When reading or watching any form of literature we expect for there to be a happy ending. Many times we use literature to fill the voids in our lives. In “The Far and the Near” an old train engineer, who has seen deaths, has no family, and has performed a solitary and lifeless job for his entire life fills his void by awaiting two o’clock everyday so he can blow his whistle and wave to a mother and daughter. No matter how much a person has done in his life for himself or others, we know a happy ending is not guaranteed. We are accustomed to always seeing the protagonist who goes through hardship rewarded with what he was striving for.
Under all of the things the author uses to make us feel bad for and embrace the engineer are subtle clues that show the engineer was blinded by his desire to find someone who cared. When the engineer meets the mother and daughter he so fondly looked forward to waving at, everyday, at two o’clock it should not shock the reader that they do not meet him with the same “extraordinary happiness”. The ending of “The Far and the Near” is shocking, not because of the outcome, but because of the way Thomas Wolfe rights the story. Throughout the story the author made it seem as if there had to be a happy ending.
Upon analyzing specific events we can see that the outcome was predictable. The story starts of describing the house that the engineer passed everyday. It was on the outskirts of a town and it is described as, “an air of tidiness, thrift, and modest comfort. ” Also, later in the passage he sees the house up close for the first time and knows it is the one based off of the “Iordly oaks, flower beds, garden, and arbor”. This has all the making of a very nice house and makes the reader think that the people inside will be just as lovely to the engineer as their house was to his eyes; however, this view s what the engineer sees while he is driving by. From the train the engineer thought the mother and daughter gave him a sense of family, therefore, he could be completely wrong about how the house looks.
The author also tricks the reader when he describes all the sorrow filled in the engineer’s life. First, he describes how the engineer’s kids have all grown up, we know he hasn’t seen them much because of his unforgiving, solitary job. “He felt for them and for the little house in which they lived such tenderness as a man might feel for his own children. The author says this to make us feel bad for the engineer by illustrating how he doesn’t have family and that void is replaced by people he has never met, by people he sees once a day through a fast moving train. When he goes to their house why should we expect them to welcome him warmly? They have never seen him before. The author also talks about the deaths the author has seen: kids in a wagon, a deaf man, a homeless fellow, and a random man who the engineer could hear scream as the man flew past the train.
All this and he had to continue his lonely job without ever being able to talk about it to a friend. Although the engineer had a lonely job, the author says it added to his character. The author makes the engineer sound like a nice guy, which adds to the idea that there should be a happy ending for him. The author says the job has made him faithful, courageous, and humble; all combined with the fact that he is very a steady person in his profession. We usually associate that good things happen to good people, but that is not always the case.
Through the description of the setting, the unfortunate events in the engineer’s life, and the positive description of the engineer tries to hinder the reader from seeing the engineer’s blindness. Not all clues revealed in this story are so indirect, there are numerous times in the story that give away the ending. First of all, the engineer saw the mother and daughter for twenty years; he saw them grow up. The difference is the engineer was looking at them while they were looking at the train. When the engineer blew his whistle he was calling the daughter and mother.
When they responded and came outside the mother and her daughter waved at the train, not the engineer. What’s sad about the author is that he is so lonely that he thinks they are waving at him, but in reality they are just waving at the train. We are also able to see when the story takes a turn and the engineer starts doubting when he starts walking throughout the town he town looks very different from so far away at a high speed. It was as if he had never seen the town before and the more he walked the more he became confused. Again, the mother and daughter can be compared to the town.
When looking from afar at a fast speed, the engineer had perceived image of everything but as he came closer it was nothing like it seemed. The same can be said in our daily live; we make decisions that seem great, but upon further review we see the faults. When he approaches the house and his hand falters on the gate, when he begins to feel confused, doubtful, and hopeless he realizes how he has lived in his own little fantasy these last twenty years. When he approaches the door and the woman opens it and looks at him with a “mistrustful eye” how can we expect her to act any differently.
Some stranger walks up to her door and she has no idea who its, after his explanation, of course she will let him in because she feels bad for the poor old man. The engineer realized how much different everything was from a stable, upclose view. A stranger came up to the house of a mother and daughter, upon an awkward explanation of how they have a connection, they stare at him with a “dull, bewildered hostility, a sullen, timorous restraint”. What else can we expect? In a basic sense and through subtle clues, it is easy to see why the mother and daughter are not excited to see the engineer.
However, the reader is masked by the author’s description of the setting of the house, the character’s sorrow, and the character’s traits. All of these contributing factors add up to blind the reader. The author paints the engineer as a lonely, but suitable man which further makes it difficult to see how the engineer turns out sadder than he began. However, through careful analysis of the story the reader can see how oblivious the engineer really was, thus proving the story really does have a believable ending.