Themes and message


The main themes of the short story “The School” by Donald Barthelme are the inevitability of death, as well as protection and uncertainty, both enhanced by motifs like curiosity and innocence. Though the story is very short and concise, the author touches upon some deep existential themes, showing the state of uncertainty humankind is in with regards to death and how trying to protect children from it is of no use, as they will reach the same uncertainty sooner or later.

The inevitability of death

The short story revolves around the narrator’s account of all the recent deaths somehow related to the school he teaches in. The account starts light-heartedly with the deaths of trees, plants, and study/rescued animals, but it soon reaches humans, with deaths of children, grandparents, and parents. The inevitability of death is suggested in the story in a dark, humorous way, as the rather naive narrator cannot find deep explanations for it. Although there may be certain reasons behind the deaths, they are discarded through the tone of the na...

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