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Escape From the Dread of the Future in "The Defeated" and Willa C...

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Escape From the Dread of the Future in "The Defeated" and Willa Cather's "Paul Case" by Nadine Gordimer.

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Both Nadine Gordimer's "The Defeated" and Willa Cather's "Paul Case" are about characters who dread the life they see around them. Fearing this outcome, they strive desperately to put as much space as possible between their present circumstances and their future dreams.

Miriam and Paul use similar defense mechanisms to deal with the realities in which they live. This mechanism is denial. On her birthday, instead of having a party in her lowly home, Miriam takes her friends to a movie. The movie is symbolic of the escape from reality that Miriam most desires. There is a passage in "The Defeated" which reveals how the young Miriam leads her life in the lower class among Concession stores. Miriam is "like someone sitting in a swarm of ants; and letting them swarm, letting them crawl all over and about her. Not lifting a hand to flick them off. Not crying out against them in disgust; nor explaining, saying well I like ants. Just sitting there and letting them swarm, and looking out of herself as if to say: What ants? What ants are you talking about?" (485) This is a perfect metaphor for living a life of denial.

Paul, too, leads a life of denial. This is most obvious in the opening school interrogation sequence. His sporting a red carnation, acting suave and carefree, lying to his teachers so they will hear what he thinks they want to hear is all ingrained in his overall need to deny his current station in life. Paul loves the artificial and is playing a part, denying the reality of the situation.

During certain portions of their stories, both Miriam and Paul get glimpses into the kind of life they do want to live. Miriam visits the narrator's home and while there she shows no marked interest in the niceties and prettiness of it--though it is clear she notices them--but a week later the narrator hears Miriam going on and on about the presents that her friend had received. Later, when she grows up and goes off to college, Miriam begins hanging around with the...