The entire story is a study of the mother-daughter relationship. The narrator credits her mother with her existence even beyond birth, and through recollection, makes clear the ties that bind them together.
Although she never directly says it, the way the narrator gives voice to her memory reflects an admiration for her mother. In contemplating the trapeze accident that took the life of her mother’s first husband, the narrator clearly believes her mother’s act of saving herself was the result of intelligent consideration even in the face of danger, rather than a chance event. ‘‘As he swept past her on the wrong side she could have grasped his ankle, or the toe-end of his tights, and gone down clutching him. Instead, she changed direction.’’
The reader sees this admiration again when the narrator discusses how her mother learned to read and write so as to ward off boredom while recuperating in the hospital. But nowhere is the daughter’s admiration of her mother more obvious than in her recollection of the rescue. Anna, upon realizing there was no chance of rescue by the firefighters, put aside any embarrassment she might have felt and stripped down to her underwear so that she could climb the maple tree unencumbered.
After making what seems to be an astonishingly difficult leap from the tree to her daughter’s window,Annarescuedher,andtheduojumpedout the window to the safety of the firefighter’s tarp. The narrator, securely wrapped in her mother’s arms, forgot her fear and instead basked in the knowledge that she was out of harm’s way.
Aside from the love between the narrator and Anna, Erdrich explores the theme of love through Anna’s relationship with Harry Avalon and then her second husband, the narrator’s father.
There must be complete and unwavering trust between the Flying Avalons in order for them to perform their act on the flying trapeze. The narrator claims they made a ‘‘romantic pair,’’ and although readers never know for certain, it is safe to assume that Anna had known Harry from a very young age, since she was taken in by the Avalons as a child orphan.
Anna and her second husband met as he doctored her after the accident. She regaled him with stories of her travels with the circus, and in return, he taught her to read and write. Having wanted to visit many of the places Anna had traveled, he rewarded her generosity of spirit by giving her a different sort of flying ability than the one he had honed in the Air Force: he gave her the gift of reading, and from that day on, she was never without a book. The two married and had one child, the narrator of the story.
Everyone must live with the consequences of the choices they make in a lifetime, and Erdrich examines that theme in ‘‘The Leap.’’ The narrator has made a choice to leave behind her independent life in the West—admittedly, a failed life—to return home and care for her blind mother. Perhaps she sees this choice as the only logical one since she feels indebted to her mother for her very existence not once but three times.
Anna, if we are to understand how the accident under the circus tent unfolded that day, made the choice not to grab hold of Harry Avalon’s foot and crash to her death but to instead turn away from him in the last second of his life so that she might save her own and that of her unborn child. That choice resulted in serious burns on her hands and also in a broken arm, which sent her to the hospital and into the care of a doctor who would eventually marry her.
The consequence of her choice to marry him resulted in the birth of the narrator, and like any parent, Anna spent the rest of her life making choices that affected her daughter. The day she chose to strip almost naked and make a dangerous climb to the window so that she might save her daughter was another choice that would carry consequences. In this case, the narrator’s life was saved, and she eventually returns to her childhood home to care for the woman whose life directly and indirectly influenced and molded her own.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 30, Louise Erdrich, Published by Gale Group, 2010