Imagery of the Human Body
The story contains much imagery of the human body in its different forms. Leonard’s muscular physique is emphasized, as is the physical presence of the corpse of Svea Johnson. But the main examples are in reference to Howard. Unlike Leonard, who is extremely comfortable inside his own skin, Howard is frequently aware of unusual and sometimes disturbing sensations in his body. At one point he feels a strange sensation in his chest, like he is “gulping sky”; another time he feels “an itch in [his] arteries.” Several times he has an expansive feeling, as if there is an empty space inside his chest: “Howard’s shoulders slumped and he could feel a space widening inside his rib cage.” Sometimes this space seems to get wider, and it pushes at his lungs. These images suggest Howard’s discomfort with the limitations of the physical body and his desire to escape its confines, either into some kind of vague state of spiritual transcendence or perhaps in death. This is especially clear in the following image, which occurs after he presses his hand against his heart and then his chest: “He hoped his internal organs would just disappear and he could give himself over to his internal gases and float, balloon-like, up and out of the office.” These images suggesting a kind of floating out of the body culminate in the moment Howard stands on the bridge, apparently ready to jump. He “felt light, giddy in this feeling of anti-gravity.” But his willingness to escape the demands of life and the physical body suddenly recede; as he steps down from the ledge, although he still feels a sense of physical lightness, this feeling is allied to a sense of the need for purposeful action in the world. His slipping into his shoes again symbolically represents his decision to ground himself in the responsibility of living a useful life, to bear the burden and not seek to escape it.
Ira Mark Milne – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 24, Gina Ochsner, Published by Gale Group, 2006