Alien presents a short science fiction regarding a strange individual being returned to Earth after supposed abduction by a UFO. Told from the perspective of a blogger that encounters and connects with the man by accident, the short story offers a lighthearted but also tragic narrative of someone being ripped out of time and then placed back only to recognize how things have changed. Throughout the short story, Riley utilizes symbolism, colloquialism, irony, tone, and archetypes to demonstrate that time is a constantly moving concept, perpetually ongoing, and missing it would impact not only the technology seen around but relationships and belong with people in family and society.
The tone of the story varies significantly and matches the narrative. At first, it is seemingly absurd and almost lighthearted. As everyone, including the narrator, believes the flying UFO and man stepping out as a publicity stunt. The story is littered with references to modern times, such as social media, smartphones. The comedic encounter between the narrator and the man, “That language isn’t very ladylike. I’m not much of a f******* lady” creates an impression that this story would be another ‘lost in time’ cliché narrative (Riley). However, as the reader follows the story and Gavin’s struggle, the tone gradually gets much grimmer. He is not just a shellshocked traveler in space that has not aged a day due to mysterious alien technology, he is a human with deep emotions. Time had no impact on Gavin, but it did on everyone and everything he ever loved. The tone shifts dramatically, becoming one of desperation and tremendous sadness as the narrative comes to this realization.
The short story has multiple instances of situational irony, which highlight to the reader that the unexpected is always happening. From the very start of the story when a UFO landed in a busy urban area, only to have a man casually step out and go about his way, to the end, when Gavin is meant to step out and be on his way to try to live a life in the modern world, only to disappear just as suddenly as he appeared. When finally encountering his family, the reader expects Gavin to go meet them, but instead, they drive off frantically, while George momentarily recognizes his long-lost father. It can be argued, that time once again played a critical role, and a cruel joke. People think that with time, yes surroundings change, and people get older, but generally, all stay familiar, but the irony is that no matter how hard one tries to preserve it, things change drastically.
Colloquialism refers to the use of informal language in writing, not just in dialogue but the whole story itself. This literary device aids in establishing context to the settings and characters. For Alien, the majority of the short story is written as a colloquialism. It seemed like an inexperienced young writer had written it rather than a recognized novelist. However, the colloquialism was intentional as it presented the perspective of the narrator, a seemingly hype young woman with a career in web blogging and a love for contemporary culture references. It also served as a juxtaposition to the well-spoken, mannered, and conservative Gavin. Colloquialism in the story serves multiple functions, the first is to make the comparison between Caitlyn and Gavin. It also highlights the passage of time, and with it, culture. Gavin finds himself struggling to understand the language of the modern-day, “It’s like you’re speaking Japanese” (Riley). The cultural shift even in the basic language creates even greater confusion for Gavin and inhibits his ability to function or share his story initially.
There are several symbols inserted throughout the story which have important meanings. The first is Gavin’s fedora. He had it on him when getting abducted, and attempted to use it to protect his son. Similarly, he had it on him when being dropped off in the city again. He uses to hide from all the people and cameras. In a way, the fedora is symbolic of attempting to hide. Whenever Gavin has his fedora on, he is seemingly withdrawn, scared, and attempting to hide or protect. Meanwhile, when he has it off, he is more relaxed and carefree. Another symbolic meaning is given to the city of Las Vegas, in the vicinity of which Gavin had disappeared and where he returned. Caitlyn notes, “Gavin lived in Las Vegas, which changes its face as often as most people change their underwear. Everything in flux, nothing certain” (Riley). Referring to the movement of time, the setting is symbolic as it is rapidly changing, while those who fail to change with it, get left behind.
Finally, the title in itself is symbolic. Alien is typically defined as an entity being foreign, not like everyone else, either extraterrestrial or even from another country or culture. However, Gavin was human, even having been abducted. He was also from Las Vegas and while he was behind in understanding slang or technology, he knew the general rules of society. The title seems to refer to a much deeper understanding of the term alien, which is something that does not belong. Because of him being gone so long and time kept moving by, he longer belonged, not with society, not with his family. He was truly an ‘alien’ in every sense of it. He sought belonging but was no longer welcome or expected part of any aspect of his previous life.
An archetype is a universal symbol that is instantly recognized and brings certain context and familiarity to a story. While the alien is somewhat of an archetype, a fitting archetype of Gavin would be a wanderer. He is someone who is lost, he is attempting to find belonging but does not seem to be able to. He is also running from, physically from likely the authorities chasing him, and metaphorically, from his past that so defines him. The end of the story is mysteriously unclear, but if he is alive and not captured, he is faced with having to wander the world alone, never finding that belonging. Meanwhile, Caitlyn in this story embodies an archetype of a guardian. She sees that Gavin is weak and lost, and wants to protect him. She offers her help and does everything in her power to aid Gavin in his struggles.
If the theme could be summarized in one word – it would be belonging. However, the short story presents this complex situation of the protagonist being abducted by aliens and then finding himself in a world more than half a century later. It is no longer a regular person attempting to belong, it is a man who has lost everything and everyone to time. His wife is long dead, his son is a senior with his own family. He missed decades of history, cultural growth, and societal shifts that have changed the world. Life has moved on, and Gavin is stuck with the missed time that he cannot turn back. It is a dire and desperate situation that tragically places him in a position where is truly an alien, without a home or a place to go, without recognition or roots. It is a reflection partly on how much time people are missing, even being present in the moment. Gavin was jerked from his life, while others watch their life go by and end up with missed time and withdrawn relationships, also lacking belonging. The concept of the perpetually and rapidly moving time is deeply complex in its interaction with the world around us as it also moves on and on at a rapid pace. Perhaps it becomes most noticeable when placed in a position similar to Gavin’s, returning to a place and life that one once held dear only to find that everything is so different, and the clock cannot be turned back.
Alien is a captivating modern short-story fiction depicting a return of a man abducted by aliens 60 years prior, describing his struggles of fitting in and coming to terms that life has moved on without him. The author employs a variety of literary elements such as tone, irony, colloquialism, symbolism, and archetype to highlight the challenges of Gavin’s arrival and the recurring theme that time is a perpetually moving aspect that creates significant change and reconciles well with that what is left behind. However, Gavin finds himself in a unique position of being a ‘relic’ of the past stuck in a future world where everything and everyone he loved has long moved on or disappeared. It creates a tragic scenario that emphasizes the importance of missed time.
Riley, Brett A. The Barcelona Review. Web