Vilar Oliveira Martika

Contemporary American Fiction 603-102-MQ

Jeffrey Gandell

October 16th 2017

Being Vulnerable : An Art to Master

The short story, “Largesse of the Sea Maiden” from The New Yorker, uses interesting and diverse characters to demonstrate how we all live split lives and how we show different versions of ourselves to different people. Throughout the narrative, you never hear the protagonist state his name, only shares personal stories that he’s heard from others or personal regrets and failures that he carries. When he concludes his story telling, he finally identifies himself in saying certain personal information like his name; Whit. By hiding his identity from the readers, he shelters himself from our judgments. For instance, when he states, “As for me? My usual guise. The masquerade continues” (126). The narrator explores the characters’ discoveries, as well as his own, by transcending the idea of vulnerability throughout mental and physical states and how selective humans are when opening up to others.

The narrative on the journalist was maybe the strongest one throughout “The Largesse of the Sea Maiden.” He interviews a widow that recently just lost her husband due to the death penalty and is told that “They were talking to each other about life and death while she displayed her nakedness before him…” (130). The act of her nudity can symbolize how they opened up to each other, and described their views and lives, for example sharing their vulnerability and insecurities can be revealing and uncomfortable to some people, but when he met this women who was exposing herself to him, it took all the barriers away. We all tend to hide personal information about ourselves when people aren’t revealing anything about themselves either. Human connection is such a strong concept and I find this certain anecdote captures that perfectly by comparing the physical characteristics of being naked but also the mental state of being naked. This observation furthers the idea of how we value the choice of choosing who we show our bodies to, just as much as we value who we share our insecurities and thoughts to.

The narrator claims that we each hold a secret personality within ourselves and conceal from the world. We go to work just like Whit everyday and we are part of a masquerade and circus act. A masquerade is a party of individuals who disguise themselves, hiding their true identity. Similar to a society, together we put masks at work and school where we gather all together, but the people around us never find out who we are. Even Whit admits, “The whole agency works under one gigantic big top like a circus…” (125). 

We start to get familiarized with the type of person the protagonist is through the stories, experiences, and the losses he witnessed through time. Ultimately, these outcomes determine who he is. I enjoyed “Largesse of the Sea Maiden” because it wasn’t a coming of age story that is usually published, where the plot centers on a young adult growing up. It was about a 60 old man who’s learning to live with what he did and did not do during his life: “the distance I’ve traveled from my own youth, the persistence of the old regrets, the new regrets, the ability of failure to freshen itself in novel forms” (124). Just like this quote explains his past regrets, I realized that the reasons he doesn’t recall his past wives and treats them as a very distant memory, indicates his anxiety due to wanting to forget his past choices. He further reveals his anxious personality when he tells the readers, “Memory fades, not much of the past stays, and I wouldn’t mind forgetting a lot more of it” (143). When you gradually make your way through reading this piece of fiction, you start making realizations at the same pace as the narrator does through his life. At the end of the story he describes what he sees around a simple room with strangers and says, “It seemed like just another of the personalities here: the invisible pianist, the disenchanted old bartender, the big glamorous blonde, the shipwrecked, solitary saxophone. And the man who’d walked here through the snow” (141). As he goes through the list of his illustrations of the strangers and himself in the quote, you see the importance of perspective and how it plays a role on our judgment of people. Especially that he mentions himself in the end of his observations, he accentuates how shame is only felt when we scrutinize our behavior through the lens of others. He carries the burdens on his back that come from his past regrets and they are imbedded in his nerves and muscles. It’s a physical attribute to the person he is and the person he hides from the world. He also explains; “As I trudged up Fifth Avenue after this miserable interlude, I carried my shoulder like a bushel bag of burning kindling and could hardly stay upright…”(139). From this thought we can assume that Whit unconsciously lugs his insecurities on his back, creating a weight he can’t seem to shake off.

We all experience things in a widely different manner, which means we also all distinguish things and people uniquely. The author uses the perception of characters to further this theory. We learn a lot about the painter on the day of the memorial from the lack of information that he left behind: “Rather than memorializing him, we found ourselves asking, “Who the hell was this guy?”(134) From this thought we can tell that at the memorial of the painter, his friends all had different stories and various perspectives on who he was, and the artist chose specifically what and what not to reveal to certain people. The protagonist had a different relationship with Tony than he thought. Whit implies that even if they shared the same moments together, they experienced diverging feelings: “Tony’s best friend? I was confused. I’m still confused. I hardly knew him” (136). We get the impression we’re seeing Whit’s point of view here, which is important because Tony’s is the complete opposite. The painter looks up to all of Whit’s morals and choices, but Whit still can’t seem to gather who this man was and why he hid some much of his identity.

Many short stories after the first read, tend to leave us with numerous questions. This one left me confused and I have been asking myself why all these stories were brought together. However, with time it all made sense. After the second read, I started to connect the figurative language on our society to the masquerade we live in. People who like metaphors and analogies will love this short story because it forces us to think deeper. It allows us to reflect on a certain idea, and we come to understand that every story has a deeper connotation.

Work cited:

Boyle, T. C., editor. “Largesse of the Sea Maiden”. The Best American Short Stories 2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2015.