The setting is the time, place, and culture in which the narrative’s action takes place. In ‘‘With All Flags Flying,’’ the setting is contemporary time (the early 1970s) in Baltimore and Baltimore County. Many of Tyler’s works take place in Baltimore, where the author has made her home for many years. She draws on her personal knowledge of the city and its surrounding areas in this story and her other fiction. For example, the description of the superhighway, the location of Clara’s home and its contents, and perhaps the old folks’ home all reflect Tyler’s relationship with the area and enhance her portrayal of her setting.
In ‘‘With All Flags Flying,’’ Mr. Carpenter is the story’s protagonist. A protagonist is the central character of a fictional work who serves as the focus of a story, its themes, and gives meaning to its development. Carpenter is the primary character in the short story. It is he who realizes that he is too weak to live alone any more and works to ensure that the last years of his life are spent in the manner in which he desires. For Carpenter, that means having a positive relationship with his daughters and their families but living in an old folks’ home with few possessions. It is this quest that informs the development of the story.
Brand Names and Visual Images
Another characteristic of Tyler’s fiction which can be found in ‘‘With All Flags Flying’’ is her use of specific details to add character and depth to her stories. Tyler often uses specific product brands in her descriptions. For example, in ‘‘With All Flags Flying,’’ Carpenter packs Fig Newtons in his paper sack and eats them. Later, in her description of Francie, Tyler specifically mentions ‘‘Band-Aids,’’ while Carpenter wonders on his way to the home, ‘‘Whatever happened to DeSotos?’’ Tyler’s use of informative details expands beyond such brand names to descriptions that provide vivid visual images. In the beginning of ‘‘With All Flags Flying,’’ for example, it becomes easier to imagine Carpenter because of her description of his outfit: ‘‘He was wearing a brown suit that he had bought on sale in 1944, a white T shirt and copper-toed work boots.’’ Tyler employs similarly lucid descriptions of minor details throughout the story to enhance its depth and meaning.
In a work of fiction, the conflict is the issue that is to be resolved in the story. In ‘‘With All Flags Flying,’’ there are several conflicts, all of which revolve around Mr. Carpenter. One conflict is internal and focuses on his coming to terms with his aging. While he is not happy that has become weak and unable to live alone, he is determined to fight it through actions like walking to his daughter’s house, using walking as an exercise while living at Clara’s, and determining how he will spend his last years. Another conflict is between Carpenter and his family. He believes his best course of action is to live in an old folks’ home. However, his daughter Clara, her family, and Carpenter’s three other daughters do not want him to live in such a home as they are all happy to have him live with them. Carpenter is forced to be in conflict with them over the issue but remains firm in the face of their efforts. The conflict here is not without love and understanding. Carpenter loves his family and is proud of how his daughters turned out, but he wants to live in an old folks’ home and gets his way in the end. Though this conflict is resolved, his internal conflict continues at the story’s end.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 31, Anne Tyler, Published by Gale Group, 2010