15 May 2000
Semester Project- Jumping the Nail
PART 1: Close Reading
"High on the cliff face I saw the ghostly white shapes of the gulls, huddled, headless, their necks tucked under their wings" (Bunting 164).
In the above lines from Eve Bunting's Jumping the Nail, the theme of foreshadowing tragic events can be seen in its structure, language, and content. The lines literally describe the main character Dru looking for her missing friend Elisa at the end of the novel, and during her search she sees seagulls on the side of the cliff at "The Nail" and symbolically interprets the images. A close reading reveals many more aspects about the passage that may be missed in a quick reading.
The figurative language of this passages plays a large role in developing its meanings, especially metaphorical meanings. There are several visual images in the passage that function in this manner. To start, the image of a "cliff face" personifies the cliff near the ocean. This is done through the visual image of the cliff with a "face." The cliff can be imagined as a natural object with sculpted, prominent features, like those of a face. To an extent, the cliff represents life through stasis--there is a metaphor of the lifetime and endurance of an inanimate natural object. The cliff is a witness to all, and in having a face, it seems to have a personality.
The next meaningful image that appears in this passage is the phrase used to describe the gulls "ghostly white shapes." As a visual image, these lines provide a sort of eerie look upon the wildlife in the novel. As a metaphor, the phrase functions to spiritualize the gulls. It is as if they are not birds at all, but spirits. The word "ghostly" adds to the spiritual view the most, while "white" helps the image along as the traditional view of ghosts describes them as white. "Shapes" takes the living nature of the birds and replaces it with something inanimate. They have "shapes" instead of bodies. This passage clearly provides an abstraction of death.
The next two images, "huddled" and "headless" also refer to the gulls. The first provides a visual image of the birds close together, almost like they are hiding or cowering. There is a hint of fear in this image. Spatially, the image describes the layout of the birds along the cliff. The second image, "headless" overlaps in meaning with the earlier images of "ghostly" and "white." This image also suggests the abstraction of death, and provides an eerie visual image of the birds without their crowns. The final image of the passage also involves the birds. The line "necks tucked under" plays into the image of hiding, like the earlier "huddled" line. This image also provides a literal explanation for the "headless" image. The word "necks" describes the bodily objects and "tucked under" describes what the gulls do with their bodies to hide them from the rest of the world. Again, the idea of fear is suggested by this image. The gulls in this position are symbolic of souls hiding from the dangers of the deep ocean down below.
The diction of the passage is also key in developing its meaning. When discovering the literal meanings of the important words, they become far more related than first thought. To begin, a "cliff" is defined as a "rockface" which links it with its following word "face." This not only adds repetition to the passage, but reinforces the image of the "face" as well. Repetition also occurs with "white shapes of the gulls" as "gulls" are defined as white birds. Other definitions are linked to the context of the passage, as a cliff is defined as a "rockface, especially on a coast" and "high" is defined as "far above ground or sea level." And most importantly, the definition for "ghostly" includes animals, when animals are less often seen as ghosts. The definitions give literal meaning of the figurative words as well. Literally, a "cliff face" is the side of a cliff. Metaphorically, it is the facial-like features of a rock. Literally, "ghostly white shapes" are the apparition-like images of animals. Metaphorically they are spirits and ghosts. Literally, "huddled, headless" are the seagulls grouped together protecting their heads from the elements. Symbolically, they are spirits hiding from the dangers that lurk below.
The structure of the passage is important as well, despite its relative simplicity. The initial phrase "High on the cliff face" provides a location and setting for the rest of the passage. The second important phrase "I saw" is important in that it provides the verb phrase. Here the subject and action appear. The third phrase "the ghostly white shapes of the gulls" not only provides the objects receiving the verb, but provides important descriptive words as well. Finally, "huddled, headless, their necks tucked under their wings" provides more adjectives to describe the objects. These different elements of the passage link together to form a lengthy simple sentence. The order is mainly Subject Verb Object with a lot of descriptive words added. The relative simplicity of the sentence structure can be explained by the young age of the intended readers; complex grammatical structure would cause the reader to lose interest.
The style of the passage is relatively straightforward as well, utilizing only a few devices to add some flavor to the otherwise simple style. There is a hint of alliteration with the "huddled, headless" line. The clause structure is straightforward, with "I saw the ghostly white shapes" as the independent clause and "of the gulls. . ." as the dependent clause. There is a bit of contradiction in the words "headless" and later "necks tucked under" as the "headless" nature of the birds is explained and invalidated with the latter phrase. However, the fairly straightforward nature allows the message of the passage to come across clearly.
The characterization of the passage relies on a single person, the narrator. The narrator in this case is the main character, Dru. In the passage Dru is beginning to come to a realization. Although she does not realize it at the precise moment of the passage, her narration here is clearly foreshadowing tragic events to come. Dru begins to see images of death that hint to what she will find when looking for her missing friend Elisa. The narration is foreshadowing Dru finding out about Elisa's suicide. At the moment of the passage, Dru is beginning to become to a mature understanding about the tragedy of life. In the dictionary, "to see" means to understand. By "seeing" the ghostly gulls, Dru is beginning to understand. This understanding almost describes a loss of innocence for Dru. She is "seeing" things as an adult. It is clear in the metaphoric language of her thoughts that death, as well as fear are lurking somewhere in her mind.
The serious, somber tone of the passage further alludes to what is going to happen in the search for Elisa. The tone not only sets the stage for upcoming events, but it also provides a hint to their outcome. The tone also coordinates with the setting of the passage, which is near "the deep" at the end of "The Nail's" cliff. Lives and souls have been lost in "the deep."
The theme and nature of the passage can be traced back to the overall theme of the work (peer pressure) in that this small passage foreshadows the tragic events brought about by giving in to peer pressure. Bad things happen at "The Nail;" the birds seem to be more aware of this through their fear than the foolhardy humans.
This passage comes at the end of the novel, while Dru and her boyfriend Mike look their missing friend Elisa. They are out at "The Nail" where kids their age jump off a cliff to prove their worth to their peers. All the problems of the novel begin here, it is fitting that the climax of action in the novel will take place here as well. The language and symbols of death in Dru's description of the scene lead to an obvious foreshadowing of events to come. Because of "The Nail" and the false nature of friends and boyfriends, Elisa will end her life in a place that is full of images of death and the afterlife. Now, the "ghostly" gulls are not the only ghosts at "The Nail."