History has taught us that rebelling against your people or religion almost always results in displeasure, as the members of the community usually frown upon it. Throughout the novel Each Man’s Son by Hugh MacLennan, there are two themes which are linked to this topic of defying your origins, though never plainly affirmed: the Celtic identity and the Puritanical predestination-like values.
Not conforming to these ways of life demonstrates two themes at which Archie the fighter and Ainslie the dreamer display: the attempt to foster new values will doom you to failure and resisting your religion will only let you yearn for escape but haunt you forever. This paper, will first analyze the meaning of these two themes; second show that Archie fights against the Celtic identity and that Ainslie tries to escape the Puritanical values. First, it is suitable to grasp onto these concepts with the history from the novel concerning the Celtics and the Puritans since it frames the foundational richness of the story.
In Each Man’s Son the symbolic references on the history concerning the Celtic identity is manifested as “a Homeric people” in ultimate solitude, which proves to be symbolic due to the fact that it ties meaning to the Highland people as a “desperate and poetic/race of hunters, shepherds and warriors” (MacLennan 1, 2). The novel is full of richness, which provides ironic information about the people: who were found “older than France” with “no organization” (MacLennan 25-5).
This characteristic given to the men of Cape Breton is highly relevant to the plot as Archie choses to literally fight the regulatory social norms of the Celtic identity when he follows his dreams to become an American boxer. In the novel, the Celtic identity is in direct conflict with Puritan values within certain characters, especially Ainslie. Presbyterians note that they “live and die under the wrath of an arbitrary God who will forgive only a handful of His elect on the Day of Judgment” (MacLennan 2). The value of the quote symbolizes an underlining view on the Puritan religion as it describes how the Calvinists must live a basic life in order to be resurrected with eternal life. In the Bible, which Puritans follow unfailingly, it is written, “you must be born from above” meaning that you must have “been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (John 3:7, 1 Peter 1:2 NIV).
Furthermore, religion takes a crowning importance in the novel as it acts as the basic yet powerful feature of the story. Numerous characters struggle to adopt their identity, namely Doctor Ainslie for he attempts to darken his religious distinctiveness. The lacing of the Celtic identity and the Puritan religion represents tension, which Archie the fighter and Ainslie the dreamer must overcome. Second, Archie is a clear example of a character who conflicts with the Celtic identity because although he is acclaimed as the “bravest man in Cape Breton”, “fierce and unpredictable”, unlike the flock of people, he was a “hero whom nobody understood and everyone admired”; unfortunately, he is also destined to fail (MacLennan 12-8-6).
“Archie is a hero” with grandiose “physical strength” who was loved “because he was giving significance, even a crude beauty, to the clumsy courage they all felt in themselves” (MacLennan 19-9). Generally Celtics feel that destiny works against them; they feel that luck must have been against them. This illustrates that the repercussion of rebelling against the Celtic identity is absolutely forbidden.
The Celtic character is normally condemned to a life of simplicity, total depravity and unconditional fellowship of God and as Archie ventures the unknown he distorts the norm. Animalistic Archie emphasizes that some men will “live their whole lives like oxes and cows” and that he is “not one of them” this statement, in other words, means that Archie does not intend on living a reclusive life as he fully intends on going out into the world, in spite of the consequences, to create a new life for himself and his family. He had “left his home to find wider opportunities in the United States” (MacLennan 3). Ironically, as Archie attempts to make money and follow his dream of becoming a boxer he refuses to obey the Celtic norm and is doomed to fail; he is left defeated by his embedded Celtic identity.
The final character, which shows prominent struggles, concerning following norms is Ainslie: the dreamer. This is due to the fact that he is resistant to his Puritan religion, which leaves him yearning for an escape from societal pressures. Quite like Archie, Ainslie is also hopeless, yet in different matters: his religion haunts him not only consciously but also unconsciously in dreams as he is disturbed by religious stories.
Traditionally, Puritans live a life in profound guilt, constant criticism and austerity because they believe in predestination at which God has chosen the elect to enter heaven. Though he is living in the pressures of this community he continuously denies his belief in God however it is hard to believe that he is a nonbeliever for he continuously shows signs of religious identity. Ainslie craves for a purpose in his life, an attainable goal a dream to escape this community, yet as the novel unfolds he is left haunted forever by his religious mental state.
Ironically, because of the fact that he resists his religion and yearns for an escape, he will be left him undeniably haunted forever. In summary, historical details, Archie and Ainslie in Each Man’s Son emphasize conflicts between the Celtic identity and the Puritan religion. Contrasting the two characters, I find it much more rewarding to explore who you are and discover your identity instead of fighting or denying it because then you will not become a failure or be tormented by it. Unlike Archie and Ainslie, I had opportunities to participate in accomplishments that have given me a positive understanding of my identity while I was growing up, which undeniably shaped who I am today.
MacLennan, Hugh. Each Man’s Son. Toronto: The New Canadian Library, 2003. Print. New International Version Holy Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986. Print.
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