The Juggler Essay
“I want to believe in faith and risk and a world where you can stand beneath the grey October sky and flash your own colours through the air like a magician” (218 -221, p. 6). These beautiful lines constitute the final conclusion of the short story, “The Juggler”, written by Ursula Hegi and published in 2001. The story deals with themes such as beauty, letting go and being stuck in the past.
The short story takes place in Coeur d’ Alene in the first weekend of October. An unnamed first person narrator tells the story of her daughter, Zoe and her boyfriend, Michael who have come to visit her. It is the first time she meets Michael, who is a counsellor at the school where her daughter teaches. They go to the cinema and on a beautiful canoe trip together. Michael seems to be a very nice guy and Zoe loves him. What separates Michael from the majority, however, is the fact that he is turning blind.
The mother seems to have a very difficult time handling this, which is seen in her inner monologue “I like him (Michael) – or, rather; I could like him, if only he were not turning blind. Or if he were not with my daughter. I want more for Zoe.” (ll. 115-117, p. 4). It also seems as if she has ambitions on behalf of her daughter “I want more for Zoe”. We are told that Zoe’s father left the family when she was very young. Perhaps the mother’s dreams and ambitions vanished with her housebound/boyfriend. Therefore, she now lives her life trough her daughter and has resigned and almost accepted that she is in the autumn of her life unable to see the colours of the world.
Another reason for her to dislike Michael is the obvious fact that he is stealing Zoe away. This seems to be her main issue with him. She thinks that he, due to his handicap, requires too much attention from Zoe, “He’ll need you far too much”(l. 177, p. 5). To this Zoe replies, “That should feel familiar, then” (l. 178, p. 5) as a reference to what leads to another important issue in the text; the narrator has, ever since Zoe’s father left her, been very dependant on Zoe. This is suggested in one of her streams of consciousness, “Sometimes I felt Zoe and I were growing up together. Other times I felt like I were eleven and she thirty”(ll. 91 – 92, p. 3). The mother almost bursts into self-oscillation when she tells Michael about her memories with Zoe. This could lead to the conclusion that Zoe is used to taking responsibility for other people and, seen from a homespun psychological point of view, perhaps likes the fact that Michael reminds her of her mother in the way that he needs her.
Another result of the mother’s loneliness and dependency on her daughter is the fact that she cannot let her go. She lives in the past and loves the memories of a time she refuses to leave, nor can she ever leave it unless she accepts the fact that Zoe is now a grown up. She has her own life now. The bird has flown. So maybe she should just handle her over to Michael. After all he is not a maniac killer or anything. He seems rather nice and Zoe really loves him, but the narrator simply is too jealous to be happy for her daughter, “Zoe turns, smiling at him with so much light in her eyes that I have to look away” (ll. 74 – 75, p. 3).
The writer leaves, in a very discrete but intelligent and awfully interesting way, many symbols and details for further interpretation. For instance, a visual description of the narrator has been left out. Therefore, she appears as a set of thoughts, which on one side means that the events that take place in the story often are followed by the narrator’s streams of consciousness, which work perfectly well and gives the reader a great understanding of the mother’s actions and issues. However, on the other side it creates a paradox and it is very ironic seen in relation to the mother’s prejudice towards Michael’s blindness. We do not see her from the outside. We only see her from the inside. In other words, we see her exactly as Michael would see her. This makes her a victim of a “blind reader”. It is a funny and interesting detail from the writer. Another paradox is the fact that the narrator plays the cello and when Zoe & Michael leaves and she finds herself in despair she listens to Vivaldi. It is funny how she finds comfort in something audial, music, when she sees Michael’s blindness as something finite, as the end of beauty.
Perhaps the most important symbol is, as the title suggests, the Juggler who sort of frames the story. At the beginning Michael, Zoe and the mother are going to the cinema. On their way to the cinema the narrator sees a man who juggles smilingly with a basin and some swords. Suddenly, he loses the basin and the narrator grasps Michael’s shoulder as were she frightened by the fact that the juggler had failed. At the end of the story the narrator sees the juggler again but this time she has got a new realization. She envies his fearlessness, “Whenever he drops something, he smiles and reaches down and juggles once again(…). And without fear. Fear of being ridiculed (…)” (ll. 111 – 216, p. 6) She also reflects on the fact that he allways juggles with two of one kind and one of another. As if an equal trinity is impossible. As if a trinity requires differences. Perhaps Michael, Zoe and the narrator are all the “one of a another” and the “two of one kind” at the same time.
Watching the Juggler leads to the incredibly beautiful ending sentence that reveals some degree of regret in the mother. “I want to believe in faith and risk and a world where you can stand beneath the grey October sky and flash your own colors through the air like a magician” (218 -221, p. 6). Do these thoughts not sum up the core of life? Faith and risk. Roman philosopher, Lucius Annaeus Seneca once said, ”Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” in other words you have to keep an open mind and be ready to take your chances when they occur – we make our own luck. It is not enough to sit and wait for your turn. You have to confront life! You have to fight a little. The mother blows her chances.
Beauty is all around her; The Juggler who is not afraid of failing, the wonderful idyllic canoe trip, her daughter who is madly in love with a good man who makes her eyes light like phosphorescence in the see of the night. Is that not the dream of any parent, to see your child happy? Ironically, she realizes this to late, which is the common issue in life. It is always about timing and balance like juggling. Like flashing your colours in the autumn of your life. Like letting your beloved child fly on and feel happiness. Like defying the never-ending storms of despair and uncertainty. Like living.
Beauty takes risks.