Human Violence in “Creatures” by Marisa Silver Essay

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Aug 23rd, 2020

The question of violence and whether it is an inner characteristic of the human nature or is just a result of the broken society has been debated for many centuries by many writers. The one particular aspect of this phenomenon – the violence of children – is the topic the mere notion of which makes people shudder uncomfortably. The accounts of violent acts done by children shatter people’s idealistic views of childhood. What is the origin of the violence among children? Is it the reflection of their parents’ own tendencies? These questions and many others are addressed in Marisa Silver’s short story Creatures. In the story, the cruel games of the main character’s son compel him to rethink his own disturbing past. In Creatures, Silver explores the subject of violence in human beings, particularly in children, and through the experience of the main character reflects upon the question whether violent accidents are manifestations of the person’s hidden intentions.

At the beginning of the story James and his wife Melinda receive a call from a pre-school teacher. The teacher, Mrs. Willing is concerned with their son’s behavior: he chased a boy named Sam with a wooden stick pretending it was an AK-4, and threatened to kill a boy. Right from the beginning the readers see the difference in attitudes between James and Melinda: she takes the issue seriously while James assumes a defensive stance against the teacher. James discontentedly notices that “Melinda had already made the same leap as Mrs. Willing: from Marco running around with a stick to Marco shooting up a school” (Silver par. 19).

Later the parents try to explain to Marco that he must stop playing with his imaginary gun, and, what’s more important, he should never threaten another child. Marco, from his perspective of a toddler, does not understand why his parents are concerned. Silver contrasts the seriousness of the discussion with the innocent demeanor of a three-year-old boy: “Marco speared a tube of pasta with his fork, then shook it so that the food danced and bits of red sauce flew onto his placemat” (Silver par. 30). From his point of view he did not do anything bad: he was a policeman and the other boy was a “wobber”. This passage makes the readers wonder about the extent of precautions that are required in order to prevent possible violent attacks among children; and whether the modern society is taking it too far meddling in the natural process of children’s socialization.

Nonetheless, later in the story the parents receive another call from school: Marco is expelled for biting a boy. James comes to school, and he can hardly hold back his anger and frustration: “James wanted to grip Mrs. Willing by her doughy shoulders and shake her” (Silver par. 106). He talks aggressively to Mrs. Willing and even makes an insulting comment about her weight. The nuances of the father’s reaction – his aggressive stance against the teacher who is simply doing her job, his snapping at his wife when he accuses her of being too calm – make the reader to draw a parallel between Marco’s violent games and James’s hidden tendencies. Has the son become a reflection of the father’s past? As the story unfolds the focus changes from Marco to James past.

During the narration of the story, Silver gives a few hints that refer to a dark event in James’ childhood, which involved a gun, hunting, and someone’s funeral. Silver implies that James might be responsible for the death of his friend Freddy. Only in the final paragraphs she reveals that James killed Freddie’s father in the accident. The narration of James’s past is presented through the series of flashbacks. Silver uses flashbacks, which come to James’s mind bit by bit, to show how gradually James comes to terms with his past. Although it may appear that James has a lighthearted attitude, it is obvious that the situation with his son made him relive the memories again. After all, he realizes that the past still haunts him. Through James’s recollection, readers learn that Freddie was a quiet boy who slightly irritated James but was tolerated due to his admiration of James’s daring enterprises: “Freddie sat for hours and listened to James’s schemes, nodding his head fervently as if James were a Bible-thumping minister and Freddie his truest believer” (Silver par. 24).

One day Freddie’s father decides to take boys on a deer hunting trip. During the hunt Freddie, who had a breathing problems, hinders the father’s effort to shot a deer. Angry at his son, the father abandons Freddie in the wood making the poor boy walk all the way home. Freddie is obviously traumatized by this experience. Later, when boys come to play in the wood, they see a herd of deers. James is fascinated by the beautiful creatures; he realizes that they are not the enemies. But for Freddie, this is an opportunity to win his father’s respect, and he rushes back to the house to get the rifle. Terrified by what he sees James attacks Freddie trying to take the gun away from him. As the boys fight, James accidentally kills Freddie’s father who came to the wood immediately after he realized that Freddie took the gun.

The underlying theme of the story is a question of accidents and intentions. Was the gruesome event from James’s past an unfortunate combination of circumstances or was it the expression of his hidden intentions? At first it seems that James has not yet made up his mind about what happened. While recollecting his past, James describes it as “accident”, something that “happened to him” (Silver par. 2). James expects Freddie’s mother to decide whether he is guilty or not: “If she could finally make up her mind about him, then he would understand how to live the rest of his life” (Silver par. 65). Only in the end of the story James reveals his true feelings during the struggle with Freddie:

There had been a moment in the woods, after he’d wrenched the gun from Freddie’s grasp, when James had felt his finger slide into the smooth, ear-like curve of the trigger, when he’d felt the snug rightness of his body in the world, the way he had when he’d pedalled his winged bike toward the edge of the ravine, going faster and faster until what was impossible had become possible and there was no more reason to think or doubt. And then there had been the split second when his instinct had kicked in, but it was too late. (Silver par.153)

Silver leaves it to the readers to decide what drove James to pull the trigger. Was it just an irrational craving for violence inherent to all human beings? Or did the accident have a rational motivation behind it? After all, James simply wanted to protect the innocent creatures. Another subtle aspect of the story that may contribute to better understanding of James’s motivation is his relationship with his own father. He was absent during James’s adolescent after divorcing from James’s mother. Perhaps, Freddie’s father was a substitution of the father figure for James, and the accident was James’s vengeance for leaving them. Silver does not resolve this dilemma and leaves it to the imagination of the readers.

To conclude, Creatures is a complex story in which the author addresses many important questions. It starts with the depiction of the family that deals with their son’s misbehavior, but later in the story the father ends up rethinking his own disturbing experience of violence. The first part, which is focused on the main character’s son Marco, raises the issues of the violence in children and whether the concern of adults is always justified. As the focus of the story shifts to James’s recounts of his past, the readers become prompted to reflect on the origin of violence among human beings. The particular aspect of the issue that Silver is interested in is whether the violent accidents are actually expressions of a person’s inner intentions. Although direct answers to these inquiries are not provided in the short story, the author suggested a subject for thought that can help readers to find their own answers to these questions.

Works Cited

Silver, Marisa. Creatures. 2012. Web.

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