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“Horses of the Night” by Margaret Laurence Essay

How an individual looks at life makes all the difference in how it will turn out. In the story, “Horses of the Night,” by Margaret Laurence, a young and innocent narrator, Vanessa, befriends the much older Chris, who deals with his problems by hiding in his own fantasy world. Chris and Vanessa are character-foils of each other, and their perspectives are represented accordingly. Vanessa’s perspective keeps her grounded to reality, and Chris’s is a very negative force in his life. Laurence shows that the abnormal perspective that Chris holds has very tragic consequences.

Just as the time in which “Horses of the Night” is set infuses the story with an atmosphere of despair, so does the predicament that Chris faces from the beginning of his appearance in the story. Although Chris has at least high hopes on the outside that he will make it to college, the reader, his family, and possibly even him know that, “the answer is a foregone conclusion”: he won’t be able to afford it. Vanessa is aware that she is living during the Depression, but it affects her much less than it does Chris. From her perspective, “the Depression and drought were external and abstract, malevolent gods whose names I secretly learned although they were concealed from me, and whose evil I sensed only superstitiously.”

Chris tries to escape from his hardships by taking a viewpoint of optimism, and often enhancing things to seem better than they are. For example, Chris tells Vanessa he is going to be a world traveler when in reality he is only becoming a traveling salesman. Chris wants people’s judgments of him to be good, and also believes his own mistruths to create a better sense of self-worth for himself. One of the reasons he is fond of children younger than himself is because of their adoration for him. Vanessa is also aware of being judged poorly, but more so by Chris than anyone else. From her perspective, the relationship between Chris and her is tarnished by the age difference.

Although Chris is always hopeful on the outside, on the inside he is utterly pessimistic. On the night when Chris and Vanessa stay at the lake, he expresses his true feelings for the first time. When he is talking about the stars, he points out that, “we won’t ever get to know [about the stars]”. We also learn that he is bitter about the nature of the universe. “People usually say there must be a God,” he said, “but that’s ridiculous.” On the other side of Chris is Vanessa. Vanessa is relatively unresponsive to Chris’s rants about the world. She was not going to argue with him at the time, but we learn that she does not take his cynical view when she hesitantly says, “sometimes,” when referring to his perspective of the stars.

Laurence shows that as a character thinks, a character’s life unfolds. Vanessa and Chris, although good friends, have very different perspectives of the world they live in, and for Chris, his negativity ends up destroying his mind.


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