Penelope Fitzgerald

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In At Hiruharama, how does Fitzgerald make page 411's moment moving and dramatic?

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At Hiruharama by Penelope Fitzgerald is a story of the Tanner family's origins as told by a third generation narrator. There are several children but the story focuses on the grandparents and their first two children, both of whom are girls. The young and illiterate Mr. Tanner, an Englishman finds himself apprenticed to a wealthy family in Auckland New Zealand. He meets the sixteen year old Kitty who has also left England in search of a better life. Both of them are disillusioned after arriving in New Zealand and being treated more as servants than respective apprentice and governess. They marry and set themselves up in a remote location on a piece of land they can afford.  

The only neighbor they have, but who lives some distance away is Brinkman who every six months visits them and stays for dinner. Brinkman lives alone, never having been able to persuade a woman to move to such a remote location with him. On this particular occasion, Brinkman has arrived at an inopportune time and Kitty is in labor with the couple's first child. The section which begins "I don't want you to feel that you are not welcome..." begins Tanner's surprised response to Brinkman and Tanner expects Brinkman to leave after having rested a while. Fitzgerald blends humor with irony and there is a sadness which creates a paradoxical situation. Any parent can relate to Tanner's confusion and would be incredulous at Brinkman's self absorption but the fact that this occasion is obviously as important to Brinkman as the birth of a baby to the Tanners, is ironic. Just as the birth is exciting and traumatic and overwhelming to Tanner so the dinner is the focus of Brinkman's existence. From his descriptions and vivid recall of the meal they ate last time, it is apparent that Brinkman has looked forward to this dinner for six months just as they have looked forward to their baby's birth for nine.

Tanner's oversight in discarding the afterbirth from his daughter's birth reminds the reader to never take anything or anyone for granted. Fortunately, the doctor arrives in time to save the second baby who has been mistaken for the afterbirth and thrown away with it. This unlikely occurrence is as unlikely as Brinkman's insistence on waiting for dinner and reveals that relationships are the foundation of human existence and are crucial. Fitzgerald hopes the reader will recognize that every relationship is worth something, even those which a person may be inclined to ignore or discard. Fitzgerald's clever use of a motto  which becomes symbolic for the family creates an emotional connection and therefore a moving and dramatic moment with the reader who can hopefully learn from Tanner's almost tragic mistake when he nearly loses a daughter and when he wishes that Brinkman would leave.

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