Mavis Gallant

’s Bernadette Essay, Research Paper

Mavis Gallant’s Bernadette

Fear, it has a way of controlling everything that it comes in contact with.

As young children we are introduced to this intimidating desire with intrigue

and suspicion. As we age, the thoughts of fears become more like realities,

ideas of loneliness and death enter the picture as comprehensible thoughts and

views of the future. These issues make up the foundation of the Mavis Gallant

story “Bernadette”. In this story we are presented with the image of a young

French Canadian girl, who finds herself pregnant and without a husband. The

context of the story explores the relationships between the members of the

household in a fear associated manner. The relationship between the Knights

and Bernadette is the base of the story. These three people relate to each

other in an intimidating fashion and this is what makes Bernadette’s

predicament so difficult to overcome. As well, the family ties between Nora

and Robbie are explored. Their family relationship is one based on dependence,

and without this one factor the connection between the two results in

fearfulness of being alone. Fear has a way of attacking our judgment and this

is what makes associations between people an apprehensive and hard act.

The story is set in Quebec during the 1940-1950, when what you were was

the definition of who you were. As the story opens we are presented with the

main character Bernadette, who is concluding that she is one hundred and

twenty-six days pregnant. At this time in history it was quit common for young

rural girls to bare children at a young age. However, Bernadette is a single

French Canadian girl who is working and living in a urban community, where

things like that do not take place. We are here introduced to the first fear

presented in the story: –How will Bernadette tell the Knights that she is

pregnant? — The answer to the question is what haunts her, and the reaction of

the Knights is the anxiety that builds up inside of her. These intimidating

fears places Bernadette in a compromising situation, she is in a position of

abandonment by her family and the shame she thinks she has brought on to the

Knights. These fears have forced her to react in an unusual fashion.

Bernadette is so fearful of what they might think that she tries to hide

herself in her work so that she is not placed in the position where she will

have to interact with the Knights.

The fear of failure and disappointment took control over her mind.

When around the Knights she worked as a robot in order not to arouse ideas of

her current condition. Her nervous fears brought her to the point of giving in

to their expectations and allowing herself to lie to them about the books she

read and the men she saw. Her images of her dead siblings as angels would

comfort her fears at time, but would also bring up new ones. She would wonder

about her child and the life that was waiting for it; would it live a life like

hers or would it pray for her in the heavens.

The Knights were a couple that were brought together by convenience and

fears. Nora was concord by the fear of not being in control, she had to be the

one person everyone depended on in time of need. From her positions on

committees to the forgiving attitude she showed Robbie about his many affairs,

Nora always had the upper hand in any given situation. The affairs that Robbie

had, showed Nora that he wasn’t as dependent on her as she wanted him to be,

that is why she would treat the problem as a solvable condition, in order to

keep Robbie under her control. We are told about Robbie’s dreams of being a

playwright and fears of failure and the poverty that might follow. These

fears were reinforced by Nora; her fears of failure, allowed herself to place

her children into private boarding school, so that would not have to suffer the

thoughts of bringing up her children wrong. All the fears that controlled

their lives affirmed their ideas of how life was to be lived. The fears of

being alone brought Nora to the point where she was ready to do everything that

she could to keep Robbie apart of her life. This point is proven at the end of

the story when Nora’s suspicions about Robbie and Bernadette bring her to

suggesting that they pay for Bernadette to be placed in a home so that she can

continues her life with Robbie as if undisturbed. As well, the anxiety she

experiences is tested at the party she holds where her total control is lost by

all the disturbing news she is given about her husband and Bernadette. She is

forced to continue with the party in confusion and despair.

This intertwined relationship between the Knights and Bernadette

illustrate how people are fearful and deceitful to each other even when living

under the same roof. The fabrications of tales and unseen conditions brought

out the anxieties in each of the characters. These fears are manifested at the

initial start of the relationships and continue to grow if not put to rest.

This is seen when the pressure of the unborn child is released from

Bernadette’s conscience when Nora is forced to corner Bernadette in the kitchen

to question her about the suspicions of her pregnancy.

Bernadette and the Knights are characters that display for us the results

of what may happen when we let our fears control us to the point that they are

seen more as truth instead of obstacles. Fears are great deterrents and allow

us to see things not for what they are. In conclusion, we must all face the

fact that fears and anxieties will forever be present in our lives, but we must

progress to the stage where we can see them for what they are instead of

allowing them to enter our existing routines.


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