Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The story begins with background information about the narrator’s parents. The narrator describes his father, a farmhand, as living an unambitious life before marrying his mother, a teacher. The inciting incident of the story seems to be the narrator’s birth. After he is born, his parents become ambitious for the first time in their lives. The narrator attributes this to his mother being a teacher, and therefore a reader. He holds the belief that because his mother was well-read and knew what the world could offer, she wanted more for her family.
The rising action continues with the narrator discussing his parents’ first attempts at success, which turns out to be a ten-year failure on a chicken farm. In this section, the narrator takes some time setting up the symbolic significance of eggs by explaining how being raised on a chicken farm led to his early disillusion with the world. He writes, “From the beginning they were impressions of disaster and if, in my turn, I am a gloomy man inclined to see the darker side of life, I attribute it to the fact that what should have been for me the happy joyous days of childhood were spent on a chicken farm.” Since the narrator’s family was not successful, he drew parallels between the futile lives of chickens and his own family’s failed attempts to thrive economically.
The rising action continues with the narrator’s parents opening a restaurant. In this section, the author describes the “grotesques,” or chickens born with freakish characteristics that do not survive long, which his father preserved in alcohol and put on display. The narrator’s father seemed to believe the grotesques would have brought him fame had they lived, and he keeps them as entertainment for customers, believing that visitors would be interested in these “strange and wonderful things.” This gimmick turns out to be another representation of his parent's failures, and becomes important later on in the story. The narrator's father believes the oddities will fascinate customers, but he is wrong.
One night, a man named Joe Kane from Bidwell visits the Pickleville restaurant during the narrator’s father’s night shift. He becomes a victim of futile attempts to entertain. While the narrator's father is working the night shift, he invents a scheme to find more success by entertaining the young men and women from Birdwell, and so Joe Kane's visit is his first opportunity to entertain. Unfortunately, the narrator’s father is not a born extrovert; his attempts at conversation about Christopher Columbus make Joe believe he has real anger towards the historic figure, and his attempts to entertain make the customer think he is "mildly insane but harmless." The first trick attempted is to make an egg stand up on a table. The venture takes so long that Joe loses interest by the time the narrator's father finally achieves the remarkable feat. This is where the grotesques come in: the narrator’s father takes the grotesques down from the shelf to show the visitor, which prompts Joe to become ill and attempt to leave despite the rain. Successfully convincing Joe to stay, his father attempts one final trick, to put an egg in a bottle. As if he is a novelty shop, he promises Joe he can have the impressive egg in a bottle once he has put it inside and shown it to everyone. He probably believes Joe having it to show off will draw more customers to the restaurant. The climax of the story occurs when the narrator’s father attempts to put the vinegar-softened egg into a bottle. The egg breaks and Joe...
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laughs at him. This angers the father, and he chucks an egg at Joe’s head as he leaves the restaurant.
Joe just isn't as interested in eggs and chickens as the narrator's father thinks he should be. The story resolves with his father crying in front of the narrator and his mother, and then closing the restaurant early to go to sleep. The egg becomes a symbol of the family’s failure to find success in the American dream but is triumphant because it still holds a fascination for the narrator and his father.