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Judith Minty's story, "Killing the Bear," is a rather chilling tale about a woman who shoots a bear to death. The story is not merely a simple account of the incident however. It is full of stories and facts about bears, which affect how the reader reacts to the story. In the beginning, the reader expects the bear to be portrayed as a cold-blooded monster who must be killed for the safety of the primary character however this expectation is foiled throughout the story and the reader sees the bear in a very different light. Due to the stories and facts given about bears throughout the story, the reader comes to pity the bear, but most will still acknowledge the necessity of killing him.
The beginning of the story seems very quiet and peaceful. It sets up a scene many people would be familiar with. Even the story about the dog is one most people who have ever owned a house pet would instantly recognize. The woman does seem very vulnerable, however. She is outside in a hammock and the dog seems very little help since "she ended up more his protector than the other way around" (2). The second section sets up frightening images of animals, but they are all in the zoo, so they pose no threat. Yet, this still sustains the reader's original expectation of the bear being a threatening animal. Of all the zoo animals described, the bear seems the most harmless, yet she is still afraid of it. The reader has not been shown any danger yet, but there is still a sense of something about to happen. The only bear we have seen is a "bundle of clothes by [a] dead tree" (5) in a cage at the zoo.
The third section of the story returns the reader to the calm security, but then quickly sends the tone of the story into a frenzy. These constant tone changes show the reader how strong and resourceful the woman is, but it also shows us how she can be thrown into a panic easily. We come to have little confidence in the main character's ability to react well if a dangerous situation arises.
Throughout the story, "Killing the Bear," the reader is given a number of side notes about bears and the woman's experience with them.
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As the story of the woman continues, the tone is again changed. The calm remains, but now it is a quiet fear. As the woman buys the rifle, the salesman tells her "she could get a man with it at twenty yards" (26). She doesn't intend to shoot a man however; she intends to shoot a bear. This again turns the bear into a man. When the bear physically appears in the story again, he is screaming. The verb 'to scream' conveys more of a human feeling than an animal one. The human images continue through the death of the bear. Because of these images, the reader comes to feel sorry for the bear. Even in death, he 'huddles' like a frightened child. The reader's sympathies are firmly with the bear. The author changes abruptly in the last sentence. The bear suddenly becomes a bear again as the author says, "She will dig him up to take the claws" (42).
This story does not frustrate the reader's expectations, but it changes them as the story moves along. The reader's sympathies change from centering on the woman to centering on the bear. The bear is personified throughout the story, and even referred to as 'he' rather than 'it'. This causes the reader to feel sorry for the bear in the end, but even the most sympathetic readers would most likely acknowledge that they would have done the same thing in killing the bear.