“Bullet in the Brain” is a short story by Tobias Wolff. It was first published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1981.
The story is told from the perspective of a book editor, who is shot in the head during a robbery. As he lies dying, he reflects on his life and career.
Wolff uses sharp, concise language to explore the thoughts and feelings of the protagonist as he comes to terms with his own mortality.
“Bullet in the Brain” is a powerful and moving story about death, and the ways in which we make sense of our lives.
The Persona in the Brain In “Bullet in the Brain,” the protagonist is a man with a very distinct personality. Anders is seen from the start as a peculiar individual who attracts attention. The robbery takes place in a bank about to be attacked by robbers wearing ski masks.
As the robbers come in, Anders makes sarcastic remarks about their poor choice of weapon and that they should have planned better. It is only until one of the robbers demands that he hands over his wallet that we see a change in Anders. He suddenly becomes very calm and polite, doing as the robber says. When the second robber comes in and points his gun at Anders, Anders starts to laugh.
This shocks both of the robbers and they eventually shoot him in the brain. As Anders lay dying on the ground, he thinks back to various moments in his life. These memories range from happy ones such as his first kiss to more tragic memories such as when his wife died. The story ends with a thought from Anders questioning why he laughed when the robber pointed the gun at his head.
It is never explicitly stated why Anders laughs when the robber points the gun at him, but it is implied that he does so because he is tired of living. Throughout the story, we see that Anders is a character who is not afraid to speak his mind and does not care about what others think of him. He is also a character who has suffered many losses in his life, including the death of his wife. It is possible that he laughed in the face of death because he was tired of living a life full of pain and loss. Whatever the reason for his laughter, it ultimately gets him killed.
Anders, as a book critic, allows his trade to overwhelm his critical thought during the heist. This puts the bank robber’s patience to the test, culminating in Anders’ death at the conclusion of the tale. In the story’s opening sentence, which introduces Anders’ character, “a book critic known for the weary, elegant savagery with which he dispatched almost everything he reviewed” (542),
This is the first hint that Anders is not the best person to be a book critic. If he is known for being savage in his reviews, it means that he lacks objectivity and instead, brings his own personal biases into his work.
Although Wolff does not explicitly state it, it is possible that Anders’ bias might have something to do with why he was quick to judge the robber’s intelligence. When the robber tells Anders to “shut up,” Anders immediately assumes that the man is uneducated and “dumb” (542). He then proceeds to talk down to the robber, saying things like “You don’t know anything” and “You can’t even talk right” (542).
Anders’ elitist attitude is also evident in the way he looks down on the other hostages. When the teller, Marge, tries to engage him in conversation, he cuts her off and tells her to “shut up” (542). He is also dismissive of the man who fainted, calling him a “wimp” (542).
It is clear that Anders does not have a lot of patience for people who are not like him. He is judgmental and quick to anger. This ultimately leads to his downfall because he underestimates the robber and ends up getting shot in the head.
By starting with an examination of the character’s personality traits, we can better understand why his vocation as a book critic has led to so much unhappiness in his life, eventually culminating in him being shot in the head.
Anders is firstly introduced to us as a man who is never satisfied. In his opening tirade, he criticizes the waiter for taking too long with his drink order and makes a point to state that the drink is not up to par. It is also made clear that Anders is not a people person. When the waiter asks him how his day was, Anders gives a short, rude response of “Fine,” cutting off any possible conversation.
This shows us that Anders would rather not interact with people if he can help it. He keeps to himself and only speaks when necessary, which could be part of the reason why he has such trouble making friends or keeping a partner. We later find out that his wife left him because she couldn’t take his “constant stream of negativity.”
Anders’ critical personality also plays a role in his profession as a book critic. He is quick to judge the books he reads and is never afraid to voice his opinion, no matter how unpopular it may be. In the world of book criticism, this can make him either loved or hated by the general public. It seems that Anders is more often than not met with disdain, as evidenced by the reactions of the people in line at the bank.
When one woman recognizes him as a book critic, she immediately begins to berate him for giving a bad review to her favorite author. The other people in line soon join in, and it quickly becomes a mob-like situation. Anders is visibly shaken by the experience, and it’s clear that he is not used to being on the receiving end of such hatred.
Anders’ negative personality traits come to a head in the final moments of the story, when he is shot in the brain by a hold-up man. As he lies dying on the floor of the bank, his thoughts turn not to his wife or family, but to books. He begins to think about all of the books he has read over the years and how they have affected him.
He thinks about the good ones and the bad ones, and how each one has made him feel. In his final moments, Anders comes to the realization that books are what have made his life worth living. Despite all of the negativity and pain that they have caused him, he would not trade them for anything in the world.
Anders’ story is a tragic one, but it is also a very relatable one. Many of us can find ourselves in his shoes at some point in our lives. We’ve all been guilty of being too critical at times, and we’ve all had to deal with the negative consequences that come with it. But at the end of the day, we are all still human beings who crave connection and understanding. And sometimes, it takes a tragedy like this to remind us of what truly matters in life.