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Letter from an Understudy Analysis

In: English and Literature

Submitted By Niki2008
Words 1001
Pages 5
The text 'Letter from the Understudy', written by Kathryn Simmonds, is, by the assignment paper, classified as a 'short story'. The characteristics for this branch of writing is that the story will often center around a single event, and that it has an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Furthermore, short stories are often, due to their limited word count, written with great precision. If we look at the text, it does indeed meet all of these criteria.
The short story is written in a 1st person narrative, the 'storyteller' being the perpetrator himself, Gavin Pollard. The lack of a 3rd person omniscient narrator makes it impossible for the reader to know which parts of the story are true, and which aren't. The whole thing could easily be a lie, but to analyze the text, we have to trust that at least parts of it is true.
We are introduced to Gavin Pollard, an actor from London who has fled the country after assaulting 'Alex', the star of a play in which Gavin was an understudy. The entire three pages are supposed to be a letter from the attacker to the instructor of the play, Malcolm, in which the understudy tries to explain his actions, and the reasoning behind the committed crime. Judging by the language used, and the mention of a Golf GTI (which, it turns out, is a car), it can be determined that the story takes place in the present time.
From the text, we know that Mister Pollard comes from a lower class family (page 2, line 21; "my parents aren't middle class). We are told that his sister, in stark contrast to him, is apparently quite successful in her career, and that he thinks he owes it to his father and mother to become successful too. What we know of his personality, we learn through the way he describes the world and people around him. Amongst other things, an important characteristic of his seems to be that he is quite dramatic. Both in his choice of words, and in his actions. An example of the former can be found on page three, the last line; "But then again, I suppose I'm used to the anonymity".
The language is casual, since Gavin is addressing someone he is acquainted with. His narration brings us through the story in chronological order. We do not know exactly what he did at the end of the event he describes, until we're told at the end of the letter, which creates dramatic suspense.

The conflict of the story arises from jealousy and a feeling of helplessness. Our main character, like it is described a bit earlier, feels like he has to become successful in order to make his parents happy. His chance, he feels, is taken from him by another actor, Alex, who's role in the play Gavin desperately wants, just for one night. After mister Pollard sprinkles something in Alex's drink and it doesn't work out like he wanted it to, he resorts to violence. More specifically, Gavin beats him up with a cricket bat, which is also the climax of the story.
Gavin tries to make himself appear, not innocent, but less guilty, by appearing as a victim. He uses pathos, (appealing to the audience's emotions), by talking about his childhood, and how theatre is his life. He also makes a great deal of effort to put part of the blame on other people. The way he does this is quite interesting, because it is never done directly. We see this multiple times, for example on page two, line 34-35, when he says; "This has all been my own doing, and I'm not laying blame at your door, but I do wonder, would this have happened if I'd had a chance sooner?". The key word in that sentence is 'but', because that word is used as an introduction to a statement that contrasts the previously mentioned one.
The way he describes the reason for his actions, then, drowns in his self pity. If one were to remove all the heartfelt slight sidetracks, and Shakespeare metaphors, they would find that in the end, his reason was jealousy. His main argument for the attack seems to be that he had asked press to be present on the night where he thought he would be playing Romeo (which he did end up doing, because he beat the original actor bloody), and when Alex decided to show up anyway, Gavin felt helpless. It is, however, not nearly good enough a reason to send someone to the hospital with a broken nose.

One of the most interesting aspects of the story are the multiple references that are made to different Shakespeare texts. Not only does the event take place around a Romeo and Juliet play, but the author also references said play both directly (on page three, there is a direct quote from it, which starts with the famous words "these violent delights have violent ends"), and indirectly (an example of this can be found on page one, line ten, where balcony climbing is mentioned).

If one wanted to draw parallels between this story and a Shakespeare play, it would be hard to find any if we looked only at Romeo and Juliet. There are, however, similarities between 'MacBeth' and 'Letter from the Understudy' , which is also hinted at, since the plays 'King Richard III' and 'MacBeth' are both mentioned in the text; on page 3, line 34, and on page 2, the last line, respectively.

In MacBeth, the main character is driven to commit violent acts to gain success (if becoming a king can be classified as gaining success, that is). Knowing that Gavin is more than just slightly dramatic, it is very possible that he sees himself as being in the same position.

The text is interesting to read, mostly because of its unusual narrative technique, which draws the reader in, but also allows us to question the sincerity of the story

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