Some Personal Relationships in
Timothy Findley's The Wars
This material was contributed by Heather Berringer, Ross Gartley, Trilby Leach, Ashley Roberts, and Elizabeth Stokes.
Robert Ross relationship with his mother, Mrs. Ross:
To best understand Robert's relationship with his mother Mrs. Ross, one must look at their relationship from the perspective of Mrs. Ross. It is her interpretations and ensuing reactions to the tragic events of the novel that reveal the most to the reader about Robert's relationship with her.
Mrs. Ross is portrayed as an adamant women in the beginning of Timothy Findley's The Wars, yet as the story progresses, her firmness is broken by various tragedies. Robert's relationship with his mother prior to the death of his sister Rowena seems normal in the sense that Mrs. Ross shows her motherly concern for Robert when needed (fainting after running around the block 25 times), and Robert shows his mother her due respect. It is in the face of unforeseen circumstances that Mrs. Ross' relationship with her son turns into a desperate struggle on her behalf for what was once a predictable and enlivening relationship.
After the death of Robert's sister Rowena, the Ross family seems to
be broken. Family members question whose fault it was that she fell and
who should ultimately be held responsible. Robert had been closest to Rowena,
and for this reason Mrs. Ross decided that he was to be the one who would
take responsibility of killing her rabbits. Mrs Ross' decision to burden
Robert with this inhuman act, and his failure to do so lead to the most
revealing monologue relevant to their relationship:
You think that Rowena belonged to you. Well I'm here to tell you, Robert,
no one belongs to anyone. We're all strangers. You here that? Strangers.
I know what you want to do. I know that you're going to go away and be
a soldier. Well - you can go to hell. I'm not responsible. I'm just another
stranger. Birth I can give you - but life I cannot. I can't keep anyone
alive. Not any more. (pg. 28)
The pessimistic tone of Mrs. Ross' monologue can be attributed to the fact that Rowena just died and that Robert has chosen to condemn himself to death, however it reveals much about her and Robert's relationship. Robert decision to enlist is not met with approval by Mrs. Ross. Her reaction is one of denial and failure as a parent. Her words, "..you can go to hell..", in reality show her true love and care for Robert, yet in a vulgar way. She cares so much for him that she can't bear the thought of him leaving (can't physically say goodbye), hence she directs her anger at him. Mrs. Ross' poor management of anger occurs throughout the novel, and each instance reflects directly on Robert's decision to enlist in the war.
The relationship between Robert and Mrs. Ross reaches it climax when
Robert is reported 'missing in action'. The news of Ross being missing
sends Mrs. Ross into hysteria show by her "... a final agonizing cry.."
(pg.179) followed by her ensuing emotional blindness. Mrs. Ross can no
longer face elements of life without her son and this concludes their relationship.
Robert Ross' relationship with his father, Thomas Ross:
Then Robert fainted. Just at the end of the 25th lap. Fainted and was down with jauntice.
His father got him through it.
He came up every evening after work and sat in Robert's darkened room
and talked to him and told him stories. None of the stories had to do with
running. These were tales of voyages and ships and how to ride a horse.
This was the binding of the father to the son. When the ordeal was over
- Tom Ross took his boy upstairs and watched while Robert stood in front
of the old dark mirror, slipping out of his pyjamas and seeing that his
skin was different now (a sort of ochre yellow). Robert smiled and was
silent. He went downstairs in his dark skin and stayed that way for another
day. Tom Ross understood, it seemed. He too smiled and was silent. (pg
From the very beginning of the story, Findley demonstrates the strong father-son bond between Robert and his father, Tom. Robert loved and respected his father very much, '..his father got him through it..'(pg.16).
Tom played an extremely important role in the life of his son. All the knowledge Robert had taken with him to war had come from his father. We realise how much Robert had missed his father during the War when his father shows up in Montreal to 'pass from hand to hand' a revolver and a hamper of food to him , "....the sight of his father had lifted his spirits immeasurably"(pg. 69).
Thomas Ross was both a mentor and a role model to Robert as he grew from boy to man. Robert trusted his father's good judgement many times throughout the story, he chose to do as he thought his father would have done. Likewise, Tom loved and respected his son a great deal. It was Tom who had taken the initiative to find out when Robert would be in Montreal so he could see his son, as fate would have it, one last time. It was also Tom who had taken the time to tell Robert how to ride a horse, a skill that proved very necessary to Robert during the time of war.
In the end, it is only Tom who comes to see his son's burial, "Mister
Ross was the only member of his family who came to see him buried"
(pg. 190). It is only Tom who cares enough to see a loved one laid to rest.
Without the influence of his father, perhaps Robert would not have been
such a great leader of his squadron and such a human and dedicated individual.
Robert Ross' relationship with his sister, Rowena:
In developing the relationship between Robert and Rowena, Timothy Findley introduces Robert's humane and sensitive characteristics. When Robert was young, he mistook Rowena for his mother because he often saw her smiling face peering down into his crib. To Robert, Rowena was a guardian, but eventually he considered himself her guardian. After Rowena's death, Robert was lost within himself. He no longer knew how to behave or what to feel anymore. It was as though he could no longer handle or deal with serious matters or think clearly. Timothy Findley puts this forward as one of the main factors that push Robert to join the army because he could never forgive himself for his sister's death. He felt as if it was his fault because he had not been there that day looking out for her as he usually did. He felt this guilt eating him inside for the rest of his life from that day forward. Robert reflects on specific moments they spent together throughout The Wars.
Yes , Rowena?
Will you stay with me forever?
Can the rabbits stay forever, too?
This was forever. Now the rabbits had to be killed. (pg.22)
Robert is never able to forget this conversation and the fact that he broke this promise by not being there to catch her when she fell. This changed Robert's whole perspective on life and his assigned role. He no longer appeared to have feelings anymore but no one knew how much remorse he felt inside. This could have been another reason for joining the war that he could just go away and everyone would either forget about what he did and be proud of in the end for being so brave. In a sense, a large part of Robert died that day along with his sister.
While attending Rowena's funeral, Robert saw a soldier standing there and he envied this man so much because after this day he could just walk away and leave all of this behind. This is what Robert wanted to do and it turned out to be the worst way to run away from all his problems.
Rowena's death constantly put stress on Robert, as we can see it hits him the hardest in the trenches or when he is on the battle field. Everything reminded him of his sister. One example was when Robert looked under Rodwell's bunk, "Robert looked. There was a whole row of cages. Rowena" (pg.87). As you can see Rowena was the first and only thing on his mind. Even the colour white would remind him of her because he could associate so many things since she was always dressed in white, her rabbits were white and her coffin was white. All of these memories haunted Robert more and more each day of his life.
Findley suggests in the latter part of The Wars that Robert is becoming mentally unstable. At times he can no longer function as a dedicated soldier or as a average human being. It is quite ironic that after Rowena's death, Robert wanted to join the army where death loomed on every horizon . If Rowena had still been alive Robert probably would have never enlisted in the army and his life would of been quite good but he can not go back and change things or live in the past and this is what made his life even worse off.