Last Updated on April 20, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 862
“The kid,” whose real name is Franklin Starlight, prepares to leave for a journey. As the old man, his guardian, milks their cow, Franklin leads an old mare out of her pen and loops her rope around the fence. The old man asks if the kid has any money, and Franklin replies, “Enough.” The old man digs into his wallet and procures a stack of bills for the kid. He warns Franklin that an unidentified “he” is going to be sick when Franklin reaches his destination. Franklin assures the old man that he can handle it; the man he is traveling to see is Franklin’s biological father. The old man suggests that Franklin should “stick with what [he’s] got” at their modest home and ignore his father’s request for Franklin to come to town. Franklin insists that he needs to make this trip, simply repeating, “He’s my father.” He and the old mare set out through the mountainous territory of British Columbia, and Franklin feels completely at ease in nature. He attributes his deep love of the land and its resources to his identity: “He was Indian.”
As he approaches the town of Parson’s Gap, Franklin is reminded of how much he dislikes this setting. Young people in town are often rude to him, laughing and even throwing stones as he passes by. They aren’t used to seeing horses, and they often drive their cars too fast or too close to the animals. As Franklin passes by, adults come outdoors onto their porches to marvel at him. Franklin remains stoic as he continues on his route. He finds the barn where he always liveries his horse on trips to town and ties her up, providing plenty of oats and hay before heading back out. As he walks back through the town, the houses and buildings become increasingly seedy as he nears the area where he believes he will find his father. When he stops a drunken woman to ask if she knows the location of Eldon Starlight, she points Franklin in the right direction and then offers to show him a good time. He politely declines, and she responds, “Suit yourself, Indian.”
Franklin approaches a three-story house with shattered windows and trash strewn everywhere. Men congregate on the porch, and Franklin tells them that he wants to see Eldon Starlight. His polite manners and refusal to drink make the men laugh, noting that such a boy can’t be the son of “Twinkles.” As they let him pass through, one of the men warns Franklin that his father “ain’t right.” Franklin replies that he’s already aware of this. He passes various signs of disrepair and decay. A man yells at a woman, and doors slam as he passes by. Finally he arrives at his father’s room, where he finds him in bed with a woman. Franklin introduces himself, and his father comments that he has “got big” since they last met. Franklin immediately notices that his father’s appearance has drastically changed: his skin hangs off his bones, and his body forms jarring angles. Eldon introduces the woman as his “whore,” Deirdre. He tells Franklin that they need to have a conversation that he doesn’t plan to have in this particular setting. Deirdre dresses and leaves as Eldon and Franklin prepare to go out for dinner.
The contrast between settings is particularly important in these initial chapters. The old man is central to Franklin’s sense of home. Their natural setting is comfortable, its air invigorating Franklin’s soul and filling him with life. He compares this land to the refrain of an “old hymn,” its familiarity providing a comfort that is undefined yet profoundly enriching. He listens for the details of nature, such as the way a grizzly huffs or a wolf cries out against the moon. In this setting, he never feels lonely, though he is often alone. The old man is wrapped up in this sense of comfort, and Franklin is aware that the man has taught him everything he knows. The old man’s monetary sacrifice as Franklin embarks on his journey is particularly poignant; it is clear that there are few extra resources available, yet the old man demonstrates his love for Franklin through this tangible gesture.
As Franklin enters the town, however, a sharp contrast emerges that is symbolic of the dissonance between Franklin and his father. Franklin doesn’t feel at ease in town, nor is he accepted by the townspeople. Both his identity and his lifestyle are objects of ridicule and scorn. As he approaches his father’s boarding house, the setting reflects increasing deterioration. Smells of blood and urine replace the natural smells of home. When he arrives at his father’s room, there physically isn’t room for Franklin. Empty fast food containers, newspapers, clothing, and bottles line every inch of living space. Symbolically, this setting reflects the lack of space in Eldon’s own life for his son, who barely has room to have this initial conversation with the father whom he doesn’t even really know.
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