The Lamp at Noon
The Detriment of Freedom
People take freedom for granted, on many levels, but have they ever questioned whether freedom is bliss, or a curse? The Lamp at Noon illustrates the protagonist, Ellen’s internal conflicts about fleeing the dust-ridden, barren, prairie farm during the Great Depression, longing for freedom. All in fear for her baby’s well-being, she makes multiple proposals to her husband, Paul, regarding abandoning the farm and moving to the city with her father. Paul hardens, and refuses her offers. Meanwhile, their baby’s health falters and is a risk of dust asphyxiation. Ellen desperately seeks paths to protect their child, and ultimately runs away from the farm on foot with the baby. Paul finds her subsequent to the death of their son, huddled in the sand. With all hope lost, Paul prays for a better tomorrow. Sinclair Ross demonstrates the theme that the tempting freedom may not be the ideal choice through his usage of setting, foreshadowing, as well as his diction. Ross sets the stage for a desaturated story depicting of a conflicted couple longing to escape the barren Prairies during the 1930s Dust Bowls.
The hideous sand storms of the Prairies during the Great Depression plays an essential role in the plot and the theme. It is the driving force behind Ellen’s pessimistic perspective, her hopes of leaving, and her internal conflicts, which then leads to her absconding the farm. A dark, solemn atmosphere is immediately created when the protagonist “lit the lamp… a little before noon” (Ross 140), needing artificial lighting when the sun hangs directly above. The author conveys the idea that without freedom, life is mellow and monotonous, which later gives Ellen a pessimistic perspective on events. Additionally, Ellen could not stand the desolate, infertile farm. As seen on page 143, she begs Paul to abandon their farm, “’Look at the sky—what’s happening. Thistles and tumbleweeds—it’s a desert. You won’t have a straw this fall. You won’t be able to feed [the animals]. Please Paul, say we’ll go away—” (Ross 143). She pleads her husband to abandon their farm and depart for her father due to the atrocious conditions. From this, the reader can interpret that the setting fuels Ellen’s hopes of leaving and her compulsion for freedom. Ellen debated leaving due to the weather, resulting in her internal conflicts. “See Paul – I stand like this all day… if only I could run!” (Ross 148). The weather has pushed Ellen to her extremes, leaving her with nothing to do all day and dreaming of freedom. As the reader can conclude, the setting of the short story is crucial to the development of the theme. The couple is metaphorically caged and isolated by the setting, hence their desire for freedom.
Moreover, foreshadowing is a recurring literary device that elucidates on the theme. As illustrated through Ellen’s departure and the death of the couple’s unnamed son. Ellen’s disappearance was hinted at through her speech during the rising action, “I’m so caged! If only I could run!”(Ross 148). Ross hints subtly that Ellen will subsequently run away from the farm in pursue of freedom. Additionally, foreshadowing is also imminently present in when the author introduces Ellen and Paul’s son. Ellen is overcome with fear “that in the dust-filled air he might contact pneumonia” (Ross 141). Later on in the story, the reader is made known that he had perished due to Ellen’s desperate need for freedom. Her attempts of fleeing to the city by foot has taken the life of her son. Through Ross’ recurring use of foreshadowing, he exemplifies the idea that despite the temptation of freedom, it can be detrimental.
Furthermore, Ross deliberately chose to use descriptive diction to illustrate imagery, emphasize on pathos, and to give the reader perspective on the characters. Extending the idea of isolation and hopes for freedom, Paul’s farm is notably seen as an isolated outpost erected out of nowhere. “…Beyond: obscuring fields and landmarks, the lower of dust clouds made the farmyard seem like an isolated acre, poised aloft above a somber void. At each blast of wind I shoot, as if to topple and spin hurtling with the dust-reel into space” (Ross 140). The farm is portrayed as an “isolated acre” (Ross 140). Through imagery, Ross illuminates the reason behind Ellen’s urge to escape into the city, yearning for freedom. Likewise, Ross inspires pathos and sympathy in the reader for the infant through his careful selection of words, “the child was quite cold. It had been in her arms, perhaps too frantic to protect him, or the smother of dust upon his throat and lungs” (Ross 150). Ross subtly makes it apparent that the child has perished in Ellen’s struggle to escape the dust-reel. In addition, to get a deeper understanding of a character, Ross gives the reader an in-depth view of Paul’s mind and to fathom his struggles. “He ran a long time – distraught and headlong as a few hours ago he had seemed to watch her run – around the farmyard, a little distance into the pasture – and then at a stumble down the road for help” (Ross 150). His words allow the reader to sense Paul’s struggles in search of Ellen, and to visualize his memories of her. Through Paul’s thoughts, Ross indicates that Paul is aware that Ellen’s departure will not end up advantageously. In essence, without Ross’ extensive vocabulary, the story would have been monotonous and emotionless. One can conclude that his usage of words and phrases are essential to the development of the theme.
Concisely, as can be seen through the setting, the usage of foreshadowing, and the author’s careful choice of diction, Ross accentuates the idea that despite the constant temptation of freedom, it can also be detrimental. Some take freedom for granted, and some fight to earn themselves freedom, but is it really the best choice of action?