Who Has Seen the Wind

by W. O. Mitchell

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Who Has Seen the Wind, like Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn (1884) or William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954), is a children’s book written for adults. The novel traces Brian O’Connal’s quest for knowledge, tracing his development from the age of four to the age of twelve. He is a pleasant and likable small-town boy who searches for the order, pattern, and significance underlying the chaos of human experience. The novel is called Who Has Seen the Wind to suggest that Brian is moved by a force that he cannot see directly. The rare and moving spiritual joy that he has sometimes felt, like the wind on his neck and arms, tells him that there is some “force” at work in his world, although he cannot perceive it directly.

The novel is structured chronologically, and the reader follows Brian’s growth and maturation. Brian recognizes that death is ever present and inevitable. As he matures, scenes of death become increasingly significant for him. He gradually learns to accept death’s presence in his world. As he matures, he learns to cope with the fact that his dog Jappy is killed, that a gopher can be cruelly tortured by boys, that his friend Fat must accept the loss of his rabbits, that his father and grandmother can and do die.

The realization that death is inevitable is, however, only one of the concerns of this book. Brian, not understanding the force that gives him sudden elation even in the face of death, continues to try to learn the ways of the world. He learns to accept life’s imperfections, particularly social hypocrisy. He must, for example, learn to deal with the intolerance represented by Mrs. Abercrombie. Despite the obvious weaknesses and flaws of his society (even Mr. Powelly is more a fanatic zealot than a believer), Brian continually yearns to understand what underlies his world. From the Ben family, particularly young Ben, he learns that a sense of continuity and life force is possible. From the school principal, Mr. Digby, he learns that he should not be deceived by the appearances of a small town: A larger world than the one he knows is possible to him through the gift of the imagination. From Milt Palmer, the philosophical shoemaker, he learns wisdom.

By the end of the book, Brian has gained knowledge and developed his imagination. He now receives the insight that makes his quest a success. The closing passage of the novel suggests that the prairie offers solitude and renewal. The wind heading over the prairies, in particular, suggests to him that although the force and vitality of life may never be seen directly, its effects are clear. Life and death are merely the outer forms of the energy which, like the wind, is ever present. The prairie, the boy finally understands, represents his solace and consolation, for at its horizon merge the finite and the infinite, the living and the dead, the visible and the invisible. By the end of the book, then, Brian is offered the transcendent vision he has earned through his relentless efforts to understand the events around him.

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