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The novel, The House in Paris by Elizabeth Bowen contains the discovery and a better understanding of one’s own identity through life experiences, relationships, time and many other elements incorporated in our own environment. The story is presented through different viewpoints. Yet, one viewpoint is through the innocent insight of a child’s eye in relationship towards its surroundings. The child is in search of his unknown parents, and the parents are in search of their unknown child. With relevance to the plot and different points of view, the reader is able to get a sense of Leopold’s character.
Thus within the first part of the novel, “The Present”, as Leopold seems to be attempting to define, or assert, his own identity he is brought to this Anglo-French house in Paris. He is portrayed, in the beginning, as a seemingly arrogant and egotistical person acting like a prince who has an “impersonal air of a royal child.” However, it seemed that through his search of identity as he was brought up by his adopted parents, Leopold was “over-understood” throughout the course of time. For,
“The repercussions of all that he said and did echoed through the hollow rooms of the villa, and he knew too well these people found him remarkable. The chosen childish children with whom he played made a crook of him, and all the time he impressed them...Where he came from, kindness thickened the air and sentiment fattened on the mystery of his birth.”
Kindness by the adults towards Leopold “thickened the air” as his childhood had been shaped mainly through grown-ups. Adults around him always felt the need to protect him, as if he was in a “bubble”, from any outside harm. They treated him like he was very fragile and delicate to possibly “crack” and break. Ignorant of his nature and needs, Leopold’s situation is emphasized even more once he reads the letters from his adopted parents. This presents the theory of past wounds and the result of them scarring over. In other words, even though one has a wound the only possible remedy is to ease the pain of the wound. The scar will still be there as a remembrance of the past. Nevertheless, it appears that the adults around Leopold are trying to only ease his pain from his past memories.
Consequently, even though Leopold needs to grow through the continuity of time from the past to the present to the future, he realizes he has been growing in a “fairy-tale”. In which, all the apparent attempts by the adults around him is not only to protect him from painful memories of his past but also to keep the details of his past a secret as much as possible. Therefore, Leopold’s unawareness of his past makes him feel like he doesn’t exist because he basically has no history. Hence, he believes he was named “Grant Moody” because “no on knows I’m born.” Especially, since he was adopted it makes him probably feel like less of a person. Also, from the non-appearance of his mother, which was referred to by Naomi as a “change,” Leopold once again feels that everything around him feels “unnatural” and “unreal” because Leopold’s account of his origins seemed to be coming from an “imaginary mother, like a work of art.” At the same time, the author describes the mother as being
“The mother who did not come to meet Leopold…remained his creature, able to speak the truth…He did not have to hear out with grave discriminating intelligence that grown-up falsified view of what had been once that she…might have given him. She, in the flesh, could have offered him only that in reply to the questions…’Why am I? What made me be?’”
To poor little Leopold it seemed that such a meeting as this would have only been possible in a “fairy-tale”; in a perfect little world like “Heaven.” Nonetheless, it is only in the end by Ray Forrestier, his father, that Leopold is truly able to move on through time and define his identity in action.
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