“Standard Loneliness Package” by Charles Yu

“I cry, and also, I really cry. Meaning, not just as my client, but I start crying, too. Sometimes it happens. I don’t know why, exactly. Maybe because he was somebody’s grandpa. And he looked like a nice one, a nice man. Maybe something about the way his arm fell against the guardrail on the hospital bed, nothing dramatic or poignant. Just a part of his body going thunk against metal. Maybe because I could sort of tell, when Grandpa was looking at his grandson for the last time, looking into his eyes, looking around in there trying to find him, he didn’t find him, he found me instead, and he knew what had happened, and he didn’t even look mad. Just hurt” (Yu 11).

In the world of “Standard Loneliness Package,” all forms of negative human experiences can be outsourced to other humans. The nameless narrating protagonist works for a company specializing in the outsourcing of negative emotions from one human to another. At this job the protagonist is forced to feel physical and emotional discomfort so that privileged distant strangers don’t have to. During the particular work ticket described in the paragraph above the protagonist loses his composure and is overcome by the emotions being outsourced to him. Having processed the deaths of many clients’ family members, the protagonist wouldn’t normally be so shaken by a similar ticket, but this one is different. The preliminary list of reasons for crying listed by the protagonist can be largely ignored as they don’t give significant insight into why this death was so difficult for the protagonist to deal with. The word “maybe” is neither concise nor definitive and its use in these early sentences helps to emphasize exactly how ordinary this situation is for the protagonist. He even admits that there’s “nothing dramatic or poignant” about the experience (Yu 11). The protagonist breaks only after the grandfather’s realization that the narrator is present within his grandson. The protagonist describes the grandfather as “hurt” after failing to find his grandson. This suggests that unlike the grandson, the grandfather hasn’t chosen to outsource his negative emotions. This is suggestive of a generation gap within the culture of this grandson and grandfather. Growing up and living in a world with a certain technology keeps one from experiencing life without that technology. Specifically in the context of this paragraph, the grandson has chosen to take advantage of a seemingly beneficial piece of technology available to him. That said, the grandson sees nothing wrong with having another person feel his negative experiences for him. Conversely, the grandfather is upset by the thought that his grandson can’t be mentally present in his final moments. Essentially the grandfather didn’t spend his last few moments with his grandson, but rather a stranger peering out through a shell of someone else.

– Jacob Paul

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2 thoughts on ““Standard Loneliness Package” by Charles Yu

  1. I found that in this scene especially, we get a glimpse into the authors idea about how western society has become impersonal. While the emotions of seeing a man’s dying eyes understand that his son is not truly there during the last moments of his life is especially poignant, we also must consider other important elements of how the elderly are treated. This old man was likely very alone on his deathbead, taken care of by hospital staff. When later he is in the mind of an old woman just moments before killing herself, the only family he is aware of is her husband. No children. No grandchildren. She is just in a retirement home, who’s pain is too much that she is known as a common client. This is paralleled by the strong emotional connections the main characters have to their fathers, who sold their lives out. Extremely poignant, extremely personal, extremely human.

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  2. This segment actually gave me chills. The generational gap between the father and his grandson creates this hauntingly realistic commentary on today’s societal norms. In the last moments of the grandfather life he looks to be surrounded by family (his grandson). However the current societal norms encourage the grandson to pass his sadness off to his ‘negativity surrogate”. I think what is particularly horrifying to me is the sheer helplessness the grandfather is feeling. He wants his grandson to be there with him but his helpless in this society which has evolved, leaving the old man behind. And although the old man is hurt directly, I think the grandson is hurt in a different but equally damaging way. By not experiencing those last moments with his grandfather he is missing out on very important parts of life. I think this was a main theme that the author was trying to get across- even though there are tough and emotionally draining times in your life, they are still part of life and are equally important as good times.

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