The Death of Tommy Grimes Short Story Analysis Essay


What happens to a boy who yet has no identification at a time when identity can either be one’s salvation or a mark for banishment? In his short story, The Death of Tommy Grimes, R.J Meaddough III invites us to experience how white Americans terrorized and dominated black people in the 1960s Mississippi, through the eyes of a young white boy whose ingeniousness and desire to make his father proud overshadows the fact that he has been living an untruthful and isolated childhood. Tommy is a white boy who lives with his mother and father in the 1960s Mississippi. Simple-minded and ignorant of his own identity, Tommy adopts the identity of those around him and based on the social perception of black people his view of humanity quickly becomes prejudiced and discriminated against that segment of the population. Tommy’s inability to comprehend the true nature of the events unfolding around him forces the reader to focus on the simple acts of caring that takes place admits the suffering. Through Tommy’s eyes, we witness the devastation of the reality where fellow human beings are treated and talked to as wild animals, as well as we see Tommy attempt to cope with this reality and his selfless acts of love and kindness that persisted in spite of it. The best authors are those who manage to create characters with whom readers can empathize with. In The Death of Tommy Grimes, Meaddough employs several techniques masterfully to elicit empathy from his readers including verbal irony, visualizing character emotions, foreshadowing, his unique and careful development of the protagonist, as well as exploring themes such as loss of innocence and father-son relationships.  

Tommy is the protagonist of this narrative. Throughout the portrayal, Tommy encounters significant internal change, and for this reason, he is a dynamic character. Tommy’s character is positioned in the southern state of Mississippi in the 1960s where white people like him had a higher rate of value than black people did. Tommy idolizes his father, who is referred to as Pa in the narrative, and he wants nothing more than his acceptance and to be his reflection. However, Pa is a highly detrimental character, and his perception of racial segregation also influences Tommy, who is questionable about the true nature of his surroundings. In the status quo, the character always behaves in a certain way. The different sides to the character only show when pressure is applied from some sort of conflict, whether this conflict is internal or external. So, when forces of antagonism begin to bother our protagonist, the protagonist takes minimum conservative action in trying to remedy the problem he is facing, which provokes the forces of antagonism to grow greater. Subsequently, the antagonism grows in intensity, and for this reason, forces the protagonist to take increasingly drastic actions, causing their “true” character to come out. It is possible to argue that this is also the case for this narrative. As a case in point when Pa tells Tommy, “Why didn’t you shoot? What you waiting on? What’s wrong with you, boy?” , and when Pa explains, “It is nice, boy, real nice, but things got to be done to keep it away. Fox eats rabbit, he keeps the rabbit population down, else they’d overrun the land. Same here. You hunt ‘cause you hungry and got to eat, that’s one reason. Then you might hunt for the sport – pit your mind against animal cunning – ‘course I don’t hold much with that, but some do. But there’s some varmints that do damage and just plain got to be killed. Understand?”.  Readers can tell that Tommy and Pa’s has viewpoint on racial segregation is in dichotomy. Pa only wants the best for his son Tommy, notwithstanding he is dismissive of Tommy´s feelings and his perception of life, which makes for Pa to be the antagonist of this narrative. Tommy’s flawed character requires Pa’s acceptance profoundly, and consequently this need for acceptance grows so much on him, that he resorts to severe measurements which implies hunting down and shooting the innocent black man to substantiate that he is just as mature as his father is.  His actions and behavior are quite careful due to his confusion, furthermore, his attitude is considerate towards fellow beings, to illustrate, “Gee, Pa,”, he murmured, “you make it sound so nice I don’t know’s I want to hunt tomorrow.”.  Tommy’s internal conflict concerning how far he should go to impress his father is undoubtedly a personality weakness  because it has a detrimental impact on his strengths of love and kindness. Tommy changes a whole lot during the narrative. He loses the innocence he had at the beginning, resulting in him being a prejudiced image of his father. 

“The Death of Tommy Grimes” is a short story. The titles lead readers to believe that we are about to hear the events that caused the physical death of Tommy Grimes. As the narrative proceeds, we discover that the title is deceptive, and that Tommy undergoes a symbolic death. The narrative is set in the 1960’s Mississippi. In this case, the setting is salient, considering it establishes the whole mood of the narrative. The narrative vividly depicts the surroundings and succeeds in evoking specific moods and feelings in the readers. Furthermore, these implications aid Meaddough in creating this specific atmosphere, in which anxiety is felt even by the readers. The mood the setting creates likewise influences how we perceive both Tommy and Pa, since the narrative consistently uses language to support the mood. To show you what meant, “Tommy had become part of the ground. At least he felt that way as he watched the dew and the daylight make giant cobwebs of the treetops. The sun had not yet risen and a mist lay over the ground, which made the forest seem rather spooky to him.”.  This is a remarkable quote, as Meaddough employs both connotations and manages to conjure up a mental image in the reader’s mind. The narrative is delivered from Tommy’s point of view by a third-person narrator. Readers gain access into Tommy’s thoughts, feelings, and recollections. Because events are solely described through Tommy’s eyes, the narrator has limited omniscience. The reader is close to the action, and the action is being observed as it unfolds, indicating that this is a scenic composition. Flashbacks are incorporated into the narrative as the action progresses. “A man always dies a little when he kills something, but it just plain has to be done.”.  The flashbacks foreshadow that Tommy will lose his innocence soon. 

Given that it is not recounted in a chronological order, this narrative has a non-chronological structure. Several flashbacks are interspersed throughout the narrative, revealing more about the characters Tommy and Pa as well as their motives. Flashbacks are significant because they break up the narrative’s chronological order and flow, making it more intriguing and realistic. It even provides readers a deeper insight into who the protagonist and antagonist are. Adjectives are important in this narrative because they help us understand what it is about when we read it. Because of the southern state dialect, the wording in the text is a bit difficult to grasp; to illustrate, “Gee, Pa,” he murmured, “you make it sound so nice I don’t knows I want to hunt tomorrow.”  In this way, Meaddough toys with the language, making it more engaging and captivating to read. Connotative and denotative language is ubiquitous in this narrative. The story has a twist ending, which reveals that Tommy´s prey was a black man and not an animal. 

Taking everything into account, it is evident that Meaddough is attempting to communicate and bring awareness to the topic of racial segregation by evoking empathy among his readers. Language mastery, connotations, and denotations are all variables that help readers understand the devastation of the reality in the 1960s Mississippi. Where bad narratives usually go wrong with a character, it because the author simply does not apply enough pressure onto the character that will force them to make increasingly difficult decisions that show who they really are. Meaddough succeeds in brining racial discrimination to light while also developing a protagonist that appeals to the target audience of white people in the 1960s.

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