On the surface, Phillip Lopate’s story, “The Tender Stranger”, is a short account of two people who bump into each other on the street, apologize, and then go their separate ways. Because this story is told in the first person point of view, we find that this is a much more complex story, about a fourth grade boy who feels a profound connection with a thoughtful stranger he collides with on his way to school. This connection is so profound that the boy has the urge to call the man, “daddy,” and from then on, he rounds the corner recklessly in hopes that he might bump in to the man again.
By using first person point of view, Lopate allows us to identify with the child’s innocence and curiosity. The writer uses sophisticated language in this piece, so it is apparent that this has been written in retrospect, however we are still able to recognize the boy’s childishness because we are allowed insight into his thought process. One example of where Lopate writes with sophisticated language, but where you can also see the boy’s inexperience and curiosity is in the line that says, “suddenly the words Notary Public popped into my mind. I had read them on golden decals in store windows and wondered often what they meant. ‘Are you a Notary Public?’ I asked” (Lopate 180). This sentence is well-crafted, but the thought process displayed in the sentence is callow. The boy has no reason to make the guess that the man works as a notary public; the words simply pop into his head, and then he blurts them out. If this story had been written from an objective point of view, we would not have known the boy’s reasoning for asking the man if he was a notary public, and the question would have seemed random.
Consider that the story had been written from an objective point of view: a boy bumps into a man as he is rounding a street corner. The man makes sure the boy is okay, and they exchange a few words. The man tells the boy he should visit his office some time. The last part, where the man invites the boy to visit his office, might seem alarming if the story were written from an objective point of view, or in the third person point of view. However, because we know that the boy is feeling a paternal connection to this stranger, we assume both characters feel this connection, and we do not automatically jump to questioning the intentions of either character.
From the start we feel what the speaker feels and think what the speaker thinks as he walks us through his experience. He is not angry with this stranger for knocking into him, and he even admits that his fall was melodramatic. He says, “I nodded, laughing now at the comic spill I had taken, like a cartoon character. How could I explain to him that it had been a pleasure to fly through air, that there was something even comforting about a collision with such a manly, yet considerate, adult as this stranger.” The fact that this boy could feel such a connection with a stranger seems peculiar at first, but since we are allowed insight into the speaker’s mind, we understand that he feels a deep, paternal connection to the stranger, and that it comes about as a natural feeling.