Blog prompt 6: Through Black Spruce



As you can see from this snapshot of our whiteboard (with Canadian spellings and all), we had a great discussion in class before the break about the various themes in Through Black Spruce.

Find and discuss a scene that you think is essential to the development of one of the main themes of Through Black Spruce. Discuss this in relation to the novel.  Also keep in mind whether or not this theme might connect to other books we’ll have read in the second half of the course. This might help you to come up with a topic for our second essay.

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32 Responses to Blog prompt 6: Through Black Spruce

  1. Kathryn says:

    I found the scene on pages 153/154 to speak to the developing relationship between Annie and Will. This is the scene where Eva tells Annie that the doctors want to move her uncle south. Annie says that she won’t let it happen and tells her uncle “I’ll fight to keep you with us.” At the beginning of the novel we could tell that Annie had some bond with her Uncle but at the same time she was very hesitant to be around him in his comatose state and even more hesitant about talking to him. We can see how Annie’s character has developed and found meaning in the time that she spends talking to her uncle for her sake and his.

    Shortly later, she reveals to her mother that she’s been talking to Will. In the past she didn’t even want Eva to catch her talking to him even though Eva was the one to suggest doing so in hopes of bettering his health. Annie even lies to her mother to protect Will from being moved down south.

    I think this is where we first see a true relationship between Will and his niece develop because she is so fast to stick up for him where in the beginning if it were the same situation her response would have been more mellow.

  2. Alyson H says:

    “I couldn’t do this. The truck passed directly in font, and I followed with the rifle. Finger pressure on trigger and I couldn’t make out his head for the sunlight. Whine in my ears. Mosquitoes biting. I pulled the trigger.” (pg 167)

    This quotation highlights on two main themes of Through Black Spruce, violence and travel. This is when Will decides that he will kill Marius and then live in the bush. Will has done all planning and is ready to go, but in this instance he has actually pulled the trigger, and there is absolutely no going back. Travel is important throughout the whole novel, but in Will’s case his voyage is the beginning of all the problems that will come later in the book. Ultimately his travel is cut short due to his camp getting destroyed twice, and his need for human interaction. When Will comes back the violence he had left is waiting for him worse than it ever, and is what ends up causing him to be hospitalized.

  3. Veronica B says:

    “I think this is an old powwow song, but then I hear it. ‘I Will Always Love You’, by Whiteney Houston” (71).

    This short quotation is easy to pass by without much thought, but I luckily came across it as I gathered evidence for my paper. When Annie meets the group of Cree in Toronto under the overpass, she is uncomfortable and doesn’t really know she is there or what she is hoping to accomplish by risking her safety. As she waits for something to happen, she makes the above remark about a song that Old Man is humming. I love this scene because it is a perfect example of Cree tradition lost to a big city of concrete and manufacturing. It is almost (but not actually) comical to imagine these Cree people, speaking in Cree and cooking goose in a tarp teepee living in Toronto, relying on ancient methods of “hunting and gathering” to sustain themselves in a place that is so clearly founded on something completely different, even opposite, to the Cree tradition. The use of the Whitney Houston song in this scene shows the cultural genocide we discussed in class and how globalization is an ever present (ha) force in the life of the Cree. The extremes in this example shed light on the serious nature of loss of culture and identity.

  4. Nigel says:

    One of the themes that I think is important throughout the book is community. The community of Cree, from which Annie is a part of, plays a large role in the book. The community is what binds everyone together, even if they end up leaving it for better or worse places. The scene where Annie comes to eat dinner with Old Man and the other Indians is good example of how community is strong among the Cree in this book. Painted Tongue serves the goose “ I sit back on my dirty pillow, surprised, and watch as he carefully cuts strips from the goose, handing portions first to the old women, then to the old man, and then to me. He stares off at me I can’t see as we all eat” ( Boyden 73). There is a certain eloquence to this scene which shows how community is important to the book. The act of eating a meal together is an important part of communal life. These urban Indians are an outpost of the greater Indian community in Ontario, and this feasting scene under the overpass is a reminder that community is just as strong among people at the lowest society as it among those who are more fortunate. Annie is shocked that Painted Tongue is delicately cutting the goose, when she perceives him as this homeless drunk guy. Ceremony is still present here in this community of homeless Anishnabe. Even in a place where one would hardly feel like there could be community, there is. Annie is miles from Moosonee, but the same kind of community that exists up in Moosonee, also exists in Toronto as well. Annie left her community behind, but it still follows her, and helps to keep her going when she is looking for answers. Community is important throughout the whole book, because all the characters end up referring to it and coming back to it when they need it most.

  5. Fiona says:

    “Those on the shore turn their heads to the sound of our motors. My stomach fills with butterflies. I feel like a young boy on his first summer day away from school. These will be a good few days of celebration. Someone, Annie, maybe, has tied colourful ribbons in the trees behind camp. Red and yellow and white and black bits of cloth flutter in the breeze. Our directions. I think she’s learned some things this last year. Maybe she’s becoming what my father believed she would.”

    This passage illustrates the themes of relationship, story-telling, and identity that are present in Joseph Boyden’s, Through Black Spruce. Throughout the novel, although Will was in a coma, him and Annie grew closer. Through the act of story-telling, their relationship strengthened. Story-telling, as we discussed in class, has transformative and healing powers. This is evident in both Annie and Will’s characters. Will, during his coma, seemed to have been addressing his nieces, sharing with them stories of his past. This is interesting for Will because, as we learn, he appears to have been somewhat lost or disconnected before his time in the hospital. It is almost as if he was given another chance to connect with his family, and did so thorough his nieces. This can be seen as story-telling having actual healing powers, as he eventually wakes up from his coma.

    After he wakes up, as we see in the passage, Will has a new outlook on his family. In this passage, he expresses feelings of nervous excitement, as he is nearing seeing his family. He is clearly looking forward to the time he will spend them, demonstrating his new appreciation for his family and friends. We see his feelings for his niece, Annie, here as well. He picks up on her becoming more in touch with their race and cultural pride. Will remarks that he thinks “she’s learned some things this last year,” and that “Maybe she’s becoming what my father believed she would.” By “learning some things,” Will is referring to things about their culture and race. Whether he is aware that he is partially responsible for that is unknown. Annie underwent a transformative journey as well, in which Will played an important role.

    Annie was initially reluctant to talk to her uncle in the hospital. She had to force herself in the beginning, and felt uncomfortable doing so. By the end, however, she could barely resist telling her stories to Will and desired to visit more and more. Ultimately, she was not doing this only for her uncle will, but for herself as well. By telling her stories, she was able to gain a stronger sense of self-identity. It also seems that she was able to connect with and appreciate her culture, as well. At one point she even claimed, “I am more my uncle Will than my mother.” Through Annie and Will’s unique relationship, and the act of story-telling, these two characters were able to gain/ strengthen their individual concepts of self- identity and cultural-identity.

  6. Matt Graham says:

    While it may also be the most obvious, one of the most important themes in this book is violence. There is all of the violence perpetrated against Will in the book from his kneecap being smashed, him getting beat up as well as his head injury which puts him into the coma from which so much of his dialogue comes from. It’s also the reason he shoots Marius therefore forcing him to flee to the north. It is also the reason Suzanne is missing and Annie is looking for her. It is also Gordon’s main role in the story to protect Annie from violence after she is attacked and beaten up by a man in Toronto as well as by Danny in Soliel’s apartment. For these reasons it seems to me that violence is the main determinant of each characters decisions and the directly related to the adversity that each has to overcome.

  7. Camille says:

    The melding of traditional and nontraditional Cree life is a theme in Through Black Spruce that really helps to define the character of Will Bird. Will escapes to the bush in order to have an alibi for the shooting of Marius but also as a means for Will to return to his more tradition self, “I’d watched too much TV these last few months. I’d be lonely in the bush, but I’d get strong again. I’d become the old me” (170). However, once in the bush his dependence/reliance on modern appliances is brought into focus. The scene from when Will first arrives in the bush, and explains his how he spent his first couple of days is a great example of this. Will learned from his father that the three necessities that are required in order to survive in the bush are “Fire, shelter and food” (184). Will concludes that he has what he needs to survive based on the fact that he “had canned food, cigarettes, and whisky” (184). Instead of following the traditional path of hunting in order to build a food cache for the winter, Will relies on store-bought food for his security and has fallen out of the habit of hunting for survival. Will also makes use of a modern “canvas prospector’s tent” (185) for shelter while the weather is still warm, and avoids making a traditional askihkan for as long as he can. Luckily for Will, he does return to his more traditional self because the harsh weather of the bush forces him to abandon his nontraditional things that he brought with him. For example, his chain saw runs out of gas, it gets to be too cold from him to sleep in a tent, and realizes that he needs more substantial food. I think that Will relies on nontraditional Cree things because they help to make his life easier, even his airplane falls in to this category. However, when he is in the bush he comes to realize that it is the more traditional things that are actually essential to his life.

  8. Timmy T says:

    Violence is a key factor and overall theme in this novel. Violence creates motivation for the characters to create action in the story. Although violence isn’t necessarily new to Northern Ontario and Canada in general, modern forms of instigating violence, such as the drug trade, can in a sense be considered fairly new to Canadian communities. The Indians described in this novel are depicted as people subjected to this form of violence. It is the older cultural traditions which maintain and tie this community together, such as the hunting skills passed down to Annie, or the old fur trade which keeps their economy strong. The traditional versus the non-traditional is particularly evident in this story, along with most of the books we have read and discussed for this class. The contrast of the “high culture” and materialistic nature of Manhattan and New York in this novel to the struggling land of Northern Ontario is conveyed through Annie’s journey. Seemingly the closer Annie gets to an unnatural land and way of living the more danger she puts her life in. This novel incorporates a number of significant themes, mainly the concept of violence and non-traditional new customs.

  9. Nikki says:

    “We give ourselves to each other. This part consumes me. It’s what I think about when I’m away from him, and when I’m with him, we act like we’re starving…Being with Gordon is a release for me that I’ve been starving for. And so I won’t feel guilty for this pleasure that comes rushing through my door and leaves me exhausted and smiling. The two of us deserve this for all we’ve been through” (340).
    This passage relates to the theme of love and loss. This passage is from one of Annie’s stories. She is discussing her love for Gordon. She and him finally get together at the end of the book. I find this very interesting because, throughout the book you see them go through so much together and you begin to hope that they will eventually fall in love. But, you aren’t sure until the final pages of the book.
    In the end, there is a happy ending. Annie finds love in Gordon, her uncle wakes up, finds love in Dorothy, and Suzanne, her long lost sister returns. Love was always present in the novel. Annie’s love for her uncle was obvious. The fact that she visits him so often and tells him stories, even though many believe he can’t hear, shows the deep love that she has for her uncle. Love was an undertone throughout the entirety of the book.
    I found that the theme of loss pertained a lot to Suzanne. Lots of times throughout the story, the characters would talk about the Suzanne they used to know. The loss of Will was always something that as a reader, I thought about. The whole book was about the possibility of losing Will, and the love of his niece, Annie, who is desperately trying to keep him alive. I think that although the two themes of love and loss are very different, they are both evident in this book.

  10. Alex says:

    Alcohol is a major theme that is present through out the novel. This passage focuses on Will’s alcohol problem:

    “Sitting in the darkness of my askihkan, I drank more, used the excuse of my hurting leg, but the more I drank, the more my father’s gun in its blanket moaned, enough to make me think I was going crazy. The fire burned low. The night began coming into my askihkan now, but I didn’t stand up for more wood. ‘Shut up, you!’ I found myself shouting. ‘You don’t shut up, I will throw you away” Boyden 214.

    Will’s alcoholism plays a significant role in the decisions he makes and how he survives. We learn earlier in the text that his wife and children are killed when his house burns down and that is when the drinking appears to have started. Once he is first sought after and attacked by Marius his drinking habits only become worse. In the passage above a scene takes place that happens more than once in the novel; however, in this case it could impair his survival. Will is in the woods, alone and drunk. There are a couple of ways this description illustrates the dangers he is facing. Logistically, he is too intoxicated to care that the fire is burning out and it is becoming increasingly dark and cold. If Will was sober, he would immediately take steps to restart the fire for his safety.

    At the end of this passage, we also see how alcohol is slowly taking a mental toll on Will. This is not the first time he has spoken of hearing his father’s gun talk to him, but this specific situation is very enlightening because he talks back. Realizing that he may be going crazy is not enough; he starts shouting at the gun that is obviously not making a sound. Will is not the only character that uses alcohol as a coping mechanism. We see Annie drinking when she is upset in Montreal and New York. At one point she finds herself in a very scary situation where she has passed out and a drug dealer comes into the apartment, nearly killing her. Will’s passage in particular illustrates the dangers of alcoholism, especially as a means of surviving. I chose this situation because he has no one to protect him from the dangers of his alcohol use. This connects to the importance of community vs. individuality, which is another theme we discussed.

  11. Cassie says:

    “I have an admission to make. I was often such a bitch with her because I was jealous of her, the way she made friends so easily, the way she fit clothes so perfectly. Christ. She could put on an extra-large T-shirt, a baseball cap, and baggy jeans and look like she was in an ad for Ralph Lauren. I hated her for that, loved her for that…” (157)

    Oddly enough, I choose this quote to illustrate the theme of violence and respect. The two themes are often cleverly juxtaposed in this novel and tend to go back and forth between either other. Will and Annie often use cultural rituals in killing their prey and ending their misery, respecting nature and the ties they have with it. This is juxtaposed with the unrepentant violence shown by Marius, Danny and his gang. Although there are more obvious examples of this theme, I choose this passage because it is a more subtle example. Annie, who is jealous of her sister, still loves and respects her, showing that respect by both searching for her and taking her place in the modeling industry. Although the sisters were at odds with each other in childhood, through Suzanne’s absence we see a change and maturity in Annie as she fulfills her sister’s role.

  12. Shane W. says:

    “What I’m amazed by is that the Indian community in this monster city is as tight as our own up north. They all know of each other, and where to meet: a stone friendship centre on Spadina, or else on the corner of Queen and Bathurst. I’m sure there are other places as well, but I haven’t found them yet.” (Boyden, 67).
    This passage speaks on the theme of community and the importance of being a part of a collective group. Here we see Annie remarking how she is surprised that Natives living in Toronto have formed their own community, one that rivals the close knit community she experienced in her hometown. Annie sees Toronto as a place void of the traditions and values that her community holds, yet, she sees that the Natives have created their own place in the city and continue to band together. Reading further we can see Annie speak on the importance companionship and how she would not be able to survive without Eva. The theme of companionship and being a part of a community is an important one throughout this book, and we see this in the characters and their relationships. Each character relies on one another for survival, and they see their community’s well-being as more important than their own personal well-being. A character like Antoine gave up his freedom for his community by getting rid of Marius, who was a cancer to the town. Overall, we can see that the community plays an important role in this novel, and the companionship that comes with the community is as much of a necessity to everyone as things like food and shelter.

  13. Molly says:

    Will’s connection to his Cree ancestry is clear throughout the book, in the Cree words he uses, the nature of his story-telling, and the spirits of his ancestors that both haunt and protect him. One of the biggest forces in the Cree culture is the power of the natural world, and the power of animals in particular. This theme becomes especially vivid when Will flees away from Moose Factory to the northern wilderness.
    But even before this journey, when he’s still living in relative civilization on the outskirts of town, he talks of the powerful attachment to nature that has been ingrained in him since his childhood. “When I was younger I believed that the northern lights, the electricity I felt on my skin under my parka, the faint crackly of it in my ears, was Gitchi Manitou collecting the vibrations of lives spent, refueling the world with these animals’ power. My bear knew my body’s vibration” (138).
    In this passage the human attachment to the natural world that is so fundamental to Cree people, and that has been passed down through Will’s family line, is apparent. He connects the perceived wisdom of his bear with this phenomenon as well. He believes very sincerely that the bear knows him in a deeper way than just as a source of food. He thinks she has a sensibility about life that is more profound than what many white men would suspect. This is a reflection on his background and the teachings of his grandfather. And it’s also a reflection of the importance of First Nations themes to Joseph Boyden as an author. As we learned in the interview, Boyden is partly Ojibwa and is it clear that this ancestry influences his writing to a great degree.

  14. Evan M says:

    “Once landed, i set to work immediately with my chainsaw,cutting logs for a ramp to place my plane on and prevent it from freezing in the river, then for firewood and for making another askihkan. I was alone for hundreds of miles. When i killed my chainsaw the silence was almost as loud, crunching in all around me. No fooling myself. This was going to be hard.” (P.262)

    This quote to me goes along the theme of isolation and nature. This quote struck me as I was reading because it seemed so powerful and I can really get a sense of where he is and what he is doing. I believe its extremely important for the us (as the reader) to be able to connect with Will during his time in isolation. When Will speaks of the the deafening sound of silence after using the chainsaw it truly gives you an eery feeling and it is important to Wills development. I believe at this point he really comes out of his shell and transforms into someone who is open to change. Will from the start was someone who did things on his on time, but as the story progresses he becomes someone who is more welcoming to love and connection with family, as shown by his return to Moose Factory.

  15. Nicolaus says:

    “The image of the polar bear on top of me flashed, its jaws crushing my skull with its teeth, my head spurting like a foamy can of Coke. […] Build it all up, and it all falls down. It all burns down. Everything you need can be taken. Remember that, nieces. Everything you hold dear, it can be taken” (Boyden 261).
    I thought this was a great quote in general, echoing some Zen Buddhist philosophy of non-attachment, as well as discouraging the urge to invest oneself in material possessions. This quote also has deeper significance however, in that the loss faced by Will at the whim of the polar bear is life threatening, as he admits “I realized then the laziness of my autumn” (Boyden 261). This laziness, which could possibly be equated with the anti traditional lifestyle of the new world that is often contrasted with native bush life, is Will’s major short coming and what drives him back to civilization to meet his fate at the hands of Marius. Boyden is especially suggestive in this quote, in that it also elicits the image his family dying in the house fire. Because everything you hold dear can be taken, it makes more since to live without putting too much energy into the things that bring you direct pleasure (as is seen in Will’s selfish absence being the cause of the fire), but instead should focus on the wellbeing of others and the strength of the greater community. This greater community in Native world view serves to encompass all things the creator chose to endow the earth with, and therefore every action has a significant consequence in the greater scheme of the universe, and laziness is clearly undesirable.

  16. Juliana says:

    “But sometimes when you are all alone in the bush, deep in winter, and the northern lights come, you can actually hear them. A crackling. Like a radio on real low, moaning and sighing. This is what is seemed I was hearing, and I listened close to what the voice was trying to tell me.” (p 63)

    I thought this passage connected to the themes of conversation and nature. Winter and natural surroundings form a common ground for the First Nations people. This highlights how the First Nations people value nature as a part of their community. This is also connected to other conversations that are somewhat “one-sided”. Annie’s conversation with Will is one-sided because he is in a coma. Her conversation with Gordon is one-sided because he is mute. They can communicate with nature, but obviously, it is not a true conversation. However, the connection to nature brings out self-reflection in the characters, whether they realize it or not, because they are forced to respond, whether in words or actions. This is a valued relationship that each character returns to at the end of the book. I was reminded of “Late Nights on Air” because of the reference to the radio and the image of a voice coming out of the darkness. Many of the books in our class show people coping with the harsh Canadian landscape with human connection. Nature is given a “voice” to speak to characters and to remind them that there is a point to the darkness and feeling isolated, because eventually, that is what draws you back to the community. Clearly, “Through Black Spruce” values nature despite it’s hardships and bleak coldness. The characters return to nature because it is the landscape of their community and the voice that comes out of the darkness.

  17. Megan N. says:

    One of the most important themes throughout Through Black Spruce is the theme of storytelling. During the entire novel we see stories being told back and forth, Annie to Will and Will to Annie and Suzanne. Will tells stories of his past and also his present, stories of the residential school to stories about his plot to kill Marius. Annie tells stories about her adventure out of the North and to urban areas in search of her sister Suzanne. In chapter 3, Will says, “I am a keeper of certain secrets …. The Mushkegowuk people love nothing more than to chatter like sparrows over coffee in the morning, over beer at night” (12). Will is telling his nieces, but also the readers, about how much his people like to gossip or tell stories to each other whenever they can. Telling and also listening to stories is very important in First Nation cultures.

  18. Sarah says:

    The theme I’ve chosen to focus on for Through Black Spruce is murder and violence. We first see a hint of Will’s potential for violence on page 61, he is talking to Joe and Gregor:

    “If you become a snitch,” Joe said “you can probably get him (Marius) taken away. Let’s do it.”

    Gregor was in, too. Too many of his students, he said, were strung out because of Marius. We talked more. We drank more. The talk turned darker.

    Joe, he started it. “Let’s kill him,” he said. “Cops are useless around here. We’ll shoot him and drag him into the bush and leave him for the bears and the crows. No one will miss him.”

    Skip down a few lines:
    I thought it was all just drunk talk. You can’t kill a man, can you? But that night the idea took root. “You know what? We’ll kill Marius,” I said. “Wouldn’t be hard.”

    Skip more:
    The two rattled on, but me, my head swam.

    This is the first time Will shows any violent tendencies. It’s as if he didn’t realize until that moment that such violence was possible, that it was possible to retaliate. This is a dangerous realization for him, because he doesn’t exactly decide to act until the senseless violence against his bear. Will is already living in immense fear that has him on edge and not thinking clearly. For Joe and Gregor, it had all been a joke; nothing they had said made any sense. Everyone in town wanted Marius dead, including a policeman himself who told Will to “shoot straighter next time.” But for Will, there was no question that he would have to kill Marius. After all, he could take Marius’s beatings but his family couldn’t. From the beginning the reader learns about Will’s violent side but at the time he is written as kind of a softy. He empathizes with a handicapped bear; he despises the needless killing of animals, he adores his family and he’s falling in love. All this and more led me to believe that wen Will did, in fact, kill Marius he would have immediate regret. And he did. From the second he shot his gun he knew what he had done was wrong and unnatural. He immediately began rationalizing with himself. He told himself he was better off dead, that he did it for the town’s children and his family, not himself, that Marius probably would murder others. If he had thought his actions were justified then he wouldn’t need to keep reassuring himself. As he camps on the island in solitude, he is haunted by everything: the gun, the alcohol, the animals, and his past. He knows his many failures and murder is one of them. Beginning with this quote the reader begins to get an understanding of Will’s character. Obviously, family is very important to him and he will do anything to protect them. In the end, I think that Will was glad he didn’t kill Marius. Murder is a perversion of the nature that he is so close with. Will finally learn that the strong bond of family is all the protection he needs.

  19. Peter C says:

    The following passage explains the contradiction of love and loss vs. alcoholism and tobacco.

    “See that smoke? He’d say one of those times he rolled his own cigarette and light it. I’d nod. Watch where that smoke goes.
    I’d watch it, hard as I could, follow it as it swirled from his mouth, from deep in his body, and drift up into the air, curling and weaving, disappearing as the wind took it and carried it up into the sky.
    Where did the smoke go? I’d ask.
    It goes up into the sky, into the heaven where your relations who have left us stay.
    Can they smell it? I’d ask.
    He’d laugh. Yes, me, I think they can. They can see you in the smoke that gets to them. You tell them what you want them to know. What you want them to watch out for.”

    Although these two themes don’t normally go together, this passage explains what probably happened to Will’s family in previous years, that his ancestors were probably alcoholics and smokers just like him and his Dad. Will’s love for his family is so great but his inability to control his substance abuse keeps him distant from them; his father and most likely many of his ancestors were trapped just like Will. He needs to be the one to eventually break those ties, begin to overcome those that were lost, and restore what he has in front of him. The death of his wife and two kids is not something Will can change therefore his only way of breaking loose is to put the past behind him and start loving his friends, sister and two nieces.
    I also think this passage relates to Annie as well; we see her smoking and drinking throughout the novel. Annie’s substance abuse begins to take over her loving desire to find Suzanne. I find it ironic how she loses this urgency at Violet’s apartment as soon as she drinks some wine and takes ecstasy. The reader expects Annie to leave immediately when she takes one look at Suzanne’s old clothes but instead she tries them on and loses herself completely. I know this passage can be positive; it’s loving and metaphorical but it shows the history of the family’s separation. It’s as if Boyden shows the loving connection but emphasizes the distant loss of Will’s wife and children.
    The last two sentences in this passage tell Will exactly what he needs to do. His relations already know they made the mistake and his father is telling him they are there to listen. This passage goes a lot deeper than the smoke stream off a cigarette and I think it ties in the background of his entire family. The combination of violence and drugs and alcohol are what keeps this family more lost than loving.

  20. Aaron says:

    Well, going off the two themes of violence/murder/respect and the character journey, I choose the following passage, relating to Will Bird:

    “I could hear it giving me a wide berth on the road, tires crunching gravel. It’s all right. The car was about to pass. But it suddenly cut much closer to me, and as the passenger side flashed by in sunlight, I felt the explosion of pain through my left leg. The cracking of wood made the sky spin above me. I crashed onto the ground beside the ditch. I lay in the dirt when I stopped rolling and tried to sit up, tried to down at my body. My left leg wouldn’t move, and I couldn’t feel it. It bent weirdly out by the knee. You bastard. I saw the broken end of a baseball bat beside me. I saw a long splinter of it in my leg. I tried to sit up to see if the car was coming back, who might be in it. I screamed when my leg torque with the movement…” (Pg. 108).

    I thought that in terms of Marius’s eventual death, his kneecapping of Will Bird marks a crucial moment in the novel, when Will starts to get getting progressively more paranoid and withdrawn from society. Though he attempts to avoid further incidents with Marius, he cannot escape from the path he is on (is some ways, Marius forces him onto the path, by targeting Will as the “snitch”), eventually leading to the incident with the bear that Azure describes, which in turn provokes Will to cross the line from merely fantasizing about killing Marius to physically planning an attempted murder. Will’s character journey is fascinating, because unlike the stories of Annie and Suzanne, Will does not (in my opinion) have much choice as to his path. Both Annie and Suzanne willingly entered the world of modeling, and the accompanying dangers and temptations which went along with it, whereas Will is entirely innocent (ironically, it is his sister who has been acting as an informant to the OPP and RCMP, not Will), and feels he cannot trust the local police, due to possible infiltration by Marius’s gang. Though murder is almost always wrong, I feel that Marius’s actions (specifically, repeatedly harassing and attacking Will) directly led to his death.

  21. Latimer says:

    “She told me how the rookie cops who come here only to cut their teeth by arresting drunk Indians on Saturday night streets, who bully gas huffing kids, who get bored quick in our town, decided they were on to something good, something that would get them noticed by their superiors and get them more choice jobs in places far south of here, how they pushed my sister into believing that if my neice were to be rescued, my sister would have to tell them everything they knew about the Netmaker family, about Marius and his hold on the town. And your mother told them everything she knew, that Marius is a bad man who has introcuded a curse into our community, a religion that goes against the sweat lodge and the shaking tent, that promises a freedom that can’t be reached” (123).

    This demonstrates the contrast between North and South, and between the perceptions of natives and outsiders. The cops are outsiders, and they view Moosonee, and the North in general, as a dead-end, do-nothing, entry on their resumes. They are bored, just as many young people are who have been de-cultured by the new order. The attitude of these cops is exactly what allows Marius to be successful in distributing drugs around the community. Boredom leads to a desire to do something dangerous, illegal, or maybe just different and exciting, which then leads to an escape from reality and a new way of life. There is a certain naivity and generosity of trust ingrained in the native population, and it is easily exploited by outsiders. Lisette actually believes that telling the officers everything will help the situation. But they care nothing for being in the North – they want to return to the south where stuff actually happens (must have been exciting when Marius got shot).

  22. Jake A says:

    “They all say it is dangerous to befriend a wild animal. Is it for the animal’s sake of for your own? People who live away from wild animals they say we are different from creatures that roam this world. That we are apart from them. Above them” (pg. 118).

    This scene is connected to the nature and the overarching theme of respect. Will began feeding the bear mainly out of fear. Marius told Will that he could kill him whenever he wanted. Thus, Will began preparing for the worst and protecting himself. He started to get into shape by jogging. He also gained a protector by interacting with the natural world. The bear is part of nature, and must be dealt with in specific ways. It must be respected, because in the Cree circular view there is no hierarchy, all things are equal. Marius did not respect the bear when he killed it. He did not kill it for a specific use, or food, all of its’ parts were wasted. Will used the bear for his own wellbeing, and nothing more. He was simply living for himself. He put the bear in great danger by feeding it, which ultimately led to its’ death. In this sense Will was not respecting nature, moreover he was not minding his relations. He should have never fed the bear in the first place. The bears’ death propels Will’s attempted murder of Marius and ultimately his flee into the bush. In the bush Will becomes very lonely and different objects start talking to him, which drives him insane. He realizes that he needs the companionship and someone else to talk to. However he is still focusing on himself. He is still not respecting nature correctly. He kills a Moose improperly with one bad shot, and an unnecessary second one. He also shoots a polar bear’s ear off when it attacks his camp. He was neglectful of nature in both of these instances. Although when watching the smoke from his fire rise up into the sky he learns to be mindful of his relations. This act allows gives will a medium to communicate with and show respect for all things living, dead, and yet to be born. The Grandfather in the bush also instills traditional ways of thought and respect of all things for Will. After Will’s experiences in the bush he is able to return to traditional ways. He comes back to his community and order is restored.

  23. Amelia says:

    “You get into a rut over the years. You learn to find a routine that gets you through the days. You start looking at the day-to-day and forget the bigger world around you outside your own head. Before you know it, one, five, ten years have passed. You keep waiting for something, and then one day you wake up and realize. It is simply the end that you’re waiting for.” (Boyden 116)

    This passage is interesting when related to the big theme of ‘Journey’ in the novel. Will expresses his bouts with this very thing, as his sister called “depression” (or so the TV shows labeled it.) This passage highlights the importance of having a sense of one’s own personal purpose in life, or the unfolding of a defined journey. Connecting to another theme in the novel, ‘minding one’s relations’ can be seen as a key element to one’s life journey. For the majority of the novel, Will’s character fails to mind his relations, and thus strays from his path, or postpones his journey. “[You] forget the bigger world around you outside your own head” (Boyden 116) Clearly, this makes him feel lost in sense, living from the day to day, without a sense of purpose or fulfillment. He indulges in drinking, which in effect magnifies his problems. Likewise, it is through the completion of journeys that most of the characters in the novel find any sense of complacency. (i.e. Annie finding (maybe?) Suzanne, Will finally “minding his relations”, etc.) So in all, I think this passage neatly ties together of both minding realtions, and personal journeys–as well at illustrating their importance to each other.

  24. Megan D. says:

    The theme that interests me the most is the use of Cree. The use or disuse of Cree within the novel helped to play a role in establishing a power relationship between characters or simply to empower characters. A scene that demonstrates Cree empowering a character is when Annie uses Cree at the big party in NYC. Soleil says “Girlfriend! That is a crazy language. More Please.” And Annie starts “speaking Cree in earnest now, the words at first awkward and chosen poorly, telling Soleil that her hair is green, she has small tits, that she’s too skinny and needs to eat more moose meat. Oohs and aahs come from Soleil, and then from the ones around her” (Boyden 234). Even though the white people at the party are exploiting Annie and her heritage by making her their entertainment for the evening; Annie empowered herself by saying horrible things to them and degrading them. Even though they were unaware of her insulting them, the simple act of Annie being able to use Cree against them in that way is empowering to Annie. She is able to express her real opinions of the white people who surround her and their society without consequences. She has a power over them from their lack of understanding and she uses it.
    Although Annie is able to use Cree to empower herself, we are given an example of the use of Cree as a way of taking power away as well. When Will is taken to residential school we see Cree used as a way to undermine the authority of Xavier. Will is begging Xavier in Cree to not be taken away and to be able to stay with his family. This is seen on page 81 when “‘It will be easier for the boy if you leave now,’ the man in black said. He was a wemestikushu, white as a pickerel’s belly. His Cree words surprised me.” This is when the priest is able to take Will away from his family and enter him into the residential school. We know from here there is a cultural genocide that occurs within the residential school, where the children are not permitted and punished for using Cree. By taking away their language, they take away a part of their heritage and strip them of their power to be a part of their ancestral community.
    The use of Cree in both of these cases is very important and these scenes in help to understand why Cree is such an integral part of the story.

  25. Matthew P says:

    Note for my blog- I don’t know why I wrote Annie instead of Will. Sorry! I meant Cat and Mouse game between Will and Marius.

  26. Azure says:

    “There you were, my bear, standing up straight, your back to the skeleton of a dead spruce. Words were posted above your head. But words were pointless now… I trailed down your body, stopping at your neck, the bloodied rope that held your weight. that held you standing like a human, around it like a dark smile across your slit throat. Your chest was exposed, the bald patches of your pale skin giving way to the rip of the knife that gutted you. So thin. You were so thin. Barrel chested but thin. Maggots pulsed and squirmed on top of your innards by your feet so that it was like these exposed insides of your body were still alive. You were drained. And I was, too” (147).

    A very prominent theme throughout Through Black Spruce is violence/murder. In my opinion, this scene is essential to the development of violence and murder throughout the novel. Marius had been giving Will an extremely hard time for a while, but murdering and brutally torturing “Will’s bear” was the last straw for Will. It was at this time that Will officially decided that he would put an end to Marius, and he began plotting his revenge which resulted in blowing half of Marius’ head to bits. The killing of the bear was what put the rest of the novels violence concerning Will and Marius into motion, it was what started the domino affect. The killing of the bear lead to the shooting of Marius, which lead to the severe beating of Will that put him in a coma, which lead to the death of Marius and Danny. Without this highly disturbing scene included in the novel, all the other events that made up the rest of the story may not have occurred. That unfortunately made this scene crucial to the novel, as horrible as that may sound.

  27. Ian Macdonald says:

    pg 257 – “I am on a soft white sofa, flying over Manhattan, trying to shield my face from the bitter wind, trying desperately to figure out how to steer this thing. It rises sudden and violent, climbs at such a pitch I’m worried I’ll roll off it and fall to my death. Then it nosedives and I slide the other way.”

    This scene is during one of Annie’s seizures which she has while she is staying in New York. The theme of visions is recurring throughout the novel, but Annie’s seizures are the focal point of this theme. While she is in this altered state she seems to be able to leave her body and float around, seeing things from the perspective of an omnicient narrator. This particular passage shows how she is uncomfortable with the visions and has a lot of difficulty in controlling them. She wants to use this “ability” to aid her in finding her lost sister, Suzanne, but the information it gives her does not actually provide any help. She leaves the vision without having gained any real knowledge about her sister, but the author leaves the reader here with the belief that in the near future Annie would be able to guide her seizure-induced vision and find a key factor to her sister’s disappearance.

  28. Laurel Ganem says:

    “When I was done, I sat and sweat and lit another cigarette I took out my cereal bowl, placed the dried contents of the pouch into it, and lit them on fire with a match. Still morning. Smoke rose up straight to you. I sat below you and followed its trail. Straight smoke. A thin, simple line. It told me exactly what I had to do.” (149)

    Throughout the novel, one of the greater motivators of the intertwining plots is that of the characters using signs and instinct to help lead them along in their personal journeys. In this particular quote, Will uses the line of smoke from his cereal bowl to finally make his choice about the fate of his enemy, Marius. Before seeing this smoke, Will had gone back and forth constantly, never able to truly make a decision about his plan of action. I am not saying by any means that this smoke was magical or that it made Will’s decision for him; it was simply an embodiment of all the hardship and emotional pain that Marius had caused him (the freshest wound being the death of his bear, and thus the reason for the smoke) and therefore a vehicle that pushed Will to his ultimate resolution: that he would kill Marius and finally rid his life of fear. In the parallel narrative, Annie led a somewhat chaotic life in Montreal. With no true plan in sight, she looked for any shred of the existence of her sister in the city and used everything she found to further that search. Despite her tendency to get sidetracked along the way, Annie consistently looked for and almost always found new clues or connections to Suzanne, using both people’s accounts as well as intuition and what little familial connection she had left with her sister. By conquering these small tribulations within their larger journeys, the characters of Through Black Spruce are taking natural steps towards self-reflection and growth as people, which I believe to be the overarching premise of the novel itself.

  29. Emily says:

    “The words came out of my mouth now like sparrows, taking direction where I couldn’t control. ‘It’s a long story, I think.’ I looked up at him quick as I lit my cigarette. He watched the bay, waiting. I wanted to tell him the story straight but I couldn’t see it in a straight line. Stories never are”(240-1).

    Will and Annie are both trying to grapple with their pasts and make sense of their old selves in their present. This passage is one of Will’s, when he is talking to old Koosis at his camp, trying to explain how he murdered Marius. Instead, his other stories come out. Since Will is unconscious throughout the majority of the novel, all of his chapters are remembrances of things past. The reason he is in a coma is because of a long history of disputes between he and Marius about something unrelated to Will, and so he spends his chapters trying to make sense of this. Will is always talking about the man he used to be, fit, not yet an alcoholic, with his family, then with Dorothy, and how he ruined all of these things (intentionally or unintentionally). He slowly tells about his three plane crashes throughout the course of his narrative like these are three markers that defined him. He goes to the woods because he is in hiding, yes, but also because he needed to figure himself out, and get back to what he thought was a better Will. His story is not straight, neither is Annie’s, or anyone elses, his present can only be made up of pieces of what he was, his past.

  30. Matthew P says:

    “They begin fighting again. I watch them argue like children over who gets to kill me… ‘Careful, you fucking idiot,’ the man in the glasses says. ‘Your going to shoot me.’ I watch him grip the golf club…I will keep my eyes open. I will not close them. I will die like a warrior. I hear the faraway crack of a rifle. Marius lands on the snow hard beside me. The last thing I hear before the club strikes me and the sky lightens to white and my head breaks apart… Black swallows the snow all around Marius. I understand that its blood. My eyes no longer see colour. I stare into his eyes…Marius opens his mouth to say something to me. Blood rushes from it instead, covering the snow between us”(Boyden 337-338).

  31. Matthew P says:

    A major theme of the novel is redemption. Throughout the course of the novel, it is a cat and mouse game between Marius and Annie. According to Annie, the tensions may have been sparked from the fact that she never gave him a chance to be with her. After Marius and his gang for reasons unclear to Annie breaks her leg with a baseball bat, she steaks out Marius in the forest while he is driving his pickup truck and shoots him breaking off the back part of his head. In a later chapter Marius and an accomplice attack Annie, ending in Marius dead, and Annie “…Close too”(Boyden 338). The back and forth acts of violence stemming from one thing and escalating to another exercises the theme of redemption over and over though out the course of entire the book.

  32. Scott says:

    “‘No, Not Danny that I know of. His two buddies, though. Paper said it looks like biker retaliation. Cleaning house.” I feel a great weight lift from my chest. Let their own take care of their own. Let their own purge them. Crazy Danny and his friends went too far. They’ve been cut from the herd. And this means they’ve been cut from me and my clan’s life. We are free of them.” –290

    This passage is interesting because of the ideas of kinship that it brings up. Annie as the narrator here refers to clans and herds, an important theme throughout the book. From the warring families up north, to the social circles in the cities that Annie travels to, the set of people a character identifies with is often a motivation for their actions. Annie’s search for Suzanne is a more conventional display of obligation due to social ties, but nearly all of the characters’ actions revolve around social ties like these. Gordon’s care for Annie begins with her being saved by him because he was watching her, told to by his “clanmember.” Will’s interaction with the outside world is based off of family warfare. Annie’s movement around the modelling scene is entirely dictated by who’s social circle she is part of and who she knows and is friends with. These ties are prevalent. The passage about Danny is of particular interest because it highlights the near-contract side of clanship though. Being a member of a clan requires that one fulfill the social ties and obligations required to reap the benefits of being a member of a group or society. When Danny and his friends wrong others within their clan, they are cast off. It highlights that characters are not just mere points in the wilderness, but tied to others through different threads of their lives. This connection ranges from Annie’s connection to Butterfoot through the Cree chants in his music, to Will’s motivation to kill. All aspects of the character’s lives are affected by their involvement in social circles; usually two groups’ interaction with each other are involved, rather than a groups interaction with itself such as in this passage however. The containment of the action between one clan here though highlights for the reader what happens, rather than the reader just witnessing the different characters interactions and drawing conclusions from there.

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