What is learned about Richard from the flashback in "Killings"? How does this information affect your attitude toward him?

Readers learn that Richard Strout has passed up at least two opportunities to better his life before he kills Frank Fowler. He receives a football scholarship to the University of Massachusetts but does not apply himself academically and leaves college after only two semesters. Had he devoted himself to his studies, he would have earned an undergraduate degree and likely been on the path to a more accomplished professional life than working as a bartender. Richard also has an opportunity to join his father's successful construction business, but he passes on that, just like college. He becomes notorious around town for being a bully and a shiftless drunk.

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Readers learn that Richard Strout has passed up at least two opportunities to better his life before he kills Frank Fowler. He receives a football scholarship to the University of Massachusetts but does not apply himself academically and leaves college after only two semesters. Had he devoted himself to his...

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Readers learn that Richard Strout has passed up at least two opportunities to better his life before he kills Frank Fowler. He receives a football scholarship to the University of Massachusetts but does not apply himself academically and leaves college after only two semesters. Had he devoted himself to his studies, he would have earned an undergraduate degree and likely been on the path to a more accomplished professional life than working as a bartender.

Richard Strout also has an opportunity to join his father's successful construction business, but he passes on that, just like college. He becomes notorious around town for being a bully and a shiftless drunk. Because he has intelligence, athletic ability, and opportunities, it is perhaps difficult for readers to feel sympathy for him when his marriage fails and his wife moves on to Frank Fowler. It is hard to see Richard Strout as a victim of an unfaithful wife or an innocent victim of a murder. It is understandable if readers see him as a chronically angry bully who not only wastes his own life, but that of Frank Fowler, as well. It is also reasonable to consider the damage he inflicts on his wife and family as well as the friends and family of Frank.

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When the story opens, the reader knows few details about Frank's death. Flashbacks provide the killer's name, Richard Strout, and information about his previous attacks on Frank as well as his reasons for attacking him. The additional information that the author gradually builds up helps explain why Strout was able to rationalize his violent behavior. While no specific evidence is given to account for this tendency, we learn about the downward spiral of his life. Strout seems to be a person who blames others for his misfortunes rather than take responsibility or seek alternative paths. Unable to accept his own role in the breakup of his marriage, he blames the man his ex is dating. The reader may sympathize or empathize with the younger Richard, dreaming of his future in sports, but may also see how the adult man stepped along the path leading to his own sad end as well as becoming a killer.

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Richard Strout is the man who kills Matt Fowler's son, Frank. The story opens with the Fowler family laying Frank to rest and upset that Strout is out walking the streets on bail. With this information, the reader may first feel upset to hear that a murderer is not in jail, as well as a sense unfairness for the Fowlers. The flashbacks, though, give insight to Strout's past as an all-American boy: football player, scholarship to University of Massachusetts, construction worker, husband and father of two sons. Fowler describes what the community thought of these images when the murder got around town, as follows:

". . . those who simply knew him by face and name, had a series of images of him which they recalled when they heard of the killing: the high school running back, the young drunk in bars, the oblivious hard-hatted young man eating lunch at a counter, the bartender who could perhaps be called courteous but not more than that."

The reader might have an empathetic attitude towards Richard at this point because of how average he is--simply living out his normal daily. On the other hand, a reader might feel that he lives a cold life--unadventurous and boring.

The part that may change the reader's attitude from apathy for Richard to empathy is the fact that he has a wife and two children:

". . . near the bedroom door, hung a color photograph of Mary Ann and the two boys sitting on a law. . . Mary Ann smiling at the camera or Strout or whoever held the camera. . . was that when they were both playing around and she was smiling like that at him and they were happy, even sometimes, making it worth it?"

As more and more facts about Strout come to light, the whole story becomes more depressing. Strout, a man who had a family and everything to lose, kills Fowler's son because he was messing around with his estranged wife. For the reader, Strout evolves from a cold-blooded killer at the beginning of the story to a sad and jealous husband who made an insane choice to kill Frank.

 

 

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