The Arena

The Arena “We glide through darkness but the early morning kind, darkness about to lift. ” It is without discussion an adventure and an experience to have a child. Mostly a feeling of great love follows. But definitely a responsibility and fear follows. The fear of being insufficient and maybe even the fear of endangering what you love the most. This is because our identity changes. In 2008 Martin Golan wrote the short story The Arena. The story is about a father and his son. The father is driving his son to the arena, where he is going on a trip with his lacrosse team by bus.
The story circles around the protagonist of the story, who is the father. It is written in his point of view. The story consists of very little dialogue, which only is between him and his son. Mostly the all-knowing reader is confronted with the father’s inner dialogue as if the reader was inside his head. This and the point of view are also shown in the language of the story. It is informal and spoken language that is written to look like a dialect: “I spent many an afternoon at the Arena when my boy was small” (page 2, line 4-5).
It has the effect that it easier to see through the father’s eyes and identify with him. This leads to a characterization of the father. Already in the first few lines you sense a strong emotional connection to his son or children in general: “The Arena somehow manages to be too cold and too hot at the same time, and my afternoons there were equally mixed, the physical discomfort eased by seeing my child dizzy with the boundless delight children take in simple games” (page 2, line 6-8). The father seems fascinated by the childish dewy-eyed way of thinking.
But the most significant is that just seeing his own child happy counterbalances his physical discomfort. Now his son is a teenager and he is driving him to the arena at six a. m. on a Saturday morning. “The early weekend hour, the stillness we alone are here to break, is like the drive to a hospital for birth, or (I cannot dwell on this) in an ambulance with an injured child” (page 2, line 22-23). Whatever the father thinks of, he always seems to connect it somehow with children – in this case the contrasting joyful and sad stage.
The protagonist seems distant and in his thoughts. He is not mentally present in the car. Then he states: “Before the life I have now I had another life, with a different woman, and we also had a child, a boy named Willie” (page 2, line 37-38). But the boy beside him, the one going to the arena, is his only child. This combined with his fear of dwelling by the thought of an ambulance with an injured child raises the suspicion that Willie is dead. This suspension is slowly confirmed but mostly indirectly.
The suspension evolves as the father thinks: “We attended a group for parents of children who died in preventable accidents, and everyone tried to be helpful” (page 4, line 122-123). He and his former wife could have prevented the death of their son Willie. It may have been their fault or they could have felt it that way. In a way it is confirmed by the fact that the father and his first wife could not stay together after what happened. “We had to part after what happened, and it wasn’t from lack of love, I promise you that” (page 3, line 57-58).
The relationship was no longer an intimate connection between to people in love, “… it was as if the he borders between what one expects and what happens, between one person and another, had collapsed” (page 4, line 110-111). After Willie died it was as if the father and the first wife only did what was expected, how a normal happy couple would act. He explains it as if everything they did had quotation marks around like it was acting, just a lie. They were not happy and could not stay together. They had to move on from each other, but he did not.
The father has not left the past in the past. He always dwells at the thoughts of his former life: “I had missed a turn. I do this a lot. He’s never had a father who isn’t absent-minded, who remembers where to turn on roads he’s travelled a hundred times” (page 3, line 78-79). This also indicates that the father has lived there, a New Jersey suburb, a long time. It is possible he may not even have moved after the divorce. He sometimes wakes up and questions which life he is in – the first life or the second life. You sense a longing for his former life and Willie.
His second wife looks like his first wife, so much that even he himself sometimes is in doubt. On the outside his present life seems like just as big a lie as the former. But when the father and his son reach the arena, something is different. His son jumps out of the car and starts playing with his friends. This scene seems to calm the father. “… It hits me as nothing has since Willie” (page 5, line 144-145). Jumping children having fun, a symbol of life that seems to assure the father that it is okay to let go. He knows he will always worry for his child but that he will stand eside him all his life and help him. The protagonist starts at one point but ends another, which indicates a chronological composition. The structure of the story is atypical. Despite the chronological composition, the story focuses mostly on the past without being flashbacks. It illustrates on of the many contrasts of the story: the past vs. the present. The most significant contrast in the story must however be the one of life and death, closely related to the past/present contrast. The father’s past, his first life, was very emotional. It starts of very happy and crammed with love.
But it ends horribly and clearly leaves marks on his mind and soul. These depressing memories are brought with him into his new life that otherwise is filled with life. It is not less filled with love than the first, but the father’s need to remake his past with a happy ending overshadows the possibilities of real happiness. The contrasts life and death, past and present are in this case deeply connected to the contrast happy vs. depressed. These contrasts show the themes of the story that are self-acknowledgement and the escape from the past.
In addition is another important theme the close bond between child and parent. The most important thing in the world for the father is his child. He will protect him no matter what and prevent what happened in the past. The story is more like memoirs than fiction. During the short drive from their home to the arena the reader understand the father’s feelings and thoughts. He describes episodes of his life as different “arenas” – the most important being Willie. It may be a curious version of Giddens’ theory on creating our identity and arenas.
There are many different arenas, where you have to act after which arena it is. You have to learn and create your own identity from the experience you get in these different “spaces” so you know how to act in the many social arenas we are confronted with. The combination of the title The Arena and the memoir style can have had the intention to force us, the reader, to consider our own identity and how we act in our arenas. It may be Golan’s way of explaining the importance of knowing what to let go and when to move on so that it is possible for us to act in the best possible way in our future arenas.

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