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Summary

In terms of a plot summary that walks readers through rising actions into an epic climax, this story does not fit that short story mold. The story doesn't really move anywhere in terms of a plot. A very simple summary of the story would say that the narrator inflates a big balloon over New York, he watches how people react to it, and he brings the balloon down when his loved one returns home a few weeks later.

The majority of the story is a description of how the people of Manhattan react to the super balloon that has been inflated over a large portion of the city. The first paragraph tells readers that the narrator inflated a balloon that stretched from 14th Street to Central Park. That distance is a distance of 2.25 miles, and the balloon warped and wiggled to fill in side streets and butt up against buildings. The balloon is filled with helium and is maintained by special pumps that nobody is able to find. The balloon was filled during the night, and it created all kinds of various "situations" the next day and following weeks.

In general, those situations are situations involving people trying to figure out what the balloon means. Some people think it makes the city look better. Other people think it blocks their view. Other people think it must be for advertising, but children generally agree it is just super fun to jump on. As people grew more and more used to it, the balloon began to serve as a visual reference point for meeting locations. Essentially people simply grew accustomed to the presence of the balloon, and they adapted their lives to it and around it. People seemed to take great joy in the balloon's constantly shifting nature, but the story does speak to people's ability to change and adapt to various conditions as well.

The story ends with the narrator taking the balloon down after his loved one returns home, and he explains to her and readers that it was simply his way of expressing his "unease" at her absence.

Summary

(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...

(The entire section is 809 words.)