Blog prompt #7 2011

On Monday’s class, we had a productive discussion about many of the themes that work their way through Boyden’s novel.

Find and discuss a scene that you think contributes to one of the main themes of Through Black Spruce. Discuss this in relation to the novel, but also consider whether or not this connects to things we’ve observed in the other works we’ve read in this class.

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11 Responses to Blog prompt #7 2011

  1. Rachael says:

    I found the theme of communication to be really relevant to this novel. Annie struggles at first with communicating to Will and feels silly speaking to someone who she isn’t sure can hear her, but very quickly she adjusts to this concept and begins to need and look forward to it. In the same way that she communicates so well with Gordon, she communicates with her uncle. It is more through an instinctive sense of knowing, an understanding in ways that cannot be communicated through words than most people are used to. It is meditative for her and allows her to ultimately reflect on herself and thought process and allows her to be honest in a way that she hasn’t been before.

  2. Anne H. says:

    One of the main themes of Through Black Spruce is violence. When Will discovers that Marius has murdered his bear, there is no turning back. This is the breaking point that makes Will decide that he is going to kill Marius. Marius had been beating up Will within an inch of his life—violence was no stranger to Will, or the rest of the community. These encounters force Will to become a sort of recluse and foster his alcoholism. Will could put up with it for a while, but when Marius thought it was a good idea to kill an innocent bear, he signed his own death certificate. Violence is a prominent theme in many of the novels we have read for this class. Rape and murder existed in almost every work. An interesting comparison with using an innocent third party function, exists in In Search of April Raintree. April is used by her husband. April did not do anything to upset the man she marries; he is simply using her to make his mother mad, and ex-girlfriend jealous. Marius uses the bear to infuriate Will. Both of these actions were extreme routes to take and could have been done much more easily without bringing in the innocents.

  3. Shelley says:

    One of the main themes that runs Through Black Spruce was the connection to and ability to survive off of the land. Annie and Will run trap lines for martan and beaver, Will hunts geese with the old couple in the bush. The group of Cree that Annie meets in Toronto survived by eating the geese that they caught in the city parks, even though they tasted different than the wild geese Annie was used to. Gordon begins to learn the way of trapping beaver and how to identify where the entrance to the dens will be. They only take what they need to either sell for pelts or to survive through the winter months.

    Living off of the land, the river and the sea, harvesting the natural berries and plants was seen in Monkey Beach when Lisamarie’s family goes north to fish for Oolichan. Mick and Lisamarie go salmonberry picking and she and Ma-ma-oo go out to gather the oxasuli. Stacey’s mother and the other women of her village gather plants to make into medicinal tea and poultices. They are shocked when Stacey brings home plants that her friend’s mother threw out as weeds.

  4. Kaleigh M says:

    Within Through Black Spruce one of the most fascinating themes, in my point of view, was that of communication. Not only the lack of understanding between non-native and native individuals, but also between two native individuals who are faced with communication dilemmas. Though these Native persons are unable to communicate in a traditional fashion, they are still able to effectively relate to each other.
    This is most true through the actions of our main protagonist, Annie. Annie communicates with both Uncle Will, who is comatose, and Gordon, who has been a mute since childhood. Annie’s repetition of “one-way” communication may not only relate to her relationship with the male figures in her life, but also to her relationship with modern white society. When she travels to the bigger cities of the Northeast, she gives her time, body and beauty in order to try to find her sister by infiltrating her life. However, the only thing that the big city gives back is pain and a further sense of loss of self. How interesting that despite Annie not receiving any oral feedback from Uncle Will and Gordon, they are still able to give her emotional guidance and support. Perhaps this is Boyden’s way of eluding to the fact that, no matter how much modern life gives native individuals, it will never have the same psychological effect as native culture.
    This also connects to the work “Green Grass, Running Water” by Thomas King, in which we see Charlie’s father Portland Look Bear’s attempts to make it in Hollywood result in his further separation from his own identity. Again, modern society may provide money and glamour, but these false pretenses for happiness have no place within a native mind, where deeper morals and ideals cannot truly thrive in this type of environment.

  5. cwcollie says:

    The theme I have chosen to look at in relation to Through Black Spruce is the theme of sibling loyalty. Though it was difficult to choose just one scene in regards to this theme, I came across Annie’s attack on page 76. Annie is in the city with Eva. Upon meeting Grandfather, an elder on the street, she discovers that he knows Suzanne. This instance sparks Annie’s curiosity, and she decides to stay in the city to look for Suzanne. The attack, though not directly related to Suzanne, shows how different the city environment is for Annie. This new environment is a test of her loyalty to Suzanne and her motivation in finding her whereabouts.
    Annie continues to live in the city, breaking into Suzanne’s world of modeling, befriending complete strangers, fitting into the party scene, and continually putting herself in dangerous situations. Earlier in the novel, Annie mentions that her relationship with Suzanne was always a tense one. The two were terribly competitive in many ways. Suzanne had beauty and charisma that went unmatched by anyone, including Annie. With these gifts, Suzanne dreams of a big life in the city, and that is exactly what she gets. Despite these differences in way of life, Annie is willing to gamble her own life with hope that it will bring her closer to Suzanne. The city life is not one Annie is used to, or that she particularly enjoys. Yet, she lives in various cities in order to find her sister. Boyden’s novel demonstrates sibling loyalty and suggests that it is a devotion that goes unparalleled.

  6. Andrew C. says:

    One of the most important aspect, and over-arching theme, of Through Black Spruce, is Annie Bird’s dilemma in which she begins to epitomize her sister Suzanne. The theme that comes up throughout the novel has to do with identity, and the role of identity, in Ojibway and Cree peoples. While Annie begins to model and receive support from her sister’s friends, DJ Butterfoot, Soliel, and Violet, she also realizes that the “Indian Princess” which she becomes is less like herself and more like her sister. Her new “friends” are only there because they want Suzanne, and Annie is the closest they can get to that, in their present ordeals.
    Annie even begins to say that she is Suzanne, seeing Suzanne when she looks in a mirror as she wears Suzanne’s clothes and begins her “vision quest.” As she is being photographed, she imagined how angry she was when Suzanne left, and then when she realizes she is posing correctly, notices that she is acting like Suzanne. “A secret I need to share with you. When the photographer tells me I’m too stiff, that I need life in my face, in my eyes, I think of Suzanne, and I become angry. Angry for her disappearing like this, angry that I’m forced to write postcards, even a couple of short letters to our mother, pretending do be Suzanne in order to try and ease Mum’s torture. And when the photographer says yes, now you’re finding something, you know what I do? I pretend I am Suzanne and not myself, posing like I remember seeing her posing, staring off like I’ve seen so many photos of her doing in those magazines, stretching my arms out, raising my chin defiantly, pretending I gaze into a lover’s eyes…If Suzanne really is dead, then I will live for her. I’ll be her, if need be.” (250) In this scene Annie blatantly states that she tries, not only to act like Suzanne, but to be just like her. Suzanne was living a life that Annie thought she wanted, and in this passage, we finally see how badly Annie wanted it, to the point where she wanted to be her and live for her. While it is not exactly the same situation, the passage, and the theme of identity, is similar to Lee Maracle’s novel Ravensong which we read at the beginning of the semester.
    In Ravensong, Stacey wants to be like the white folk across the river. As she slowly realizes that white people and her Indian community have different problems she begins to gain respect for her community and no longer wants to live like the white people. She once wanted to epitomize the white identity. She no longer wanted to be of Indian heritage. But her ways changed just like Annie’s. Annie slowly moves away from acting, and being, her sister as she is abused and almost killed by Danny. The importance of identity is an overarching theme in both Through Black Spruce and Ravensong. Initially, the characters want to lose their identity and transform into a new and, what they thought was, better person. Their Indian heritage and culture calls them back and allows them to attain their original identity; rather than the new identity they so wished to could gain.

  7. Peter Cullen says:

    One of the main themes of Through Black Spruce is the company of family. The more we see distance between Will and Annie the more we see them drift away from reality. As Annie continues to visit Will in the hospital she feels a sense of belonging, a healing for herself. She knows deep down that he’s listening and her company is keeping him alive. We see them lose their identities when they are away from each other. Annie was never like Suzanne in any way and it is ironic to see her act so similar in Montreal. She understands Suzanne’s longing to get away but it isn’t until her life in the city that she becomes so similar. She states “Violet says she’s going to New York, and I will try to go with her. That’s all I can do for my sister right now. It’s more than she did for us.” Her old ways of living in Moosonee, the fishing and the snowmobiling around town, have completely escaped her. The drug and alcohol abuse takes her into this fantasy world with Violet. We see how this creates separation of family in many of the books we’ve read. We see kids taken away in In Search of April Raintree, destroyed towns in Kiss of the Fur Queen, and run-away children in Monkey Beach. We also see Will’s separation from family throughout the novel. He won’t stop blaming himself for what happened to his wife and kids. It is only through Annie, Suzanne, and their mother where we see who Will really is. His insanity begins to form when he flees into the spruce but we also see him clear his head at times. Family is what makes him a survivor. He remembers his conversations with his father where he tells Will about their family looking down on them.

    Residential schools also seem to be a recurring theme throughout the novels we’ve read in this class. It is always a touchy subject and we constantly see its relation to alcohol abuse. Will does not talk about his experiences but the reader can see his pain throughout the book. He’ll never forget that day his parent dropped him off. The same goes for Jeremiah and his brother in Kiss of the Fur Queen and Mick and Trudy in Monkey Beach. We can see how their experiences at residential school haunt them forever.

  8. Lauren K. says:

    One of the major themes in Through Black Spruce is identity. In particular Annie assumes the identity of Suzanne as she tries to figure out what happened to her. Annie goes to Toronto, Montreal, and New York City in order to track down what happened to her sister. In the process of doing this she starts to take on her identity. She starts modeling, partying, and doing drugs. She even begins to look a lot like Suzanne. A particular scene I am referring to is when Annie is with Violet at an apartment that Suzanne used to stay at. Violet brings out a bunch of Suzanne’s clothes and has Annie try them on. Annie looks in the mirror and sees that she has become Suzanne. “I take a breath and open my eyes. I can’t quite believe what stares back. I see the long black hair first, then the tall thin body. The high cheekbones. Then I see the bright eyes. What has happened? I can see you, Sister. I see you Suzanne.” Not only has Annie assumed the same career, friends, and boys as Suzanne, she also has assumed her looks. She now is more like Suzanne then ever before. Annie likes this new found popularity and beauty. She likes being Suzanne. Even though I feel that Annie still wants to find Suzanne, she rather be a part of this lifestyle as long as she can. She likes the things that it gives her and she likes the attention. For a short time Annie seems to forget about finding Suzanne. Since she now feels like Suzanne maybe that is a enough for her. As things go downhill in this world though Annie starts to remember about finding Suzanne and the things that are really important to her.

  9. Chelsea G. says:

    One of the major themes in Through Black Spruce is the question of identity. As Annie searches for Suzanne, she loses her identity and takes on Suzanne’s. When Annie tells how she crosses the boarder she says “The fear worst of all is that I’m losing myself. The fear is that I’m going where my sister has ended. Crossing dark water at night on a fast boat without running lights because I no longer have the means to prove too anyone who I am” (201). Annie is afraid that she is losing herself, yet she continues to take on more and more of Suzanne’s identity. The idea that Annie is unable to prove who she is is also very interesting. When she is at home in Moosonee she has no need to prove who she is, her identity is constructed by her community, by her relations. Outside of her community, her identity is constructed by pieces of plastic. When Annie realizes she has lost her driver’s license and her status card, her first thought is, “Fuck! How will I prove I’m an Indian?” (134). This need to prove her identity intersects with other themes in the novel besides the theme of identity. The themes of urban vs. rural, native vs. non-native, and shallow vs. deep can all be seen in the difference between how Annie’s identity is created in Moosonee and how her identity is created in the cities. In the native, rural community, identity is deep, created by family and shared experiences. In the non-native, urban world, identity is shallow, created inanimate things like drivers licenses and status cards.
    The theme of identity can also be seen in Kiss of the Fur Queen. In the native community in northern Manitoba, the Okimasis brothers are Champion and Ooneemeetoo. Their identities are created by their family and by their personal abilities. Priests rename them Jeremiah and Gabriel. These names have no connection to the brothers. They are chosen from the religious texts of another culture. This shift from the deep identities created by family and community to shallow identities created by outsiders is similar to the shift in how Annie creates her identity from the one created within her community to the one created by government issued cards.

  10. Xinh Xinh N. says:

    The residential school experience:

    Of all the major themes that we discussed, one of the majors themes which caught my attention the most is the residential school experience for Will. On page 80-82, the section described Will’s first interaction with the residential school when his parents took him there. Will did not know where his parents were taking him to. For Will, he thought that he would be safe from the residential school since his parents knew what happened in there and they would never take him there. “My mind went as white as that building then, and I thought I was going to throw up. I pulled against my father’s hand so that we could turn around and run if we had to” (81). This description is great because it showed how worry and scared Will was even though he hadn’t been in the school.

    In addition, when Will’s mother tried to talk Will out of going to residential school, and she suggested that they should move to different place. It reminded me of “Kiss of Fur Queen” by Tomson Highway when Jeremiah and Gabriel from their parents. Even though Will’s father loved him, he could not do anything by letting him go. It seemed like he was not sure when he assured Will that everything will be fine and the people in the residential school will take care of him.

    Being in the residential school, the children were not allowed nor had a very little contact with their families and communities. In some cases, some parents might not see their children again. In residential schools, native children were forced to say prayers, never allowed to speak in their native language, and suffered from physical, sexual and emotional abuse. We did not really know whether Will experienced any of the abuses, but the residential school did change Will. He became isolated from his community, even with his family. He preferred to do everything alone, but as the book progress, Will’s character changed as he tried to connect back with his community.

    Residential school experience is one of the biggest issues that the natives had to go through when they were at the residential school. This theme connects to other books that we have read such as Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson, Kiss of Fur Queen by Tomson Highway…These novels have emphasized the impact of residential schools on different characters in the stories. In the novels, Aunt Trudy, Uncle Mick, Josh, Jeremiah, Gabriel and Will are natives who have experienced every form of abuse: physical, sexual, emotional and spiritual. These forms of abuse eventually leave emotion scars in all of them in different ways.

  11. Ali V. says:

    Through Black Spruce has a number of themes that weave their way throughout the whole book and that help to reader to understand the perspectives of different characters. One particular theme that I found to be interesting was the relationship between Natives and non-Natives and how each group views each other. One of the scenes in Through Black Spruce that I believed contributed to this theme was when Annie spoke Cree to Soleil at the club. It is in this scene that Annie is at the club and she is about to meet Soleil for the first time. Annie so desperately wants to be appreciated and liked by Soleil so she decides to make an interesting first impression. It is when she is introduced to Soleil that Annie speaks to her in Cree and she compliments Soleil in this Native language. Because Annie showed this unique side of her, Soleil decided that she was exotic and she found Annie to be exciting. I found this to be really interesting because Annie was attacked by a non-Native earlier in the story for being a Native woman. However, at this point in the narrative, Annie is treated more like a novelty act by the people at the club. This was perpetuated when Annie was termed the “Indian Princess” by Soleil and Violet. It is this through this idea that she is different from the other models and the other people in the big cities that Annie is treated differently.
    I feel as though this is a very relevant passage to not only Through Black Spruce as a whole but also to many of the other narratives that we have read throughout the semester. It is this separation of the Natives and the non-Natives that is constantly coming up in many of our texts. Also, by calling Annie the “Indian Princess” Soleil and Violet were perpetuating the idea of the stereotypical Indian that we have talked about throughout this semester. By putting this name to Annie, the non-Natives are showing that they do not actually know that much about Native culture and traditions. However, because Annie looks Native and she spoke Cree to them, this is enough for them to place her in this category. It is this ignorance to what it really means to be Native that deprives the non-Native characters in many of our texts from seeing beneath the surface in terms of “being Native”.
    I found that this particular passage really emphasized this theme and it brought out the fact that many non-Natives tend to find Native people to be exciting and exotic. It is through this section of the book that the reader sees Annie using her Native heritage to her advantage in the city because she is using it to get noticed by Soleil. Even though she did get to enjoy the attention of Soleil and all of her friends, Annie received a rude awakening when she realized that she was no longer a part of their group and that the novelty of Annie speaking her Native language had worn off in their minds. Annie finds this out when she is no longer on the list of guests at the popular club that she had originally been allowed to visit. This really reminds me of Mama-oo’s warning in Monkey Beach that you have to be careful with Native traditions and knowledge because it can be harmful if used inappropriately.

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