How does the mother display courage and save the life of her daughter in "The Leap" by Louise Erdrich?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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“The Leap” by Louise Erdrich follows an autobiographical story line.  The story is told as a flashback by the narrator and daughter of Anna Avalon, a former trapeze artist in a circus. 

The point of view is first person with the daughter beginning the story in present time and then looking back at the three times her mother saved her life. The title of the story is not only figurative; it is also a literal leap by the narrator’s mother.

The story begins by describing the narrator’s mother as blind lady who has learned how to survive in her home.  The narrator admires her mother’s “catlike precision” which come from skill as a trapeze artist.  Her movements enable her to negotiate her house without bumping into anything. The narrator has come back to read and spend time with her mother since her father has passed away.

The daughter or narrator gives credit to her mother for saving her life three times. Two of the times, the narrator was not born, so her life was saved because her mother saved her own life.

The mother was involved with an accident in her hometown town square where a tent pole was struck by lightning as she and her first husband were performing in a trapeze act.  Her husband was killed; however, Anna, her mother, was saved by holding onto a wire that was electrified which burned her hands.  Her arm was broken as she was extracted from the wire.  Anna was pregnant when she performed and lost the child a few months later.

The second time is also figurative leap. The mother saves the narrator’s life as she recuperates in the hospital.  Her doctor takes a special interest in her mother. While in the hospital, the doctor teaches her how to read.  This time her mother saves the daughter’s life by marrying the doctor who becomes the narrator’s father. Her mother takes a leap of love when she marries.

The third time that her mother saves the narrator’s life is when she is seven. This time the leap is literal.   The house catches on fire while her parents are out for dinner.  The baby sitter is asleep and extricates herself after calling the fire department. 

The narrator is asleep upstairs.  The firemen have given up on rescuing the girl when her mother arrives.  She takes off her clothes. Then, she climbs up a tree with the ladder and leaps over to the window of the room where the narrator is lying on the floor.  The mother has the girl open her window.  Immediately, she grabs her daughter and leaps out the window! At first, the narrator is embarrassed by her mother being dressed only in her underwear.

I was still embarrassed as we flew out the window, toward earth, me in her lap, her toes pointed as we skimmed toward the painted target of the firefighter’s net.

By the time, they land on the ground she is glad her mother is holding her hand.  Wow! What a feat!

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