Poetry/Wars By Timothy Findley term paper 11459

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The Wars together much like a puzzle. When piecing together a puzzle it is

crucial to first find the corner pieces. As when trying to understand the novel

it is necessary to realize what the most important aspects are. Each separate

corner holds together and is linked to another part. Therefore, to understand

the pieces of the puzzle it is vital to analyze Roberts relationship with his

mother, his sister and his father. Furthermore, an attempt will be made to

reveal the strengths and weaknesses in these relationships and the meanings

Timothy Findley is trying to proclaim. To best understand Robert's relationship

with his mother Mrs. Ross, one must look at their relationship from the

perspective of Mrs. Ross. It is her interpretations and ensuing reactions to the

tragic events of the novel that reveal the most to the reader about Robert's

relationship with her. Mrs. Ross is portrayed as an adamant woman in the

beginning of The Wars, yet as the story progresses, her firmness is broken by

various tragedies. Mrs. Ross found it hard to be intimate with people therefore,

she kept many things to herself. She felt that "Being loved was letting

others feed from your resource-all you had in life was put in jeopardy"

(Findley, 153). Mrs. Ross had mourned for years over the sudden death of her

brother and her father, now she had lost a daughter and was going to lose a son.

It is also evident she kept a lot of things to herself. At Rowena's funeral she

stood apart from the rest of the family pretending she did not need any help.

Mrs. Ross hid behind a large, black hat that day. Before Rowena's death and

Robert leaving for the war Mrs. Ross used to be out in the public, handing out

chocolate bars to the soldiers going off to war. However, when Robert left to

join the army Mrs. Ross refused to have anything to do with it. Mrs. Ross was an

adamant lady. She was adamant when it came to chocolate bars and she was adamant

when it came to her decision about Robert having to kill Rowena's rabbits. After

the death of Robert's sister Rowena, the Ross family seems to be broken. Family

members question whose fault it was that she fell and who should ultimately be

held responsible. Mrs. Ross comes across as being envious of her son and

daughter's relationship because Robert and Rowena had a relationship where

Robert was like a parent (guardian) to Rowena. Robert also was very protective

of Rowena and always showed his concern for her, like Mrs. Ross did for all her

children but more so towards Robert. Consequently, Robert being the closest to

Rowena becomes the reason Mrs. Ross decides he will to be the one who would take

the responsibility of killing the rabbits. Mrs. Ross' decision to burden Robert

with this inhuman act and furthermore, his failure to do so, leads to the most

revealing monologue relevant to their relationship. 'You think Rowena belonged

to you. Well I'm here to tell you, Robert no on belongs to anyone. We're all cut

off at birth with a knife and left at the mercy of strangers. You hear that?

Strangers. I know what you want to do. I know you're going to go away and be a

soldier. Well- you can go to hell. I'm not responsible. I'm just another

stranger. Birth I can give you- but life I cannot. I can't keep anyone alive.

Not anymore' (Findley, 23). The pessimistic tone of Mrs. Ross' monologue can be

attributed to the fact that Rowena just died and that Robert has chosen to

condemn himself to death, however, this also reveals much about her relationship

with Robert. In addition, Robert's decision to enlist in the war is not approved

by Mrs. Ross. Her reaction is one of denial and a failure as a parent.. Her

words, "you can go to hell", in reality, show her true love and care

for Robert, yet in a vulgar way. She cares so much for him that she can not bear

the thought of him leaving, hence she directs her anger at him. Mrs. Ross missed

her son when he went to war. She started taking long walks. She may have tried

this to clear her mind. When Robert started training he would go for long walks

at night as well. Perhaps both tried this method to clear their minds of the

problems they were facing. Although it may have not worked for Mrs. Ross. She

started walking in storms perhaps hoping that the storm would distract her.

Furthermore, she began to drink heavily and had to hide herself by wearing large

hats with veils, and dark glasses. The novel occasionally breaks form and lets

the reader know how the war has affected Roberts' family primarily his mother.

Mrs. Ross drove herself to insanity and drunkenness with each day that Robert

was gone. This is best illustrated whenever Findley focuses on the issue of Mrs.

Ross and her "empty glass". Some examples are: Mrs. Ross stared at her

empty glass. How long had it been empty? Hours? Minutes? Years? (Findley, 23).

Mrs. Ross stood on the landing of the stairs. The bottle fell from her hand. It

was empty and it rolled to the bottom step. She gave a final agonizing cry

(Findley, 204). Robert constantly wrote to his parents to tell them how things

were going. Mrs. Ross kept all these letters in a special place and was found

re-reading them often. The most influential section regarding Mrs. Ross was when

she and Mister Ross went to see Robert in Montreal before he departed overseas.

Mister Ross had tracked his son down so his wife could have one last look at her

son. Nevertheless, when Mrs. Ross had another chance to say goodbye to her son

she blew it. Instead of running out to hug her son and say goodbye she was found

in the train saloon getting drunk. [Mrs. Ross] went into the salon and sat with

her legs tucked beneath one of the pullman chairs and drank a third of a bottle

of scotch. When Mister Ross came in and said it was time to go, Mrs. Ross stood

up- and fell down. 'I can't,' she said (Findley, 73). All she could do was wave

at her son through the window. Mrs. Ross began to lose her mind. She catalogued

and memorized all of Robert's letters. She would write him everyday but usually

the letters were indecipherable. Her husband started to wish she would return to

them, but she just sat staring, waiting for Robert's return. When the word came

that Robert was missing in action Mrs. Ross lost it. It is easy to assume that

she may have had a nervous breakdown. She had refused help for so long that when

she finally asked for it she had gone blind and her voice contained no emotion.

Nonetheless, it is possible to assume Roberts' last attempt to do something

right was when he tried to save the horses at the end of the novel. He felt the

horses would be killed if he did not try to save them from being sent to the

front lines. Therefore, to consider that when Robert tried to save the horses it

was exactly like how he had tried to save the rabbits. Timothy Findley could be

trying to show the reader how the war not only ruined the lives of the men that

fought in the war but how it also destroyed families as well. Mrs. Ross could

not handle the loss of another loved one and Robert could not handle the

horrific situations he had gone through. One was never given Mrs. Ross' first

name, and in a sense this kept her at a distance with the reader. Perhaps this

is to make the reader believe that her "craziness" could happen to

anyone who regretted not showing their love when they had the chance instead of

pushing it away. In developing the relationship between Robert and Rowena,

Timothy Findley introduces Roberts' humane and sensitive characteristics. When

Robert was young, he mistook Rowena for his mother because he often saw her

smiling face peering down onto his crib. To Robert, Rowena was a guardian, but

eventually he considered himself her guardian. "When she smiled, he thought

she was his mother. Later, when he came to realize she couldn't walk and never

felt the chair, he became her guardian. It was for her he learned to run"

(Findley, 7). Rowena depends on Robert to care for her, as she is unable to do

so herself. This provides Robert with a sense of being wanted and a feeling that

what he does is beneficial to Rowena. He enjoys being there for her. "The

thing was- no one since Rowena had made Robert feel wanted to be with them all

the time" (Findley, 104). After, Rowena's death, Robert was lost within

himself. He no longer knew how to behave or what to feel anymore. It was as

though he could no longer handle or deal with serious matters or even think

clearly. Timothy Findley puts this forward as one of the main factors that

initiates Robert to join the army; because he could never forgive himself for

his sister's death. Robert felt that is was his fault because he had not been

there that day looking out for Rowena as he usually did. He felt this guilt

eating him inside for the rest of his life from that day forward. Robert

reflects on specific moments they spent together through out The Wars. Robert?

Yes, Rowena? Will you stay with me forever? Yes Rowena. Can the rabbit stay

forever, too? Yes Rowena. This was forever. Now the rabbits had to be killed

(Findley, 17) Robert is never able to forget this conversation because of the

fact that he broke this promise by not being there when she fell. This changed

Robert's entire perspective on life and his assigned role. He no longer appeared

to have feelings anymore but no one knew how much remorse he felt inside. This

could have been another reason for joining the war so that he could just go away

and everyone would either forget about what he did and be proud of it in the end

for being so brave. In a sense, a large part of Robert died that day along with

his sister. While attending Rowena's funeral, Robert saw a soldier standing

there, he envied this man so much because after this day he could just walk away

and leave all of this behind. This is what Robert wanted to do and it turned out

to be the worst way to run away from all his problems. Rowena's death constantly

put stress on Robert, as we can see it hits him the hardest in the trenches or

when he is in the battle field. Everything reminded him of his sister. One

example was when Robert looked under Rodwell's bunk, "Robert looked. There

was a whole row of cages. Rowena. Robert closed his eyes (Findley, 95). As one

is able to identify Rowena was the first and only thing on his mind. Even the

color white would remind him of her because he could associate so many things

since she was always dressed in white, her rabbits were white, and her coffin

was white. All these memories haunted Robert more and more each day of his life.

Findley suggest that in the latter part of The Wars that Robert is becoming

mentally unstable. At times he can no longer function as a dedicated soldier or

an average human being. It is quite ironic that after Rowena's death, Robert

wanted to join the army where death loomed on every horizon. If Rowena had still

been alive Robert probably would not have ever enlisted in the army. In the

structure of Robert and Rowena's relationship, the author is attempting to

reveal that Robert, more than anyone else in the novel, is able to look past

Rowena's physical deformity and see her inner beauty. In Robert's burning of

Rowena's portrait "not out of anger but as an act of charity"

(Findley, 195), the author is revealing that Robert respects Rowena and does not

want her to be subjected to the cruelty of war. It also suggests that the image

of the person Robert was when he knew Rowena no longer fits into his lifestyle

during the war. Findley uses Robert's difficulty in dealing with his sister's

death to reveal his sensitivity and his feelings of guilt. This is also

witnessed in Robert's disappointment in the deaths of many animals as well as

the German soldier in the novel.. Robert Ross and his father, Tom Ross, carry

out a healthy father-son relationship throughout the novel. Robert is proud of

his father and regards him as one of his role models in life. Tom is proud of

his son and is loving towards him. Although their personalities do in some ways

differ, there is still a strong male bond between Robert and his father. The

personalities of both Robert and his father vary. Tom Ross is a strong and

hard-nosed on the outside but only shows his sensitivity when needed and has

control over his emotions, whereas Robert is strong but is more sensitive and

can not control his emotions as well as his father. An example of Robert's

inability to control his emotions is after the death of Rowena. Robert is asked

to kill Rowena's rabbits but cannot because of how much they meant to Rowena and

him, so Tom hires Teddy Budge to do it. Robert ends up attacking Teddy and gets

severely beaten. One example of Tom's sensitivity and control is after they were

notified that Robert was missing in action. Mrs. Ross was in a sense of disarray

and Tom was able to comfort her, "Mr. Ross held her and rocked her from

side to side. The house began to darken. They sat there, silently singing.

Finally, she slept" (Findley, 205). Although Robert and his father do have

some personal characteristic differences, there are many instances in the novel

that show not only how proud they are of each other but also some similarities

between the two of them. One example of Tom's commitment to his son was when

Robert wished to run around the block twenty-six times, no one fully supported

him except his father. Robert failed and fainted on the 25th lap but his father

was there to support him. Tom came up every evening after work and sat in

Robert's darkened room and talked to him and told him stories. None of the

stories had to do with running. These were tales of voyages and ships and how to

ride a horse. This was the binding of the father to the son (Findley, 48). This

bonding helped Tom remember his days of youth and how he had attempted something

similar "the word spread out around him like a gift" (Findley, 48).

The best example that Findley shows of the bond between Robert and his father is

at the train yard in Montreal. Upon leaving for boot camp Robert though that he

would not see his father until he had finished his tour of duty. When Robert saw

his father it revealed his pride and love for him, "the sight of his

farther had lifted his spirits immeasurably. And the feel of his father's hand

on his arm had brought back into a world he'd thought he'd lost" (Findley,

50). Before this reencounter with his father, Robert had the mind of a soldier

and had forgotten the enjoyment of his home and his family. What Timothy Findley

is trying to reveal in the novel is that a father-son relationship is not only

an important factor in family but also in life. There are many instances in the

novel where both Robert and his father feel that they have lost touch with each

other, but they always regain their . In war, it is often the letters and

love from family and friends that keeps the soldier going. By exploring Robert

Ross' relationships with his family member one is able to understand and

interpret Robert's actions and emotions. Thus, when trying to find the peices of

the puzzle that links Robert's family together, one finds the growth of Roberts'

personality. Furthermore, Timothy Findley enables the reader to examine the

influential aspects of Mrs. Ross, Rowena and Mr. Ross towards the self

development of Robert's identity.


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