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“Windflower” by Gabrielle Roy Essay

“You never get enough of what you don’t need to make you happy” Erick Hoffer. Through out history, society has supported science to look forward for inventions to improve conformity in life; this fact has changed humanity’s priorities and therefore, the world itself. In other words, our science development has always had the destination for easier and longer life; however, we do not notice how this is all about materialism and how it devalues our sense for life. In Windflower by Gabrielle Roy, the Inuit culture is expressed as peaceful and free, but in contrast the white way of living is considered as hostile and imprisoning and has a negative impact on Elsa Kumachuk’s life and her relationships. Materialism has altered her life and in this case, because of her innocence and ignorance, in an unfortunate way, leaving others with the consequences of her mistakes.

To begin, Elsa had lived her entire life with her culture, the Inuit or Eskimo. However, her family had been fairly influenced by the white culture and as an example, Elsa’s attendance to school and Winnie’s habit for smoking. When Jimmy is born, Elsa learns about the facilities the white culture offered when raising a child. She’s attracted to these material necessities which enslaves her and changes her judgement about her preferences in life. Even though, she tries to find a middle point between her culture and the white culture she’s constantly being possessed by materialism and this eventually shaped her as she matured with the time. “Materialism refers to the importance people attach to worldly possessions… If worldly possessions are viewed as a part of the self, it follows that an unintentional loss of possessions should be regarded as a loss of the self”. (“Study Finds Craving Material Things”. 7/2/2001.)

This quote can be referred to the way Elsa, without understanding the influence material possessions had on her, was carried by its attraction and an attachment to these. “She was dumbfounded to find every cent gone before she noticed” (Windflower 29). Elsa has the desire for many luxuries and in order to get these she had to work as a slave and then find some comfort or reward in the results. This situation deteriorates Elsa’s appearance and she looks skinny, worn out and very tired. She hardly has time for her son or herself but she supposes that Jimmy is content having all those expensive toys and clothes. She was very young, naive and because of the appearance of Madame Beaulieu and her family she wanted to follow their way of living. “Her life was being used up, moreover, attempting to keep up with progress, a difficult master progress: did anyone know what it wanted and where it was leading people?” (Windflower 35).

Elsa felt these changes were an improvement in her life and were leading to progress; however, she did not know what progress meant to her. She wanted to resemble the wealthy ness and the self-confidence that white people had but she started to turn into the extremes for the Eskimos, “…She bought a playpen like the one in which Madame Beaulieu imprisoned her youngest child…”, this representing the imprisonment of the white culture, “…Never before had seen such an interference with liberty in an Eskimo family.” (Windflower 34). This is to demonstrate the difference between the two cultures and how their difference makes it impossible for Elsa to find a middle point between the two.

Material Possessions imprisoned her; she had to work as a slave to be able to buy these unnecessary luxuries. Consequently, these new changes in her point of view altered her personality and life but finally she realized how pointless was to have these luxuries and have fake happiness, “Her princely hut and the luxury in which she had lived now seemed to her shackles; she could not understand how she had endured them.” (Windflower 135)

Materialism and imprisonment of possessions have damaged not only Elsa but her son, Jimmy and therefore, their relationship. This relationship was built on material conformity and as a result turned out to be unnecessary and no longer satisfying. “Ambitious striving is essentially based on glamour and illusion so often leading to disenchantment when the contender eventually achieves his/her objective, only to find his/her attachment to be an empty shell.” (Jurriaanse, Aart. “Esoteric Tenets – Human shortcomings: Material Desire” 29 November 2002). The way Elsa sees Jimmy, she shows how the materialistic world of the white has made her see her son as a precious possession that is only hers and will be there always for her. Because of Elsa’s willingness to content Jimmy by giving him whatever he desired, he is over-indulged and looses respect for her because of her almost remote courage and self-confidence.

In relation to the quote above, we can mention that Jimmy always gets what he wants from his mother and he never struggles or even tries to achieve a goal by himself, also, she lies to herself when she supposedly finds happiness in the material comfort because it is just a simulated content that when is achieved the surprise is gone. When she buys a playpen for him, she is imitating, once again, the white way of life but doesn’t admit the drastic change this imprisonment would cause on Jimmy. He views good life as having luxuries, and happiness as having no necessities. He has also become very materialistic and doesn’t see life in the holistic way but in the way to make it more comfortable. Since Elsa had power over him for being his mother, Jimmy also felt power over her for being her son, when he meets the Eskimo guy at the church Jimmy disliked him because he felt he was going to take his mother away from him.

“He may have intuitively sensed a threat to the tyrannical power he held over her since his birth.” Imprisonment of possessions influenced the way Jimmy observed his mother as a possession. He felt like she was something that would indulge him whenever he wanted and when the Eskimo boy appeared in their lives he felt jealous and insecure, Jimmy had certain power over her since his birth because he knew how precious he was for her and the way she would do anything for him. Elsa’s efforts to be a good mother for Jimmy were since his birth, “I don’t want you to spoil him… and make him impossible for me to handle,” (Windflower 20), this is what she used to tell people who tried to pamper him. However, she didn’t notice that the material possessions were less important than the care she had to provide him with.

As well as Jimmy, Winnie who was Elsa’s mother also had been affected with the duress of the white culture, also, their relationship fluctuated as Elsa realized the difference between the two cultures. Elsa describes Winnie as someone who never had a desire for progress and as the Koksoak, flows with no certain destiny. “A person who does not know, respect and love themselves does not know who they are and as a result, sooner or later, attaches more value to that which is visible on the surface, as opposed to the part which is invisible (with the physical eye) and lies beneath the surface.” (Muhammed, Cedric. “Material Love”. .) Elsa’s innocence and immaturity lead her to refuse her roots and interest in possessions of the white culture; she did not see the damage her neglect caused in Winnie. This neglect was due to Winnie’s appearance, as inferior and ignorant and Elsa’s view of the whites as superior and clever. However, she doesn’t recognize the meaning of happiness, the Eskimo way of life means happiness and freedom and the white way of life means material satisfaction and conformity.

This difference affected them and their unity as mother and child. As Elsa’s priorities changed, so did Winnie’s. Constantly, they fought for Jimmy’s love. “She realized now that Winnie was going to steal Jimmy right away from her if she did not put a stop to it.” (Windflower 29). This was when Elsa worked at Madam Beaulieu’s house and had no time for her son, she had Winnie and Archibald to take care of him but he started to have a stronger attachment for his grandparents than for his mother and this created antagonism between Elsa and Winnie and resulted in damage to their relationship. “Elsa stared her down. It was all very well for her mother to be so easy-going; all her life she had been satisfied with what she had and had never tried to improve herself.”

Elsa’s point of view about her mother is disrespectful and inferior to her. Her mother is the person she would never want to resemble, however, after Jimmy leaves her she became just like Winnie and noticed how pointless it was to settle material goals in order to find her happiness. “…she had told them she had more than was necessary, the less one owned the better.” (Windflower 135). After being possessed by her own material desire and after the changes influenced everyone around her, she notices that the comfort that she had was fake and sham.

To conclude, the free flowing pace of the Koksoak village represented the liberty of the Eskimo way of life and the imprisonment of a playpen represented the materialism of the white culture. This confinement was introduced in Elsa’s life in several ways and created a negative change in herself and her connection to the world. In her attempt to find a middle point for the two cultures, she risked and sacrificed her motherhood and relationship with her mother following this cycle of life. “…But she had to admit that the pastor was right when he said one could not have everything one wanted in this life and freedom too.” (Windflower 25)


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