“By and By” by Amy Bloom is told through a first-person narrative from the perspective of the deceased protagonist’s roommate. Though the narrator shifts in and out of past and present tense, the story is simple. Anne (the protagonist) went on a camping trip with her boyfriend Teddy, and Eugene Trask (the antagonist) suddenly appeared to murder Teddy, then he kidnapped Anne, resulting in her missing for four days. In the end, Eugene tried to rape her near Lake Pleasant, and when she tried to defend herself, it gave Eugene a reason to turn and kill her instead.
Her body was found near an old mine near Speculator by two kids searching for gold and garnet. If there was a word to describe this story, it would be “death,” or any word along the same context. Upon hearing that word, goosebumps pop up all over my arms, shivers run down my spine, and I get this weird taste in my mouth. Unfortunately, that word, and words like it (dead, die, killed, etc. ) appeared about sixteen times, give or take a few, in the text. This forced me to take a closer look at the meaning of death and what it means to me.
For some reason, I have always taken death lightly; I never questioned what would or could happen afterwards, since I am confident about where I will end up. Reading this story made me aware of how real death is and how much it can affect loved ones during its aftermath. The narrator’s descriptions and thoughts about death, Anne’s story, and Eugene’s actions, are the aspects of the story that I will focus on to support my argument on how this story changed my perception of death. Before analyzing the main characters of this story, I should state my former perception of death.
Because I am a Christian, I have always known where I will end up. Therefore, the thought of death or dying never really made me afraid. I know that Heaven is my final resting place, so I have never been sensitive about it. I know that death is unavoidable and inevitable and because I know this fact, I have always been dismissive about it. However, after reading this story, I noticed that I began to care more about death. “What if? ” questions are constantly flooding my mind and I am now doing my best to spend time with my family members before their times are up.
I know that God can take them away from me at any time. With this thought in my mind, I will proceed to analyzing the narrator, Anne, and Eugene, and their connections with my perception of death. We are never told what the name of Anne’s roommate is, though one can automatically assume that she is female and is similarly-aged to Anne because she was her roommate. She does not seem to be a very major character in the story, but she still has a lot of depth to her character. She is round because she is not an archetype, nor is she one-dimensional.
Evidence of this dotted throughout the story, in the instances where she speaks about death and when she was interviewed by the police in regards to Anne’s disappearance (Bloom 496-497). However, we know that she is a static character in the story. She mentions that, “it was entirely due to Anne that I [she] was able to walk through the world like a normal person (Bloom 497),” which is evidence that Anne helped her change in the past, but not during the story. Thus, the narrator is a static character.
We know from her narration that she cares a lot about Anne and her family, even though she was just a roommate, not a family member. It is clear that Anne’s death, which is when the story is set right after, took a huge toll on the narrator and her thoughts because while she tells the story, she often shifts in and out of past and present as though she is thinking erratically and randomly. In the first sentence, she already stereotypes and generalizes death by stating that, “Every death is violent (Bloom 494).
” She describes what the human eye does in the process of dying, which I found interesting, but irrelevant, then proceeds to telling the story. She often takes breaks from telling the story (from the past) and fills that space with descriptions of death (in the present). In these descriptions of death, the first is focused on the eye, then how the entire body decays, to the heart, then the connection between death and Anne, and finally, the “dead” things in her life. There is a pattern in how she tells her story with each paragraph, alternating between past and present.
This caught my attention because I am used to first-person narratives choosing a specific tense and sticking with it. However, Bloom seems to make a point with these tense changes, as if she wants us readers to notice and analyze it. I think she deliberately changed the tense because she probably wanted the narrator to appear all over the place. Coincidently enough, most people in grief often appear to be all over the place. To sum it up, though the narrator was a static-minor character, she had a lot of depth and importance to the story.
Anne’s story is a tragic one and unfortunately, we never find out her personality through her own eyes. But, according to the text, Anne was a very pure and bright young woman. She was described as a “sophisticate by birth” by her mother, Mrs. Warburg and the narrator. The narrator even went as far as to saying, “I was not a sophisticate from birth,” implying that Anne was the sophisticated one (Bloom 495). For example, when her mother wanted her to be a dancer, she did not want to follow that path, but went through “Debate Club, Rhetoric, Student Court, [and] Model U. N.
” because she loved talking (Bloom 497). That was a sign of her sophistication. She mirrored her mother in personality, for she was her “mother’s daughter, (Bloom 495)” and it was obvious that both of them loved to entertain and have parties. For Anne’s tenth birthday, it was Hawaiian-themed, complete with a hotdog luau and a pin-the-lei-on-the-donkey game. There was also an apartment party hosted by Anne and the narrator and it was a wonderful affair that had wine (in paper cups that they pretended to be wine glasses), golden spray-painted furniture (Anne’s idea), candles, and dimmed lights.
This brought up an interesting detail that I noticed about Anne, only Anne, when the narrator tells the story. Anne seemed to be connected to colors, certain colors that represented her personality. In fact, there were only two main colors that the narrator connected her with: gold and white. The first mention of gold was on page 495 when the narrator tells the readers about the party in their apartment and the furniture that was spray-painted GOLD. I did not think much of it then. However, during Eugene’s confession to the police about Anne’s death, when her body was found at an old mine near Speculator, which was where two kids were looking for garnets, GOLD, and arrowheads (Bloom 498).
And the last section where gold appears is in the last paragraph where the narrator speaks about the “dead” things in her life and she mentions Anne’s “wet GOLD hair” (Bloom 499). I do not know the significance of gold itself, but I know that it has literary symbolism to the narrator. When I think of gold, I think of wealth. Yes, Anne was well-off financially, but that cannot be all. Gold can also be a symbol of purity and regality, and Anne was known to be a sophisticate, as her mother described in page 495.
I think gold ties in very tightly with white, although there are only two times when white is associated with Anne. When the narrator falls back to the beginning of the story when she was talking to Mrs. Warburg about Anne, Mrs. Warburg asked the narrator whether they should attend the funeral of Anne’s boyfriend, Teddy, or not. The narrator did not want to because it would make her think about Anne’s “death,” of which she was still in the dark about at that time. She did not want to imagine Anne in a “WHITE casket” surrounded by “WHITE carnations” (Bloom 498).
When I think of white, I think of purity and innocence, and Anne portrayed both equally. White can also mean peace, but I am sure that Bloom wants it to mean purity and innocence. How does this describe Anne’s character? The colors associated with her life and death speak volumes. Though we will never know, we can assume that she was a pure, innocent, yet sophisticated young woman who had a bright future that was clipped short by a young man named Eugene Trask. Eugene Trask was a “worthless piece of shit,” according to his sister, Rose Trask (Bloom 497). It is easy to view him in that way.
On top of killing and raping Anne, he killed her boyfriend and another random boy, all in similar ways. First, he would tie them to a tree, then he would stab them twice in the heart and end them by slashing them across the chest or with another stab.
It was with the boys that he gave the third cut, whereas he stabbed Anne only twice in the heart and left her alone to die. What is the significance of the way he killed his victims? He was killed in a similar way while escaping from Fishkill (I am assuming it was a penitentiary, though I cannot be sure, the text does not specify): two bullets to his heart and one through his lung.
I could not understand the story behind him because there was nothing in Rose’s description of him that suggested that he had a psychological dysfunction. He worked on their uncle’s farm since he was seven because he was big for his age. And his father used to throw him out of the house naked in the middle of the night because he used to wet his bed, ultimately resulting in him knowing his way around the woods. But, still there is nothing to support his murderous intentions, so I cannot find a way to diagnose his problem.
We do not even know how he was connected to Anne and Teddy in the first place, other than the fact that he knew his way around the woods. I cannot pinpoint Eugene’s personality, though I know that he was a static character that was probably round, but not according to the text. He seemed like the typical villain who killed out of spite. I cannot find out any more about his personality because of the lack of information on him. There are no colors associated with him, there is very little support in his background story, and he dies in the end. However, I can analyze his personality through the way he killed his victims.
As mentioned before, there was a pattern to his killing method: tying his victims up and stabbing them twice in the heart. That says two things about him: he knows where the heart is, meaning that he has killed in that way in the past, and he stuck to a certain method because of God-knows-why. Now, we do not know about his history, other than the fact that he killed the boy before Teddy, and neither do we know how old he was in the story. The only concrete fact we can infer is that he was violent by nature, perhaps sadistic as well, because of his structural way of killing.
Basically, he knew what he was doing. Can this mean that he was troubled or mad? Yes, it can mean that, but there is not enough evidence in the story to say that for a fact. Only his actions gave clues about his personality and yet, even that is not enough. How does this tie together? My perception of death was simple: after death, there are only two choices, heaven or hell. As long as I knew where I will end up, I did not think much about how it would affect my loved ones. Now that I have read this story, I can see that I should think more about death.
I should be less dismissive about it and become more aware. I should know that people suffer differently and joking about it will not make the concept of death disappear, which I had hoped it would. The narrator’s descriptions and thoughts about death, Anne’s story, and Eugene’s actions enlightened me in a way that I will never think about death in the same way ever again.
- Meyer, Michael. Ellen Thibault.
- The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature.
- 9th Ed. Boston, Massachusetts: St. Martin’s, 2012. Bloom, Amy.
- “By and By. ” Meyer 494-499.