How to Become a Writer


Lorrie Moore

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Violence, Trauma, and Isolation Theme Analysis

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Creativity and Perseverance  Theme Icon
Violence, Trauma, and Isolation Theme Icon
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Violence, Trauma, and Isolation Theme Icon

Throughout “How to Become a Writer,” Francie writes stories whose plots revolve around acts of absurd violence. Her first story features an elderly couple who accidentally shoot each other with a malfunctioning gun, and she goes on to write stories that are essentially just copies of this first structure. Whenever Francie turns in a story featuring one of these explosive deaths or injuries, her peers and teachers comment on the story’s nonsensical plot, and one classmate even questions Francie’s sanity. These unexpected, inexplicable acts of fictional violence baffle Francie’s teachers and classmates. Eventually, it becomes clear that these fictional explosions are symbolic expressions of the violence and trauma at the center of Francie’s life. Francie’s parents’ divorce, her brother’s wartime injury, and the volatile backdrop of the Vietnam War itself are all emotionally charged aspects of Francie’s life, and are also all things she struggles to write about in a straightforward way. When she attempts to tell the story of her parents’ divorce, she writes instead about an elderly couple getting blown up by a landmine they find in their kitchen. The absurd violence of Francie’s fiction demonstrates her inability to make sense of her parents’ ruptured relationship; she can only describe the trauma of such a change through a baffling, momentous explosion. Some trauma, however, is not only unexplainable but completely unspeakable for Francie. When it comes to writing the story of her brother’s wartime injury, she can’t find the words. Francie’s failures as a writer—either through her unintelligible plots or her inability to write at all—align with her deepest traumas, and as a result, she’s never truly able to depict those traumas in ways other people can understand. When she tries to, the resulting product confuses and alienates her peers. Through this pattern, the story demonstrates that moments of violence and emotional turmoil are often impossible to describe or express, and because of this, they can be profoundly isolating.

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Violence, Trauma, and Isolation ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Violence, Trauma, and Isolation appears in each chapter of How to Become a Writer. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Violence, Trauma, and Isolation Quotes in How to Become a Writer

Below you will find the important quotes in How to Become a Writer related to the theme of Violence, Trauma, and Isolation.
How to Become a Writer Quotes

Write another story about a man and a woman who, in the very first paragraph, have their lower torsos accidentally blitzed away by dynamite. In the second paragraph, with the insurance money, they buy a frozen yogurt stand together. There are six more paragraphs. You read the whole thing out loud in class. No one likes it. They say your sense of plot is outrageous and incompetent. After class someone asks you if you are crazy.

Related Characters: Francie
Related Symbols: Explosions
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

You spend too much time slouched and demoralized. Your boyfriend suggests bicycling. Your roommate suggests a new boyfriend. You are said to be self-mutilating and losing weight, but you continue writing. The only happiness you have is writing something new, in the middle of the night, armpits damp, heart pounding, something no one has yet seen.

Related Characters: Francie, Francie’s Boyfriend, Francie’s Roommate
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

About the second you write an elaborate story of an old married couple who stumble upon an unknown land mine in their kitchen and accidentally blow themselves up. You call it: “For Better or for Liverwurst.”

About the last you write nothing. There are no words for this. Your typewriter hums. You can find no words.

Related Characters: Francie, Francie’s Mother, Francie’s Brother, Francie’s Father
Related Symbols: Explosions
Page Number: 123-124
Explanation and Analysis:

You have broken up with your boyfriend. You now go out with men who, instead of whispering “I love you,” shout: “Do it to me, baby.” This is good for your writing.

Related Characters: Francie
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis: