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Analysis Of Rebecca Makkai's Short Story 'The Briefcase'

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Rebecca Makkai’s short story, “The Briefcase” embraces Hemingway’s self-described Iceberg Theory of writing. Bare and cold, “The Briefcase” is a story of omission; the structure deep beneath the surface of the printed word floating on a page. Makkai’s war time setting is like a treatise on life. The need to live find us drifting, grasping for self-definition. It matters who we are as individuals; to make sense of our lives. Makkai turns us upside down; our puffed up secure universe of self. War reveals our real self is only concerned about survival. Life is about surviving hard times. If you haven’t had hard times, keep living.
The success of “The Briefcase” is based on a reader’s ability to forego detailed description for the thrill
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Driven for food, clothing, shelter, Chef presses Professor T’s friends for money…and expresses concern for the wife… to keep money rolling into the mailbox. Filling his “empty days” with doodles and mind twisters, Chef occupies his time. While contemplating the nature of the universe where even the stars escape Earth. Bodily needs met, Chef can afford to dwell on the nature of the universe. He needs to expand his mind to cope; to make himself safe.

Base needs met, Chef moves to fulfill sexual needs without love; just an opportunity to pontificate to “get the girl”. A painting of an apple causes Chef to dwell on times past; a time before war. A time of friendship; not love. We do not need details. The apple peeling away is enough. It is a comfort to him. A simpler less complicated time where his life was his own. Art stimulates the mind.
“Girl” also stimulates the mind; and body. Important as it is to note the need for companionship and seek understanding, just a few short sentences sums up the relationship. The depth of the iceberg is not shown, but there is the human need for tactile satisfaction and talk. Communing with the
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On the run, Chef’s mental mantra becomes “running by standing still. Surviving without distinction or attraction of unwanted attention. The interior life is more of a comfort.
New tribulations threaten his survival. As the world of war sinks deeper into deprivation and economic loss for all of society; Chef loses, too. Loss of funds, “friends”, soldiers occupy the cafes. While checking the mailbox for letters and coins, the clerk of the post office has a package for Professor T; his beautiful woman in grey.
Chef is revealed as a poseur. The “woman” is one who will not accept Chef’s homemade theory of relativity ie if he wears the shirt of Professor he is keeping him alive. He bargains: ” The woman does not see how she is murdering her husband, right here in the post office lobby. He whispers to her: Let me go home with you. I’ll be a father to your son, and I’ll warm your bed, and I’ll keep you safe.” The offer is
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