Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story by Paul Auster is a short story that revolves around Auggie Wren, a cigar shop owner in Brooklyn, and his unique approach to capturing the perfect Christmas picture. Auggie takes a photo of the same street corner every Christmas morning for years, showcasing the changing neighborhood and the people who inhabit it. The story explores themes of time, tradition, and the significance of capturing fleeting moments.
Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story was first published in The New York Times in 1990 and later included in his collection of stories titled “The Red Notebook.”
Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story | Summary
The story begins with the narrator saying that Auggie Wren doesn’t come off as too well in the story he is going to narrate, thus he has decided to keep his name fictional. Auggie and the narrator have known each other for almost eleven years; the former works at a cigar store that the narrator frequents. Auggie is funny and a “strange little man”.
One day, Auggie sees a magazine in a store and stumbles upon a review of one of the narrator’s books, thus changing the narrator’s view in his eyes. Auggie considers himself an artist and asks the narrator to see the photographs he has clicked. The narrator was surprised when he was shown twelve identical photo albums; it was his life’s work, and every morning at 7 a.m., Auggie had been clicking the same view standing at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Clinton Street. As the narrator begins studying his work, he notes that it is the most “bewildering thing ” he has ever seen. All pictures were identical, and he only feigned appreciation. Auggie however, remarks that if he does not see them slowly, he will never understand.
The narrator picks up another album, and going through it slowly realizes that there are subtle differences; in traffic, in the area, and he slowly recognizes the people who are “living an instant of their lives in Auggie’s camera”. The narrator then studies the people in the pictures; slowly, his interest in the albums piques. Auggie had been slowly capturing time and space over the years.
Since that moment, Auggie and the narrator discuss the former’s work many times. In the same week, he receives a call from the New York Times; a man asks him if he would be interested in writing a short story that would appear in the paper on Christmas. The narrator tells him that he will give it a try, but after hanging the phone up, he panics thinking that he barely knows anything about Christmas. He reads Dickens, O. Henry, and other writers who have written about Christmas over the next few weeks. The stories were sentimental, but that’s what Christmas signifies. He unburdens his troubles to Auggie, who tells him that if he bought him lunch, he would tell him the best Christmas story ever.
Auggie tells him the story, set in the summer of 1972. A nineteen or twenty-year-old came and started stealing from the store. Auggie chases him after catching him for about half a block but loses him. As he was running, the kid had dropped something, which Auggie bent to pick up. It was his wallet, which had three or four snapshots along with his driver’s license. His name was Robert Goodwin. Auggie feels sorry for him, and from the pictures, he realizes that he is just a poor kid from Brooklyn.
Auggie holds on to the wallet. He has nothing to do over Christmas and decides to go and return the wallet. He gets to the apartment and rings the bell; an old woman asks who it is, and mistakes the narrator for Robert. She unlocks the door and Auggie notes that she must be almost eighty and is blind. She opens her arms to hug him, saying that she knew her Robert wouldn’t forget his “Granny Ethel”. Auggie, without thinking much, pretends he is indeed Robert. They spend the day together. When Auggie gets hungry, Ethel puts together a decent meal for him, also serving him wine.
He goes to the bathroom and sees six or seven cameras. He tucks one of the brand-new boxes and goes back to the living room. He has never forgiven himself for it. Ethel had fallen asleep, and Auggie put her grandson’s wallet on the table and walked out of the apartment. The narrator asks if he ever went back to see her, and he replies that he did, once after months because he felt bad about stealing the camera. Ethel did not live there anymore; he speculated that she probably died. He concludes that she spent her last Christmas with Auggie, and feels awful that it ended the way it did. The story ends with Auggie flashing a wicked grin, and the narrator realizing that he had made the whole thing up.
Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story | Analysis
The story follows a non-linear plot structure, alternating between the past and the present. The narrator is narrating a story of what Auggie once told him in the present, and the frame story is the one that Auggie tells Paul, the narrator, about Robert Goodwin.
The layering of story upon story is a classic style in Paul Auster’s work. By taking an annual photograph, Auggie emphasizes the importance of preserving memories and cherishing the passage of time. The story beautifully portrays the beauty of ordinary moments and the subtle changes that take place in a community over the years.
Auster employs the symbolism of photography as a means of documenting life and the transient nature of moments. It also prompts readers to reflect on the meaning of tradition and the value of continuity in a changing world.
Moreover, the narrative can be seen as an exploration of how we perceive and interpret the world through our individual lenses, both metaphorically and literally. Auggie’s photos serve as a reflection of his unique perspective and experiences.
Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story | Character Sketch
AUGGIE – Auggie works at a cigar shop in Brooklyn and is a friend of the narrator, Paul. He calls himself an artist and has captured time and space in one single spot over seven years, which he gleefully shows the narrator. He tells the narrator a story about Christmas for the New York Times; however, it is never revealed if it is fabricated or true.
NARRATOR – The narrator (Paul) is a regular at the cigar shop where he met Auggie; he is a writer.
Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story | Theme
By not revealing the narrator’s identity, the focus shifts away from the narrator’s personal experiences and toward the central themes and characters of the story. This allows readers to connect more deeply with the characters and their experiences, emphasizing the broader message of the tale. Additionally, the narrator serves as a vessel to convey Auggie Wren’s story to the readers. As a storyteller, the narrator becomes an intermediary between Auggie and the audience, delivering the account of Auggie’s Christmas tradition in Brooklyn.
The author employs a nostalgic and reflective tone to the story. This tone complements the themes of time passing, memories, and the importance of capturing fleeting moments. By adopting a somewhat distant and contemplative voice, the narrator enhances the emotional impact of the story and allows readers to engage with its universal themes in a personal way.
Paul Auster skillfully weaves a poignant narrative of tradition, time, and the profound impact of capturing fleeting moments in Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story. Through the lens of the anonymous narrator, readers are transported to a Brooklyn street corner where Auggie’s annual photographs become a powerful symbol of the beauty found in the everyday. As the years pass, the story reflects the changing neighborhood and the lives of its inhabitants, emphasizing the importance of preserving memories and cherishing the passage of time. With the narrator’s tender perspective and universal tone, Auster’s story leaves an enduring imprint on our hearts, reminding us to appreciate the significance of the present and the power of memories that shape our lives.