Bullet in the Brain


Tobias Wolff

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Themes and Colors
Cynicism and Respect Theme Icon
Nostalgia and Innocence Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Bullet in the Brain, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

An armed bank robbery at the climax of “Bullet in the Brain” results in the death of Anders, a deeply cynical book critic. Anders is partly responsible for his own grisly end, in that his contempt for the world leads him to treat everything and everyone with mockery—even the criminal pointing a gun to his head. When one of the armed robbers threatens him using clichéd speech, Anders laughs in response, leading the robber

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When Anders is shot, various scenes from his life—both remembered and not—begin to play out in his mind. These scenes illustrate Anders’s past emotional innocence, showing how he used to be the type of man to attend antiwar rallies, memorize poetry, and wake up laughing. In contrast, Anders’s death is the final, unhappy culmination of his now joyless life. Wolff illustrates how Anders gradually lost his innocence and his passion, suggesting that time’s passage can…

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Anders is a jaded and unforgiving book critic, known for his distaste for everything he reviews as well as his bad temper. Yet Anders was not always so judgmental: Anders’s past is filled with scenes that illustrate his past appreciation for language in particular. Language, in Anders’s youth, had the power to deeply affect him, and was a means of connecting him to the world and other people. Anders slowly lost the ability to appreciate…

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