In Janette Turner Hospital’s short story Walking on Water, the exploration of the impact of relationships leads to the discovery of a person’s growth to be limited. All people have the strength to rise above adversity; however only some people chose to do so. People who do not have the strength to overcome adversity may surrender to the forces of life. Even though the role of adversity in one’s life is used to help shape an individual to help them become a better person, it can result in one’s inner conflict and one’s inability to overcome fear. “Walking on Water” by Janette Turner Hospital suggests that the role of adversity in shaping an individual’s identity is affected by the individual’s relationship with others resulting in the individual’s personal growth to be limited.
Throughout the story the lesson learned is that James and Gillian’s (son and mother) relationship is unstable while James is conflicted with himself. In the short story, James is a teenage boy who wants to move to California to live with his Uncle, Aunt, and cousins. His mother, Gillian is the antagonist of the story and wants James to stay home with his family. Gillian does not have the strength to overcome her weakness of letting him go. James’ relationship with Gillian is strained during the story because of their personal differences. During the course of the story, Gillian tries to remind her family about all the great fun they use to have by crossing Lake Ontario. Gillian believed that these events and special rituals her family performed would bring them even closer.
Gillian wanted to remind James that he would miss out on family adventures if he moved to California. “Nostalgia would warm them like an old blanket smelling of past happiness.”(Gillian). Gillian wanted to substitute the nostalgia in James mind so he would not have the desire to move the California. Gillian also wants to convince her son that unfortunate events can happen if he were to travel to California, like the plane falling out of the sky. She did not want James to be out of her protective reach which would not let James grow as a his own person. James did not really care for the arguments and evidence his mother suggested because of his own internal conflict associated with the fear of death. James wanted to find a way to get of Ontario as fast as he could to avoid his dreadful thoughts of Stuart’s death. Gillian is not letting James reach his full potential in life though.
In the end Gillian realizes that she is holding James back and that is the moment of the story where she built to the strength to overcome adversity. James’ relationship with Gillian is a challenge that affected his individual identity, which resulted in James’ personal growth to be limited. James’ individual identity is affected when he sees Stuart freeze to death. Stuart’s death was the adverse event and after his death, James learns to value every moment of life. James does not have the strength to overcome adversity and he surrenders to the forces of life. James has conflict with his mother and with himself through the story. He conflicted inside with Stuart’s death because he feels responsible for it. He did not convince the girls in the story to let Stuart back into the school and that’s why he had suffered hypothermia and died.
“Each morning when he woke he though; this could be it, the end of the game.” (James). James fears death and how it has the ability to occur at any time, waiting to grasp him. He was uncertain of when his life would end and feared ending up alone as well. Just as how unpredictable Stuart’s death was, James fears the same will happen to him. This also suggests a reason to why James wants to move to California because he did not want to end up alone and would like to know his relatives better, just in case anything bad were to happen he would have a back- up plan. James also fears living in Ontario because of the cold weather and how it reminds him of Stuart’s death. Instead he tries to run away from his fear instead of facing it.
James did not have the strength to overcome adversity and surrendered to force of unfortunate events conflicting him. James decides to run away from his problems feeling that it will make him forget about his internal conflict. Since James did not defeat his challenge between his own thoughts, he suffered the inability to overcome his fear of death. James’ relationship with Stuart is a challenge that affected his own identity, which lead to James’ personal beliefs to be restricted.
The role of adversity in shaping an individual’s personal beliefs is affected by the individual’s communication with others, resulting in the individual’s personal growth to be restricted. James’ relationship with Gillian was complicated because each person wanted to be right in their decision which impacted both of them. James also conflicted with himself about Stuart’s death and how death can come so easily and unexpectedly in one’s life. Some people have the strength to rise above adversity but others cannot. In the end, Gillian was able to rise above adversity to be able to let James go but James could not face his conflict of his fear of death. Janette Turner Hospital demonstrates that both the external and internal conflict creates a personal growth for the reader to realize the conflicts in the story and how to rise above them.