What character traits does the mother in "The Leap" display through her circus performances and accident response?

Quick answer:

Through her circus performances and her actions when the accident takes place, the mother in "The Leap" shows herself to be graceful, adaptable, resourceful, courageous, and comfortable with extremes.

During her circus performances, she is adventurous, free-spirited, fun-loving, and courageous. During the trapeze accident, she is resourceful, quick-witted, and determined. As she rescues her daughter from the fire, she is sensitive, loving, and self-sacrificial.

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Character traits are qualities or attributes that help to define the personality of a character in fiction. As described by her daughter, the narrator, the mother in the short story "The Leap" by Louise Erdrich displays numerous character traits during her regular circus performances. She and her husband enjoy their trapeze act together. They "drop gracefully from nowhere," laugh, flirt, and "kiss in midair." They make their performances not only exciting, but also romantic.

In this description, we realize that the mother is adventurous, courageous, enthralling, free-spirited, happy, and fun-loving. However, in continuing her act even when she is seven months pregnant, she also demonstrates that she is reckless and foolhardy. In fact, this ultimately results in the death of her unborn child.

When the lightning strikes the circus tent and kills her husband, the narrator's mother displays further character traits. She does not panic, but has the presence of mind to rip off her blindfold, twist around to grasp a hot heavy wire, and, despite the pain and damage it causes to her hands, lower herself safely to the ground. This shows that she is also quick-witted, resourceful, and determined.

Another accident occurs in the story when the house catches fire. When the narrator's mother arrives to find the house on fire and the narrator trapped inside, she does not hesitate to act. She strips down to her underwear, climbs a tree, and leaps over to the burning building. She displays calmness and confidence as she gathers her child in her arms and leaps out of the window toward the net of the firefighters. Here, she demonstrates that she is loving, sensitive, and self-sacrificial.

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One character trait the mother shows through her circus performances is what her daughter calls her ability to "live ... comfortably in extreme elements." Even when seven months pregnant, the mother goes ahead with her dangerous trapeze act.

The mother also shows her survival instincts, when, after lightening strikes the tent where they are performing, she refuses to go crashing down with her husband:

she could have grasped his ankle, the toe-end of his tights, and gone down clutching him. Instead, she changed direction.

This shows as well her ability to make needed adjustments in her life, as does her learning to read and write while recuperating in the hospital. She is able to redirect gracefully too when she moves from being a trapeze artist in a circus to a housewife on a farm.

The mother reveals her courage and resourcefulness as she saves her young daughter from her burning bedroom—this act, once again, also shows she is comfortable with extremes.

It is worth noting that this is a subjective, first-person narrative that perhaps reflects some of the daughter's grief that her mother is aging. This mother is presented as a magical, idealized figure of grace, adaptability, and courage. The mother is shown to have lived a life with its share of trouble, drama, and danger, but also to have been capable of rising above and overcoming its adverse circumstances.

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