Literary analysis: Our role models

freevector-father-and-sonWho do you look up too? In Benjamin Percy’s “Refresh, Refresh,” the author writes a story about two boys growing up with their father’s out at war. Within the piece Percy pushes the idea that fathers shape who their sons grow up to be by showing how the boys work to make them proud, how the boys feel haunted by their lack of presence, and how the boys grow up in their legacy.

First Percy establishes how the boys believe fighting will make their fathers proud of them. Percy wrote that the boys “fought to make each other tougher” to be ready to hurt those who hurt them and to only go down swinging “as he was sure his father would” in order “to please our fathers, to make them proud, even though they had left us.” The boys believed that fighting would make them tough like their fathers who trained to fight in the war and they would keep their pride fighting even if they went down to keep their father’s honor.

The boys who had mostly known their fathers to be away fighting a war in a way tried to mimic their fathers’ behavior of fighting by fighting with each other to gain the strength to take out their enemies. While the fathers where fighting Iraqi “sniping suicide bombers before they could detonate on a crowded city street” and “bearded insurgents ambushed our fathers with rocket launchers” the boys were at home fighting “Seth Johnson – a no-neck linebacker” and “the four members of the varsity football team.” Percy drew this parallel to show how they worked to make their fathers proud by following in their footsteps to the best of their ability.

He even had the scenario with the boys dressing in their fathers’ clothes “as we crept through the forest imagining ourselves in enemy territory, with tripwires and guard towers and snarling dogs around every corner” when reality they were just spying on Seth’s campsite. Percy had the boys fighting each other to connect that to their fathers training for war. Then he used Seth to play the part of Iraqi soldiers for the boys as their fathers we out seeking into the camps and fighting in a war, the boys were out sneaking into Seth camp and playing tricks.

Percy makes these parallels to symbolize sons copying their fathers to get their praise and approval. With the boys’ fathers, away at war pretending they are at war at home helps them gain that approval in their own minds to a degree. The fathers are still shaping their sons’ actions even while they’re away from them.

Next the author shows how the boys feel haunted by the absence of their fathers. At first the fathers were emailing but then the started to get less frequent to the point the Josh “sometimes, on the computer, would hit refresh, refresh, refresh, hoping.” The boy was missing his father and he desperately awaited even the simplest of messages.

The last email he got from his father read “Hi, Josh. I’m O.K. Don’t worry. Do your homework. Love, Dad.” He hung that on his door treasuring every word. “We would only cross our fingers and wish on stars and hit refresh, refresh hoping that they would return to us, praying that we would never find Dave Lightener on our porch uttering the words I regret to inform you…” The boys were desperate to hear from their fathers to fill the empty space that men like Dave Lightener wouldn’t be able to fill. Therefore, they valued even the simplest of emails and were constantly refreshing the page to see if more would come.

When the emails quit coming the boys approached Lightener with “I plan on killing some crazy-ass-Muslims” and he called them out for “cracking sick jokes” while their father were “out there risking their lives, defending our freedom.” The boys tried to join their fathers since Lightener “sent people like us off to die” and they wanted to hear from their fathers, however, they we trapped in their fathers’ legacy. The boys couldn’t join because their fathers were already out at war risking their lives for them and this fact along with the fact they hadn’t heard from their fathers haunted them.

Percy has them directly say “our fathers haunted us” because after growing up some time without someone precious you start to see them everywhere. The boys would see them in simple things like “a thirty-pack of Coors” or “the highway when we passed a jacked-up Dodge.” Even in their own faces when they grew out their beards “we saw our fathers even in the mirror” and “our fathers, who had been taken from us, were everywhere, at every turn, imprisoning us.” The boys couldn’t escape their fathers and their legacy. They couldn’t here from them, they couldn’t go to them, they kept getting reminded of them from everything, even their own faces.

The boys were trapped and they felt powerless when their fathers were living away from them. Their fathers are shaping them to dread leaving behind their own sons or wives like they have left them.

Finally, Percy shows how the boys took on their father’s legacy in their absence. First he leads the reader to this by inserting these passages about the meteors, stars, and the hole in the ground throughout the passage to symbolize how the fathers’ legacy is effecting the boys’ legacy.

First time this is done it tells about the boys riding through obstacles “until I caught up with the horizon, where my father would be waiting, inevitably, I ended up at Hole in the Ground.” I believe it’s symbolizing how the boys are trying to catch up to their fathers by training themselves through fighting each other but they reach the “hole in the ground” which is their fathers’ legacy that is preventing them from moving forward on their own paths. It then describes how “every few minutes a star seemed to come unstuck, streaking through the night in a bright flash that burned into nothingness,” which symbolizes all the sons no longer waiting for their fathers to come home and that are free to blaze their own legacies.

Then while the boys were waiting to hear back from their fathers it mentions “bullets streaking through the darkness like meteorites I observed on sleepless nights,” which is representing all the men forging their legacies and dying out on the battlefield while their families are home worrying and waiting for news.

The boys starting to grow tired of waiting for their fathers to return and worked to speed toward the hole in the ground. As they sledded toward the hole “it felt as if we were five again – and then we began the slow climb back the way we came and felt fifty.” The speeding sled toward the hole was representing how the boys were eager to start their own legacies while the trip down was representing the boys journey to start their legacy while the trip back up was them after their legacy if they lived to grow old like their grandfathers.

The boys drive out to the hole in the ground were “a bright light of sunlight appeared on the horizon and illuminated the snow-blanketed desert,” represented how the memories of their fathers aka the sunlight on horizon was blinding them and trapping them within the haunting memories.

When Lightener first appears, it was “midafternoon and it was already full dark” indicting the lack of sun and removing the horizon which is basically the son’s path to meet up with their fathers again since he had come to deliver the news that they were dead.

Then when the boys were sitting and watching him “above us a star hissed across the moonlight sky, vaguely bright like a light turned on in a day-light room,” which was representing the boys’ freedom to pursue their own legacy since their fathers were dead and not returning.

When the boys got a hold of Lightener they “drove at a perilous speed to Hole in the Ground,” which representing how they were quickly heading towards the start of their own legacies.

When they had Lightener at the lip of the crater Josh “forgot (himself), staring off into the dark oblivion,” which represented how Josh had to come to a decision about what he wanted his legacy to be in that moment.

The boys leave Lightener there sobbing as they “drove so fast I imagined catching fire like a meteor, burning up in a flash, howling as my heat consumed me, as we made our way to the Marine Recruiting Office, where we would at last answer the fierce alarm of war and put our pens to paper and make our fathers proud.” The meteor represents the boys finally heading out to start their own legacy of dying at war for their country like their fathers had done. However, the boys make the decision to leave before having a wife and sons of their own.

They do this because they don’t want to leave behind a legacy to haunt their sons and wives like their fathers had done to them. The fire burning them up in a flash instead of making a crater represents that they don’t want to scar their loved ones like their fathers had done. It shows how the boys shaped their legacy based on growing up without their fathers.

In conclusion Percy portrays how fathers shape how their sons grow up even if they aren’t around. Percy demonstrated this by showing how the boys began to mimic their fathers’ actions, how they became haunted and trapped by their legacy in their absence, and how the boys adapted their fathers’ legacy to live it without the baggage their fathers left behind. The boys grew up to be military men just like their father even though they were abandoned by them. Percy uses “Refresh, Refresh” to portray how strong the impact the people we look up to have on us even when they’re not around.


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