As The Time Draws Near
This analytical essay will provide an analysis and interpretation of american writer Eowyn Ivey’s short story “As the Time Draws Near” (2012). The readers are introduced to the main character, Piper, who grew up in Alaska but later moved away. The short story follows her at a time when she has returned to Alaska in order to spread her dead father’s ashes under a particular spruce tree. She has a lot of thoughts about death and she is almost obsessed with it. Death is the focal point and theme in this short story. It raises questions such as what happens when we die? And what is death really? The story tells about our short time on earth and how fear of death can stand in the way of living life fully with all the experiences the current moment offers. This essay will focus mainly on setting and the father’s outlook on life. Furthermore this essay will also include an analysis of the symbolism in the short story.
At the beginning the description of the nature in Alaska is a vivid portrayal followed by a number of incidents where people have been killed in or by this nature. Piper’s father is one of these people, he “falls out of the sky.” (p. 1, l. 10) Her father with the name Red lived his life like it was an adventure. The description of the landscape appears in the same way - like a never-ending adventure. The tundra is a big and open landscape. The mountains, the glaciers and the snow continues into infinity. The same infinity that Piper’s father wanted to experience. The tundra is described when Piper sees it from the airplane: “as far as she can see in any direction the earth is made of rust-coloured flatlands broken up by odd-shaped, glistening slices of water.” (p. 1, l. 28). The open landscape with its odd-shaped slices of water is the never-ending adventure. After the description of the tundra, “the pilot changes altitude (…) the ground shifts beneath her and instead of silver sunlight, the ponds below reflect dark blue sky and strips of white clouds.” (p. 1, l. 30). Piper is seeing two different sides of the world. The silver sunlight is the living life. The reflection of the dark blue sky is the death. This is also a symbol of that the world we think we know suddenly can change and life can give us things we did not expect. In Piper’s case, a father’s death. In the short story Ivey uses a lot of figurative language. In the start she uses a simile when talking about the caribou: “their antlers bone white like branches of driftwood raised to the sky.” (p. 1, l. 21). The word ‘like’ indicates that it is a simile. She compares the looks of two things to give her readers the picture of how beautiful the caribous are. She also uses semantics which focuses on the relation between signifiers. In this case, words and symbols that have the same denotations. For instance she uses semantics which can be associated with winter and death: avalanche, dark and cold, frozen, tundra, glacier, cold breeze and so on. The geographical words are all presented in the story in connection with death. Later on Ivey refers to a poem by the famous american poet Walt Whitman. Red’s best friend dies and in that occasion the grown-ups meet and recite poetry: “Perhaps soon, some day or night while I am singing my voice will suddenly cease.” (p. 2, l. 48). This sentence comes from a poem by Whitman with the title “As the time draws Nigh”_ which means the same as Ivey’s title. This is the use of intertextuality - she refers to another famous literary work and is also inspired by it. The sentence from Whitman’s poem tells about the uncertainty that Piper has got. The uncertainty that one day we will no longer be here. “I am singing” indicates something good. Also saying that while she or her father are occupied doing something good they can suddenly leave this place without knowing it. It can happen from one day to the next. Red an black colors are contrasts throughout the short story:“Then they built a bonfire (…) the children ran wild like heathens and waved flaming spruce boughs in the darkness. Late that night, or maybe early the next morning, Red fired up his snowmobile.” (p. 2, l. 49). The fire and also the red color symbolizes a wild and living spirit. Her father’s name is Red and he epitomizes exactly that. He lives his life fully. In the above quote we see the use of semantics again: bonfire, flaming and Red fired up. They set fire to the spruce tree. The same tree as her father wants his ashes to be spread underneath. In that way they make the tree alive. They make the tree light up the darkness which is feared. The snowmobile is fired up when it is still dark. Two different moods are expressed throughout the short story. In frustration Piper wonders why the journey of life has to end and she fears the death. Her father had another outlook on life. It is said about Piper: “She is nothing like her father.” (p. 4, l. 148). He has discovered that death is also a new beginning, a whole new life. He does not fear it. The fear of leaving the life he knows is combined with the hope of a new arrival. The death is a new adventure to explore. It fits in with his adventurous personality. At the end Red’s friend tells Piper indirectly that her father did not fear death. Piper don’t think she can use the old man’s advice for anything. But in his words lie another understanding. The black bear is the death chasing him. It is shadowing him and hiding from him just like the death. The old man emphasizes several times that you cannot run away from the black bear like you cannot escape death. Sooner or later it will catch you. But you can keep it at distance as long as you do not fear it. And this is also the message of the story. This is furthermore described when the old man explains Piper’s father’s outlook on life: “Your dad knew there was no running. So he wanted to face it down. Look right into those black eyes and let it know he wasn’t afraid. Even if he was. He wanted the beast to believe that he would go down fighting (…) Maybe then your dad could chase it off even if it was just for a little while longer.” (p. 3, l. 128). Her father knew that no one could cheat death so he rather wanted to look it straight in the eyes, facing it and let it know he were not afraid. That is the reason why he felt the need to do all these adventurous things. Her father’s outlook on life also indicates that happiness does not lie somewhere in the future waiting for us. Piper is supposed to live it all out like her father.