Letter 27: “Everything is Green”


Dear Dave,

I have found in reading your short stories that I am left with an odd feeling when I come to the end, a feeling that I hadn’t experienced much with other writers but one I am getting used to as I read more of your fiction.  That feeling is one of unsettled satisfaction.  Your stories leave me feeling unsettled in that I’m often not exactly sure what it is that I just read.  I recognize the artistry of the prose and the genius of the story, but I can’t immediately see what you’re getting at.  Being a ten-year veteran English teacher with a master’s degree, I am supposed to get it.[1]

But it is that artistry and genius that leaves me satisfied in the end.  Even though I don’t always get it right away, I know I’ve just experienced something unique and special.  And it is that artistry and genius that keeps me coming back to it again and again until I am able to find a sense of meaning.[2] Digging through those layers of prose and finding those nuggets of meaning leaves me with a sense of satisfaction that few other things do.

Such was the case with “Everything is Green.”  I read through it rather quickly.  Then I read it a few more times, looking for a starting point, the most obvious of which was the color green both in the title and toward the end of the story.  A quick internet search yielded a number of symbolic meanings for the color green in literature.  Doing so left me with few real answers, but also with a lot of intriguing questions and possibilities for interpretation.  I shall enumerate those here:

New Life, New Beginning

Our narrator, Mitch, seems to think his relationship with Mayfly is over.  It seems that from the first paragraph that he has suspicions of her being unfaithful to him.  She denies it, but he doesn’t simply take her word.  This supposed infidelity is the final straw for Mitch.  He’s ready to throw in the towel.

But “Everything is green she says… How can you say the things you say you feel like when every thing outside is green like it is.”  The cleansing rain has fallen, and everything is new and fresh and green.  Just as “there is a mess of green out” Mayfly is hoping for a “mess of green” in her relationship with Mitch.  These suspicions are clearly unfounded and just a little pothole in their relationship.  There’s no reason to give up now; it’s time to start fresh and give it another go.

Jealousy, Envy

The story begins with a defense against allegations of infidelity.  Mayfly is standing her ground, but Mitch isn’t buying it.  He’s given all he can to this relationship, and this is the thanks he gets.  But I wonder if this isn’t just about whether she cheated, but about his own insecurities and misgivings.  This supposed affair is only the catalyst to get him to express his feelings.  And even if it is, he doesn’t really get to the real issues.  He just talks in vague generalities and never really says anything of substance.

Eternal Life

This was not one I had heard before, but one that presents some rather intriguing possibilities.  Up to the last two paragraphs, it would seem that if this is what you are getting at, then it is in a purely ironic sense.  First, Mitch calls his girl Mayfly.  Whether this is her actual name or a pet name, being named after an insect known for a short lifespan isn’t accidental.  Her name would seem to lead us to believe that this is truly the end of the relationship, an end that is perhaps overdue.

Second, after Mayfly tells Mitch that “everything is green,” Mitch calls attention to all the lifeless non-green things he sees out the same window Mayfly is looking through.  She is hoping that last night’s rain brought new life with it, but all Mitch sees is the rust and mess caused by the same evening rain.

However, as Mayfly whispers those words again – “Everything is green” – something changes for Mitch.  He “chucks” his smoke and finds “the taste of something new in [his] mouth… something in [him] that can not close up.”  Maybe there is more to this relationship than he originally thought.  Maybe they have something worth holding onto.  Maybe it’s not so much about a new beginning as it is about holding on to what they already have.


[1] Although, I had a rather embarrassing experience when I didn’t “get” an e.e. cummmings poem that I assigned to one of my AP classes that had a not-so-subtle double entendre.  One of my students caught it before I did.  Fortunately I didn’t get any nasty phone calls from parents of those students.  Needless to say, I didn’t assign that poem the next year.

[2] Almost like a Sudoku puzzle, but not nearly as frustrating.

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One thought on “Letter 27: “Everything is Green”

  1. Dear Ryan,

    thank you very much for sharing this illuminating reading. I’m working with contemporary literature written in English in a Brazilian college and decided to use this one by Wallace. Your blog is great and from now on I’m an habitué.

    Regards

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