House By Madeleine Thien Analysis

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In Madeleine Thien’s stories, “Alchemy” and “House,” from Simple Recipes, the protagonists, Paula and Lorraine, suffer life-altering adversity as a result of the selfishness of their parents. Selfishness permeates both stories. “Alchemy” explores the effects of the violent selfishness of Paula’s father, the impermeable selfishness of Miriam and her family, and “House,” the indulgent selfishness of Lorraine’s mother, as well as the occupationally-driven selfishness of her father. In both stories, families are shattered by desertion and misery that projects well beyond the stories themselves. There are no qualities of character or effective survival strategies presented in either story that might be considered hopeful against the wreckage caused…show more content…
In “House,” Lorraine’s mother deserts her family and, in “Alchemy,” Paula disappears. In “House” the mother abandons her daughters and creates in them a desperate longing to be reunited with her. The impact of her actions, particularly for Lorraine’s sister, Kathleen, is heart-wrenching. One morning Lorraine’s sister Kathleen awakens “choking and wheezing, her eyes wet with tears” (121). One of the most profoundly moving scenes in “House” is Thien’s depiction of two young girls waiting outside their former home on their mother’s birthday, hoping that she will return to them. The two unwanted children sit all day in the late summer heat on a patch of dead grass, between the sidewalk and curb, property that Kathleen tells Lorraine does not belong to anyone. This scene illustrates the profound and enduring pain inflicted on the girls by their mother. In “Alchemy,” Miriam seems to react to Paula’s disappearance without much feeling. Miriam walks by Paula’s house and “stood on the sidewalk out front hoping that wherever Paula was, they would never find her and make her go back again” (73). Paula’s mother, on the other hand, is struck simultaneously by the pain of her daughter’s disappearance and the realization that her husband may have molested her. She may be destined to live out her days without ever discovering what has happened to her daughter. The misery caused by the lack of closure…show more content…
Her efforts at escape are only temporary and superficial. It is difficult to say that she had some inner strength that caused her to leave home for good, because her departure may also be viewed as foolhardy. At best, she will no longer suffer the violence of her father. She will, however, not be free from the deep emotional scars inflicted upon her. Paula makes desperate attempts to get Miriam to stay with her to keep her father at bay for at least one night at a time. Miriam was not a sure thing, though. Miriam complained that Paula, “would corner her in the bathroom and ask her to come over. Miriam never gave firm answers” (66). Throughout the story we also see Paula trying to alter her appearance, possibly in an effort to become someone else, so the abuse might stop. She also tries to lose weight. Miriam says, “Paula threw up dinner,” (59) and “she was losing weight, too, and it made her face thin and freakish” (66). We also witness Paula’s ever-changing hair colour with “her hair, bleached blond,” (59) and “her hair was a different shade. Clairol ‘Stardust’” (66). Miriam observes of Paula’s behaviour and summarizes aptly: “if you could change your life with a shade of colour, if it had ever been that easy, we would not be standing here in the first place” (76). Paula is a broken person. Her escape strategies reflect desperation,
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