In Stephen King’s All that you love will be carried away, the reader is offered a glimpse into the life of a traveling salesman by the name of Alfie Zimmer. This particular salesman found himself sitting in a motel room, contemplating suicide. He had everything prepared – A fully loaded revolver and a final cigarette, but he hesitated because of a notebook he had filled with truck-stop graffiti. For seven years, Alfie had collected interesting quotes, sayings and all together random outbursts that he found scribbled in truck-stop bathrooms and phone booths. What stops him from killing himself is the fear of how people might misconstrue the book’s contents as insanity. So I would like to discuss the short story in three parts. The first of which would be sheer speculation. King left quite a bit to the imagination. I’ll speculate on why Alfie wanted to die and how serious was he in the first place. Second I would like to discuss the last quote in Alfie’s notebook and the title of this story (All that you love will be carried away.) Lastly, I’ll discuss the use of literary devices to captivate the reader.
Upon first reading of this story, the impression Alfie gives is that of a middle-aged man who was a bit dissatisfied with his life, not miserable or depressed mind you, just dissatisfied. King leaves little bread crumbs that you can follow to your own conclusion about Alfie’s mindset. A couple phrases King casually flung toward the reader that help in that respect is him being referred to as “a little man”, the passage stating “what happened to him was unfair as well” and the passage likening Alfie to torn bits of truck tire. King also refers to pills of some sort. All of these just screams “ he’s manic depressive, just move on!” but something makes me think that Alfie had much more going on then just pure miserable dementia. I can’t claim that I know the mindset of a suicidal man but I’d imagine a suicidal man wouldn’t really care how he was found or if the finders thought he was crazy. A suicidal man wouldn’t call his family with little reminders as Alfie did. So although Alfie was suicidal, I still wouldn’t lump him in with the whole “goodbye cruel world “ stereotype. But it would be rather reckless of me to romanticize his predicament. I know it wasn’t some man on the run, up against a wall situation because of the ending where he has the slightest weakening of his resolve. He began bargaining, he left it to chance, this is true but still he allowed himself to fight against the situation he was in. I, of course, refer to the deal he made with himself about the barn light coming on in the next sixty seconds. If it came on he’d get his collection published, if it didn’t he’d kill himself as planned. So the only clarity you can derive from the “why would Alfie Zimmer want to kill himself “ debate is that he had a problem that killing himself solved. You can take your pick on this one: Problems at home, problems on the road, Mental problems, Physical problems. Hell you could go supernatural with King’s history.
Next we move to Alfie’s notebook. In said notebook on the last page he had jotted down the words “All that you love will be carried away.” After reading this story, I remembered a quote from a book, the name escapes me but the quote is “how unfortunate is it that you can’t publish single sentences.” I thought of that quote and thought that “All that you love will be carried away” was a perfect candidate. It’s a truly powerful sentence, something that demands attention and almost claims authority. It also slides off the tongue, it has a unique flow to it and lastly and most obviously it is truly ominous. It sounds like a threat or a warning of dark events. It would be surprising to find in a bathroom to say the least. But what does this sentence have to do with the story? It can be interpreted in four ways; all of which are linked to Alfie’s suicide. The first way it could swing is, toward his family. He was concerned that people would mock his family if he went through with it. He feared there would be whispers of a crazy father and husband and the luck of the two of them that he didn’t take them with him. Secondly, it could swing in the direction of the book itself. Alfie Zimmer loved his collection of roadside sayings and he didn’t want them being seen as the ranting of a madman. Thirdly, it could be a mixture of both family and the notebook. The saying was ALL that you LOVE will be carried away. Lastly and a bit of a stretch I admit, it can refer to him being separated from his two loves by means of death. But the formula is something precious to Alfie being taken from him or harmed.
Lastly, I’d like to discuss the way the story was constructed. There are three things I noticed and enjoyed about this story. Firstly, is the character Alfie. Completely without being said, we know that Alfie is a nice guy, he’s a family man, he’s intelligent but at the same time he is unsure about it, he doesn’t want to assume anything. King was very successful in giving the reader a read on the character being presented. Second, I liked the way he utilized the time allotted. If this were a real situation, it probably would have taken place in the span of an hour and a half and in this hour and a half; king managed to stay strictly in the present. He wisely left the why to the reader. Lastly, he added what I call the King Hit and Run method. It basically is when he puts something extraordinary in the middle of a sentence and keeps moving on with the story as if it was normal. For example, in the middle of a section in which King was discussing the Mid west’s love of gourmet food he announces that Alfie is intending to kill himself. The subject matter doesn’t tend to lend itself to suicide so you don’t expect it. But he leads it there and it is all the bigger shock.
So after discussing all that is this story I am left with one question, what theme can be taken from this short story. Is it misery? Not quite, as I stated Alfie Zimmer wasn’t miserable as much as dissatisfied. Then is it fear? To that I’d have to say no again because fear of what? I think the theme is Consequence. How Alfie’s suicide affects his family and the content of his notebook. How a stranger writing a funny saying on a wall might inspire another to take that saying with them on their travels. It all plays into consequence, whether it be good, bad or neutral.
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