Realist Expressions: Adherence and Divergence in George Saunders’s “Sticks”

George Saunders Tenth of December is an assembly of short stories that are considered realist in nature. These innovative capsules depict events that happen in day-to-day life but Saunders let’s his creative mind flourish, making them entirely unique to the cannon of what is known as realism. In his short story “Sticks” the main character known to the reader as the father embellishes a single stick in his yard, and is accounted for through the years by his son. This small package of a story enlarges the scope of Saunders realist label, which expresses signs of departure from its traditional outlook and showcase its arrival to the Sci-Fi Genre. The traditional definition of realism is kept alive in “Sticks” while it also maintains an unearthly presence within the text. Saunders keeps the definition of realism alive by showcasing an “ordinary” father who has a hobby his family doesn’t understand – a more than normal occurrence – and also showcases Holidays where the family decorates. This story can also be seen as realism because the accountant is from the father’s son and as he ages the story is seen through eyes that continue to mature. This expresses the different perspectives individuals acquire, as they get older is definitely something that happens in the real world. Although “Sticks” can be seen as a text that embodies the traditions of realism, there are many ways in which it breaks the form and creates its own Sci-Fi Realist genre.

One example of this can be seen in how and why the father dresses the pole. For almost every holiday the father dresses the pole in different attire, which comes across to the reader as off. Normally during the holidays families dress the outside and inside of their homes, but this is not the case in “Sticks”. The speaker states: Every year Thanksgiving night we flocked out behind Dad as he dragged the Santa suit to the road and draped it over a kind of crucifix he’d built out of metal pole in the yard. Super Bowl week the pole was dressed in a jersey and Rod’s helmet and Rod had to clear it with Dad if he wanted to take the helmet off. On the Fourth of July the pole was Uncle Sam, on Veteran’s Day a soldier, on Halloween a ghost. The pole was Dad’s only concession to glee. We were allowed a single Crayola from the box at a time. One Christmas Eve he shrieked at Kimmie for wasting an apple slice. He hovered over us as we poured ketchup saying: good enough good enough good enough. Birthday parties consisted of cupcakes, no ice cream. The first time I brought a date over she said: what’s with your dad and that pole? and I sat there blinking. (Saunders) Here Saunders takes ideas of absurdity and neutralize them for the audience and for the realist perspective. The father hammers down a pole into his backyard that resemble a crucifix – a weird relic to place in a backyard, and somehow counterbalances this bizarre stick by allowing his character to dress it, almost like it was a child or a piece of himself and his house. Saunders raises the question of whether it is absurd for individuals to dress their houses during the holiday by showcasing a man dressing something other than his house. It is clear that the father is in charge of the pole and it is his “only concession to glee”. This is another way Saunders diverges away from the realist perspective. By giving the father a tangible object to cherish and love, Saunders breaks away from the mold of realism because people do not feel unconditional love for objects in the way that the father feels toward the pole. The relationship the father has with the pole appears to be a love that encompasses all of his needs, which could explain why he is so strict with his children.

As the son grows older he notices that his father is getting more peculiar and complex in the way he dresses the pole. But it is when the father’s wife dies when he begins to truly communicate through this object placed in the ground. The speaker states: Mom died and he dressed the pole as Death and hung from the crossbar photos of Mom as a baby. We’d stop by and find odd talismans from his youth arranged around the base: army medals, theater tickets, old sweatshirts, tubes of Mom’s makeup. One autumn he painted the pole bright yellow. He covered it with cotton swabs that winter for warmth and provided offspring by hammering in six crossed sticks around the yard. He ran lengths of string between the pole and the sticks, and taped to the string letters of apology, admissions of error, pleas for understanding, all written in a frantic hand on index cards. He painted a sign saying LOVE and hung it from the pole and another that said FORGIVE? (Saunders) The father continues his relationship with the stick, but it clearly becomes more complex and meaningful to him. He starts to use it not only for holidays but also as a symbol for his youth, and love of his wife. Here we can see Saunders going back to his realist ways Stevenson 4in the sense that the pole is acting as a grave post where one can lay down old memories or flowers to dedicate and honor the person who has passed away. Although Saunders relies on realism to balance his short stories he also continues to add in unrealistic tendencies of his characters.

After the father is done using the pole as a tombstone, he begins to paint it, and cover it for warmth, almost like he is indulging this lifeless object. In these acts he shows the pole more love and affection then the reader ever sees him give his own children which is why he asks for forgiveness in the only way he knows how. Saunders showcases the family’s tolerant behavior, but uses the father’s actions to express his need for expression when no one else will listen or understand him the way he needs to be understood. Adhering back to Realism. Throughout the short story the reader has seen the father express himself through art and love of a tangible object. The connection the father has with the pole has reached it’s peek especially after the wife’s death and therefore Saunders has to level out the plain field which makes this story so realist in a non-realist way. The speaker states: “and then he died in the hall with the radio on and we sold the house to a young couple who yanked out the pole and the sticks and left them by the road on garbage day.” (Saunders) The abrupt death is classic realism in the sense that life happens and it is unexpected. It is almost as if the pole dies when the father dies because it is yanked up by the new couple and throw away because to them it held no sentimental value. The relationship between the father and the pole represent an out side of this world relationship, but it is still a relationship that was cherished nonetheless.

Saunders shows two lessons of reality in his short story “Sticks”. One is that one mans treasure is another man’s trash, and the second involves how Saunders foreshadows the idea of ridding the old and bringing in the new. The short story of “Sticks” uses realism and its deviations in order to highlight different forms of relationships besides human contact.

Works Cited

Saunders, George. Tenth of December: Stories. N.p.: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2014. Print.Stevenson