By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)
‘I See You Never’ is a short story by Ray Bradbury (1920-2012), published in 1947. One of Bradbury’s shortest stories, ‘I See You Never’ is about a Mexican man who, after two-and-a-half years living in the United States, is told he must leave the country because his visa has expired. The story focuses on his emotional farewell to his landlady.
‘I See You Never’: plot summary
This very short story is about Mr Ramirez, a Mexican man who has been working in the United States for two-and-a-half years. He likes living and working in the US, but his visa has expired and the police have shown up to ensure that he is deported back to Mexico.
The story is set at the house of Mrs O’Brian, his landlady, who rents out rooms in her house. He has been living there for over two years. At the beginning of the story, Mr Ramirez shows up at her house with the two policemen, in order to say his last farewells to Mrs O’Brian before he is taken away.
Mr Ramirez bids a tearful goodbye to his landlady, whose three sons and two daughters are sitting at the kitchen table and eating a meal. We are told some information about Mr Ramirez: about how he had come to work in the States on a temporary visa during the Second World War and helped to build parts of aeroplanes, and how he had bought a radio and walked around the city and ridden the streetcars and gone to the theatre.
He tells Mrs O’Brian that he is going back to Mexico, and returns his key to her. Although Mrs O’Brian’s children want her to come and eat her dinner, she refuses to be rushed, wanting to say goodbye to her tenant – whom she says has been a very good tenant – before he leaves. He tells her he doesn’t want to leave, and she says she wishes there was something she could do that would make it possible for him to stay.
Mr Ramirez is then taken away by the policemen, after exclaiming to his landlady, ‘I see you never!’ several times. When he has gone, Mrs O’Brian sits down at the dinner table with her children, and the realisation that she will never see him again hits her for the first time.
‘I See You Never’: analysis
‘I See You Never’ was published in 1947, just two years after the end of the Second World War. Although the story does not explicitly state this, it’s clear that he was allowed to work in the US during the war, being granted a work visa for the duration of the war. After peace was declared, Mr Ramirez’s visa would have expired, although during the two-and-a-half years he has been living in the US, it’s obvious he has developed a fondness for it and doesn’t want to leave.
Bradbury doesn’t allow his narrator to express a strong political position on the matter of whether Mexican workers like Mr Ramirez should have been offered the opportunity to apply for permanent residence in the US, but the scene depicted in ‘I See You Never’ reveals the regrettable situation of a man who has come to love America and its culture, who has found work in the country, and who longs to stay, but who is not allowed to.
The title of the story emphasises Mr Ramirez’s non-standard English (which is presumably his second language, after Spanish) but also reveals a profound emotional truth: when he leaves the US, it will be for good, and he will never see Mrs O’Brian, or America, again. ‘I See You Never’ may inspire a wry smile from the no-nonsense policeman who is accompanying Mr Ramirez to border control, but this four-word sentence hits home more powerfully for its imperfect use of English grammar.
Perhaps, rather than making an explicit political statement, Bradbury is setting out to show the pathos of such a situation whereby an immigrant who clearly loves his adopted country cannot remain there.
It’s telling that Bradbury gives the landlady an Irish name: Mrs O’Brian is herself, if not an immigrant herself, then the child of immigrants, potentially at one or two generations’ remove. (Many Irish people emigrated to the United States in the second half of the nineteenth century in the wake of the Irish potato famine.) This may help partly to explain her natural sympathies for Mr Ramirez, and her desire to help him, if only she could.
‘I See You Never’ is, in the last analysis, a story about the American Dream: that ideal, or belief, that anyone, regardless of their background, can make a success of their lives if they come to America. Mr Ramirez appears to have helped America in the war effort (was it fighter planes he was helping to build, or even the planes which dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, one wonders?), and he has fully embraced American culture: the streetcars, the radio, the theatre, even the advertisements. He is drawn to it all. Yet the American Dream, it would seem, is not available to all comers: despite his best attempts, he is told he must return to Mexico.