What are the literal and figurative leaps in the story "The Leap"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "The Leap" by Louise Eldrich, the narrator relates the life of her mother, one-half of the Flying Avalons, who executed an amazing leap that saved her life and the life of her unborn daughter. Now she is an old woman who is blind, but she has never lost her wonderful sense of balance and negotiates her way with ease.

  • The Literal Leaps

1. When lightning strikes the main pole of the circus tent in which Anna and Harold Avalon are in the midst of their blindfold trapeze sequence and her husband falls to the ground.

...she could have grasped his ankle,...and gone down clutching him. Instead, she changed direction. Her body twisted toward a heavy wire and she managed to hang on the the braided metal, still hot from the lightning strike.

2. After the narrator's mother marries the doctor who treats her injuries from the fire, the narrator is born. Later as a child, their house catches fire and, when the extension ladder on the fire truck breaks, the mother knows she must do something. So, she climbs a tree near the daughter's bedroom window. But, she cannot reach her daughter without leaping through the air onto a branch that breaks as she falls.

She was hanging by the backs of her heels from the new gutter we had put in...and smiling.

Then, the mother coaxes her daughter out of the window, holding her tightly.

3. The third leap is that taken after the mother has her child in her arms, as they dive for the rescue net, the "circle." 

  • Figurative Leap

The figurative leap is one made by the mother, who learns to read and "leaps" into the world of her well-educated husband.

nicowk eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The narrator of Louise Erdrich's story tells us, "I owe her my existence three times." She is talking about her mother. Each of these times that the narrator's mother saved her, there was some kind of leap.

The first time happened when her mother saved herself. As one-half of the blindfolded trapeze act The Flying Avalons, her mother survived a terrible fall. During an unexpected lightning storm, the circus tent came crashing down. Anna Avalon grabbed hold of a metal bar, scalding her hands but preserving her life. The narrator explains, "My mother once said that I'd be amazed at how many things a person can do within the act of falling."

The second time the narrator is saved, she is saved by the meeting of her parents. Her father was a doctor in the hospital where her mother recovered. In this medical setting, her father taught her mother (an illiterate circus performer) to read. This was perhaps the spark that blossomed into her parents' love. In learning to read, her mother (no longer able to leap from a trapeze) exchanged "one form of flying for another."

The third and final time that the narrator was saved by her mother occurred when their farmhouse caught fire. The narrator was seven at the time. She became trapped on the second floor of the house when the staircase went ablaze. Her mother, catapulted back into circus training, scaled a small nearby tree and retrieved her small daughter through the second-story window. Together, the two women leaped toward safety. Erdrich's narrator tells us, "I know that she's right. I knew it even then. As you fall there is time to think."

kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "The Leap," there are a number of literal leaps. The first one occurs when Anna leaps to safety while she is performing as part of the Flying Avalons. She takes this literal leap after the tent in which she is performing is struck by lightning and catches fire.

Another literal leap occurs when the family home catches fire, and Anna leaps into the bedroom window to rescue her daughter. They take a leap together to escape the house and land safely on the ground.

In contrast, a figurative leap takes place when Anna is recovering in the hospital. She "leaps" into a new life when she befriends and falls in love with her doctor, whom she later marries. Given their very different backgrounds, this is a leap of faith for Anna in which she is guided only by love. This figurative leap is also important because it guaranteed the existence of the narrator.