What is an analysis of "Volcano" by Nancy Lord?

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Nancy Lord’s short story “Volcano” describes the response of the protagonist , Julia, to a billowing volcanic ash cloud. The ash cloud blocks out the light of the sun, clogs up the turbines in the power station, and threatens to destroy Julia’s life. As the ash cloud ominously approaches Julia’s...

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Nancy Lord’s short story “Volcano” describes the response of the protagonist, Julia, to a billowing volcanic ash cloud. The ash cloud blocks out the light of the sun, clogs up the turbines in the power station, and threatens to destroy Julia’s life. As the ash cloud ominously approaches Julia’s home, she begins to reflect on her life and on her relationship with her partner, Dave. She begins to wonder what the point or purpose has been of the “twenty-seven years [she has spent] on the homestead.” She asks herself if this ash cloud is “what she’d been waiting for.” The focus of the story thus switches from the danger presented by the ash cloud to Julia’s existential crisis.

One possible interpretation of the story is that the volcanic ash cloud is symbolic of Julia’s existential anxieties. If we follow this interpretation, then the fact that the ash cloud blocks out the light from the sun perhaps symbolically represents the absence of hope and clarity from Julia’s life. Indeed, the darkness here perhaps symbolizes despair and hopelessness. Furthermore, the fact that the ash cloud shuts down the power station and thus cuts off the electricity supply could echo Julia’s feelings of loneliness and isolation. The only companionship she has at the beginning of the story is that offered by the voices that come through her radio. Her partner is absent, and then when the electricity is cut off, the radio stops working, too.

Finally, throughout the story, there is a sense of impending doom as the ash cloud approaches closer and closer to Julia’s home. It threatens to overwhelm her, and this sense of impending doom is, of course, a rather appropriate metaphor for the rising tide of anxiety, dread, and despair that has been rising within Julia for, it seems, some time. In this way, the ash cloud is simply a symbolic manifestation of Julia’s internal angst.

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