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A Trip to Grand Rapids
All parents know that letting go of your children can be hard – maybe even the hardest thing that a person will do in his or her lifetime. After watching them grow up, knowing their sorrows and delights, it must be a depressing moment when you first realize that your children don’t need you anymore, that you can’t protect them from the big, bad, world any longer. And maybe your children don’t even want you to. The process is necessary; the roads must split to some degree for your children to have a good life.
This is the major theme in the short story “A Trip to Grand Rapids”, where the main character Roger is in a dilemma regarding his two daughters.
The story is a humorous interpretation of Roger’s struggle to find out how to handle his almost-adult daughters. It’s set on the family’s farm in Lake Wobegon, Ohio1. Roger is a farmer who’s full of worries in the beginning – both about his farm and about his daughters. The story is told in a 3rd person omniscient narrator who’s limited to Roger’s feelings and thoughts.
Roger still views his daughters as little girls; he worries about them and lays down rules for them to follow. This might be why Martha, one of the daughters, doesn’t seem to like him very much – he won’t let her kitten inside at night, after all “that’s what it had fur for, put it outside, it’ll take care of itself”2. This is also a paradox; the kitten is much younger than Martha and must fend for itself, whereas Martha isn’t allowed to make her own decisions.
Roger’s wife, Cindy, has also picked up on her husband’s worries about the corn and the farm and tries to get him to go away with her for the weekend and relax a little. Cindy has already accepted that their daughters aren’t babies anymore – “’they’re old enough,’ she said”3. In the end he agrees to go on the trip to Grand Rapids to visit Cindy’s sister. However his concern takes over as “they noticed more cars than you normally see, all heading west”4. They go back and “at the crossroad, he parked…”5. That they park at the crossroad might also be a symbol – they have the choice of letting go, trusting their daughters, or they can choose to investigate their daughters’ whereabouts. The latter wins out. However to keep the hold on his daughters, Roger must make his way through the muddy field, not an easy task – he goes to unusual lengths to keep his daughters.
His difficulty with his daughters, especially Martha, growing up is also exemplified, when Roger sees her smoking a cigarette: “Kids passing their cigarettes around. That’s generous, he thought.
And there was his own little girl, Martha – reaching for a cigarette. No! No!…”6. He can relate as long as it isn’t his own daughter. However, the worries seem to topple here – “he wanted to run to her [Martha] and yet he really didn’t.”7
It ends with him finally letting go – Roger and Cindy go back to the car, chased by the family dog, a help in the process – and are found the next morning by the partygoers from the farm as the car is stuck. Martha seems to have realised what happened the night before and the roles are switched; now it’s Martha helping her father out of trouble. She’s an adult.
In the last lines, Roger finally lets go of his daughter and also his worries. At night in Grand Rapids he doesn’t concern himself with thinking about his daughters’ wellbeing or about the corn and the farm; instead he thanks God “for this good life and forgive us if we do not love enough. Thank you for the rain. And for the chance to wake up in three hours and go fishing.”8
Roger has let his daughters grow up in a healthy way, but stories like “The Kite” are examples that it doesn’t always go this way. In “The Kite” the boy Herbert is never emotionally separated from his mother when he hits puberty. This is the time when teenagers normally start to grow apart from their parents but Herbert’s mother is too strong an authority figure in the home, whereas the father is too weak. In a way it ends horribly; because the mother is too strong, Herbert has never been able to express the emotions that come with puberty – desire, anger etc. – and therefore he sublimates these emotions to kite flying. When Herbert grows up and marries, he can’t bind himself completely to his wife and she grows jealous of the kite that seems to be the object of Herbert’s love. In the end, the marriage falls apart and Herbert goes to prison as he refuses to pay alimony to the ex-wife, who smashed his kite in a fit of jealous rage. A far cry from how “A Trip to Grand Rapids” ends.
The title symbolises the importance of the trip to Grand Rapids – it could have been like any other trip Roger and his wife could have gone on but this one is special. This is the trip where Roger realises that he must let go – and also the one where he realises that he can. It’s important that all parents undertake this symbolic outing – even if it’s not in the literal sense. The significance of this journey is the message that the author intends to bring.
So letting go is important. Otherwise one’s children will never grow up to have healthy, normal relationships to other people. Even though it’s difficult to see your children move away from you it’s best for everyone – even one’s self.