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Oh Rats! A Review of David Benioff’s The 25th Hour by Kyler Hood

Thursday, June 2, 2011 @ 02:06 PM khood4208

In The 25th Hour, David Benioff’s placement of rats in the lives of Monty, Jacob, and Slattery suggests that each character’s self destruction is inevitable. Monty cannot avoid prison because he is greedy.  Jacob cannot woo Mary D’Annuzio, the girl he likes, because he is mediocre like his mentor Mr. LoBianco. Slattery cannot sleep with Naturelle or help Monty avoid prison because he is hot-tempered. The placement of rats in Jacob, Slattery, and Monty’s lives suggests that foibles necessitate unfulfilled desires, so the reader is unsettled, or, more likely, aware of limited character complexity.

Benioff first implements the rat trope when Monty saves Doyle: “a fighting dog abandoned to the mercy of river rats” (1).  The rats work as a metaphor for Kostya, Monty’s drug dealing partner who became a traitor. Monty rationalizes Kostya’s selling him out as the byproduct of Monty staying in business too long. Monty explains to Slattery, “Six more months I would’ve come to you, said, Here’s the loot…I got greedy. That’s what happened” (145).  In an illegal business, fear must trump greed, but not for Monty, so he gets busted and sent to prison.

The second mention of the rat trope occurs when LoBianco explains an old method of torture. LoBianco says, “The Turks used to strap metal baskets on the crotches of their war prisoners. With a live rat in the basket” (23). The rat discussion seems incidental, but it indirectly conveys LoBianco and Jacob’s unfulfilled motivations. LoBianco states that he will keep his job because “’They can’t fire me. I’m the only one hear who knows how to teach grammar” (24). LoBianco wants to keep his job, but later we see him drunk and upset; he spouts, “’This is where faggots come to die!” LoBianco yells insults because he is angry  he has not been asked back to teach, so he feels he has failed. Jacob defends LoBianco, saying, “You’re the best teacher in the department…We can’t let that happen!” (34). Jacob defends LoBianco because he admires and tries to emulate him. As Jacob’s mentor, LoBianco’s failure to maintain a job translates into Jacob’s failure to attract Mary D’Annuzio.

Benioff’s final use of the rat trope occurs when Slattery is at the train station. A boy pegs a rat with a coin and Slattery yells excitedly, “’Every now and then…you got to show the rats who’s boss” (185). Slattery is projecting both his inability to help Monty avoid prison and his inability to sleep with Naturelle onto the rats; at the same time, he makes the broader point that no one can be the victim of circumstance. But the boy’s efforts to hurt the rats, or change fate, seem ineffective. After the boy throws the coin at the rat, “pthwick! The nickel smacks it on the head. It drops the chip, quivers for a moment, and bolts into the shadows, its brother rats squealing and the humans cheering” (185). The boy’s attempt to change what the rats (i.e. circumstance) impose is fruitless just as Monty and Jacob’s efforts are fruitless.

Benioff’s rat trope in The 25th Hour conveys a pessimistic view of the world. Tragic flaws preclude the chance of Monty, Jacob, or Slattery reaching their goals. They can only change the perception of whether they’ve reached their goals. Benioff’s philosophical view seems unsettling, but feels cheapened by the lack of dynamic character motivations his construct requires.

(Page Numbers refer to The 25th Hour)

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