What is Man Descending by Guy Vanderhaeghe about?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Man Descending is a collection of Guy Vanderhaeghe's short stories that revolve around the themes of the psychological descent of the protagonists who have feelings of paranoia from the problems in life and health that seem to entrap or cage them while making them vulnerable and confused. Vandergaeghe writes about his protagonists and their problems with sympathy so that while reading of how their psychological development or stability is breaking down or has broken down or is in danger of breaking down, we also have sympathy and compassion for the descending protagonists and grasp with them at any glimmer of hope that arises.

The overall theme of descent is symbolized in "Cages" by the occupation of the narrator's father who is a miner who descends into the earth daily. The hope of the arrest of full descent is depicted by the protagonist in "The Watcher" who learns of the possibility of liberating himself from his ignorance and weakness. The possibility of epiphany and transformation from descent to ascent is represented in "The Expatriates Party" by the protagonist's ultimate questions about the meaning of his life and the state of his humanity when he asks if he is the kind of man who punishes his grown son with cruelly painful pictures?

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