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Oh, the Wonder! Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Willie McBain is experiencing the psychological turmoil that typically afflicts college students at one time or another to some degree. He is feeling panicky because he finds himself unable to study. Like William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, he feels that he is reading nothing but “words, words, words,” and sometimes finds himself staring for hours at a single page. It is a psychological phenomenon so familiar to college students that it has been humorously labeled “senior psychosis.”

Willie now has only one week to write two overdue term papers and three weeks to write his master’s degree paper and study for language examinations that will qualify him for the Ph.D. program. He is also engaged to marry a woman named Sarah, but he is not sure that he really loves her. He phones his friend Lickens and tells him he thinks his problem is that he feels afraid of everything. At one point he says, “Oh, the wonder of it all. Life is unbearable.” Later he calls his fiancé and starts a pointless argument.

Although Willie is a difficult person to get along with, he manages to keep the affection of Lickens and Sarah, who appreciate his intelligence and honesty. His studies of the world’s major philosophical systems have contributed to his confusion. He is fascinated and terrified by life’s unanswerable questions: Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going?

Willie engages in loveless sex with a promiscuous young secretary nicknamed Luscious Louise. Afterward he storms out of her apartment and borrows Lickens’s car without permission. On his way to Philadelphia, he stops for coffee and nearly gets into a fight with five teenage boys. Because he has no money, he siphons gas out of another car, which turns out to belong to the teenagers. They follow but run out of gas.

Willie is driving to Philadelphia partly out of jealousy. He suspects Sarah of having an affair with Roger Stennis, an insufferable young graduate student who obviously has a brilliant career ahead of him. He hopes to catch them in bed together so that he will have an excuse for breaking off his engagement. When he reaches Sarah’s apartment at 6:00 a.m. , he is both...

(The entire section is 561 words.)