This commentary, which is based on the short story, “The Setting Sun and The Rolling World,” is written by one of my grade 11 students. The essay uses symbolism, situational irony, and analogy to prove the central theme of the story. Finally, in the conclusion paragraph. the writer delves deeper and reveals the author’s stance on the issue of the generation gap.
The Setting Sun
Fledglings always fly away from their nest, and it works the same way for people, too. When children grow old enough, they will leave home and wander around the world. Many may even pursue their dreams against the will of their elders, who often try to retain them, but to no avail. This is the same case in the short story “The Setting Sun and the Rolling World” by Charles Mungoshi, which tells the story of an old man and his son, who have contrasting views about the future. While the old man hopes his son will stay on their ancestral land, the son wishes to pursue his destiny somewhere else. The old man, who is unable to convince his son to stay, eventually decides to let him go. Through the use of symbols, irony, and analogy, Mungoshi conveys the message that the younger generation is more radical and bold in their decisions, but as one grows older, one becomes more conservative in one’s decisions and visions. This difference in perspectives and attitudes is the cause of the gap between generations.
Through the use of symbols, Mungoshi creates a conservative image of the older generation, while depicting the youth as bold and adventurous. In the story, Mungoshi uses the airplane as the symbol of modernity, which the son admires, while the old man – Old Musoni – detests. While old Musoni considers the airplane as a “white metal bird” or a “white speck” (Mungoshi 1), his son views it as something that can remove the bounds and ties of space, giving him the freedom to float with the stars or “fiery balls” as he puts it. Having seen the airplane, Old Musoni “feels remorse,” which shows the extent to which he resents modernity. However, when the son remembers the airplane, he is filled with hope and positive thoughts, proving that he is in favour of modernity. Old Musoni hopes that his son will not leave him for the city, which, he thinks, is filled with suffering and privation. In contrast to Old Musoni’s view, the son is hopeful and passionate about his future in the modern city as he believes he can have a more successful life if he leaves his ancestral land. Another symbol that shows a rift between the two generations is the charms, which Mungoshi uses to symbolize tradition. While Old Musoni likes the charms and sees them as “something to strengthen [oneself]” (Mungoshi 3), his son considers them useless. Since Old Musoni believes that the charms would protect his son and give him fortitude and bravery, he wants his son to have the charms. On the other hand, the son hates the charms as he decides he “would burn the charms as soon as he [is] away from home” (Mungoshi 3). The son’s attitude towards the charms means he does not think tradition is beneficial to his future; he thinks of the charms as impractical. The disparity between the son and Old Musoni shows how the older generation tends to be more traditional, and the younger generation is more audacious, creating a contrast in their decisions.
By contrasting Old Musoni and his younger self, Mungoshi also uses situational irony to portray the generation gap. Since Old Musoni is so against his son’s taking chances to go to the city, one would expect that he would never have risked anything himself; however, Old Musoni “had taken chances before, in his own time ”(Mungoshi 1), which means that he was adventurous and pursued his dreams when he was young, too. This is ironic since one expects Old Musoni to be a role model for his son since he wishes that his son would not go into the modern society, but he himself has taken bold, risky decisions in his life. This situational irony shows the divide between generations by depicting the rift between the young and Old Musoni. In fact, Old Musoni does not agree with his son because he has changed over time, and therefore he is not as brave as he was. He feels anxious about his son’s decisions now, while he himself has taken risky decisions in the past. The situational irony in the story shows how the way one thinks will change with age, creating a divide between the young and the old.
Apart from the symbols and the situational irony, Mungoshi also applies an analogy throughout the story to show the rift between generations. When Old Musoni talks about the city, he describes it very negatively. He thinks of the citizens as “beasts that would not leave an unprotected homeless boy alone” (Mungoshi 1). Old Musoni draws the analogy between the city and the wild since he thinks the people in the city, just like beasts, will harm his son. Old Musoni sees people as the most dangerous predators that his son can encounter since his son lacks experience and is not fully aware of the sinister beings lurking around him. This potential danger is the main reason why Old Musoni hopes his son would stay by him. On the other hand, since the son despises the village, not the city, he compares the village to the moon. He feels like he is “living on the tired cold shell of the moon” (Mungoshi 2). The analogy here shows how the son views the land: desolate and uninhabitable. He is still young and wants a more adventurous life, so he finds no future in staying in the village with his father. Old Musoni and his son’s contrasting perspectives lead them to view the city and the village differently, showing the wide gap between the two generations.
Mungoshi successfully conveys the message that one’s age will inevitably shape one’s attitude. While younger people tend to be more courageous and reckless, people become more traditional and conservative as they grow old. However, by siding with neither Old Musoni nor his son, Mungoshi adds a deeper layer to his message: neither generation is necessarily right or wrong in their views. The gap stems from a number of social, physical, mental, and emotional factors. In fact, it is the sum of the views of the two generations that creates a balance in how humans live their lives. If it were not for this collective balance in worldviews, the human species would have become extinct thousands of years ago.