What Is the Theme of “Horses of the Night” by Margaret Laurence?

The theme of Margaret Laurence’s story, “Horses of the Night,” is that an individual’s perception of life influences his or her fate. One of the protagonists, Chris, suffers from depression and tries to cope by pretending he is rich and fantasizing that he owns a ranch. A younger, innocent character named Vanessa is deceived by the charade but in the end Chris’s despair is his undoing.

“Horses in the Night” is set during the Great Depression. Vanessa feels the despair and drought that pervade her community and yet she is able to treat these realities as “abstract, malevolent gods” whose evil she senses only “superstitiously” and abstractly. Chris’s sense of hopelessness is deepened by his refusal to confront his true feelings, while Vanessa manages to overcome reality by facing it. The title of the story is taken from a scene in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” where Queen Mab, described by Mercutio as the bringer of dreams, reacts malevolently by blistering the lips and knotting the hair of maidens who dream of kisses. Mercutio’s fantasy foretells the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet just as the story foretells the depression that would lead the author to commit suicide after she was diagnosed with lung cancer.