The Curse


"The Curse" by Andre Dubus is about Mitchell Hayes, a forty-nine year old bartender who is witness to a rape. The rape occurs right before closing when five bikers rape a young woman while holding Mitchell at bay. After the rape, Mitchell is distraught over his decision of not making a stronger attempt to help the girl. Police, family and friends try to comfort Mitchell by telling him he made the right decision. However, he continues to feel guilt and self-doubt over whether or not he could have done more in order to prevent the rape from occurring.
The central idea is that man is responsible for defining his own sense of honor. A clear choice between right and wrong does not always exist. The safest decision is not always the easiest to live with. What Dubus seems to be commenting on is the transformation of man as he grows older. At an older age, you learn to accept things you cannot change.
The main character is Mitchell. He is round and dynamic. He is round because the story revolves around him. His thoughts and actions are crucial to the story and are described in great detail. He is dynamic because he changes from a relatively carefree, self-assured man into an impetuous man who feels old and becomes consumed with guilt. After witnessing the rape: "He did not know what it was like to be very old ? but he assumed it was like this: fatigue beyond relieving by rest, by sleep."
Dubus uses all three methods of indirect characterization in describing Mitchell; he uses words, actions, and thoughts. An example of his words is "I should have stopped it. I think I could have stopped it." An example of his actions comes after the bikers had left the rape scene, "Then he picked up her sneakers from the floor and placed them beside her and squatted near her face?." An example of his thoughts comes after the bikers leave, "He wanted to speak to her and touch her, hold a hand or press her brow, but he could not."
A secondary character is Joyce. She is flat and static. She is flat because she is a minor character and lacks complexity. She is static because her character does not change during the course of the story.
Dubus uses two methods of indirect characterization in describing Joyce; he uses words and actions. An example of her words comes when she is trying to comfort Mitchell: "You?ll be a good witness." An example of her actions comes after Mitchell has told her of the tragedy, "?she kneeled beside him and massaged his shoulders and rubbed his temples and pressed her hands on his forehead."
The central conflict in the story is an internal one. Mitchell has a conflict between his inaction versus his definition of honor. The conflict represents his struggle concerning the guilt he feels over not attempting to stop the rape, even though his friends and family assure him that he made the right decision. The conflict is unresolved.
The point of view of "The Curse" is limited omniscient. An example of this comes when Mitchell thinks to himself: "?he wanted from her something he had never wanted before: to lie in bed while she bathed him." The limited omniscient point of view works well for the story because it helps the reader maintain a strict focus on Mitchell?s constant struggle with his feelings. The point of view does not change during the story. The limited omniscient point of view relates to the central idea, which is man is responsible for defining his own sense of honor.
The setting of "The Curse" occurs in a small town, located in close proximity to a beach in the Northeast part of the United States. The reader is able to determine this from references to the Merrimack River. The story takes place on a warm evening in the month of August. The timeline of the story is sometime between the late 1980?s and the present day. The reader is able to determine this from the reference to the emergency 911 call. The setting is important to the story in that it isolates Mitchell?s character.
The author uses a variety of imagery throughout the story. Examples of connotative words are: popping, quick, sneakers, rang and quivered. An example of irony comes