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Nterpreting Eros and Thanatos in Sea Oak

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Allex Mac

Professor O’Brien

English 1C

6 June 2014

Interpreting Eros and Thanatos in Sea Oak

In Sea Oak, the author, George Saunders depicts the lives of a dysfunctional

family living in poverty. The story focuses on Thomas, the narrator and a stripper

at Joysticks; His sister Min and cousin Jade, who are single mothers that bicker and

watch television the whole day; their Aunt Bernie, an “optometrist” (optimist) who works

as a greeter in a store called DrugTown. Like the title, the story is set at Sea Oak, a

rundown subsidized apartment complex. It is also set in an environment that is

stereotypical of poverty like drugs, gangs, and violence. However, unlike other stories,

Sea Oak is interpreted through the elements of eros and thanatos.

One of the principals of eros and thanatos shown in the story is the feeling of

meaningful and meaningless. Aunt Bernie is a prime example for the eros side of

meaningful. Bernie is the Aunt that is always positive even when the situation is grim.

While Min and Jade who believe that their life is deplorable is on the thanatos side of

the spectrum. For instance, after the Big Scary Dawgz gang finishes shooting up the

area and leaves Min says, “Man, fuck this shit!” and Jade responds with “Freak this crap

you mean.” But their Aunt Bernie says, “Girls, for crying out loud! We should be

thankful. At least we got a home. And at least none of them bullets actually hit nobody”

(Saunders 4). This dialogue shows how are differently they feel about their lives in Sea

Oak. Min and Jade both feel that this place is meaningless since these incidents always

happens, while Aunt Bernie believes that they should feel meaningful for having a home

to live in and that their alright. Another example to show how Aunt Bernie believes that

their lives are meaningful is when she says, “You know what I do if something bad

happens? I don’t think about it. Don’t take it so serious. It ain’t the end of the world.

That’s what I do. That’s what I always done. That’s how I got to where I am” (Saunders

5). Bernie is always optimistic, she believes that they shouldn’t feel down when

something goes wrong and dwell and be negative. On the other hand, Min and Jade

always display a sarcastic tone with a sense of hopelessness. Like when Min says, “Oh

my god, The kid’s duck gets shot in the face and she says were lucky.” and how Jade

says “Somebody’s beak is cracked” replying back to her Aunt when she says “we are

lucky” (Saunders 4). Both Min and Jade believe that the life their living isn’t meaningful

and their dialogue shows how bleak they feel about their lives.

A second aspect of eros and thanatos demonstrated in the story is ambition and ambivalence. One of the characters that exhibit’s ambition in Sea Oak is Aunt Bernie, although it is her zombie counterpart that shows it. She says to Thomas, “You mister, are going to start showing you cock. You’ll show it and show it. You go up to a lady, if she wants to see it, if she’ll pay to see it, I’ll make a thumbprint on the forehead. You see the thumbprint, you ask. I’ll try to get you five a day, at twenty bucks a pop. So a hundred a bucks a day. Seven hundred a week. And that’s all cash, so no taxes. No withholding. See? That’s the beauty of it” Then she continues by adding

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