In today”s busy world, many people get so caught up in their own ambience that they overlook all the other things out there. Some people seem treat their surroundings as if it were their own “little world”, creating tunnel vision to the array of the actual real world and all the things that occur in it. Pamela Zoline addresses this and many other issues in the short story, “The Heat Death of the Universe”. This piece reports the abstract, somewhat crazy thoughts, of the world from an ordinary housewife to the reader.
At first, these thoughts appear to be coming from a severely confused and mentally unstable person, with no point what so ever. Contrary to the evidence stated in the text, “Sarah Boyle is a vivacious and intelligent young wife… proud of her growing family which keeps her busy and happy around the house” (192), the reader can see that the main character, Sarah Boyle, is quite unsatisfied with her place in life. This unhappiness stems from a wasted education, causing the apathetic housewife to resort to ceaseless contemplation, which shapes the life she has created for herself and the home she is trapped in.
The fact that Sarah Boyle was well-educated is pointed out clearly in the first few paragraphs, “Sarah Boyle is a vivacious and intelligent young wife and mother, educated at a fine Eastern college” (192). This fact can be also be easily deduced by the reader after observing the knowledge Sarah presents and the vocabulary she exhibits, such as “ONTOLOGY: That branch of metaphysics which concerns itself with the problems of the nature of existence or being” (191) and “ENTROPY: A quantity introduced in the first place to facilitate the calculations, and to give clear expressions to the results of thermodynamics” (193).
Clearly, such words are not ones that would be regarded as common knowledge or everyday conversation topics. The terms used by Sarah throughout the story lead the reader to regard her as some type of advanced science major. In addition to the vocabulary usage, the manner in which her mind functions and the habits she displays also guides the reader to the same assumption. Sarah demonstrates scientific thinking methods constantly; always making lists, noticing irrelevant and abstract things, counting and lettering objects, constantly pondering ideas and concerned with factual matters.
Sometimes she numbers or letters the things in a room… there are 819 separate moveable objects in the living room… she is passionately fond of children”s dictionaries, encyclopedias, ABCs and all reference books” (193). Combining all these facts, statements, and observations the reader deduces Sarah Boyle as a scientifically educated, intelligent woman: Which leads to the question, why is Sarah a housewife? This thought seems to reoccurringly pass though Sarah”s mind as well.
The mannerisms that Sarah Boyle displays evident the fact that she is unhappy with her position in life as a housewife; she feels that her education is worthless here, causing her to feel unchallenged and bored, which only leads to endless contemplation in the world she has chosen. The largest indicators of Sarah”s unhappiness are the notes that she leaves throughout the house, such as “Many young wives fell trapped. It is a contemporary sociological phenomenon” and “Help, Help, Help, Help, Help” (193).
In addition to these notes, rarely does Sarah ever talk about her family; which is highly contrary to the expectations of the common housewife. When she does refer to her family, the statements are quite short, uncaring, and undescriptive. “Today is the birthday of one of the children” (192). Speaking of her family life, never does she mention a husband. Sarah only makes remarks of a questionable nature about her children, she doesn”t seem to display the motherly love or compassion one would expect; in fact, several places in the short story, the comment is made that “Sarah Boyle is never quite sure how many children she has” (196).
This comment leaves the reader confused and, in addition to the numerous derogatory and confusing references made to children throughout the story, causes the reader to think that she doesn”t care for her children at all. Looking at some of the statements she makes, this is quite possible. In one situation she conceives the idea that a cereal may cause cancer, “Perhaps something is terrible wrong with the cereal… Perhaps it causes a special, cruel Cancer in little children… she imagines in her mind”s eye the headlines… ” (192).
Irregardless of this idea, she excessively feeds the children the cereal “great yellow heaps of it” (192) and even goes out to the store to buy more “shopping in the supermarket… a box of Sugar Frosted Flakes”. These facts combine to produce the result that she does not care if her children get cancer. Also, Sarah feels that “housework is never completed” (197), resulting in a never-ending task, that eventually drives her insane. All evidence in mind, it becomes clear that she is unhappy as a housewife, causing her to constantly create crazy ideas with her unapplied education, driving herself into an unstable mental state.
With no appropriate way to apply the education Sarah has received, she resorts to using it in the only place she has as an option, her home. She starts to devise a parallel between her house and the universe. She falls back on her education and implements the theory of entropy and the “heat death of the Universe” into her own homemaking skills.
According to these theories combined, “The total ENTROPY of the Universe therefore is increasing, tending towards a maximum, corresponding to complete disorder of the particles in it… he Universe constitutes a thermodynamically closed system, and if this were true it would mean that a time just finally come when the Universe “unwinds” itself, no energy being available for use” (200). Sarah applies this theory in her housekeeping techniques, thinking that the more organized she is, the less disorder she creates. Therefore, she is not contributing to entropy in her own Universe, her house. Keeping entropy at a constant therefore would not contribute to the “heat death of the Universe”.
Evidently, this abstract thinking is indicating some mental problems. At the end of the short story, Sarah displays a mental breakdown, combining all the unexplainable ideas that float though her mind in a physical and mental explosion. Throughout this short story, Pamela Zoline effectively addresses many relevant issues in today”s society. Through a common housewife, Sarah Boyle, the reader can observe the daily trauma and feeling of worthlessness that one may experience at what it can result in.
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