Temporal relationships influence our perception of events. The protagonist of the story is a victim of such relationships. In Alice Munro’s “Deep Holes”, Kent is perceived as an individual who is unable to adjust to his self-ambience and life. This results in his neurotic growth, which is a strong understanding in the light of the Horneyan theory.
According to this theory, a lack of warmth, affection, and love from the family are various reasons that result in one’s erratic behaviour (Ulman 1). One of the leading causes of Kent’s unstable development is his familial atmosphere and disputes with his father. Their differences initially resulted in Alex despising his son and to impress him, Kent began to follow his father’s example and aspired to become the man his father always wanted him to be.
This merely troubled Alex more, and was the beginning of Kent’s growth and understanding as a character. As he came to the realization, that he held no prominence in Alex’s life, he was motivated to become independent. To finish, he left his family behind to attempt a fresh life with his new and improved true self.
Therefore, the outcome of their indifferences proves that the metaphorical deep holes Kent fell into throughout the narrative molded his relationship with his father, and caused him to grow as an individual and move further away from his family.
Initially, Kent feels overwhelmed by the expectations placed on him by his father, Alex. Their contradicting lifestyles and beliefs lead him to isolate himself from societal and personal relationships. At first, Kent aspired for his father’s love and attention; he made an idealized image of his father. Like his son, he dreamed to be able to share a special bond with his father, in which he was given Alex’s undivided affection.
He was very attentive and, “courteous to his father, bringing him the paper that had been rescued from Savanna and carefully refolded, pulling out his chair at dinner time” (Munro 6). He always praised his father and called him his hero. On the contrary, Alex still showed disregard towards Kent and never paid attention to his emotions and feelings.
Kent’s every word would by some means end up infuriating Alex. Kent regarded him as the savior of his life whereas Alex showed indifference towards him.
Moreover, Kent always wanted to hold an essential position in the eyes of his parents, but their negligence shattered his entire world. Alex keenly regarded him as, “a sneak and troublemaker and the possessor of dirty mind” (3). Once, while they were at the picnic in Osler Bluff, a major accident happened. While teasing his younger brother, Peter, he fell into a pit/deep hole. Listening to their petrified voices, Alex and Sally both ran to the spot.
On the way, Sally assertively predicted, “If any accident happened it would not be to her six-year-old who was brave but not inventive, not a show-off. It would be to Kent” (4). Both Sally and Alex regarded Kent as the menace in the family. They expected absolutely nothing from him, as they thought he was not capable of living up to their expectations. In his parents’ perspective, he was just another impractical man with no potential.
To be like his father, Kent started walking in his tracks, but Alex’s rude and harsh behaviour shattered his entire notion and contributed towards making him a neurotic being. This difference between actual and idealized-self had an adverse impact on his mental stability and resulted in basic anxiety. Additionally, Kent and Alex’s viewpoints on education and the ideal life as an adult are both contradictory.
To overcome his anxiety and escape from societal norms, he fled away from his family. Years went by, but he never made any contact with them. Later on, he wrote a letter to his mother, depicting his state of mind and the reason for his departure, “’It seems so ridiculous to me’ [Kent] said, ‘that a person should be expected to lock themselves into a suit of clothes. [Kent means], like the suit of clothes of an engineer or doctor or geologist and then the skin grows over it, over the clothes, [Kent means], and that person can’t ever get them off’” (8).
Kent is indicating his changed outlook towards his father who always treated him gravely. His father was a geologist and nothing else for him. In Kent’s perspective, Alex was always lost in his ambitions and never played the role of the ideal father that Kent desired. This moral and emotional dereliction was a significant setback to his mental setup.
In his initial stage, Kent wanted to mold his personality just like his father, who was successful, intelligent, and confident. He was a unique personality for him.
Later on in the narrative, this idealized image of Alex got shattered, and Kent started detesting him. He was willing to break all ties with his family members. In the first letter he addressed to his parents after leaving, he aloofly acknowledged, “…one thing [Kent has] learned to give up is intellectual pridefulness”(8). Kent turned into a beggar and moved far away from home.
He changed his name to Jonah and detached himself completely from the family. He was living with poor people in the ghettos. The basic aim of Kent was to assert his individuality and to take revenge on his family that always wanted to maintain its mannerism. He moved towards these poor people because he was getting the love and affection from them, which his family failed to provide him with. His talks were focused on them, and any diversion or disturbance made him anxious and aggravated.
He told Sally about his views on his past life when he was with his family. Although he was with the family, yet he was all alone. No one could understand his emotional or mental state. He felt as if he was lost in his fake self, which was a shadow of his father. Earlier, he wanted to be like his father who was a successful man, but the mental pressures and tension that he got from his filial relationships turned him into an alienated being. This alienation is visible in the lines where he is addressing his mother, Sally, “My life, my life, my progress, what all could I discover about my stinking self. The purpose of me. My crap. My spirituality. My intellectuality.
There isn’t any inside stuff anymore, Sally…” (18). Kent’s concept of life depicted at the end of the story portrays his transformation into a stable being. He is happy with his new identity and wants to live his remaining life in the same manner. He even suggested to Sally that she should also pursue her true self as “[Sally] knows [Sally] can only save [herself]” (8). This statement made her contemplate her own identity. Throughout her life, she existed in a frame formed by Alex.
Kent’s advice made a significant mark on her mind. Now, after the death of Alex, she is found for the first time re-thinking about herself. The protagonist in the entire narrative is striving to find a substitute for his lost person. Although he has degraded his condition, for him, it is a strategy to cope with the mental pressures he has been through and to find his true self.
Alice Munro very well captures the darkness of the human mind in a very revealing manner. The title of this story contains ambiguous meanings that can be penetrated only by a deep psychological insight. Throughout Kent’s journey, Munro very cleverly psychoanalyzes his sufferings, repression, conflicts, and inner turmoil. The evolution of his disagreement with Alex began with their minor disputes and indifference on their viewpoints of life. These small conflicts only developed and became the reason behind the problematical relationship between Kent and his family.
Kent began to feel a severe lack of warmth, affection, and adoration from his own family. When he came to the realization that his father detested him, he only grew further apart from him; he started to despise Alex. Kent was convinced that his father is not the ideal man he used to think and his best option was to leave his family behind and initiate a new life.
The negligence of his father motivated him to become a beggar and find a new family to complete him with their attention and love. This journey of Kent’s life throughout the story exemplifies the evolution of conflict between him and his father. The reader experiences the consequences of a father’s indifference towards his son.
Furthermore, the metaphorical deep holes Kent and Alex experience in their relationship ultimately shape the story as a whole and cause Kent to isolate himself from personal, familial and societal acquaintances.
Munro, Alice. “Deep-Holes.” The New Yorker. Conde Nast. 30 June 2008. Online. 12 Sept. 2017.
Ulman, R.B. “Horneyan and Kohutian Theories of Psychic Trauma: A Self-Psychological Reexamination of The Work of Harold Kelman.” Springer Link. June 1987, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF01253028. 30 October. 2017.