Written by Tin Tin – Honor Class
Written by Tin Tin – Honor Class
The Balloon was intended to be a story without much of a message, or plot in general. Donald Barthelme explains this using a balloon, possibly symbolising the story itself, something else, or it could just be a balloon with no symbolic meaning to it. Symbolism, plot and theme become very hard to recognise and everything getsconfusing when you write postmodernist short stories.
The Balloon starts by describing a very big balloon covering the sky and continues by describing the reactions of normal people to this huge balloon covering the sky. It’s not much of a story or narrative. Normally in a narrative, we expect some problem that needs to be resolved to prevent the end of the world. However, that doesn’t exist in the genre of postmodernism and Barthelme decides to follow the same idea. There is no point. It’s almost like he wrote this for the sake of writing this. As with the balloon itself, the purpose of the story is very unclear. It could just be a balloon, or a
symbol for the messof astory ittakes place in.
Postmodernism is a genre where the narrator often seems to talk to you directly from the book, reference real life through things like names and events and the plot can sometimes be simple. Stories like The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy and, Gentleman (this is the title of the book) are about someone trying to write his life, but realizing he can’t do it. In fact, by the time he gets to the first day of his life, Tristram has “got, as you perceive, almost into the
middle of my third volume[it was originally published in twelve volumes]”. Postmodernism is a genre that plays with what we call a ‘story’ and how it is told.
In this novel, the purpose of the balloon is very ambiguous. Normally, in non-postmodernist stories, it is easy to tell where symbolism is. There could be some weird image/object whose meaning is revealed possibly later in the story, or something obvious like a biohazard symbol. It’s very easy to spot. In the case of The Balloon, the object in question is a balloon. It’s very hard to think of what possible meanings an everyday object has, but there are exceptions, like trees. A balloon is an object which can symbolize flight or freedom, but in this case, those meanings are obviously not what the story is trying to get at you. It’s almost the opposite.
It covers the sky and restricts people’s freedom, yet people seem to like it. They play with it, talk about it, etc.. What is the meaning of it? One possible interpretation of the balloon could be that it is a symbol of the story. The balloon has a “deliberate lack of finish” as told by Barthelme. The story itself seems to be a mess and seems to have the balloon’s “lack of finish”. Another possible interpretation is that the balloon is a metaphor for the government. The government restricts our freedom with laws telling you what not to do, yet people are content with that; they live by their rules unless something bad happens, like someone dies because of the law. We constantly talk about the government and their actions (or lack of actions), but still live our lives normally.
The Balloon is a short story without a definitive plot, or point in general. It plays with our expectations of a story (and fails them) and our ability to recognise symbolism. This is a common theme in many postmodernist stories, to not have much deeper meaning, like this story, which is just about a balloon, or one of Barthelme’s other stories, like The School, which is just about a school where alot of things die.