The Lamp At Noon Summary

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Sinclair Ross, A Canadian writer, wrote while he worked as a banker until his retirement.  Ross's parents divorced when he was young, and he lived with his mother.  Despite Ross never marrying,  he often wrote about married life. 

The story "The Lamp at Noon" takes place during the depression probably in the "Dust Bowl."  The winds and drought were so severe that nothing could be grown;consequently, farmers had to abandon their lands.   This is the setting for the story.  The narration is third person omniscient because the reader sees into the thoughts of the characters:  the wife, Ellen; the husband, Paul; and the baby.  The atmosphere is bleak and dark. The writer's word choice brings the experience of this terrible phenomenon of nature to life.  The author's language and descriptions detail the  wind and its horrendous results on the farm. Using personificiaton and a simile, Ross explains:

...wind sprang inside the room,  distraught like a bird that has felt the graze of talons on its wing; while furious the other wing shook the walls.

The perception of the couple's situation is so important to recognizing their misery.  Everything circulates around the wind, the dust, and the drought.

Both of the main characters are despondent.  Ellen's life prior to her marriage had been comfortable.  Her father owned a store in town. Now, she is distraught.  She feels alone isolated, angry, hurt, and most importantly, hopeless.  More than once, Ellen tells Paul that they have no future on the farm.  Nothing will grow; he has tried and the environment only beats him back.  Her baby coughs and cries constantly.  Begging for his attention, Ellen tries to communicate her feelings to her husband. 

I can't stand it any longer.  He cries all the time. You will go Paul-say you will.  We aren't living here-not really living.

No marriage can withstand such lack of communication.

For five years, Paul has worked hard to make his farm profitable.  He knows that his family is barely surviving.  His animals are suffering.  Tired of arguing with Ellen, he retreats to his sanctuary, the barn.  His manhood and self-respect refuse to give in to her request to try something different.  Her father offered him a job.  Blindly, Paul avoids his wife's pleas. 

Toward the end of the story, the wind does subside.  When Paul looks at his crops, all he sees are the results of the wind storm: black, barren fields. Still, he feels more loyalty to the land than to his wife. 

Ellen is tired of fighting the dust. All she can think of is getting out.  She tries to make Paul see her point of view.  She pleads with him.  In contrast, obviously, Paul does love his family; however, his pride prevents him from listening to her depression, loneliness, and misery. He thinks only of his connection to his land.  He hears his wife,  but he does not listen.  Unfortunately, his dismissal of her complaints leads to a tragic ending.

When Paul returns to the house, he finds his wife and baby gone.  Finally after searching, he finds them.  The baby is dead, and Ellen appears out of her mind.  Unable to cope with the loss of the child, Ellen tries to relate to her husband:

You're right Paul..You said tonight we'd see the storm go down. ...Tomorrow will be fine.

For this couple,  the future will not be satisfactory.  The lack of communication and pride have taken their child.  The marriage may be irretrievably lost as well.


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