Each of us is designed with a defense mechanism that raises red flags whenever we feel threatened. Sometimes this alert system prevents us from seeing the true nature of ourselves and we become quick to make judgments or seek retaliation. George Saunders details this human fallacy in his short story, The End of FIRPO IN THE WORLD. The unique attribute about this story is that it is written from the perspective of a kid, posing the question about whether, as adults, we become innocent of this human fallacy. Saunders creates the word, FIRPO, to symbolize the bad and defensive things people do to protect themselves. However, when individuals fail to understand the actions of other people, they tend to assume the worse. When an individual lacks self-awareness or understanding of his role in provoking a particular action, the misunderstanding only grows larger and can cause one’s demise.
The short story opens with the main character riding his bike through his neighborhood, seething for revenge. As he passes each of the houses on his street, Cody recalls the mistreatment he received from certain neighbors, family, and friends. This recollection fuels his intention to take revenge on the Dalmeyer family because they scold him for always ruining their things. After circling around his neighborhood a couple times, Cody speeds past the Dalmeyer’s house, attempts to make a quick turn, and is hit by a white car. The man in the white car tries to console Cody and determine if he is all right. At this point, Cody is lying on the ground unable to move or talk and starts to think about the reaction of his mother and her boyfriend to his predicament. He assumes they would blame him for essentially being a FIRPO. By the end of the story, the reader learns the main character is not a victim because recollections of mistreatments were caused by something the main character had done to provoke. The main character feels an injustice toward him and lacks self-awareness to realize his role in the situation nor does he take responsibility of the bad deeds he committed that provoked the neighbors. In the end, he finally realizes his downfall and admits to his defensive ways before he dies.
Our first inclination that Cody fails to understand the actions of other people comes at the beginning of Saunders’ story. As Cody flies by the chink’s house, squatty-body’s house, and the house where the dead guy had rotted for five days, he remembers that the chink had once called him nasty, the squatty-body had once called the cops when he hit her cat with a lug nut on a string, and the chick in the dead guy’s house had once asked if he ever brushed his teeth (Saunders 127). All of these reactions from Cody’s neighbors could easily be misinterpreted and viewed as harsh reactions to his character because we later find in the story that Cody is a bit of a screw up and socially inept. “Well yes, he had ruined a few Dalmeyer things in his life, he had yes pounded a railroad spike in a good new volleyball, he had yes secretly scraped a ski with a nail…” (Saunders 128). We also discover that Cody’s mother and boyfriend try to correct his mischievous behavior by fining him for every nose-hole sound he makes. The argument here is that his mother is concerned about how he will ever find a date in junior high. “… Mom babied him by stroking his big wide head and saying he didn’t have to pay all the quarters he owed for making the nose-hole sound, but other times she said if he didn’t knock it off and lose a few pounds how was he ever going to get a date in junior high…” (Saunders 132). While Cody might think his neighbors and family are being cruel, they really appear to be trying to help him, albeit without restraint.
Cody assumes the worse when in his mind he creates these elaborate fantasies about how he is going to get back at his neighbors for being so mean. He thinks someday when his special miniaturizing invention ray is complete he will shrink their houses and flush them down the shitter (Saunders 127). These fantasies give readers the impression that Cody lacks maturity and understanding of how the “perpetrators” responses to his behavioral issues are appropriate. Readers can also conclude that, because Cody does not believe his neighbors showed sophistication in their dealings with him, they had negative intentions. “…in tiny voices all three [neighbors] begged for some sophisticated mercy, but he would only say, sophisticated” (Saunders 127)? “When were you ever sophisticated to me” (Saunders 127)? In another example, Cody describes the Dalmeyer’s reaction when he picked up a bright-red goalie pad. “…Not that pad Cody you dick, we never use those pads in the driveway…you rectum, those are only for ice, were you born a rectal shitbrain or did you take special rectal shitbrain lessons, in rectal shitbrain lessons did they teach you how to ruin everybody’s things” (Saunders 128)? The excessive use of the phrase: rectal shitbrain, reveals a sense of exaggeration in Cody’s description, giving us reason to believe that he is unable to see the good nature of the Dalmeyer’s rebuke for ruining their things.
At the end of George Saunders’ story, Cody finally admits to being a FIRPO after a white car strikes him. “The announcers in the booth above the willow began weeping as he sat on Mom’s lap and said he was very sorry for having been such a FIRPO…” (Saunders 135). This admission reinforces my previous assertion that Cody lacked maturity and aptitude to understand people’s reactions to his behavioral issues because as he lied unconscious after the accident everything came into focus. “…Cody, wasn’t good, he was FIRPO, Mom had said so and Daryl had said so and even Mr. Dean in Science had told him to stop lying the time he tried to tell about seeing the falling star” (Saunders 135). We can further argue that the aforementioned assertion causes his demise, both figuratively and literally, because he assumes the worse and reacts with indignation. Cody thought it would be revenge, sweet revenge, when he stuck the lozenge from wood shop up the Dalmeyers’ water hose (Saunders 129). Later he imagines the Dalmeyers would call some guys from a science lab to confirm the miracle of his ingenious idea and invite him to live with them in the experimental space above their lab. The Dalmeyers would visit for a lab tour and be amazed at his building of a whole entire T. rex from scratch, which would teach Eric Dalmeyer a lesson about what kind of power those crushing jaws would have if he, Cody, pounded out on the heat pipe Kill Kill Kill (Saunders 130-131). These lines make known Cody’s true personality and ultimately lead to his demise when he attempts to follow through with his plan for retribution on the Dalmeyer family.
Saunders, George. Stories and a Novella: Pastoralia. The End of FIRPO IN THE WORLD, 2000. Print