Man Descending Analysis

Literary Techniques

Often the significance of a story hinges on a single image or a powerful twist in the action. In "The Watcher," the image that crystallizes the final irony is that of an Oriental statue. The boy puts the academic bully in mind of Padmasambhava, the Hindu idol with close-set eyes that suggest concentration and intense inner vision. Ironically, it is the boy who, after witnessing every sordid incident in the story, makes the final decision to side with his grandmother against Thompson, and passes in the process from pastoral innocence to a rather risky adventure in the lower regions of experience.

In "Cages" the title is most expressive of the psychological mood of a story that moves from occupational discomfort to emotional and mental entrapment. The miner's cage and occupation become stark analogies for the young narrator's descent into his father's mind and heart.

Vanderhaeghe's technique is emblematic rather than symbolic, for the images are precise and their context concretely rendered. There is no impulsion toward airy, abstract generalizations, for the images appear to grow naturally out of the stories — as in "Dancing Bear," for instance, where the title expresses the paradox of a dangerous, persecuted animal which is as much a victim as a killer. This bear is a perfect analogy for the central character, an old, incapacitated man whose zealous imagination causes him to burst with pent-up frustration.

The wonder of...

(The entire section is 268 words.)

Man Descending Social Concerns

This is a collection of twelve superbly crafted stories about males at various stages of life, but the settings for the fiction are vividly rendered and provide telling evidence of the modern age that breeds regret, impotent rage, comic exasperation, and bittersweet inertia. Human wisdom in these stories is not necessarily linked to urban sophistication, for in "The Watcher," a marvelous story about a young boy's initiation into a world of adult conflict and treachery, an old hard-talking, quick-witted grandmother on a farm shows her skill with the ways of the world. Her daughter's lover, a sadistic bully from the city with supercilious contempt for rural life, is given a tough lesson in justice and treachery.

Family relationships are sharply etched in this book, with their span of love, resentment, teasing cruelty, and vanity. Vanderhaeghe explores with perfect poise the stifling enclosures for his characters, allowing us to probe the family background of his suffering protagonists. In "Cages," a deeply touching story about an adolescent's changing perception of his father, Vanderhaeghe creates a suffocating mood at once congruent with the father's occupation as a miner and with the young narrator's sense of psychological constriction. The boy's impulses toward bitterness are checked by an underlying sympathy and love for the father — somewhat reminiscent of another young narrator's elegiac love for his paranoid father in "What I Learned From Caesar."...

(The entire section is 437 words.)

Man Descending Literary Precedents

The short story "Sam, Soren, and Ed" is a prelude to the novel My Present Age (1984). Two of the most entertaining characters from the novel make their first appearance here: Benny, the bourgeois lawyer who handles divorce proceedings for Ed's wife, Victoria; and Victoria herself, a rather righteous, sexy, determined woman. But the two most important abstract influences in this story — and again they anticipate their own magnifications in the novel — are Kierkegaard and Sam Waters (the "Soren" and "Sam" of the title) — the former being the gloomy philosophic touchstone for Ed; the latter being the projection for Ed's wish-fulfillment fantasies. Where Kierkegaard's journals breed Ed's pessimistic world-view, Sam Waters, the Western hero in Ed's own creative writing, is a remedy for the modern age's malaise. However, by the end of this story, Ed confesses that Kierkegaard is slowly supplanting Sam Waters as his guide through life's pitfalls. He proposes to finish his Sam Waters book and chooses an epigraph from Kierkegaard. This quotation is also his apology to his former wife and his admission that she was right all along, because it admits to the various excuses and evasions that have their being between a person's understanding and his act of willing.

The amazing thing about the Ed stories is not simply the brilliant control of the prose, but the remarkable way in which Vanderhaeghe takes stock characters — the sensuous wife, the aggrieved...

(The entire section is 247 words.)