Bullet in the Brain

by

Tobias Wolff

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Anders Character Analysis

Anders is a jaded, cynical book critic, and the protagonist of “Bullet in the Brain.” When he visits a bank that is then robbed by criminals, the robbers’ clichéd speech causes Anders to laugh, leading one robber to shoot Anders in retaliation. As Anders is shot, scenes from his past play out, demonstrating that he was not always embittered and unhappy. He used to be passionate, emotional, invested in poetry and language, and capable of deep respect for other people. In particular, one scene from Anders’s childhood involving Coyle’s cousin illustrates how Anders used to be open to other people’s differences. In fact, in his youth, Anders was extremely moved by the way Coyle’s cousin mispronounced a common phrase. In his adulthood, however, Anders has lost his love for language, and has also begun to resent his job, leading him to become the sour and miserable man in Wolff’s story. He is sarcastic to strangers, and unable to see beyond his cynicism even when he is put in mortal danger. His more redeemable qualities only come to light when he is shot, providing a stark contrast to his death.

Anders Quotes in Bullet in the Brain

The Bullet in the Brain quotes below are all either spoken by Anders or refer to Anders. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Cynicism and Respect Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Bullet in the Brain published in 2009.
Bullet in the Brain Quotes

The line was endless and he got stuck behind two women whose loud, stupid conversation put him in a murderous temper. He was never in the best of tempers anyway, Anders—a book critic known for the weary, elegant savagery with which he dispatched almost everything he reviewed.

Related Characters: Anders
Page Number: 263
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation long mobile

Anders had conceived his own towering hatred of the teller, but he immediately turned it on the presumptuous crybaby in front of him. “Damned unfair,” he said. “Tragic, really. If they're not chopping off the wrong leg or bombing your ancestral village, they're closing their positions.”

Related Characters: Anders (speaker)
Page Number: 263
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

“Oh, bravo,” Anders said. “‘Dead meat.’” He turned to the woman in front of him. “Great script, eh? The stern, brass-knuckled poetry of the dangerous classes.”

Related Characters: Anders (speaker), Robber
Page Number: 264
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

The barrel tickled like a stiff finger and he had to fight back the titters. He did this by making himself stare into the man's eyes, which were clearly visible behind the holes in the mask: pale blue and rawly red-rimmed. The man's left eyelid kept twitching. He breathed out a piercing, ammoniac smell that shocked Anders more than anything that had happened, and he was beginning to develop a sense of unease.

Related Characters: Anders, Robber
Page Number: 265
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

The domed ceiling had been decorated with mythological figures whose fleshy, toga-draped ugliness Anders had taken in at a glance many years earlier and afterward declined to notice. Now he had no choice but to scrutinize the painter's work. It was even worse than he remembered, and all of it executed with the utmost gravity.

Related Characters: Anders
Related Symbols: The Painted Ceiling
Page Number: 265
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

Anders burst out laughing. He covered his mouth with both hands and said, “I'm sorry, I'm sorry,” then snorted helplessly through his fingers and said, “Capiche-oh, God, capiche,” and at that the man with the pistol raised the pistol and shot Anders right in the head.

Related Characters: Anders, Robber
Page Number: 266
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

He did not remember Professor Josephs telling his class how Athenian prisoners in Sicily had been released if they could recite Aeschylus, and then reciting Aeschylus himself, right there, in the Greek. Anders did not remember how his eyes had burned at those sounds.

Related Characters: Anders
Page Number: 267
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

He did not remember when he began to regard the heap of books on his desk with boredom and dread, or when he grew angry at writers for writing them. He did not remember when everything began to remind him of something else.

Related Characters: Anders
Page Number: 267
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

“Shortstop,” the boy says. “Short's the best position they is.” Anders turns and looks at him. He wants to hear Coyle's cousin repeat what he's just said, though he knows better than to ask. The others will think he's being a jerk, ragging the kid for his grammar. But that isn't it, not at all-it's that Anders is strangely roused, elated, by those final two words, their pure unexpectedness and their music.

Related Characters: Anders, Coyle’s Cousin
Related Symbols: The Baseball Game
Page Number: 268
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

But for now Anders can still make time. Time for the shadows to lengthen on the grass, time for the tethered dog to bark at the flying ball, time for the boy in right field to smack his sweat-blackened mitt and softly chant, They is, they is, they is.

Related Characters: Anders
Related Symbols: The Baseball Game
Page Number: 268
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Get the entire Bullet in the Brain LitChart as a printable PDF.
Bullet in the brain.pdf.medium

Anders Character Timeline in Bullet in the Brain

The timeline below shows where the character Anders appears in Bullet in the Brain. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Bullet in the Brain
Cynicism and Respect Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
Anders visits a bank just before closing time and gets stuck in a line behind two... (full context)
Cynicism and Respect Theme Icon
...tellers, despite the long line, closes her window early. The two women in front of Anders vocally disapprove and turn to Anders to solicit his commentary. Although he feels a sense... (full context)
Cynicism and Respect Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
...tell everyone to stay silent, or they will be “dead meat.” Hearing this clichéd phrase, Anders make a sarcastic quip to the women he criticized earlier. (full context)
Cynicism and Respect Theme Icon
...teller who closed her window says it is hers, and the robber threatens her personally. Anders, finding poetic justice in this situation, jokes with the two women that “Justice is done.” (full context)
Cynicism and Respect Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
This comment gets one robber’s attention, and he calls Anders a “bright boy,” asking him if he told Anders to talk. When Anders makes another... (full context)
Cynicism and Respect Theme Icon
The pistol tickles Anders, and he tries not to laugh. Instead, he looks the robber in the eyes, which... (full context)
Cynicism and Respect Theme Icon
Anders begins to study the ceiling, which is covered in a mural depicting classical figures from... (full context)
Cynicism and Respect Theme Icon
The robber, seeing this expression, asks Anders if he thinks the robber is “comical.” Anders answers, “No,” and the robber continues to... (full context)
Cynicism and Respect Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
Anders, upon hearing this clichéd gangster speech, cannot stop himself from laughing. In retaliation, the robber... (full context)
Cynicism and Respect Theme Icon
Nostalgia and Innocence Theme Icon
The bullet starts to travel through Anders’s brain, starting a chain of “neurotransmissions” in Anders’s mind. As a result of this, unremembered... (full context)
Cynicism and Respect Theme Icon
Nostalgia and Innocence Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
The bullet continues to travel through Anders’s head. Another scene from his youth unfurls, featuring one of his college professors reciting work... (full context)
Cynicism and Respect Theme Icon
Nostalgia and Innocence Theme Icon
Finally, Anders remembers a scene from his childhood “forty years past.” In this scene, he is participating... (full context)
Nostalgia and Innocence Theme Icon
...game. One of them is named Coyle, and the other is Coyle’s cousin, from Mississippi. Anders has never met Coyle’s cousin, and will “never see” him again after the game ends.... (full context)
Cynicism and Respect Theme Icon
Nostalgia and Innocence Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
...the best position “they is.” This mispronunciation, a consequence of the cousin’s Southern accent, startles Anders. In fact, Anders is so intrigued by the mispronunciation that he wants Coyle’s cousin to... (full context)
Cynicism and Respect Theme Icon
Nostalgia and Innocence Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
Still, Anders is “elated” by the mispronunciation. He appreciates the way the those “two words” sound, relishing... (full context)
Cynicism and Respect Theme Icon
Nostalgia and Innocence Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
While this memory is playing out, the bullet is still traveling through Anders’s brain, bringing him closer to his inevitable death. But Anders’s memory of his childhood baseball... (full context)