The Broken Globe

by Henry Kreisel

Start Free Trial

What is the symbolism of "the earthquake" in Nick's childhood in "The Broken Globe"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"The Broken Globe" is a story about a boy, Nick, and his father. The father, educated by "some medieval priest," still lives, metaphorically, "in the universe of the medieval church." The boy, a geophysicist, lives very much in the modern, scientific world. At the end of the story we learn that when Nick was thirteen, he brought home from school a small cardboard globe. He wanted to prove to his father that the earth was round and spun on its axis. The father dismissed the globe as a toy, crushed it with his fists, and beat his son "like he was the devil." This was the moment when the relationship between Nick and his father was damaged, seemingly irreparably.

At the beginning of the story, Nick recalls the girl who taught him French pronounciation. This girl was "fascinated by earthquakes," and Nick still remembers what she told him about the 1755 earthquake in Lisbon. The city of Lisbon, he recalls, was "devastated," and "Sixty-thousand persons died." The earthquake was so big as to be "felt in Southern France and North Africa." This huge earthquake is symbolic of great change and great devastation. It thus foreshadows the change in, and devastation of, Nick's relationship with his father. The day when Nick, as a schoolboy, brought home from school the cardboard globe and insisted that the earth was round and moving was the day when a metaphorical earthquake forever changed the relationship between him and his father.

After Nick's revelation about the earth, his worldview also changed completely. The world, to him, looked completely different, just as it might literally look different after an earthquake. He no longer believed as his father did that the sun "moved perpetually around a still earth," or that "God had made this earth especially for man." The earthquake mentioned at the beginnning of the story also, therefore, symbolizes and foreshadows the moment that we hear about at the end of the story when Nick's worldview undergoes a seismic change.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team