why was bailey willing to give his life to the circus ?

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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

IN 1897, Caroline dares her brother, Bailey, to break into the new circus that has just come to town a few days before. He manages to get in and is mesmerized by what he sees; just before he leaves, the young girl he meets gives him a white glove so Bailey can prove to Caroline that he did enter the circus as dared.

Later on, at the end of Part 1, we read that Bailey's father wants Bailey to take over the farm. Bailey's grandmother wants Bailey to go to Harvard, and she is willing to pay his tuition. She believes that going to Harvard will open up possibilities and new opportunities for Bailey. She senses his restless nature and feels that Bailey should follow his dreams. Bailey is not sure he wants to go to Harvard but thinks that Harvard sounds decidedly better than the farm:

He does not like the city more than Caroline, and it seems to him to be the option that holds the most mystery, the most possibility. Whereas the farm holds only sheep and apples and predictability.

Bailey mentions the smothering repetition of farm life to his mother, but she brushes him off by saying that she finds 'the cyclical nature of the farm comforting.' Yet, to Bailey, the circus is 'like no place' he has ever been, as he tells the fortune teller; to Bailey, the circus represents excitement, opportunity, and possibilities beyond imagination. When Marco tells Bailey that the circus needs a new caretaker because 'it is drifting, like a ship without an anchor,' Bailey can't contain his excitement. He is thrilled with the possibilities of being the caretaker, but also realizes that it is an even greater responsibility than that of taking on the farm or going to Harvard. However, the circus will offer him a chance to make a difference in the lives of all the people connected to the circus. Finally resolved to take on the responsibility of chief caretaker for life, he seals the deal with Marco's glowing ring.

Bailey lights the cauldron, which will power half the circus. To Bailey, the circus represents all that I stated above, but it also represents something very important: the circus infuses meaning into Bailey's life in ways the farm and Harvard never will. In short, the circus provides Bailey a purpose specific to him. Without purpose, life becomes a meaningless monotony. And that is the difference between the farm and the circus in Bailey's mind. Both require lifelong commitment, but only one brings true contentment to Bailey.

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