Tell-Tale Titles of Margaret Laurence's "A Bird in the House"

Topics: Family, Short story, Amy Yasbeck Pages: 3 (947 words) Published: June 21, 2006
Margaret Laurence's A Bird in the House is a collection of short stories that is rich in symbols and similes. Descriptions like "claw hand", "flyaway manner" and "hair bound grotesquely like white-fingered wings" are found abundantly in the writer's novel. The Oxford English Dictionary defines symbols as, "something that stands for, represents, or denotes something else (not by exact resemblance, but by vague suggestion, or by some accidental or conventional relation)" (reference). Yet, there is nothing coincidental about Margaret Laurence's diction and her usage of symbols in "A Bird in the House" and "The Mask of the Bear". These revealing titles effectively foreshadow the plot and character conflicts that occur in their stories.

Birds are a class of vertebrates that live in nature. Most of them are characterized by an ability to fly, free to roam the sky. They are not meant to live in captivity. Therefore, the short story entitled "A Bird in the House" suggests a theme of entrapment and a struggle for freedom, a topic that resonates throughout the novel. Vanessa is one character who experiences a sense of confinement in the story. Her family lives with her grandmother MacLeod, a tyrannical woman who loves order, and who wants to continue living like she did in the past, before the Depression, with a housekeeper to cook and clean, and to be able to make frequent purchases of table-cloths and handkerchiefs of Irish linen. Vanessa's father, Ewen, explains that, "the house is still the same, so she thinks other things should be too" (55). Vanessa experiences a physical confinement in the MacLeod house, being forbidden to enter those rooms that contained valuables objects such as her grandmother's bedroom and the living room which she calls, "another alien territory where I had to tread warily" (47). This physical confinement led to an emotional detachment. As an adult reflecting on her time growing up, Vanessa says that "the MacLeod house...
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