Summary

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 349

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.

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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

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 460

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 themselves in relation to it. Opinions vary, but even people who are ambivalent toward the balloon experience an “admixture of pleasurable cognition.” The balloon affords them a unique opportunity for contemplation, even though the balloon’s meaning can never be known absolutely.

Each person’s response to the balloon becomes a reflection of his or her general outlook on life. One man thinks the balloon is inferior to the sky, but the narrator concludes that the balloon is actually an improvement on the dark, ugly January weather. Another person considers the balloon to be an unanticipated reward, as if just being in its presence was a gratifying and positive experience. No matter the response, the balloon provides the citizens a reprieve from the ordinary grind of their lives; its shifting forms and malleability are pleasing, especially to those whose lives are rigidly patterned.

Having reviewed the public’s and the public officials’ reactions, the narrator reveals the reason for having inflated the balloon. The narrator has been romantically involved with a person who has been visiting Norway, and the balloon was the narrator’s way of disclosing the unease felt at the partner’s absence. When the narrator’s partner returns, the narrator decides that the balloon is no longer needed. The balloon is dismantled, awaiting another time that they again feel angry with each other.

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Themes