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Anderson tells the story, “I’m a Fool”, through the voice of its main character – the swipe. The narrator’s voice enhances the story because his language reinforces his character. The swipe says that he “got [his] education”, not at college, but though working in the stables, traveling with Burt, and going to horse races. When he refers to people as “dudes” (83) and uses phrases such as “most bitterest” (81), he confirms that fact. He uses improper grammar and many slang expressions; his language shows that he is uneducated and disadvantaged.
The narrator calls himself a fool for trying to impress Miss Wessen; his lack of foresight caused him to make himself into someone richer and more important than he really is. The swipe’s limitations of understanding and comprehension are revealed through his incoherent, long-winded narration. The swipe’s story, combined with the way in which he tells it, reveals him to be an uneducated, immature person. The narration provides a direct presentation of the character of the swipe; he blatantly labels himself as an uneducated “fool” (89). The narrative voice provides an indirect presentation of the swipe; readers understand him through his language and through processes.
The swipe is ambivalent in his attitude regarding education and social distinctions. At first, the swipe wants nothing to do with education. He believes that the “fellows” who “go to high schools and college…don’t know nothing at all” (82). The swipe got his education at the stables, the races, and the saloons; he does not care to be properly educated. The swipe also disregards social distinctions. He detests people who dress up to “put on…airs” (83). He looks down on people who don’t steal, drink, or swear.
When he meets the Wessens and Miss Woodbury, the swipe’s views are changed. He describes Wilbur Wessen as a “nice guy” and the “kind maybe that goes to college” (84). Miss Elinor Wessen is “the nicest girl” who “could talk proper grammar” (84). The swipe begins to admire these educated people. The swipe begins to wish that he were more like the Wessens than like those he formerly associated with. During dinner, he is so glad that his mother “made [him] learn to eat with a fork at the table” and that he is not “noisy and rough like a gang you see around a racetrack” (88). The swipe begins to appreciate his education and have a regard for social distinctions.
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The narrator resents the man in the Windsor tie because he believed that the man was “putting on too many airs” (83). The narrator says that “it made me sick to look at him” (83). He does not like people who show off with their dress and manner. It makes him feel inferior, and therefore he responds by showing off himself.
The narrator “liked Burt fine”, and they “got along splendid together” (81). Burt is a mixture of gentleness and strength. The swipe says that Burt has “soft, kind eyes”, and yet “when it came to a fight he could hit like Jack Johnson” (81). Burt did not show off. Though he possessed such great strength and skill, he was generally kind and gentle, and did not reveal his other side unless needed. Burt was unpretentious and made the swipe feel at ease.
The narrator likes the Wessens and Miss Woodbury because they did not put on airs. Miss Elinor talked properly “without being like a school teacher” (84). Wilbur “didn’t talk big and noisy and let everyone around know he was a sport” (84). They were “well-to-do” (84), but didn’t try to impress anybody. They were sincerely cordial and kind to the swipe.
The narrator uses terms like “Janes”, “niggers”, and “yaps”, because these were terms he had grown up hearing. He was not “raised regular in houses” (82) and he worked as a swipe. Furthermore, the narrator tends to view people in a stereotypical fashion. People are a homogenous mass to him. There are the snobbish educated ones and then the common yaps. These terms are also derogatory terms. This signifies that even though he despises people who act in a haughty manner, he likewise has a tendency to look down on other people.
The narrator is emotionally immature. He is impulsive and irrational. Some people never wrong him, yet he jealously resents them. He wants to “injure” the boy who was “saving money to work his way through college” because that boy was taking jobs away from him (81). When he meets the man with the Windsor tie, he is repulsed by his distinguished attire. He “pushed him aside, kind of rough” and showed off by buying cigarettes and whiskey. He creates the character of Walter Mathers, but when he realizes how captivated Miss Elinor Wessen becomes by this figment of imagination, he wishes to “shoot” him (87). He resents those who have what he doesn’t have. He is not mature enough to realize that life makes these distinctions.
Instead of striving to work his way up, the narrator gives up by the end of the story. He decides to “quit working and be a bum” (89). After meeting the likes of the Wessens and Miss Woodbury, one would think that the swipe would try to work even harder. However, he irrationally resigns, declaring that he doesn’t “care nothing for working” (89). The narrator goes by how he feels at the moment, without considering the rationality of it.
The narrator is around twenty years old. Before he took his job as a swipe, he describes himself as a “big lumbering fellow of nineteen” (81). He left in July and came back in late November. It is the following October when he goes to the races at Sandusky, making him around twenty years old.
The narrator’s whopper at the racetrack is due to his feelings of inadequacy. The narrator is from humble origins and took a job as a swipe, the only job he could get. His mother and sister thought that this job was “disgraceful” (81). When he meets Miss Wessen he is attracted to her, and wishes to make a good impression. He feels ashamed at being merely a swipe. He used to think that a swipe “isn’t better or worse than any one else” (86). But when he sees Miss Wessen’s “nice clothes” and “nice eyes” and realizes that she was attracted to him, he wants to appear acceptable to her. He does not want to “show her up for a boob”, so he tells them “the smashingest lie you ever heard” (86). The swipe feels compelled to lie because of his sense of inferiority. When the swipe sees someone who is better off than he is, he feels inferior and therefore makes himself appear better than he really is.
Because the story is told from the swipe’s perspective, the reader feels sympathy towards the narrator. The reader is able to understand the swipe’s reasons and motives for lying about himself. The narrator is open about his feelings of inadequacy and later of disappointment. The reader sees how this particular event is very significant to him. This is the first time that the swipe meets a nice girl who is likewise attracted to him. However, he will never see her again because he has lied about his identity.
If the story were told from an analyst’s point of view, the facts would be presented dryly. Readers would feel no emotional attachment to the swipe. The fact that Miss Elinor Woodbury is unable to write to the swipe seems like an insignificant problem. An analyst would simply show a young man with an inferiority complex.