Symbolism in Packer’s Drinking Coffee.

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Topic: Symbolism in Packers “Drinking Coffee”

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The title of the story is, “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere” by Z. Z. Packer. It elucidates the churning process of the African-American experience from the point of view of a black student. There is an ‘untold story’ told in every story about an author’s real-life experiences and one can not avoid it, howsoever cleverly the author may make efforts to sweep it under the carpet. The painful past becomes more painful, if the current situations are not sound. This story deals with the coping strategy of the main character Dina. How far Dina’s conscious efforts to distance herself from the pain-giving experiences of her life, like her devastating relationship with her Dad, grudging interview sessions with the psychiatrist imposed on her by the college administration, and suspicious interactions with counselors and study-buddies, take her to the portal of happiness?

Dina’s cherished dreams do not fructify, she looks out for alternative avenues, to forget the pain. The mention of revolver as the inanimate object she’d most like go transform, on the eve of Yale University freshmen orientation, says a lot about her grudge against her past life and her future plans.(of revenge?) It is easy to say that life is to be lived in its trials, tribulations, duty and beauty. But when it comes to practical applications, the unforgettable incidents of the past continue to torture the inner core of an individual, who has faced the wrath of the society on many counts. Dina is one such individual, who has to cope up with lots of maladjustments. In the story “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere”, Packer provides enough homework for the reader’s imagination. She concludes the story without providing firm conclusions. The reader has to view the situation from own perspective. But her writing has the cordiality and grace to draw the reader to mainstream of the story.

The ‘not so gentle’ gentleman with whom Dina has strained relationship is Dr. Raeburn. But one can not blame the Doctor. He is a psychiatrist and he is expected to do his professional job to treat the fresher. If the revolver is ‘triggered’ by Dina, he will be held responsible by the University authorities. He tries his best to probe the hidden layers within her mind and unearth the real Dina! When she expresses contempt for her father, the ‘shaken’ Doctor reaches out for a cigarette and Dina’s protests instantly. She says, “You can’t smoke in here.” She gives clever answers to his questions but the professional psychiatrist is able to isolate facts and fiction from the details she provides. Several sessions by the Yale University psychiatrist fail to elicit tangible information from Dina. In one such interesting session, he asks Dina about her kissing experience. Packer writes, “Dr. Raeburn lit his next cigarette like a detective. Cool, suspicious. “How did it feel?” The answer by Dina looks simple but it has the hidden agenda. . “You know,” I said. “Like a kiss feels. It felt nice. The kiss felt very, very nice.” By now the doctor has realized that she is lying. Packer writes, “Raeburn smiled gently, though he seemed unconvinced. When he called time on our session his cigarette had become one long pole of ash. I left his office, walking quickly down the corridor, afraid to look back. It would be like him to trot after me, his navy blazer flapping, just to eke the truth out of me.” Dina by now develops distaste and discomfiture about the presence and the counseling sessions of this Doctor.

Dina’s answer in the Orientation games, when she has to wait in a circle for her turn to say what inanimate object she wants to be, provides the backgrounder information about her strained relationships with her Dad. She says, “My name is Dina, and if I had to be any object, I guess Id be a revolver.” Her latent grudge against the society is evident in this expression. When the counselor asks, “Could you please elaborate?” Dina relents and gives a revised answer, “I don’t know. I think it’s the architecture.” How clever and what a transformation! The revolver symbolizes destruction and architecture, construction! Dina is quite vocal about her strained relationship with her father. When the psychiatrist Dr. Raeburn questions her, “Tell me about your parents… and “How do you feel about Dad?” she quips without hesitation, rather contemptuously, “I hate my father almost as much as I hate the word ‘Dad.’”

Her overall relationship with the society is Dina’s third problem. She is resigned to her fate, and becomes cynical. They say, if one can not find perfect discipline around, one has to carry-on with the available discipline! This is Dina’s plight in small and big relationships with her college-mates and pals. She finds it difficult to trust anyone unconditionally and she is suspicious about everything. Her initial encounter with a stranger-turned-friend is described thus by Packer.

“I opened the door. It was a she.

“Plagiarist!” I yelled. She had just recited a Frank OHara poem as though shed thought it up herself. I knew the poem because it was one of the few things Id been forced to read that I wished Id written myself.”


To describe Dina’s life in short, it has been a struggle with her relationships in one form or the other. But what matters in life is neither victory nor defeat but permanent effort-the process through which one meets real-life challenges. “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere” is a story with such a different ‘aroma’!


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