The Short Stories of TC Boyle
“She Wasn’t Soft”: Literary Analysis
In “She Wasn’t Soft”, T.C. Boyle uses dynamic and static characterization in his portrayal of an unhealthy relationship. Dynamic characters are characters who change throughout a story, the dynamic character in this story being Paula, while static characters do not change, like Jason. Jason and Paula have a relationship that does not contain mutual respect or equality, and can sometimes be classified as abusive.
Jason, Paula’s boyfriend, shows his disrespect for her by constantly disregarding her wishes and requests. When she asked to not see him in the days preceding her race so she could focus and rest, Jason did not listen. He lied about it being his birthday so she would go out with him. “The thing that upset her was that he’d lied to her. … It wasn’t his birthday at all. He’d just said that to get her out because he was drunk and he didn’t care if she had to compete the day after tomorrow and needed her rest and peace and quiet and absolutely no stimulation whatsoever. He was selfish, that was all, selfish and unthinking” (Boyle, 27.). When Paula expressed her concern about being in the same restaurant as her opponent, Zinny Bauer, Jason brushed her off. He ignored her first few requests to leave. They almost successfully escaped unnoticed until Jason had the audacity to approach Zinny and start a fight with her boyfriend (Boyle, 29-30). Paula had explicitly stated that she didn’t want to see or speak to Zinny and it was rude of him to ignore her wishes.
Throughout the story, Jason’s disrespectful behavior did not stop. He did not change. He did not treat his girlfriend better. He did not magically become a better person. Because he did not change, Jason is a static character. There is a connection between him being a static character and his borderline abusive relationship with Paula. If Jason truly cared about Paula, he would have put in the effort to change and work on their relationship. The morning after he made a scene at the Pasta Bowl Jason was apologetic, saying “’Listen Paula, I didn’t mean for things to get out of hand,’ he whispered, ‘you’ve got to believe me. I just didn’t think you had to hide from anybody, that’s all’” (Boyle, 30.). It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that he didn’t mean it. What Jason did was not an act of remorse, it was a tactic used by abusers to get their partners to stay with them.
Boyle makes Jason use common abuse tactics in various points of the story to make him seem like less of a lout, and Paula falls for his maneuvers. After the fight in the Pasta Bowl, Jason tells her “‘Paula, I’m on your side, remember? I love what you’re doing. I want to help you. … And yes, I want to protect you too.’… ‘I did it for you’”(Boyle, 31). He is trying to justify his actions to keep her from being mad at him. It is hard to be mad at your significant other when they are sitting there with puppy dog eyes saying “But babe, I was just trying to help”. Jason also tries to “help” Paula during the race by drugging her opponent, Zinny Bauer. He doesn’t think Paula has a chance of beating Zinny. She needs him, if she is dependent on him, she won’t leave him. However, when he sees that Paula is actually winning the race, Jason realizes that she doesn’t need his help. “But then, and he didn’t stop to think about it, he stepped forward, right out on the street where she could see him, and held out the cup. … And he felt the briefest fleeting touch of her flesh as the cup left his hand” (Boyle, 42.). He gave the cup to Paula and we never find out what happens next, one can only assume. Instead of sabotaging her opponent, Jason sabotaged his own girlfriend. His motive was never to help Paula, only to keep her from leaving him.
Jason’s abusive tendencies are further supported the night before Paula’s race when he showed up to her house unannounced. He knew she didn’t want to see him that close to the race. He knew she would not want to have sex with him before the race. Paula tried to be nice and invited him in under the condition that there would be no excitement and no sex. Jason became frustrated and lashed out at Paula verbally, causing her to ask him to leave. She said she was going to bed. Jason decided he was going to join her. “…plus he was drunk, if that was any excuse. Which it wasn’t. …by the time she’d stopped fighting him and he got her shorts down he hadn’t even really wanted to go through with it” (Boyle, 35). But he did go through with it, and he raped her.
Jason’s unchanging abusive and disrespectful behavior made him a static character; however, Paula was a dynamic character. At her race in Huston, she “hit the wall” and lost to Zinny Bauer. She was also dating a man who was selfish and disrespectful. It seemed as though Paula was starting to realize just how awful Jason was, with the lies, disrespect, and rape when she thought “If anything, what happened with Jason last night was something that… made her angry, that made her wonder what she’d seen in him in the first place. He didn’t care about her. He didn’t care about anybody (Boyle, 35). Paula was determined to beat Zinny Bauer, to be the first overall female because “If all this time she was racing for herself …now she was racing for Jason, to show him up, to show him what she was, what she really was. … Because she wasn’t soft, she wasn’t, and he was going to find that out once and for all (Boyle, 35). Paula overcame her doubts, her pain, and even her rape and fueled all of that anger into her race. When Jason saw Paula was winning two miles from the finish, he knew she would leave him if she won. So, therefore, he did what he had to do to get her to stay with him, he gave her the drugged drink (Boyle, 41-42). Paula overcame the obstacles in her life and was finally about to get away from that horrible little man, making her a dynamic character, but then she was drugged.
Paula and Jason have a relationship that is mostly detrimental to her life and not at all to his. T.C. Boyle uses dynamic and static characterization to express this unhealthy relationship in his short story “She Wasn’t Soft”. Jason, a static, abusive jerk did not change any of his selfish, disrespectful behaviors throughout “She Wasn’t Soft”, while Paula, a dynamic, driven world-beater overcame her abusive relationship and proved to herself and Jason that she was not soft.