Death by Landscape and the Canadian Identity

Topics: Canada, First Nations, Ontario Pages: 6 (1847 words) Published: August 5, 2013
Death by Landscape

“Death by Landscape” shows subtle, but nonetheless significant, qualities regarding Canadian culture. The author (Margaret Atwood) uses Canadian landscape, Native culture, and character attributes to symbolize the Canadian identity. The struggle between Native Canadians and European Canadians to define what makes somebody Canadian is a major theme in this story. The historically inaccurate depiction of Native practices, as well as the less than flattering depiction of Native people, is an all too real issue which is alluded to in this story. Another major reference to Canadian identity is the depiction of the differences between Americans and Canadians. The characters, Lucy and Lois, symbolize Americans and Canadians. Through the actions and reactions of these characters, the reader comes to realize how the wilderness affects the Canadian mindset as opposed to the American mindset. The final major reference to Canadian culture in this reading is how the wilderness embodies itself in Lois’s mind. The wilderness becomes part of Lois through tragedy. This story expresses the idea that the wilderness is part of every Canadian, if only by the smallest degree.

“Death by Landscape” shows the differences between Native and European culture, the tension that results from these differences, and how these two cultures affect the mindset of Canadians. It is important to note the mockery that Native culture suffers in this story. Although the author uses this mockery to demonstrate the wrongdoings of white Canadians, the affront to Native culture is nonetheless there. This quotation shows a “re-creation” of an Aboriginal ceremony by the Camp Manitou staff and campers:

#1

The simple language and historically inaccurate attire mentioned in this passage display the mockery that Natives have suffered at the hands of Europeans in the past. The reason for this over-exaggerated almost cartoon versions of Natives is simple. European Canadians want to feel more connected with the wilderness. They want to feel ownership over something that morally, is not entirely theirs. The idea of a stupid, savage, “Indian” has been accepted by so many Canadians in the past because it makes European Canadians feel they are the first civilized “pioneers” of the land. When in fact, they are and always will be second. This longing to be the pioneers or true “owners” of the Canadian wilderness has also brought European Canadians to the other end of the spectrum. Many want to conform to, or emulate many Native cultures and practices. The Campers at Manitou do this, however inaccurately, but why? It seems paradoxical that a European Canadian camp/ society would want to emulate a culture they seem to show such disdain for. The next quotation demonstrates the lacking that many European Canadians feel, when they consider that their roots are not truly in the Canadian wild. In this passage Lois represents the campers, and no doubt European Canadian society as a whole.

#2

European Canadians often emulate Native practices because they see qualities in Aboriginal culture that they lack in themselves. These practices are often overly-romanticized much like the exaggerated sense of duty that Cappie gives the campers before their canoe trip. This want to become “Indians” and urge to re-create Native culture stems from the insecurity Europeans feel about their belonging in Canada. Much like Lucy, they see that their ancestors did not truly conquer the wilderness. White Canadians feel they have to “become” Indians just to be at home here. The camp both mocks and emulates Native culture for the same reason; they want to feel like the rightful residents of Canada. They achieve this at the expense of Native culture. The next quotation is taken from the included article “Indians of Childhood” and expands on idea of Canadians both demonizing and conforming to Native practices.

#3

The reason Native cultures are both mocked admired at...
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