What do we learn about the narrator's mother in the story "The Leap"'s exposition?

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One thing the reader quickly learns about Anna Avalon is that she "lives comfortably in extreme elements." Anna is confident where others would be fearful. Most notably, she is half of a high-flying trapeze circus act and performs with calm skill even while seven months pregnant. More prosaically, though, Anna moves from country to country at a young age, learns to read as an adult, navigates the death of her first husband and the stillbirth of her first child, and faces blindness caused by cataracts, all with courage and grace. Her calm confidence is seen in her daughter, the narrator, as well. The narrator remains calm during the house fire, performing all the correct steps to lead to her rescue.

The reader also learns that Anna is resourceful. Twice in the story she finds a solution in the heat of a panicked moment that saves someone's life—first her own, then the narrator's. As Anna herself would put it, "[you'd] be amazed at how many things a person can do within the act of falling." First, during the circus accident, she realizes something has gone wrong and pulls off her blindfold just in time to see her husband falling to the ground. Instead of succumbing to panic or grief and falling after him, Anna quickly turns the other way and grips a guy wire until she can descend slowly. Later, during the house fire, Anna realizes her child is trapped upstairs while the house burns down. Again, instead of feeling panicked or helpless, Anna climbs a tree, leaps to the window, and saves her child.

Finally, the reader learns that Anna Avalon is practical and no-nonsense. Most importantly, as outlined above, she does what needs to be done to save herself and her child during both fires. She does so without fear of pain (she severely burned her palms holding the guy wire but did not let go) or embarrassment (she stripped to her underwear in front of the crowd to save her child, because she knew she needed maximum agility to leap to the window). Anna also moves past grief and nostalgia throughout the transitions in her life. After the loss of her husband and first child, Anna is able to recover and start a new family. After she leaves the trapeze act, she does not hang on to costumes and fliers or constantly relive her memories but instead moves into the second act of her life, living on the farm and becoming a voracious reader. When she loses her sight, she does not complain or grieve but simply learns to get around without sight.

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In the exposition, the reader of "The Leap" learns that the narrator's mother, Anna Avalon, is a very resourceful woman, as well as a quick thinker.

Central to the theme of this story is the mother's remark to her daughter that she would be 

...amazed at how many things a person can do within the act of falling.

While it does feel as though time slows while one is mid-air, Anna Avalon means that

...in that awful doomed second [when the circus tent collapsed], she could think, for she certainly did.

When lightning struck the main pole of the circus tent, her husband Harry, who was toppled forward from his swing as the tent buckled swept past her, Anna of the Flying Avalons could have caught his ankle and fallen with him, but, instead, she changed direction by twisting her body toward a heavy wire which she grabbed and held despite the burns to her hands.
Three people died this night, but Anna Avalon survived because of her quick thinking. She opted to live rather than to die with her husband, who was plummeting to the ground.

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In "The Leap," what information is given about the mother in the exposition?  

The exposition is a literary device which is used to set the scene of the story and to provide the necessary background information. In "The Leap," the exposition occurs in the first two paragraphs and provides the reader with a lot of details about the narrator's mother, Anna:

  • Anna is the only surviving member of a trapeze act called the Flying Avalons.
  • Despite working as a performer, Anna is not a dramatic character nor has she kept any mementoes of her time in the Flying Avalons, not even a costume.
  • Anna has gone blind as a result of "encroaching and stubborn" cataracts. 
  • Anna's blindness has not affected her sense of balance: she can move easily around her New Hampshire home and she has never "upset an object" or "bumped into a closet," as one might expect from a person without sight. 

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