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On Birds and Suicide: Analysis of Peter Meinke’s “The Cranes”

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  • Pages: 4
  • Word count: 959
  • Category: Suicide

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In literature, foreshadowing functions as an indicator of the events that will later arise within the text. According to Morrell, “foreshadowing suggests, whispers, or plants information, and deepens the reader’s sense of anticipation laying down the traces of what will happen later in the story” (98). Foreshadowing, in this sense, lays down the framework for the events that will take place within the text. It does so through the development of character traits, setting the mood within the story, as well as through the use of various symbolisms within the text. One such text which employs foreshadowing as a means of developing the plot within the story is Peter Meinke’s “The Cranes”. What follows is an analysis of Meinke’s use of the aforementioned method in “The Cranes”.

Meinke’s “The Cranes” recounts the last moments of an old couple before they committed suicide. Although the act was not explicitly described within the text, certain element in the story implied that such an event occurred at the end. The story begins with the image of two whooping cranes. They are described as “two tall and stately birds, staring motionless toward the Gulf, tower(ing) above the bobbing egrets and scurrying plovers” (Meinke 259). The image of the birds will continue to appear within the rest of the text either through the discussion of the couple or through the narrator’s description. Initially, one wonders at the introduction of the birds within the text, however, later on one will realize that the birds function is three-fold.

Initially they serve as a diversion (for the couple) of the act that they plan to commit. Notice for example, the continuous reference to the birds in the midst of the couple’s restatement of their reasons for committing suicide. Note for example, the sudden shift of attention from the birds to their reasons for committing the act as the wife described the whooping cranes in comparison to the other birds. She states “they make the little birds look like clowns” (Meinke 259).

This is immediately followed by the husbands need for “a few clowns” noting that “a few laughs never hurt anybody” (Meinke 259). The wife immediately follows this with a statement that mirrors her doubt regarding the wisdom of the action that they will commit. She states, “I feel I’m responsible. Maybe this is the wrong thing” (Meinke 259). It is important to note that her reason for questioning their future action does not lie in their religious devotion. Note for example the way they mocked religion as he states “Do you want to listen to the radio? How about turning on that preacher station so we can throw up?” (Meinke 260).  Their reason mainly lies for their concern for their children. She states “I wish the children were more settled” (Meinke 260). This concern can also be seen in their arrangement of the car itself. The seats were covered with a shower curtain to prevent the damage from the upholstery, thereby allowing their children to reuse the car.

The second function of the whooping cranes, within the text, is to stand as a comparison to the couples themselves. Note the couple’s description of the cranes: “tall and stately”, “lovely”, and “beautiful” birds (Meinke 259-60). In contrast to this, note the couple’s description of themselves. The couple describes themselves as imbeciles. The husband notes, “I not only can’t leap buildings in a single bund, I can hardly get up the goddamn stairs” (Meinke 259). In contrast to this, the wife describes herself as incapable of providing for the needs of other people. Initially she blames herself for their situation and later on she blames herself for the condition of their children. This presents us with the psychological state of the couple as well as some of their reasons for ending their life. Since they consider themselves as individuals who lack worth, not only to other people, but to their children as well, they decide to end their life. One might note, that the couple has stayed affectionate towards each other; however, they do not see this as a sufficient reason for living. For one thing, the husband repeatedly forgets things. His wife states, “you always forgot everything” (Meinke 260). In addition to that the husband himself notes, “It’s all right. It’s enough” (Meinke 259).

As the couple committed the act of suicide as they initially “picked up an object wrapped in a plaid towel, and placed it in front of them” and later on committed the act itself, the birds stood as figures that both counter and complement the couple’s existence and death. The manner in which the birds complemented the couple’s choice of death lay in the view of the cranes plunging upward to the sky in the same way that the couple plunged through their conception of their life which they ended together. In another sense, one might say that the couple’s death stands as a paradoxical event in relation to the whooping cranes’ existence. It is important to note that the whooping cranes are extinct birds, devoid of the capability to reason, the birds struggle to exist and survive. In contrast to this, the couple chose to live. At this point, one wonders who amongst them is devoid of imagination.

Given this context, one may understand the title of the story. Meinke’s “The Cranes” presents a story of human desperation. It recounts the existential dilemma experienced by human beings and contrasts it to the problem of continued existence which are faced by certain members of other species.

Work Cited

Meinke, Peter. “The Cranes.” Birds in the Hand: Fiction and Poetry about Birds. Eds. Dylan Nelson and Kent Nelson. New York: North Point Press, 2005.

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