“Floating” By Karen Brennan
“But no one owns anyone or owes anyone anything” (Brennan 304). In the story “Floating,” Karen Brennan uses the themes of regret, rejection, guilt and death, to demonstrate how trauma in a relationship effects both sides differently. She illustrates the difference between herself and her husband, telling the story of what she feels and what her husband feels. In the beginning a sense of rejection is presented, this is shown when Karen quotes, “I woke up and heard a tiny sound coming from the back of the house. It was a baby….she had been crying for two days straight and had survived,” (Brennan 302). Reading this quote the reader can make the assumption that there is a sense of rejection in the story and also that the narrator had been rejecting the baby for a while. She states, “she had been crying for two days straight.” This shows that not only did the narrator hear her but had ignored the baby for those two days.
Rejection was not only seen with the baby but also the husband as well. The husband showed rejection towards the wife, and the wife reciprocated that rejection towards the baby. “My husband was in the living room, I said look what I can do I floated up… my husband shook his head… he wasn’t shocked.” (302). In the story the narrator portrayed the husband as an emotionless, uncaring person who once, cared for his wife but now feels the need to remain unresponsive. Brennan presents the wife’s thoughts of rejection and also the husband’s point of view of rejection. “Satan appeared on a cloud…fixed himself a snack… then she snapped his picture,” (302). Through the end of the first paragraph, the reader can introduce the idea that the husband might be rejecting her because she might be having an affair. “Satan appeared,” represents the idea that there is another person who the wife might be seeing.
In the story “Floating” regret was another big factor which played a role in the narrator and her husband’s marriage. “How do we get this way? I was a perfectly ordinary girl… I married a nice responsible man who loved me. He gave me my first umbrella,” (303). Regret was used to introduce the deep dysfunction of their marriage, that it even made the narrator question her past and the marriage itself, “he gave me my first umbrella.’’ The narrator reminisces or revisits the first time she ever felt safe, sheltered by someone else other than her immediate family. Karen relates shelter to an umbrella, because in a sense, an umbrella protects our body from the rain. The umbrella is also significant, because it leaves the audience questioning- is that all the husband was able to provide? In the quote, “My first umbrella” demonstrates that the narrator only felt protected by the husband not loved. “How do we get this way? I was a perfectly ordinary girl” portrays a feeling of regret to the reader.
The narrator uses this to show how she had changed and could not believe it herself almost as if she shocked herself with her change. She asks a rhetorical question “How do we get this way?” She cannot convey an answer to; however allows the reader to find a solution. This gives rise to a deeper meaning to the quote. “I was a perfectly ordinary girl” the word was in her sentence shows that she once was perfect and now she has change and she regrets it. In the husband’s point of view, this could mean that she questioned her affair or marriage and regrets the fact she ever cheated on him and or ever married him. “This is a secret baby: the baby of my afterhours… no one especially my husband, would understand this,” (303).
According to the reader, this could mean that she is having regrets about the baby. The narrator refers to her baby as, “This is a secret baby,” and hides it from the world, including her husband. Not only does she keep this baby in secrecy, she also chooses to say that her husband would not understand. This states that, through the disheartenment Karen Brennan still possesses a sense of hope that one day her husband will understand. But her husband only ignores her and reject the fact that she is “floating,” Furthermore, Karen Brennen presents the theme of death, including both perspectives of death as a way of demonstrating the differences and problems shared in and out of their marriage. “She had all the plumpness of a baby; dimpled knees and folds around the wrists; pale baby skin,” (302).
The narrator indicates that the baby skin was pale. From the context clues, the reader could imply that the baby could be lifeless or suffering from the strain of death. However the narrator brings the attention to the reader that the baby had survived. She quotes, “she had survived.” This presents the reader with the evidence that the baby is no longer alive and it is in fact dead. The word had shows the reader that the baby was alive at a point in time, but in that instant the baby is dead. Karen Brennan shows how death plays a role in the story. She manipulates the sentence debating a sense of hope for the life of the baby, but then she abruptly changes the tone of the story using descriptive passages of the baby taking away any previous hope that the child lived. The death of the baby was so traumatic that even the narrator could not shake the restraint of disparity, being forced to remember the baby as the time progresses.
In addition, the death of the baby could stimulate on the husband’s negative attitude towards his wife, “I wish I had the nerve to go outside, I tell him. He grunts as if nothing was out of the ordinary,” (303). The narrator draws a picture of the husband’s attitude as very rude and angry. As a reader, this could indicate that the husband’s attitude (mad and angry) might be angry about the loss of the baby, or maybe reflects his beliefs that his deceased wife is tormenting him for neglecting her. “Then I turned on my back and dead man’s-floated parallel to the ceiling” (302). According to the words, “dead man,” she might be in fact dead and it is her ghost who floats around trapped in her room- trapped in the house unable to be free.
Lastly, Karen Brennan uses guilt as a form to describe what should have been done during their marriage and what could have been changed. What they could have done differently and what they could still do? “I want us to be friends, to be affectionate with one another. But he just looks down” (304). Karen Brennan shows the guilt the wife is feeling in the relationship. She states, “I want us to be friends, to be affectionate.” Reading this quote, the reader can conclude that the narrator did not really feel love towards her husband, and now she is feeling guilty for not being able to create that sense of affection between them. This makes her feel obligated to end the relationship and become friends.
In addition to the story, reading it from the husband’s point-of-view the reader can say that the husband feels guilty for not being able to provide the love the wife needs, which leads the narrator to state, “but he just looks down.” This quote could indicate the husband is wallowing in self-pity and unsure of what to say or what to do at this point of the marriage. Overall. Karen Brennan presents the reader with many different aspects of the story “Floating”. Portraying the themes guilt, regret, rejection or death. Karen Brennan indicates all the flaws of which both the husband and wife have, and she also presents the possibilities of different ideas to incorporate the story with. In the end, the two perceptions of both the husband and the wife were the same. They both want to be affectionate or want out of the relationship.