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What is wrong?
Theobald Fisting-Smythe’s seminal literary work, “Succincta’s Lesson” follows a character named Succincta after she kills and robs her friends. Once she returns to her home, she is haunted by various beings who verbally reprimand her for her actions. She is next visited by the angels of mercy, justice, and death. Then the story cuts to years later, with Succincta still in her attic. Here, she attempts to steal an LCD game console from a talking bookshelf, under the impression that these are but figments of her imagination. However, they are really the angels from before in disguise, who then kill her. The central idea of this story is that stealing is wrong.
This central idea is stated throughout the story with an almost admirable lack of pretense. The seven dollar bill tells Succincta that “It’s so very wrong to steal.” In the bizarre vision that the seven dollar bill shows Succincta, an undead version of her friend Nasal Ring says that “Stealing is very wrong.” This phrase is later echoed by a gnome dressed like a 1930s pulp hero. The angels reprimand the talking pile of wheatgrass for not telling Succincta that stealing is wrong and then kill him for stealing God’s time. Succincta is killed for stealing later by these same angels.
Succincta, our main character, is a narcissist. We see this when she harbors the delusion the world is a product of her own mind:
“I had a naked-in-school dream that I don’t think I woke up from. I think that’s why there’s all those adaptations and remakes and reboots in the movies. I think my subconscious has just started combining things I’ve already seen.”
Succincta does not value human life. We see this when she kills her friends in order to steal a seven dollar bill. This disregard is almost encouraged when the seven dollar bill states that
“Life is worthless in a materialist society.”
By portraying those who steal as thoroughly unpleasant, the story reiterates the wrongness of stealing. The antagonist of the story is Nasal Ring. Nasal Ring is the one who, however unknowingly, creates the conditions for Succincta to steal. He supplies both the object to be stolen and the weapon with which it is to be carried out, a seven dollar bill and a gun. Nasal Ring also represents a moral opposition to Succincta. Nasal Ring is shown as an ultimate force of good. The angels of the story bear his face. In the vision that Succincta is shown by the seven dollar bill, Nasal Ring shoots himself through each palm and then rises from the dead to kill Charlie, who has stolen the gun. This is a bizarre depiction of a Christ-like figure. The shooting through the palms is in reference to the stigmata, and the resurrection is in reference to the resurrection. Nasal Ring’s backstory as a Harrison Ford impersonator is in reference to the fact that Harrison Ford worked as a carpenter before becoming an actor, which was also the profession of Jesus of Nazareth before fully taking on his duties as the son of God. The name ‘Nasal Ring’ also sounds like ‘Nazarene,’ one of many titles attributed to Christ. By portraying those who steal as nasty and unpleasant, and juxtaposing those who oppose stealing with biblical iconography, the story shows that stealing is wrong.
The conflict is between moral right and moral wrong. Moral wrong is represented by deeds of wrongdoing, such as theft. Moral right is represented by beings associated with intrinsic good, like Nasal Ring. This conflict is resolved in favor of the moral right. All perpetrators of what Theobald Fisting-Smythe considers to be moral wrongdoings are killed by these intrinsically good beings. By showing those who steal getting killed by something intrinsically right, the story implies that stealing is intrinsically wrong.
The story is set in two places, a meadow, and an attic. Before Succincta steals the seven dollar bill, Succincta is in the meadow. Meadows are traditionally wide, open places. However, immediately after stealing the seven dollar bill, Succincta is confined to an attic (which is small and confining compared to a meadow). The story would seem to utilize setting as a form of retribution against characters who do wrong, as the character is only thusly confined after committing what the story deems wrong, specifically stealing.
This story employs a number of linguistic elements, some of which serve the central idea. An example of a simile would be the line where the locusts are “munching down on Sarah like a dried up grasshopper.” This means that the locusts are eating or “munching down” on Sarah in the way that a person would a dried up grasshopper. The fact that Succincta meets her end at the hands of locusts is an example of irony, as her name is in reference to Patanga Succincta, a species of locust. A symbol would be the character of Nasal Ring. As has been previously stated, Nasal Ring is symbolic of Christ and absolute good.
The tone of the story varies. The opening describes people who lead sad and unfulfilling lives. However, these lives are peppered with absurdist flourishes.
“Bill worked as a male stripper/chef at a major cowboy-themed fast food chain. Charlie had studied to be a psychoanalyst but instead spent his days collecting welfare checks and small matchboxes with pictures of Bryan Ferry on them. Succincta sang at a nightclub, the attic of which she lived in, and was paid in bushels of wheatgrass. Nasal Ring, so nicknamed because of his odd taste in jewelry, worked as a Harrison Ford impersonator.”
But the story also contains beautiful, sensual, passages such as:
“Once alone, she began rubbing and caressing the money. Beads of sweat began to roll down her forehead, and she began to loosen her clothes when suddenly the seven dollar bill began to talk to her.”
However, these moments are few and far between, in contrast to the pervasive horror elements. The scene with the gnomes contains such hideous extremes of violence and body horror that quotations of any sentence would be unsuitable for Teen Ink.
Overall, I give this book nine out of ten burger and one shake.
Fisting-Smythe, Theobald. “Succincta’s Lesson.”
Uncle Fisting-Smythe’s Big Book of Stories. Dayton: Hollander & Love Publishings Co., 1996