“The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move. You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole… Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you.“
– Holden Caulfield (The Catcher in the Rye)
So my longest and most impulsive fiction venture to date is now complete, and I figured while it’s still fresh in my mind (and yours) I’d do an analysis. Given how different this was to my usual work, I thought it fitting that the analysis be equally as impromptu. So in lieu of the usual inspiration / meaning setup, I thought I’d just sort of throw some thoughts up onto the screen and see what sticks.
Note: If you haven’t read the story yet all 7 chapters are up & waiting here. They’re in the order that they were posted in, so you’ll have to start from the bottom.
There wasn’t much forethought put into this project. In fact, there really wasn’t any. It was only as I finished the first chapter that I realised there was potentially more to the story. So I decided to try making it into a segmented, continuous story, drawing inspiration from Orchid’s Lantern’s The Old Woman, The Stag, and Me, and Patrick W. Marsh’s Chains.
While there were no concrete plans for where I wanted the story to go, I did pick up on some emerging themes in the first chapter, and decided to tug those strings to see where they led. Coming of age, loss of innocence, reality vs. ideals, the natural world and romanticism were all part of that tangle, and while I didn’t want to force the story’s hand I did make an effort to focus on those aspects whenever possible.
The story revolves around a boy and a girl who meet in the woods and strike up a friendship. Early on they make a pact of sorts, deciding that so long as they are in the woods the outside world stays outside. The forest becomes their escape from reality, from all the troubles that await them on the other side of the forest line.
Of course things don’t exactly go as planned, and they soon learn just how hard it is to escape the treacherous grasp of their problems, even within the borders of their sanctuary.
The boy, prone to profound attachments as a result of unresolved abandonment issues, inevitably falls for the girl. She is wary of his feelings though, after being warned by her mother of the danger of romantics. Eventually she tells the boy that she is asexual and therefore cannot love him back, but it is implied that this is a lie meant to spare his feelings. Of course I can neither confirm nor deny this; your interpretation of the story is up to you ;)
They do their best to move past this, but once again the outside world sends things into a kilter. Still trying in vain to avoid confronting his problems, the boy is eventually forced to tell the girl that he is going away, having been accepted to a university. Tired of having their sanctuary constantly violated by the outside world they were meant to be escaping from, the girl complains that they’ve been wasting their time. Believing he’s losing another home, the boy panics and begs her to tell him that she’s wrong, that their time together meant something to her as well. She tells him that she will miss him, but refuses to admit that their efforts to escape were in vain. Still they do their best to maintain the facade for just one more day, and in a way succeed.
In the epilogue we find that a year has passed, and yet the boy has not returned. Disillusioned by the inescapable grasp of the outside world, the girl loses interest in the forest, no longer associating it with the sense of security she once did. The place she first came to to escape hard truths becomes a constant reminder of the hardest truth of all: there is no escape from your problems.
Eventually he does return, but something is wrong, and he tells her that a part of him has died. He is callous, unfeeling. It’s almost as if in some misguided attempt to stifle the heart which has caused him so much grief he’s gotten more than he bargained for! (This is a link, in case that wasn’t obvious enough. Click the link.)
She tries to coax him out of it, but fails. Devastated and not knowing what else to do, she starts to sing. Her voice stirs something in his chest (gee, I wonder what that could be?) and as the song ends it is implied that while things are certainly not better, there is still a faint glimmer of hope on the horizon.
Metaphors & Symbolism
The biggest and most obvious metaphor in this story is the natural world. Time and time again we see the environment reflecting the characters’ ordeals. The forest itself is symbolic of their sanctuary, their escape from the real world. Changing seasons serve as a constant reminder that time is passing, autumn symbolic of the transition between childhood and adolescence. Winter emphasises the cold stillness in the girl’s heart, be it because she is asexual and therefore feels nothing for the boy or because she is so callous as to lie to him and break his own heart.
The well is symbolic of the boy’s own situation, one he is keenly aware of. He relates to the fact that it too has been abandoned, that something with so much potential to give has been entirely forgotten, unappreciated and unused. In the epilogue the well crumbles in on itself, just as the boy himself is figuratively broken.
Another slightly obvious but fun metaphor was that of his tear in the epilogue. Replace the word “tear” with “troubles” and we have the same scenario; her singing brings out all that has been troubling him, all the feelings and problems he’s buried deep inside in an attempt to forget them. His issues have been blurring his vision, clouding his judgement and view of the world, but she helps him to let them go, i.e. release the tear.