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Struggles


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Struggles Essay, Research Paper

The Struggles in Life Everyone is faced with struggles in life, whether physical or emotional. These struggles inevitably shape an individual?s personality and outlook on life. Timothy Findley?s novels, The Wars and Stones, suggest that the consequences of struggles in life result in a journey of self- discovery. War exists in the character?s physical and psychological accounts of the horror of life. In the novel The Wars, Robert Ross actually goes to war and fights in World War I . In the novel Stones, Minna Joyce encounters a war in her life as a child, trying to survive on the streets. These physical encounters with war lead to a psychological change in the characters and their perception of living. Robert and Minna?s experiences make them want to escape and help others overcome the terrible war, in their own lives. Furthermore, experiencing these struggles leads to the character?s ultimate realization and self-discovery of life and of themselves. The horrors of war which Robert endures are instrumental in his psychological change. Minna?s experiences in life, in death and her internal struggles, lead her on a journey of self-discovery. In the novel The Wars, Robert Ross is a sensitive nineteen year old boy who experiences first-hand the horrors of battle as a Canadian Soldier in the First World War. Being named a Lieutenant shortly after arriving in Europe, Robert is thrust into combat. While advancing to the front with his troops Robert witnesses his first images of the brutality of war: He was taking his troops to the front and they were walking along a road that had been shelled and there was a soldier lying dead by the road whose head had been smashed. It was an awful shock. The first dead man he?d seen. (The Wars 99) Robert has not yet experienced anything that could prepare him for the conditions he faces. In 2 this instance, Robert experiences brutality for the first time, in the form of a dead body which has been gruesomely wounded. The shock of seeing a dead body can be very disturbing to any individual, and not even an experienced veteran could be prepared for the horrific sight Robert endures here. Minna Joyce, a writer in the novel Stones, also experiences and reacts to the horrors of life. Minna?s war is not like the World War in which Robert participates, but is a struggle with everyday life in the large city of Toronto. Minna witnesses horrific sights on Queen Street: … with all its resident rubbies and gentle crazies, dressed in all weathers in their summer coats …. ….. and their eyes as crafty and innocent all at once as the eyes of bears…. (Stones 11) Minna Joyce experiences the harsh reality of individuals who have nothing, and are forced to live on the streets of downtown Toronto. Minna was brought up in an area of the city inhabited by many homeless people, or?artists?as she calls them, a little less horrifying. The thought of having to watch the people suffer is horrifying to her. The war of life is apparent in the challenges that both Minna and Robert are faced with in their lives. One of the most notable events which Robert faces is trench warfare during the First World War. After being sent away with a small battalion to begin the digging of another trench, Robert comes back to the front to find the trench destroyed and his comrades dead. When they made their way back through the trench there was nothing left alive. They had all been gassed or had frozen to death. Those who lay in water were profiled in ice. Everything was green: their faces ? and their fingers ? and their buttons and the snow. (The Wars 146) 3 In this situation, Robert witnesses many of the horrific ways in which soldiers were killed during the First World War. Snow and the bitterly cold weather attributed to many Canadian soldiers? deaths during World War One, and nearly one thousand men died from frost bite alone. The sight of his friends frozen dead in the water is terrifying, and to look down and see another soldier in the ice with his entire body green is a gruesome image. One of the most popular and deadly tactics used by the Germans during World War One was chlorine gas, which Robert was lucky to survive. He is subjected to the poison when it was sent up into the atmosphere which produced huge masses of chlorine gas clouds. These clouds made their way across ?no man?s land?, to the trenches, killing all in sight including Robert?s comrades. Minna?s experiences in life are not to the same degree comparable to Robert?s, but can be related to everyday life. Robert struggles in World War One, experiencing brutality and death at its worst. Minna struggles on the streets of Toronto. Both characters struggle for survival in life. Robert?s experiences are quite extreme and the average person may not be able to relate to them. Even though Minna?s experiences are common, they are nonetheless frightening. Minna?s experiences with the homeless became more terrifying when she had to live on the streets. ?… a life of inherited privilege mixed with deliberate squalor.? (Stones 11) She spent some nights on the streets because she could not find work. She was subjected to the horror that people believe it will never happen to them. ?Queen Street and, in fact, the whole of Parkdale offered a world of unwanted people…? (Stones 51) Minna was a part of a war that is lasting longer than World War One. Although the books are set in different time periods, both Minna and Robert struggle to survive day to day. Their situations are different but the goals are the same; survival. Robert?s physical accounts of trench warfare and Minna?s physical accounts with the homeless 4 displays to the reader the fact that war exists in a physical state. The consequences of the war with life allow the two characters to justify who they are, and help them to become mentally stronger. The psychological change in the character?s dispositions and their increasing awareness of the importance of life is evident throughout the novels The Wars and Stones. Through Robert?s experiences with the utter brutality of war, he experiences a psychological change in character. After being saved a day earlier on the battlefield by one of his comrades, Robert experiences difficulty trying to get to sleep. ?All he wanted was a dream. Escape. But nobody dreams on a Battlefield. There isn?t any sleep that long. Dreams and distance are the same.? (The Wars 102) At the young age of nineteen, dreams are common. The impact of the war has begun to affect Robert, as he has difficulty even dreaming. Sleep and the night are very important to soldiers. The ability to dream allows them to leave the horror of war on earth and enter into a fantasy where they can forget. Robert?s inability to dream is based on the fact that his mind is filled with the horrors of war which prevent him from entering this dreamworld. Minna also experiences a psychological change in her perceptions of living. ?She, too, wanted to escape.? (Stones 43) Minna and her husband both want to depart the reality of their life in Parkdale. She wanted trees and grass in their backyard, which is not conceivable when living in a small apartment. Minna, like Robert, wants to escape the reality of life as she knows it, and be in a place where everything is splendid. Minna ?wanted even once a week to make her way down the and into the street without the ever-present threat of someone else?s panic waiting to grab her sleeve.? (Stones 44) Minna seems to enjoy working with the homeless, but she would just like to get away once in a while to have more peace and security. Minna and Robert 5 both want deliverance from the horror in their lives. In the novel Heart of Darkness Kurtz?s final words are, ?The horror, the horror? (Conrad 118). These words are Kurtz?s final judgement of what he succumbed to in both the Congo and in his psychological journey into his own heart of darkness. The horrors that Robert and Minna face are reality and must not be forgotten. The difference between Kurtz and Robert and Minna is that Kurtz succumbs to his inner demons and goes mad, whereas Robert and Minna do not. Robert has experienced every aspect of the brutality of war. His psychological change is evident through his outlook on life: Robert struck a match and caught the rat by his tail. It squealed as he lifted it over the edge and set it free. Robert wondered afterwards if setting the rat free had been a favour ? but in the moment that he did it he was thinking: here is someone still alive. And the word alive was amazing. (The Wars 127) Robert has witnessed deaths by the thousands, and the difference between a human and animal life has escaped his mind. In this instance, Robert?s act of setting the rat free is one that could be questioned because of the deaths that he has seen. However, because of the impact of war on his mind, Robert recognizes the beauty of life in the midst of madness. Robert feels that he contributed to the saving of a life, which allows him to feel better for that one instant until he goes back out to fight again. Minna?s psychological change is evident when she makes the homeless person feel wanted. ?Just to be seen and heard and acknowledged. That?s what they wanted. Witness. Not to be forgotten.? (Stones 51) Minna likes to see the homeless happy, and feel better about themselves. Minna, like Robert, does not like the reality of the surroundings. Minna tries her best to change that by bringing the poor woman, Elizabeth Doyle, 6 home to let her sleep in a bed. Minna realizes that all that the people on the streets want is to be noticed and not to be forgotten. The trauma of the horrors of life on Robert and Minna leads the reader to believe that ?war? does have psychological effects on the individual. The character?s physical and psychological accounts of war lead the characters on their own personal journey of self-discovery. The horrors of war which Robert endures are instrumental in his psychological change. In Robert?s final stand to declare the existence of life in the midst of death, he attempts to save some horses from a burning barn: Robert couldn?t stand it any longer and he said to Devlin: ?I?m going to break ranks and save these animals. Will you come with me?? Devlin wanted to ? and said so. But he was afraid of Captain Leather. ?Leather is insane,? said Robert flatly. ?It cannot be called disobedience to save these animals when they?ll be needed, for God?s sake. (The Wars 201-202) The importance of life to Robert is evident here as he breaks ranks in order to save the horses. Disobeying an order in the army can lead to a Court Marshall, dishonorable discharge and even worse the possibility of being accused of treason. However, these consequences pale in comparison to the thought of more deaths. Throughout Robert?s time as a soldier in the army during World War One he witnesses first hand the destruction of war. These horrors of war lead to his psychological transformation which inevitably leads to his journey of self-discovery, recognizing the importance of life in the midst of death. Minna comes to a conclusion along the same lines as Robert. As Minna is dying of an inoperable cancer of the lung, she moves to Australia. Her physical accounts of the horror in her life lead to the psychological change which made her change location. She has a daughter now and does not want her to grow up with the 7 same horror that surrounded Minna as a child. ?They say it is quite civilized .? (Stones 19) Her move to Australia lead to her journey of self-discovery. She realizes how important life becomes in the midst of death. I know why she wanted her ashes scattered there at Ku-Ring-Gai. It was the joy and the liveliness ? the sense of endless celebration that clung to all figures in the rock. (Stones 25) Minna realizes and wants others to realize that everyone, no matter of what the individual looks like, should be able to enjoy happiness in life. Robert wantes the horses to have the freedom as he does in life. Minna wants her daughter to have the freedom that she has in life. Minna wants her daughter to also experience the joy of love and the sense of endless celebration. The figure cut in the stones at Ku-Ring-Gai was a child. The child of the two stick figures rejoicing by its side beneath the moon. And the child had long, albino hair and one six-fingered hand stretched out for all the world to see forever…. (Stones 26) Minna concludes her life with the discovery with herself. The importance of life to Minna is apparent here, as she wants her daughter, who has six fingers on each hand, to be exposed to society. Hiding her from people would show how she does not respect what she created. Instead she wants to display her miracle which was created inside her, for everyone to behold. Throughout Minna?s time in Toronto on Queens Street, she had witnessed first-hand the destruction of life. These horror lead to her psychological change which inevitably leads to her journey of self-discovery. Minna, like Robert, comes to the conclusion of the importance of life, and how it should be set free to live with others. In many ways, the war of life affects individuals, leading to physical and mental change. 8 Through facing hardships in life, one can assess his/her experience and discover more about themselves and the world around them. War does exist in Robert?s and Minna?s physical accounts of the horror of life. Robert?s experience is in World War One. Minna?s experience is life on the streets of Toronto with the homeless. The psychological change in Robert and Minna can be attributed to their physical encounters of the war in life. Robert and Minna both change their view on life because of their struggles. Furthermore, these two worlds lead Robert and Minna to acknowledge the importance of life. Thus, in the novels The Wars and Stones, Findley has demonstrated that the war does have an effect on the individual, leading to a journey of self-discovery.

Works Cited Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Markham: Penguin, 1981. Findley, Timothy. Stones. Toronto: Penguin, 1988. Findley, Timothy. The Wars. Toronto: Penguin, 1977.

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