Of Selfishness In Madeleine Thien's Alchemy And House?

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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…
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, not transcendent qualities of

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