By Ernest Buckler
“The Harness”, written by Ernest Buckler is a short story written by a Canadian author. It is a story about a boy and his father. The young boy and his father don’t have a regular father-son relationship. At the beginning of the story their relationship is more like they are pals and the father treats his son as an adult. After a series of events, a normal father-son relationship begins to form at the end of the story.
This story can be discussed on two different levels. It can be discussed on the narrative level because Art is telling the story, and the psychological level because the father is trying to understand his son.
There were two characters in the story. The father, Art, is a hard working man, who has trouble showing his emotion. He lost his wife at his son’s birth, and was left to his son by himself since. He isn’t a bad father, but has trouble acting like a good one. He loves his son and wants him to act responsibly. The son, David, is a fairly average kid, who likes to play with his ball and glove. His mother died at his birth so he has lacked having a maternal figure in his life. He is starved for attention because his father doesn’t pay enough attention to him as a son. He desperately needs a fatherly figure in his life. He was sometimes defiant to his father, “…it wasn’t that discipline had no effect because it made no impression.”(Ernest Buckner. 1966. 139). He could also be very understanding.
This story was set on a small farm in the country, which is perfect for change in a relationship. There are fields and a forest nearby.
This story had a few examples of symbolism. The adult relationship was symbolized by the way they talked. David called is father “Art”, not “Dad”. The harness David wore when he was younger also symbolizes the relationship between Art and David. Art is just keeping David safe and isn’t really caring for and teaching him like a father should. The horse bones also represent the relationship they have. They both want to know what is inside each other. To David the bones symbolized Arts death.
The conflict of the story came when Art and David went out to do the fence the second time. David grabbed a string of staples from his father’s hand and broke the string all over the place. Art grabbed David, spanked him and put him to bed.
The story had a simple and relaxed tone. There were only two characters with little action. The farm setting gave it the relaxed tone.
The story is an ironic one because the father and son are like pals and they can’t really discover each other until the end of the story.
The plot develops as we learn more about the relationship that Art and David have. David begins to misbehave, because of the lack of a father figure and attention from his father. We learn that David’s mother died when he was born. His father wants him to be a good boy, but lacks the skills guidance that his wife may have shared, and experience fathering children.
The theme of the story revolves around a child needing parental guidance and attention. Parents must fill their role as parents or the child will not act the way we expect. Art represses being the father figure.
The story slowly develops as we learn about the characters relationship as father and son. We learn a lot about David from Art’s point of view. After Art finishes describing a few experiences he had with David, he begins to talk about a time when they went fencing together. We begin to see how they have an adult relationship, “…good company, in adult way.” (Ernest Buckner. 1966. 140). They discover some horse bones. The bones visibly disturb David as he gets Art to hold his hand as they continue down the path. They started fencing and worked until they once again within sight of the skeleton. Art told David to rest and later when he called for him he was gone. He rushed back to the farm in search of him. When he found him at home he didn’t say much to him, “I ignored him and walked past him into the house.” (Ernest Buckner. 1966. 141). When Art went back out to do the fence he told David to stay at home. He couldn’t work very fast as he kept thinking about David. When he got back, he found that David had fallen off the roof. David was fine, “The doctor could scarcely find a bruise on him.”(Ernest Buckner. 1966. 145). Art asked David to go fence with him again and this time he didn’t want to. Art said that he needed his help and David reluctantly decided to go. David illustrated that he didn’t want to go by breaking a string of staples all over the place. Art spanked David and sent him home to bed. The turning point in the story came when David said, “Bones make you feel funny, don’t they, Art?” (Ernest Buckner. 1966. 146). This is when Art finally realized that the reason David ran home the other day and the reason he broke the staples was because he was frightened of the bones. They apologized to each other and when Art apologized for spanking David, David says, “You spank me every time I do that, won’t you, Dad?…spank me, Dad.” (Ernest Buckner. 1966. 146). This was the first time in the whole story and maybe their lives that David had called his father dad. Art realized that he was wrong for shutting him out and treating him as an adult, not a small boy. David asked, “…how come you knew I jumped off the roof?” (Ernest Buckner. 1966. 147). This gave Art hope that his son knew that he would always be there for him.
In this story, we witnessed a dramatic change in the relationship between father and son. Throughout the story, Art showed that he cared a lot about his son, but he didn’t realize that he should communicated more and developed a closer relationship with his son. After he spanked his son for the first time, he realized that he must start acting like a father more often and that his son wanted this.
I feel that this is a very realistic story; sometimes being a father doesn’t rely on instinct alone. Without a mother to guide and assist the father it becomes difficult for a father to do it alone. Art could only rely on his own judgment, no matter how clouded. David lacked attention from his father, and missed any he would have received from his deceased mother. This meant that Art really had to be twice the parent and pay twice as much attention to David to satisfy his needs as a child. I think that since they had an adult relationship, Art never really punished David and when he finally did, it symbolized him treating David like a normal kid his age should be treated.
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