Penelope Fitzgerald

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What is a detailed analysis of "The Axe" by Penelope Fitzgerald?

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"The Axe" is a short story, in the form of a report, made by a man who has been given the job of terminating several employees. The theme, broadly speaking, is about the inhumanity of the workplace.

The main character is the unnamed narrator, who is writing the report on firing unneeded employees. Another character is Mr. Singlebury, a long-time employee who must be fired.

The tone of the story is restrained, but it is clear that the narrator is writing the report as a way of managing their emotions about having to fire vulnerable people. The narrator is contemptuous of his boss, who never reads past the second sentence of anything, and who doesn't think of his employees as individuals. At the same time, the narrator is apparently unable to muster the courage to stand up to his boss.

Singlebury, on the other hand, is a bit like Melville's Bartleby, in that he seems to have always worked in the building and in that his life outside of work seems marginal at best. He is virtually part of the place, but his firing gives the story its morbid twist and emphasizes the literal meaning of the "axe" in the title. When late at night Singlebury shows up at work quite literally a walking corpse, his head almost severed, the reality of "axing" employees, and the inhumanity of the workplace, become clear.

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