Analysis of “The Gun” by Mark Haddon
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Reflections on “The Gun” by Mark Haddon
Mark Haddon’s “The Gun” uses non-linear narrative elements to create a story that explores the ways individuals are shaped by personal history.
The story carefully contrasts two different aspects of this concept, overtly examining an example of how strange or unexpected events can mark a person for a lifetime and “make them who they are” but also more subtly exploring how a person’s home-life has a profound power to shape an individual.
The narrator, Daniel, reflects on his parents and their characters – stolid and banal yet notably calm and stable. His brother and sister stay home to play teacher and pupil, acting out well-worn ideas. These qualities stand in stark contrast to Sean’s family, where violence seems almost commonplace, where children are left unsupervised, and where affection is expressed only in disguise. The boundaries of the family unit are unclear as neighbors involve themselves without invitation in the actions of the household. It’s not like Daniel’s house at all.
Daniel enters Sean’s house as a voyeur, a viewer. He is not part of the family dynamic – in the end he is casually but definitively ejected from the family’s day, despite his role in bringing a dead deer into the house.
Both Daniel’s sense of emotional distance and his ultimate denial from Sean’s family underscore the notion at work in the story: individuals are not only shaped by their own home-lives, but also by comparing their own situation to that of others.
The dynamic at work is one of “alterity” or definition through difference. Daniel learns who he is, in part, by standing as witness to a wholly different family life, one where chaos and violence are contrasted to the jigsaw puzzles and sturdy routines of his own parents.
Daniel grows up to be a person like his parents, a fact we discover when he expresses relief when his father says he’d like Daniel to go back home after his mother dies. Daniel’s father says he wants to get back to his routines and Daniel is relieved to be allowed to do the same thing, returning to his routines and, we might imagine, his own staid and stolid adult family life.
While the story is clearly interested in the influence of home-life on a person’s ultimate identity, the story is also interested in the ways that single events can become turning points in a person’s life. As much as Daniel can be seen as a continuation of his parents, he also reflects on the idea that “Time is nothing but forks and fractures.”
When Daniel’s narration flashes forward to a list of three strange and remarkable episodes in his life, we should note that each of the episodes depicts events that are random and, more importantly, completely out of Daniel’s control. They are breaks from the norm where, suddenly, a new set of possibilities is opened up.
Just as the narrative is broken several times in “The Gun” to flash-forward and step away from the line of the story, Daniel’s identity is subject to similar breaks. The event with the gun – with all its adventure, danger, and violence – becomes a pivotal moment in Daniel’s life. It belongs in the same category as watching a barn get struck by lightning and being in a room when a cow falls through the ceiling.
Like these moments, the events surrounding the gun are out of Daniel’s control. Again, he is a voyeur in this episode, watching events unfold of themselves. He cannot stop what happens. He doesn’t even try. Yet, the episode makes him who he is. It shapes his identity permanently.
This idea is very clearly expressed in the story, but what is not clear at all is what it means.
The day Daniel goes with Sean into the woods and ends up carting a dead deer back to a top-floor apartment absolutely marks Daniel’s character. It is a “forever” kind of moment, one that he tells his friends about for years to come. But when he is confronted by Robert Hales at the very end of the story (a person with an important role in the episode with the gun), Daniel cannot answer the question: Who are you?
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