Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 589

This complex story traces the ancient pattern of the journey in parallel narratives, one about the seeker, Boney Benson, and another interwoven narrative about the process of discovering truth through fiction-shaping. Partially, it is a traditional coming-of-age story, for the shift from listener to teller completes the artist’s passage into manhood, and in the writing of the story he is able to shed the ghosts of his memory that threaten to strangle his power of expression. The figure of Boney, whose very name holds a foreboding of mortality, and the shape of light he must follow against reason reveal the story’s true message.

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Boney has been touched, poisoned, or made crazy by the light. Once he is converted to the light he no longer belongs to the world. He lives apart from the rest of the town. As a “follower” of the light, he must abandon everything else and look to the light alone for meaning in his life.He had to give himself wholly, unafraid, surrendered to it. He had to leave things behind . . . and this was his life, bearing, suffering the found-out meaning of what he was involved in, haunted by it, grieved by it, but possessing it—and watching it continue to grow, on and on, into deeper and larger meaning.

The Christian parallels both in pattern and in language are so strong that they become the real center of the story. In this light, the initiation pattern is subsumed into the conversion experience.

Just as there is no reasonable explanation for the events of Boney’s life, there is no proof of God or of Jesus’s life and Resurrection, except through faith. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (1 John 8:12). Boney’s dedication to the light seems to predicate a post-Pentacostal world, when the Holy Ghost, set loose in the world as guide and comforter, has taken the place of Jesus the man and teacher, and conversion must be wholly a matter of faith in the unseen.

Another name for Jesus, found in the beginning of the Gospel of John, is the Word, the incarnate Word of God. It is these dual aspects of God, light and word, that Goyen’s story about dual quests attempts to express, always aware in the telling of what words can never say. In the face of the inexplicable and inexpressible, words are ever more precious to bridge the dark silence between humankind and Creator.

The image of the kite-message, with its crossed sticks stretched over with fragile paper, becomes an emblem for Jesus. In the same way that this kite enables the artist to find his voice, the mystery aglow in the world illuminates the smallest details of “the frail eternal life of the ground.” Some of Goyen’s most impressive writing goes into descriptions of this natural wonderland, which needs only to be apprehended to be celebrated. Once illumined, one is made aware of the world’s intimate beauty of design, evidenced in living forms, and once one has seen, one must tell it. Like Boney, who still sees and must follow the light where it leads, even after blinding himself to escape it, the converted will never be free of the force of that illumination. However, they, like the artist, do not wish to be apart from what defines them, even though they can never really be part of the world in the same way again.

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