Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby Analysis

Donald Barthelme

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story includes many traditional elements of a fable: simple, straightforward narration; one-dimensional characters; uncomplicated, black-and-white logic; and a morally satisfying, didactic ending. However, unlike classic fables, which teach useful lessons, in this story the gap between the extreme action (hanging) and the vague offense it purports to correct (going “too far”) makes it difficult to take the lesson literally, or even, it would seem, seriously.

Colby is told to “be reasonable,” to conform to the commonsense norm of his friends. Reasonableness does indeed seem to be one of the group’s leading traits, as is seen in their even-tempered discussion of the numerous practical arrangements for the hanging, with its democratic weighing of pros and cons. However, reason in the service of brutality is reason debased. While they may be reasonable about some matters, for example in providing a tent in case of rain, they are notably unreasonable about others, as when concern for protecting a tree ironically obscures concern for human life. The friends appear to be logical as well as reasonable, moving directly from cause to effect (“And now he’d gone too far, so we decided to hang him”). Their logic, however, is as perverted as their reasoning. After all, they never consider any form of punishment less extreme than murder. The speciousness of this logic originates in the subtle capacity of language as they use it to disguise the nature of reality; hence their self-deluding wit, as when Colby jokes about his friends being “a little Draconian.” In the hands of this group, both language and logic are distorted, as if in illustration of George Orwell’s famous dictum that “if thought corrupts language, language can...

(The entire section is 715 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Barthelme, Helen Moore. Donald Barthelme: The Genesis of a Cool Sound. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2001.

Gordon, Lois. Donald Barthelme. Boston: Twayne, 1981.

Hudgens, Michael Thomas. Donald Barthelme: Postmodernist American Writer. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2001.

Klinkowitz, Jerome. Donald Barthelme: An Exhibition. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1991.

McCaffery, Larry. The Metafictional Muse: The Works of Robert Coover, Donald Barthelme, and William H. Gass. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1982.

Molesworth, Charles. Donald Barthelme’s Fiction: The Ironist Saved from Drowning. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1982.

Olsen, Lance, ed. Review of Contemporary Fiction 11 (Summer, 1991).

Patteson, Richard F., ed. Critical Essays on Donald Barthelme. New York: G. K. Hall, 1992.

Roe, Barbara L. Donald Barthelme: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1992.

Stengel, Wayne B. The Shape of Art in the Short Stories of Donald Barthelme. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985.

Trachtenberg, Stanley. Understanding Donald Barthelme. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990.

Waxman, Robert. “Apollo and Dionysus: Donald Barthelme’s Dance of Life.” Studies in Short Fiction 33 (Spring, 1996): 229-243.