The most important characters in the short story “The School” by Donald Barthelme are Edgar – the narrator, and the collective character of the children. Note that all the characters in the short story can be associated with symbolic meanings. Edgar represents the educator and knowledge (or lack thereof); the children stand for humankind; Helen is symbolic of love and affection; Kim symbolizes different attitudes to children; etc.


Edgar is the narrator of the short story, whose outer characterization only tells us that he is a school teacher and romantically involved with his assistant, Helen. Nothing is said about the man’s physical look or the subject he teaches.

Inner characterization

In terms of inner characterization, we can consider Edgar a flat, symbolic character because he does not change as a result of the action. He initially comes across as unknowing and slightly detached from the chain of deaths he is accounting. He presents the deaths as ordinary, almost common facts, but he is puzzled because he cannot find the reasons behind them: “And the trees all died. They were orange trees. I don’t know why they died, they just died.”

Admitting his lack of knowledge is paradoxical because educators are usually associated with having knowledge and answers to pupils’ questions. Still, he tries to find some possible reasons for some of the deaths, although he never gives a clear explanation: “Something wrong with the soil possibly or maybe the stuff we got from the nursery wasn’t the best.”; “...well, the reason that the snake...

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