Henry Kreisel’s “The Broken Globe,” was published in The Literary Review (Summer 1965) by Fairleigh Dickinson University in Rutherford, New Jersey. The short story begins in London, but the setting soon shifts to a remote Canadian farm. The farm is located near a rural village, Three Bear Hills, sixty or seventy miles from Edmonton, Alberta. The major characters include Nick Solchuk, a respected geophysicist; Mr. Solchuk, Nick’s immigrant father; and Nick’s unnamed friend and colleague, who acts as the story’s narrator. Mr. Marshall, the village storekeeper, is introduced briefly in the story. Joan McKenzie, Nick’s elementary teacher, plays an important role in the narrative, but her character appears only in the story’s antecedent action.
As the story begins in London, the narrator has accepted a teaching position in Canada and visits his friend, Nick Solchuk, to share the news. As they discuss the narrator’s new position, teaching French to “prairie boys and girls,” Nick’s personal history unfolds. Although he holds a doctorate from Cambridge University, does scientific research at the Imperial College, and will soon present a paper in Rome to the International Congress of Geophysicists. Nick’s passion for science had been born in a one-room school on the Canadian prairie, and it had been nurtured by a young teacher, Joan McKenzie.
Nick also tells the narrator of his father, a Ukrainian who had immigrated to Canada with little education and firmly fixed beliefs. As a boy, Nick had been unable to understand his father’s strange ideas; however, Nick now realizes his father viewed the world as he had been taught as a child when he had received “an education of sorts” from the priest in his small Ukrainian village. Nick says his father “lived in the universe of the medieval church.” Science, to him, is heresy. Before the narrator leaves, Nick suddenly asks him to visit his father when he arrives in Canada. Nick says his father does not write to him, explaining that they had “differences.”
After arriving in Canada and settling in Edmonton, the narrator goes to see Mr. Solchuk. To get directions to the Solchuk farm, he stops at the general store in Three Bear Hills, where he meets Mr. Marshall, the storekeeper. Marshall is eager for news of Nick, the only boy from the village who ever went to University. He is very proud of Nick’s accomplishments, he says, even though Nick’s father “don’t think so much of him.”
When the narrator arrives at the farm and meets Nick’s father, Mr. Solchuk is at first defensive and argumentative, asking if Nick is still “tampering with the earth.” Clearly, he views scientific research as an act against God. He assumes Nick wants something, but then softens when he learns the narrator has come all the way from Edmonton simply to bring greetings from Nick. Mr. Solchuk invites the narrator inside. While Mr. Solchuk makes coffee, the narrator notices a small cardboard globe of the earth sitting on a table. One side of the figure has been smashed. Mr. Solchuk tells the narrator the story behind the globe, which clarifies the “differences” that have existed between Nick and his father since Nick was thirteen years old.
Mr. Solchuk tells the narrator that when Nick was a boy, Joan McKenzie, his teacher, filled Nick’s head with rubbish about the earth being round and moving around the sun. He told Nick not to listen to her because the earth was flat and did not move. They argued. Nick defied him, refusing to believe his teacher had lied to him. Mr. Solchuk hit his son because Nick refused to listen and obey. Mr. Solchuk went to the school and confronted the teacher, to no avail; he then locked Nick in the house to keep him away from false teaching. He sent Nick back to school only when the teacher threatened to report him. Several weeks later, Nick brought the cardboard globe home to show his father that the earth moves on its axis. Mr. Solchuk smashed the globe. Crying, Nick threw the globe at his father, who then beat him severely. They never spoke of the issue again, and each had gone his own way.
Before the narrator leaves, Mr. Solchuk asks if he believes in science. When the narrator says that he does, Mr. Solchuk does not seem angry; he seems tired and resigned, saying that Satan has “taken over all the world.” He then declares passionately, “But not me! Not me!” The narrator tells him that despite their differences, Nick is a fine man who is well respected for his work, a son to be proud of. Walking outside with the narrator, Mr. Solchuk points to the vast Canadian prairie that stretches to the horizon, proof to him that the earth is flat and does not move. The narrator believes there is “something heroic” about Mr. Solchuk. When the narrator tells Mr. Solchuk goodbye, Nick’s father takes his hand and says, “Send greetings to my son.”
“The Broken Globe” is essentially a story of contrasts and conflicts. The intellectual world in which Nick moves contrasts with the natural world of his father’s Canadian prairie. Contrasts also exist between London and Three Bear Hills and between Cambridge University and Joan McKenzie’s one-room school. The sharpest contrast, however, is drawn between modern education and old-world ignorance, which implies yet another contrast, the differences in thinking between immigrant parents and their second-generation children.
Nick’s specific conflict with his father mirrors the broader conflicts that often exist between fathers and sons and between science and religion. Nick defies his father at the age of thirteen to become his own man; he rejects being an obedient son, choosing instead to think for himself. Nick’s belief in the truth of science both angers and frightens his father, who views science as negating religious belief and meddling with God’s creation.
The central symbol in the story, the smashed cardboard globe, can be interpreted in several ways. It symbolizes the broken relationship between father and son; it also symbolizes Mr. Solchuk’s attempt to prevail over Nick’s rebellion and to destroy that which threatened his own beliefs. His having kept the broken globe from Nick’s childhood perhaps symbolizes that he never stopped loving the son to whom he sends his own greetings in the story’s conclusion.