(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A seemingly purposeless balloon suddenly appears in New York City. The balloon, which was inflated by the narrator one night while people were sleeping, covers almost the entire southern half of Manhattan—from Fourteenth Street in Greenwich Village to the southern edge of Central Park, near the Plaza Hotel on Fifth Avenue, covering twenty-five blocks on either side of Fifth Avenue. The narrator first refers to the appearance of the balloon as a situation but then qualifies this idea because, by the narrator’s definition, situations imply sets of circumstances that lead to some resolution. This balloon, however, is merely a “concrete particular” passively hanging there.

The balloon provokes a series of reactions from various people in the city, including a flood of original ideas and milestones in the history of inflation. Impressions about the balloon run the gamut of responses from the banal to the creative. The balloon’s meaning is disturbingly elusive, and this lack of purpose, of cause, of a fixed reason for the balloon, creates in the authorities a lack of trust, frustration, even hostility. Experts conduct secret tests to determine ways of removing or destroying the balloon, but because the narrator has cleverly hidden his pumps, they decide that nothing can be done.

In contrast to the suspicions of the authorities, the general public responds warmly to the balloon. Children enjoy bouncing on it, and others begin to locate...

(The entire section is 460 words.)