Windigo of the Wemistikoshiw The novel Three Day Road can be viewed as an explicit indicator as to the importance of sustaining cultural identity, and the consequences associated with its absence from any aspect of human life. The tale provides a salient setting through which this spiritual malfeasance is brought about, with much of its content consisting of the supremacy of the wemistikoshiw, or white man, over the Aboriginals in World War 1. The novel’s European setting manifests the primary cause for the spiritual bankruptcy of Elijah Weesacheejak, one of the story’s central figures and the novel’s primary thematic microcosm. Influenced deeply by Western ideals, he is said to be a windigo which, as explained by the aboriginal bushmaster, Niska, is characterized by: “…sadness so pure that it [shrivels] the human heart and [lets] something else grow in its place” (Boyden 261). A polar opposite to Elijah, Niska recognizes the necessity of spirituality rooted in tradition, and is able to identify the Windigo as a logical product of wemistikoshiw influence. Her nephew, Xavier, is defiantly against European conformity in much the same way, sacrificing physical well-being for the sake of the Cree culture which he cherishes and to which he hopes to return in the wake of the war. It is clear that each of these three characters is negatively affected by the widespread influence of the whites, albeit to different degrees. Each character’s amount of exposure to wemistikoshiw culture corresponds proportionately to both their bodily state by the novel’s end, and their specific levels of windigo-ism. Joseph Boyden’s Three Day Road illuminates the Windigo’s corruption of identity through the personalities of Xavier, Niska and Elijah via their cultural adherence, contrasting health, and dynamic relationships. Much like two sides of the same coin, Western and Aboriginal societies share a structural essence, but vary wildly in their fundamental ideals and respective emphases. Xavier is aware of this distinction between the two peoples, saying: “…I’m left wondering what connection there might be between their [the European] world and mine” (246), in a manner which would suggest that one must belong to one ‘world’ or another, but never both simultaneously. Xavier chooses to live by Aboriginal tradition, as exemplified through his frequent neglect of wemistikoshiw behaviours. A prevalent literary critic explains the significance of naming in this respect, exclaiming that the: “…various names assumed by or assigned to Xavier and Elijah signify to what extent their identities are able to transcend or fall victim to [the influence of the West]…“ (Gordon 7). The only Western name assigned to Xavier is ‘X’ in light of his extraordinary shooting precision (Boyden 109). Despite the name’s positive connotations, Bird discards it, keeping to his original alias, which is bestowed upon him by his cherished Aboriginal friends (360, 363). It is evident, then, that Xavier’s neglect of the wemistikoshiw ways runs deep, and even when facing external, culture-based adversity, becoming an outcast is always a preferable option to abandonment of his tradition. Unlike the other soldiers, Xavier never acquires even the slightest appetite for killing, believing it to be wasteful in the context of war, since there is nothing to be gained but fresh supplies of bloodshed (Bohr). Initially, Xavier is revolted by the sight of death soon after he witnesses it devastate a German, saying, “The image of the soldier’s head exploding makes may stomach churn” (Boyden 88). In order to remedy this spiritual deficit he associates with letting the lives of other be wasted, Bird turns to prayer, which keeps him centered and stable within the comfort of his cultural roots. Over the entire course of the novel, Xavier never once forgets the importance of his background in regards to his current situation, meaning that he remains metaphysically anchored in spite of his...
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