A Bird in the House


The theme of entrapment is evident in Margaret Laurence's A Bird in the House; all the characters in the novel are entrapped. These characters deal with the sense of confinement and the need for escape. Vanessa, Ewen and Aunt Edna all reach personal freedom, however only to a small extent because they are left with the pain of their memories and regrets.
Vanessa reaches personal freedom to a small extent. The stories in A Bird in the House show the pains that Vanessa goes through while growing up. Vanessa travels on a journey form ignorance to knowledge. This journey is her comprehension of why things happen, and how the past, present and future are tied together. Vanessa realizes that the past affects the present which affects the future. While growing up Vanessa is faced with having to live with the dominance of Grandfather Conner. Grandfather Conner represents a dominant patriarchal figure that rules the family. He always had a strong control over the people that lived with him. He was a perfectionist and was very proud of what he had accomplished and at no cost would he let his reputation be scarred. After her fathers death Vanessa moved into the Brick House with Grandfather Conner, this is when she noticed the trapped conditions that aunt Edna was living in and her mother was going to have to live in again. Vanessa always tried to free herself of the things that went on around her by writing exaggerated adventure stories. When Vanessa wrote, it was her chance to get away from the things that made her feel trapped. Vanessa is freed of Grandfather Conner's tyranny when he dies, at least one thinks so. However it is evident in the story "Jericho's Brick Battlements," that Vanessa will never be free of Grandfather Conner. The painful memories that she has of him will remind her everyday that she is not free of his oppression. Vanessa realizes that she is like him when: "[she] wanted to tell [the new owners of the Brick house] to trim their hedges, to repaint the windowframes, to pay heed to repairs. [she] had feared and fought [grandfather Conner], yet he proclaimed himself in [her] veins." ("A Bird in the House," p. 191). Thus, it is evident that Vanessa was not free of Grandfather Conner's tyranny, which prevented her from reaching personal freedom.
In addition, Vanessa was unable to achieve personal freedom because of the pain that her regrets brought her. It is evident in the story "Horses of the Night" that Vanessa does not open up to Chris because she is worried about the age difference between them; "[Chris] was twenty-one. The distance between [them] was still too great. For years [she] had wanted to be older so [she] might talk with him, but now [she] felt unready" ("A Bird in the House," p.140). This holds her back from getting close to him and understanding him better. Vanessa later realizes that when she went camping with Chris he had wanted to open up to her, because he trusted her. When Chris is admitted into a mental hospital Vanessa concludes that if she had let Chris talk to her, he would not have ended up in a mental institution. This regret that Vanessa feels keeps her from reaching personal freedom.
Likewise, Ewen MacLeod does not reach personal freedom because of the memories and regrets that he carries around with him. The death of his brother Roderick proves to be a very tragic moment of his life. Grandmother MacLeod is very successful in making Ewen feel guilty for surviving, when his brother did not. This guilt is what keeps Ewen quiet in front of her, he does not raise his voice to her and when he does he instantly apologises. In the story "A Bird in the House" Ewen drops the hint that the time when he was away at war was a time when he was free, it was a time in which he was able to explore different places. Ewen says: "It was kind of interesting to see a few other places for a change..." ("A Bird in the House," p.91). After Ewen's death Vanessa finds a love letter and a picture of a girl that she believes was her fathers lover. Vanessa "...[hopes the girl in