Autobiography Of Red Summary

Anne Carson

Autobiography Of Red

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Autobiography Of Red Summary

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Described by the author as a “novel in verse,”Autobiography of Red skillfully blends poetry, mythology, and contemporary storytelling into a complex reimagining of the tale of Geryon and Herakles. It opens with an introductory section discussing the work of Ancient Greek poet Stesichoros, pointing to ways in which he moved beyond the poetic traditions of the period. One of these is the poet’s innovative choice of subjects, including his decision to write about Geryon, a monster who is usually only a secondary character in the tale of Herakles, the hero who slays him. This is followed by what are claimed to be fragments of Stesichoros’s poem, describing moments from Geryon’s life and his death at the hands of Herakles. The color red is employed repeatedly throughout these extracts, alluding to blood, passion, and powerful emotions, something which is also used throughout the main narrative.

After the introductory section, the main narrative begins. Initially, it offers brief scenes from Geryon’s early life. In several, Geryon is bullied by his elder brother. Later on, this bullying descends into worse abuse as the older boy begins coercing Geryon into pleasuring him sexually. Other snapshots of Geryon’s childhood show him enjoying time with his mother, his mother expressing her love for him and reassuring him that he is not weak. Despite this affection, Geryon remains insecure and uncomfortable throughout his childhood, something which is frequently expressed through an image of himself as red with small wings on his back, which he believes makes him monstrous.

As Geryon grows a little older, he meets Herakles for the first time, approaching him at a bus station to ask him to break a dollar so can use the payphone to call his mother. Instead of changing the dollar, Herakles simply gives Geryon a quarter for the call, and they end up spending hours talking together. In the next section, sometime after this first encounter, Geryon’s mother asks him about the friend with whom he spends so much of his time. Although the friend remains unnamed, it is implied to be Herakles. This is confirmed in the following section when the reader learns that Geryon and Herakles are growing increasingly close and meet up most days. This developing intimacy and connection between Geryon and Herakles mirrors Geryon and his mother growing apart. When she asks what he enjoys about Herakles’s company, he gives her no answer.

One night, Geryon and Herakles are in Herakles’s car, parked up on a quiet stretch of road. The atmosphere is charged with sexual tension.When Geryon brings up sex—asking an innocent, non-intimate question that was not what he had originally intended to ask—the situation becomes awkward and they leave. Later, Geryon meets Herakles’s family and stays over at their home. That night, he cannot sleep and imagines being a woman listening to someone climb a staircase, thinking that the person may be a rapist. The next day, he wakes feeling uncomfortable and listening to Herakles’s family. He joins Herakles and his grandmother in the garden, where they see two butterflies flying together. While Geryon interprets this innocently, Herakles shocks Geryon and, especially, his own grandmother by crudely declaring that the insects are “fucking.”

Later, it is heavily implied that Geryon and Herakles’s relationship becomes sexual, although it is not explicitly stated. There is also an implication that the relationship is perhaps somewhat exploitative and that Herakles may be “grooming” Geryon. Despite this, Geryon grows increasingly close to the young man. Herakles does not reciprocate, however, and eventually abandons Geryon, who experiences an intense period of grief that includes stages of anger, despair, and pining over his lost lover. Throughout both the rise and fall of the relationship, imagery of volcanos is repeatedly employed, alluding to passion and powerful emotions, both positive and negative. This imagery continues throughout the main narrative.

After the breakup, the story skips a number of years, returning to Geryon when he is twenty-two years old and holidaying in Argentina. He still struggles with confidence and his negative self-image, which is still displayed through his perception of himself as red and winged. By sheer coincidence, he bumps into Herakles, who is in Argentina with his partner, Ancash, gathering data on volcanos. They restart their friendship, and Geryon spends time with the couple, although his attraction to Herakles returns, and he grows jealous of Ancash. Later, while all three men fly to Ancash’s native Peru, Geryon and Herakles’s relationship becomes sexual again when Herakles pleasures him secretly on the plane.

When they arrive in Peru, Geryon, Herakles, and Ancash stay with Ancash’s mother on the roof of a building in Lima. It is cold there at night, and when Ancash wraps Geryon in blankets, he discovers Geryon’s wings. He tells Geryon a Peruvian legend in which people enter a volcano and then fly out again, red-skinned and winged. These people were known as “eyewitnesses” and were highly respected. At this, Geryon finally starts to see his wings as positive attributes that might allow him to fly rather than simply as things that make him monstrous. Despite Ancash’s kindness and sensitivity, Geryon begins sleeping with Herakles again. When Ancash finds out, he punches Geryon. However, once they have fought, Ancash still says that he wants to see Geryon use his wings to fly. Later, Geryon takes a photo of himself flying as a gift for Ancash and, having at least temporarily resolved their issues, the three men watch bakeries built on the side of a volcano, marveling at the bakers using the volcano’s heat in such a positive and productive way. Finally, a brief invented “interview” with Stesichoros brings the novel to a close.

Although some critics found the work stylistically over complicated, Autobiography of Red was largely well received, particularly by Carson’s fellow writers, many of whom praised it as one of the finest examples of a verse novel ever written. It was widely celebrated for its originality, its humor, and its bold treatment of adolescent sexuality.