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In Praise of Pip

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“In Praise of Pip"
from The Twilight Zone

Child neglect is the theme of The Twilight Zone episode "In Praise of Pip".  On the surface, the story is a simple one: Max Phillips, an absentee father, rues the poor relationship that he had with his son Pip and gets another chance to amend that which he regrets.  The complexity involves the literary sources that writer Rod Serling draws upon and the cinematic touches that he employs to tell the tale.

      "In Praise of Pip" borrows from two literary giants - O. Henry and Charles Dickens.  In both "In Praise of Pip" and O. Henry's "A Retrieved Reformation", men who are involved in illegal activities find redemption through the love of those dear to them.  Pip from Dickens' Great Expectations is an orphan who in spite of his deprived background develops into a trouble-free youth.  Pip Phillips is somewhat of an orphan: He has no mother (denying him the strongest link with love) and a father who occasionally extends to his son one hour of his time on weekends.  Pip could have been involved in criminal activities like the wayward George; in fact, George and Pip have similarities.  Both have blond hair and cleft chins (seen when George enters Max's apartment and looks to our right at Max whose extended body covers the left photograph of Pip and the older Pip looks to our left).  George uses Max's expression "to laugh" in a like-father like-son fashion.  It is not until the final scene, that we learn that Pip lives up to his name (pip means wonderful) when he remembers his father with affection.

      Even though Max mourns both the loss of Pip and the loss of quality time, it is evident that there is link between them in spite of their geographic separation.  A jump cut establishes the connection between two people who experience pain: Pip's is physical; Max's is emotional/spiritual.  When Max awakens, he looks at the picture of his son on the dresser.  Max saves George from his criminal employer Moran, a life of crime and time in prison as a means of atoning for the guilt feelings he has for his son.  Max's dying thoughts concern Pip.  In the end, Pip speaks well of his father.

      To illustrate how much of a rut Max's life is (drinking, working for Moran, and guilt), circles are present in the story.  The wheels of the gurney and the overhead lights in the operating room are round.  The metalwork of the doors to the amusement park curve around.  The rides in the amusement park are circular - from the ferris wheel to the carousal to the shooting gallery where the ducks move around.  Max gets cotton candy which is spun around a paper cone.  There are holes in the metal bars in the House of Mirrors.  The name Pip is a palindrome.  The palindrome “pop” is on a vane-like apparatus which spins around in the episode’s closing image.

      To illustrate the lack of quality time that Max spent with his son, the concept of part is evident in many forms.  The following body parts are heard: abdomen, head, back, face, eye, heart, carcass, jaws, (the name Phil)lips.  Max describes Pip as "the good part of me, the clean part, the part I was proud of".  Max last sees Pip in a piece of the wall length mirror which shatters.  Pip is a part of Phillips.  Moran mocks sentimentality when George pleads for the return of the money: "You're tearing me to pieces, kid."

      The number two is used throughout the story.  It not only gives meaning (and foreshadow) Max's need to have a second chance with his son, but it suggests the separation between the Max and Pip; they are not together.  They are one physically when they meet at the amusement park when Max hugs, gives a piggyback ride to, and puts his arms around Pip when he fires the rifle.

1.    The story is set in two countries: Vietnam
         (which was divided
into North and South) and
          the United States.
2.    Two men carry a stretcher which holds Pip
          Phillips (who has
two P’s in his full name).
3.    The doctor describes Pip's injuries: shrapnel
          in the abdomen
and extensive tissue damage.
4.    The doctor has two wishes for Pip - that he
          live a long life
and that he has someone to
          mourn him.
5. Max turns two lights on.
6. The opening narration contains two
of adjectives: "drab and
          undistinguished" and "shiny and clean". 
       7. Max's relationship with Pip was tarnished by 
          alcoholism and
his involvement in illegal 
       8. Events occur in two apartments: Max's and
Both have two visitors: Max is
          visited by his landlady and George;
Moran is
          visited by Max and George.
9. Two characters who are lying down react to
          pain - Pip and Max.
10. There are two pictures of Pip on Max's
          dresser; there are two lights 
about Max's 
          bed, and two pictures about Moran's couch;
          there are
two bottles of beer on Moran's. 
          Max's landlady comments that
his room smells 
         "like a brewery".

      11. Max uses two bottles: alcohol and scent to 
          hide the smell of the
other.  He drinks
          coffee, a second liquid.

      12. Max expresses a love for both his landlady
          and her astute 

      13. Max asks George if he has two cigarettes.

      14. Max says that George has a "second guesser

      15. Max reclines and waxes philosophic about
          George's financial problems
in both his and
          Moran's apartments.

      16. Max returns the money twice to George.

      17. In Moran's hotel room,

   a. Moran accuses Max of "double crossing" him.

   b. Max sits at two different chairs at the

   c. Max threatens Moran and his bodyguard.

   d. Moran's bodyguard intervenes for his
            employer, and Max intervenes
for George.

   e. Both Max and the bodyguard are mortally
            wounded with stomach
injuries in Moran's
            apartment.  Both George and Moran will live.

      18. Max makes two imprecations to God, both of
          which apply to Pip;
the first involves
          talking to and seeing his son.

      19. There are two scenes in Vietnam.

      20. The amusement park which has two gate doors
          comes alive twice. 
As he moves unsteadily,
          two places (“Shops Restaurants”) are
indicated above.

      21. Pip asks for cotton candy and to have fun
          on the rides.

      22. If Pip appears when he is 10 years old, then
          it can be assumed that
the soldier Pip is 20.
          Max does tell Moran that he should have quit
          10 years ago because it interfered with his
          Pip whose relationship
with his father was
          negatively affected at age 10.

      23. Max asks Pip to excuse him for being drunk
          and being used as a shill.

      24. Expressions are heard twice: "It's to laugh",
         "I mean it",
"What's to do?", "No" and "Thank
          you", "... is dying", "I've been
         "You're ten years old .... I don't
          understand", "Sure
we can", "What's the
          matter?", "You have to understand", "I loved
          you", "The hour's up", "Why?", "Hey, God",
         "Take me".

      25. Pip shoots from two rows of ducks.

      26. Mirrors which produce a second image is
          evident in Max's room
and in the amusement
          park.  Max loses Pip twice in the House of 

      27. Max humbles himself before Pip (as he sits
          on the floor and
Pip stands above him) and
          God (as he lies face down in the street 
with his arms extended).

      28. Max tells God that he is aging and weak.

      29. Max saves the lives of George and Pip.

      30. Pip appears twice at the amusement park.

      31. Pip uses rifles twice in the story.

      32. In the second scene set in the amusement
          park, Pip has two 
memories of his father:
         "Work the gun, not the jaws" and 
"Who's your
          best buddy?"

      33. In the closing narration, "the ties of flesh
          are deep and strong".

Obviously, much thought went into this story which was meant to touch the viewer on many levels.  This was, indeed, Rod Serling at his best.

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