"Views of My Father Weeping", by Donald Barthelme
Author: Donald Barthelme also known as: Donald Barthelme, Jr.
Date: 1970
Genre(s): short story; Short stories; Satires; Novels; Children's literature; Essays; Experimental fiction; Parodies

Through a series of paragraphs separated by bullet points, the story interweaves the narrator's attempts to learn how his father died with "views" of the father weeping and behaving incongruously (such as making thumbprints in a tray of cupcakes, shooting a water pistol, clumsily upsetting the furniture in a doll's house, and attending a class in good behavior). The sections of the story about the accident, in which his father was supposedly run over by a carriage, are pointedly realistic. Two witnesses, including a little girl, agree that the carriage's passenger appeared to be an aristocrat. Other observers provide conflicting accounts of the father's behavior at the time of the collision: one claims the old man was drunk and caused the accident himself, while another asserts that it was the driver's fault. Eventually the little girl reveals the coachman's name to be Lars Bang. He visits the narrator's home and informs him that he was indeed involved in the mishap and will explain the circumstances later. Subsequently the narrator is drinking wine with Lars Bang, two other men, and a beautiful young girl. The coachman explains that the narrator's drunken father set upon the passing coach and attacked the pair of horses, who ran over him as they fled in panic. Lars Bang concludes that the narrator is "now in possession of all of the facts," but the girl then claims that "Bang is an absolute bloody liar." The story ends with "Etc."
"Views of My Father Weeping" features the fragmented style that characterizes Barthelme's work. In place of a standard plot, disconnected episodes or narrative chunks are strung together to form a "verbal collage"; characters are only sketchily defined and serve primarily as vehicles for Barthelme' s inventive wordplay. Although some critics have faulted Barthelme for failing to convey in his fiction any sense of morality or order, others have countered that---by decrying the creative vacuum of modern life in an innovative, insightful way---he does take a moral stance. In any case "Views of My Father Weeping" is considered one of Barthelme's most accomplished stories. It blends heavily realistic, nineteenth-century-style narrative passages with paragraphs relaying twentieth-century concerns, images, and motifs. Barthelme challenges the concept of traditional realism, because he believes it forces on the reader a false sense of order. Instead he prefers "dreck" (a term first used in his 1967 novel Snow White): an accumulation of seemingly irrelevant material that "can supply a kind of 'sense' of what is going on." A compelling if bewildering story, "Views of My Father Weeping" uses a highly unconventional narrative pattern to explore the difficulties of the father-son relationship.

Like other Barthelme protagonists, the unnamed narrator is---at least within the story's contemporary segments---bewildered, disoriented, and isolated in his struggle to gather and synthesize information about his father. In the segments narrated in the style of a nineteenth-century novel, the son adopts the cool, detached tone of a detective as he attempts to uncover the facts of his father's death. The "views" of the father weeping and performing other acts, however, give the reader a broader view of the son's strong but ambiguous, contradictory feelings of guilt, sorrow, resentment, hostility, and love. Critics have interpreted the story in various ways: some maintained that the realistic narrative about the carriage accident does not record an actual event---it is, rather, the narrator's wish or fantasy about his father's death or a reflection of his own fear of death. No clear vision of the father ever emerges from the story; different fragments portray him as clownish, childish, stern, and drunken. Reviews have noticed that, despite the narrator's attempts to learn the facts about his father, language can never adequately convey personality, relationships, and emotions. The word "Etc." at the story's end also underscores this inconclusiveness.

The segments of the story written in the style of nineteenth-century writers introduce only a few notable characters. Lars Bang is the coachman driving the carriage that killed the narrator's father, and he provides an orderly version of the incident. Described as helpful but vaguely malicious, Bang relates the details of the accident "as if he were telling a tavern story," characterizing the father as a brutal, irresponsible drunkard who caused his own death. Bang asserts that this account is the true one, but the beautiful girl who is listening with the narrator contradicts him and claims that "Bang is an absolute bloody liar." The narrator notes that the coachman' s name is "not unlike my own name," which hints that Bang may be the narrator' s double and that both are liars trying to hide their involvement in the father's death. In any case, the story offers no resolution or confirmation. Its final "Etc." implies that Bang's story may or may not be true and that these events and processes will continue indefinitely. The eleven- or twelve-year-old little girl who witnesses part of the accident later goes to the narrator' s room to offer new information (the coachman's name) in exchange for some promised candy; it may or may not be significant that the narrator has previously claimed that he "could be out in the streets feeling up eleven-year-old girls in their soldier drag, there are thousands, as alike as pennies...."

Source: "Donald Barthelme: "Views of My Father Weeping"," in Characters in Twentieth-Century Literature, Book Two, Gale Research, 1995.

swiped from Seattle Public Library's database Literature Resource Center