Stories Give Life (and Give it Meaning)
When you listen to someone tell a story, it’s sort of like you get to live a small part of someone else’s life. It could be the life of the storyteller, of a fictional person, or of someone else who first told the story. In Andrea Barrett’s short story “The Behavior of the Hawkweeds,” from her collection Ship Fever, stories are hugely important. The story that Antonia tells of her grandfather, Tati, is how she keeps him alive.
When a story belongs to someone else, telling it properly becomes a responsibility. Richard tells the story of Tati the most, having gotten it from Antonia. Telling it properly, then, is something that he owes Antonia in return for her giving him partial ownership of the story. In actuality, however, the story belongs to Tati. He first told the story to Antonia, who in turn told it to Richard, who in turn tells it to his students. The responsibility, then, that Richard and Antonia both bear is to tell Tati’s story properly, especially since he is no longer around to tell it himself. When Antonia stops Richard from telling Sebastian the story, instead herself telling it the way it should be told, she does so because of what Tati meant to her. Sebastian will get the details either way, but for Antonia, her grandfather lives on through the story, and to tell it wrong is to devalue his life.
I think our lives are really in a large part a series of stories. Since we cannot be everywhere at once, stories become vital to getting to know people, and experiencing life with them. Part of what makes life extraordinary are the stories that we live through and get to share for years afterward. I think that is why it matters so much to Antonia that Tati’s story be told right. Though Sebastian thinks that Antonia tries to flirt with him, I think in reality she just wanted to hear his stories, and in doing so receive a small piece of a life.