Wolf in White Van Wolf in White Van question


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Why did Sean do what he did?
Dan Knight Dan Oct 30, 2014 04:01PM
I guess part of the point of the book is that there isn't exactly a simple reason for why Sean shot himself (or for anything, for that matter), but I'm still wondering if there are clues I didn't pick up on. In the last chapter he seemed happy (the meeting with Kimmy, listening to music, etc) and then he just picked up the gun and shot himself. It seemed to me his mental state was deteriorating over the last couple of pages but I'm not sure what triggered that. What are everyone's thoughts/interpretations?



I wish I had the book in front of me, but the last few sentences of the book point to some sort of blank horror or nausea at all the possible decisions Sean feels he could make as he stands in the hall with the gun outside his parents room. So many stories, so many narratives, so many possible futures, all which (i think from Sean's P.O.V. and his obsessions with Tales of Conan) end darkly and bleakly. So, it's almost as if one is chosen for him (at random? because he wants? i think we'll never know) and that one happens to be shooting himself.

There's a quote from the bell jar: "I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet."

Instead of being oppressed by the multiplicity of it all and choosing no path, like Sylvia, Sean chooses the path of self annihilation, like any barbarian would do.

Just my personal thoughts.


I imagine it's probably passé to attribute it to him being a dumb teenager without a fully developed frontal lobe, and therefore a lack of impulse control.


I don't think there was a reason. Even if there was a reason(unnamed)for it at the time, he can't tell us because that person, that version of Sean, is dead.

It made me think of the passage about the dead Fortune Teller he put in the game. The guy with all the answers is dead, so the best you can do is rummage through what's left of his things. The answer is in there somewhere but it's hidden behind so many puzzles - and an understanding of unearthly science - that no person could ever decode it.

Sean says:

“There’s power in thinking you’re about to meet somebody who knows what’s next for you, and there’s another level of power in seeing that person’s body on the floor, having to get the information from him somehow now that he’s no longer in any condition to give it.”


Agree with the commenters before me. I don't think anyone, not even Sean, know why he did it. I couldn't help but think of the Émile Durkheim book On Suicide, which I read in college. It's possible Durkheim's theory has been debunked, but he described some suicides as being "anomic." That is, a person kills him or herself because of a "lack of social direction" (quote from Wikipedia article as I don't have the book in front of me). I kind of thought Sean might have been attempting that, that he just felt so aimless and instead of hope for his future, he wanted to give up and fix himself at a point in time.


This is what I think:
He did it because there was always something evil/wrong in him. That people like him have this brooding wolf in a white van [soul], so one day he was obviously going to snap. Like he said, it could have been years down the line, no matter who he grew into, he was destined to snap.
Remember how he said he pictured himself as Conan, not the code driven warrior, but a blood thirsty barbarian? That would be the first indication in his life that something was wrong, that he wasn't normal. He was always obsessed with darker things.
Another interesting point is the idea of Sean being corrupted on a spiritual level. Something bad happens to everyone he comes into contact with. Their minds seem to slip as they converse more and more with him.

More importantly, just like the Trace, this book is a maze. The point of it is to make us dig deep and try to figure out what happened to him, to 'find the exit.' But there isn't an exit so we run and run trying to find out where Sean went wrong. But some people just break and that's all there is to it.


I don't think there is a reason, and Sean knows it. Perhaps making out with Kimmy, and her revelation that she believed in Jesus, just made him feel more alone than he had previously.

However, he had put the rifle under his bed prior to that happening. I think what was important was that, despite the fact that he was considering killing his parents first, he decided not to, thus choosing his path, much like the game he creates.

Anyway, I don't think the author or the narrator are ever sure why, and I for one, enjoy unanswered questions in fiction.


Jason (last edited Nov 15, 2014 03:53AM ) Nov 15, 2014 03:52AM   0 votes
I think we're not meant to know. The book is full of red herrings: role playing games, strange mail-order music, fantasy fiction and a strange discussion of subliminal messages in songs (the wolf in white van image that gives the book its title), but ultimately there is no reason.


There is a reason - discovering the reason is the point of the book - the quest of the reader - just like Sean's players were on quests, Darnielle has we the readers doing the same thing. The book is a game parallel to the puzzles within the book - hence the maze cover. I will put my theories in my review, but two clues are "I did something terrible to his son" and "I was going to be lonely anyway", which combines for the third clue which is that Sean never once showed or expressed remorse. The fourth and fifth clues are that the exit would was near his nose and the shooting happened after the fling with Kimmy

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Stuart McArthur Thanks Jason - I'll be interested in your take on my take. Sean's life game also is far from finished, still an unsolvable puzzle as you say. But his ...more
Mar 02, 2015 02:09PM · flag
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Jason I've read your review. Really interesting. I need to process it a little more and maybe take another look at a few sections. The biggest piece of evid ...more
Mar 02, 2015 03:01PM · flag

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