The Locked RoomThe human mind is a fascinating thing. It is both computer and database storage device. It sees patterns where none exist, then persists in rationalizing the reality of the patterns. The human mind is not chronologically compromised, in that it jumps up and down the time scale, and across the vast geography of memory, as it compares a new unexpected aspect of the world around it to something previously encountered. Some have called the internal musings of the mind aa it attempts to comprehend what is in front of it as “a stream of consciousness”.
A good deal of the time, this process leads to inaccurate comparisons, quickly put on the table for consideration. Further examination often leads to discarding the initial item brought to the for in the struggle for understanding. But also built into the human mind is billions of years of experience that forces us to defend the quickly selected paradigm, and immediately act upon it — fight or flight response. In a more wild environment, this saved lives, and selected those who selected better. Today, we can sit around and ruminate, and thus generate a “stream of consciousness”, and let the adrenaline slowly create ulcers within our digestive tracts as we fail to act.
In the last couple of days, two stories were put on our web table as comparable stories to ERB’s “Uncle Bill”. One of them was reasonably well documented, while the other was merely mentioned. Neither officially extended, nor attempted direct contradiction of my “stream” as both used a different topic title: “Uncle William” as opposed to “Uncle Bill” the title of the story. Perhaps the authors were attempting to nuance a sophistication that ERB’s title was missing.
Not being a well-read man, I had to go look these stories up and read them. Disappointment beyond belief. These two stories have as much in common with “Uncle Bill”, as does the story of a beaten, mutilated, executed man, being sealed in a room, then disappearing, as told in the New Testament, Or perhaps the pit wherein Joseph is thrown in the Old Testament.
The only common feature, is a locked room, a hiding place for the unclean.
The Biblical stories are onea of hope. They are lessons for life, even more cryptic than Aesop. Conan Doyle’s “Sealed Room” is a typical socratic dialogue wherein the detective questions repeatedly a man, until the man uncovers the truth he knew all along. Faulkner’s “Rose for Emily” is a wonderfully descriptive expose of a poor and pitied woman, in the American south, living in the past.
“Uncle Bill” is none of these, rather “Uncle Bill” is a cathartic attempt by ERB to understand his life, as old age and disappointment pile up. The dates he uses, missing in the other stories, provide specific clues. The names he uses confirm the speculation. ERB’s story is set in the comfortable past, for where else does memory lie?
My initial “stream of consciousness” was exposed on the web lists in the hope that it would lead to greater discussion. That attempt failed. So, here I go, extending my “stream of consciousness”.
ERB was a narcissist and could barely write anything that did not pertain to himself. Outwardly charming, like many psychopaths, but inwardly looking for validation as he bombarded the world with his “expertise” on everything. Repeatedly failing in almost all he attempted, he blamed others for his incompetence, and could do nothing else, as accepting responsibility for failure was beyond him. It was not because he was not smart, he was smart, but he got bored easily, and tired of the conventional, unimaginative life about him. His charm saved him multiple times during his early, and later years. The wealth of his father didn’t hurt either, but that disappeared ERB got financially lucky with one character, in one story, which he grew to hate. He thought he was more.
In “Uncle Bill”, the death of uncle Bill is clearly a deliberate gun shot to the frontal lobes. Who killed uncle Bill? Recall that as a I ruminated a day or so ago, Uncle Bill was the incarnation of ERB himself, as romantic, charming, immortal adventurer, the lovely man who successfully wooed the “remarkable” and “sweetest” heiress known for her “good deeds” and “probity”? This radiant, shining, captivating Phoebe. The name, Phoebe, means this, as ERB knew. Phoebe is Emma.
The answer to “Who killed Bill?” is ERB himself. His mind, although recognizing this reality, was unable to bear the process of identification. By placing the bullet hole in the forehead, instead of the temple, ERB implies it was not self-inflicted, though it was. ERB creates multiple incarnations of himself in the story, as if he can not fixate on who he really is. There is no single ERB in the story to pull the trigger. So the story is left incomplete. One more failure that he tried to sell, but nobody was buying.
As for Porge’s review and summary suffixed to the story on Bill Hillman’s site, it reminds me of the superficial, banal work I commonly ran into coming from the young, uneducated, and inexperienced partakers of the “elite” educational system.
Now, if that doesn’t generate some pertinent response, I am sorry, I don’t know how to be more provocative.
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