“The Briefcase” by Rebecca Makkai is an excellent short story that encapsulates a life after escape from a prison of one functional character. Namely, a chef that had served meals for revolution rebels was enjailed for political reasons. He managed to leave the place of his imprisonment. The stir caused by his escape made the soldiers capture a random person, a professor, to replace the chef. Afterward, the chef stole the professor’s attire and personal possessions and started to feign him (Makkai). The story depicts the components of identity, the possibility of its theft, and the slow process of the chef’s assimilation into the new role.
The narration contains several descriptions of objects that underline the identity of the chef and professor. The characteristics of the chef at the beginning of the story are as follows: “his hand was starved, his wrist was thin” (Makkai par. 2). In turn, the professor is “a man in a suit, with a briefcase, a beard” (Makkai par. 5). There is a contrast between the two men: one is an exhausted, miserable prisoner, and the other is a solemn, respected personality. Further, the presence of the professors’ identity is portrayed in the “addresses of friends,… card of identification;… riddle about the inversion of the universe” (Makkai par. 9). Thus, the author expresses the membership of these characters in different classes by enumerating the objects that characterize them.
Through the development of the story, the chef and professors became affected by their new identities. The man who had been a prisoner now has the “hands of the professor; ergo, he was now the professor” (Makkai par. 15). He reflects on the nature of the stars, Sun, and Earth, even though he was “not blessed, like the professor, with years of scholarship and quiet offices and leather books” (Makkai 14). The new personality almost absorbs him, yet in his heart, he rejects the professor’s ideas, who “would not die” because of the chef’s actions (Makkai 8). As a result, the chef’s identity influenced him while erasing the actual professor.
To conclude, the story is illustrative of the components that accompany an identity. Objects like documents, personal belongings, and clothes reflect the profession, class, and lifestyle. The change of identity might stimulate personality changes, yet these phenomena are interrelated and influence each other. Finally, the association of an individual with material attributes of identity does not necessarily make them representative.
Makkai, Rebecca. The Briefcase. Middlebury, 2021, Web.