Imagery is used fairly often in the eastern coast of Canada may have an unforgiving and rather harsh streak, but many Canadians choose to raise their families and practice their craft there. In both short stories by Alistair McLeod; The Lost Salt Gift of Blood and The Boat, the setting of the Canadian east coast is used to develop both the plot and the character. Along with the narration of the physical setting there is also the intricate dialogue spoken by the various characters. In combination, the various customs and traditions presented by the author through language and setting expand our ability to understand the plot.
Without McLeod’s regionalistic writing form, the reader’s ability to firmly define the setting and characters would hinder them from his multilayered stories. Imagery is used fairly often in The Boat with the intention of not only giving the reader a sense of space and time but also an insight to the character. The father is displeased with his lack of education and current lifestyle along the coast, “the sea was behind him and its immense blue flatness stretched out to touch the arching blueness of the sky.
It seemed very far away from him or else…he seemed too big for it. ” (263) The author in this scenario implies the essence of the problem in the story; the narrator’s father is never unified with the sea he labors in, never achieves the connectedness that goes with working so closely with nature. As well, due to his higher aspirations, the father is too inquisitive and thirsty for knowledge to remain in such a simple place. In The Lost Salt Gift of Blood, imagery is used to relay the underlying story and theme to the reader.
Fog is the best form of imagery used because of its close relation to the actions and their meanings beneath the surface of the story. The entire story seems rather foggy as it contains dialogue and reflection that occurs in the present rather than the narrator looking back and analyzing the meaning of events. Therefore, it is left to the reader to piece together the story, at times difficult when the story seems incomplete. For example, the fog plays a vital role in the story surrounding the mother’s death, “It be foggy all the day and everyone be thinken the plane won’t come or be able to land.
And I says, small to myself, now here in the fog be the bad luck and the death but then there the plane be, almost like a ghost ship comen out the fog with all its lights shinen. I think maybe he won’t be on it but soon he comen through the fog. ” (307-308) As the grandfather relays the story, he abruptly stops, yet never commences with further elaboration. His story hangs in the air like fog; inescapable, shrouding and unable to clearly define. The dialogue in The Boat has an educated style yet is brief and to the point.
Each time McLeod allows a character to speak, only the most vital words needed are spoken. Though this story includes description from an analytical point of view, most of it remains with the reader piecing it together. It is during solemn moments that word are exchanged “you have given added years to his life. ” (267) There are also no descriptions of raucous banter among the siblings. This is surprising as noise and arguments are inevitable to most large households.
With the knowledge that the mother runs her household with precision, the lack of confrontational dialogue may be due to the tiring lifestyle. The father’s reaction is an example of this after the mother accuses him that it will be his fault if their daughters come home impregnated, “…reflecting the exhaustion of a man of sixty-five who had been working for eleven hours on an August day…he turned and went into his room. ” This dialogue enhances the estrangement of the east coast; little is wasted, be it energy or words.
The contrast in dialogue in The Lost Salt Gift of Blood is very insightful when comes to defining characters. The father is well educated and from Toronto. He met his son’s mother while researching for his university paper. On the other hand, it is revealed in the end that John’s grandmother and grandfather can neither read nor write. Just as John is the only connection the grandparents have to his father, the only halfway point between their linguistic capabilities and his father’s is John. More interestingly is the transformation of language and what it can tell us.
In the beginning of the story the reader sees John’s grandfather speaking politely but simply to the father “well, it is a nice evening tonight”. As the night wears on a mixture of alcohol, fatigue and raw emotions alter his language to that of a rougher coastal slang “and the dog runned around like he was crazy, moanen and cryen worse than the swiles does out on the ice, and throwen hisself against the walls and jumpen on the table. ” (307) The gradual change in language is a minor one, yet it conveys a multitude of distinguishing features.
Such features lay ground to a better understanding of the region. Within both short stories, McLeod paints an even broader sense of the eastern Canadian coast using the domestic principles held there to describe the region. The homestead of John and his grandparents is one where things are not wasted, “cast-off tires also whitewashed and serving as flower beds… originally broken… [the grandfather] helped him fix them, nailing on new lathes and knitting new headings. ” (295-296) Anything broken is repaired, redeemed or put to another use.
The family is clearly linked with this way of living and deeply belongs in this place. The practice is also an important one considering the grandfather is teaching and including John in the processes. As well, the household in The Boat did not waste things, “a shelf which contained matches, tobacco, pencils, odd fish-hooks, bits of twine…” (258) Items in this family had a place and a purpose. Even small items like twine are collected for a further use later.
Along with the hard work in the sea and simple lifestyle, the narrator’s mother kept the house tidy; “everything was clean and spotless and in order. In the case of the traditional coastal living, the hard-netted earnings from the ocean do not allow for frivolity, waste or an abundance of parlour toys. As Alistair McLeod infuses regionalism to define the setting, an image of the lifestyle as well as the culture of the characters is revealed. The eastern coast of Canada may have a harsh climate and difficult way of life, but through the language used by the McLeod and his portrayal of setting, we are encouraged to understand this lifestyle and those who embrace it.
In both short stories The Lost Salt Gift of Blood and The Boat, the plot and the characters are defined as individuals in their culture as well as participants of a larger practice. Along with the narration of the physical setting, an understanding of customs is elaborated through detailed descriptions. With this particular style of regionalism, McLeod left the reader to elaborate on characters and settings he defined, the culture however, remained true to the eastern coast of Canada. McLeod’s regionalism permits the reader to firmly define the setting and characters then allows them to explore the artfully crafted plots.