Analysis of Holling C. Holling's Paddle to the Sea Using Northrop Frye's Theory of Garrison Mentality

Pages: 6 (2196 words) Published: December 8, 2011
Analysis of Holling C. Holling’s Paddle to the Sea Using Northrup Frye’s Theory of Garrision Mentality

Holling C. Holling’s Paddle to the Sea is a novel about the adventures of a small wooden canoe carving named Paddle-to-the-Sea. This novel is also presented as a short movie produced by Canadian filmmaker Bill Mason under the National Film Board of Canada. The story begins with a young boy living in an isolated cabin in Nipigon Country. Carving a piece of pine wood, the boy creates Paddle who is a small wooden carving of a Native Canadian sitting in a canoe. The bottom of the canoe has instructions carved into it asking anyone who finds Paddle to put him back in the water. The rest of the novel describes Paddles adventure as he makes his way through the Great Lakes all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Distinctive themes often appear in Canadian literature but it is also quite difficult to pinpoint these themes. In this case, Northrop Frye’s essay “Conclusion to a Literary History of Canada” will be used to help analyze the material presented in Paddle to the Sea. The purpose of this analysis is to demonstrate how Holling’s novel supports Frye’s theory of garrison mentality. The garrison mentality explains how fear of the vast Canadian landscape and the intimidating presence of the United States are included in the Canadian identity. This theory is supported by the topics of nature, the frontier life, formative shared experiences, stereotypes, and regionalism, all of which are evident in Paddle to the Sea.

To begin with, the battering weather and the many creatures that Paddle has to face is evidence of Holling’s use of nature. In the NFB film, Paddle is observed by a chipmunk and a small bird. He is harassed by seagulls, a frog, and a garter snake. Later in the movie he even encounters larger woodland creatures such as a deer and a beaver. Paddle is also thrown around in the rivers which he travels on and at one point has a close encounter with a whirlpool. Throughout the book, Holling gives many rich descriptions of the various creatures that Paddle meets and the habitat which they live in. Again Paddle is investigated many times by animals, like how the “two wolves came to sniff at Paddle; then a wolverine and a weasel” (Holling 5). Paddle also faces other natural phenomenon such as forest fires and ice storms. It is noticeable that all of Paddle’s encounters with animals harbour in a sense of danger and threat. Frye’s essay explains that unlike American conquest which involves human conflict, Canadian conquest “has been mainly of the unconscious forces of nature” (Frye 14). Canadians view their own country as a place “where the winters are so cold and where conditions of life have so often been bleak and comfortless” (Frye 14). This is exactly the case when Paddle gets stuck in the ice during the winter, nearly destroyed in a forest fire, and almost completely lost during the storms in the Great Lakes. These elements of nature prove to be terrifying to the Canadian garrison mentality which so desperately seeks to defend itself against them.

After nature, the frontier life is another topic that is covered in Holling’s story. Paddle’s birthplace is deep in the Canadian wilderness, in a little cabin high above the sea level. In the movie, the only two distinct areas of frontier life are depicted as fishermen out in the sea and a lighthouse by the sea. In the book however, frontier life is depicted as burly French-Canadian lumberjacks working in a sawmill. At one point, Paddle even embarks on “a sixty mile run by dog sled to The Soo” (Holling 32). When Paddle reaches different cities, there is mention of enormous oil factories, coal mines, and steel mines, all of which are included in the illustrations as well. With these descriptions mentioned above it is not difficult to see that Holling is trying to convey the image of life in the frontier as an arduous task. Frye’s essay also points out how Canada has advanced...

Bibliography: "Paddle to the Sea by Bill Mason - NFB." Watch Documentaries and Animated Films Online - 24 Apr. 2008. Web. 30 Nov,2010.<>.
Holling, Holling Clancy. Paddle to the Sea. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
Frye, Northrop. From "Conclusion to a Literary History of Canada”. Unhomely States: Theorizing English-Canadian Postcolonialism. ed. Sugars, Cynthia Conchita. Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview, 2004. 9-19.
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