Penelope Fitzgerald

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What do the terms "crank" and "dreamer" reveal about Brinkman in "At Hiruharama," and what does his name symbolize?

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In the story "At Hiruharma" Brinkman is an odd neighbor, who sits, seemingly at the edge of real life. This is the import of his name.  Dramatic events occur—there’s a birth, but Brinkman is just off to the side. (Yet, it’s his odd reaction to the events that draws out the meaning of the story). 

The doctor in the story sees such a man as “a crank.” That is, the man lives on his own and doesn’t seemed inclined to help anyone or make himself useful.

Indeed, when he arrives for dinner and is told that Tanner’s wife, Kitty, is in labor, his only response is to day “Then you won’t be cooking dinner.” All through the labor he sits in a chair seeming to care about nothing about his own comfort and the dinner they are eventually going to make. 

In some ways it’s unclear how Tanner could have a positive association with such a man, yet in his discussion with the doctor, he calls Brinkman “a dreamer.”

There’s some evidence for this view. Upon coming in, Brinkman ignores most of the house and instead looks at himself in the mirror. He doesn’t know what day it is; apparently he whiles his time away writing in a journal. (Tanner has only recently learned to write.)

The dreaminess is, however, made to seem ironic when Tanner says, “I came today as I came formerly for the sake of hearing a woman’s voice.” His statement is followed by screams from Kitty, who is in labor. Soon after the images of beautiful, peaceful women are replaced by images of the bloody afterbirth. 

Other evidence: ignoring the fact that he might be in the way, Tanner, tells a harried sister in law.  “I think of myself as perpetually welcome.” Moreover, his only interest in the birth is that with “two more women born into the world,” he might eventually get one for himself.

Are these signs of crankiness or dreamy obliviousness? I'd vote for the former. Yet, the narrator's tone is surprisingly kind.

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