“Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so slightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible.”
– Virginia Woolf
This is an analysis of the fiction piece Webs. If you haven’t yet read this story you can do so here.
I grew up on an island in the Caribbean called Trinidad, where the lines between civilization and nature were often blurred. Our yard, though small in retrospect, was an entire ecosystem of discovery to my younger self. Iguanas would sunbathe on our galvanized metal roof, sounds of their claws scraping and massive tails dragging audible from beneath. Exotic birds would perch on our swing set, their constant calls the soundtrack to our life. Green and brown anoles would scurry up and down the branches of trees and along the wall surrounding the property, and their larger cousins the zandoli would dash between bushes and under rocks on the ground. There were frogs, bats, geckos, and even the occasional rat. And of course there were insects, though my interest in them would come later.
My real favorites were the marine life, an interest that began with the aquariums and pond my father kept and would continue to grow as I was exposed to all the perks of an island life. Boating trips with dolphins swimming alongside the bow, snorkeling at the beach in search of exotic fish and vibrant coral reefs, and watching the fish congregate at the docks of a family friend’s beach house all contributed to my ever-growing fascination with marine life.
I can’t say where the idea came from, but somewhere along the line I decided I wanted to be a marine biologist. Even after we moved up to Canada, away from the ocean and all it had to offer, my love for the sea never faltered. I went through high school with the full intention of becoming a marine biologist, even stayed an extra year to get the required classes for a marine and freshwater biology program at a university I was looking to apply to. I was eventually accepted, and the following year I started my first semester in marine and freshwater biology at university. Unfortunately, it would also be my last.
I learned a valuable lesson in those first few months of school: just because you love something doesn’t mean it loves you back. The sciences were grueling, and all other factors aside I simply was not cut out for them. I still love the ocean, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that that relationship will never be professional.
Anyhow, that’s where the childhood fascination comes from. The bit about the insects was far more recent than that of my childhood memories.
Our home in Canada is a decent five acres, and was the inspiration for the story’s setting. During the summer watering all the plants my mother has growing about the property can be a real bitch. It wouldn’t be so bad if we could use the hose, but seeing as our water supply comes from the rain and not the city, she insists we use the pond on our property instead. So what we do is we take the watering cans and go onto the dock to fill them up, and this takes about a hundred trips back and forth. I know what you’re thinking: why the hell am I reading this? Well, there’s a point to all this, honest. We’re getting there.
One summer a swarm of wasps made a hive in the dock, and would get super agitated whenever we’d get close. As you can imagine this made watering the plants even more of a bitch than usual, as you had to be careful not to rock the dock too much when getting water, or you’d stir up the hive and a bunch of pissed off wasps would come out looking for trouble. But here’s where it gets interesting.
One day as I was filling up the watering cans on the dock a horsefly came over and wouldn’t stop trying to bite me. If you’ve never encountered a horsefly before just imagine a mosquito the size of your toe with the determination of John Wick and also it’s the devil himself. So here I am being pestered by this unrelenting ass of an insect, when a wasp emerges from the space between two wood panels and -get this- chases him off. Then he went back inside, leaving me completely alone.
I’d like to think that we struck up a kind of unspoken peace treaty that summer, in which they didn’t bother us and we didn’t bother them. So long as we didn’t make too much of a ruckus they wouldn’t sting us, and so long as they didn’t sting us we didn’t nerf them with chemicals. It didn’t last, of course, but for a little while at least I lived in a world of rational insects.
Summary & Meaning:
The main theme of this story is perception. It’s about how we shape the world we perceive, whether it’s to block out certain undesirable truths as a coping mechanism or to favour others. It’s about the lies we tell ourselves, and the webs we weave to shield us from cold realities.
The story itself is very open to interpretation: you can either choose to read it on the surface as a nostalgic childhood romp, or you can work through all those icky webs to find the ugly spider of truth hidden within.
For example, if you subscribed to the brighter side of the story you probably assumed Bono was a dog, because it’s such an integral and renowned part of childhood, but the story never specifies this. If you were to look at the darker side of the story, and really pick it apart, you might think that Bono was actually an imaginary friend, the only companion the protagonist had in his turbulent childhood.
Bono’s disappearance after the very first paragraph (if you noticed after that he’s never mentioned again) is also part of the theme about lying to ourselves. The author purposely chooses not to mention him again, possibly because he’s avoiding mentioning the darker memories and sticking to reliving the good ones. Perhaps, assuming Bono is a dog, he has passed away, leaving the author truly friendless. Or, if Bono is an imaginary friend, it’s possible the author chose to abandon him, whether due to teasing from his classmates due to the fact that he still had an imaginary friend, or maybe after one or both of his parents (who aren’t exactly portrayed in a positive manner throughout the story) make a comment about him “growing up” and giving up “those childish things”. Or perhaps Bono was simply forgotten as the author goes through the years, like so many other things that are left behind deep in the recesses of our childhoods, fading from both memory and existence.
There are dozens of other little hints throughout the story that suggest the author has not had the best childhood. Mentions of leaving behind pain through pleasant distractions, of malicious people whose actions he cannot make sense of, and fights between his parents all point towards darker subtext. And of course there is the conclusion, in which the author chooses to believe the wasps have left peacefully and quietly, rather than having been killed by his mother.
The author himself mentions this theme, when he says the line “And in the end, don’t we all lie to ourselves one way or another?” The only question left, dear reader, is to what extent?