Imagery of the Natural World
The Linnaeus of the story has loved the natural world so much that it has embedded itself in his thinking and the way he uses language. When he expresses his thoughts to himself or when the narrator explains his state of mind, it is through metaphors and similes drawn from the natural world. The erosion of his memory, for example, is conveyed by a metaphor of a gradually expanding dark lake: “His mind, which had once seemed to hold the whole world, had been occupied by a great dark lake that spread farther every day and around which he tiptoed gingerly.” Similarly, the facts that were once at his command now “darted like minnows across the water and could only be captured by cunning and indirection.” Because he can no longer recognize people or be fully aware of what is going on around him, Linnaeus has a habit of translating his present experience into images of nature that remain clear to him. The man who accompanies Sophia, for example, bends down to address him “like the moon falling from the sky,” and when the man—Rotheram or whoever he is—introduces himself, his voice “is like the wind moving over the Lappland hills.” In a story that focuses so much on death and loss, some of the images convey continuity in nature; the individual may die, but the species lives on, and through their discoveries, the “apostles” continue to live, also. For example, Pehr Forskal dies of plague, but months later, Linnaeus receives a letter from him containing a stalk and a flower from a tree Linnaeus has always wanted to see, “the evergreen from which the Balm of Gilead was obtained.” The image suggests resurrection and a kind of immortality for the apostle who sacrificed his life in the pursuit of knowledge. This point is also conveyed by the fact that Linnaeus sees in his mind’s eye the apostles holding the plants that he had named for them, including “ Artedia ” (for Pehr Artedi) and Osbeckia ,” for Pehr Osbeck. Linnaeus’s vision of the apostles standing by the fire indicates that they still live in his mind, and he sees them holding “leaves and twigs and scraps of blossoms, all new and named by them with their teacher’s advice.” Once again, these images drawn from nature suggest rebirth and new life, and they also affirm the eternal bond between teacher and student.
Ira Mark Milne – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 24, Andrea Barrett, Published by Gale Group, 2006