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We can all feel a little lost at times. Wondering why we are where we are in our life and if we have made the right choices. Today’s society in based on individuality and liberty, however, with that liberty comes responsibility. We have more control over our own lives now than ever. 200 years ago, you did what your parents did and lived where they lived. The freedom that we possess today also creates a risk of doing something wrong, of making the wrong choices.
These are some of the ideas that we explore in Anna Hope’s “A Gap of Sky”.
The short story “A Gap of Sky” is about 19-year old Ellie, a university student in London. Ellie wakes up in the late afternoon after a heavy night of binge drinking and crack cocaine and realizes she has to finish an essay on a text by Virginia Woolf that is due the next morning, however, her printer is out of ink and she has to go and buy some in the city where we dive deep into her young mind.
Ellie is torn as her current lifestyle is affecting her studies and this division is clearly shown through symbolism.
Anna Hope uses quite a bit of symbolism in the essay. For example, the dark. Darkness makes several appearances throughout the short story, however, the most important one is in the ending: “She wants to receive this night and its great dark pulsing, this beauty, this moment; she is nineteen and in London and she has an essay to write and she needs to buy some printer ink ” (Page 4, line 128 to 130).
This sentence perfectly captures the division in Ellie with the dark being her desire to dance on the rooftops, drink and do drugs instead of focusing on the essay she has to write. Another symbol in the text is the glove with a raised middle finger. It symbolizes Ellie’s rebellious side and the way that she wants to live her life with no regard for consequences. There is also a clear contrast to the glove and what it symbolizes when Ellie enters the museum. The exhibit is a symbol of all of the thoughts she has kept hidden away in her mind and the responsibility she’s having a hard time living up to. This is supported by the fact that she is clearly unhappy with facing unfortunate certainties like death: “Ellie’s head is throbbing and her skull feels as though it might split open and she really feels as though she might die. And what will happen to her, if she dies? ” (Page 3, line 83-84).
This leads us to the main theme in the text which is Ellie’s existential dilemma. Should she do everything in her power to finish the essay or should she succumb to her desires. Ellie is constantly drawn away for her actual task of getting the printer ink which shows how tempted she is by everything else than school. For example: “Her eye runs down the rail, where her gaze stops on an object, a dark object. She walks slowly towards it. It is a glove, a black leather glove, rammed down over the top of one of the spikes, its middle finger raised up to the sky in glorious salute. Ellie giggles. She touches the middle finger. ” (Page 2, line 59 to 62).
The short story is written with an omniscient third-person narrator. Therefore, we gain access to Ellie’s thoughts, for example: “Essay there is an essay due, important, due for Tuesday morning. Virginia Woolf And the… What was the title? Something Oyster of Perceptiveness. Fuck. How the fuck did she manage to sleep for so long” (Page 1, line 14 to 16). By giving us an insight into Ellie’s mind, Hope makes us identify with the character. We have can all relate to the stress Ellie is feeling whether we have been to university or not. Even though Ellie has some traits that, to many people, make her objectively unlikeable, for instance smoking crack, however, when we read her thoughts, we see ourselves in her and therefore sympathize with her. In addition to this, the aforementioned quote on page two from line 59 makes her seem sweet and innocent which also contributes to our opinion of her and thereby what we take away from the story.
The way Ellie’s thoughts are portrayed is quite special. It’s written as if it came directly from her head. In one big, messy stream with short sentences as seen from the quote above and the following: “Good plan. Good, this was good, fine. Coffee plunged, poured, slurped; hot, fuck that’s hot. Anything else? Of course: printer, printer’s out of ink. Student shop too. Fine. Time? Ten minutes to get there. Shit. Should she do the essay first, print it in the morning? No. No time. Needs to be handed in at nine.” (Page 1, line 34 to 37). This style is called stream of consciousness and one of the pioneers and most important writers in stream of consciousness is Virginia Woolf which explains Hope’s choice for Ellie’s essay as she has probably been influenced by Virginia Woolf.
The ending of the short story is quite open. We follow Ellie all around London in search of ink for her printer, but we never actually get a clue as to whether she finishes the essay or not. However, the fundamental topic of the story is not Ellie’s schoolwork, but the thoughts that go through her head as she goes around looking for it. Ellie is Anna Hope’s archetype for the modern teenager living in what sociologists call “the risk society” as there are so many choices leading to the risk of making the wrong ones. Ellie’s disunity shows the ultimate question Anna Hope poses with her short story: Are we ready to cope with the liberty and choices of the modern world?
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