A Piece of Cake
The story deals in a first part, with an unknown first-person narrator who doesn’t remember his accident well. Before the latter happens, he and Peter, his fellow pilot plan to head towards Mersah Matruh. As they prepare to fly off, an airman warns them to be careful. The narrator and his friend answer that it will be a “Piece of Cake”. As a matter of fact, it won’t. During their flight over the Libyan desert, they face troubles and before crashing, the narrator manages to get out of the plane. Eventually, he faints.
As he wakes up, Peter tells him that he has lost his nose and the narrator passes out one more time. Regarding the second part of the story, it deals with the narrator’s dreams. He dreams of airmen painting funny things on the planes, fighting with the Germans in the air, falling into the ocean and sitting on a chair. His dreams are also scattered with some moments of consciousness. Last but not least, he dreams of his mother and of tumbling over a cliff. Finally, he awakes and the nurse tells him that he has been here for four days in a hospital in Alexandria, Egypt.
A Piece of Cake Essay Example
Then, she tells the narrator that he will be fine and goes away. The story provides us with, in a first part of the short story, a heterodiegetic narrator who tells us about what he hardly remembers. Yet, the voice of the homodiegetic narrator can be heard at the same time. In the second part of the short story, the narrator is homodiegetic, thus unreliable. Regarding the focalization, it is either omniscient, embodied by the heterodiegetic narrator or internal since the reader follows the narrator’s actions according to his point of view until the end.
Even if the main frame of the short story is mainly tragic, dealing with the horror of war, the first part of the short story is filled with humour and grotesque tones which contrast with the tragic crash in which the narrator is involved. Moreover, the euphoric atmosphere contrasts with some dysphoric elements. As far as the second part of the short story is concerned, the first dream is characterized by a euphoric atmosphere with an absurd tone which is comic. The majority of the dreams end with a dysphoric tone. Moreover, the type of discourse is mainly a narrative.
The pace of the text is cadenced by the narrator’s dreams and some moments of reality which activate the grotesque, tragic and comic literary conventions. Moreover, the reality of the facts and the context triggers off the autobiographical dimension. In what comes next, I shall study to what extent humour is a means to get away from the horrors of the war. In a first part, I will analyze the discrepancy between the humouristic tone and the reality of the war. Then, I will focus on the fact that humour is in a certain way overcome by tragic events of the war and finally, I will focus on the autobiographical dimension.
To start with, I will show how paradoxically humour is used to avoid the reality of war and triggers it off and secondly I will show the importance of dreaming, as a way to escape reality. In the first part of the story, the gap between the atmosphere and the importance of the accident is quite puzzling. For instance, “I heard a crunch […] starboard wing tank caught fire[…] I sat still, feeling comfortable, but a little drowsy. I couldn’t see with my eyes, but that was not significant either. ” The parallelism of the conjunctions of coordination shows the discrepancy between the tragic event which is happening and the comic tone.
As a matter of fact, this illogical relation isn’t expected by the reader who expects other tragic feelings. The use of humour and euphoric tone here are to tone down the horror of the accident and to avoid the tragic atmosphere. Moreover, the title of the short story is also puzzling because it has an ironic dimension. When Peter says: “It’s a piece of cake”, the reader is, a bit later, aware that it won’t be. Irony like humour are means of triggering off the euphoric tone throughout the three pages which narrate the accident and make the reader focus on the lightness of the tone rather than the accident.
Paradoxically, the euphoric tone is also used to show the consequences of war. For example, the semantic field of the body is important: “all the muscles […. ] went to work” or “Still the arms and legs did not fight […] they seemed […] they stayed quiet”. What is interesting is that the narrator has difficulties to coordinate his body. Although the dehumanization of war is not as strong as in “Death of an Old Old Man”, the facts that grammatically, the parts of the body are subjects of the sentences erase the “I” who stays a little bit back, as if he were unable to control his mind, his body.
Humour is here to make the reader remember that beyond the comic atmosphere, war provokes tragic effects on human beings. Furthermore, as the homodiegetic narrator is dreaming, the comic dimension is underlined. The passage when the airmen are painting things on the plane is very absurd: “I laughed so much […] and rolled around on the sand and roared and roared […]. ” The repetition of the coordination underlines the absurdity of the scene and upsets the reader. It looks as though this scene were here to escape from reality as if war were only a game whose purpose is to make the enemies laugh.
What is striking is the deep gap between the tragic event of the accident and the childish scene which is depicted in the first narrator’s dream. For instance: “began to chant in unison. ‘Rubbishy things – on all the wings…” It underlines the burlesque atmosphere. On top of that, the narrator provides us with a sort of carefree attitude in face of the danger: “I’m going to fight a hundred of them […] I’ll shoot them all. I’ll shoot them all”. The anaphor and the use of the radical modal “will” also bring the childish behavior of the narrator into relief which makes the war in his mind quite ridiculous.
Thus, the discrepancy between the tone of the text and the reality of war is heightened by the irony and the absurd atmosphere. The purpose of the different tones is to avoid the tragic reality of war and to escape from reality for a moment. Yet, the dreams he makes are full of tragic events and show that humour is prevailed a little over by the realistic events. In this second part, I will analyze that humour is overcame by the realistic events of the war. First, I will focus on the paradox of the dream and I will analyse the frightening dimension of childhood.
As far as the homodiegetic narrator is concerned, dreaming is a way of forgetting reality but here, the narrator’s dreams always shift on nightmares and the latters deal with tragic events of a pilot. There’s a progression within the dreamlike passage, it starts with a poetical image, for instance: “then, there was only the sea… white horses riding a rough sea” and ends in a tragic tone: “we were going to crash”. It puts into relief the fact that even in the pilot’s unconsciousness, the comic tone can’t manage to erase the horror of the war since the “crash” can be related to a plane.
The euphoric dimension is weakened by the tragic element. Furthermore, the grotesque tone and humour are not seen anymore in the last dream which is very dysphoric and frightening. This atmosphere can be seen thanks to the semantic field of darkness: “how dark…”, “edge of the cliff and there was only darkness…”, “grey-black”, and “jet black”. All those words heighten the absence of humour and the troubled unconsciousness of the narrator regarding the effects of the war. Dreaming does not really allow him to escape reality. As far as the frightening childhood dimension is concerned, it is explicitly referred to.
For instance, the narrator’s second dream displays a battle involving the Germans and the narrator. For example: “made a circle and danced around my Gladiator […] they were playing Oranges and Lemons”. As a matter of fact, “Oranges and Lemons” is a nursery rhyme which was chanted by British children and deals with the church bells of London. 1 The personification of the German planes as dancers is also a way of underlining the grim and cynical tones of the singing game. As they chase the narrator, the rhythm intensifies: “said the bells of St Clement sang the engines” and “When will you pay me… sang loudly.
” The oppressive atmosphere is also underlined by the meaning of the nursery song. The only way out is that the Germans will “chop off” the head of the character. The intertextuality here, is to provide the reader with the idea that although the narrator is dreaming and seems not to be worried:” there’s nothing to worry about”, reality is always there, as a prey. Despite the song being in the dream, it has real roots since it has been sung by real people and brings a realistic dimension into relief. Furthermore, the figure of the mother is unreachable.
When the narrator wants to call his mother”, a certain voice answers “You can’t” and when the homodiegetic dreams of running, he passes by his mother running away “shall we go home soon ? but my legs wouldn’t stop…”. Those dysphoric moments also underline the distress of the narrator and his need to cling to the mother figure. Those dysphoric elements decrease humour as a mean to escape the reality of war. Thus, even if the absurd images are used to give another dimension to war, the realistic event quoted above shakes the humourous tone.
The events also show the autobiographical dimension of this short story. As far the autobiographical dimension is concerned, I will deal with Roald Dahl’s own experiences and thus I will focus on the reliability of this short story. Regarding “A Piece of Cake”, the short story is really close to what happened to Dahl. For instance, the reader is told of a certain woman’s voice: “this was a woman’s voice” or also later on “this was the woman’s voice again […] was close and it was very soft and nice. ” As a matter of fact, Roald Dahl fell in love with Mary Welland’s voice when he was blind2.
This anecdote is important in the short story because it is also one of the narrator’s fantasies: “She was the most beautiful…the curve of her neck…slender arms, eager”. Even if he does not see her, he builds an image of a woman in his imagination, underlining the erotic semantic field. The autobiographical dimension also aims at showing the reader the feelings of a soldier which still exist at war. Furthermore, when the narrator in the first part, loses his nose: “Peter what has happened to my nose?
It actually doesn’t seem to be there very much”, it refers to Roald Dahl’s own battle wound where his nose was broken. The reader may trust the facts since the narrative is based on historical elements during World War II. However, the reliability of the narrator can be questioned. In the first part of the story, the heterodiegetic narrator repeats many times: “I don’t remember” or “I suppose “, “I don’t know”, “I believe”. The anaphors and repetitions may blur the reader and make the heterodiegetic narrator unreliable since he hesitates.
What is interesting is that “A Piece of Cake” is quite unclear about the real cause of the accident: “there was trouble, lots and lots of troubles…” As a matter of fact, Roald Dahl wrote before “Shot Down Over Libya” which also deals with Dahl’s crash in the Libyan Desert. However, he claims, in the first edition that he has been shot down by an anti-aircraft fire3. He does not explain why he rewrites the story but one of the explanations may be that at the time, he was involved in British Intelligence Service and tried to encourage the Americans to join Great-Britain at war.
Telling the real truth (that he crashed because of the lack of fuel) would not be heroic. Yet, in “A Piece of Cake”, he remains unclear and lets the reader wonder whether he has been shot down or not. The use of humour could be also a way of avoiding the reader to focus on the real reason. To conclude, this short story deals with the discrepancy between the crash of the plane and the tone and atmosphere which are comic and grotesque. The willingness to use humour as a way of avoiding the reality of war is, in a certain extent, a bit weak in face of the horrors of war.
Moreover, this short story shows the autobiographical dimension and its reliability regarding the cause of the accident. “A Piece of Cake” echoes other short stories such as “Death of an Old Old Man” where the pilot, while he is dreaming, crashes in water. Moreover, the character Peter also appears in “Katina”, showing that the shorts stories are linked to one another. More particularly, the short story provides us with true historical and personal events which happened during World War II. This first short story written by Roald Dahl started his career as a famous writer.