Imagery is used by many authors as a crucial element of character development. These authors draw parallels between the imagery in their stories and the main characters' thoughts and feelings. Through intense imagery, non-human elements such as the natural environment, animals, and inanimate objects are brought to life with characteristics that match those of the characters involved.
Sinclair Ross uses vivid imagery of nature to reflect and influence the emotions of his characters in his short story The Lamp at Noon. The wind is a powerful force that changes with the emotions of Ellen and Paul. Sinclair describes the wind as two separate winds: "the wind in flight, and the wind that pursue[s]" (Atwood/Weaver, 74). Like the wind in flight which cannot escape the wind that pursues it, Ellen cannot escape her isolation. The wind in flight always returns to "quake among the feeble eaves, as if in all this dust-mad wilderness it knew no other sanctuary" (74). Ellen is also forced to seek refuge within her small home, which is also the place where she feels the most secluded. The wind outside often contrasts the silence that is encased inside. During an argument between Paul and Ellen, there is an uncomfortable silence, "a deep fastness of it enclosed by rushing wind and creaking walls"(76). This noise around them makes the silence within even more uncomfortable. Paul later finds the silence comforting when he is in the stable. It is described as a "deep hollow calm within, a vast darkness engulfed beneath the tides of moaning wind" (78). The silence protects him and brings him relief from the dangerous world outside. Unfortunately, the walls seem to weaken against the powerful wind, and "instead of release or escape from the assaulting wind, the walls [are] but a feeble stand against it" (78). Paul begins to understand what Ellen is feeling, and the wind screams like Ellen's cries. As he thinks of ways to restore the land and make Ellen happy, the wind starts to slacken. For a short moment, he feels relief. When he returns to the house, he realizes that Ellen is gone. At this point, the wind whimpers and moans as if it knows Ellen's isolation and Paul's despair. The imagery of the wind is used by Sinclair to intensify the characters' emotions and help the reader understand what the characters are experiencing.
The lamp is another significant image in this story because it shows the reader that this particular storm is different from the countless others. The act of lighting the lamp at noon tells the reader that this storm is serious. Paul calls it "the worst wind yet" and says that he "had to light the lantern in the shed, too"(74). The lamp also sets the mood between Ellen and Paul and gives us insight into their characters. "The lamp between them [throws] strong lights and shadows on their faces" (75). They look at the appearance of age that these lights and shadows emphasize in both of them. Paul's effacement of youth gives him "sterness, an impassive courage"(75). He is content because the cost of his youth is worth "the fulfillment of his inmost and essential nature"(75). Ellen, however, has not gained anything in return for the cost of her youth. She has "the face of a woman that [has] aged without maturing" in the way that Paul has matured (75). The lamp creates tension between them during their argument. "It seem[s] the yellow lamplight cast[s] a hush upon them"(76). The light of the lamp causes the walls to recede, dim and come again, as a parallel to their continuing argument that keeps returning after never being fully resolved. When Paul returns to the house to find Ellen missing, he notices that the lamp has been blown out. The blown-out lamp signifies the death of the child and the end of their dreams for the future. Ellen is similar to the lamp in that she struggles to be heard as the lamp struggles to be seen through the dust, but it the end, Ellen gives up and so does the lamp.
In the short story Flying a Red Kite, the imagery builds a more complete understanding of the way in which Fred sees the world and his own life. Much like the environment of The Lamp at Noon, the weather reflects the protagonist's emotions and reveals clues to his personality. On the ride home on the bus, Fred is overwhelmed by uncomfortable heat that is associated with dirt and sweat. Unlike the other passengers who have the comfort of cool homes, Fred has no refuge from the heat. His apartment is hot and stuffy because he and Naomi "had thought of Montreal as a city of the Sub-Arctic and in the summers they would have leisure to repent the misjudgment"(163). The summer, which is supposed to be a time of relaxation, only reminds Fred of his mistakes. He is unable to escape the heat and the misery of his own making. When Naomi and Deedee try to fly the kite, it rains. "They [are] back in a half an hour, their spirits not all dampened, which surprised him"(169). Fred has very little optimism and always expects the worst. He finds the rain discouraging, and cannot understand how his family can be so unaffected it. The next day, the weather is "nearly perfect, hot, clear, a firm steady breeze, but not too much of it, and a cloudless sky"(169). The beautiful weather reflects Fred's altered state of mind. He is no longer pessimistic, but has a new-found determination to make the kite fly. The heat is not uncomfortable anymore, the air is "dry and clear"(171). Even the dirt is beautiful, with flowers growing from it. Fred is finally able to find beauty in a world that he once saw as unpleasant and depressing.
The red kite is the vessel with which Fred is able to change view of the world. Kites are "a natural symbol, [thinks] Fred, and he [feels] uneasily sure that he would have trouble getting this one to fly"(163). The kite is a symbol of hope, but like the kite, Fred's hope is weak. The kite is described as "flimsy" and "cheap"(163). Naomi tears the frail fabric and the holes begin to grow like Fred's disheartenment. The kite's directions are not clear, but there are no clear directions to finding one's hope either. It is something that Fred must find on his own. His determination builds and at last the kits flies, along with Fred's hope. When the kite is in the air, the colour red is prevalent. Fred and Deedee watch "the flying red thing, and he [turns] away and [sees] in the shadow of her cheek and on her lips and chin the dark rich red of the pulp and the juice of crushed raspberries"(171). The colour red brings forth the image of vitality and life that Fred has found at last.
The imagery of the loons in Margaret Laurence's short story creates a correspondence between these disappearing creatures and Piquette's character. Piquette's family, the Tonneres, build their shacks on the edge of town, much in the way the loons build their nests up shore and away from people. Piquette remains distant and often goes unnoticed, especially by Vanessa. "She [dwells] and [moves] somewhere within [Vanessa's] scope of vision, but [Vanessa] did not actually notice her very much (144). When Vanessa arrives at the cabin, she only notices Piquette after she is finished looking around. Later, when her father dies, Vanessa becomes so absorbed in her own pain that she hardly notices that Piquette stops going to school. The loons also go unnoticed as well, except at night when they begin to sing. Piquette also has a chance to be seen and heard like the loons when she speaks to Vanessa about her new fiancÚ. For a brief moment, Vanessa sees Piquette. She can see that Piquette's "defiant face, momentarily, [becomes] unguarded and unmasked, and in her eyes there [is] a terrifying hope" (150). Piquette is able to step out of the shadows and reveal her true self like the loons reveal themselves on the surface of the water at night.
The loons and Piquette are both seen by Vanessa as special beings with deep connections with nature. She thinks that "Piquette must be in some way a daughter of the forest, a kind of junior prophetess of the wilds"(146). Vanessa believes that Piquette holds certain secrets of nature that Indians must inherently know because they have been a part of nature for so long. The loons are viewed by Vanessa as ancient creatures, like the Indians. Her father remarks that loons must have sounded the same before any people came to the lake. He also says "you could say the same, of course, about sparrows or chipmunks, but somehow it only strikes you that way with the loons"(148). By the same token, Piquette is really the same as any other person, but Indians strike Vanessa as being older, more magical race.
It is difficult for Vanessa to feel any connection with Piquette because she remains so distant from her for the majority of the time they spend together. Vanessa admits that she does not want to see her and does not know what to say to her. "It seem[s] that [they] had nothing to say to one another"(149). As humans take over the lake, there is this same loss of connection between humans and loons. Piquette's death and the loons' disappearance goes unnoticed for the most part and life goes on. When Vanessa realizes that the loons are gone, she muses about the cause of their disappearance. "Perhaps they had gone away to some far place of belonging. Perhaps they had been unable to find such a place, and had simply dies out, having ceased to care any longer whether they lived or not" (151). This statement reflects the experience of Piquette. She leaves town and gets married in her search to belong, but she is not able to find this belonging and as a result, she loses concern for her life. She eats and drinks her life away until one day, she dies in a fire. Vanessa does not even realize that Piquette has died until much later. When Vanessa finally does hear about her death, she cannot forget the look she had once seen in Piquette's eyes, the same way that "no one who has heard [the cry of the loons] can ever forget it" (147). It is clear by the many similarities between Piquette and the loons that she understands the loons better than anyone, and this is why Vanessa says, "Piquette might have been the only one, after all, who had heard the crying of the loons"(151).
Each of these short stories mentioned contains strong imagery that not only reflects but actually influences the characters' emotions and understanding of their own lives. Sinclair Ross successfully creates "a poignant contrast arising between [his characters'] personalities and the nature of the relentless land against which they live their lives"(Keith,141). This type of comparison between characters and their environment can also be seen in Hugh Hood's short story, Flying a Red Kite, in which the weather is an important component to Fred's emotional state. Hood uses the image of the red kite to bring Fred to a greater understanding of his own character in the way that Margaret Laurence uses the image of the loons to help Vanessa and the reader understand Piquette's character. Imagery has clearly been employed successfully by these authors to give their characters a realistic depth.
By Megan Thomas