Diane Glancy’s Polar Breath explores the lonely death of the central character. Unnamed and unaccompanied except by spirits and memories of her dead husband, the protagonist is dragged into the beyond. Glancy’s depiction of nature as harsh and unrelenting, and her use of vivid imagery create a claustrophobic setting that does not relax until it has “closed [the protagonist] up.”
Glancy’s depiction of nature throughout the story suggests it is at odds with and exclusive from the unnamed protagonist. The anonymity of the main character further highlights her meaninglessness in the face of the power of the environment. “The birds chattered in the fir trees”, highlights an energy and life that is not accessible to the story’s character. “She wish[es] she could gather [the birds] all into her house”, but alas, she must enter alone. In fact, once she has gone into her kitchen, she notices that “the teabag looked like birdseed” perhaps echoing her wish that she could call them to her. Later in the passage, another bird is evoked, “the blue gas-flame of the blue jays’ heads”, as a “thought . . . she wanted to store in her head.” The birds, symbols of creatures perfectly comfortable in their surroundings despite the brutal cold, foreshadow the spirits that soon glide across her “floor without creaking”. Ultimately, the birds she wanted to invite in emerge as trapped within her own skull and their violent attempts at escape can only end in tragedy. “Inside her head, birds flew from the wall. They banged at the windows to get out.”
Birds are not the only natural images that highlight nature’s power and the protagonist’s limitations.