Thoughts on “Day Old Baby Rats”

The narrative of this story oozes with loneliness. The New York of the 1970’s was a conflicted and volatile place; a difficult experience for some. For our protagonist it seems obvious that she makes efforts to isolate herself from a habitat that chokes her soul. Yet, one could go as far as to say that she is fragmented and her thoughts revolve around her own self torture and distaste for the city. It is not a portrait of city life that makes it out to be enjoyable in any way. Her coping mechanisms amount to alcoholism and social insulation, very sad stuff.

Julie Hayden-Day’s writing style is also a very effective tool for conveying the conflicted inner-thoughts of our protagonist, as they swirl around in her head. She puts the text into italics in order to bring out the inner voice of her troubled subject. Day’s character feels an immense guilt and she feels a sense of desire for salvation and serenity, this is evident throughout the narrative. The emotive poetic diction, rich descriptions, and metaphors are very poignant and moving.

The allusions to dead animals such as day old baby rats and the drowned deer expose a visceral darkness that lurks beneath in a not so subtle way. The imagery is not only symbolic of her abortion, but also a personal connection and identification with these lost souls. She is frightened, lost, and helpless. She aids this unerring pain with a quickly accessible flask of scotch that she carries around in her purse. When this flask comes out of hiding during the her confession at the church she flees from judgement. She is unable to articulate her inner pain and conflict and it becomes clear that her trust in Catholicism does not matter any longer; she is bereft of faith. Instead, she finds comfort in the party she attends at the very end, finding an inner-calm in the elevator on her way up even. Maybe she finally feels close to heaven.

Bibliography

Julie Hayden, Fiction, “Day-Old Baby Rats,” The New Yorker, January 15, 1972, p. 28

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