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“First Day of Winter” by Breece D’J Pancake

“First Day of Winter” is a work by an American writer Breece D’J Pancake. This short story reveals the inner conflict of the main character, Hollis, and shows an uneasy relationship with his parents. Hollis is a farm boy who takes care of his elderly and feeble mother and father. Their farm is failing, and Hollis fears that it will not survive the upcoming winter. His brother, Jake, has left the farm to become a preacher, and now leads his own life with a wife and children. Jack refuses to take the parents in, explaining that there is not enough room at his place to accommodate them (Pancake 163). The last line of the story makes the reader think about the feelings of the main character and his conflict. “The sun was blackened with snow, and the valley closed in quietly with humming, quietly as an hour of prayer” (Pancake 169). This scene gives the impression that the protagonist is attending his own funeral. This paper will consider why Hollis feels so dead and which elements and symbols of the story reveal his emotions.

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It seems that the writer used funeral imagery to show the characters’ emotional state and highlight his desperate situation. Throughout the story, the author uses various symbols that reveal Hollis’ feelings of loneliness and hopelessness. In the beginning, the reader finds the protagonist “looking for some way out of the tomb Jake had built for him” (Pancake 163). Jack has left the farm to start his own life, shifting responsibility for the parents and the household to his brother. Thus, Hollis appears to be confined to the failing farm. It has become a sort of prison that has ruined his desires and wishes. It is also worth noting that the citation mentioned above compares the farm with a tomb. The reference to the symbol of death at the beginning of the narrative sets the tone for the story. Hence, the reader becomes imbued with a gloomy atmosphere and is morally ready for funeral imagery at the end.

The scene where Hollis is hunting plays a crucial role in the whole story as it allows the reader to understand better why the character feels so dead at the end. When he had already killed some squirrels and rested near the tree, “he felt old and tired, worn and beaten” (Pancake 166). Here, the author explicitly indicates that the protagonist is exhausted from this life and implies that there is no way out of his difficult situation. He also remembers Jack’s reaction to his suggestion to put the parents in the state home. The brother refused the idea and argued that the stuff would starve them, “mistreat them, and in the end, smother them” (Pancake 166). This makes him feel so desperate that he even imagines what it would be like to smother his parents (Pancake167). All in all, the scene in the woods is one of the most important points of the story as it reveals the character’s emotions and secret desires.

The internal state of the protagonist and his strained relationship with the parents are emphasized with a bleak landscape and gloomy weather. The setting of the play gives the reader insight into Hollis’ mind. The land “looked scared,” and this may reflect the emotional wounds of the characters. One can see the first signs of the approaching winter: “The first snows had already come, melted, and sealed the hills with a heavy frost the sun could not soften” (Pancake 165). For the farm, this winter may become the last one, and Hollis fully understands it. However, it seems that the problem does not have a solution, and the protagonist is doomed to stay with his parents and sacrifice his life for them. Hence, the story’s setting contributes to the reader’s understanding of the character’s emotions and particularly why he feels dead in the last scene.

This short story by Pancake moved me and made me ponder on the issues of sacrifice, family relationships, and loneliness. The protagonist is trapped in difficult circumstances: he cannot leave his elderly parents and has to sacrifice his own interests and life to support them. As a person who has a sense of responsibility, he has no other choice, because his brother refuses to help him. It appears that Hollis experiences a sense of family guilt. Unlike Jack, he cannot leave the farm and neglect his parents. The mother and father may also feel guilty because they are a burden for their son. In the end, the old man starts crying when Hollis mentions that Jack refused to take the parents in (Pancake 168). To my mind, one of the reasons why the father cries is because he does not want to be a trouble for his children, but at the same time, he needs them. The intimacy with the parents and Hollis’ inability to escape creates a conflict in the story. This work by Pancake raises an important issue of family relationships and reveals its dark sides.

References

Pancake, Breece D’J. “First Day of Winter.” The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake. Little, Brown, 1983.

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StudyCorgi. "“First Day of Winter” by Breece D’J Pancake." March 15, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/first-day-of-winter-by-breece-dj-pancake/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "“First Day of Winter” by Breece D’J Pancake." March 15, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/first-day-of-winter-by-breece-dj-pancake/.

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