“Horses of the Night” deals with characters in conflict

“Horses of the Night” deals with characters in conflict. It’s the story of a young boy, Chris, struggling to accept his reality in a time where he needs to. Chris’ lack of addressing his problems and his ignorance to the things happening around him eventually leads to his downfall. From Chris’ family life, school life, and career life he has many problems he needs to tackle but refuses to acknowledge.
Chris moves to Manawaka to begin his high school education. He stays with his cousin Vanessa and her grandparents. As soon as the trip begins, Chris is already being critiqued by his family. The grandfather states that if Chris takes after his father, “it’s a poor outlook for him” (53). Thus begins Chris’ ignorance of issues and where he possibly gets this outlook on life from. It was almost as though they wanted Chris to hear their remarks as the grandmother chose to leave the door open so he could hear everything they said. Chris didn’t let their words get to him: “He began to talk to me, quite easily, just as though he had not heard a word my grandfather was saying” (54). Vanessa’s take on Chris’ behaviour was as simple as that he appeared to be “absent, elsewhere” (54).
Chris never really talked about his family much. When asked about his life in Shallow Creek, his home, he talked about it as if it were a fairytale. How his house was “made of trees” and how the lake was “full of water monsters” (55). When talking about his racing horses back home, Vanessa observed that “he missed the horses, she thought with selfish satisfaction, more than he missed his family” (55). Chris’ priorities seemed out of line, focussing on his later to be found out imaginary life rather than his real life.
Chris’ plans for his future seem to be out of hand. He wanted to be a civil engineer even though he’d never seen a bridge before but he had “seen pictures” (56). Chris wanted to go to college in Winnipeg although he had no money for it. Chris choosing something he knows won’t work out gives him an easy escape, this way he only has low standards to live up to. This is proven with Chris’ later jobs. He sells vacuum cleaners, knitting machines, and magazines. They all seem pointless but to Chris it didn’t matter what was going on in his real life because he had an escape. Chris talks about wanting to be a “traveller” (58). In some way he is. His mental escape allows him to travel outside of his reality.
The passing of Vanessa’s father leads to a deeper understanding of Chris: “After my father died, the whole order of life was torn” (62). She stated that “for months she lived almost entirely within herself” (62). This is a direct parallel to Chris. Her understanding of Chris’ state gave her the realization of the falsehoods that he told her that she had once believed. She understood that Chris’ place of escape, Criss Cross Ranch, was all a fabricated safe place: “I guess I had known for some years now, without realizing it, that the horses had only ever existed in some other dimension” (63). When she finally got to go to Shallow Creek she saw the reality of it all. Chris’ home life was busy and loud. Full of so many people coming in and out that Vanessa “could not see how so many people could live there” (63). Chris had not changed though, he still took no part in it all. When it all got too much for him he would excuse himself. He would escape to the hayfields and simultaneously escape from himself too. After all these years it still seemed as though “nothing were going on around him” (65).
Chris left Shallow Creek months later to enlist in the army. This was unexpected of him since he could not even confront his own conflict. He was later discharged for violent behaviour and was sent to a mental hospital.Vanessa could not associate the word violent with Chris who had been “so much the reverse” (69). Chris’ struggle was summed up by Vanessa’s thoughts:
All his life’s choices had grown narrower and narrower. He had been forced to return to the alien lake of home, and when finally he saw a means of getting away, it could only be into a turmoil which appalled him and which he dreaded even more than he knew. (39)
The realization of Chris’ struggles by Vanessa ties the story together.
The story of Chris’ mental escape plays into his self perception. Chris’ conflict between his fantasy and reality begins to take over until he finally breaks. He jumps from illusion to real life so much so that he eventually gets lost in his mind and can’t come back out of it. His attempt to use fiction as his self-fulfillment slowly weighs more and more down on him. It’s hard for him to succeed as his choices grow narrower and he hits rock bottom, leaving reality entirely.