Importance of Symbolism in Timothy Findley’s “War”.
Young people often do not know what to expect of the future. They do not know how to act when something unexpected comes along, and their actions are based on what they do know; usually limited, biased information. This idea is central to the short story, ? War,? by Timothy Findley. The young boy, Neil Cable, narrates the day he found out his father had joined the army. He speaks of his actions, feelings, and confusion surrounding that day. At first glance, his actions are all too often misinterpreted as violence and hatred, but after careful consideration, one can see that they are merely his way of dealing with the troubling news.
He has not experienced enough in his lifetime to have a true understanding of war, and acts upon what he does know.
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In the short story, ? War? , by Timothy Findley, the young boy’s image of war and actions throughout are explained through the use of symbolism. Many symbols in the story give the reader an idea of the war that Neil pictures in his mind. He sees the war to be incredibly violent, and full of blood and anger. This image is shown through the mention of trenches. The word is used repeatedly in the story, suggesting that Neil is very much aware of what happens at war.
When Neil is hiding from his father, he builds a trench out of hay in the barn, suggesting that subconsciously, he is trying to prepare his father for what is to come. He thinks that if he can show his father what it is like to be in the army, maybe he will back out. As a young boy, he knows only what he has seen or heard about, which focuses on the violence and danger of going to war. This idea sparks fear within Neil, resulting in anger and rebellion. Another important symbol that shows Neil’s image of war is the stones that he finds at Arthur Robinson’s summer cottage.
They are red stones, and he later uses them to throw at his father, trying to keep him away. The stones may symbolize bullets, making the confrontation between Neil and his father in the barn much more important. He throws them at his father, not necessarily trying to do harm, but trying to scare him so maybe he will change his mind about going to war. The colour of the stones is also significant; they are red, a colour which is known to symbolize anger, hurt, and passion.
These are all emotions that Neil knows will run through his father while he is away at war. Interestingly, they are also the feelings that rage inside of Neil while he creates a plan of attack against his father. The stones, along with Neil’s actions with them, suggest that Neil is trying to prepare his father for the extreme violence that lies ahead of him. When hiding away in the barn, Neil continuously acts like his father will while he is gone; ? I was just trying to figure out how I could get him before he saw me-and that was all? (Dawe 133).
Neil does not realize the meaning of his actions, but as a reader one can see that something deep down inside of him is trying to create a scene of the war; this is his way of demonstrating his feelings and disapproval of his father going to war. Uncle Frank and the birch bark box show that all Neil knows about war is that people come back hurt. He does not want to accept the fact that his father has joined the army, because in his mind it means that he will never see his father again. The only story that Neil knows about being in the army is about his Uncle Frank, who did years after coming home due to war injuries.
Neil knows that his uncle never got his life back after getting hurt, and thinks that everyone who joins the war ends up the same way. After finding out his father has joined the army, and recalling the memory of his Uncle Frank, Neil states: ? …in the army you always went in a trench and got hurt or killed? (Dawe 124). Neil has never heard an uplifting story about war, so in his mind anyone who joins the army is giving up their life. This idea is confirmed by the birch bark box that Neil gives to both his parents.
This box could symbolize a coffin, showing that Neil truly is afraid of losing his father. He wants to make sure that he gets the box before leaving for the army, so that he has it with him when he dies. The box is mentioned at the end of the story, when Neil says that the family picture taken before his father left still remins in the box, suggesting that Neil’s fears become a reality. These two symbols show Neil’s lack of knowledge about war, and explain why he acts the way he does; he thinks that his father signing up for the army means that he will never see him again.
Neil’s fear of ducks and the dark suggest that he is afraid of the future; he knows that anything could happen once his father leaves for war. His fear of the future is the reason he runs away and hides in the barn. He thinks that if he can keep things the way they are that the future would remain the way he imagined it would be. Neil says multiple times in the story that he is afraid of ducks. Ducks are migratory birds; they are constantly leaving and returning. Although they travel in bunches, it is common for not all of the ducks to return every year. This pattern is very much like the army.
They come and go, some staying for longer periods of time, and some never returning at all. Neil is afraid of this uncertainty with his father; he does not want to live in fear f his father never returning home, or of never knowing what will happen next. Neil also states that he is very much afraid of the dark. He does not like not knowing what it in front of him, and wants to always be able to see what is coming. This is very important when analysing Neil’s fears. The reader knows that he does not adjust well to change, and is very uncomfortable when dealing with the unknown.
He says: ? At least, if you sit still you know where you are- but if you move around, then you don’t know where you are? (Dawe 12). This statement tells the reader that Neil is also worried about the change in his life. If things do not change, then he knows what is going to happen, but as soon as thigns are different, life becomes a guessing game. these fears are the reason that Neil acts the way he does; he does not know how to deal with the uncertainty of the future and thus portrays a very angry, confused young boy.
When Neil Cable receives the news that his father has joined the army, he lashes out at him and seems to be a very troubles young boy. After examining the story, one can see that this behaviour is the result of being young, naive, and unaware of the world around him. His knowledge about war is limited, and causes him to react with violence and aggression, but the reader soon realizes that this is the only way he knows how to deal with his fear. By interpreting the many symbols in the short story, ?
War? , one can see that Neil Cable’s image of war consists of violence, possible death, and an unknown future. The story is based upon the idea that young people are not experienced enough to deal with difficult situations; simply because they have not lived long enough. They pften react in very unexpected and sometimes troublesome ways. In order to understand their actions, one needs to see things from a child’s perspective: innocent, naive, and in the process of learning about the world around them.