The Theme of Survival:
Death by the Canadian Landscape
ELA A30 Section B
Esterhazy High School
May 15, 2015
Survival is difficult to achieve in the adverse conditions of the Canadian landscape. The harsh land tends to affect man-kind psychically as well as psychologically. Only the people who have experienced Canada’s unrelenting conditions can truly comprehend the difficulty of survival. In an essay by Margaret Atwood (2001), it is proven that a common theme in Canadian literature is physical and psychological survival, which often leads to death. The first example is the poem “David” (Birney, 2002) where a day of mountain climbing with a friend turned fatal. Furthermore, the rigid land took the life of a husband who walked ten miles in a blizzard only to find his wife sleeping with their neighbour in the short story “The Painted Door” (Ross, 1990). Finally, it is shown that death is not necessarily the answer in the case of suffering in the movie The Englishman’s Boy (Smith, 2008). Canadian literature does not sugar-coat the grim truth that the landscape does not take hostages. In the poem “David” (Birney, 2002), Earl Birney shows how physical and physiological survival is a common theme in Canadian literature through the fact that the mountain did much more than take David hostage. David and his best friend Bob were surveying in the Rocky Mountains and went mountain climbing in their free time (Birney, 2002). First, Bob slipped while staring at the beautiful landscape below him (Birney, 2002). In this case, Bob states, “then I turned to look north/…and one foot gave” (Birney, 2002, p. 58). The mountains get slippery because the higher one goes, the colder it gets, and so one wrong move could send anyone to their death (Birney, 2002). Even the most experienced animals, such as mountain goats (which are born to the mountains), can slip and fall (Birney, 2002). Bob was lucky that David was there to help him regain his balance; however, saving Bob caused David to slip and fall off the side of the mountain (Birney, 2002). As a result, Bob had to make the tough decision to help his best friend, David, to die or let him suffer and try to get help (Birney, 2002). To demonstrate, Bob narrates, “I could not look at him more and said, ‘Then I’ll stay with you,’” (Birney, 2002, p.58) to show the reader how difficult the decision was for him. Bob did not want David to die and he certainly did not want to be the one to push him off the mountain to his death (Birney, 2002). David wanted to die because he was paralyzed and he would never be able to walk or climb again; however, Bob wanted to try to save David’s life (Birney, 2002). In conclusion, Earl Birney (2002) demonstrated the Canadian theme of physical and psychological survival in his poem “David” through the death of David and the guilt of Bob. Sinclair Ross (1990) shows the reader how physical and psychological survival is a common theme in Canadian literature in his short story, “The Painted Door” with the suicide of John and the guilt Ann felt due to his death. First, Ann decided that her husband, John, would not be home that night because there was a storm and he was about ten miles away at his father’s house (Ross, 1990). Ann decided that she should brave the storm and do chores on the farm (Ross, 1990). In this situation, “the snow was in her mouth and nostrils, inside her scarf and up her sleeves” (Ross, 1990, p. 234). The storm was too much for Ann to handle and she ended up going back to the house before she could even start doing the chores (Ross, 1990). To clear her mind while her husband was away, Ann painted the bedroom door white (Ross, 1990). Later on, their neighbour Steven came over to play cards (Ross, 1990). Ann ended up sleeping with Steven and she thought she had a dream that John had walked in on them (Ross, 1990). However, it wasn’t a dream; John had seen Ann and Steven in bed together (Ross, 1990)....
References: Birney, E. (2002). David. In R. Brown and D. Bennett (Eds.), A new anthology of Canadian literature in English (pp. 54-61). Toronto: Oxford University Press.
Ross, S. (1990). The painted door. In A. Forrie, P. O’Rourke, & G. Sorestad (Eds.), The last map is the heart (pp.47-67). Saskatoon, SK: Thistledown Press.
Smith, J. (Director). (2008). The Englishman’s Boy [Motion Picture]. Canada: Mongrel Media.
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