See the Moon? Summary
by Donald Barthelme

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See the Moon? Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The form of this story is that of a monologue in which the speaker’s perceptions and revelations are the primary content. The speaker, or narrator, would seem to be confiding his deepest apprehensions and ambitions, along with much of his life history to an interlocutor of some sort, a visitor or friend, or perhaps even a psychiatrist, because the narrator’s personality is, to say the least, odd. He claims to be conducting “very important lunar hostility studies,” although his methods “may seem a touch light-minded. Have to do chiefly with folded paper airplanes.” Indeed, he confesses to “a frightful illness of the mind, light-mindedness” while at another point he asserts that he is nevertheless “riotous with mental health.”

To a literal-minded reader, the narrator may seem simply to be insane. In the world of this story, however, conventional standards of neither sanity nor fictional form have much relevance. The narrator’s obsession with the moon and its possible negative influence implies inevitably the origins of the word “lunatic.” The implication is more than likely ironic and intentional on the author’s part, for if the narrator is a “lunatic,” he is certainly a brilliant one whose provocative observations cannot be dismissed merely as the product of a deranged mind.

During the course of the disjointed, meandering narration, a coherent autobiography emerges, fragment by fragment. The narrator was, in the late 1940’s, a very promising student at an unnamed university on the Gulf Coast. He was drafted into the United States Army on graduation, however, and sent to Korea. On his return to civilian life, he was hired by his alma mater as an assistant to its president with the primary responsibility of writing “poppycock, sometimes cockypap” for the president’s speeches. He married Sylvia, and they had a son, Gregory. Within a few years he became disillusioned with his work at the university; rearing a child proved to be a further stress; he resigned from his job, and his marriage ended in divorce.

At the time of the story, Gregory is a freshman at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Obsessed by his own quest for selfhood, Gregory makes frequent, unexpected telephone calls to his father with questions out of the blue such as “Why did I have to take those little pills?” or “What did my great-grandfather do?” The narrator has meanwhile remarried in middle age, and his current wife, Ann, is pregnant with a child whom they call Gog—a name whose apocalyptic associations seem, in this instance, bizarrely incongruous.

Although it is hard to say what the narrator at this point actually does...

(The entire section is 663 words.)