Demonstrate your understanding of the relationship between meaning and form. Specifically, discuss how Sinclair Ross uses a range of elements and techniques to achieve his purpose in "The Lamp at Noon."
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This short story is a good example of Realism and Naturalism. The narrator describes the events as they appear (Realism), complete with vivid descriptions of sights, sounds, and the body language and words of the couple. The narrator also describes the sights and sounds of nature. What makes this story a great example of Naturalism is how the natural world affects the characters, how they are at the mercy of their environment. This is really where the Naturalist form complements the meaning of the story: the struggle of the couple to farm the wind swept land and the power struggle between Ellen and Paul.
Ellen and Paul have no money and their house is bare (little food, not much clothing), just as the land has become bare. Other than the stable, the house, and the comforting but mocking light of the lamp in the room, it is just the two of them against nature. Ross heightens this struggle (and the struggle between Ellen and Paul) by using personification/anthropomorphism to describe the wind and harsh elements outside:
There were two winds: the wind in flight, and the wind that pursued. The one sought refuge in the eaves, whimpering, in fear; the other assailed it there, and shook the eaves apart to make it flee again.
This personification gives the sense that the wind is alive. One wind is attacking and the other is fleeing. This parallels the strained relationship between Ellen and Paul. Neither she nor he wants to give in. Ellen attacks then flees; Paul attacks back and then flees to the stable. It is only in the end when Ellen is symbolically defeated by the wind that she gives in and tells Paul he was right.
Ross also parallels the barren land with descriptions of the lack of vitality in the faces of Paul and Ellen. Just as the land had been eroded, Paul looked as if his youth (his vitality) "had been effaced." Ellen's "eyes were hollowed" and her "lips punched dry and colorless."
Complementing this Naturalist style, Ross uses the pathetic fallacy to show the connection between the couple's struggle among themselves and their united and individual struggles against nature. The pathetic fallacy is a figure of speech in which inanimate things (such as the wind) are given human emotions. Personification can be used as pathetic fallacy but this is not always the case. "Pathetic" comes from "pathos" which means to appeal to the audience's emotions. The term, coined by John Ruskin, also contains "fallacy" because, for example the wind doesn't really have emotions; this is the fallacy. However, it is a useful figure of speech, certainly in this story because it augments the struggle of the characters: they are angry and struggling, the wind is furious and unrelenting.
The Naturalist style/depiction of the wind and barren land is a perfect analogy for the relationship between Paul and Ellen. There are storms, lulls of relative peace between the storms. Likewise, the couple argues, they make up (or ignore each other), and as Ellen noted, they never really get ahead. This is their cycle and it parallels the cycle of nature (specifically the weather and landscape in this story).
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