The reason that she and her Laurie (with baby Jennings) are attending the circus is that Ralph has received some money. Like the characters in “When We Were Nearly Young” and “Better Times”, Ralph seems to constantly be waiting for funds. And “The Circus” takes place after some “money had come”, so Ralph has bought tickets to the performance. (Readers have the sense that there were many other items on Chris’s mind – items other than circus tickets.)
The refrain – “We shall never see anything like it again” – is troubling. Not because the circus has been so incredible, the peak of circus-craft – this is no Cirque de Soleil performance – but because it implies that the conditions which have afforded this opportunity might not repeat themselves. There might not be any more money. And, if there is, it’s unlikely to coincide with the arrival of a circus.
So, although this short story does peek into circus life, it’s more about family life. About the way that experiences are drawn in the advertisements. About how we expect things to be. About how loving and supportive parents “might be” of their young charges. How loving and supportive parents “might be” of each other in the pursuit of raising a family and sustaining a committed relationship. Not everything is as advertised.
Meanwhile, Mavis Gallant’s own eye is attuned to details that someone else may have, at one time, dismissed as inconsequential. Her observation and her attention to detail is sophisticated. Something as seemingly inconsequential as the description of a drink – the way that grenadine curls in soda water like a red mist – is not only an image of beauty, but also a reminder of how something distinct in an environment can be quickly overwhelmed. It’s a reminder of how the everyday can obliterate the remarkable.