The Broken Globe

by Henry Kreisel

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How does the narrator in "The Broken Globe" develop respect and understanding for Nick's father?

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The narrator in “The Broken Globe” seems to come to a kind of respect and understanding of Nick’s father during his visit because he admires the old man’s unyielding conviction, his dignified and heroic stance, and his love of the land. Through his encounters with both Nick and his father, he comes to see Nick’s physical, behavioral, and emotional traits in his father.

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In Henry Kreisel’s short story “The Broken Globe,” the narrator visits Nick’s estranged father and witnesses how fractured the father-son relationship is over their conflicting views of religion and science. Nick explains to the narrator that he and his father parted ways decades earlier when he defied his father’s conviction that the world is flat; as a young boy aligned with science, Nick insisted to his dogmatic father that the world is round.

During his visit with Nick’s gruff father, the narrator gradually comes to respect and understand the old man. Although Nick’s father still believes the world is flat, he accepts that the narrator—like Nick—believes it is round; the old man does not try to change the narrator’s belief (as he violently did when Nick was young) but ruefully acknowledges the modern world’s belief:

He seemed suddenly to have grown very tired, and in a low, resigned voice he said, “Satan has taken over the world.” Then suddenly he roused himself and hit the table hard with his fist, and cried passionately, “But not me! Not me!”

Tellingly, though, he does not force this idea on the narrator. When the narrator is about to leave, Nick’s father gently touches him on the arm to show him

the vast expanse of sky and land, stretching far into the distance, reddish clouds in the sky and blue shadows on the land. With a gesture of great dignity and power he lifted his arm and stood pointing into the distance, at the flat land and the low-hanging sky. "Look," he said, very slowly and very quietly, "she is flat, and she stands still."

Instead of angrily yelling that this vista proves that the world is flat, Nick’s father demonstrates his point quietly and nobly. The narrator reveals his respect and understanding of the old man with by saying,

It was impossible not to feel a kind of admiration for the old man. There was something heroic about him.

The narrator treats Nick’s father with respect by extending his hand to the old man in a farewell. As he drives away, the narrator gazes back at the old man

still looking at his beloved land, a lonely, towering figure framed against the darkening evening sky.

The narrator sees Nick in his father through physical, behavioral, and emotional similarities. Upon meeting Nick’s father, the narrator notices:

His voice though unpolished, had the same deep timbre as Nick’s


It was clear that he was Nick’s father. For Nick had the same determined mouth, and the same high cheekbones, and the same dark, penetrating eyes.

Also, Nick and his father share love of open land. Nick misses the prairie when he lives in London; his father never left Nick’s rural hometown.

Both men also are stubborn and passionate about their respective beliefs. Nick is a renowned geophysicist, and his father is a devoted follower of the medieval church. Nick describes his father to the narrator as someone who once he “believed something, it was hard for him to shake.” Nick eventually realizes that his father viewpoint is immutable because

the shape of the world he lived in had been forever fixed for him by a medieval priest in the small Ukrainian village where he was born and where he received an education of when he was a boy.

Similarly, Nick is stubborn as described by his father, who says,

he always was a stubborn boy—Nick. Like a mule. He never listened to reason.

To Nick, reason is science; to his father, reason is religion.

Both men use empirical evidence to try to prove their viewpoints. Nick presents his father with the round globe to show him a model of the world; his father gestures toward the sprawling, endless vista to show the narrator that the world is flat.

Finally, Nick and his father express muted but present emotion. Both men are considerate toward the narrator and do not want to be a burden. Nick does not want to impose on the narrator to seek his father. Later, Nick’s father smiles and graciously hosts the narrator when he realizes the visitor travelled “all the way from Edmonton.” Most touching is the shared love between father and son. Nick reaches out to his father despite years of estrangement, and Nick’s father tells narrator, “Send greetings to my son.”

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