Personality Differences in the Two Main Characters
Marisa Silver’s short story “What I Saw from Where I Stood” is, as one can tell from the title, an account of limited point of view. It is Charles’s view of what happened to him and his wife following her miscarriage, and Charles narrates the story. The story illustrates how people read their environment differently depending on their point of view. To each person, some details stand out more than others, depending on the person’s experience and his or her makeup. When two people experience loss, they may come away finding separate meanings in their shared experience. The significance of those details is determined by a person’s perception. So while one person might be filled with fear and pessimism, as the wife Dulcie is, another person might focus on other details and be filled with awe and excitement, as Charles is.
In Silver’s short story, the narrator begins by describing Dulcie’s fear. She is afraid of freeways because she feels she cannot control where she is going as well as she can when she drives along side roads with regular intersections and streetlights. Later, the narrator explains that Dulcie likes to analyze everything. She needs to know the cause of her circumstances, needs to know why she miscarried the baby, what she did wrong to have the car stolen, why the rats come to their apartment wall to make scratching noises behind their bed. For Dulcie, believing that she is in control gives her courage; she can accept their circumstances as long as they do not disrupt her sense of how things should be. Unfortunately, their circumstances constantly show her she is not in control, and so they frighten her. She continually anticipates something dreadful may happen. Suddenly vulnerable after the baby’s death, Dulcie begins to dread the worst. Her life and her thoughts are constantly distracted by possibilities of doom. Why else would she be fearful of being on the freeway and having limited options of escape? It is because she expects the worst to happen and needs a quick exit in order to avoid it. Ironically, her avoidance of freeways made her choose a side street where their car was hijacked.
Looking back on the months following the baby’s death, Charles begins the story the evening they drove home from a party: he was drunk, and Dulcie was driving. He sits in the passenger seat, looking out the window, watching the scenery change from suburb to urban setting then watching how the people change from guys with “pudgy girlfriends” to “boys strutting the boulevard, waiting to slip into some one’s silver Mercedes and make a buck.” He is leaning back, somewhat dazed, and taking in the details. Even when the guys who eventually steal his car bump into the back of them, the narrator simply reacts to the slight dent in the fender rather than immediately wanting to accuse anyone for the damage. The incident happened; it was not big thing, and the narrator is ready to move on. Having been drinking, Charles takes things in stride, does not need to justify or explain them. But when he sees that one of the carjackers has a gun, Charles admits that he is scared. Now he reacts. He pulls Dulcie, and together they run away. As they consult with police, Charles is more able that Dulcie to get over this experience.
Dulcie, by contrast, will not let go. She attempts to gather all the details like someone piecing together a jigsaw puzzle. She wants the incident to make sense. In the process, she feeds her fear. The youths have the narrator’s keys. If they look at the car registration papers, they will know where Charles and Dulcie live. Dulcie does not stop there. She imagines. If the youths who robbed their car know where Dulcie lives, she automatically assumes that they will come after her. If they come to the house, what will they do? Dulcie may imagine that they will steal their things. She may imagine that they will rape her, hurt her, and maybe even kill her. Fear knows no end. Dulcie obsesses about these possibilities. This mental movie keeps her awake and agitated and away from her job. Now when she drives down the road, she thinks about guns. She reads articles and memorizes statistics about how many people own guns. The man in the car next probably has one, Dulcie imagines. The woman at the market most assuredly carries one in her purse. Guns are everywhere, at least in Dulcie’s mind.
Charles reports that he goes to work the day after the car hijacking. He has removed himself from the incident with the youths. When he comes back home, however, he discovers that Dulcie has moved things around. She can no longer sleep in the bedroom because there is a rat that makes scratching noises on the other side of the wall, and Dulcie cannot make it go away. The rat does not fit into Dulcie’s imagined world, where babies are born healthy, streets lead safely home, and rats live in garbage cans or in someone else’s home. Since Dulcie cannot remove the rat from their bedroom, she removes the bed. Charles says that Dulcie had been okay with the rat for a while. She even gave the rat a name, as if it were a pet. But since the incident with the car hijackers, Dulcie has lost it. She has too much to think about now. Her fears from the hijacking are all consuming. Now the rat is a vermin that can kill. Dulcie’s perceptions are changing. Now everything is out to get her.
Charles views the rat differently. He does not like it any better than Dulcie, but he patched up all the holes that might give it access to their apartment. This assures him that the rat will not harm them. He feels like he fixed the situation, but Dulcie insists on their finding an exterminator. Dulcie is horrified when she sees the Rod, the rat-removing guy, put on surgical gloves. In Dulcie’s mind this confirms her greatest fears, that rats are carriers of disease. In contrast, Charles comments, “This was a guy who dealt with rats every day of his life, and it didn’t seem to faze him.” Here there are three different...
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