The Cost of Free Will
“The hardest thing to learn in life is which bridge to cross and which to burn.” David Russell
Deciding the path on which you wish to tread for the rest of your life is a difficult one and often complications arise. In this short story, the son is unsure of whether his chosen role is the one he truly wants. However, because of the decisions he has made, there is no way to go back across the already charred and blackened bridges of his past. The author develops the idea that when roles are pressed upon individuals, the result may be decisions that are not necessarily desirable to them. In Alistair MacLeod's "The Boat," the father sacrifices himself in order to give his son the opportunity to choose a life other than the one the mother favours. However, his death forces the son to make a choice that is traumatic for both the mother and the son. On one side of the equation, the narrator’s father has been a fisherman all his life, but not by choice. He does not love the sea and has no desire to stay there. He wishes for more than a small village can offer. The father was never “intended for a fisherman either physically or mentally” (MacLeod 460). He has many skin problems and his body is seemingly falling apart because of a lack of adaptation to the salt water. He also struggles because his mind does not adapt to the life of a fisherman. As discussed by Christian Riegel, this bodily rejection of the occupation is a manifestation of the poor combination of the father and the sea, as well as a manifestation of what the son could become (237). But in order to cope with his occupation and lifestyle, the father escapes through reading. The number of books owned is astounding, for there were so many “they filled a baffling and unknowable cave beneath the bed, and in the corner of the bureau they spilled from the walls and grew up from the floor” (MacLeod 453). The father continually gave reading material to his children and looked...
Cited: Duus-OtterströmF, Göran. "Freedom of Will and the Value of Choice”. Social Theory
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MacLeod, Alistair. "The Boat." The Nelson Introduction to Literature. Eds. Al Valleau
and Jack Finnbogason. Canada: Nelson, 2004. 451–462. Print.
Riegel, Christian. "Elegy and Mourning in Alistair MacLeod’s “The Boat”." Studies in
Short Fiction 35.3 (2003): 233-240. Web. 13 June 2011.
Russell, David. Interview by Manuel Barrueco. The Guitar Times. November 1998. Web.
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Stevens, David. “Writing Region Across the Border: Two Stories of Breece Pancake and
Alistair MacLeod”. Studies in Short Fiction 33.2 (1996): 263-71. Web. !2 June 2011
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