Interpretation of the story Rock Springs

Man - sex, violence, crime, and sports is thy name!  Gaining, losing, and holding on are what give a man the manhood; responsibility is unheard of. This conviction resonates throughout the story Rock Springs by Richard Ford. In brisk simplicity, Ford narrates the human yearning and reveals that the characters have a real place in the world.

At the beginning of story (life’s journey), beginning of his life as a human being, man is adrift and uprooted with no permanent place or relationships; no responsibility towards each other or even to the self. Each one is a loser.  They are uneducated (ignorant), un-ambitious and lack the sense of responsibility. Relationships are a matter of convenience. Human beings know the good and the bad, the right and the wrong. When a person continuously indulges in untruths, crime and cheating gradually the mind gets used to it. With time these become a way of life. Escaping law is no more a matter of chance but a well-planned strategy and a matter of pride.  Everything is taken for granted including the support of friends. Love is a matter of convenience.

The emotions and feelings dealt with in this story relate to a particular social class where morals and responsibilities have no place. It would imply that with money and class the degrees of violence and morals would differ. Money is essential for survival and to attain that committing petty crimes is not shameful. Values in life differ depending upon the situation, as does the meaning of love. Responsibilities and education come with affluence and lack of education is the root of all evils.

Earl, a petty thief and a refugee from justice drives across Wyoming with his daughter, an unhappy girlfriend, and a stolen, cranberry-colored Mercedes.  Relieved that they were heading for Tampa-St Pete, ‘where I still had some friends from the old glory days who wouldn’t turn me in to the police’.  This shows that crime and avoiding law becomes an integral part of life as time advances.  Man finds nothing wrong in picking new cars everyday, which symbolizes that crime becomes inherent.  It becomes a means of sustenance.  He does not even want to take the responsibility ‘over several bad cheques—which is a prison crime in Montana’.

Selfish motives prompt human beings at every step.  Earl does show some responsibility towards his girl-friend Edna and his daughter Cheryl.  He has moved into Edna’s house to keep her ex-husband from breaking into her house and stealing things although it could be a selfish motive of being able to provide his daughter a shelter. His concern and responsibility for his daughter is expressed several times.

People want freedom – freedom from responsibilities. To shirk responsibilities they take refuge of untruths.  Relieved having shirked her responsibility towards her children Edna tells Danny that Earl had been in prison for killing a man, which was a blatant lie. This would keep him forcing her to take the children back. Emotions and feelings for children are also directly related to the social class in the society.

The story further reveals that at key moments in life a person’s character is revealed. Earl definitely lacks something because Edna feels, ‘You don’t think right, did you know that, Earl? You think the world’s stupid and you’re smart.  But that’s not how it is.  I feel sorry for you. You might’ve been something, but things just went crazy some place.’  At the time, they were pushing the car Earl does own up responsibility for her fatigue and mood when he says, ‘She had a sweet nature, and I recognized that this wasn’t her fault but mine’.

Love can have no place, where sex, crime, and violence dominate. Edna replies ‘Why not?  My datebook’s not that full’ when Earl asks her if she wanted to go to Florida with him.  This indicates that appointments have priority over love. It could also be that she did desire to spend time with him but did not want to reveal her feelings. You cannot claim to love a person and find faults too!  All arrangements are born out of convenience. How can love prevail when Edna says, ‘You’ve got a character that leaves something out’?  She craves for his attention while at the same time she expresses annoyance and irritation at the character that he is.

Mid-way in life man finds time to appreciate beauty even at times of trouble. Perhaps these moments lend the much needed relief from the mundane problems that human beings are besieged with. Stranded when the car breaks down, but Earl appreciates ‘Her features would light up like a beacon, and you could see her beauty, which wasn’t ordinary’. Man is conscious of his responsibilities but circumstances may compel him to commit crime.

Earl too wonders at their relationship because ‘I don’t know what was between Edna and me, just beached by the same tides when you got down to it. Though love has been built on frailer ground…’ He feels concerned and comforts her when she narrates how she threw the monkey in the trash. Love is another word for care and concern, which is amply expressed when Earl feels ‘Her voice was tired and hard and I knew she could have put a good meal to use. She had a sweet nature, and I recognized that this wasn’t her fault but mine. Only I wished she could be more hopeful.’ He smiles at her but she stares back ‘with eyes that were fierce with anger’. This contrasts the feelings that man and woman or human beings have for each other.

People can share joys and pleasures even amidst problems. Or perhaps man takes refuge to forget the haunting agonies for a while.  Earl was so overjoyed that ‘It felt like a whole new beginning for us, bad memories left behind and a new horizon to build on. I got so worked up, I had a tattoo done on my arm that said famous times,’ and Edna bought a Bailey hat with an Indian feather band and a little turquoise-and-silver bracelet for Cheryl, and we made love on the seat of the car in the Quality Court parking lot just as the sun was burning up on the Snake River, and everything seemed then like the end of the rainbow.

Earl finds solace in the thoughts that his former wife would come all the way from Waikiki Beach to testify to that he was not a violent person. No human being is really bad; nobody likes to commit any crime. Circumstances compel him to do so. Each human being in this world is endowed with his own thoughts, has a different perspective.  Each one’s way of handling problems is unique.  Human beings continue to surprise us.  He thrives in the complexity of emotions. This story brings to light that people always do things they should not be able to do.  How people should act can be connected to how people do act.  Man finds justification for all his acts, which makes life a little easier.

Ford offers a chilling lament: ”And I wondered, because it seemed funny, what would you think a man was doing if you saw him in the middle of the night looking in the windows of cars in the parking lot of the Ramada Inn? Would you think he was trying to get his head cleared? Would you think he was trying to get ready for a day when trouble would come down on him? Would you think his girlfriend was leaving him? Would you think he had a daughter? Would you think he was anybody like you?”

At the end of the story, at the end of the day, at the end of human life, man reflects upon what he has achieved in life. Love, sex, violence, hatred, and greed matter little at this stage.  His conscious urges him to look deep within him.  An insight, a journey towards the inner self reveals his true nature.  The story very aptly ends with thoughts that leave everyone pondering over the essence of human life.

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