Tell-Tale Titles of Margaret Laurence's "A Bird in the House"
Margaret Laurence's A Bird in the House is a collection of short stories that is rich in symbols and similes. Descriptions like "claw hand", "flyaway manner" and "hair bound grotesquely like white-fingered wings" are found abundantly in the writer's novel. The Oxford English Dictionary defines symbols as, "something that stands for, represents, or denotes something else (not by exact resemblance, but by vague suggestion, or by some accidental or conventional relation)" (reference). Yet, there is nothing coincidental about Margaret Laurence's diction and her usage of symbols in "A Bird in the House" and "The Mask of the Bear". These revealing titles effectively foreshadow the plot and character conflicts that occur in their stories.
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Grandfather Connor is described as a "tall, husky man" (13) who wears a coat made from the pelt of a bear. He has had this coat so long that no one in the family can remember when he had gotten it. To Vanessa, the man and the bear coat are synonymous. She sometimes calls him "The Great Bear," (63) a fitting name for a surly man who did not approve of many things, including "downright worthless" (16) people. When he gets mad, for example, when aunt Edna brings Jimmy Lorimer home for dinner, he would voice his displeasure then angrily retreat to his cavern in the basement. However, Grandfather Connor's tough exterior is only a disguise to mask his own lack of affection and to uphold his wife's virtues, whom he describes as "an angel" (83). When grandmother Connor died, grandfather Connor stood outside on the porch, without his bear coat, and when Vanessa arrived, he cried to her. Symbolically, this represents the unmasking of the bear. Many years later, when Vanessa sees an Indian bear mask in a museum, she remembers that, "in the days before it became a museum piece, the mask had concealed a man" (86).
"A Bird in the House" and "The Mask of the Bear" are symbolically appropriate titles for the stories that they tell. "A Bird in the House" alludes to the entrapment that Vanessa and Ewen separately experience during