Critical Analysis of Gallant’s short story “When We Were Nearly Young”.
“When We Were Nearly Young” is one of many Gallant’s short stories published in the New Yorker magazine during her time of self-imposed exile in Europe (post her Journalism work with the Montreal Standard). She was already living in Europe for about 9 years when the piece was actually published. As a writer waiting for her payment to arrive from her agent, Gallant as a cosmopolitan lived, learned and interacted with the locals.
Published in October 15th 1960 edition of the New Yorker, “When We Were Nearly Young” is a semi-autobiographical of Gallant’s living in Madrid with three other individuals in the same money struggle situation; Pablo, Carlos and Pilar. The men shared a room, Pilar the widow lived alone and so did the narrator. Methodologically approaching the text knowing that Gallant (the narrator) lived abroad creates a deeper connection and understanding of the short story.
Although the four may have something in common which is being insolvent or moneyless, the narrator is the only one who is actually waiting for her payments to arrive in apropos to the three other characters “just waiting” for something to happen. Hunger in the story is never usually fulfilled until the narrator actually receives her payment and invites the three other characters for food and drinks but gets a scorn because she was actually onto something (waiting for her payment). (Colligan)
All the characters are “hungry for something”; whether it is money, a change to happen or an easier way out. The narrator’s fate is different than the others which approves the final scene when Carlos says “You’re not like us” thus showing and stating out loud the difference between the three characters and the narrator. (Colligan)
The writing of the diaries is an interesting remark of how the other characters share before even writing or even read out their entries as oppose to the narrator keeping it a sacred development. On the other hand, Gallant also kept a diary from 1952 to 2007 and later published by the co-editorial team of the New Yorker magazine called “The Hunger Diaries”.
The diary is a self-portrait of gallant and the narrator, for example one entry of “The Hunger Diaries” shows that Gallant “did not have any money or no food, Fredrick came” and they shared “coffee and a bun apiece”; very reminiscent of the narrator sharing a piece of chocolate with Pilar. The depiction of poverty and different types of hunger varies between characters and is different amongst them. For example, Pilar fantasizes about the museum as her home and sweets, eating macaroni with sugar.
A socio economic reading of the berserk male figure in the restaurant eating is an anecdote of what could happen or what is the outcome of poverty. The short story speaks of different kinds of poverty and hunger, life of a cosmopolitan writer living abroad, and the fate or outcomes by circumstances of Spaniard individuals living in a certain way, time and place in Madrid.
When writing and publishing this story, Gallant probably experienced a similar encounters and meets with the locals as her diary reveals. The story is published in the New Yorker because the magazine is filled with cosmopolitan identities and notions like travelling to fancy vacations or beaches, drinking champagne and enjoying the high culture. Gallant’s stories fit because they are easy to read and conclude with a happy ending, at least for the narrator’s case. Having a biographical insight of the writer like knowing she lived abroad and was truly on the lines of poverty enlightens the stories with excitement knowing it was a “real story”.
Colligan, Colette. “Mavis Gallant & the New Yorker” English 392 Seminars. Simon Fraser University. Vancouver. 18 January. 2017. Seminar.