What role does nature play in Andre Dubus, "Killings"?

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clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In literature, a motif is a recurring element within a narrative that has symbolic meaning.  Nature, as a motif in "Killings" presents a backdrop of life, growth, and moving on, against a plot of death, destruction, and an inability to move on as long as a killer is alive.

After the funeral in the opening paragraph, Frank's grave is described as sitting on a hill and on the opposite bank is "an apple orchard with its symmetrically planted trees going up a hill."  Despite the sadness with which this family leaves the funeral of their son and brother, the author draws the audience's attention away from the moment to a scene across a river where life, growth, and beauty still exist.

As Fowler forces Strout to drive (to his imminent death) he thinks of the fact that he has not revisited his son's grave, and he'll go again before winter "and its second burial of snow."  This is a poignant reminder that the world is moving on even if Matt Fowler has not.  After this night, he will be able to again.

In the middle of the revenge killing, burial, and hiding of evidence, the woods are described as "quiet save for their breathing."  Though death has just occured, and the Fowler is experiencing an out of body feeling, the woods are still alive and breathing.  For a moment, he is not human, but nature, surrounding him, does not change.

The use of nature as a constant, a source of life, and generally a thing of beauty, is a stark contrast to an otherwise grim short story.  It is as if the author wanted to show that moments of inhumanity can exist while life itself continues on normally.


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