When most people hear the phrase “double vision,” they naturally think of seeing double images, a situation which may occur when one is drunk or, perhaps, injured in some way. I recall an old cartoon, for example, where a boxer got hit so hard that when he looked at his opponent, he saw two faces instead of one and wasn’t sure which one to hit. And while a physical case of double vision can be serious and disconcerting, you can use a literary double vision in your writing to share alternative perspectives and an additional insight, often called an epiphany.
With a literary double vision, you’re essentially looking at an experience or a situation from two different perspectives: usually from a youthful/innocent view first followed by an older/experienced view later on. A good example of double vision occurs in the short poem “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden. In the first 12 lines of the poem, the narrator describes from a child’s perspective the tasks that his father performed for him: “my father got up early . . . made banked fires blaze . . . had driven out the cold and polished my good shoes as well” (291).
Later in the poem, though, that same narrator looks back at that situation from an adult’s perspective and finally realizes how often he took his father for granted. He admits that “no one ever thanked him” (291) and he closes with a repeated rhetorical question: “What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?”
A while back, I wrote an essay about our family trip to Italy, and without initially intending to do so, I found myself using double vision to write about my Italian grandfather, Annunziato LaBate.
Growing up, I hardly knew him, and our only real conversation became a disappointment because I thought he was going to get me a “cookie,” but he returned with a “coffee” instead. Thus, I often saw him as old, out of touch, and unable to communicate in English.
I thought about Grandpa again 50 years later when I visited the town where he grew up, and, then, and only then, did I realize and appreciate the gift he had given me by being brave enough to leave his home for America. I concluded my essay with this thought: “I am so grateful for his courage and his sense of adventure, and I feel truly blessed to have grown up in a remarkable family, in a wonderful city, and in an extraordinary country. Thank you, Grandpa.”
As a young boy growing up in Amsterdam, New York, I never really knew my grandfather LaBate very well. He didn’t speak…
Have you ever used double vision in your writing? I bet you probably have, even if you weren’t familiar with that term when you wrote. For any time you look back at a previous experience and contrast what you felt or believed then versus the way you feel or believe today about that same, or a similar, experience, you are using double vision. And generally those previous thoughts have come back to you because your more mature perspective has allowed you to reach what James Joyce often referred to as an “epiphany,” a sudden realization or a lightbulb moment that you want to share with your readers.
In his short story “Eveline,” Joyce writes about a character who, like my grandfather, was also about to leave Europe for America. In Eveline’s case, her mother has passed, and Eveline is left to care for her father. When a sailor named Frank begins to court her, though, he promises to take her away, and Eveline actually makes it to the dock and is ready to board the ship. At the last moment, however, “She gripped with both hands at the iron railing” (41), and she can’t bring herself to leave. Perhaps she recalls “the promise to her mother, her promise to keep the home together as long as she could” (40). Or perhaps, she dwells too much in the past and cannot see the future. In any event, Frank leaves without her, and “Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition” (41).
So as we all continue to deal with the Coronavirus, perhaps you can analyze this unique environment and use double vision to find a new insight on life, one that might not have occurred otherwise. Then, you, too, can share your insight, your epiphany, with your readers in a poem, an essay, or a short story of your own.
Hayden, Robert. “Those Winter Sundays.” Readings for Writers, 10th ed., edited by Jo Ray McCuen and Anthony C. Winkler, Harcourt, 2001, p. 291.
Joyce, James. “Eveline.” Dubliners, edited by Robert Scholes, The Viking Press, 1961, pp. 36- 41.