The Short Tale: The Glass Roses

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Alden Nowlan wrote the short tale "The Glass Roses." It's late at night in a bunkhouse where the protagonist, Stephen, is with five men—we find that four of them are playing Auction 45's while one, the Polack, is sleeping. His father is the strongest and most serious of them all. The wind outside frightens Stephen, so he pulls his blanket tightly over himself. As the tale progresses, Stephen graphically demonstrates that he is unsure of himself because he perceives his size as willowy. His father, like the other guys, is a woodsman. The protagonist's father, who is the crew's foreman, considers Stephen as a mere boy. He tells him to start imitating the rest of the crew if he wants to perform a man's job- cutting pulp woods.

The Polack wakes up from a dreadful nightmare- one of the many nightmares he used to have. He tells Stephen of their house in Tarnopol that had glass roses. They were beautiful flowers and his mother was fond of them- she never let anyone touch them. Unfortunately, when war broke out in their town, bombs shook the glass roses and they fell on the floor and shattered in countless pieces. Stephen then thinks of the glass roses as he listens to the howling wind outside. The protagonist's interest in tales seems childish- he believes that to become a man, he needs to abandon his childhood ambitions and be ‘manly', just like his father's counterparts that had ‘ox-like shoulders'. In the morning, Stephen is paired with the Polack to cut wood. The protagonist suspects they have been put together since they were the weakest. The Polack is a foreigner- the only one that the protagonist has ever known. The Polack notices that he is despised hence he says that he thinks ‘the country hates people'. As they commence to cut the pulp wood's trunk, Stephen feels stupid and cannot consider himself being a woodsman.

The setting of the short story ‘The Glass Roses' is crucial in developing the characters and pushing the story forward. As mentioned above herein, the story unfolds in a bunkhouse, drives us through a murky forest where the protagonist cuts wood with a foreigner and consequently discovers his true self. For instance, while in the bunkhouse, Stephen has an internal conflict. He does not see himself as strong enough to be with father to cut pulp woods. He has antagonizing desires of choosing between being a man or continue chasing his childhood dreams. His father and his crew influence him to be strong just like them. This is illustrated in the story where the protagonist ‘enviously compares himself with the well-built men who have ox-like shoulders with humped backs'. He sees himself as a mere fifteen-year-old willowy body. Additionally, his father had told him to act like a man since there was no room for kids in the pulp woods.

The rough howling wind outside the bunkhouse serves as a catalyst for the readers to create character traits for the occupants. We learn of the protagonist's fear when he draws the blanket around himself. The sound outside makes him shiver. The other four crew members are fearless since they continue playing the Auction 45's unperturbed. The wind is a metaphor for the external forces the protagonist struggles with. Additionally, the nature of the winds shows that Stephen's father is not content with his son as being ‘manly'. When the protagonist draws a blanket around himself, this represents his futile trials to hide his insecurities. The main objective of the men is to cut pulp woods. They divide themselves into pairs to carry out the work. The author subjectively uses the Polack and the protagonist as the weak pair that converses as they work. It is through their isolation that we learn the Polack's name is Leka. Additionally, he is not Polish but Ukrainian. The forest setting and the present country he is in as a foreigner, do not consider his individuality as being important. This is evident when he tells the protagonist that previously the Ukrainians were known as Poles, presently they are referred to as Russians, and consequently, Leka is either a Canadian or a Polack. This shows that people give each other names that do not show the true identity and reflection of the other.

The short story ‘the Glass Roses', is dominated by male characters- except for Leka's mother, whose glass roses play a significant role in developing the story. This lack of femininity is evident when Leka says that ‘there is not enough room in the world for glass roses'. The death of Leka's brother at Cracow and black-robed priests in a cathedral are all masculine characters in the story. Despite this lack of femininity, the glass roses emerge from the mention of Leka's mother. They act as a symbol of innocence, a metaphor for the protagonist- he is revealed to us as a kid. When Leka narrates how his mother loved and protected the glass roses that were finally smashed in a bomb, symbolizing Stephen's innocence and his father's pressure to make him grow up. He ends up breaking free from the pressure and insecurities so that he can stand up for himself.

The fear and insecurities in both the bunkhouse and the pulp woods greatly affect Stephen. They lead to the emergence of the internal conflict. The setting makes Leka to be rejected by most of the crew. He does not eat any pork or boiled tea, instead, he takes fried potatoes and hard-boiled eggs. This is vivid when one of the woodsmen tells the cook that the Polack did not trust him. The Polack and the protagonist's father are used purposely to intensify the internal conflict. Ironically, it is these same characters that lead to conflict resolution.

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Conclusively, the story's setting finally leads to the protagonist's theme of growth. This is illustrated in the last sentence of the story where Stephen hesitates for long to wake the Polack who had a nightmare. He takes his time to wake him even though his father had told him not to. Stephen makes his own decision to wake him, this is an act of growth.

October 07, 2021




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