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This research will begin with the statement that in Rebecca Makkai's story “The Briefcase,” a political prisoner, a chef by trade, escapes from a chain gang. This unnamed protagonist finds himself in possession of the briefcase of a physics professor who has been arrested in his stead. He goes on to live out his life in the persona of the professor. He is finally unmasked by the professor’s wife. Tobias Wolff’s “The Bullet in the Brain,” relates the tale of a hold up at a bank. The protagonist, Anders, provokes the robbers and is shot in the head. At the instant of his death, his past life flashes before his eyes. At first glance, the two stories are completely different. In “The Briefcase,” the defining characteristic of the former chef’s identity is the strength of his urge for survival. In the case of Anders in “The Bullet in the Brain,” it is his love for the language. A chef is obviously a resourceful man, who does not run unnecessary risks. He becomes a part of the chain gang, not for his own revolutionary beliefs, but only because his restaurant is frequented by customers who discuss politics. He attempts to evade arrest: “he had run and hidden and gone without food”. He is resourceful enough to escape the chain gang, hide from the soldiers, and run out to grab the Professor’s briefcase. In contrast, Anders demonstrates a brazen attitude towards the armed robbers, which is extremely foolhardy. He ignores the woman’s plea to “Please be quiet”, and continues to provoke the robbers with his talk. The chef quickly assumes the professor’s identity realizing that “If he wanted to live through the next year, the chef would have to learn this life and fill it”. He moves five cities away from the place of his escape; he has no scruples in soliciting money from the professor’s friends and students; he is willing to mislead the professor’s wife into thinking her husband to be alive: “And what of it, if she kept her happiness another few months, another year?”. ... He ignores the woman’s plea to “Please be quiet,”, and continues to provoke the robbers with his talk. The chef quickly assumes the professor’s identity realizing that “If he wanted to live through the next year, the chef would have to learn this life and fill it”. He moves five cities away from the place of his escape; he has no scruples in soliciting money from the professor’s friends and students; he is willing to mislead the professor’s wife into thinking her husband to be alive: “And what of it, if she kept her happiness another few months, another year?”. On the other hand, Ander’s love for the language overrides his instinct for survival. Even when he is threatened with imminent death, his murderer’s stereotypical speech makes him “burst out laughing”. The chef survives, while Anders dies. As the two stories unfold, both the protagonists are shown to undergo a change in identity. In the case of the chef in “The Briefcase,” he assumes a false identity, and then goes on to live the part. He attempts to become the Professor who taught at “the university he had never attended”. With an education “which had ended for him at the age of sixteen,”, the chef determines that he will transform himself into the Professor. Ignorant of Physics, he now draws pictures of the universe and attempts to answer the Professor’s exam question. He tells his lover that he is a Professor of Physics, and is so totally into the false identity that he believes that, “If the professor takes it back, there will be no name left for the chef, no place on the Earth”. In “The Bullet in the Brain,” Anders’ change in identity occurs over a much longer period and is very subtly told through the flashbacks, as he dies. Anders is shown to be a bad-tempered, critical man, who “never was in the best of tempers”.
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