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Fiction analysis: “Breath”

While the incident reflects the childishness of the young boys, it also reveals the different emotions experienced by Bruce Pike, whose characters shine through as he transitions from an observer to an active protagonist. Winton uses the shift of point of view and contrast to establish potential reactions to the incident and employs the use of stream of consciousness to directly portray the initially triggered and later more mature and conflicted response of Bruce Pike, whose actions carry his inevitable childishness as well as courage, sympathy, and kindness.

From the shift of point of views, Winton contrasts the different ways that the protagonist and the women perceive the seemingly dangerous event. Describing the same reaction of the women from an omniscient point of view to narrating it in the voice of Bruce Pike, the author shows the reposed yet bold response from the protagonist, contrasting the exaggerated inaction of the bystanders to the calmness and action of the boy. From writing that the women are “yanking at their own ears and screaming,” the author initially describes he scene with urgency. As the point of view shifts, however, the subtle observations of the boy where he sees “dragonflies in the air” and “towel near the diving plank” render the character someone with reason and bravery. Again under the boy’s perspective, “the sluggish water seemed harmless” yet the women “were making a fruitful noise” and “looked strangely out of place.” From the shift the point of view, the narrator alludes to the different reactions of the bystanders because of their different understanding of the event, which later explains the boy’s empathetic revelation that “it was more fun to pull this prank than it was to stand by while someone else did it.” The shift in perspectives directly mirrors the boy’s ability to perceive an event from different angles, which makes him a mature and thoughtful character.

Similarly, the use of contrast achieves the effect of portraying the boy’s response as thoughtful by directly comparing the boy’s informed action with the women’s confused inaction. For example, the line “I stood bouncing on the plank while she lay in the muck” contrasts mobility with static inaction, while the urgency of the event in the fourth paragraph contrasts with Ivan Loon’s reaction. At the same time, the reaction of the women of giving out “such a feral shriek” and “falling back on the mud as if shot” contrasts with the Ivan Loon’s prank. In the fifth paragraph, the series of contrast between the anger of the woman and the guilty pleasure Loon experiences all serve to contrast the superficial fun that Bruce Pike should feel with the internal guilt for preying on other people’s sympathy. The series of contrast translate into the thematic contradiction of temporary pleasure and the haunting conscience, as Bruce Pike reflects that “I began to feel more guilt than glee.”

         Finally, the use of stream of consciousness perfectly allows the generously mature voice of the protagonist to shine through. From describing with details the inner thoughts of the boy when he decides that “it would be best to wade in from the bank,” the author reflects the kindness of the boy, who tells himself that “there wasn’t time to go looking for help. I was it.” Likewise, the stream of consciousness of Bruce Pike when he expresses embarrassment to “see this woman standing there in her clinging dress with her dimpled knees and chubby legs all muddy” and the “sympathy and contempt” experienced reveal the ironic guilt and the anger of the woman—a transformative moment to the boy who consumes the aftermath of his own plot.

        Through the use of point of view shifts, contrasts, and stream of consciousness, the author characterizes the reaction of the boy as the direct consequence of being able to view the duality and complexity of an issue as someone with a sense of duty and responsibility


Published by Sunny

I am a high school rising sophomore and I love to read and write.

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