Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby

by Donald Barthelme

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The characters of Donald Barthelme's 1773 short story "Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby" are few and relatively flat by virtue of it being a short piece of fiction.

The title character, Colby, has committed an unnamed transgression, defined by the narrator in the second sentence as simply "having gone too far." By the time the short story opens, the characters seem to have agreed that Colby should be subjected to a death by hanging. Like the other characters, Colby is not described physically and is not ever directly quoted (as few other characters are, however sparsely). According to the narrator, Colby seems to mildly protest that he should not be subjected to hanging, though he did not deny having gone too far.

In addition to Colby, the characters have fairly ordinary names (which contributes to the story's ironic tone), and each is discussed in only a handful of lines: Hugh, Magnus, Tomas, Howard, Harry, Paul, and Hank. Each belongs to the members of Colby's alleged group of friends, and each seems to unreservedly support his hanging. Hugh suggests that the invitations not be too specific, lest the attention of the authorities is attracted. Magnus says that he will be responsible for printing the invitations. Tomas, an architect, seems disappointed that the group decides to use a tree instead of his design for a gibbet. It is also Tomas's idea to use a rubber ball instead of a chair for the hanging. Howard, a conductor, tells Colby that his requested music (Ives' Fourth Symphony) would take too much time to prepare. Harry runs a car-and-truck rental and charges himself with procuring vehicles for the hanging. Paul chimes in only to doubt the necessity of a hangman for the event, and Hank is silent except to suggest that wire be used instead of rope. Each of these characters contributes in a small way to the logistical aspects of the hanging, as there is no moral discussion.

The narrator himself is never named, though he explains that the event was successfully carried out and that the most memorable part of the occasion, for him, was the grateful look that Colby gave him when he supported using rope instead of wire for the hanging.

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