You Are Now Entering the Human Heart

by Janet Frame
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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 580

“You Are Now Entering the Human Heart” is a macabre tale of an elderly schoolteacher who permits a harmless snake to be wrapped around her neck in order to demonstrate to her class that there is no reason for fear. As she sits, trying to overcome her revulsion for the sake of impressing her class, the reader sees into her inner world, her heart. She is old and will soon retire to a life of fear and solitude, afraid to go out onto the streets of Philadelphia. She has no reason to learn not to fear snakes, but she is willing to lie for her class. The children remain too scared to touch the snake, but the teacher’s mask slips when the snake moves its head close to hers. She involuntarily throws the snake from her and shatters the illusion she has created. The children, who a moment before were filled with admiration, now see their teacher helplessly exposed.

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The violence of casting the snake away is symbolic of the violence with which Frame casts away illusion. She has had to learn to balance her extreme sensitivity with her ferocious integrity.

“Keel and Kool” is the story of a New Zealand family taking an outing after the death of the eldest daughter, Eva. “Keel and kool” is the sound made by seagulls crying in the sky. In the story it becomes a lament for the death of Eva, Winnie’s older sister. This may be interpreted as a reference to Frame’s older sister, Myrtle, as autobiographical detail is mixed with fantasy.

Eva’s best friend Joan has come on the picnic. The two girls go off to play, and Joan starts telling Winnie things that Eva had told her. Eva and she had had secrets. As Joan talks about her friendship with Eva, Winnie knows that they shared things she and Eva never shared. This heightens her grief, and she turns on Joan, calling her a liar. In the next moments she tries to come to grips with the permanence of her loss. She climbs a tree and listens to the seagulls cry. Her mother never talks of death. She always says Eva has passed away, “as if it were not death really, only pretend.”

Winnie learns the truth from the seagulls’ cry: Eva is gone, and will never come again. A child rejects the lies of the adult world in favor of the truth. Frame’s preoccupation with truth and falsehood pervades her writings.

“The Terrible Screaming” is a story about a town where one night terrible screaming is heard but everyone lies about it. The screaming begins one night and then continues. All the people in the town are afraid to admit that they heard the screams because they think others will consider them insane. They continue to live as if they hear nothing. One day a distinguished stranger visits the town and hears the screaming. The head of the welcoming committee denies the screams, and the stranger is sent to an asylum. The screaming continues unacknowledged. At the end of the story readers learn that the screaming is called Silence.

This story, in its use of allegory, resembles a fable. It is also a sketch of what develops into a major theme in Frame’s novels: the insane live close to the truth, while the sane live in a world where truth is denied. Those who speak the truth are brutalized, locked up, or marginalized.

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