Mavis Gallant's Bernadette Fear, it has a way of controlling everything that it comes in contact with. As young children we are introduced to this intimidating desire with intrigue and suspicion. As we age, the thoughts of fears become more like realities, ideas of loneliness and death enter the picture as comprehensible thoughts and views of the future. These issues make up the foundation of the Mavis Gallant story 'Bernadette'. In this story we are presented with the image of a young French Canadian girl, who finds herself pregnant and without a husband. The context of the story explores the relationships between the members of the household in a fear associated manner.
The relationship between the Knights and Bernadette is the base of the story. These three people relate to each other in an intimidating fashion and this is what makes Bernadette's predicament so difficult to overcome. As well, the family ties between Nora and Robbie are explored. Their family relationship is one based on dependence, and without this one factor the connection between the two results in fearfulness of being alone.
Fear has a way of attacking our judgment and this is what makes associations between people an apprehensive and hard act. The story is set in Quebec during the 1940-1950, when what you were was the definition of who you were. As the story opens we are presented with the main character Bernadette, who is concluding that she is one hundred and twenty-six days pregnant. At this time in history it was quit common for young rural girls to bare children at a young age.
However, Bernadette is a single French Canadian girl who is working and living in a urban community, where things like that do not take place. We are here introduced to the first fear presented in the story: -- How will Bernadette tell the Knights that she is pregnant? -- The answer to the question is what haunts her, and the reaction of the Knights is the anxiety that builds up inside of her. These intimidating fears places Bernadette in a compromising situation, she is in a position of abandonment by her family and the shame she thinks she has brought on to the Knights. These fears have forced her to react in an unusual fashion. Bernadette is so fearful of what they might think that she tries to hide herself in her work so that she is not placed in the position where she will have to interact with the Knights.
The fear of failure and disappointment took control over her mind. When around the Knights she worked as a robot in order not to arouse ideas of her current condition. Her nervous fears brought her to the point of giving into their expectations and allowing herself to lie to them about the books she read and the men she saw. Her images of her dead siblings as angels would comfort her fears at time, but would also bring up new ones. She would wonder about her child and the life that was waiting for it; would it live a life like hers or would it pray for her in the heavens. The Knights were a couple that were brought together by convenience and fears.
Nora was concord by the fear of not being in control, she had to be the one person everyone depended on in time of need. From her positions on committees to the forgiving attitude she showed Robbie about his many affairs, Nora always had the upper hand in any given situation. The affairs that Robbie had, showed Nora that he wasn't as dependent on her as she wanted him to be, that is why she would treat the problem as a solvable condition, in order to keep Robbie under her control. We are told about Robbie's dreams of being a playwright and fears of failure and the poverty that might follow. These fears were reinforced by Nora; her fears of failure, allowed herself to place her children into private boarding school, so that would not have to suffer the thoughts of bringing up her children wrong. All the fears that controlled their lives affirmed their ideas of how life was to be lived.
The fears of being alone brought Nora to the point where she was ready to do everything that she could to keep Robbie apart of her life. This point is proven at the end of the story when Nora's suspicions about Robbie and Bernadette bring her to suggesting that they pay for Bernadette to be placed in a home so that she can continues her life with Robbie as if undisturbed. As well, the anxiety she experiences is tested at the party she holds where her total control is lost by all the disturbing news she is given about her husband and Bernadette. She is forced to continue with the party in confusion and despair.
This intertwined relationship between the Knights and Bernadette illustrate how people are fearful and deceitful to each other even when living under the same roof. The fabrications of tales and unseen conditions brought out the anxieties in each of the characters. These fears are manifested at the initial start of the relationships and continue to grow if not put to rest. This is seen when the pressure of the unborn child is released from Bernadette's conscience when Nora is forced to corner Bernadette in the kitchen to question her about the suspicions of her pregnancy. Bernadette and the Knights are characters that display for us the results of what may happen when we let our fears control us to the point that they are seen more as truth instead of obstacles. Fears are great deterrents and allow us to see things not for what they are.
In conclusion, we must all face the fact that fears and anxieties will forever be present in our lives, but we must progress to the stage where we can see them for what they are instead of allowing them to enter our existing routines.