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Alistair McLeod The Boat
Topics: Short story, Family, Marriage, The Passage, A Story / Pages: 7 (1487 words) / Published: Nov 29th, 2014

A Boat to the New World

And I saw then, that summer, many things that I had seen all my life as if for the first time and I thought that perhaps my father had never been intended for a fisherman physically or mentally. At least not in the manner of my uncles; he had never really loved it. And I remembered that, one evening in his room when we were talking about David Copperfield, he had said that he had always wanted to go to the university and I had dismissed it then in the way one dismisses one 's father saying he would like to be a tight-rope walker, and we had gone on to talk about the Peggottys and how they loved the sea. And I thought then to myself that there were many things wrong with all of us and all our lives and I wondered why my father, who was himself an only son, had not married before he was forty and then I wondered why he had. I even thought that perhaps he had had to marry my mother and checked the dates on the flyleaf of the Bible where I learned that my oldest sister had been born a prosaic eleven months after the marriage, and
I felt myself then very dirty and debased for my lack of faith and for what I had thought and done. And then there came into my heart a very great love for my father and I thought it was very much braver to spend a life doing what you really do not want rather than selfishly following forever your own dreams and inclinations. And I knew then that I could never leave him alone to suffer the iron-tipped harpoons which my mother would forever hurl into his soul because he was a failure as a husband and a father who had retained none of his own. And I felt that I had been very small in a little secret place within me and that even the completion of high school was for me a silly shallow selfish dream. So I told him one night very resolutely and very powerfully that I would remain with him as long as he lived and we would fish the sea together. And he made no protest but only smiled through the cigarette smoke that wreathed his bed and replied, "I hope you will remember what you 've said." (MacLeod, Alistair “The Boat 233-234)

In this passage, the narrator finally opens his eyes to the world in which he lives, and begins to truly see who, and what, his father really is.

“The Boat” is a story about the passage of life into the new

world. No longer must you do with your life what has been

passed down, but rather yet, it is your own choice. That is what

this particular passage really captures about the short story.

Before the narrator –an obvious juvenile- had lived in his own

tiny, secluded world, as do most kids, unaware of the world

around him. It is the end of the summer fishing season, with

only the fall months yet to come before winter arrives. The

narrator learns many new things in these summer months that

he had not paid attention to in his earlier years, both about his

life and his father.

It is very evident from the first sentence of the passage, “And

I saw then, that summer, many things that I had seen all my life

as if for the first time and I thought that perhaps my father had

never been intended for a fisherman physically or mentally.”

(MacLeod, Alistair The Boat 233) that this had been a summer

unlike no other. The narrator sees for the first time that his

father, the fisherman, really didn’t even enjoy fishing. When

the father had been a child, life decisions such as work had not

been as difficult as it would be today. In part, because the

choices were quite limited. In most families, trades were

passed down from generation to generation, whether you liked

it or not. It was simpler and more cost efficient than to learn a

new line of work.

In those times, having your own dreams and desires was

considered selfish. A son did what his father did, the same as

his father before him. Which is why the girls of the family

leaving came as a shock to the other members of the family,

because it simply never happened. When the narrator recalls

his father once telling him of his aspirations of going to

university, the thought of such an occurrence was

unfathomable. Alistair McLeod writes “In the way one

dismisses one 's father saying he would like to be a tight-rope

walker”. (233) The symbolism of this metaphor really shows in

true light what having your own dreams meant to those

around you. It may have seemed like a joke, but in all

seriousness it was the truth.

One unusual feature of Alistair McLeod’s style of writing is

evident in this passage. In the first sentence of each of the first

three paragraphs of this passage, he begins with the word

“And”. What I feel he is trying to portray with this is a sense of

time. The story begins in the present, jumps to the far past, and

then builds up back to the present, sometimes moving ahead

months with just a few sentences. But these paragraphs, which

show the realization of the man that the narrator’s father is, I

feel are meant to happen all at once. That this realization came

in a matter of minutes, and it was equally expressed in that

manner. The story for the most part feels rushed to cover a

timeline in a certain amount of words, but in this passage it

slows down to show the importance that it pertains to the

story as a whole.

Alistair MacLeod writes, in the viewpoint of the narrator,

“…I wondered why my father, who was himself an only son,

had not married before he was forty and then I wondered why

he had” (233). The fact that the father was an only son means

that there was no other child in the family to become a

fisherman, giving him the title by default. It did not matter

what he wanted to do, he was probably prepped as a young

boy by being taken out on the boat and learning the ropes. This

is a vital piece of information to understand just how much the

father was like his son when he was a child. As far as marriage

is concerned, I think it can be thought of much in the same way

as a king of a civilization. An heir must be born to keep the

throne in the family.

The most powerful part of the passage in relation to the

story is by far the last two sentences. “So I told him one night

very resolutely and very powerfully that I would remain with

him as long as he lived and we would fish the sea together. And

he made no protest but only smiled through the cigarette

smoke that wreathed his bed and replied, "I hope you will

remember what you 've said." (MacLeod 234) Although we can

never tell if the narrator picks up on what the father means, I

personally think he is alluding to the fact that he himself made

the exact same realization that his going to university was a

selfish thing to do, and he told his father he would stay home

and become a fisherman. Of course, being an older man, the

help of his son would be greatly appreciated. It’s just that

wants his son to be fully aware that he is making a

monumental decision, one that he too ultimately made,

probably quite hastily, that he has grown to sometimes regret.

It is true to say that he accepts it, but does not necessarily

agree with it.

In conclusion, we see the narrator really grow as a

person in just a few short paragraphs. He puts what he feels

are his own selfish aspirations behind him for the greater good

of his family, most importantly his father. It is also evident that

times have drastically changed, but yet the narrator has not

fully had the chance to comprehend that he could be like his

sisters and follow his own dreams. Finally, the narrator sees

his father in a new light, one different than what he had seen in

his previous years. He was a man that had devoted his life to

his family, and not to himself. He was a very brave man to take

the oath and commit his life to the sea, on the all-to familiar

boat, for the rest of his days.

Ryan Hillier

Works Cited

Macleod, Alistair. The Boat (1968). The harbrace anthology of short fiction (2012): 223-235. Print

Cited: Macleod, Alistair. The Boat (1968). The harbrace anthology of short fiction (2012): 223-235. Print

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