Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Rising above the story’s surface of detailed realism is an allegory of irrational male aggression that reaches back through history beyond the era of dueling to prehistory, when men slew one another out of mere instinctual territorial combativeness. Mann is Everyman, from the first man to man at this moment to man in the future. For the first half of the combat, strange in a modern, civilized setting but commonplace in the jungle, Mann’s antagonist is more an alien mechanical force than a person: “He visualized the truck as some great entity pursuing him, insentient, brutish, chasing him with instinct only.” After Mann sees the driver’s face and learns his name from the printing on the side of the truck—Keller (read “Killer”)—the duel is between two men but reduced to the level of their primeval ancestors, bereft of human empathy and intellect, a function of animal reflex and instinct.

In the first half of the story, in the Chuck’s Cafe restroom, a hostile oasis, Mann can reflect on the way in which modern society suppresses the knowledge that man’s aggressive instincts have survived more than two thousand years of the civilizing process; each person is so dependent on the illusion that he and other people are civilized that when the primitive, irrational violence erupts, he is totally unprepared to understand logically or react effectively to it: “Suddenly, the jungle is in front of you again. Man, part animal, part angel.”...

(The entire section is 543 words.)