Analysis of "Illustrated Encyclopedia"

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Dan Chaon's “The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom” deals primarily with the search for personal connection. It explores the concepts of loneliness and intimacy. Chaon details the experiences of a young man, Dennis, as he lives in a town in which he doesn't know anybody. He lives in a small apartment, where he frequently hears his upstairs neighbor and her child. It is revealed that the man is a sperm donor, and frequently wonders about the possible existence of children, explaining his fascination with the woman and child. This works to create a strong characterization of the protagonist, deeply rooted in the idea of being separate from any visible social construct. One of the most important aspects of the character is given early on. It is claimed that he “spends far too much time (he thinks) in his own head,” (119). This highly contemplative character seems apt to over think any situation, thus increasing the social and emotional gap between himself and those around him. This gap is highlighted when he calls what we learn later to be the sperm bank and apologetically suggests that many people must make similar calls, only to be informed that it is not the case (120). This example works to show the lack on connection Dennis seems to feel with those around him. It clearly shows the emotional distance between him and what the observer would consider the norm. Though the majority of the reader's experience with the woman upstairs is in the head of Dennis, there is some striking characterization used to describe her as well. As Dennis observes her from a distance, he notes that her face appears “cruel.” He noted earlier that she was smoking, but delays his observation that “she exhales smoke,” seeming to underscore that sense of cruelty. It is important to note that this section of text is visibly set apart from the rest, and represents in
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