In the National Gallery Looking back into your past or looking ahead into your future is something common for us to do as humans. When we look back or forward it often has to do with age. To remind us of how we acted or what we stood for we combine age with views in our heads. People interpret the world in different ways. I guess u can say that the youth’s views are mainly controlled by negligence and spontaneity, while the old focus on passion and greatness. All in all the two stages are very different from each other, if not the complete opposite of each other, and when they meet they often get into conflict.
How many times have you not argued with an old man about something which was obvious to you, but for him it was veiled? This conflict caused by the generation gap happens in the short story In the National Gallery by Doris Lessing from 2007. Through a first person narrator we become a part of a public space, London’s National Gallery. The narrator, whose age, gender and appearance remains hidden from us as readers, watches, observes and comments on activity in the gallery from a central position. The narrator guides our perceptions and judgments through the events that we witness through his eyes.
What the narrator, a spectator, is interested in is observing something familiar, and only one thing. “It should be already known to me”. “And there it was the Stubbs chestnut horse, that magnificent beast, all power and potency, and from the central benches I could see it well”. The choice falls on Stubbs’ chestnut horse. As the painting is in the center of the gallery it also becomes the essential point of understanding the short story. More than just a horse in a painting, the narrator wants to observe people interacting.
The people the narrator observes, or spies on from his position in the middle of the gallery, all deal with the painting of the horse in some way or another. Furthermore, the horse could be used to understand the various generations that interact in this public space. The old man is the first to deal with the painting, which he does in a very well-informed way. He teaches a younger man, a son or a student, about Stubbs the painter and the painting itself. The older man is very passionate about the horse and tries to pass his interests on to his listener, but without success.
The young man is not interested in listening quietly to art lectures, “the first man then flung out his hand, in a gesture of humorous resignation, and the young man snapped, “you can’t make a silk purse out of me, I keep telling you””. This encounter is the first clash of generations. The old man cannot understand the superficiality of his young listener and wants to offer him some of his own values. The young man is not the only one to reject the horse and thereby the old man. With the entry of a group of French girls, another generation stage is represented.
These, especially one girl, also rejects the horse, by falling asleep in front of it and laughing at it, “She sat herself up again, and yawned and looked at the great horse […] and she fell asleep”. The girl, sleeping next to him, reminds the old man of his own youth, where he had a fling with a young girl. The result of his memory leads to the old man arguing for the fact that the young generation share the value of passion with the older generation, something his ‘student’ and the French girls earlier proved not to be the case. “The passions of little kids are just as strong as the grown-ups”.
The young man proves by the behavior of the schoolgirls that the two generations have trouble understanding each other and coming together. The schoolgirls are careless while the old man has passion. ——————————————– [ 1 ]. In the National Gallery by Doris Lessing; p. 1 line 3-4 [ 2 ]. In the National Gallery by Doris Lessing; p. 1 line 4-5 [ 3 ]. In the National Gallery by Doris Lessing; p. 1 line 22-24 [ 4 ]. In the National Gallery by Doris Lessing; p. 1 line 60-63 [ 5 ]. In the National Gallery by Doris Lessing; p. 1 line 106