An American Childhood

by Annie Dillard

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What did Annie Dillard value about the chase in An American Childhood's "The Chase"?

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What Annie Dillard values so much about the chase is that she has to put every ounce of her strength into it. She says that after the chase, she could "have died happy, for nothing has required so much of me since as being chased all over Pittsburgh in the middle of winter."

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Annie Dillard is the only girl in a group of boys who are throwing snowballs at passing cars on Reynolds Street in Pittsburgh. Someone lobs a snowball that hits a car's windshield. Usually, cars that are hit drive on, but this time the driver stops, jumps out of the car,...

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and begins to chase Annie and her friend Mikey Fahey.

Annie values that fact that the man chasing them is putting everything he has into the chase, which means she has to as well. The man is persistent: he won't give up. Annie is forced to use every ounce of energy she has to evade him. She admires and is thrilled by the utterly relentless way he pursues them, taking the quest completely seriously:

It was an immense discovery, pounding into my hot head with every sliding, joyous step, that this ordinary adult evidently knew what I thought only children who trained at football knew: that you have to fling yourself at what you’re doing, you have to point yourself, forget yourself, aim, dive.
The man, in other words, is a worthy opponent. He makes the chase a challenge. Dillard says he: "impelled us forward; we compelled him to follow our route."
The journey, the chase itself, and not the outcome is what Annie finds valuable. Once she and Mikey are caught, it is all an anti-climax. All the man can do is yell at them and tell them that they are stupid. Annie thinks a worthy end would have had to have been something far more dramatic, such as being boiled in oil. She writes that:
If in that snowy backyard the driver of the black Buick had cut off our heads, Mikey’s and mine, I would have died happy, for nothing has required so much of me since as being chased all over Pittsburgh in the middle of winter—running terrified, exhausted—by this sainted, skinny, furious red-headed man who wished to have a word with us.
We can learn from this episode what Annie values: toughness, being challenged to her utmost, and having a worthy opponent who puts his all into the battle. This is of a piece with the part of Annie that likes to hang with the boys, because they seem tougher to her than girls. She likes to hurl her whole self into activities without thinking about the cost. The passage also shows that Annie values a sense of connection with the man who chased her. They are connected, in relationship, because of the chase. He "impels" them to move; they "compel" him to move. He treats them with respect by going after them so fiercely. The chase illustrates the kind of whole-hearted excitement and commitment to the task at hand that the child Annie seems to have been seeking out of life.
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