“20/20” by Linda Brewer Summary, Analysis & Meaning of Short Story

“20/20” is a micro fiction short story by Linda Brewer. It’s a popular story for older students and is often anthologized. It’s about a man and woman on a road trip, what they see on the way, and how they see each other. This “20/20” analysis starts with a summary of “20/20” then looks at themes.

“20/20” Short Story Summary

Bill and Ruthie are on a road trip across the US, from Ohio, where Ruthie is from, to Washington. Ruthie is a good driving companion—she splits the gas and drives well—but she doesn’t debate anything. He’s used to East Coast women who argue everything. She only makes simple statements about what she sees.

Bill rests his eyes on the third evening and Ruthie drives. She sees a flower, an Indian paintbrush. Bill doesn’t think those flowers grow near Chicago.

The next evening, Ruthie sees Bigfoot. Looking back, Bill see reflectors on a tree stump. Bill says he’ll switch places with her.

Ruthie is glad she came. As they continue she sees wonderful sights, including a white buffalo and a UFO.

In Spokane, she sees Bill as a handsome genius. He doesn’t make an issue of it.

(End of “20/20” summary)

20/20 by Linda Brewer Short Story Summary Analysis Theme Sparknotes
“20/20” Linda Brewer Summary & Analysis

“20/20” Theme Analysis: Perception

Bill and Ruthie interpret the things they see very differently. Bill accepts what he sees at face value. Ruthie applies a fanciful lens to what she sees, with her perceptions getting gradually more quixotic.

Along the way Ruthie sees:

  • A type of flower (Indian paintbrush) that probably doesn’t grow in the area
  • A golden eagle, which is not likely to be in the area
  • Bigfoot
  • White Buffalo
  • a UFO

Bill sees none of those things. The one time we’re told he checked (for Bigfoot), he saw two reflectors nailed to a tree stump. This is the incident that makes Bill wonder if Ruthie should be driving. Perhaps she’s mentally unstable.

We also see a change in how Bill perceives Ruthie.

At the beginning, he views her in general terms, as a “driving companion”. She’s adequate in this regard. He sees her refusal, or inability, to argue anything as a deficiency, and her simple statements about their surroundings as a result of her limited experience.

Midway through, Bill starts to wonder about her fanciful statements, which culminates in him getting uncomfortable with her driving. Now, he perceives Ruthie as potentially delusional and, thus, dangerous.

At the end, Bill let’s her perception “ride”, that is, he won’t argue it. This turning point is brought on by her perceiving him as “a handsome genius”. Rather than viewing this as another delusion, he accepts it. The implication is that Bill is now attracted to Ruthie, that she’s much more than a “driving companion”.

“20/20” Theme Analysis: Objectivity and Subjectivity

Another part of perception is the difference between objectivity and subjectivity, and the point where they overlap in “20/20”.

Ruthie‘s perceptions start out objective—she sees cows and other unnamed common things—and then they turn subjective. The dividing line seems to be the Indian paintbrush and the golden eagle she spots near Chicago. They’re normal things to see, but it’s unlikely either of them were actually there.  After this, she starts claiming to see things that are unusual and definitely not there.

Ruthie’s last subjective perception is of Bill as “a handsome genius”. Although this is pure opinion, we also can’t say it’s objectively wrong. Now, the line between objective and subjective perception isn’t clear. If this subjective perception of Bill is accurate to Ruthie, it’s as good as objectively true for her.

Bill has a strong preference for objective perception. He doesn’t claim to see anything that’s not there. He gets worried that Ruthie’s claims indicate mental instability.

The line between objective and subjective perception gets blurred for Bill when Ruthie sees him as “a handsome genius”. This makes him lose his love for debate. Bill accepts Ruthie’s perception of him, which also changes his perception of her.

Bill’s change might be foreshadowed by the subjective opinion he expresses at the beginning, that East Coast women dispute everything all the time. This is obviously an exaggeration and pure opinion, but it could be true to Bill based on his perception. He’s clearly capable of accepting subjective perceptions as reality, which he does again at the conclusion.

I hope this “20/20” Linda Brewer short story summary, analysis and look at themes was a helpful Sparknotes substitute.