“Bullet in the Brain” (literary Analysis)


For most people, having a gun pointed at their head would fill them with immense fear and persuade them to follow the orders of the gun-wielding individual. Unlike most people, Anders from Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain” is reluctant to comply with a gunman’s requests when he finds himself in the middle of a bank robbery. Through his witty comments, while facing death and his odd thoughts while dying, Anders’s behaviors prove that his character is unable to act like an ordinary person because of his occupation as a book critic.
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Anders’s feisty conversation with the woman in front of him at the bank reveals his inability to be agreeable when talking to others. When the woman makes a snarky remark about the bank teller, Anders turns his “towering hatred” from the teller to the woman (Wolff 30). He is unable to resist the urge of critiquing the woman’s opinion despite their similar situation. Instead of arguing with Anders, the woman “stares past him and says nothing” to avoid further confrontation (Wolff 31). Anders’s obsession with the opinions of others proves that he is at odds with the realistic ways in which normal people communicate. He is unable to disconnect from his work as a critic, leading him to evaluate the words of others without empathy.
When robbers infiltrate the bank, Anders is still unable to keep his thoughts to himself. He is undeterred when the gunman tells him to “…shut your trap” and “…stop looking at me” and continues to critique their word choice (Wolff 31). Instead of following their orders, Anders decides to hang on their every word, questioning their use of the phrase “bright boy” which was “Right out of The Killers” (Wolff 31). His final words were spent laughing to himself about the robber’s use of the word “capiche” prompting the robber to shoot him in the head (Wolff 32). Anders’s disregard for his life during the bank robbery reveal him as an unrealistic character who only cares about himself. The innate fear that normal people have in moments of terror is missing from Anders who is fearless in a nonheroic and self-serving manner.
The description of Anders’s thoughts as the bullet passes through his brain contain unusual memories from his childhood. The narrator mentions the important things that Anders fails to think of while dying such as his family, professors, and ex-lovers. By forgetting these important details of his life, Anders illustrates the unusual events that hold importance in his life that common people find insignificant. The only memory that runs through his head is that of that of the boy who says “short is the best position they is”, and Anders not correcting his painfully incorrect grammar (Wolff 33). This memory humanizes Anders, showing a time where he didn’t care about the words of others and is able to have fun. It illuminates a period in Anders’s life before his work as a book critic takes over how he interacts with the world.
Anders is an unrealistic character in “Bullet in the Brain” by Tobias Wolff. His inability to keep quiet and eagerness to correct others in a time of terror reveal his reckless nature. He directly contrasts the actions and thoughts of ordinary humans that are found in a life-threatening situation. Anders’s occupation as a book critic interferes with his ability to interact with others outside of work. His character serves as a reminder for us to focus on the happy parts of life instead of the miserable ones.         

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