Development of society has forced the Native culture to vanish due to the break their tradition has undergone in the past. The Natives were forced to adapt the white tradition thinking it would benefit them in the long-run. Both “The Loons” by Margaret Laurence and “Compatriots” by Emma Lee Warrior portray similar messages about the Natives. The main characters Hilda and Vanessa represent ignorance because of their stereotypical nature towards the culture. However, as Vanessa matures she goes through a realization and understands the sorrow and pain of Piquette and her tradition other than herself. Vanessa’s final understanding of Piquette’s life and culture symbolizes the loons. Both short stories reveal the lack of knowledge and understanding the white society knows about the Natives.
The perception that Vanessa classifies Piquette as shows how ignorant and narrow-minded she is as a child. The knowledge young Vanessa has about the Natives are based on stereotypes from her peers, which only consists of their physical appearance and territory. “It seems to me that Piquette must be in the same way a daughter of the forest, a kind of junior prophetess of the wilds, who might impart me, if I took the right approach, some of the secrets which she undoubtedly knew-where the whirlpool made her nest, how the coyote reared her young, or whatever it was that it said in Hiawatha” (Laurence 112).
This description of Native life shows the reader that Vanessa really has no clue what Piquette’s life is like, she may live in a forest but her secrets are dark and deep. Vanessa thinks that if she leaves Piquette with a good first impression then she’d reveal those secrets to her. Young Vanessa most likely picked up this stereotypical opinion from her surroundings, which is seemingly a vision from the white society’s point of view. However, Vanessa’s perspective is limited because she is born as part of the white culture. Due to Piquette constantly brushing Vanessa aside when she attempts to be friendly kills Vanessa’s beliefs to what it means to be a Native. In addition, Hilda as well shows ignorance towards the Natives.
Hilda also has an ignorant view of the Native culture. Hilda is anxious to learn about the Indians and their tradition as she follows Lucy around seeking for “real” Native experiences. She searches for Helmut in hopes of fulfilling her desire to understand the complex history and modern day reconstruction of the Native culture. “’I want to see him,’ Hilda said, ’I heard about him and I read a book he wrote. He seems to know a lot about the Indians, and he’s been accepted into their religious society. I hope he can tell me things I can take home. People in Germany are really interested in Indians. They even have clubs’” (Warrior 171-172). Hilda believes that Helmut knows a lot of information about the Native’s lifestyle due to the fact that he wrote a book about them and also dresses like them.
Her being narrow-minded blocks the true perception of Helmut being phony because the Native’s themselves are not concerned of their own culture. “Shit, that guy’s just a phony. How could anybody turn into something else? Huh? I don’t think I could turn into a white man if I tried all my life. They wouldn’t let me, so how does that German think he can be an Indian- they’re crazy” (Warrior 174). This statement proves the inequality in our society between the Natives and whites, the option of ethnic change remains both socially and politically acceptable for those with privilege and power only. Although, young Vanessa and Hilda are perceived as ignorant, young Vanessa has an epiphany at the end of the story.
As Vanessa matures, she goes through a sudden realization of everything that happened at Diamond Lake during that summer with Piquette. Many things has cause Vanessa’s final understanding of Piquette’s struggles as she recognizes her father’s effort to try to open up her perspective to the bigger world when she was a child, forcing her to leave her boundaries due to Piquette’s stubbornness to express herself. The significance of her father’s effort becomes valuable to Vanessa when she returns to Diamond Lake and sees the changes.
“The small pier which my father had built was gone, and in its place there was a large and solid pier built by the government, for Galloping Mountain was now a national park, and Diamond Lake had been renamed Lake Wapakata, for it was felt that an Indian name would have a greater appeal to tourists” (Laurence 119). The government’s idealization of the lake shows how their ignorance connects with young Vanessa visualizing of Piquette as the “daughter of the forest”. Although, Vanessa’s knowledge of Piquette’s life is much clearer, she still doesn’t understand the Native culture.
Vanessa also realizes that trying to gain more knowledge and understanding about the Native culture through Piquette won’t get her anywhere because Piquette is as clueless as her. She accepts that her understanding towards the tradition is not going anywhere further than what the white society views it. However, Vanessa acknowledges the effects the white society has done to the Tonnerres’ family and the Natives. Piquette had the mindset of an adult while growing up due to the struggles her family has undergone. “’The mother’s not there,’ my father replied. ‘She took off a few years back. Can’t say I blame her. Piquette cooks for them, and she says Lazarus would never do anything for himself as long as she’s there” (Laurence 110). The effects of hatred and discrimination they’ve gone through drove them into a dark hole of poverty causing Piquette’s mother to leave, which fully shaped her life. To cease racism, she marries a white man to attempt to acquire identity.
“For the merest instant, then, I saw her. I really did see her, for the first and only time in all the years we had both lived in the same town. Her defiant face, momentarily, became unguarded and unmasked, and in her eyes there was a terrifying hope” (Laurence 117). Piqutte desperately tries to fit in with the white community that constantly rejects her and as a result, Piquette surrenders herself to them by marrying a white man to satisfy her craving to belong in the society. Also, another reason she marries a white man is because she refuses to let her children to go through the same treatment she experienced as a child. However, her husband either left her or she left him, which drove her to alcoholism. Vanessa uses the loons as a symbol to represent the Native culture and Piquette’s life.
Vanessa uses the loons’ sadness and disappearance as a metaphor for Piquette’s life. The government destroying the loons’ natural habitat represents the white society invading the Native’s territory. The government spoils the wilderness, the most important thing they should value. “It seemed to me now that in some unconscious and totally unrecognised way, Piquette might have been the only one, after all, who had heard the crying of the loons” (Laurence 120). The white society misunderstood Piquette and her culture instead of embracing them. Piqutte is the only one who understood the crying of the loons due to the similar struggle they’re going through.
“Perhaps they had gone away to some far place of belonging. Perhaps they had been unable to find such a place, and had simply died out, having ceased to care any longer whether they lived or not” (Laurence 120). The loons either died or left Diamond Lake trying to find another place to fulfill their needs because they’re forced to leave the society by ignorant people, just like Piquette and the Natives. In conclusion, the Native culture in today’s society is scattered due to the destruction the culture experienced in the past. The white culture thought it was a good idea to get rid of the Natives thinking it’ll help them, but in reality it just made many lives miserable. People are trying to revive the culture by learning about the tradition, but since it wasn’t passed down to generations, people only practice the information they think they know.