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Did you know that when they taught the first chimp to talk, it lied? That when they asked her who did it on the desk, she signed back the name of the janitor. (1)

Amy Hempel’s story “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried” follows a symbol of a chimp, which was first introduced by the speaker telling her friend about the first speaking chimp on page one. The chimp symbolizes their friendship that had faded after a diagnosis with cancer. The speaker feeling guilty over the space that entered the relationship, and lying about her reasoning on being so distant. Once the friend passes, the speaker references the chimp for a final time on page ten.

I think of the chimp, the one with the talking hands.

In the course of the experiment, that chimp had a baby. Imagine how her trainers must have thrilled when the mother, without prompting, began to sign to her newborn.

Completing the “Chekhov’s gun” concept, the speaker expresses the guilt she feels by her inability to talk to her friend, as more than a cancer patient. The sign language used by the chimp symbolizes the ability to tell the speaker’s friend what she feels, without the use of words.

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