The Plot of the Short Story
The Foreign Legation is one of the short stories compiled in the book Lives of the Poets, A Novella and Six Stories. The minimalist style the author employs has allowed multiple interpretations of the plot to be feasible in their own rights. In the introduction, the author spends many lines describing Morgan’s living space and daily routines after his separation with his wife. All the minute details the author pens give readers a sense of what kind of person Morgan is and how it feels like to be in Morgan’s shoes. From his habits such as spying on neighbors with binoculars, the readers can infer that his life before the separation was filled with family. That is why he has nothing better to kill his time except stalking others and observing the tiniest details that people are usually oblivious of. In the introduction, it is also implied that Morgan still waits for his family though he knows they would never come back.
In the writer’s opinion, the complication of The Foreign Legation is much longer than that of usual short stories. It starts when Morgan comes to the red-stone Catholic girls’ school and extends all the way until when he discovers the residences for some foreign legations. Throughout the complication, Morgan’s attitude towards sexuality has been stressed on. When he saw the girls from the Catholic school at the Ice Cream Shoppe, he has imagined how their skirt would come undone like a bandage. This shows his repressed sexuality after the separation. His fantasy of having the school girls steamed and oiled and so on while he was conducting to a symphony orchestra emphasizes his suppressed sexuality even more so. Despite being characterized as a minimalist, the author spends many lines describing how the history of the ancient Peru is intertwined with the obsession with sexual organs. The sex scene in the Cadillac that he witnesses outside his house is, again, related to sexuality. However, Morgan’s reaction towards it remains unclear.
The turning point of the story comes when Morgan finds out about the residences of the foreign legations. Finding out this leads Morgan to add the new district as one of his jogging stop. This leads to the climax of the story that comes towards the ending. It is when the explosion happens. Morgan wakes up later than usual. When he jogs in the snow, he is thrown off balance by the sudden explosion at the residence of the foreign legation. What is more shocking is the maroon knee sock with child’s leg in it which he picked up, and put down again. One notable point is that Morgan’s reaction to the explosion is weird. When reactions of usual people would be of shock and fear, he cares about the appropriateness of his response. He asks the girl in running suit who happens to be around whether he was responsible for the incident. It is rather counterintuitive that he feels embarrassment instead of shock like how common people would react.
The story ends with the big bang, literally. There is no clear resolution to the story just as there is no resolution to the psychological impact of the terrorist attack to Morgan. There also seems to be no resolution to Morgan’s marital problems in the story. There is no satisfying explanation to what this embarrassment is about. Most important of all, there is no definite answer to the questions: “Who sets the explosion?” and “Why?”
The writer likes the minimalist style employed by E.L. Doctorow very much. It leaves readers ample room for imagination. It also makes multiple versions of plot possible. The story becomes different when it reaches different people’s hands. For example, one can claim that Morgan stages the explosion and find out enough supporting details to justify his claim. At the same time, however, another is also right to claim that Morgan is just an innocent suburban jogger who witnesses a violent terrorist attack. In the story, the author also leaves many key questions unanswered. For instance, he does not explain why Morgan would feel embarrassed when he sees the girl in running suit nearby the explosion scene. Can repressed sexuality as a theme be related to the bombing? Are oppressed sexuality and voyeurism among the reasons why Morgan is separated with his wife? Understanding the author’s truest intention with what he does not tell should lead the readers to a definite plot but the author chooses to focus on surface description.
Besides, the writer finds pleasure in making inferences based on contextual details the author includes. For literary minimalists like E.L. Doctorow, it is reasonable to deduce that every detail that he does tell carries a purpose. The reason why E.L. Doctorow spends a considerable part of the text describing perception of sexuality in the ancient Peru puzzles the writer. To the writer, the author attempts to convey Morgan dissatisfaction with his sexuality while describing the nature of Morgan’s profession. The fact that Morgan buys expensive steaks, fruits and vegetables that would go bad before he thinks of eating them implies that Morgan has been leading a disorganized life ever since the disintegration of his family. The writer likes how the author makes reading a more active role by what he does not tell and what he does tell.
Despite being labeled as a minimalist short story, the author is descriptive when it comes to unfolding contextual details that serve as hints and innuendos. For example, in the part where Morgan sees Catholic school’s girls in the Ice Cream, the author painstakingly pictures the scene: how Morgan pictures the skirt to be undone like a bandage if the pin are removed and how Morgan notices that the knee sock of one of the girls had slipped down the calf in the next paragraph.
As a whole, the story is thought provoking to the writer and the process of directing the flow of the story is particularly enjoyable.
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