Analyze the author’s use of flashback in "The Leap"Analyze the author’s use of flashbacks. Put the story’s main events in chronological order on a time line.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The use of flashback in "The Leap" creates both a flow to a compelling narrative and certain unifying themes.

The title of Erdrich's story calls to mind the oft-quoted phrase of philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, who felt that "a leap of faith" was necessary for Christians if they were to accept the paradoxes that exist in Christianity. Certainly, Anna Avalon has made leaps of faith each time that she has fallen through the air with a purpose.

These leaps are what connect the narrative. With the theme of gratitude, for instance, the daughter/narrator lists three times for which she owes her life to her mother's leaps that have both given and preserved her existence. With the additional theme of "bridging gaps/making connections," the leaps made by the mother have strengthened the mother/daughter relationship. Also, the mother herself has bridged gaps in her life through marriage and motherhood. 

The chronological order of the story is as follows: 

The Flying Avalons, a trapeze act, comes to New Hampshire, and lightning strikes just as the Avalons are in midair. As she falls, Anna Avalon grabs the braided metal of a guy-wire instead of clutching her husband's ankle and falling to the ground with him. Although her hand is burnt and her arm is broken, she survives. Unfortunately, her baby is born stillborn in the hospital.

While in the hospital, Anna falls in love with her attending physician, who teaches her to read. They marry and move into an old farmhouse in the same town in which the circus accident occurred. Anna gives birth to a daughter, who is now the narrator. 

When the daughter is seven years old, the house catches fire. Anna and her husband are not at home; the babysitter awakens to find flames climbing up the stairway to the daughter's room. The sitter quickly phones the authorities, and the parents are alerted. By the time of the parents' arrival, the fire has done considerable damage. Then, when an attempt is made to reach the second story, the extension ladder breaks in half. The noise of the breakage wakes the narrator, who is around six or seven years old. She keeps her bedroom door closed and waits; soon, she looks out her window and sees her mother below.

Tearing off her dress, Anna climbs on what is left of the ladder and disappears inside the leafless branches of the tree that are near the house. She inches her way on her stomach, holding onto a tree bough that curves above another branch that touches the roof of the house. Once over the roof, Anna balances herself. Then she jumps onto the narrow branch that touches the roof, a branch that is no larger than Anna's wrist. From this branch, a standing Anna leaps onto the new gutter that hangs over her daughter's bedroom. Hanging by the backs of her heels, the mother smiles as she taps on the window of her daughter's room. When the window is opened, Anna swings down and enters the room. Holding her daughter, Anna signals to the rescuers, and they "flew out the window, toward earth. . . and the painted target of the fire fighters' net."

The narrator, who is the daughter of Anna, explains that she owes her life to her mother three times. She then proceeds to narrate the tale of Anna Avalon and the three incidents which involve her. At the end of her narration, the daughter reflects that her mother has been right to tell her that as a person falls, there is time to think. During this time for thought, Anna Avalon saved her own life and, later, her daughter's life.

pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The author tells the story from Anna's daughter's point of view, she begins the flashbacks when she refers to owing her existence to her mother three times.

The first time is when her mother was part of the trapeze act, Anna of the Flying Avalons, with her husband, Harold.  While they were performing one night, with Anna pregnant, not with the narrator, lightening struck the main pole in the tent.

The blindfolded Avalons began to fall, Anna grabbed the wire, still hot from the strike, saving herself and her baby.  Her husband and 2 others died. Anna's baby girl was stillborn. 

The second time that the narrator owes her life to her mother is when Anna was in the hospital for 6 weeks and met the narrator's father, a doctor.  

The third time would be when her mother saved her from their burning house.  The house they lived in caught fire when the narrator was 7 years old. 

Anna saves her daughter from the burning house using her acrobatic skills, climbing a tree, swinging onto the house,  hanging from the edge of the roof by her heels. She crawls into the window, grabs her daughter and leaps out the window onto the fireman's net below.

The narrator reflects on how much time you have to think when you are falling.  Remembering how she felt huddled next to her mother's body as they fell into the net.

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The Leap

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