The Sweet Hereafter Essay, Research Paper
If there is one aspect of the novel The Sweet Hereafter that has been overlooked by many readers, it is the method in which Russell Banks coincides the major events of the novel to the seasons of the year. More particularly, to the seasonal extremes of the year, the chilling frost of January and the suffocating warmth of August. It is within these two points of the year that the story unfolds, and takes us with the town of Sam Dent on its journey of resolution.
The event that originally sets in motion the entire course of the book is the accident. This accident, which took the lives of fourteen children, is truly a disaster of monumental impact. In a small town like Sam Dent, N.Y. , this is almost an entire generation of this town. When the school bus left the unplowed and snowy road for the deep and frozen sand pit, it occurred at a time of the year when death is all around. Since winter is thought of as a season of ending, of stillness where nothing grows or blooms, it automatically evokes a sense of loss. This season gave Russell Banks a natural starting point from which to convey the sense of desperation that the town is feeling. Winter is also the darkest season of the year, with the longest nights and shortest days of the year occurring within it. This aspect also helps to express the darkest part of the lives of the parents who have lost their children. The lenghthly time without light shows how the parents no longer have many sources of joy or warmth within their lives. The winter brings out the harshest and cruelest of all of lives realities.
The winter also brings out some of the worst in people. Many of the citizens of Sam Dent went as far as to higher a lawyer, as if a lawyer would somehow ease the pain of their loss. Banks shows how, in this great time of devastation to the town, many of the population fall to the darker and more vengeful feelings that the lawyers tap into. Mitchell Stephens is the worst of the lawyers. He inspires the grieving parents, while really only pulling them down to a deeper and much more secluded region within themselves.
But the Spring brings about a change in weather, and also a change in the disposition of the town. Since Spring is considered to be a time of birth, or rebirth, Banks uses it as a time for Sam Dent to get back on track with reality. This is the time and place for a person like Nicole Burnell to arrive in the story. Banks logically brings her in as a narrator to the story during this season so as to the give notion that everything will be alight in the end. Her unique look on the crash opens the eyes of the reader to an aspect they might not have thought of at this point in the story, what about the survivors? Through her meaningful narration she supplies the hope to the story, not unlike the first buds of Spring provide to the eye. But since Spring takes months to fully run its course so do the characters of this book. Russell Banks makes sure that his charters are still in the vengeful state of mind that they took from the winter months, and the lawyers manipulations. Because, as in nature not everything grows fully or even survives the Spring. This is another trait that Russell Banks did not fail to include into his novel. In this way many of the residents of Sam Dent do not survive the Spring. They literally survive the Spring, but mentally they do not. None of the parents appear to the outside world as the same person who began the winter. Unfortunately, as in nature, only the strong survive, and not many of the townspeople are strong.
The Summer brings about the warmth and brightness of the sun. It is the culmination of the story. Russell Banks takes his cue from nature again and totally rids his story of any coldness that might still be left over from the winter months. Nicole Burnell saves the town from itself by giving her deposition and taking away any hope of a case that Mitchell Stephens might have had. This is also the season with the second seasonal extreme. The August warmth has defrosted the citizens of Sam
Dent. They are able to come together at the annual demolition derby. This ritual brings the town back together and lets slip any skeletons left in the closet of the town. This time of the year provides nature with her most radiant sense of life throughout the entire year. Again like the seasons, Banks writes his characters as if they were almost reborn. Billy Ansel, the man who has lost two children and a wife, seems to be full of life, even though he is slightly intoxicated at the time. But the entire crowd at the the demolition derby was swimming in life. They were bathing in all of natures beauty, while reliving their past months of loss and sorrow with every smashing fender, and every gunned engine.
Life is at its peak at during this season. Totally opposite from what it was during the winter. Days are long, and the night is short. The Sam Dent citizens are finding themselves again and living again. The Summer lets the townspeople enjoy themselves. They re alive. They are beginning to realize that winter brought devastation but the summer can bring joy. But, while they may get used to the loss of their children, they will never trulythen you didn t miss much get over it.