Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 995
This story has no plot in the conventional sense; its narrator does not tell a tale with sequential events. Rather, he recalls from his childhood various sensations, emotions, and incidents arising from his relationship at that time with his father. The story is not solely about what he felt as...
(The entire section contains 995 words.)
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This story has no plot in the conventional sense; its narrator does not tell a tale with sequential events. Rather, he recalls from his childhood various sensations, emotions, and incidents arising from his relationship at that time with his father. The story is not solely about what he felt as a child; it is, more important, also a presentation of the sensations and emotions that his recollections arouse in him as he dredges them up from the past. The story is, then, in part a study of an emotional state in a man who is recalling and interpreting emotional states experienced in his childhood.
The narrator is an adult of unspecified age; the events that he describes happened when he was quite young, probably about six or seven. Among a far more extensive exploration of psychological states, his narrative includes several incidents from his childhood. Often, he recalls, he would be dispatched by his mother to cheer up his father, an exceedingly moody man. Once, when the narrator, as a young boy, was upset, his father came out onto the porch of the family home to reassure him. On another occasion, the father came home with several thousand dollars in bank notes and was chastised by his wife, whom he accused of being a spoilsport. He took his son and daughter outside, but when he was confronted with what he perceived as materialism in his daughter, he returned to the house to blame his wife for teaching that vice to her daughter.
These keys to the kind of family life that the narrator had are not told sequentially and are not even a framework on which the psychological exploration is based, but they do provide the backdrop for an investigation of more shifting, elusive emotions. That exploration is halting, detailed, and very introspective. Although the few details of the domestic incidents are remembered relatively clearly and described briefly, the narrator’s recollection of the emotions surrounding them is expressed less decisively; each element of the emotions is inspected, each conclusion reinspected and refined.
The narrator’s descriptions and development of his recollections depend only in part on what actually occurred in his childhood. More important is what he can now make of what happened: “Some memories huddle in a grainy light. What it is is a number of similar events bunching themselves, superimposing themselves, to make a false memory, a collage, a mental artifact.” The narrator is aware that he may well be reinventing, as in fiction—he likens what he is doing to the creation of fiction.
The most important category of “mental artifact” constructed by the narrator consists of several instances of being lifted into the air by his father. This is the central motif of the story, and the most emotionally charged recollection. In recalling such instances of fatherly affection or protection, the narrator experiences, as the title suggests, an exultant emotional state, a mixture of the sublime and the awestruck.
The first such instance is at the beginning of the story. The narrator remembers his father chasing him; he describes it as if it were happening at the moment he recalls it. In a sense, it is: He is compelled to remember and interpret the influence that his father has had on him, and this makes him feel it again now. At the story’s opening, he is being chased by his father; he recalls all the childlike emotions that the event aroused in him. His father is enormous; his hands are giant; even his breath, the narrator recalls, seemed overwhelming: He feels “the huge ramming increment of his breath as he draws near.”
Being lifted by his father has, each time it happens, the effect of profoundly moving the boy emotionally. Sometimes he is liberated or deeply reassured; each time he is awestruck and feels physically or emotionally helpless in the face of his father’s physical force and force of personality. On the first occasion, the boy has been running from his father, who snatches him up and carries him home. Lifted aloft in his father’s arms, the boy senses a oneness with his father: “I feel myself attached by my heated-by-running dampness to him: we are attached, there are binding oval stains of warmth.” As the narrator recalls the event, details of the setting come to him, enriching his recollections; he sees—remembers—a path, a bed of flowers, and other very distinct features of his childhood world.
As memories come to him, he attributes various characteristics to his father: He has a distinct smell, which the narrator imagines changed to indicate his mood. His mood changes often and erratically. Even when in a dark mood, he adopts easily a protective, paternal demeanor if he sees that his son is suffering too. He is strong where the boy is defenseless. He is a sentimentalist, and when his sentimentality is engaged, he is profligate; the narrator explains that on one occasion, his father gave a car to a financially troubled man. The narrator also suggests the nature of the father-son relationship. It was a mutually dependent one, the son considering the father massively powerful, the father turning to the son for refuge from the animosity he feels toward his wife and daughter, and toward life itself.
Another instance of being lifted high in his father’s arms, the narrator recalls, came after the father had tried to console the son, who had been overwhelmed by a characteristic, fretful insecurity. Again the son experiences a liberating sensation, heightened on this occasion by his being placed on top of a stone wall that overlooks a bluff and that he is usually forbidden to climb. The experience engages all the boy’s senses: Wind flicks in his face; the view is so panoramic that he imagines it is audible, that he can hear it buzzing. All of his doubts and fears evaporate, and he senses a mixture of pleasure and “oblivion.”