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The Duality of human nature embraces the idea that every single human being has good and evil within them. This duality also exists within individuals and their response to the traumatic experience of war. For some, conflict becomes an experience that brings a sense of purpose or meaning in their lives. In contrast, others can become addicted to the psychological power and euphoria of killing.
This dichotomy is evident within the reaction of the main characters to their war experience in the novel Three day Road by Joseph Boyden.
Long-time friends Xavier and Elijah experience the same war but are affected entirely differently. Their personalities and engrained morals are direct determinants of whether they would be consumed by the good/lightness or bad/darkness of war. Xavier’s journey evolved into a spiritual revulsion while Elijah was summoned down a darker bloodlust path.
Initially, we see that both Elijah and Xavier as quite comparable and best of friends. Both are young Canadian men originating from a Cree background.
As best friends, one would perceive that they would possess similar personality traits and ethical beliefs. However, the slight variances in their upbringing moulded their character traits in a manner that ultimately determined how they would respond in a time of crisis. Xavier, at a young age, loses his mother is given up to the residential school run by nuns. In this environment, his Cree background, which he valued, was ridiculed and oppressed. Eventually, Xavier escapes and lives with his aunt Niska, his saviour and role model.
They stay true to their roots living the traditional Cree way of life as a hunter in the bush, living off the land. Elijah’s mother also died when he was a small boy, alone, he grew up at the residential school where he grasped a solid foundation of the English language. His childhood lacked any parental figure leaving him void of guidance and support. Elijah embraced the Western culture, and unlike Xavier, he assimilates and abandons much of his Cree heritage.
Xavier’s Cree culture taught him that ‘People tried to show respect for each other by an ideal ethic of non-interference, in which each individual was responsible for his or her actions and the consequences of those actions.’ He brought this solid foundation of moral beliefs with him to the battlefield. When first enlisting Xavier immediately became offended by the racism from the white soldiers. ‘No Indians in this car, you belong four cars back.’ This blatant disregard for respect went against everything he believed and valued. Right from the beginning, knowing they viewed the Indigenous people as inferior drew him closer to his core values. This response was heightened emotionally for him as it conjured up his inappropriate treatment from the white culture at his school during his childhood.
Instinctively he became compassionate with protecting his morality and was unwilling for them in any way to threaten his native culture that saved him. Xavier is altruistic and has no care to impress others. He knows as a solider; it is his duty to kill; however, he knows it is wrong, and therefore prey’s for forgiveness. When he buries his comrades, he thanks them “for helping to strengthen the trench line.” He hopes that his commitment and contributions to killing Germans will make strides to remove the racism of the military so no one “can call me a useless bush Indian ever again.” His revulsion or utter distaste for killing stems from his belief in his Cree upbringing which emphasizes the importance of morals and ethics.
Throughout the novel Xavier continues to remain quiet and introspective. The war had a positive impact on him, it brought him closer to his core values and it was those values that gave him a sense of purpose in the war. Although, he recognized war was an act of survival as time progresses he continues to fight his guilt of taking another person’s life, ‘We all fight on two fronts, the one facing the enemy, the other facing what we do to the enemy.’ Page 301.
Xavier ‘journey into the war ultimately became his journey into oneself.’ War allow him to look inward and rely on his strengths his compassion for others, sympathetic caring something he had learned through the family bond he developed with Niksa. Xavier relies on thoughts of Niska in order to give him strength during the turbulent times like a child depends on their mother. He continues to remorseful about killing despite being a participant in the war, he does not allow himself to be consumed by the hatred and turn into ‘something he is not.’
Xaviers strength in character and commitment to who he was and where he came from is displayed by his ability to overcome and resist pressures. As a child, he opposes assimilation with the nuns, at war he resists falling victim to become a killing machine, later he battles a drug addiction and finally at the end of the novel he resists dying. He uses his spiritual strength within to rise above the repercussions of war.
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