Tuesday, August 7, 2007

generational conflict in toronto's ex-pat newfoundlander community

Leaving Home
by David French

Part of the Mercer cycle of plays, Leaving Home tells the story of Jacob Mercer's sons leaving home for the first time, highlighting a rift between the two men and revealing (a) Jacob's concern with his own masculinity and (b) the cultural alienation the whole family feels. The children are embarrassed that their parents speak and act differently than the parents of their friends. For Jacob and Mary and the other ex-pats in their world, the universe is divided into US and THEM -- Newfoundlanders vs. Canadians. While the children wish desperately for their parents to assimilate into the larger Toronto society, they find themselves pulled back into the cultural ghetto -- Billy has been trapped into marriage by the Jackson family women who are from the same part of Newfoundland as his parents, and is being dragged back into the same life pattern as his parents (forced to give up school, parenting at a young age, etc.). Even though it is determined that Kathy, the young lady, is not really pregnant, the marriage seems destined to go ahead.

Canada, in the play, is represented by Harold -- a mortician dressed all in grey who never speaks, never laughs, and yet seems to be in complete control. We are meant to see in him a stark contrast with Jacob and Mary -- especially Jacob -- who is boisterous, emotionally charged, and completely at a loss within his family. Because Jacob is not the head of this family. Indeed, that role belongs to Mary, and she and the boys wage war against Jacob's temper and stubbornness. In the end, it is the son Ben, not trapped by marriage and with all the opportunities of the world before him, who steps out for his independence. What are we to make of the fact that he escapes the family and becomes "Canadian" while his parents are left alone at the end of the play? We know that Ben must leave, and must find himself, but the shift that occurs is quite drastic and jarring. Ben rejects his parents. Yet we are left with them at the end of the play, and it is clear who we are supposed to side with; Jacob is not perfect, and we have seen his failures with his own sons, but we should also see our own weaknesses in him. Jacob is a man who doesn't know how to be a Newfoundlander outside of Newfoundland, and that tragedy leaves him incapable of sharing himself and his history with his boys before they walk away for good. Ben denies it all together, and Bill is forced into remaining connected to Newfoundland by his trapped marriage. The play is largely comic, but the end is anything but happy.

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