Meeting Elise by Nam Le
In Meeting Elise by Nam Le we have the theme of pride, success, mortality, friendship, connection, acceptance, jealousy and redemption. Taken from his The Boat collection the story is narrated in the first person by a man called Henry Luff and from the beginning of the story the reader realizes that Le may be exploring the theme of pride. Henry, though he has not seen her in seventeen years, is proud of his daughter Elise and everything she has achieved. He may not have seen her in so long but she has been a part of Henry’s thoughts all the time. He, when asked by Apelman, has provided for Elise going as far as spending $520K for a cello. This may be significant as money is not an issue for Henry. He is a wealthy painter who is successful and who can afford to buy many cellos.
The theme of mortality is evident in the story with Henry being diagnosed with cancer. He wants to tell Apelman but he doesn’t as he is more concerned about meeting Elise for dinner. However she does not arrive, in fact she doesn’t want to see Henry again. Something he learns from her note to him suggesting she will reimburse him for the cello. Again money is not important to Henry. He simply wants to see his daughter. A request that is being denied of him. Apelman plays an important role in the story as he is Henry’s only friend, even if he did believe Apelman had an affair with Olivia. Olivia too is significant as Henry has been thinking about her a lot, reminiscing about their sex life and the things that Olivia taught him. If anything Henry made a connection with Olivia that he was unable to make with Elise’s mother.
There may be some symbolism in the story which might be important. Henry’s appraisal, negatively, of young people could symbolize jealousy and Henry being unable to accept Olivia’s death. On the other hand Henry readily accepts he has cancer even blurting it out to Jason when Elsie rings him while he is waiting in the restaurant. Though he was drunk and may regret what he has said to someone he considers to be a leech. Again Henry may be jealous of Jason because not only is he young but he is loved by Elise. Something that Henry cannot really say about his own relationship with Elise. The fact that Elsie does not wish to have any further contact with Henry is important as she is prepared to cut all ties with him with Henry believing she has been poisoned by her mother, who Henry calls a witch. Elise does after all want to pay Henry for the cello. That is the only thing she believes she has gotten out of her relationship with Henry. Though Henry cannot be really blamed. He might have cheated on Elise’s mother but she took Elsie away from his life. Using her as a pawn to hurt Henry.
The end of the story is interesting as Le is using the sketch that Henry is drawing as symbolism for redemption. In many ways Henry is redeeming himself and his past and finally accepts that he will never see Elise again, personally? This doesn’t stop Henry from going to the concert and looking at Elise. Going as far as waiting outside the concert hall for her. Even though he knows he will not speak to her and she will not see him. A sighting of Elise is enough to satisfy Henry. Who by the end of the story also comes to acceptance with his own mortality and Olivia’s death.