An Essay on Puppy by George Saunders

Prompt: What is the effect of the way the narrator refers to real consumer products by using their brand names (Game Boy) and discusses (in some detail) entirely fictional ones like the games “Noble Baker” and “Bra Stuffer”? What do these details contribute to the story, especially in terms of our attitudes toward the various characters and their world (or our own)?


In the short story, Puppy, by George Saunders mom Marie is driving her two kids, Abbie and Josh, to go and look at a puppy that they are thinking of buying. Marie is trying to make conversation with her two kids about what a beautiful day it is, but they are intent on ignoring her, particularly Josh, who is busy playing on his Game Boy. The game Josh is playing is called “Noble Baker”. Even though Josh is ignoring her for a game, Marie is just relieved that he isn’t playing the game “Bra Stuffer”, which was a game he had originally asked for but did not receive (par. 2).


Game Boys are real products that exist in our world outside the story, but the games “Noble Baker” and “Bra Stuffer” only exist in the world of this story. In our real world, though, children do often ignore their parents in favor of video games. In the story, Josh’s response to his mother reaching out and trying to connect with him is to shout, “Slicing Knife! Slicing Knife!…You nimrod machine! I chose that!” (par. 6) His mother’s attempts at bonding are drowned out by his frustration with a machine that is supposed to be fun. This is also a scene that is familiar from real life.


By presenting the reader with a scene that they have probably really witnessed and making the subject of the game that Josh is playing so ridiculous, the narrator emphasizes how ridiculous it is for human interaction to compete with a video game. Also, this points out how silly it is for us to play video games that simulate mundane real life tasks. Even though “Noble Baker” doesn’t really exist, there are similar games that allow the player to simulate tasks like “cooking” and “slicing fruit” in real life.


While we read Puppy we laugh at the pure ludicrousness of the situation. Laughter turns to thoughtfulness, though, as we realize how close this fictional story is to our real lives. Reading a scene where a child would rather play a game with animated robins that try to drop “Clonking Rocks” (par. 12) on animated bakers than talk to his loving mother who is eager to connect with him makes the reader marvel at is hilariously absurd. We are amused, because it seems so far from something that would happen in real life. Then we remember that this is something that does happen in real life, and the amusement is joined by self-reflection.

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