Tuesday, December 6, 2016

On Reading William Trevor's The General’s Day Out

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“The General’s Day Out” is the third piece in William Trevor’s The Collected Stories. Much like with “Access to the Children” and “A Meeting in Middle Age,” Trevor uses the space to explore loss. In this piece, we focus on The General. This man holds himself in great esteem and expects those around him to treat him as such, yet at every turn, he is viewed like the unwanted, elderly grandfather. For what it is worth, The General strives for control. As a man of the military, he always seeks a systematic, purposeful existence. He is the man that wakes up and declares to his maid that he is going out to seek a lady and planning to bed that lady. Regardless of his personal desires, The General lacks the ability to carry out his plan or control his life in general: “He was beginning to feel low; the day was not good; the day was getting out of control” (36). A good day was a day he had by the horns, but at his age and current station: living as a single, elderly man in the English countryside with no local connections, these days do not occur often. He is no longer the man he used to be and the present can no longer deal with him: “The General smiled at some little joke. ‘I have not been myself for many years. Today is just another day’” (44). Like all days, he stumbles through, largely ignorant to community distaste and his current station in life.

In his opinion, military life had been kind to him, offered him a safe space, and a place to flourish. But in retirement he finds an existence devoid of both structure and glory. Thus he bounces around and expects the local populace to both revere and support him, something it is unwilling to do. In truth, they find the man to burdensome, irksome, and something that they strive to be rid of. In part, The General notices his awkwardness, his fall from grace, and even stares at it through his nakedness every morning, but then he puts his shell on, a shell he perceives to project excellence but only yields annoyance: “‘I do not like to offend people. I do not like to be a nuisance. You should have stopped me, sir’” (41).  He offends people left and right, chasing them off at each and every turn while maintaining his overall ignorance to his actions.
So The General demonstrates the hazards of aging and the loss of dignity. He will never be the man of his past again, he is now the man that Frobisher cannot stand: “‘Get the hell off my premises, you bloody old fool! ‘Go on, Suffolk, hop it’” (43). This man does not woo the women he encounters, he frightens them. He cannot instruct tennis at a girls’ school, because he had urges to instruct the girls in other matters. No one wants him, he is fully washed up and put out to pasture, only he has yet to come to grips with his new reality and where he will go from here.

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