In "Her First Ball," what is the fat man saying about losing innocence and what is Leila's reaction to this?
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Beneath his point that time is a thief who robs young ladies of their naivete and youthful joie de vivre, the older fat man pronounces much more about himself than he does the concept of the brevity of youthful delight and innocence. His words to Leila are, indeed, telling of his cynicism and loss of youthful idealism that is like "little satin shoes that chased each other like birds."
It is because he himself is a disappointed romantic who has lost his own youth and its accompanying delights that he seeks to destroy Leila's innocent and youthful delight in her first ball. For, Leila becomes the target of his cynicism in order that he can steal from her the enjoyment of the moment. This is why he is yet on the dance floor at his age. Indeed, he speaks of himself and his personal losses, rather than the ingenue he holds when he presses himself to her as though to draw youth into his own being:
"And your heart will ache, ache"...because no one wants to kiss you now."
It is Leila's intuitive comprehension of the fat man's motives--"Why had he spoiled it all?"--that she rejects his cynical statements that youth and beauty are but temporal. This is why she rebuffs his condescending remark, "...you must'nt take me seriously, little lady" by saying, "As if I should!" Rather than becoming disillusioned and cynical herself, Leila chooses to enjoy the moment and delight in it for what it simply is. She "didn't even recognize him again."
It is true that the fat man effectively punctures the bubble of Leila's enthusiasm and excitement at going to her first ball, especially the success that Leila definitely is. The fat man seems to introduce an unwelcome note concerning the ephemeral nature of youth and beauty, and how quickly it passes, leaving only the certainly of old age and remorse and regret. Note what he says to Leila as he envisages her future for her:
"Of course," he said, "you can't hope to last anything like as long as that. No-o," said the fat man, "long before that you'll be sitting up there on the stage, looking on, in your nice black velvet... and your heart will ache, ache... because no one wants to kiss you now."
Leila's immediate reaction is to respond with a desire to go back to her house in the countryside. The words of the fat man initially strike her deeply, revealing to her the temporary nature of her dreams and desires and how soon time replaces them with monotonous drudgery as old age descends. However, even the words of the old man are not able to prevent Leila from going back to enjoy her first ball, and in a matter of minutes, she is presented as "gliding" on the dance floor once more, and so much is she caught up in the excitement of the ball again that she fails to recognise the fat man when she bumps into him again. In spite of the certainty of old age and all that brings, the power and vigour of youthful excitement and dreams is shown to be able to dispel even the darkest of truths. The loss of innocence that Leila experiences is subsumed under the force and power of the present.
fat man is very bad
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