Erdrich considers herself a storyteller, and so it is fitting that she tells her stories in first person, that is, using the word ‘‘I,’’ as if she is talking directly to the reader.
First person is a more personal way of telling a story; it is the technique used when friends talk to one another. In the case of ‘‘The Leap,’’ the narrator is recalling a memory, something she experienced first-hand. The nature of any memory is one-sided; so it is with first-person narrative as well. Although the reader is told only one perspective of the memory (the narrator’s), it is enough to understand the implications of the events that unfolded.
Had Erdrich chosen a different narrative perspective, the reader would feel as if he were on the outside looking in. With first person, the reader gets to actually walk through the memory and sequence of events with the narrator, allowing for a richer, more involved experience.
Erdrich rejects the idea that she is a magical realist because she claims that all events in her stories have been documented in one way or another. Magical realism is a literary technique in which unusual or improbable events happen in an otherwise realistic story. There is no denying that ‘‘The Leap’’ includes some magical realism.
One example of this can be found in the second paragraph of the story, when the narrator tells how, when she is sewing in the rebuilt bedroom of her childhood, she hears the crackle and smells the smoke of the fire. ‘‘Suddenly, the room goes dark, the stitches burn beneath my fingers, and I am sewing with a needle of hot silver, a thread of fire.’’ Realistically, this could never happen. Yet the narrator never says she feels as if this is what happens; she recounts it as an actual occurrence.
Another example of magical realism is the leap itself, that impossible feat that allowed Anna to save her daughter from certain death in the fire. The branches of that maple tree outside the narrator’s bedroom window were covered in ice, making them brittle. And only one limb, its diameter no larger than Anna’s wrist, touched the roof. The narrator concedes that even the weight of a squirrel would snap that branch. Yet Anna supposedly used that branch to hurl herself toward the roof, where she hung ‘‘by her heels on the new gutter.’’
By the time this event would have occurred, Anna would have been older, less physically fit. Despite her acrobatic training, there is no way she could have hung from a gutter by her heels, especially since ice covered everything. But the way in which Erdrich tells the tale allows the reader to believe in what she is saying. The narrator believes it, the neighbors think they saw it, so it must have happened.
As she does in all her writing, Erdrich infuses this story with imagery to help the tale come alive for the reader. In her description of the Flying Avalons, she uses simile when she compares the couple to two sparkling birds as they drop gracefully from the sky in ‘‘their glittering, plumed helmets and high-collared capes.’’
Through imagery, the reader can actually see what causes Harry Avalon’s tragic death. ‘‘It was while the two were in midair, their hands about to meet, that lightning struck the main pole and sizzled down the guy wires, filling the air with a blue radiance. . . . ’’ And again, it is eloquent use of imagery that allows the reader to imagine the narrator’s sister’s gravestone morphing into something it is not: ‘‘Somewhere the statue is growing more sharply etched as if, instead of weathering itself into a porous mass, it is hardening on the hillside with each snowfall, perfecting itself.’’
When used sparingly and in just the right places, imagery draws the reader in and gives a story life.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 30, Louise Erdrich, Published by Gale Group, 2010