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Feelings of Helplessness Essay

At one point or another we all succumb to the feeling of helplessness in our lives. Whether it is a feeling of not being able to break free of an abusive loved one or being trapped by a bad storm, the natural animal instinct of survival is apparent. “Celebration” written by W.D. Valgardson studies that instinct and the helplessness of situations that drives us to it.

Valgardson introduces various situations that require survival techniques in the story. One is the helplessness of the children in the violent home atmosphere and the poverty that they live in. Whenever Eric and Mabel fought, “the children hid under the Toronto couch, lying absolutely still, making no sound for hours on end.” (61) The action of hiding that the children take when the parents are fighting, presents one of the animal instincts that is shown throughout the story. Because of the vulnerability the children have, they remove themselves out of sight and presumably, out of danger. Mabel is also touched by feelings of helplessness which is most apparent when she is outside struggling with the cold and close to death. Because of her exposure to the cold Mabel, “instinctively made her body as small as possible to preserve her warmth.”(64)

Her automatic reaction to place herself in the fetal position shows that her unconscious mind has already collapsed into a self-preservation mode, as like the children do when they are threatened. Eric, the dominant male in the story also submits to frailty and powerlessness when he gives, “a sudden start and his eyes widened as if, without warning, a terrible vision had been thrust upon him. He took a step toward the door, then stopped.”(69) His realization of the children still huddled under the couch drives a wave of despair and regret over his person. Knowing that he can do nothing and that as soon as the heat from the stove dies the children will most likely die, he paces and staggers like a caged animal.

The use of animal symbolism is used to represent each character in their time of vulnerability and defenselessness. When the adults are fighting, the children are described as, “two small animals hiding in a cave; only their large, dark eyes moved.”(61) They demonstrate the same reactions that animals have when they are in a threatening situation, hiding and becoming invisible until the “storm” is over. Mabel also takes on animal like qualities when she is assaulted by the wind and cold while struggling for her life, “using her hands like claws, she tapped at the window.”(65). Valgardson’s word choice also adds to the animal imagery, by using words such as, “panting.”(64) “Scurried.”(62), “herded.”(67) And “crawling.”(64) These words are used to portray character movements and link them to common animal habits. Pathetic fallacy also plays a large part in creating a helpless and hopeless setting. With a storm brewing not only inside the house but outside also, the characters are forced into close captivity with one and another, “It was only four o’clock but, already, outside the windows, it was as black as if the sky had been drenched in tar.”(59)

The blackness of the sky mirrors the blackness of Eric’s disposition and temperament. Valgardson also uses a great deal of irony in the story, in the beginning the reader is introduced to the drunken hate between the two adults and their common love for the two children. As the story progresses their intentions to hurt each other ends up killing the children and saving themselves. The celebration aspect between the two adults is also very ironic in the way of the reasons for celebrating. Mabel and Eric drink because, “the social woman though that she could get them onto welfare.”(59) Their party for the simple aspect of having money leads them to drink, which in turn leads them to killing their children and then quite possibly losing the money and/or going to jail.

The effectiveness of the ending is mostly due to the point of view in the story. With the third person limited narrator perspective, with different characters at different points of their struggle for survival, the reader is unable to be more sympathetic towards one character then the other and with the children absent from thought; the surprise of the ending is more effective then if we could have seen into their minds. The mood of the story changes with each character taking the spotlight in helpless situations, the mood is frightened for Mabel and vengeful towards Eric, but as soon as he realizes his mistake and the reader can see into his mind the feelings towards him are piteous and fright.

The tone of the story reflects the environment that it takes place in, at the cabin a dark and brooding tone is imparted, whereas at the hospital, a calm and lighter tone is represented. By changing the tone of the story at the hospital the reader is lead to believe that the danger is over which makes the ending surprising and effective.

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