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English - Horses of the night

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Alice Talia

on 1 November 2012

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Transcript of English - Horses of the night

Horses of the night Helpful information - PART 1: Margaret Laurence was very clear in her purpose with her short story "Horses of the Night". The main character Chris was clearly suffering from depression and lived in a world completely made up of delusions. This story really puts the emphasis on the difficulties of someone going through depression and proving that it is something that is easily covered up. Her main purpose was to emphasize her theme and prove that people often feel the need to escape the real world but that one cannot really run away from reality. One must confront them and try and find solutions. Helpful information - PART 2: Margaret Laurence was a Canadian novelist and short story writer. She lived from 1926 - 1987. Much of Margaret's life influenced her writing. One of the main aspects that contributed to her work were her origins. Margaret Laurence grew up in small town Manitoba. This influenced much of her writing. The town in which she grew up in, Neepwa, was the influence for the town in "Horses of the Night": Manawaka. This fictional town, in Manitoba, is very similar to Neepwa. Laurence used Manawaka in many of her works, including "The Stone Angel" and "The Diviners". Helpful Information - PART 3: There is an important allusion: elegy XIII of The Art of Love by the Roman classical author Ovid (Slowly, slowly, horses of the night) --> more in depth later. Theme "Horses of the Night" discusses the need to escape reality, the necessity for it in some cases, especially when one's reality is too difficult to cope with. Chris, throughout the entire story, was trying to get away from his life, his reality.(p.294) He lived in a poor family, small house, terrible living conditions.(p.295) However when Vanessa met him for the first time she did not see that part of him. All he let on was that he was happy. He never showed any disappointed or angry emotions. He always acted indifferent, even when their grandfather was having one of his fits, yelling at him. He just let it roll off his back like water on a duck. But the narrator, Vanessa, was able to tell sometimes when he was uncomfortable. For example, whenever someone would ask about his family he was reserved in his response, "restrained". This was because he was embarrassed of his reality, and thus proving that he rather live in his own dimension.
-Chris cannot confront/accept reality, and lives in an imaginary delusion. Eg.He could not accept that he was poor so he exaggerated about Shallow Creek, leading Vanessa to believe that he lived on a lovely ranch in a house made of majestic trees, when in fact his house was an old shack.
-He also exaggerates about his horses, Duchess and Firefly, who were supposed to be fast and sleek, like race horses, when in fact these horses did not even exist. He did have horses, although they were slow plough horses, nothing like he had described or implied. Horses of the night is the story of a young girl, Vanessa and her cousin Chris. Vanessa is much younger than Chris and does not understand the difficulties of life as one grows up. Chris is going through a depression and needs to find his own means of coping with this problem. Vanessa again is in the dark about this until much later because she is too young to comprehend what it is the be in depression. Margaret Laurence tells the story of how depression can have it's effect on each person individually. That previous point leads into one of the partial themes of this short story, that of depression, and its insensibility and possibility to affect anyone. There is an ironic aspect in the story, as already mentioned, in the fact that the Great Depression is partially what causes Chris' depression. This depression links up to the main theme because it is what makes Chris feel the need to escape this world and create his own. (p.288) Chris never shows any emotion: he doesn’t react to criticism, or fights going on around him as he lives in a different world. When he was unable to continue on to university, he again does not show any emotion. Just because he doesn’t show emotion, this does not mean he has no emotion. He actually has a lot of pain, and hurt- this comes out when he talks to Vanessa when they are camping out in the bluff near the hayfields. He has no one in his life to talk to apart from Vanessa, as his father died when he was young, and Vanessa’s father, Ewen, also dies when she is young. At end of the short story, Vanessa hints that she knew that Chris was very depressed. His false sense of optimism( eg travelling salesman, different sales schemes) was actually a cover for his depression at being unable to fulfill his childhood dreams. This depression was why he felt the need to escape the real world and create his own (as previously mentioned). One important theme that Margaret Laurence was trying to get across was the following: one cannot run away from pain, nor reality. One must confront them and try to find solutions, if not, like Chris, one will descend into the darkness of the night. Horses of the night travel slowly unable to see where they are going; Chris ends up like a horse of the night-lost, no longer aware of who he is, nor where he is. Reference to Ovid’s poem that night is beautiful. In this story, night refers to the world of fantasy and illusion to which Chris adheres; this is in contrast to daytime and reality which he can not accept nor deal with. With his mental breakdown, he becomes a horse of the night. Chris’ life can be compared to his imaginary sleek racehorses, who have a lot of potential, however he ends up like the horses in the war that Ewen described to him, sinking in the mud with eyes full of fear. He loses his confrontation with reality, and ends up in a mental institution. One final point Laurence got across was the message that escapism does not protect one from reality; when Chris joins the Army to escape his reality at home, he confronts the much harsher reality of war and death, and this drives him insane. This is seen from Chris’ words in his final letter to Vanessa, “..they could force his body to march and even to kill but they didn’t know that he’d fooled them. He didn’t live inside it any more.” Horses of the Night is a short story written by Margaret Laurence. The narrator is Vanessa who meets Chris for the first time when she is six. Chris has to move from his home in Shallow Creek in order to attend high school in Manawaka. Vanessa describes Chris to be handsome. Chris introduces himself by only saying “hi”. Vanessa gets this feeling of warmth and friendliness from him. He spends the next three months in the brick house with Grandma and Grandpa Connor. As time passes by Vanessa and Chris become good friends. He is creative, entertaining and fascinating to her, almost as though he is a kid himself. Chris would tell Vanessa of Shallow Creek; the amazing house and lake and more importantly his two beautiful horses Duchess and Firefly who could one day be race horses. It is evident to Vanessa that Chris is a dreamer. Chris is determined to finish high school, go to college and become an engineer. Before Chris leaves, Vanessa goes into the brick house and tells Chris about how she would one day like to travel. She worries about his response assuming that he say that girls aren’t meant to travel. To her surprise he encourages her to pursue her dreams. When Chris’ mother writes to her family a month later, they discover that Chris had taken the earlier train to Winnipeg. Chris becomes a traveler and after two years comes back to Manawaka selling vacuums. He is trying to save enough money in order to go to college. The next time he comes back he is selling socks. Vanessa, who remembers many of Chris’ stories, decides to spend a week in Shallow Creek with Chris. She is amazed by how different things seemed to the elements in Chris’ stories. Soon after the War begins, Chris joins the Army. He eventually becomes violent, something Vanessa never could associate with him. Vanessa then receives a letter and refuses to tell her mother the content of it. After six months she finds out the Chris is dismissed into a mental institution because of a mental breakdown. Chris refuses to ever be violent again. Plot summary Symbolism
Symbolism is the main fiction element in the story. Symbols are conveyed through multiple factors that explain the main character, Chris’ personality. These mostly emphasize on Chris’s attempt to escape from reality. The children in the story such as Vanessa and Chris’ younger sister represent the innocent side of Chris. Children are creative, enthusiastic and imaginative. Their perspective on life is much happier and Chris has these qualities. This is what allows him to stay positive and aspire to be much more. One example would be when Chris is talking about dinosaurs to Vanessa. He explains how millions of years ago these creatures used to walk the earth and leave foot prints in mud. This segment as many others come from Chris’ desire for imagination which is linked to childhood and innocence. When Chris is in this state of mind it allows him to slip into his depression. He wants to live the life of a child, so carefree without facing the harsh realities of life. Chris believes that when he grows into a man he will go to university and become and engineer such as those who built the Golden Gate Bridge as he mentions. He is unaware of his status and ability, which makes this aspiration of his that much difficult. Chris is never able to fully grow up and when reality hits him it end up destroying him.
Another major symbol would be the saddle that is mentioned at the beginning of the story and the end. The saddle symbolises Chris’ means of escaping reality. The crisscross carved into the saddle is the same one use in the description of Chris’s ranch. Chris describes his ranch with a lake that is similar to an inland sea and a house made forever growing trees with lushes green leaves. In other word he describes this land of paradise which the reader later on discovers that only he lives in. When Vanessa visits the ranch for the first time she is greeted with a broken down shack, swarms of flies around indistinguishable food and a greenish lake. Chris had invented this paradise in attempting to extinguish his abilities to come to term with his reality. This allows him not to fall deeper into misery.
The last symbol and most significant would be the horses Duchess and Firefly. Chris tells Vanessa of these majestic creatures so beautiful and strong, but when Vanessa visits the farm she encounters once again two horses that do not live up to her expectations. The mare is short and stout while the other horse has a bad limp. These horses signify Chris’s internal death. In the story it is mentioned earlier on that these horses had the potential to be racehorses, but as the years passed these hopes and dreams died just as Chris’. Chris, like the horses, once young and full of potential, never managed to attain what was wanted. Another example concerning the horses would be during World War 1. The horses get stuck in the mud a slowly begin to sink deeper and deeper. This correlates with Chris because he is slowly sinking deeper into depression as he realises all his aspirations are slipping away from him. Chris eventually comes to term that the only way he can live out his hopes and dreams would be through his imagination. Main Fiction Elements: Conflict
Another important fiction element would be the evident conflict of person vs. self. Chris is in constant battle with himself and his depression. He does not want to believe in the events taking place in his life. What he wants and what he has are to major things that cause him to snap. Chris uses his world of imagination in order to fend off his harsh reality. He wants to go to college and become this successful engineer, but as time goes on his goal becomes more unreachable. The first component is when he realises his family cannot afford for him to go away to college and he must sell vacuums in order to make money to put himself through school. Afterwards he tries to sell socks. Both methods are not successful and they hinder him emotionally. When Vanessa visits Chris for the final time she notices that he has become everything that he did not want to be: a farmer. He wanted nothing more to be far away from Shallow Creek, but here he is tending to the land. When he is offered the chance to go to way, Chris jumps on the opportunity because it takes him away from the farm. In the war however, Chris’ imagination is no longer suffice and he ends up breaking. Point of View
Point of view is another important fiction element. The story is told by Vanessa who is much younger than Chris. She and Chris are almost complete opposites. Vanessa has chosen to come to terms with her reality, when Chris on the other hand lives in this world of imagination. Through her eyes the reader learns about a handsome and strong antagonist who seems fearless. As the story continues you notice how unstable he begins to become and this hurts Vanessa. If the reader would have viewed the story through Chris’ eyes they would have noticed nothing wrong because Chris visualizes this paradise to block out the truth. Therefore you would have not noticed his deterioration, being one of the main components in the story. Vanessa's perspective, being grounded and realistic, is important to the aspect of a reliable narrator and allows us to fully understand how choosing to refuse reality has horrible consequences.
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