This story "School" is very short, it consists of only two pages. The plot is about the children who started to understand what the life is during the class at school.
The first subject is death. Everything around them becomes dead (plants, animals, people). But the story is written in a very routine manner, from the first person. There are no explanations, just description of the sequence of events.
The first philosophical question comes from the children. This is a quote from the text:
" ... where did they go? And I said, I don't know, I don't know. And they said, who knows? and I said, nobody knows."
It is important to hear the rhythm of the narration, repetition of the phrase "I don't know", multiple usages of the word "and". The readers are able to hear the rhyme of the story "I said", "they said".
And this is a philosophical question:
"And they said, is death that which gives meaning to life? And I said, no, life is that which gives meaning to life. Then they said, but isn't death, considered such a fundamental datum, the means by which the taken-for-granted mundanity of the everyday may be transcended in the direction of--"
It is a deep conclusion, isn't it?
Last part of the story turns to a request from the children to their teacher to show them what the love is. The last part of the story isn’t clear. Maybe the author wanted to change the tone of the story from depressing to an optimistic one. The last line gives to the readers a feeling of continuation of life because a new animal (gerbil) appears.
This painting looks very special, like Picasso's view of everyday life. The author's view of the school routine seems also different, it makes the reading truly interesting.
This video on Youtube demonstrates this story very well https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q6TFkUdcntg&t=1s
Donald Barthelme (1931- 1989) was an American writer known for his postmodern, surrealistic style. He published more than 100 stories in his lifetime, many of which were quite compact, making him an important influence on contemporary flash fiction.
"The School" was originally published in 1974 in The New Yorker, where it is available to subscribers. You can also get a free copy of the story at National Public Radio (NPR).
We discussed this story with the teacher Maria during the class on albert-learning.com