The root image in Douglas Glover’s “Why I Decide to Kill Myself and Other Jokes” is the jar of cyanide the protagonist Willa steals from the lab, intending to use it to commit suicide. Throughout the story, cyanide repeats in a variety of phrases and images: the jar of cyanide, the chemical symbol KCN. In the story cyanide is also linked to snow and other elements of setting, such as the bath salts Willa uses and later, the glass globe. Willa frequently links these elements of setting to the cyanide in a direct and obvious way. In addition to the root image, the word “blue” splits off from its association with cyanide and starts another thread inside the story which enhances the web effect of the image patterns. Along with the plot action, this imagery web helps give the story meaning and shape.

Cyanide is first mentioned in the third paragraph of the story in the phrase “the distinctive almond odour of cyanide” and repeated again in the next paragraph when the protagonist refers to her “nice little supply of cyanide.” After the line break, the next section of the story contains some backfill in which the cyanide is mentioned as Willa recalls a memory: “On one such occasion, I noticed the cyanide on the shelf above, clearly marked with a skull-and-crossbones insignia.” At the end of this section Willa associates the word blue with the root image: “I realize I have forgotten to find out if cyanide poisoning is painful. I have a brief, blinding vision of blue me writhing in the Victorian nightie, frothing vomit and beshitting myself.” The extension of the cyanide pattern with the splintering technique applied in the use of “blue” creates an echo chamber effect. The juxtaposition of the image patterns that arise subsequent to the plot structure gives the story a dimension of strangeness.

At the mention of cyanide in the third section of the story, the image is loaded further with meaning. In connecting the snowy winter landscape to the cyanide, Willa using setting to load the root image pattern. She extends the connection between the snow and the cyanide further by directly linking the setting to her internal state: “The winter outside corresponds to the winter of my spirit, which is a dry, cold wind, or the snow crystals on the windshield remind me of the poison crystals in the jar.” The root image of cyanide (as well as the role of cyanide in the plot) mandates the winter setting and the pattern of snow words, since snow is another white substance similar to cyanide crystals. Thus the content of the outside setting reinforces the cyanide image pattern with this double-image of white crystals.

Another passage in which image patterns are loaded occurs when Willa ponders over the jar.

Here we have, I think to myself, a jar of cyanide, which…is a simple compound of cyanogen with a metal or organic radical, as in potassium cyanide (KCN). Cyanogen is dark-blue mineral named for its entering into the composition of Prussian blue….The cyanide (in this case KCN) will also turn me blue, as in cyanosis, a lividness of the skin owing to the circulation of imperfectly oxygenated blood. Something like drowning—inward shudder.

The patterns are loaded using several methods. The images of the cyanide and process of cyanosis are connected to Willa’s inner state with the phrase “inward shudder.” The split-off blue pattern is tied in to the root cyanide pattern in the sentence explaining cyanogens. The skin and oxygenated blood will be repeated in the final lines of the story, thus contributing to the echo effect and overall resonance of meaning.

Throughout the story, images associated with cyanide crystals repeat in various ways as form and plot mandate content. At the conclusion of the kitchen scene between Willa and Hugo, the image appears when Willa goes to take a bath: “But it doesn’t really matter, and I drift down the hall to the bathroom, run water in the tub and pour bath salts (resembling cyanide), depressed and indolent.” Again the imagery connects the external, bath salts that remind her of cyanide (suicide) to Willa’s emotional state. In the car at the Wendy’s parking lot, the cyanide resembles snow and salt: “The cyanide (KCN—stands for twelve gauge shotgun) scatters in the air like snowflakes. It is as if we are inside one of those glass globe shake-ups, a winter scene, couple with dogs, but the snow smells like almonds” and “The cyanide rattles against the seatcovers like tiny balls of sleet or spilled salt.” The snow pattern is juxtaposed with the cyanide pattern at the beginning of the next section as the characters take in the cyanide-filled Pinto: “Snow sifts through the open doors and mixes with the white crystals.” This repeated and extended image patterning creates a web which enhances the story’s meaning as the characters move through the forward-moving plot events. Along with unity, the repeated images help remind the reader what the story is “about”—in this case, suicide, Willa and her father’s death.

An offshoot of the cyanide pattern, the “blue” pattern separates and weaves its own images and meaning throughout the story with the connection to cyanosis and specific shade of Prussian blue. Willa tries “to remember the exact shade of blue Prussian blue is and wonder if I would look good in that colour. Perhaps I should dye my hair.” Here again, form drives content. Willa and Hugo dust the snow and cyanide off the seats of the car, and the blue pattern surfaces in the present-moment plot action. “It is cold, dirty work, and my hands and lips turn blue (as do Hugo’s—not an effect of cyanide; this is because the body directs the blood to the major organs, the heart and brain, for example, to keep them warm).” This sentence ties back the split-off secondary image of “blue” with the root “cyanide,” further loading the image patterning.

The position of the word “blue” in the final line of the story allows the image patterning web to achieve a reverberating effect. Willa ponders “…a truth that only now begins to spread like imperfectly oxygenated blood through my arteries and capillaries, turning my limbs leaden and my skin blue.” “Blue” becomes a pun that reflects back over the story and bolsters the initial meanings.

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