Change And Environment: A Look At Plainsong Essay, Research Paper
Kent Haruf was born and raised on the north east plains of Colorado and attended Nebraska Weslegan University and The University of Iowa. After he graduated he owned a chicken ranch in Colorado, work at the Royal Gorge Bridge and was in the peace corps before he settled down to teach at the University of Iowa. He has had much experience in small town life, which is why his book, Plainsong is so beautifully written. Haruf has first hand experience in the gossip, drama and change, which is so present in Plainsong. Change, and the parallels in the environment are the principal themes in this story. Everyone is touched by it and affected by the change in everyone else’s lives that happen around them.
Guthrie and Ella’s relationship is breaking up and Ella has desended into a horrible depression. She never leaves her room and rarely talks. Guthrie tries to get her out of her mental prison, but to no avail. “Looking at her, he couldn’t say if she was asleep or not, but he believed she was not. He believed she was only waiting to hear what he had come in for, and then for him to leave.” (6). This line shows that Ella doesn’t want to come out of her depressed state, that she’s not ready. When Ike and Bobbie come in to talk to her, however, she does speak to them.
“What time is it?
They looked at the clock on the dresser. Quarter of eight, Ike said.
You better go. You don’t want to be late. She smiled a little and reached
a hand toward them. Will you each give me a kiss first?” (13)
Her attitude differences to Ike and Bobby and Guthrie are also reflected in her environment. Her cool feelings toward Guthrie are shown in the atmosphere in her room, when he is in it. “He stood listening but there was no sound from inside. When he stepped into the room it was almost dark, with a feeling of being hushed and forbidding as in the sanctuary of an empty church after the funeral of a woman who has died too soon, a sudden impression of static air and unnatural quiet. The shades on the two windows were drawn down completely to the sill.” (6). Her feelings for Ike and Bobby are shown in the line, “After a moment she turned again in the bed and studied the two thin pencils of light shining at the edge of the window shade.” (7). We can see that Ike and Bobby are the only happiness in her life. We also see this in the line, “the door swung inward slowly and there was their mother. . . . Yes, she said. Her voice was dry and flat, without inflection. Hello, Mother. Is something wrong? She cupped one hand over her eyes against the bright afternoon sun.” (101). In that last line we see that Ike and Bobby are paralleled by the afternoon sun. There are many other times in the novel that a character’s feelings are reflected in the environment.
Victoria Roubideaux is a seventeen year old girl, who finds out that she is pregnant. She and her mother had a fight in the morning and in the evening, after work, she starts to walk home. “The evening wasn’t cold yet when the girl left the caf?. But the air was turning sharp with a fall feeling of loneliness coming. Something unaccountable pending in the air.” (31). In that line we see the foreshadowing of her feelings and her mother throwing her out of the house.
Mrs.Stearns is a scatter-brained, but underneath kind older lady. She befriends Ike and Bobby, but only after a few times of trying to bring them out of their silence about their mother. Her personality is paralleled by her apartment. “She shuffled back and they entered the apartment. The room was too hot. The heat was suffocating and the room crowded with all manner of things. Cardboard boxes. Papers. Piles of clothes. Yellowed stacks of newspaper. Flower pots. An oscillating fan. A box fan. A hat rack.” (43). In that line we see what type of person Mrs.Sterns is.
The relationship between Victoria and the McPheron brothers is shown in the landscape of their farm. It starts out cold and desolate and by the end of the book it is spring again. “After a time they turned east onto the gravel country road and then onto the track which led back to the old house with the rusted hogwire strung around it and the stunted elm trees standing up leafless inside the rusted wire.” (125). In this line the fence represents the emotional wall that the brothers have erected to keep everyone out. Then Victoria comes and gives their house homey touches and they realize that they can’t keep everyone out forever. “Now the wind started up in the trees, high up, moving the high branches. The barn swallows came out and began to hunt leaf-bugs and lacewinged flies in the dusk. The air grew soft.” (301).
Environment is the one thing that binds all of these characters together. They move about their separate lives, separate problems but it all comes down to the nature that surrounds them all.
Plainsong, by Kent Haruf