Study and Discussion Questions for Fredric Brown's "Arena" [1944]

Brown's "Arena" continues the bug-eyed monster approach to alien contact, that was countered to some extent by Weinbaum's earlier story.  It is not difficult to see that "Arena" is a WWII story, displacing some of the wartime anxieties and fears into a science fictional setting.  As you read "Arena," consider how the Red Roller might stand in for some of our opponents in the war, perhaps evidencing how cultures justify their actions in war by dehumanizing an enemy.  Here are some issues to consider:

  1. What justifies Carson's survival in single combat vs. the Red Roller?  That is, which of Carson's characteristics and actions demonstrate that he--more so than the Red Roller--satisfies the conditions for survival set forth by the superior alien entity? [231-32].  Through these characteristics, does Carson somehow identify specific qualities that distinguish the human from the alien and therefore define what it is that makes us human?

  2. Does any of the language of this story direct us--implicitly if not self-consciously--to see the Red Roller as a displacement of a particular enemy of the allies in WWII?

  3. What conclusions can you draw about the alien entity that intervenes and establishes the single combat warrior solution to the impending and potentially devastating war?  Can you identify any religious, specifically Old Testament overtones to Brown's presentation of this entity?  Does the entity also represent a commentary on evolution and spirituality?

  4. What elements of romance mode appear in this story?

If you are interested in Brown, look for a copy of Nightmares and Geezensticks [1961]; it includes 38 stories, most of which are humorous vignettes loaded with puns--his specialty.  He was best known for short stories ending with a "twist," sort of science fictional O'Henry pieces, except that Brown's stories often conclude with a groan producing pun or cute punch line.  What Mad Universe [1949] and Martians Go Home [1955] are his best known novels.  The former is an alternate world story in which sf conventions become part of our "true" history; the latter depicts an Earth infested with little green men who drive everyone crazy but who seem to be manifestations of an sf writer's imagination, but the writer then seems to exist in the imagination of yet another being, etc...