The President

Barthelme, Donald

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Donley, Carol
  • Date of entry: Jan-31-1997


The new U.S. President is tiny, strange, and apparently brilliant. Somehow the people believe that he will identify problems and find solutions. People are fainting. No one seems to know what is going on. No one thought such a tiny man could be elected President, but he won in a landslide. The society seems to believe the President can do great things; but no one seems to have any idea what those might be. Meanwhile, people keep fainting.


Barthelme often takes an abnormal situation and presents it as if it were an everyday occurrence (like all the pets, plants, some relatives and even some classmates dying in an elementary school class in his story "The School"). Barthelme keeps his readers unbalanced, not sure of what is going on in the story.

In this case he portrays a contemporary America, where people vote without knowing why, where they hope (even expect) that their President will be some kind of savior who will save them from not knowing what they want or don’t want. Readers are baffled by the strangeness of the public’s aimless malaise and its frantic applause of its weird leader, as if the community could no longer take any responsibility and abdicated everything to this charismatic man. Barthelme forces us to face ambiguity and uncertainty; and also how irresponsible we are as democratic citizens who don’t work at it.

Primary Source

Sixty Stories



Place Published

New York



Page Count