Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Big Me” explores the contrast between the permanence of time and the imperfections of memory. The story raises questions of whether people can create their own identities or if they are trapped in their lives and their relationships to the people around them.

Young Andy worries about the future, that the world might be on the edge of disaster and that human life might come to an end. He has recently read Het Achterhuis (1947; The Diary of a Young Girl, 1952), a two-year record Anne Frank kept while hiding from the Nazis, and he begins keeping his journal so his words, at least, might live on, beyond him. As the adult who tells this story, Andy is haunted by the fates of the rest of his family, how he has lost touch with his mother, and how he has yet to visit his father’s grave.

The only keepsake Andy retains is a plaque that once hung on Mickelson’s wall. “I wear the chains I forged in life,” it reads, which are Jacob Marley’s words from A Christmas Carol (1843), by British Victorian author Charles Dickens. Jacob Marley is Ebenezer Scrooge’s old partner, now deceased, who visits Scrooge to persuade him to change his ways just before Scrooge is visited by the three ghosts of Christmas. Andy, like Scrooge, is visited by what appears to be a ghost from the future, who warns him that his current actions may lead to a terrible future. Similarly, the adult Andy is haunted by the ghosts of the past and the permanence of what cannot be changed.

As an adult, Andy argues with his brother Mark about the events of their childhood. Mark recalls the children running for their life as their father chased them with a gun. Mark says their father tried to commit suicide, but Andy does not recall either event. Mark claims their parent had drunken fights every night, but Andy recalls these evenings as resembling scenes from a television comedy, in which people bicker as the audience laughs. The adult Andy sees that people are made up of many alternative versions and many different selves, some long forgotten and others that are haunting memories. Sometimes, these different versions are fantasies, dreams entered to avoid present troubles.