The Symbolic and Ironic Use of Titles in A Bird in the House Analysis

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A Bird in the House written by Margaret Laurence is a book of short stories filled with symbolism and irony that strongly supports the central ideas of the characters and their social settings. The title given to the book itself is a representation of confinement and a struggle for freedom within the individuals lives. Explained from Vanessa’s perspective, each story has a significant relation to the emotions and experiences that she deals with and effectively allows the reader to understand her quest for freedom. Each title that is given to the stories represents the conflict or emotion that Vanessa and others in her life experience. It is through these titles that the reader can foreshadow possible events and discover the symbolism or irony in every situation. “To set our House in Order” is a title that prominently displays themes of control and disorder in the lives of Vanessa, Grandmother Macleod, Uncle Roderick, Grandfather Macleod and Ewen.

Throughout the lives of these characters it is evident through a turn of events that life cannot be controlled or planned according to their liking. Instead, it is emphasized that accidents do happen, and that life can take drastic turns regardless of how it is ordered. Grandmother Macleod is the main focus for this theme through her crave for perfection in her life and day to day routine. With her rigid and strict personality, she uses Vanessa’s role as a way to portray her need for order. “You remember that, Vanessa. God loves order- he wants each one of us to set our house in order”. (42) The traditional views she enforces on Vanessa is a result of her own personal struggles, for example her incapability to afford a housekeeper or the accident of her younger son almost killing her. Grandmother Macleod’s goal for perfection in her life is symbolic and uncovers the true meaning of her definition of “order” as displayed in the title of the short story. “It’s not easy for her these days either- the house is still the same, so she thinks other things should be too. It hurts when she finds they aren’t”. (48) Ewen explains to Vanessa that she had never lived in a house that was messy or unorderly, and Vanessa’s disagreeing attitude is proof that Grandmother Macleod cannot control the destiny of others. Vanessa questions the validity and reasoning behind life’s orderly ways and realizes that plenty of things in life are uncontrollable. “I felt that whatever God might love in this world, it was certainly not order”. (54) While thinking about her baby sister who died at birth and her new born brother, she realizes that life takes numerous turns and is not always an easy ride. These experiences that Vanessa and Grandmother Macleod face are symbols of the title and its significant role in foreshadowing their emotions.

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Therefore, “to set our House in Order” is a suitable and effective title for this story that powerfully relates to the importance of their struggles and life conflicts. The second significant title that follows the theme of struggling for order is called “The Mask of the Bear”. In this section, the title deals with the concealing of emotional shortcomings. The character involved is Grandfather Connor, through his façade of emotions that he is faced with in his life. His character is described as a tall husky man who is strongly opinionated and temperamental. He is also identified as always wearing a coat made from the pelt of a bear, which was made so long ago that no family member can recall where it came from. “In my mind, I sometimes call him “The Great Bear”. (56) Vanessa’s fitting name symbolizes his tough exterior and serious approach to certain situations such as when Edna brings Jimmy to the house for dinner.

Vanessa is both curious and bewildered about Grandfather Connor and his mysterious personality. “He walked beside me steadily and silently, wrapped in his great fur coat and his authority.” (58) The symbolism of this statement which relates to the title is evident through Vanessa’s exterior point of view of Grandfather Connor, and portrays his different personalities. The “Mask” that the title refers to can represent his disguise that masks his lack of affection and emotion towards his wife and Vanessa. When Grandmother Connor passes away, Grandfather Connor’s “mask” is removed when he stands on the porch without his bear coat, crying to Vanessa. “I was startled because he was not wearing his great bear coat”. (73) Symbolically, this represents the unmasking of Grandfather Connor and exposes his weak and vulnerable side. Therefore “The Mask of the Bear” concisely represents the duel perspectives of Grandfather Connor and ultimately allows the reader to perceive a powerful meaning to the bear coat he wears. The title of each collection of stories plays a significant role in the symbolism and overall tone of the plot in the book. Through its ability to foreshadow life events or depict certain emotions from characters, the title of each story is suitable and appropriate for the theme of A Bird in the House. The two titles “To Set our House in Order” and “The Mask of the Bear” provide the reader with intriguing ideas about the book which allow the story to unfold and create a more significant meaning. The characters roles and the conflict settings they are placed in are based on these creative titles, adding a unique and symbolic aspect to every portion that is read.

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The Symbolic and Ironic Use of Titles in A Bird in the House Analysis. (2016, Oct 01). Retrieved from

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