Irwin Shaw Short Fiction Analysis - Essay

Irwin Shaw Short Fiction Analysis

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Irwin Shaw’s stories have appeared in many respected magazines and are frequently anthologized in collections of short fiction. War, crime, financial disaster, adultery, and moral sterility provide major conflicts as Shaw presents a wide range of human emotions. “Sailor off the Bremen,” “The Eighty-Yard Run,” “Tip on a Dead Jockey,” and “The Girls in Their Summer Dresses” are well-known examples of his narrative sophistication.

“Sailor off the Bremen”

In “Sailor off the Bremen,” a story of naïve revenge, an American football player learns the identity of the Nazi who disfigured his brother’s face. Charley, arrogant and angry in his strength, overrules his injured brother’s objections to ensnaring and punishing the offender. A series of discussions between Charley, Ernest the disfigured brother, and their friends and family develops a plot suggesting various perspectives on violence.

In a scene centered around the brothers’ kitchen table, Ernest, Preminger, and Stryker, new members of the Communist Party, disregard violence as a means for change. Charley and Ernest’s wife, Sally, however, want satisfaction for their loved one’s suffering. In the course of their arguments, even the strongest Communist of the three, Preminger, admits that aside from party leanings, the Nazi ought to be punished for his cruelty not merely to Ernest but to others he has sent to concentration camps. Then Stryker, although he is usually anxious and timid, agrees to help effect the revenge because he is Ernest’s friend. Finally Ernest himself is resigned.

Shaw handles characterization by focusing on suggestive details that reveal much about each of the men: Ernest’s face twitches almost uncontrollably; his blind eye is concealed with a dark patch. Charley’s muscular hands are cleat-marked from the previous week’s game. Stryker, a dentist who is attempting to replace Ernest’s teeth, has a dry, raspy voice filled with doubt. Preminger, an officer aboard the Bremen, is cool and confident; he looks like a midwestern college boy despite his profession of espionage. In the background, Sally, patient and hospitable, performs kitchen duties as the men discuss their plans.

Once the decision is made, the pace quickens. Preminger identifies the Nazi, Lueger, so that Sally, Charley, and Stryker will recognize him as they watch separately from another deck of the Bremen. Sally manages to arrange a date with Lueger, who is well known for his affairs with women. On the appointed evening, they see a movie, stop for a drink, and then continue along the street past a corner where Charley and Stryker are waiting.

Sally escapes when Stryker asks directions of Lueger, giving Charley the opportunity to land the first blow. In a brutal climactic scene, Stryker stands guard while Charley knocks Lueger unconscious and beats him until he has lost an eye and many teeth. Sobbing and cursing, Charley continues to beat Lueger until he is satisfied that Lueger will suffer serious injury permanently. Stryker and Charley then leave the Nazi lying in a pool of his own blood. Later, in the hospital, Preminger identifies Lueger for a questioning detective but denies any knowledge that Lueger had enemies. The eye-for-an-eye theme of the story raises questions concerning violence and morality; clearly the social and political context makes immediate answers impossible.

“The Eighty-Yard Run”

“The Eighty-Yard Run” presents another kind of social dilemma. Christian Darling, a former midwestern college football player, recalls the practice run he made that changed his football career and won for him the daughter of a wealthy manufacturer. Admired by the coaches, the students, and Louise, he appeared successful through college and afterward, when he began to manage accounts for her father in New York. As Christian muses over the long run and the intervening years, he struggles to accept the fact that he could not cope with the social and intellectual changes of the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Louise’s father, a maker of inks, had survived the initial crash and waited until 1933 to commit suicide, leaving only debts and unbought ink behind. Christian turned to alcohol, and...

(The entire section is 1754 words.)