Rick Bass's short story "Antlers".

Essay by karmaboyUniversity, Bachelor's June 2003

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The story at hand is about much more than the ethics of hunting, and despite its ambiguous, if not non-existent plot, I thought it was rich with meaning. Packaged as a glimpse of life into a small group of people, set in a beautifully rustic and occasionally harsh environment, the story eludes to several themes such as relationships, human needs, addictions, fear, stereotypes, hypocrisy, and our perceptions of reality. Like an old, mysterious house with trap doors and hidden rooms, each time I read Antlers, I found something I didn't see before.

Bass uses the amazingly depicted setting to both attract and pacify the reader, sufficiently enough to discuss highly-charged issues without invoking an immediate emotional response. While we are busy visualizing a "cold, blue valley" filled with peaceful silence, and amused by the thought of people with antlers on their heads "dancing all night long, putting nickels in the jukebox" (52), the author skillfully challenges some of our deepest beliefs.

First addressing the most obvious theme, the subject of hunting, I get the sense that Bass, like the men in the valley, encourages a passive acceptance of hunting. He sees it as a necessary evil, and a means of survival. Does it really make a difference if it's done in a controlled environment or in the wild? After all, "Dead's dead, isn't it" (53)? He drives his point home by making light of Suzie's views, in her own words:

Cattle are like city people. Cattle expect, even deserve, what they've got coming. But wild animals are different. Wild animals enjoy life. They live in the woods on purpose. It's cruel to go in after them (54).

I think it's safe to say that Suzie isn't an expert on cattle psychology, but most notably, her...