"Death by Landscape" by Margaret Atwood

25Jan05

Before I begin, the episode in this story of the girls “burn[ing] one of Lucy’s used sanitary napkins”…. Ewwwwww! See, this is why I would make a terrible Wiccan.

Anyway, “Death by Landscape.” In this short story, Atwood explores the importance of storytelling and how it shapes reality. Cappie’s “Indian” ritual that precedes the fateful canoe trip molds the girls’ consciousness of the significance of their short journey. Indeed,

when Cappie says this…Lois can feel the water stretching out, with the shores twisting away on either side, immense and a little frightening.

Cloaking a canoe trip as the “Indian” ritual serves to shape Lois’ conception of the journey as monumental and slightly treacherous, meaning her survival of the trip will seem more significant. And by engaging the girls with language that represents a culture known for their wilderness skills, Cappie’s ritual imbues them with a greater sense of self-sufficiency. Cappie also accomplishes this with the pretense that they are braves going into war.

Storytelling becomes important to Cappie later in the story as well. When Lucy goes missing with no explanation, Cappie is left with a gap in her reality that she must fill by storytelling. She coerces Lois into giving her a semi-confession that she had something to do with Lucy’s disappearance. Even though Lois does not actually confess, merely bursts into tears, “She’s got what she wanted”—Cappie has something filled the gap in her reality. Lois also seems to fill the gap with storytelling. Seemingly in Lois’ mind, Lucy became part of the landscape, which is why every landscape painting she owns, “Every one of them is a picture of Lucy.” Because “Everyone has to be somewhere.”

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