Are Ellen's feelings justified in the story "The Lamp at Noon" by Sinclair Ross?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The setting is the Canadian prairie with a dust storm that holds everything hostage.  In the story “The Lamp at Noon” by Sinclair Ross, the atmosphere and tone are set by the  desolation of the characters.  The weather and drought have made life on the farm intolerable to Ellen, yet a man cannot give up on his land.

Are Ellen’s feelings justified in the story?

Ellen has been married to Paul for five years. They have a  unnamed baby son.  The dust storm has brought misery to everything on the farm.  Ellen tries to protect her baby by making a tent of cloth to prevent him from being covered by the dust that infiltrates the house.

Her situation to Ellen justifies her wanting to leave the farm and find a better way to live.  There are many factors that enter into the way that Ellen feels. Although she seems somewhat selfish, she also has a small baby to consider. Harshly, Paul accuses her of using the baby to make excuses to leave.   

Ellen’s unhappiness is apparent.  She was once a school teacher; however, she feels that she has no hope.  Her belief is that the farm has no future because the wind and dust takes everything.  Her emotions wrap themselves around her heart and will not let go.  She is lonely, isolated, miserable, and unable to communicate effectively with her husband.  She knows that her husband tries his best to make their farm work for their future. 

Like many husbands and wives, the communication between them is non-existent.  She wants him to hold her and reassure her.  He cannot bridge the gap between knowing that she does not believe in their farm and his work and understanding that she worries about what is going to happen to them.

They looked at each other, then away. She wanted to go to him, to feel his arms supporting her, to cry a little just that he might soothe her, but because his presence made the menace of the wind seem less, she gripped herself and thought, "I'm in the right. I won't give in…"

Ellen may also be suffering from postpartum depression. She has just had a baby and now finds herself with no way to help the baby or herself.  She cooks and tries to clean; but the dust covers everything.  

On the other hand, Ellen may be too immature to realize that life is never perfect.  There are things in life that cause hurt and suffering.  A person has to get through those events in order to find the good that is waiting for him/her on the other side. Because she feels so alone, Ellen finds this impossible to do. 

Pleading with him does not seem to make a difference.  He cannot see the signs that she has gone beyond just talking.  The author makes apparent Ellen’s frustration by using these words to describe her: tense, pleading, defenseless, brooding, afraid, and hopeless.  She feels there is nothing that she can do to help herself or her baby.   

The baby's death may have been before Ellen leaves the house.  The author does not tell the reader exactly what happens before Paul finds her in a ditch clutching her baby. 

Confused and lost, Ellen seems to be unaware that the baby is dead. She looks around to find that the storm appears over, and it will be a new day tomorrow. Unnaturally, Ellen has Paul hold the baby while she fixes her hair.  Her grip on reality looks to be negible. Admiringly and strangely, she remarks on Paul’s strong arms and almost pleasantly comments on the end of the storm. What will tomorrow bring for the couple is unknown?