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ENG 3U0 Sweet Hereafter Essay Tragedy is inevitable; it affects all human beings at one point or another. Russell Banks illustrates this universal truth brilliantly in “The Sweet Hereafter. ” Bank’s characters, Billy Ansel, Nicole Burnell and Dolores Driscoll all face tragedy, and all gain insight into themselves. However, not all characters react to tragedy consistently. To some this is beneficial, although to others this is the greatest tragedy of all. Billy Ansel deals with tragedy consistently throughout the entirety of the novel.
However, his consistent coping methods leave him hopeless and alone. Ansel experiences death and terror at the age of nineteen while fighting in Vietnam. He believes that because terrible things had happened to him while at war, it was impossible for terrible things to happen to him now. Unfortunately, Billy is quite mistaken, as he loses his wife, Lydia to cancer, and then eventually his children to a tragic bus accident. “But lying half drunk in the darkness in that king-sized bed in my house on the hill…I’d imagine Risa Walker naked and ecstatic, and it positively thrilled me. (Banks 62) After the death of his wife, Ansel begins to abuse alcohol regularly in order to anaesthetize his pain, as well as fantasizes about, and eventually conducts an affair with a married woman. His alcohol abuse is a quick fix and easy escape, as he knows no other way to deal with grief. He becomes lonely and sexually frustrated, although he knows that no real good will come by sleeping with Risa. Against his better judgment, he chooses to anyways. After the death of his children Billy continues to choose unconstructive coping methods when dealing with tragedy.
He isolates himself, avoids the help of neighbours and loved ones and finally, abuses alcohol habitually and more heavily. He is imprisoned within his memories. “…I can sit in my living room alone, looking at the glass of the picture window with the reflection and drink in my hand and I am in no way as real in my memories with my wife and children. ” (143) Ansel loses hope entirely and no longer sees a point in coping or living for that matter. He believes he his dead without his wife and children, and no amount of help will change that belief. Not only are Billy’s coping methods consistent, as is his inevitable sorrow.
Nichole Burnell deals with tragedy in an inconsistent yet highly effective manner. Prior to the accident she is sexually abused by her father, which leaves her feeling confused, powerless and suicidal. “I was ashamed all the time and afraid, because of Daddy. Sometimes I wanted to kill myself. ” (173) Nichole lives in fear, dishonesty and silence, which is perhaps the worst coping method of all. After surviving the accident Nichole is depressed, saddened and hopeless. She believes she is ugly and worthless, and that she is a constant reminder of the accident.
However, Nichole looks within and discovers new found strength. She finally realizes how fortunate she is, and how the accident places her in a position of power, as her parents are approached by Mitchell Stephens, a lawyer who plans on suing the town for negligence and requires Nichole’s testimony for evidence. She knows that her father wants nothing more than to win the case, and receive millions of dollars. In court Nichole decides to lie in order to lose the case and in many ways receive the revenge she has so desperately craved. “I saw that he would never be able to smile again.
Never. And then I realized that I had gotten exactly what I had wanted. (220) Nichole will never forget what her father had done to her however; she did begin to forgive him. “ ‘Let’s go Sunday afternoon and see everything,’ I said. ‘The last day is always the best. Everyone in town goes then, and we can sit in the grandstand, and everyone will see us together…All of us together, the whole family. ’” (220) It is evident Nichole is beginning to rebuild her relationship with her father as she is taking an optimistic and constructive approach to tragedy.
Dolores Driscoll deals with tragedy in an inconsistent and destructive manner. Dolores is familiar with tragedy, as she faces it prior to the bus accident. Her beloved husband Abott is confined to a wheelchair and has difficulty speaking as a result of his stroke. Dolores is also estranged from her two sons Reginald and William. Despite these hardships, Dolores remains a content and helpful member of the Sam Dent community. She has a strong spirit that is not easily broken. After the accident Dolores’ coping methods take a turn for the worse.
She is the driver of the school bus that crashes killing many of the children of Sam Dent, and in consequence the blame is immediately placed on her. Dolores is unprepared when responding to a tragedy of this magnitude, and begins to isolate herself. “I had pretty well stayed out of sight and, I hoped, mind, all these lonesome months which was only proper; by now, I thought, people would have put their dark conflicted feelings about me behind them and would once again be free to act toward me and Abott like dear friends…” (223) Dolores does not entirely lose hope as she decides to go to the Sam Dent County Fair.
After unfriendliness and feelings of discomfort she believes she is as good as dead and will always be at fault in the mind of her neighbours. “We were absolutely alone, each of us and even our shared aloneness did not modify the simple fact of it. ” (254) Dolores believes she is destined to a life of somber solitude. Her inconsistent and detrimental coping methods indicate she believes she will never escape tragedy, unfortunately she is probably correct.
All humans deal with tragedy in different ways. Some choose to wallow in self pity and some choose to learn from personal experience. Billy Ansel, Nichole Burnell and Dolores Driscoll all gain insight into themselves; however they do not all use positive or consistent coping methods when dealing with tragedy. Unfortunately only a select few of the characters in “The Sweet Hereafter” discover that tragedy must be looked upon as a teaching experience as oppose to merely a misfortune. Touria Izri