Strangers and Pilgrims

Season 1 – Death of the Prophet Joseph Smith

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Chinua Achebe, Bob Dylan, and Jim Carrey

One of my favorite endings to a story has always been the ending to Chinua Achebe's book Things Fall Apart.  The book is about this man, Okonkwo.  It closely follows him as he struggles with his family, and his African village, and the intrusion of colonialists.  A tragedy happens to Okonkwo at the end of the story, and the Commissioner -- one of the leaders of the colonialists -- sees the aftermath.  As the commissioner walks away from this tragic scene, he thinks about a book he wants to write on his experiences in Africa.  The narrator of the book says:

As he [the commissioner] walked back to the court he thought about that book. Every day brought him some new material. The story of this man who had killed a messenger and hanged himself would make interesting reading. One could almost write a whole chapter on him. Perhaps not a whole chapter but a reasonable paragraph, at any rate. There was so much else to include, and one must be firm in cutting out details. . .

These few sentences are shocking to me.  And, amazing writing.  What it tells me is that all the emotions, and life experiences, and tragedies that just happened to Okonkwo -- Okonkwo's entire life -- might make a 'reasonable paragraph' in the author's book.  It's dismissive.  It's nonchalant.  It's removed from the emotions of the situation.  And, it makes me re-frame the entire story I just read.

Another piece of art that does this exact same thing is Bob Dylan's song Black Diamond Bay.

The song is about all the visitors in a hotel at Black Diamond Bay.  And, how they are all frantically dealing with an earthquake.  Well, after telling all their emotional struggles, and vain efforts to save themselves and one another amidst this horrible disaster, Bob Dylan ends the song with:

I was sittin’ home alone one night in L.A.
Watchin’ old Cronkite on the seven o’clock news
It seems there was an earthquake that
Left nothin’ but a Panama hat
And a pair of old Greek shoes
Didn’t seem like much was happenin’,
So I turned it off and went to grab another beer

To Bob Dylan, watching the tragedy from his home in Los Angeles -- the story doesn't mean much.  He hears Walter Cronkite talk about a pair of "old Greek shoes," and to him it doesn't mean anything.  But, to the audience that just listened to the song, those shoes are full of meaning. And full of emotions because we know who they belonged to, and we know the Greek's story.  But to Bob watching television, the shoes and the earthquake mean nothing.  So, he just turns off the television.

A similar ending to a piece of art happens at the end of the Truman Show.  In this movie, just like in the other two stories, the audience follows along the emotional, gut-wrenching efforts and struggles of a main character.  Then, at the end, the entire emotional journey is re-framed by two security guards casually saying, "What else is on?  Yeah, let's see what else is on," and then changing the channel.

I don't know if this is a trope or not.  If it is a type of ending that is so common that it has a name and is cataloged and referenced.  I couldn't find it referenced over at the online trope catalogue tvtropes.org.