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“The Boucherie” is a short story by Stephanie Soileau that was published in the StoryQuarterly. Stephanie Soileau is a lecturer at Stanford University and she has written numerous short stories, she is also a Truman Capote Fellow in the Wallace Stegner Fellowship Program. She is currently working on a novel titled ‘Terre Bonne’ which is set on her hometown of Louisiana. The title of the short story “The Boucherie” has French roots in Cajun resident to the author’s hometown of Louisiana. The word Boucherie has several different meanings depending on the context in which it is used. The first meaning is a shop where meat is sold [butchery], it also means the killing of animals for food, another meaning is a party distinguished by the partaking of large quantities of food. The short story revolves around a man [who views himself as the community butcher], immigrants from Sudan and a cow they believe [mostly tell themselves] is a blessing from God. The author adequately uses conflict, plot and order of the story to define the meaning of boucherie as the plot of the story slowly unfolds.
The author uses conflict in the story to bring out the definition of boucherie. There is conflict throughout the story right from the first character introduced to the reader; Dela. Dela is wife to Alvin and one of their children is Slug. Slug had gotten a face infection from surgery to remove a melanoma; the infection had ravaged his face causing him to hide away in his home (Soileau, 2005). As the story progresses it becomes apparent that Slug’s house was a walking distance from his parent’s home. Even with the proximity contact between the two had been shaky at best, and it is at this point that the conflict emerges. Dela wants to visit her ailing son but for some reason she hasn’t done so in a long time. The author uses this conflict to build suspense on Slug’s character, the reader really wants to find out the nature or appearance of Slug that makes even his mother not visit. Another conflict in the story is between Khalid and the reality of the new culture they have moved to. Throughout the story we see instances where Khalid is trying to adapt to the new culture but his roots pull him back. An example of this is when Alvin brings them rabbit meat, Khalid is eager to take the meat but his mother forbids it (Soileau, 2005). Later we learn that the Nasraddins’ are Muslims and Islam forbids the consumption of any animal without hooves, the hooves should be split. Another example is when teenagers through eggs at their house, due to recent terror attacks the teenagers hate Arabs and Muslim Indians bear a resemblance to Arabs (Soileau, 2005). Khalid cannot hope to make friends with the local teenagers since his heritage makes him ‘the enemy’. The author uses the conflict as a foreshadow for the way in which the cow will be slaughtered. The author uses the conflicts to bring out the meaning of boucherie as a party; a party is needed for Dela to finally see her son and for the Nasraddins to integrate into the society they live in.
The stages of the plot act as a road map guiding the reader to an understanding of boucherie. In the second paragraph the reader encounters the first crisis; the accident involving a truck carrying cows for the slaughter, the cows that survive run away frightened into the surrounding neighborhood (Soileau, 2005). This crisis sets the stage for the ensuing chain of events that lead to a cow being slaughtered. The next crisis we see is the infection that affects Slug after the removal of the melanoma (Soileau, 2005); this is the crisis that creates the conflict in Dela as described above. Another crisis is when the men are trying to take the cow from Fatima’s backyard but she finds them and assumes they are planning to inform the police at some point (Soileau, 2005). This crisis is used to enlighten the reader on the character of Fatima. Up until that crisis the reader cannot tell with certainty whether Fatima is guarded and aloof or she is open and friendly and is just waiting for chance to bond with people. After she lets them take the cow and volunteers her son to assist in moving and slaughtering it the reader can tell she is the latter. A crisis is seen when a police officer stops after seeing the gathering outside Alvin’s house (Soileau, 2005). The reader expectantly waiting for the slaughtering of the cow and the presence of the police man is very tense. However, the policeman is quickly dealt with by his grandmother; this shows the unity of purpose that the neighbours have for the boucherie [both party and slaughtering]. The climax is reached when Alvin and Khalid slice the cow’s throat. The slaughtering is done by two people together; this is a direct symbolism to the two meanings of boucherie: togetherness [party] and slaughter.
The author the order and sequence of the story to slowly build an understanding of boucherie in the reader’s mind. Exposition can be loosely defined as the construction of the foundation of the story; the characters, setting and conflicts. In the first few paragraphs when Slag calls his parents, Alvin is dozing in front of the TV while watching the six o’clock news (Soileau, 2005). This scene sets the stage for the story; through the news the reader is informed of the accident and the escaped cows. A cow being discovered in a person’s backyard would be hard to swallow if the reader did not know about the accident. In this scene the reader is also introduced to Dela, Alvin and Slug. Later the reader encounters a paragraph that explains why Alvin is not a carpenter hence the need for Claude who was a skilled carpenter (Soileau, 2005). The topic on carpentry does not seem to serve any other purpose except to introduce Claude into the story and to inform the reader that Alvin is a butcher. Throughout the story there is no situation that actively demands the skills of a carpenter making the paragraph irrelevant for any other purpose except to introduce a character and build on the main character. The introduction of Claude leads to the introduction of the Nasraddins as the Indian family living next door to Slaug (Soileau, 2005). It seems Claude is just a gateway for the introduction of the Nasraddins to the story; hence the obscure carpentry reference. The exposition introduces all the main characters and the reader is also informed of their background and profession. After the characters are introduced the story swiftly unfolds to the point the cow is in the garage ready for slaughter. However, in between there is a flashback where someone is smashing the windows of various houses; the reader later learns the person to be Khalid (Soileau, 2005). This flashback seems out of place and irrelevant since the reason are not explained and the consequences are unknown to the reader. The author however, seems to have placed the flashback to symbolize the frustration Khalid feels for he has to kill the cow but he does not want to. The meat from the boucherie will be eaten by the neighbors hence he felt they are to blame for his predicament.
The author skillfully uses literary elements to define for the reader the meaning of boucherie. The story is beautifully crafted and very entertaining to read. Boucherie from a dictionary means animal slaughter, party or a shop that sell meat. All these definitions are weaved throughout the story. At first Alvin is a butcher which leads the reader towards the first definition. The conflicts in the story set the stage for another definition which is party or gathering where a lot of food is consumed. The killing of the cow would not make sense if only Alvin and his family were to eat the cow; the amount of meat would be too much and they cannot sell it since it was acquired illegally. The story weaves itself such that a boucherie owner
[Alvin] slaughters [boucherie] a cow for a gathering [boucherie] of the neighborhood. The definitions cannot be missed by anyone willing to take a closer look.
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