The End of the World by Mavis Gallant
In The End of the World by Mavis Gallant we have the theme of dislocation, alienation selfishness, infidelity, compassion, hopelessness, responsibility, loyalty and acceptance. Taken from her The End of the World and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by a man called Billy Apostolesco and the reader realises from the beginning of the story that Gallant may be exploring the theme of dislocation and alienation. The sign which reads ‘No Canadians’ serves to isolate those who are Canadian and though they may be dislocated from their homes they are not welcome in America. This may be significant as Gallant may be suggesting that there are waves of Canadians who have felt the displeasure of locating in America. In reality they are made to feel like outcasts by some Americans. Billy’s father is also a selfish man. He abandoned his wife when she had three young children and made no attempt to help rear any of his children. Including the narrator. Billy’s father also had a wandering eye and had many adulterous affairs when he was married to Billy’s mother.
This however cannot take away from the compassion that Billy shows his father. He holds no grudges or at least will speak to his father of no grudges. This is important because Gallant is allowing the reader an insight into Billy’s character and mind. Though he can see faults in his father. He still nonetheless cares for him regardless. One is also left to think that Billy blames his mother just as much as his father for the disastrous relationship his parents had. In Billy’s eyes his mother must have known what her husband was like. It is possible that Billy thinks his parent’s should never have married. Appropriating blame to both parents. This may be important because at no stage in the story, particularly through the flashbacks, are there any signs that both parents got along with one another However it can’t be taken away from the mother that she raised all her children to the best of her abilities. Even putting them through college.
There may be some symbolism in the story which might be significant. The sign stating ‘No Canadians’ serves to highlight (as mentioned) the difficulties that some Canadians felt when coming to America. The blue sponge could be symbolic of heaven. Handing the sponge to his father is one of Billy’s many kindly acts throughout the story. He also bailed out Kenny when he was found to have committed credit card fraud. The Old Master that Beryl and Billy have, and which Beryl suggests could be used in emergencies, suggests that Billy’s father’s death is inevitable. The doctor is also cold towards Billy. Something one would not expect but it is possible that the doctor is exhausted or that he knows the outcome of each patient. If anything things could be hopeless.
The end of the story is interesting as Gallant appears to be exploring the theme of acceptance. Billy’s acceptance of his father’s death. He has at no stage in the story pried too far when it came to his father and in many ways there is a sense that Billy, on his father’s death, forgives him for what he has done to his family. It might also be significant that though Billy had the opportunity to leave his father in hospital. He never does. This is important because it highlights how loyal Billy is to his father. A loyalty that Billy knows will never be returned or hasn’t ever been returned. Billy is in a foreign land with a man he really knows very little about and he doesn’t think selfishly of abandoning his father. At the end of the day Billy knows that the man in the bed in front of him, and despite all his obvious faults, is his father nonetheless. If anything Billy’s time with his father serves for Billy to forgive him. He may not necessarily know it but he has finally let go of his father and all the baggage that comes with his father being his father.