A Child Burned
The story begins with the Daddy responding to his baby’s screams, and piecing together the evidence that a boiling pot of water has just tipped over on the child. As he takes in the scene, “the Daddy’s first act was to take the child under the arms and lift him away from [the water] and take him to the sink” (Wallace 706), as compared to the mother, who stands completely still. We watch through the Daddy’s eyes as he does what any good father would do: rushes to his son, quickly assesses the situation, and takes decisive action. The pace at which the
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Daddy moves is a recurring theme. The author tells us that, “He could move fast” (705), but describes, “The Daddy moving quickly and well and his man’s mind empty of everything but purpose” (706), showing that perhaps he moves too fast and without enough thought. As the Daddy tries to soothe his child, pouring cold water on his burns, we see him focus on taking whatever steps he believes are necessary to save and heal the baby. He continues “moving quickly’ (706), but his “man’s mind” (706), remains unable to recognize the cause of his baby’s continued screams.
Again, we see that the Daddy is trying as fast as he can to help his son; putting everything else aside, but failing, in his eagerness to help, to properly assess the situation. At the climax of the story, the author shows us, in the same sentence, the source of the child’s burns and the parents’ realization that they had acted but not thought, and that their failure to think had worsened their child’s injury. “Their baby’s diaper burned their hand and they saw where the real water’s fallen and pooled and been burning their baby all this time while he screamed for them to help him and hey hadn’t, hadn’t thought” (707).
Again, the author shows that by acting without thinking, the father had failed to determine the reason for his child’s screams. The parents’ eyes meet and widen in fear as they realize that, in their haste to help their baby, they never checked his diaper. As we watch the parents open the diaper, their fear and disgust at realizing their child’s injuries, and at not having realized sooner, are obvious. Their child’s whole life flashes before their eyes as they consider the effect of their son slowly burning in his diaper.
Here, the author shows that the parents’ finally realize their mistake. “Mommy said their God’s first name and grabbed the table to keep her feet while the father turned away and threw a homemaker at the air of the kitchen and cursed both himself and the world” (707). We understand the situation. The Narrator shows us the Daddy’s pain as he is frozen with fear and thinks about a time when he was looking at his son in his crib, singing a song to him, while the baby was lazily looking back. The Narrator helps us to feel the
Daddy’s agony, in having tried so hard to save his son, but ultimately failing him, saying, “If you’ve never wept and want to, have a child” (708). In the final sentence, the author shows us the Daddy’s anguish at realizing the effects of his mistake, as he curses himself for craving a cigarette while racing his son to the emergency room. We see the Daddy lifted up his son “like a newborn with his skull in one palm and ran him out to the hot truck and [burns] custom rubber all the way to town and the clinic’s ERE” (708).
The Daddy’s fears are confirmed by the author in the final sentence, which, while ambiguous as to the baby’s precise condition, shows that he will be profoundly affected for the rest of his life, stating, “the child had learned to leave himself and watch the whole rest unfold from a point overhead, and whatever was lost never thenceforth mattered, and the child’s body expanded and walked about and drew pay and lived its life untenanted, a thing among things, its self’s soul so much vapor aloft, falling as rain and then rising, the sun up and down like a oho’ (708).