How can someone pursue a personal desire if they spent their life trying to conform? Alden Nowlan’s short story, “The Glass Roses” explores this through the protagonist, Stephen. Stephen’s personal desire to feel accepted conflicts with his feeling of having to become like the pulp cutters because he is not mentally or physically ready to fit in with grown men. This results in Chris finding a way to become his own person. Stephen’s journey to pursue his personal desire is shown through setting, character development, and symbolism.
The setting that Stephen is in requires him to be well built and mentally prepared, but unfortunately, he is too young to be prepared for his surroundings. Stephen has been in the forest for six weeks, he notices the gale force winds howl as he lays in bed. He watches the pulp cutters playing Auction Forty-Five and envies their endless strength. Stephen wants to play the game but is physically incapable of it after another day of being battered by the wind and snow choosing to rest by himself instead.
The “huskiest and most solemn” pulp cutter and the foreman is Stephens’s father. His father creates an environment of fear. Stephen’s father warns him that pulp cutting “is not a kids job” but Stephen chooses to put aside his childhood and conform to his father’s desire in fear of his disappointed “cold-grey eyes” and hope to be accepted by him. By taking the job as a pulpcutter Chris must also fight his humanity because at the time(mid 1900’s) men were defined as being animalistic, they had to be husky and solemn as well as have strong bodies with ox-like shoulders.
Stephen is not capable of cutting down countless trees and feels scorn towards himself for not being able to come back and play cards with the other pulp cutters, he is unable to conform to their animalistic ways of grunting and spitting because his body cannot stay up after reaching the bunkhouse. Stephen unwillingly pursues his desire to rest. Stephen’s desire to become like his father and the other pulpcutters makes him feel the need to conform to them despite his physical and mental inability to do so. Stephen begins to break his desire to conform and create his personal desire to be free from the pulpcutters ideology.
The pulpcutters speak only when they have “criticisms or commands,” Chris has never had a pulpcutter apologize to him nor has he apologized to anybody because “men did not tender apologies. ” Stephen becomes angry with Leka who later apologizes to him; Stephen ignores him but later apologizes to Leka. Despite not knowing how to apologize saying “look” at first Stephen gets over his requirement of not tendering to apologies and says sorry to Leka because he feels that he fits in with the tenderness of an apology. Stephen feels a connection between him and Leka because of his kindness and his stories.
Stephen “shamefully” listens to Leka’s “fairytales” hoping that the other pulpcutters do not find out. He begins to pull away from the masculine ideology he is consumed by and starts to imagine cathedrals and Cracow allowing him to feel like he fits in as they both speak about fantasies Stephen continues his rebellion on the idea of conforming to the pulp cutters by accepting Leka’s advice about how to cut through the tree. At first, Stephen had gotten angry with Leka for telling him to be gentler with the pulp saw because men did not accept another’s advice, but later accepts the advice and is capable of cutting down the tree.
Stephen feels like himself around Leka and finds it “fun” being around him. This allows Stephen to slightly pull away from the ideology of becoming a man like his father and begin to feel like a fifteen year old. Stephen’s struggle to find himself is shown using symbolism. The pulp saw that Stephen believes to be the most important thing in the world is symbolic of him trying to cut through his fathers and societies ideology of masculinity. The saw buckles under the weight of the tree because Stephen exerts too much pressure; he must put his all into cutting the tree down because him and Leka cut the least trees in the pulp cutting crew.
He wants to be like the other pulpcutters but is trying too hard causing not only the saw, but also himself to buckle under the pressure. Stephen decides to let go of the saw when he hears Leka mention Cracow, he likes the sound and chooses to listen to Leka’s story rather than cut down the tree because he feels accepted by Leka when imagining his stories. Stephen finds that there is more to the world than cutting through the need to conform. Furthermore, the glass roses that Leka tells Stephen about symbolize Stephen, he is deemed fragile and weak in a time of battle against the setting.
Just like the bombs that caused the glass roses to fall off the mantle and break the explosions caused by falling trees will eventually cause Stephen to fall off his mantle of childhood and shatter, losing his humanity and innocence. Stephen chooses to see the beauty within the glass roses and embrace it by befriending Leka and listening to his fairy tales rather than to break himself. Leka’s “fairytales” are also the cause of his nightmares. Leka is able to rub off these nightmares when he wakes up but Chris is living in a nightmare, the nightmare symbolizes his surroundings and his inability to escape them.
Chris cannot brush off his nightmare and must face it with the help of Leka. Chris disobeys his father who is the cause of his nightmare and wakes Leka out of his nightmare in order to help him get through his own because Leka is the only one humane enough to help him. Chris waking Leka shows how he has become his own man and is willing to fight the masculine ideologies that are his nightmare. Chris manages to find himself thanks to Leka’s advice and stories, he eventually builds up the courage to disobey his father and gain his own voice.
The use of setting, character development, and symbolism help the reader accompany Chris in his battle against conformity. Stephen’s desire to become like the pulp cutters combats with his personal desire of feeling accepted because he is not ready to fit in with grown men. Resulting in him finding a way to become his own person and find himself. “The Glass Roses” by Alden Nowlan shows the conflict between conformity and personal desire through the eyes of a fifteen-year-old protagonist that manages to find himself.