Heaven in Hell Neil Bissoondath’s “There Are A Lot Of Ways To Die” is the story of a man named Joseph Heaven who has become disillusioned about his homeland. Joseph had grown up on a Caribbean island and later moved to Toronto with his wife. After some years in Toronto they moved back to the island. However, now that Joseph has settled back in he realizes that the island is not how he had remembered it. The story takes place in one day as Joseph wanders around the island thinking about various moments from childhood and memories from his time in Toronto.
At the end of the story Joseph makes an impulsive decision to leave the island. The author makes this decision seem plausible by using several different elements. Joseph’s day on the island could be described as an odyssey through hell. The island is hot, wet, and sticky and everywhere Joseph goes seems to be dark, grey and filled with despair.
The island has turned into a hellhole where crime has become common, “not a week went by without a robbery in the area. ” Also, dogs lying dead in the street have become a “common sight. The other characters in the story are both snobbish and sneering like his wife and her friends or they are drained of life like his old friend Frankie, “It was the voice of a depleted man. ” By the end of the story Joseph has two choices: stay on the island that has become his own personal hell or leave the island where he might be able to regain some happiness. By the end of the story the reader has no choice but to believe that a man in Joseph’s position would make the decision to leave. The first element the author uses to show the plausibility of this decision is to give the reader a real sense of Joseph’s emotional landscape.
The author is able to convince the reader of the misery Joseph feels on the island by his descriptions of setting and weather. The story starts off with the words “It was still drizzling” and the droplets of water are later described as “warm and wet, like newly spilled blood. ” Right away the audience is introduced to an atmosphere that is dark, dreary, thick and wet. Joseph had remembered “tender tropical breezes when the truth, as it now enveloped him, was the exact, stifling opposite. ” The author writes “Climate was not so drastically altered, only memory. Joseph had been expecting the island to be as he remembered it and now all he can see is how wet, sticky and overgrown everything has become. Joseph had forgotten how humid and miserable the island could get and on this particular day the wet humidity seems to be getting on Joseph’s last nerve. The author mentions grey, cloudy skies several times in the story and seems to be a reflection of Joseph’s mood and feelings about the island. Throughout the story the reader is repeatedly reminded of the wet and sticky nature of the island as well as grey, cloudy skies.
This serves as reinforcement to the reader of just how unhappy Joseph is about the island. Throughout the story the reader gets the sense that Joseph feels trapped on the island and is longing to escape. When Joseph returned to the island he had expected to be welcomed back as a returning hero, but instead he felt that people only laughed at him behind his back. The author writes “Joseph felt like a curiosity, an object not of reverence but of silent ridicule, his defeat, theirs the victory. The island seemed to close in around him. This last sentence is important because it shows the reader that Joseph’s return did not meet his expectations and as a result he felt trapped on the island. The author later writes “You couldn’t claim the island: it claimed you. ” Again the author is telling the audience about this feeling of entrapment that Joseph feels being on the island. One reason the reader is able to accept Joseph’s decision to leave the island is the fact that throughout the story Joseph is continually mocked and laughed at and the audience feels that in some way Joseph is being dared to leave.
When Joseph returns home after getting drenched from the rain he is getting the floor wet and his wife’s friend, Arlene, makes a joke about wetting the bed. His wife responds by saying “He used to do that when he was a little boy…” When he passes the Pacheco house he notices that the attic window still seems to mock him. Also, when Joseph runs into Frankie, his best friend from childhood, Frankie mocks him by saying “And now you’re stuck back here for good. Frankie is almost daring Joseph to leave and this is a real turning point in the story for it is here that Joseph responds “I’m not stuck here. ” For the first time in the story Joseph realizes that he is not as trapped on the island as he had imagined himself to be. The continual insults and mocking force Joseph to finally stand up for himself and he realizes that he has the power to change his situation. Another interesting element the author employs to make Joseph’s decision seem more plausible is the element of symbolism.
The author uses the Pacheco house to symbolize Joseph’s illusions about the island and the fact that Joseph is dying on the inside by staying on the island. The Pacheco house is an old abandoned mansion that Joseph and his friends would throw rocks at as children. They named the windows after school teachers and would throw rocks at the windows trying to break them. They had never been able to break the top attic window, called the Lenoir window, named after a priest who was the terror of all the students. Now as an adult, Joseph revisits the Pacheco house to find it old and crumbling.
The vegetation has grown so thick around the house making it seem impenetrable. The thick, overgrown, seemingly impenetrable vegetation symbolizes Joseph’s feeling of entrapment on the island. Inside the house is dark and empty and fills Joseph with despair. The dark emptiness of the house symbolizes the fact that Joseph is unhappy and unfulfilled with his life on the island. The fact that the house is old and crumbling shows the reader that Joseph is not getting any younger and that he is slowly dying by staying on the island.
As Joseph is leaving the Pacheco house he grabs a piece of concrete from the crumbling sidewalk and throws it at the Lenoir window. “The glass shattered, scattering thousands of slivers into the attic and onto the ground below. ” It is here where all of Joseph’s illusions of the island symbolically shatter into a thousand pieces. Right after this is where Joseph makes his decision to finally leave the island. The title “There Are A Lot Of Ways To Die” is very fitting to this story. Joseph Heaven is a man who is dying by staying on this island that he dreads so much.
He might not be dying in any physical sense, but spiritually and emotionally he is drained and the bleakness of the day compounds all of his feelings about his life on the island. The reader is taken on an odyssey where in the end Joseph makes a decision to leave the island of his discontent. This is important because it shows the reader that no matter how trapped or unhappy a person feels in a particular situation, there is probably a way out. Joseph figures this out and realizes it does not matter that he has left the island before and returned, if he is truly unhappy, he can always leave again.
Cite this Review of “There Are A Lot Of Ways To Die” by Neil Bissoondath
Review of “There Are A Lot Of Ways To Die” by Neil Bissoondath. (2016, Dec 17). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/heaven-in-hell/