Sunday, August 12, 2012

From a Boy to an Adult

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Alistair MacLeod’s “To Every Thing There Is a Season” is an exemplary illustration of an initiation or coming of age story. MacLeod effectively portrays the confusing feelings that accompany the narrator’s sudden and abrupt transition from the magical world of being a child into the harsher reality of adulthood. MacLeod uses an extraordinary amount of symbols and imagery to depict this.

The story begins with an introduction to an eleven-year-old boy, caught between being a child and becoming an adult. His childlike innocence is fading. MacLeod uses the symbol of snowflakes to illustrate the pureness of the child. “The large flakes were soft and new then and almost generous, and the earth to which they fell was still warm . . . they disappeared at the moment of contact” (MacLeod, 0-10). “When we turned to leave, it fell upon our footprints, and as the night wore on obliterated them and all the records of our movements” (MacLeod, 10). The disappearance of the snowflakes and footprints represents the fading of his innocence. Just as the snowflakes disappeared, his innocence is also disappearing as he moves closer to becoming an adult. MacLeod also uses the image of the children trick-or-treating to depict the innocence within the boy. “We carried out pillowcases from house to house, knocking on doors to become silhouettes in the light thrown out from kitchens (white pillowcases held out by whitened forms)” (MacLeod, 10). The “white pillowcases” and “whitened forms” represent the child’s innocence.

A major symbol of the narrator’s childhood, is Santa Claus and the narrator’s belief in him. “I am troubled myself about the nature of Santa Claus and I am trying to hang on to him in any way that I can. It is true that at my age I no longer really believe in him, yet I have hoped in all his possibilities as fiercely as I can . . . ” (MacLeod, 10). The narrator is struggling with his belief in Santa Claus. He wants to believe in him still, but at his age, he feels that he shouldn’t. “. . . I seek sanctuary and reinforcement even in an ignorance I know I dare not trust” (MacLeod, 11). His belief in Santa Claus helps him face the hardships in life, like his father’s illness and his brother being so far away. His father tells him to “hang on to the good things in our lives as long as we are able.” (MacLeod, 11). So he hangs onto his belief of Santa.

The image of the ocean beginning to freeze over represents the commencing of the boy’s transition into becoming an adult. “The ocean is flat and calm and along the coast, in the scooped-out coves, has turned to an icy slush” (MacLeod, 1). The water has not yet completely frozenly, symbolizing that he is not yet left his childhood completely behind him. “The clothes my mother hangs on the line are frozen almost instantly . . .” (MacLeod, 1). This again illustrates the boy’s transition from a child (the wet clothes) to an adult (the frozen clothes).

When the narrator’s older brother comes home for Christmas, the boy hopes that he can be a child again, and that his brother “. . . will be happy and strong and confident for us all” (MacLeod, 14). Unknown to him, his time as a child is now limited, as he will soon find out the truth about Santa Claus (the one thing that still holds him in the world of a child) and enter the world of an adult. “The boxes are filled with gifts neatly wrapped and bearing tags. The ones for my younger brothers say “from Santa Claus” but mine are not among them any more, as I know with certainty they will never be again” (MacLeod, 17). He knows the truth about Santa Claus now and has finally completed the transition from a child to an adult.

Alistair MacLeod uses the powerful effect of imagery and symbols to exemplify the boy’s transition from a child to an adult. This development in the narrator makes “To Every Thing There Is a Season” a perfect example of an initiation or coming of age story. MacLeod, Alistair. “To Every Thing There Is a Season.” Island The Collected Short Stories of Alistair MacLeod. Toronto McClelland & Stewart, 000. 0-17.

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