I just picked up this collection of short stories and was wondering
if anyone wanted to go through it with me? I just wanted to get some
other peoples opinions and analysis of "First Day"...Im not quite
sure if I "got" it and would love if someone would like to talk about
We are the music makers...and we are the dreamers of dreams
Sure, Justin. I just happened to read that same story for the first time today! What is that you don't "get"? Is it the saluting the flag business? Or the ending?
I guess its a little of both...Its probably so simple its stupefying...Is it some concept of time? If it was the wrong date why did they all come? LOL I feel kind of silly for not getting it..whats your interp.???
Thanks a lot
We are the music makers...and we are the dreamers of dreams
Hi again Justin.
My interpretation is that it is the correct date, but each of the old friends is hesitant and a little embarrassed to be there. Remember that our hero, while driving, is constantly uncertain of whether he is doing the right thing or a foolish thing. What on earth would you say to someone after fifty years?
At a certain point, when all are set to walk away, they find themselves automatically drawn to salute the flag. (As a non-American, there may be something I'm missing here - is this some sort of American school ritual? Something to do with the last day of school?)
When our hero arrives home, and his wife asks if they had much to say to each other, we know that nobody said a word - but the group's instinctive sharing of the saluting speaks volumes about what they have in common. So even without saying a word, they said a lot.
That's my reading of it, for what it's worth. I found it a very easy, fast-paced read, which had me hooked throughout. I would be interested to know when it was written (from the huge amount of dialogue, I would guess that it's quite recent - young Bradbury did great descriptions; the older Bradbury seems content with dialogue (anyone read Let's All Kill Constance?)
Justin, does my interpretation connect with you? Anyone else have a take on this story?
[Sorry, duplicate post.]
[This message has been edited by philnic (edited 08-21-2003).]
Sorry it took a while to get to it. I had forgotten I had previously read it (didn't remember the title), but as I read, I recognized it.
Interestingly, the only dialogue is between himself and his wife, framing the story at the beginning and the end. About five pages of dialogue, about six-and-a-half pages of internal reflection and driving. There is no spoken dialogue at all between him and his friends.
The dating of the story is significant. They are graduating high school in 1938. This means that America entered WWII in two years.They would have been at prime draft/enrollment age, so they may have known there was risk to not seeing each other again. The story said,
"We knew we were going out into the world and might not meet again for years, or never, but we took a solemn oath, no matter what, we'd all remember and come back, across the world if we had to, to meet in front of the school by the flagpole, 1988."
The story never says they were factoring in the war (which was already going on in some areas), but the timing seems prime for that to be a consideration. My brother graduated high school in 1972 -- the Vietnam war was still going on, and he had a draft card. His friends were very worried about whether or not they would ever finish college or see each other again. I wonder if there isn't some of that involved. The flagpole may represent something like that.
On the other hand, when I was in junior high, the flagpole was a common gathering area. "I'll meet you guys at the flagpole for lunch". It may have just been a meeting place or hang-out for them. It may have, in that kind of way, symbolized them being a group, and that may be why they gathered at it from the four quarters of the compass.
There is a lot of self-doubt in the drive. We assume that self-doubt applied to all. It seems reasonable to assume that all of them felt like they might be coming on a fool's errand. Charlie's wife sure thought so. She reminded him that he was the kind who held on to letters and movie posters for decades. He hung on to the past. It mattered to him. He spoke of this group being different than others. There was something special about them, and he's sure the others will remember.
"Because they were my best pals, best friends forever, no one ever had friends like that."
Her reponse is that he's naive. Not everyone is a pack-rat the way he is. But, at some level he seems to know.
(He had had a negative precedent in that an old girlfriend forgot to meet him as promised, so maybe that was some of his self doubt.) But he went anyway. In spite of his doubts, he knew that HE didn't forget. HE would keep his commitment. HE would be there.
As he's driving, he realizes something about his feelings. I think this is an important part of the story. What he realizes is this:
"I can hardly wait. He laughed out loud. When was the last time you said that? When you were a kid, could hardly wait, had a list of hard-to-wait-for things."
Then he lists the holidays and happy memories of childhood. The holidays are listed one at a time. Christmas, Halloween, July 4th, etc. The anticipation he feels has made him more alive again. He has recaptured the spirit of his youth. What has done it? The anticipation of the "kids" who had made that youth so special and who had shared it with him. He is alive! He can't wait!
But self-doubt comes in again with questions about whether or not he's done enough. Has his life been successful? Will they think it has been successful? (Interestingly, Bradbury's middle name is Douglas -- the character's last name. And they are both writers. Does Bradbury ever wonder, Has he done enough?)
And then there's the doubt about whether or not they'll show. If they've had a good life, they'll show; but if they've had a bad life, they won't show. If they've done well, they will remember and come. He then thinks that he hasn't seen any obituaries, but then, doesn't want to think about that.
The word "flagpole" is used a lot in this story. What does it represent? The war? His youth? It's just a place he focuses on the help steady himself?
When they appear, they are at compass points around the flagpole. They don't know what to do, but end up imitating whatever Charlie does.
"The white hair on their heads blew in the wind. A wind took up the flag on the pole and blew it straight out. Inside the school, another bell rang, with finality."
The finality of the bell is telling, I think. These guys all know they are at the end of their lives. "Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for you", and they know it. They are done, the new generation is coming up.
None of them can say anything. Charlie's movements are automatic. He "did not make a decision". They walk forward a bit, then turn away, looking half-back. They are not really thinking or processing this. It has become automatic. I think the emotions are too strong. The emotions of joy that they all made it and that they all had good lives. The joy that they all remembered each other and the promise. Their friendship really was special. But also, the emotion, that this is it. It's their last hurrah. Charlie is aware of this:
"My God, he tought, I was wrong. Not the first day of school. The last."
It is the end of their lives, not the beginning. He knows it and they know it.
"He gazed back a final time with a tingling in his right hand as if it wanted to rise. He half-lifted and looked at it. And then, across sixty or seventy yards of space, beyond the flagpole, one of the strangers, only half-looking, raised his hand and waved it quietly, once, on the silent air. Over to one side, another old man, seeing this did the same, as did the third. He watched his hand and arm slowly lifted and the tip of his finger, up in the air, gestured the least small gesture."
I didn't read it as a salute. I saw it as just waving at each other. It may be that it WAS a salute, but for me, there was not the rigidity a salute would involve, there is no touching of the fingers to the head, and there are no right angles at the elbows. It seemed too casual to be a salute. I think it is an acknowledgement of their lives and a quiet way of saying their goodbyes. They will not meet again.
At the end, his tears fall into an empty plate and he tells his wife, "We talked our heads of."
And I think the talking was in his reflections. They had all had the same kinds of reflections he had had. They didn't need to talk. They just needed to remember, to show up, and to wave (or salute). That was enough. And now Charlie can feel the full emotions. It is done.
[This message has been edited by Mr. Dark (edited 08-22-2003).]
That's quite amazing - you're right, there is nothing to say it was a salute. I must have been speed reading and subconsciously connected flagpole with hand-raising. (But maybe this points up some of the significance of the flagpole being used as the meeting place - there would be far less resonance to the tale if they had met up around a water fountain or a bus stop.)
Anyone have information on when this story was written? There is no previous publication date listed on the copyright continuation page, so are we to assume that it was written in 2002?
The way he described it with everyone making the same and simultaneous gestures I pictured 3 large angled windows on the school building that were simply his reflection. That is to say no one else came and he wanted it to happen so badly that he forced the situation to “reflect” it.
Aaroneous Monk, that is a very interesting way of interpreting Ray's story, "First Day". While I had not considered it before, your reading of it makes perfect sense. That's one of the wonderful things about so much of Ray Bradbury's writing: he often leaves it to his readers' imaginations to provide their own interpretation of his stories.
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