‘The Story Of A Horse’ by Isaac Babel

The Story Of A Horse by Isaac Babel, 1926

The magic trick:

Shifting the reader’s view of the central conflict by having the narrator corroborate the main character’s point of view at the end

It’s easy to view Khlebnikov as a buffoon for much of this story. He’s proud, he’s petty, he’s vindictive, he’s hung up on what might appear to be an inessential detail of war.

And then we get the closing section. Suddenly, our view changes. The narrator provides Khlebnikov with a sort of corroboration. He admits that Khlebnikov had been “very similar to me in character.”

Our implicit trust in the narrator leaves us conflicted now. Maybe Khlebnikov wasn’t the buffoon. Maybe the hypocrisy of the army was the problem the entire time.

And that’s quite a trick on Babel’s part.

The selection:

“What a fool you are!” the military commissar said to him, and tore it up. “Come back after dinner and you and I will have a little talk.”

“I don’t need your little talk!” Khlebnikov answered, trembling. “You and I are finished!”

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