Angelo Bergamin

Jeff  Gandell

October 16th 2017

The short story “Moving On” by Diane Cook is a story comparable to no others I have read before.. There is no set date or time, or really anything about the world these people live in besides the way in which spouses are put together. We’re following the story of a woman who has just lost her husband and is put into a shelter so to be chosen by a new spouse. With prison like environment, both socially and physically, the audience is in for a strange yet great read. The social environment of the shelter, the manual given at the shelter and the physical environment of the shelter are symbolic critiques on our culture pushing people towards relationships.

The main character is in what I would consider a society similar to a dystopia. Women and men are picked by others to be their spouses. Our main character suffers the death of her husband and  has no coping mechanisms as she is quickly thrown into a shelter that deals with grief in a terrible way. The protagonist mentions measures she can take to deal with the loss of her husband before she is taken away: “[…]make a time capsule full of pictures I won’t be allowed to keep” (44). The term “Allowed” is the most important part because it indicates that these photos will be removed, so she can be put on the conveyor belt to a new husband. The narrator accentuates how freewill is a luxury, as she wasn’t afforded the right of wanting to remain single. In our society we have created an atmosphere that deters people from staying single. The main character mentions the boundaries of the shelter when she arrives: “I am taken to a women’s shelter on a road that leads out to the interstate. They don’t let us go beyond the compound’s fence, because the land is ragged and wild” (45). This shelter is more of a prison. she describes the environment beyond the fence as ragged and wild. What’s within the fence? The shelter is what’s within the fence, and the shelter sets the women up with a new spouse, so the outside is where they don’t want these women to go. the description of the outside can be seen as a way this society views not going through this process they have set up. It’s chaotic, unstructured and “ragged and wild”. The short story’s main strength is in the lack of explanation for the world this takes place in. This leaves the reader to interpret it through the lens of the main character where her idea of the world centers on the shelter

The protagonist discusses the handouts and manuals as “suggestions for improving our lives and looks. It’s like a spa facility on lock down” (45). the story continues to excellently go through a plot about a dystopian world of marriage while really symbolizing the world we live in. There’s a reference to rules and suggestion on moving on and  all these handouts and ways they are told to improve certain skills “We are encourages to take cooking classes, sewing classes, knitting classes, gardening classes, conceiving classes, child-rearing classes, body-bounce-back-from-pregnancy classes, feminine-assertiveness classes, jogging classes, nutrition classes, home economics” (45). This is a perfect representation of magazines, online dating and day to day media that enforces social norms, rules we follow unconsciously. These forms of media also give us suggestions on how to get “that special someone”. It’s a constant bombardment of improvement for their future partner rather than themselves. The main character continue to describe the process the women go through: “We’re each given a framed picture of a man, some model, and I take it back to my cell and put it by my bed as instructed” (46). This is another example of how she integrates real world cultural phenomena into her story. We have “sexiest man of the year” and these perfect models posted all over the place which implies there is a man at the end of the tunnel they must acquire.

The author builds this prison like shelter with a social environment: “They undress down to their underwear and work on their tans. Other women join an aerobics class in the far north corner” (46). This is information that describes the women getting ready to get selected and taking classes to increase their chances at getting selected. another side is the women not wanting to get selected “There are runners who try to escape at night. They think they will fare better on their own” (pg. 47). We are seeing the protagonist narrate throughout the story what she’s witnessing, which are women conforming and women wanting to escape. This social environment also happens in my culture. We have people getting to choose who they want to be with because the person reciprocates the love, and people who settle for “what they can get”. The symbolism the author uses may not be direct, but it’s always present due to social constructs she may believe in unknowingly which seep into her stories. The character reflects on the runners, stating that she relates to conformity: “I don’t think I could do it. I’m too domestic for that kind of thing” (47). we get a clear idea that being domestic…*add info*

The main character is trapped. She’s closed up, restricted and forced to comply. There’s guards watching these women: “A guard watched us disapprovingly. We looked to be having too much fun” (pg. 49). what sort of shelter has guards watching the people in it? There is force involved and it’s an environment that resembles a prison and the protagonist mentions it being a spa on lockdown. As we learn about everything that’s going on in the physical environment of the shelter, we wonder if the author is trying to create a place that resembles something in the real world. Our protagonist is going through this experience, but is the author trying to demonstrate that we are going through the same thing? I think so, and I think it represents something abstract. The main character is experiencing this on a physical landscape while we’re experiencing it on a mental landscape.

The strangeness of the world that’s built throughout the story, the unknown time it takes place in and not knowing who the character allows for an intriguing story. The author does a brilliant job at getting multiple ideas across through symbolism.


Works Cited

Boyle, T. C., editor. “Moving On”. The Best American Short Stories 2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2015.