Home » Comments about Shep » JEAN SHEPHERD–Allegories/metaphors Part 3

JEAN SHEPHERD–Allegories/metaphors Part 3


The question of metaphors and allegories is not an easy one to answer in any definitive way. Certainly to create and perceive a story as mainly or only a metaphor would be rather simple-minded. Yet some of our most important.memorable stories in our culture are allegorical in nature. The allegory is preferably not up front in our minds as we read it, but is an undercurrent. Some stories that come to mind:

Moby Dick

The Old Man and the Sea

The Grapes of Wrath

The parables of Jesus


Joel Baumwoll brings some intelligent, thoughtful comments to the discussion:

<Methinks we need to be careful reading too much into his work. I agree with Murphy. Sure there are messages in his stories. They all have to do with the human condition. Huck Finn was a metaphor? No, it was a story about how people are and think.

The famous battle of the tops has been referred to as a metaphor for the mutual destruction of nuclear war. I think it unlikely he started with a plan to write a story which would be a metaphor for that and arrived at the battle of the tops as the answer.

I take issue with the anti-war interpretation of the BB Gun story. The woman with the button that said “disarm the toy industry represented a but of a kook, I think, who finds danger in so many things. Remember, the BB Gun fantasy Shep described was protecting his family from marauders (Black Bart). One might even say he was supporting the NRA idea that we should have guns in our homes for our own protection against evil. He ended the sequence by saying the BB Gun was the best present he had ever received or EVER WOULD RECEIVE! Now that is a big statement.

A lot of Shep’s stories had to do with fantasies and dreams dashed by reality. Zudock’s plan to build a house from a kit, Shep and friends building a hot air balloon and burning down the high school, Bumpus’ dogs eating the ham or turkey…etc etc…The theme of the poem Excelsior speaks to that.

In any case, I suggest we take his stories on face value for their insights,humor and fun.

Knees loose gang, metaphorically speaking.


Without suggesting any definitive answers, I respond with the following:

Barry Farber (quoted in my EYF!) said that Shep delighted in Farber’s finding the metaphors he was suggesting in his stories–of course, maybe Shep was simply playing around and didn’t really mean it–or only meant it at that particular moment.

As for the BB gun story, Ralphie’s sequined attire is a child’s silly fantasy of reality (what cowboys are/were really like). Ralphie’s idea of his personal reality is indeed a “rhinestone cowboy.” He is, as I like to put it about superficial imitations, a rhinestone in the rough. ralphie rhinestonecowboy As are the bad guy’s phony prison get-up and their ease of defeat, and the cartoon-like crosses over their eyes to represent that they are “dead.” We laugh in part because we know that a BB gun wouldn’t stop real criminals. All that is a put-down of Ralphie’s “reasoning” of why he should have a gun. And that the BB ricochets back and hits him is surely an irony (a metaphor) for what might easily happen with weapons.

That Ralphie, at the movie’s end, hugging the gun that nearly shot his eye out, muses that “the BB Gun was the best present he had ever received or EVER WOULD RECEIVE! ” I suggest that:

1. Whatever the present would have been, as it was his supremely hoped-for one, of course it was the best present he’d ever receive, especially as narrator-Shep nostalgically envisions it;

2. As his father (a bit of a curmudgeon) gave it to him, it was a special bond that Ralphie thus formed with him;

3. As I comment in EYF! the sweet and idealistic ending of the parents snuggling in the glow of tree-and-snowACS mom and dad
may well have been an arm-twisted finish the movie studio insisted on after all the funny downers the movie is replete with–Ralphie’s childish thoughts in bed as the movie closes could be seen as another sugar-coated dumpling.

ACS ralph in bed.rifle

The long horizontal line below represents the end ↓



1 Comment

  1. mygingerpig says:

    I my have to alter my comments about the BB Gun story after hearing Shep say that the story grew out of a discussion he was having with a friend about the Vietnam war. He said a lot of people blame war on bad politicians. He felt war had more to do with people’s attractions to guns and fighting despite the death and destruction it caused. He said he was inspired to write a story about a boy’s obsession with a weapon, despite being told he could severely injure himself, and so he did, yet he went on to treasure and play with this gun for years, saying it was the best Christmas present he ever received or ever would receive. Hence his point that we continue our love affair with weapons, despite knowing the havoc they reap. The debate over gun control has a lot of this in it.


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