I’m A Fool by Sherwood Anderson, 1922
The magic trick:
Using a first-person voice to catch the narrator in contradictions that expose just how big a fool he really is
This is a brilliant little story. Anderson’s narrator thinks he’s telling a story about how he once lost the chance at the girl of his dreams. He blames himself for getting drunk and lying to the girl about his background. As the title indicates, he considers himself a fool. Amazing thing is Anderson exposes him as a fool but for an entirely different set of reasons.
By telling the story in first person, Anderson allows his narrator’s insecurities and selfishness to shine. Consider that the narrator vehemently criticizes both the educated for looking down on those who work in the horse business, and anyone who “puts on airs” and pretends to be someone of a higher social status, only to wind up looking down (literally from the grandstand) on those in the horse business as he passes out fancy cigars and pretends to be a rich horse-owner from another city. He says he blames himself, but in the telling of the story, it’s clear that he still blames others for his misfortune.
In essence, the narrator is telling a story of humility and contriteness, but winds up only coming off as clueless, immature, and exceedingly egotistical. And that’s quite the trick on Anderson’s part.
I’ve always thought to myself, Put up a good front, and so I did it. I had forty dollars in my pocket and so I went into the West House, a big hotel, and walked up to the cigar stand. “Give me three twenty-five cent cigars,” I said. There was a lot of horse men and strangers and dressed-up people from other towns standing around in the lobby and in the bar, and I mingled amongst them. In the bar there was a fellow with a cane and a Windsor tie on, that it make me sick to look at him. I like a man to be a man and dress up, but not to go put on that kind of airs. So I pushed him aside, kind of rough, and had me drink of whiskey.