The novel The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break, by Steve Sherrill, is a witty and relatable story about a Minotaur, worn down from thousands of years alive, living day by day with several obstacles, both physical and emotional. He works at a restaurant, fixes cars, lives in a trailer park, and falls in love. He longs often to be fully human, fully accepted, without impaired speech and vision. However, through his trials and tribulations, he realizes, and so does the reader, that perhaps no one is fully human. No one is free of flaw; no one is free of struggle.
The element of Sherrill’s novel that I will be discussing is motif. Motif, motif, motif. There is no one passage that well-encapsulates this element. It appears, like the Minotaur’s emotions and his being, scattered and stretched over time in varying degrees. Sherrill’s use of motif illustrates the long and repetitive life of the Minotaur, while also showing areas in his life where he can find solace, feel more human, escape, or develop as an individual. As the motifs make sense of the Minotaur, the reader can empathize and take an introspective approach, highlighting that perhaps the Minotaur isn’t all that different, besides having a bull head. The re-occurence of certain themes (which is what motif is) happens often for the Minotaur, more often than it does for an average human. Cigarette breaks are prominent in the narrative and show a need to take a breather, prepare for a stressful situation, or unwind from one. The following quote is an example of the cigarette break and its effect: “‘What a fuckup,’ somebody said. ‘Go have a smoke,’ Hernando said, starting to clean up the mess. They look out for each other; it’s one of the things the Minotaur likes about the kitchen” (6).
The cigarette break provides solace from an uncomfortable situation, both for the Minotaur and the audience, and it appears several other times throughout the story. But cigarette breaks are not the only form of solace that the Minotaur finds.
The second motif to be discussed is the Minotaur’s knack for fixing things, cars and clothes specifically. Often when we fix things, we have control. The Minotaur does not have a whole lot of control over his life, as his strength and fervor have been worn down by thousands of years wandering the Earth. The continuous desire, despite how tedious, to fix things and have control is juxtaposed with this helplessness in social settings and with his ability to control his horns, tongue, and snout. Sewing, in particular, also highlights the Minotaur’s desire to be more human, to be more normal, more relatable. He does, however, also use it as solace.
“The Minotaur taught himself to sew. Years ago, too far back to remember, the Minotaur resolved to cover his nakedness, resigned himself to the continuous struggle of repair and upkeep” (82).
“When the Minotaur can’t sleep he finds something to mend. Sometimes he sews until morning” (83).
As explained in the quotes above, the Minotaur sews to clothe himself, a human habit, despite the struggle he must endure to do so. And he finds solace in sewing when he can’t sleep, burdened by dreams and thoughts of the past.
Sherrill was inspired by his first Minotaur book, which was a poem, to write this story. Because of this, I have decided to write a poem about his use of motif throughout the story to create depth of character and relatability.
Solace, Human, Solace
Smoke, through face black and furry
Black and furry is his also
And hers as well
Solace is the cigarette break
For bull and human alike
Lungs fill, forcing deep breath
Mend and sew and mend
And fix ourselves, thus cloning
Fit a mold of masculinity
Fit a mold of human
But then, what is flaw?
Bullish head on man-ish body?
Monter in the flesh
Conform, Rinse, Repeat
Motif after the verse
Drill becomes familiar to all
Routine becomes escape
Hide and seek is most competitive
Human always hides