Through Black Spruce: Shift of the Characters

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Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden

As I have been reading Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden, there is a twofold story occurring which creates an interesting dynamic for the reader. The story begins with Will Bird, who is a pilot struggling with alcohol abuse in a small town called Moosonee (Northern Ontario). The story then shifts to a narrator named Annie, who I found out through reading was Will’s niece. It is also realized that Annie is talking to her uncle about stories about her missing sister Suzanne. There is a twist however; Will is in a coma but Boyden still uses Will’s “memories” as chapters within the book. The chapters begin to alternate as to who is narrating (Annie or Will), which reveal a dark past for both characters. Will’s first “memory” in the book is being beaten by a “friend” named Marius for Suzanne (Will’s missing niece) running away with Gus (Marius’ brother) to Toronto. Throughout Chapters 4 and 5, residential schools and the horrors that the Birds’ went through (they are from the Cree Nation) are also mentioned, which I speculate why Annie talks about drug trafficking and Will’s alcohol abuse is evident. Halfway through the book ends going back to Will’s memory, with running away from Marius after the beating.

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A Map of Canadian Cree Nations

Although the subject matter of this post is regarding the archetypal lens, as I have been reading I feel that reader response can be used as a lens in addition. In school, I learned about the struggles that Natives faced with the Residential Schools, which today are being discussed heavily with Canada 150 and the Truth & Reconciliation Commission Hearings(“Truth and Reconciliation Commission”). The struggles that Will is facing throughout the book that I’ve read so far, it provides me with insight on why the residential schools and alcohol abuse problem isn’t just with the “modern” Natives that we hear from today, but truly that it has been a issue for decades that shouldn’t be forgotten. Frankly, it’s appropriate that this is being read today. Despite what the Canadian Encyclopedia says, noting that Will doesn’t discuss traditions of the Cree Nation, I think he does portray “traditions”, since he goes through the motions of being an oppressed First Nations person (Marshall). As a result of this, Will is going through the stereotypical struggles that have plagued the First Nations; which unfortunately can be seen as a tradition today. The archetype of the struggling hero (Will) is seen in the first half of the book, as a Cree person who is trying to make their way in the world, however is being penalized in life simply because he was born into an underestimated, ignored and discriminated group of people.

The shift of character involvement and development appears to be a trend so far in Through Black Spruce. The focusing of archetypical characters in Through Black Spruce is shifting throughout this portion of the book from Annie and Suzanne, despite Will’s coma being the basis of the story so far. Even though with Will in the hospital, his memories portray the Hero Archetype, as he is constantly struggling to try and find a way to save the day (meaning, he is trying to save himself from societal struggles of being a Cree person). Will’s archetypal experience aligns indirectly; meaning that his journey is subject to interpretation in my view, as all archetypal experiences are subject to interpretation. Annie appears to be the Great Mother role, as she is caring for Will and telling him stories in order to keep his memories alive. However, the memories she shares in the novel (such as telling the story of her missing sister) is a struggle of finding her identity, which many Great Mother hero types have struggled with. These Great Mothers/Caretakers have the role of ensuring everyone is safe and making sure others needs are met before their own, therefore Annie’s journey aligns with the archetypal Great Mother. Overall, identity appears to be a big issue and I hope it doesn’t continue throughout the book in order for an end result of the characters “finding themselves” happen. 

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William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet can be compared to Through Black Spruce’s Will Bird

I have used a classic literary comparison in order to discuss the tragic hero connection with Will Bird. In the novel “Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare, Romeo tries to act as a hero when declaring his love for Juliet. When Tybalt hears of this love, he wants to fight Romeo. Romeo refused to fight and so Mercutio had instead, leading him to death by Tybalt (Shmoop Editorial Team). When Romeo saw what has happened to his best friend he pulls out his sword and fights Tybalt to the death.  Using the comparison of Romeo, Will Bird has a similar archetypal experience as Romeo and Will were both born into minority cultures with their own specific conflicts, which either character cannot change. Will is a tragic hero because he tries to stand up for his nation to be heard and not be humiliated like the rest of the First Nations, but he ends up being beat up by Marius. This relates to Romeo and Juliet because Romeo tries to show everyone that loving Juliet (someone of the family’s enemy) isn’t a bad thing; similar to Marius beating Will because of his heritage. This act of Romeo showing his family that Juliet isn’t that bad flusters Tybalt (Juliet’s cousin) even more, leading to a duel by killing Mercutio then eventually Tybalt. This also compares with Romeo and Will’s archetypal relationship because eventually both of these tragic hero acts end up with hurt (Will) and death (Romeo). But let’s hope that not all of the character battles end up in death shall we (but really, stop killing each other alright?)

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A modern sniper gun, similar to what Will was given as a boy in the bush of the Cree Nation

Characters craft the story (especially using the archetypal criticism), however inanimate symbols are equally as important. A symbol that I found while reading was the Sniper Rifle that was given to Will when he was a boy. This Sniper was used in the Great War, belonging to the Germans. The Sniper Rifle is a symbol of war, and was used throughout history. Guns have always been around since the wars and as the years went on guns have become more common and advanced.  Today, guns are very common between being used for police force, hunting and self protection (which is what Will was doing). A famous archetypal symbol is the “Magic Weapon” and does a bit more than the standard “Observe and Protect” use of a gun that fellow police officers use (“Symbols and Archetypes”). This weapon is given to the hero (in this case, Will) in order to conquer their journey or prove themselves as individuals. Will uses the Sniper Rifle as his Magic Weapon throughout the first half of the book, in order to protect him from people wanting to punish him for simply being a Cree person.

From Will being a hero ever since he was young, to when he is in the hospital I think that he will conquer what he stands for. I have a feeling that being in a coma won’t stand in Will’s way of getting back into the world, therefore I think that by the end of the story Will will be recovered from his coma hopefully. This prediction says a lot since the nurses said there is a very high chance that Will will never wake up again but since his character has shown to be a “Tragic Hero” with boldness, then he will find the strength to become “conscious” again.

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Big Bad and Scary Toronto (according to Annie)

I can see that Annie’s personality has progressed throughout the book, as she was set on her duties at camp and use to her routine schedule of visiting Will everyday in the hospital. Annie’s character already has progressed from stepping out of her shell to being bold. Will’s nurse Eva offered Annie to come with her on a trip to Toronto, where Annie has always wanted to go but says “Can you imagine me in a place like Toronto?” “ I’d be dead in two days” (Boyden, 43). I sometimes feel the same way about big cities that I’m not familiar with; I totally get it. At the end of Chapter 6 Annie noticed how she should take a chance and explore something new, “ I’ll come with you”,  as she said to Eva leaving off the chapter with a new insight on Annie’s character personality (Boyden, 44).  I think since Annie’s already proven acts of boldness from the beginning of the book she’s going to continue to act this way potentially leading her to a situation that she shouldn’t be in and perhaps gets injured or getting killed.

So what do you think; are the archetypes in your books of choice shifting throughout the novel like mine (Through Black Spruce), or are they generally sticking to the stereotypes? I think the switch makes reading more interesting and hope to see the changes happen throughout the remaining 5 chapters.

Works Cited

“Truth and Reconciliation Commission.” Reports. National Centre for Truth and

Reconciliation, n.d. Web. 12 July 2017. <http://nctr.ca/reports.php&gt;.

“Symbols and Archetypes.” Greeneville City Schools. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 July 2017.

<http://www.gcschools.net/gms/sandel/dates/SYMBOLS%20AND%20ARC

HETYPES.htm

Boyden, J. (2010). Through Black Spruce. London, Canada: Phoenix (an Imprint of

The Orion Publishing Group Ltd).

Marshall, Susanne. “Through Black Spruce.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web.

12 July 2017. <http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/through-black-

 spruce/>.

Shmoop Editorial Team. “Tybalt Capulet in Romeo and Juliet.” Shmoop. Shmoop

University, 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 12 July 2017. <http://www.shmoop.com/romeo-

and-juliet/tybalt.html>.

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