Desertion: A Formalist Analysis

In Clifford D. Simak’s short story Desertion, an interesting turn of events happens near the end of the plot. Towser, the protagonist’s loyal dog, convinces him to never again return to the Dome. It is interesting because Towser is used as a symbolism of man’s naivety and inadequacy when compared to Lopers, and when he is given the chance to be a supreme being, to be understood and to understand the things he has never understood before, he decides to stay in his Jovian form instead of returning to the Dome to be a dog once again. Later on, Kent Fowler, the protagonist ultimately decides to do the same thing. He doesn’t turn back.

Aside from symbolism, another literary device used in Desertion is in medias res, wherein the story begins in the midst of action. Kent Fowler has already sent out four men to explore Jupiter, and he is about to send out another man. Through the narration, the reader is given an idea of what already happened before the story even began. For instance, “It was formula, of course. The other four had been told the same thing, but they had gone,” tells the reader that conflicts have already occurred prior to the story.

Desertion was written when the formalist theory was gaining popularity, so it seems fitting to use this literary theory to analyze the story. The protagonist, Kent Fowler, has sent five men “into the howling maelstrom that is Jupiter” and they all have failed to return to the Dome. Fowler then starts to fear that inhabiting Jupiter is a task inconceivable to man, and he wishes to never again send another person out to explore the unforgiving planet. He is constrained by biological parameters, unable to understand the beauty of the planet, and only sees it as an ugly and wrathful place. Unbeknownst to him, the five missing men are not lost but are found; they have discovered knowledge wider and deeper than mankind’s. Fowler’s narrow perception of the planet, as well as the naivety that comes with man’s desire to discover, reflects mankind’s superiority complex, thinking that our species is better than Lopers, that we have the right to probe and examine them for our benefit, that it is our duty to take over their planet, and that we have the capacity to understand everything that we don’t know. These, of course, are not the case. Only after Fowler has been converted into a Loper does he learn about the things that he never knew as a man. Like the five men before him, he wishes to never return to the Dome again.

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