Like Father, Like Son? We all have reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way, something that prompts us to do what we do. Motivation is essential to progress and achieve success in life; it is what drives us to change our lives for the better. In Alden Nowlan’s short story “The Glass Roses”, the protagonist, Stephen, faces internal conflict between his desire to live a fulfilling childhood, and his desire to fit his father’s stereotypical definition of being a ‘man’. When he encounters Leka, a Ukrainian man, he is introduced to alternative pathways and realizes that there is more to life than hat his father has exposed him to.
Through the character of Stephen, Alden Nowlan develops the idea that individuals often continue to pursue what they have always known due to an apprehensiveness to change, until they are introduced to alternative pathways which motivates them to take action in an attempt to find satisfaction and tranquility in their lives. Initially, Stephen is introduced as a young boy with a “willowy fifteen-year-old body”, attempting to prove to his tough father with “ox-like shoulders” that he is a man, despite self-doubt that “he [can] never become a man” due to his “exhaustion at the nd of a pulpsaw.
The notion that Stephen will never be like the other men is further supported by the fact that none of the other men are named; they are all homogeneous-tough and manly, while Stephen is weak and fragile. While his father and the other men are parallel to the harsh environment, Stephen is incongruent to his surroundings; he lives in a bunkhouse with dirty army blankets, and tarpapered walls that make “despondent, blowing sounds” enough to make him shiver.
In spite of this, Stephen continues to work as a pulp-cutter in an attempt to get his father’s approval, as he remembers the “hard nots of disappointment above [his father’s] cold grey eyes”. Even though the “axe [makes] him feel stupid and ridiculous” and he “[can] not think of himself as a woodsman”, he continues on with it because pulp-cutting is “a man’s job” according to his father, and he is anxious to prove that he is a man. He is not aware of other possibilities, so he continues to mirror his father and assist him with pulp-cutting, because he believes it is what makes him a man.
However, Stephen begins to further question himself after Leka, a man who is not considered to be a man by the other en, shares stories of adventure with him. Stephen enjoys hearing Leka’s stories but fears that “his interest in such stories [is] childish”, so he ensures that none of the other men are witnessing or listening to his childish behavior. Stephen is fascinated in the stories told by Leka, but on the other hand, he believes listening to them and truly enjoying them makes him less of a man. Through Leka’s stories, Stephen becomes hopeful that there are alternatives for him, as he realizes pulp-cutting is not suitable for him.
At one point, Stephen thinks to himself that for as long as he [lives], he [will] kneel beside a tree, a slave to the monotonous rhythm of the pulpsaw”, expressing dissatisfaction towards the lifestyle that awaits him. When he uses an axe, he is “pretending to be something he [is] not, something he might never be. ” Despite this, he continues to exert pressure and work strenuously, until Leka tells him “the world would not come to an end if it took us all day to cut this one tree down” which is unlike anything Stephen has ever been told.
While Stephen’s father constantly tells him to “start actin’ like a man if [he] wants to hold down a man’s job” because there ain’t no room for kids in the pulp woods”, Leka tells him not to try so hard and makes him realize there is much more to life beyond these woods. With the absence of a feminine presence in the story, Leka is the closest to a motherly figure for Stephen. He cares for Stephen and “pinches his cheek” or “throws an arm across his shoulder” playfully; however, Stephen’s father and the other men begin to notice this and do not approve of it.
Consequently, Stephen’s father orders him to stay away from Leka as the other men are laughing about him “pattin’ and pokin” Stephen. While Stephen’s father is bothered by what ther people think of him and his son, Leka, in contrast, does not seem to be bothered by it. The men derogatorily refer to him as “Polack” and he does not pay any attention to it. Stephen’s father is cold and harsh, while Leka is warm and caring. Even when Stephen’s father finally asks him if the job is too difficult for him, he replies “No, it ain’t too hard for me.
Not by a God damned sight. ” This demonstrates that Stephen continues to struggle with balancing his own childhood desires with his father’s expectation of him being a man. He does not want to be like his father, but he wants to be considered a man. His father is so manly, he “[fidgets] when he [has] to shake hands”. However, when he is with Leka, Stephen is under no pressure to behave a certain way or come across as manly. Lastly, despite his father ordering him to keep his distance from Leka, Stephen reaches out to wake Leka.
He touches Leka, doing exactly what his father believes a man should not do. Up until now, Stephen believed that pulp-cutting is what he was doomed to do for the rest of his life; however, he gains motivation through Leka narrating beautiful stories to him, stories of hope and resilience. Up until now, Stephen chopped ood everyday with no complaints, but after his encounters with Leka, he begins to question himself, wondering whether he is really capable of being a woodsman until the day he dies.
Leka essentially motivates Stephen to make his own decision, which is to wake him, in spite of his father forbidding him from getting too close to him. Leka motivates Stephen after he introduces him to different perspectives and possibilities. By going against his father’s definition of being manly, Stephen becomes his own manThis action taken by Stephen is the starting point for him to change his otherwise predetermined future. In “The Glass Roses”, Stephen initially accepts that he will be a woodsman for the rest of his life because it is a job for men, even though he is internally discontent with it.
However, listening to Leka’s adventurous stories gives him hope that there is more to life than being a woodsman and he realizes there are alternatives out there for him. By the conclusion of the story he finally becomes his own man. He reaches out to wake Leka, despite his father ordering him to keep his distance from the foreigner. Until he is exposed to Leka’s stories, he monotonously works as a pulp-cutter everyday in an attempt to ain approval from his father, even though he knows he is not fit for the job.
After his encounter with Leka and his stories, he begins to open his mind and realize that there are alternative paths he can follow. Leka is his source of motivation that directs him to take action and go against his father’s idea of ‘manly’. Through the protagonist, Stephen, Nowlan illustrates how individuals often find comfort in what they know and are often apprehensive to change; however, when introduced to alternative options, individuals find motivation that allows them to take action and change their lives for the better.