at their feet. Darling knows better now.

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