Kellie Murphy and Austin Owens
Kellie Murphy and Austin Owens
Flight. A simple word with many meanings and also fascinating theme in the novel Transatlantic. The word flight can mean flying with wings or in an aircraft. In every chapter there is always some mention of birds. Jack Craddogn and his wife Paula painted birds in flight, Tomas died getting ready to duck hunt, but the most memorable are the seagulls who drop oysters on the roof of Hannah’s cottage. Airplanes are also present and are a significant part of book one. Alcock and Brown make the first transatlantic flight and Senator George Mitchell spends the beginning of his story on a flight to Ireland.
Flight however in not limited to the sky. According to the OED Flight can also be defined, “The action of fleeing or running away from, or as from danger, ect.; hasty departure or retreat, also, an absconding.” In America Frederick Douglass was a slave and if he went home and was captured he would have been returned to his master. He was in flight from slavery and found a safe haven in Ireland, where he inspired Lily to make flight from her job as a maid in Webb’s house. You can also say that Hannah was in flight from her financial responsibilities.
One of my favorite lines Colum McCann wrote about flight was in 1919 when Lottie looks out a window and worries about Brown, Alcock, and her letter and wonders if they will make the trip. “She doesn’t like herself at moments like this, her strange bearing, her shrill self consciousness, her youth. She wishes she could walk outside of herself, out the window, into the air, and down. Eureka. The point of flight. To get rid of oneself. That was reason enough to fly.” (McCann 32-33) In this one passage McCann manages to phrase his sentence so that flight takes on multiple meanings. A brief fly out your window and you flight your life. Nicely played Mr. McCann.
Ps. I also just have to point this one quote out. As a person who tries to eat less meat, I had to stop and re-read, “Pochard, tufted duck, goldeneye. She could never taste the meat without thinking of fight.” (McCann 239) Lottie and I have a similar problem. It is hard for me to get past the idea of life once possessing the meat I eat. Maybe I am taking that out of context but the line still made an impression on me.
Cheers to a great semester everyone!
“flight, n.” Oxford English Dictionary. 3rd ed. 2013. OED Online. Oxford University Press. 03 November. 2013. http://dictionary.oed.com/.
McCann, Colum. Transatlantic. New York: Random House, 2013. Print
Determination is a huge theme in the novel Transatlantic. Each book talks about characters who have great determination. And while although we only get to see a short part in each characters experience throughout the three books, we can see how each character has great determination. In the first book Alcock and Brown are flying to Ireland. Their flight doesn’t go smoothly to say the least. But both of them had great determination to get across the ocean safely and land in Ireland. Both these characters face a close death when their plane almost crashes into the sea. They start to spin out of control heading straight for the sea. Although they are panicking because they could be underwater any minute now, they are extremely determined to get the plane upright and flying again. McCann writes, ” The sea stands soldier-straight and dark. Light where the water should be. Sea where the light should crest. Ninety feet. Eighty-five. That’s the sun. Christ, it’s the sun, Teddy, the sun! There. Eighty now. The sun! Alcock gives the machine a mouthful of throttle. Over there. Open her. Open her. The engines catch. He fights the jolt. The sea turns” (McCann 74). This quote shows how the men had great determination. They were going to try everything in their power in order to stop the plane from crashing.
Another character who showed great determination was Lily. Although at times it seems that Lily did not fully enjoy all the dirty jobs that she was assigned to do, she was very determined to do her job the right way. She never complained. She either ignored the soldiers when then called her names or “whispered obscenities” or she would make something up like she was a Quaker to get them to stop. She did many different jobs and did them well. Her determination showed in everything she did because she needed that job. “She cleaned the bedpans, changed the sheets, stuffed the mattresses with clean straw, soaked cotton balls with camphor. Scrubbed the bloody operating tables clean with sand. Still, the smell was intolerable. The reek of excrement and blood. She longed to be outside with the filthy clothing once more, but she proved to be a good aide and the surgeons liked her” (McCann 349). This quote shows how good of a nurse she was. And although she wasn’t fond of all the jobs she had to do, she did them anyways. Without complaining and she did them well.
In Colum Mccan’s TransAtlantic There are two major themes that I see. I couldn’t decide between the two, but I think that they possibly could be intertwined. The first one is freedom. All the characters in the books are grasping for the possibility of freedom. Weather it’s freedom from work, freedom from hardship, economic freedom, freedom from slavery, freedom to travel and experiment, or just to be free, all the characters are fighting for the same underlying goal. Fredrick Douglass embodies this theme as he continues to fight for freedom for his fellow enslaved brothers and sisters, “He was in Ireland, he said, to advance universal emancipation, to exact the standard of public morality, to hasten the day of freedom for his three million enslaved brethren” (Page 140). He will never stop fighting for this goal. Through all his hardships he stands strong. That brings me to my next theme, which connects strongly to freedom. This is the theme of will power to survive. This is a lot stronger in some of the stories then other, but it’s always there. Even for Senator George Mitchel as he makes his way through Ireland. He wants so badly to get home, but he gets through the trip because he know it will help others. It’s not that difficult, but the theme is there in my opinion. I think one of the characters who really shows this theme is Lily.
Lily is the true definition of the word survivor. She is inspired by Douglass to go to America in search of a better life (213). We see her again in the start of book two when she is working in the war fields in the one of the most gruesome scenes of the book. She often has the duty of holding men down as their arms and legs are sawed off and then getting rid of the body parts. Even her own son is returned dead from the war. This is an incredibly depressing life, but Lily presses on and marrys Jon Ehrlich. They have 6 kids together. You think things are starting to turn around for Lily, but things take a terrible turn when two of her sons a Jon are killed in the yard after some ice cakes fall on top of them. Lily springs in to action once she realizes they are dead. She wants to be able to continue on and survive with her 4 remaining children. Lily knows the odds are against them but will her will power she knows she can stand strong and survive. “She lay in her bed, surrounded by her four remaining children. The boys were old enough now, she thought. Emily could help manage the books. There were ways to survive” (441). These two themes can tie together I think. Will power to survive can lead to freedom. In Lily’s case, her will power to survive lead’s to economic freedom and survival for her family and that’s why we see her family continue on in the book.
McCann, Colum. Transatlantic. New York, NY: Random House, 2012. iBook file.
I believe the most common theme of Transatlantic by Colum McCann is suffrage. With each part of the novel, the main characters suffer in one way or another. With each part, the main character is dealt pain and suffering, and in turn overcomes this problem. By doing this, McCann creates a climax and resolution within each character. For example, in book three, Hannah is still morning the loss of her son, Tomas, while dealing with the possibility of losing her family’s cottage. The cottage is the place of Tomas’s death and holds many other family memories. She tries to sell the letter written by her great-grandmother, Emily Ehrlich, taken across the Atlantic in the first airmail flight. Because the letter remand unopened, it was not worth the money she needed. At one point Hannah thinks of suicide, “A friend of mine once wisely said that suicide only suits the young. I counseled myself to stop sulking and simply enjoy my time there” (McCann 292). The letter is later open and read to Hannah by the same man who choices to by her cottage.
Another example of suffrage is the story of Lily Duggan. She also suffers the loss of her son, Tomas, McCann describes “He was near the top of the pile, but his face was obscured. She had no need to turn him over. She knew straightaway” (McCann 167). After she finds her son’s body she chooses to begin a new life with Jon Ehrlich. They build a family and work to farm ice. An accident happens and she losses her husband and her two oldest sons. After many years of harvesting ice, she managed to build her business and send her remaining boys to college.
Hardships are, perhaps, the most prominent theme in Transatlantic. Each section of each book carries at least one hardship that the main character goes through. The difficulties that the character face increase and get worse as the chapter moves on until it gets to the end where they seem to stop or start to fade away. This creates a rising action, climax and a resolution of sorts in each section. There are always exceptions to the rule such as Lottie’s story in book two in which her hardship starts at the end with the death of Tomas. However, a good example of this theme is Lily’s section. “He was near the top of the pile, but his face was obscured. She had no need to turn him over. She knew straightaway” (McCann 167). Lily losing her son was the start of her troubles, except when we learn of her childhood later on. First she loses her son, then she loses her second husband and two oldest sons in an ice block-related death. Things were terrible but as the section went on she makes a lot of money selling the business and starts a posh lifestyle afterwards, with the past difficulties fading away.
One other example is Senator George Mitchell from the first book. His situation starts out very calm and nice. It gets fast paced later on in the section though when he starts working on the bill in Ireland. Things go awry during the revision of the bill and for days Senator Mitchell is in the office working on it, stressing over it. “Meeting after meeting. Phone call after phone call” (McCann 146). The busyness gives way to calm and happiness at the end of the section where everything is done and the bill goes the way that the public wanted it to go. Senator Mitchell went through the same fluctuations in the story that Lily did, just in a different way.
In two clearly written paragraphs, explicate a theme that you see traveling through McCann’s novel and its significance to the narrative structure. Be sure to include at least two quotes to support your claim.
Due Tuesday, December 3 by class time.