Short Story Comparative Essay
Date: December 2004
The Assignment: Compare two short stories from a given list of stories.
Mark: I think it was in the 60s
The Great Depression was a time of despair and for the Prairies of Canada it was no exception. The drought (which occurred during the Depression) caused many farmers to give up farming after having lost large amounts of money. The two farming families in “Circus in Town” and “A Field of Wheat” are quite similar in the way that they want a better future for their children and that they appreciate what little they have, but they have different ways of dealing with emotions. As a result, both families are deeply affected by the Great Depression.
Both Jenny’s and Annabelle’s mothers want their children to have a better life. When Jenny is talking to her mother about the circus, her mother expresses her concerns about Jenny’s future: “[y]ou won’t spend all your life among chickens and cows or I’m not the woman I think I am” (Circus in Town 63). Jenny’s mother is determined to make her daughter’s life better and refuses to let Jenny live as she did. If Jenny lived and worked on a farm her entire life she would not be able to experience as much as someone who lived in the city. Martha, Annabelle’s mother, also wants her children to grow up away from the farm. Martha thinks about how she and her husband John can help their children’s futures: “this winter perhaps they could send them away to school in town and let them take music lessons” (A Field of Wheat 69). Martha believes her children should be educated so that when they become adults they will have better lives. If Annabelle and Joe go to school, they will have a better chance of getting a good job. Both groups of parents agree that if the children are educated and grow up away from the farm, their lives will be easier and they will not worry about money.
Both girls are thankful for their few belongings and inventive imaginations. When Jenny is not able to go to the circus, she creates one in her mind, a “splendid, matchless circus of a little girl who had never seen one” (Circus 65). Even though Jenny is not able to go see the circus, she imagines one and has just as much fun. Children today would not be as excited as Jenny to go to the circus and would certainly not be as happy to just imagine one. Like Jenny, Annabelle values her single flower in the garden as much as Jenny values her circus. Annabelle is told to go inside the house while her brother Joe picks peas, but she protests: “I’ve got a poppy out and if he goes to the garden by himself he’ll pick it — just for spite” (Wheat 70). Annabelle will be upset if Joe picks her flower because it will be gone. Annabelle is also different from the children in the present as most prefer television over flowers. Since during the Depression most families could not afford luxury items, people would appreciate the “little things” more.
There are also differences between the two families, especially when it comes to showing their emotions. Jenny’s parents are not ashamed to fight in front of the children, which is shown when Jenny’s father returns home and her mother yells at him: “[y]ou — and the farm — and the debts — that’s what’s wrong. There’s a circus in town, but do we go? Do we ever go anywhere?” (Circus 63). If not for the drought and the Depression, the family would be able to go to the circus. Jenny’s mother does not tell Jenny or her brother to leave the room while she is fighting with her husband, she does not seem to care that the children see them argue. While anger is shown openly at Jenny’s house, sadness is hidden at Annabelle’s. Martha and her husband John however do not want the children to know they are upset. When Martha confesses that she cannot go on, John notices the children coming and says: “[s]traighten up, quick, before they see you” (Wheat 74). John is worried about the children seeing Martha cry. He thinks that if the children see her crying they will be upset as well. The Depression caused much anger and grief in families and the parents in both stories experienced these emotions.
The effects of the Depression were major influences in “Circus in Town” and “A Field of Wheat”. The parents in both stories do not want their children to face the same hardships they are facing. All the characters are thankful for their possessions and families. One family openly shows their emotions by arguing, but the other tries to hide so that the children are not upset. Although the Depression was a tough time for the people who lived through it, most people grew from the experience.