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A Comparative Study of War by Timothy Findlay and White Angel by Michael Cunningham

The Realisms of a Youth’s Reality: Comparative Essay on “War” and “White Angel”

The world is daunting in the face of a young boy, all he knows is what is put in front of him until inevitably he is forced to grow up. Life acts as a mould for a youthful male, it holds them in place and strengthens them until they are strong enough to stand by themselves- and be slowly worn down by whatever is placed upon them. In Michael Cunningham’s “White Angel” and Timothy Findlay’s “War” two young boys are ravaged by the realisms of growing up. Bobby/Frisco of Cunningham’s “White Angel” and Neil of Findlay’s “War”, both experience life typically as young boys do, but arbitrarily are razed by reality.

Day by day actions are habitual and unexceptional; the stories presented by these authors openly offer the life of a young boys whom live their lives in habit and un-exceptionality. Bobby goes through each day of his life following his routines and does not expect more than that of yesterday. Regularly he goes on excursions, this is exemplified by Cunningham that it is something Bobby does frequently: “One of the beauties of living in Cleveland is that any direction feels like progress. I’ve memorized the map” (Cunningham 233). Bobby has the map of Cleveland memorized, he later goes on to mention his ability to pinpoint approximate locations- all of which demonstrate the time and reiteration Bobby uses in this seemingly typical aspect of his life. Likewise, Neil exemplifies the ordinary and habitual summer of a young boy; he goes on ceaseless adventures with his friend, and his childhood is nourished once more by the routine of friendship that is in front of him. He recounts the events of the summer and states how each year it ends just as the last did: “…to this farm where the family took us every summer when we were children” (Findlay 121). Neil is talking about how every summer he visits an elderly couples farm, with his family and now it is merely out of habit.

Both Bobby and Neil experience the pull of habitual patterns at a young age; each day, month, summer and year they enter a new season but continue with old traditions. Not only are their young lives run by repetition and tradition; their lives are also foundational on the unextraordinary portions of life that shape the basics of these young males. Bobby is a younger brother, and is influenced by his older brother Carlton’s actions, as many siblings are. He eagerly leans into everything Carlton says and does, mimicking him: “Hours later, we are sprawled on the sofa in front of the television, ordinary as Wally and the Beav” (Cunningham 231). Bobby’s relationship with Carlton is the same as any other ordinary prepubescent boy, they look up to their role model, awkward and wholeheartedly. Bobby traipses through his day step by step behind his brother until the end; and just as Bobby states it was ordinary. In a similar way Neil looks up to his older brother wholeheartedly and awkward. He wants to be the one who knows his brother best, this is demonstrated by his comment on how it is not uncommon for adults to mistake his brother Bud’s name: “Grownups were always calling Bud ‘Buddy’. It was all wrong” (Findlay 122). Neil defends who is brother is in a silent way, not very built up by life’s experiences yet- to battle it or speak up on his own. This is another example of how Neil conforms to the generalities of a young male; he is closely following in the likes of his older brother, and defends who he is and what he does in the hopes of one day being his own person similar to Bud. The boys, Bobby and Neil live out the definition of ordinary, through their repetitive routines and dull ordinary behaviours. They are the authors demonstration of how a young fledglings’ life can be built up by what is placed right in front of him.

Life is what built up Bobby and Neil, but it is also the same aspect that devastates their worlds. Unexposed to the harshness that reality truly holds, the boys are ravaged by both the unexpected and by the life that has been before them for ages. In Bobby’s eyes, Carlton is of very high regard, and with that comes a lot of emotional attachment. The emotion tied to Bobby and Carlton’s relationship is not lost when life is: – “He is gone by the time the ambulance gets there. You can see the life drain out of him” (Cunningham 242). As Carlton’s lifeless body lay on the floor Bobby is overwhelmed with emotion, he still feels connected to Carlton through their joint experiences; he is content because he knows that Carlton’s life has been an adventure well lived. In a very similar way Neil is proposed with an unexpected reality. Although he follows closely behind Bud, Neil was not always informed with as much detail as his older counterpart: “Bud: Our dad’s joined he army. That was how I found out” (Findlay 122). The mundane life that Neil was so accustomed too was now gone and had been replaced by a future image where his father wouldn’t be present. This unwanted intel is a catalyst for Neil’s enhanced maturity at such a young age, although it is unwanted it is what reality had in store. Comparatively, Bobby and Neil are both examples of unrevealed realities of how life can be harsh for such a young boy, but are a major part in shaping who they become. Not only does the unexpected play a manipulative role in a youth’s life, so does what has been present the whole time.

Bobby is continually impacted by Carlton’s actions, although Bobby sees them as adventurous and fun; the reality of Carlton’s actions on his brother is inescapably destructive: “We have taken hits of acid with our breakfast juice” (Cunningham 230). Bobby says this out of pure admiration, not realizing that at such a young age his brother is infiltrating his early life and leading down a path towards his own end. Bobby has lived his life as typical as he knew, until there was something that got in the way-which is the reality that was ever-present. Similarly, Neil is led down a destructive path by a reality that is previously immanent in his life. Used to being immersed in the ways of his brother, Neil ventures off out of anger, and down a self-destructing path: “Right then the thing never got settled. Not in words, anyway” (Findlay). Neil’s antagonism towards his father leads him into a bout of self anger and regret, slowly destructing his own self with his frustration; reminiscing the past Neil mentions his continually regret for his actions and how he never properly addresses his anger he has with his father. Bobby and Neil have both been over exposed to all realities that come in the wake of a young boy’s life. The destructive power that their role models, themselves, and the world around them holds, it tears them down just enough that they can rebuild themselves into their own person.

The world is here simply to discourage. Throughout both Cunningham’s “White Angel” and Findlay’s “War” both boys are structured and moulded by life itself and then taken apart piece by piece and detail by detail. Their once structured mundane lives entered the harsh reality that pre-existed and accumulated over time -slowly revealing how the boys matured. The depth and change of emotions exemplified how forced the inevitability of growing up is. The authors relatively both expressed how life is beautiful because it ends and can no longer tear down the foundational men it once built.

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