Exulting to the sky

Read this snippet carefully and notice how it affects you.

Gone at forty-four seconds. I did a quick calculation. Assuming it was flying nearly vertical, Auk XXXI had disappeared at an altitude of thirty-one thousand feet, nearly six miles high. I became aware of movement beside me, and I was astonished to see Dad prancing along the slack, waving his old hat in his hand. He was exulting to the sky.

"Beautiful! Beautiful!"

As Auk XXXI raced across the sunlit sky on that glorious day, I instead watched my dad, and waited patiently, and with hope, for him to put his arm around my shoulder and tell me, at last, that I had done something good.

How do you feel when you read this snippet? What makes you feel the way you do?
  • Characters: Homer and his dad.
  • Conflict: Homer wants his dad to say he did something good, but his dad doesn't support his rocket-building.
  • Context: Successful rocket launch, crowd of spectators.

The mood is bittersweet (as in Furia):

  • Lots of upbeat words: astonished, prancing, exulting, beautiful, raced, sunlit, glorious, good.
  • But mixed with downbeat words: instead, waited, patiently, hope.
  • There's a lot of motion in this snippet: gone, quick, flying, vertical, disappeared, movement.
  • But there's also a steady, calm rhythm in the language, which offsets that motion.

Homer feels astonished, patient, hopeful—which he tells us in narration.

What's interesting is the trigger for these positive feelings is not the successful rocket he's just launched, it's the reaction of his father.

There are two loops in this snippet, one for Homer and one for his dad.

Homer's loop

  • Trigger: Dad prancing and exulting to the sky, shouting "Beautiful!".
  • Thought: Want him to tell me I have done something good.
  • Emotion: Astonished, patient, hopeful.
  • Behaviour: Ignore the rocket, watch his dad, wait.

Dad's loop

  • Trigger: Successful launch.
  • Emotion: Exultant (from Homer's point of view).
  • Behaviour: Prancing, waving his hat, shouting "Beautiful!"

This is a pretty effective scene because of the combination of contrast and understatement.

Like Furia, it concerns a teenager having a moment of victory which is overshadowed by their relationship with a parent.

However, it gets us in closer than the description of Camila celebrating with her team in Furia, probably because it only has to show us Homer and his dad (whereas Furia shows us a whole team, and her mother isn't present).

This means we feel Homer's emotions a little more intensely.


Notice how Hickam leaves space for our own feelings:

  • He doesn't tell us his emotions regarding the launch. He gives us enough facts to infer the launch is spectacularly successful, and we are able to feel good about that without being told to feel that way.
  • He is restrained in describing his feelings about his dad. He says he was astonished, which is a strong emotion, but after that he talks about patience and hope.

Do we feel contrasting emotions beyond what Homer feels?

Probably not.

As with Camila celebrating her team's win while wishing for her mother, Homer experiences mixed emotions and so we feel mixed emotions too.

And like Esperanza leaning out her window yearning for a connection, we are so aligned with Homer's point of view in this scene that we don't have the wider context to feel anything beyond what he feels.