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A Home at the End of the World - Analysis

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A Journey of Perception

        The most complex animals that have ever walked the face of the Earth have got to be the humans – they just love to over think a straightforward problem and complicate a simple situation. People see what their eyes approve of observing. What is larger than their vision ceases to exist, and what is compounded by more things they can handle is deemed complicated. Why cannot humans learn to accept reality for it is and keep their perception simple, so that they may never come across any undesirable circumstances? Life is a never ending adventure with many obstacles to surpass. The more people understand themselves, the simpler their complexities appear and the less difficult their journeys become. In the novel A Home at the End of the World, the author Michael Cunningham demonstrates that the road to happiness begins with self acceptance.

        One of the most important purposes in life, whether people realize it or not, is to find meaning; when family provides a crucial sense of belonging, humans believe that life is more significant. Belonging advocates comfort and a sense of permanence. The ones who understand the values of life are more likely to be in good mental and physical health, knowing that their families will always love them. In A Home at the End of the World, set in the early seventies in suburban Cleveland, the main characters Jonathan and Bobby, two childhood friends, are engulfed in a pursuit of family belonging. From conception, Jonathan is depicted as a confused person who seems to have a family but struggles in fitting in. His father Ned Glover, though a loving man, works in his theatre all day long and does not bond strongly to his wife Alice and his son. Consequently, Jonathan “wanted him to require his presence” (18). Unlike Alice, Ned does not interfere with Jonathan’s decisions, which explains partially Jonathan’s craving for his love. For much of the novel, Jonathan’s need for attention unveils his desperate measures to feel a sense of belonging in his family and creates major conflicts as he struggles with his self worth and importance. Part of his identity problem stems from his mother Alice’s growing desperation. She loves her son more than anything but fails to see the consequences of controlling him. The more she tries to insert herself between the two growing boys, the more detached from her Jonathan becomes. By the time she realizes her mistake, “Please don’t start hating me. You can have the world without shutting me out of your life” (65), Alice’s oppressive behaviour has already created a deep scar in their relationship and driven them apart by their difference in views of what constitute a loving family. In the end, both Jonathan and Alice feel unloved, and thus they struggle to find happiness in the family.

On the other hand, Bobby Morrow shares an unbreakable bond with Jonathan. He is everything Jonathan is not: expressively optimistic and good natured, despite losing his family in a series of unfortunate accidents when he was young. By meeting Jonathan in middle school and becoming a regular visitor at the Glovers, he introduces Alice and Jonathan to marijuana and music. Effortless charisma shapes Bobby into a loving character that, while sometimes “exerting no visible will” (42), takes what life gives him and merrily strolls along. Alice, although selfish and critical at times, appreciates Bobby’s selfless character and takes him in as a second son when Jonathan goes to university. Alice does not repeat the same mistakes that she made with Jonathan, and hence she is able to maintain a healthy relationship with Bobby, teaching him how to cook and even helps him with opening a restaurant. Alice also comes to terms with her son growing up: “This is what you do. You make a future for yourself out of the raw material at hand” (106). At long last, she feels safe and protected in her family’s company, believing that “bad things passed away of their own accord, that the world conspired toward good outcomes” (62). With mutual understanding of good intentions and acceptance of each other, Bobby and Alice appreciate what they have and succeed in finding joy, whereas Jonathan’s failure to comprehend his mother’s love obstructs him from discovering happiness in the family.

        Besides striving for family acceptance, humans also have an intense want to belong to society, but such a desire does not always translate into happiness.The more individuals try to fit in, the more complications they yield. Since boyhood, Jonathan admits his homosexuality and realizes “there are so many different ways to be a beauty” (10). By accepting that “love between boys is treated as a commonplace” (53), Jonathan does not feel the need to fit in with the social norm of being heterosexual. Likewise, Bobby shares his views, and the two boys are content with their mutual love, better off not assimilating into the society. After graduation, Jonathan earns a living in New York by articling for a newspaper and meets Clare, a veteran of the city’s fragile relationships. Bobby eventually moves in with Jonathan and Clare and creates a new kind of family. Unlike the two boys, Clare sees no point in belonging to what society calls a real family. “Most parents aren’t lovers” (139), says Clare, stating that her parents “were only married, and they didn’t care much for one another” (139). Her candid recount illustrates the dysfunctional marriages in today’s society, and by contrasting her relationship with Bobby and Jonathan to the one her parents shared, Clare points out that blood does not make a family – love does. The three companions “came and went in the Henderson mode” (156), and took on different personae to spice up their everyday lives. Not conforming to society’s standards, Bobby, Jonathan, and Clare are not impaired by an unnecessary need to measure up to everybody else; subsequently, their relative individualism brings them joy in their newfound family.

        Humans are able to relieve themselves of burdens much faster once they come to terms with their ever progressing lives. Bobby’s deceased, older brother, Carlton, once told him, “Fear will screw you right up. Drugs can’t hurt you if you feel no fear” (22). Although Carlton is a rebel, he teaches Bobby that there is nothing to be afraid of, and accordingly Bobby is relatively immune to fear. By not letting fear dominate his life, Bobby manages to handle everything life throws at him.When Ned and Alice move to Arizona, Bobby simply accepts the facts and states, “I understood that my life would change with or without my agreement” (128). As the sole survivor of the Morrows, he contemplates: “I saw that as myself and my brother combined – in both our names” (153), and realizes that he “could pursue a life and a surprising future” (153) if he lives up to his potential and stay on the right path. It is his ease of agreeing and adapting to reality that makes him an admirable character, in stark contrast to Clare and Jonathan, who do not understand that life is never going to be exactly the way they picture it to be.



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