The story begins with background information about the narrator’s parents. The narrator describes his father, a farm-hand, as living an unambitious life before marrying his mother, a teacher. The inciting incident of the story seems to be that the narrator is born, because after his birth, 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: “The American passion for getting up in the world took possession of them. It may have been that mother was responsible. Being a school-teacher she had no doubt read books and magazines.” The rising action continues with the author 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.” Really, because 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 takes some time detailing the grotesques, hens 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 “People…liked to look at strange and wonderful things.” This gimmick turns out to be another representation of his parent's failures, and become important later on in the story. The narrator's dad 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 and becomes a victim of futile attempts to entertain. While the narrator's dad 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 were 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 here:
Father made a last desperate effort to conquer the egg and make it do the thing that would establish his reputation as one who knew how to entertain guests who came into his restaurant. He worried the egg. He attempted to be somewhat rough with it. He swore and the sweat stood out on his fore- head. The egg broke under his hand.
When the contents spurted over his...
(The entire section contains 1645 words.)
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