Anxious People

Anxious People

by

Fredrik Backman

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Anxious People: Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrator asks the reader to consider the bank robber robbing the bank. This obviously has nothing to do with the reader, since the reader is “normal” and “decent” and agrees that people shouldn’t lie, steal, or kill. There are a few exceptions: you can lie to your kids about the chocolate you ate and if you get the opportunity, you should kill Hitler. Stealing, though, gets a little trickier. Is it okay to steal if it’s something small, and you have to? Is it okay to rob a bank if you think you have to, and nobody will get hurt? Probably not, so readers have nothing in common with the bank robber—except fear. Anyone who has small kids, like the bank robber, knows being a parent is terrifying all the time.
This passage begins by allowing readers to feel like they’re superior to the robber and have nothing in common with them. Still, though, the narrator encourages readers to have empathy by guiding them through these thought exercises about when it might be okay to steal. The implication here is that perhaps the robber is stealing something small, and perhaps they think they have to and believe no one will get hurt. In the end, though, the narrator insists that if readers have kids, they should be very familiar with the fear that seemingly motivated the robber to rob the bank. The robber, it seems, will go to great lengths for their children.
Themes
Parenting and Fear Theme Icon
The Modern World Theme Icon
Quotes
The bank robber left home this morning, not realizing their youngest daughter put the drawing of a monkey, the frog, and the elk in the robber’s pocket. The little girl and her sister never fight, and their parents used to whisper that they didn’t deserve such good kids. Now, since the divorce, the girls live with each parent on alternating weeks. They’re with their non-robber parent this week, and though they don’t know it, they’re listening to news reports about the bank robber parent in the car.
Readers get a bit more insight into the bank robber’s situation: they’re currently going through, or have recently gone through, a divorce. Ending a marriage can be a huge, upsetting event in people’s lives, and it seems like this may have been the case for the robber. The girls seem very affectionate toward their bank robber parent, as evidenced by slipping this drawing into their parent’s pocket.
Themes
Parenting and Fear Theme Icon
Marriage, Conflict, and Communication Theme Icon
On weeks they live with their robber parent, the daughters take the bus places and giggle about their robber parent being an elk when they run for the bus, since that parent has absurdly long legs. Kids notice stuff like that; it makes them good bullies. But the strangest thing about being a parent is that your kids love you, no matter what. And the bank robber, who only calls their kids by their nicknames—monkey and frog—would do anything for the girls.
Finally, readers learn the real significance of the child’s drawing: it depicts the two daughters and their robber parent. This passage offers some hope too, as it reiterates that kids always love their parents. The robber’s choice to rob the bank, then, will not put their daughters’ love in jeopardy.
Themes
Parenting and Fear Theme Icon
Readers, of course, still wouldn’t ever rob a bank, but has the reader ever been in love? Love makes people do ridiculous things, like get married and have kids. The marriage seems to be going well and then, one day, like the bank robber, perhaps you uncover infidelity, and everything goes south. The robber’s spouse had been cheating with the robber’s boss, so the robber went from being married and employed on a Friday to divorced and unemployed by Monday. But the robber’s spouse asked the robber to not make a scene, for the children’s sake. So the robber didn’t call a lawyer. They just left the apartment, since the apartment was only in their spouse’s name, and they didn’t want to make a fuss.
Keep in mind that the novel has stated at several points that the bank robber will do anything for their kids. Here, this means that they get what seems like the worst lot in their separation, as they don’t get to stay in the apartment or keep their job. The robber’s spouse, indeed, seems to almost weaponize the robber’s love for their kids by asking them to not make a scene—this is how they can exert power over the robber in the divorce. And not hiring a lawyer so as to not make a scene also means that the robber is going through this divorce alone, without legal counsel. And as the novel has already stated, adults don’t know everything, and so the robber might be more prone to making mistakes without some professional guidance.
Themes
Parenting and Fear Theme Icon
Marriage, Conflict, and Communication Theme Icon
The Modern World Theme Icon
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Anxious People PDF
The robber didn’t ask for government assistance. They tried to buy an apartment, but banks won’t lend to people who don’t have money. They had to rent, which requires four months’ rent as a deposit. Then, the robber got a letter saying the other parent applied for sole custody of their daughters, given that the robber didn’t have housing or a job. The robber then went to go pick up their things from the storeroom at their spouse’s apartment and realized they had no place to take said things. They dug out some blankets from a neighbor’s storeroom and found a toy pistol, which made them feel safer. They slept in the storeroom for a week, until an apartment near the bridge came up for 6,500 kroner per month. The robber figured they could sell everything and get a job to pay the next month’s rent.
The robber discovers the same thing that the man who jumped off the bridge did: that banks want to see a credit history and a steady income; they deny loans and other types of assistance to people with nothing. This highlights how the modern banking system isn’t actually set up to help people who need help. Remember that Jim has already shared that the robber’s pistol was, in fact, real. Sweden has strict laws regarding who can possess weapons and why, so the robber is likely already in violation of some important rules just by possessing the pistol.
Themes
The Modern World Theme Icon
The robber was unsuccessful. The narrator notes that in situations like these, you’re supposed to go to the authorities. But the robber remembers sitting at the welfare office with the robber’s mother, and the robber remembers how good addicts’ kids get to be at lying to cover up their parent’s faults. And the robber is afraid the welfare office will take their daughters away, and all the robber needs is a chance. The robber found a job—but the job doesn’t pay until they’ve worked two months. They went to ask for another loan to get by, but the bank again refused. It makes no sense.
The robber is too haunted by their past and how their mother’s behavior affected them to do what the narrator suggests is the right thing and go to the authorities. As things start to look more and more desperate, the robber becomes increasingly intent on doing things all on their own and not asking for help. And once again, they run into the fact that banks aren’t set up to help people in dire situations.
Themes
Mental Health and Connection Theme Icon
The Modern World Theme Icon
Assumptions  Theme Icon
The robber struggled on, hoping to keep their daughters from seeing how stressed they are. The girls could see anyway. The robber has spent their whole life promising not to be a chaotic parent, and here they are. On the day before New Year’s Day, the robber puts the latest letter from the lawyer in their pocket next to the eviction notice from the landlord. They cut holes in a black hat and try to rob a cashless bank, believing they can just return the money once they get paid. They just need one month to get on their feet. But now, the pistol is real, a drawing of an elk and a frog and a monkey is in a stairwell, and an apartment rug is bloody.
The way the narrator frames this passage suggests that things just spiraled out of control—the robber never planned for this to happen, and now they’re stuck. The novel makes it clear that it really doesn’t take much to end up like the robber, suggesting again that there’s less difference between readers and the robber than readers might like to think. This encourages readers to sympathize with the robber rather than judge them.
Themes
The Modern World Theme Icon
Assumptions  Theme Icon