Like all things in life, there will always be standouts. We see the examples of the Olympic athlete, the world-renowned singer, the jaw dropping sports car or even the perfect weather. The word we use for them is “unique”. But what makes these things or people so unrivalled? It is their personal qualities that make them so prominent, and without these qualities they would be no different from any other. And, although difficult, it is possible to create even novels that are remarkable.
The story of Xavier, Elijah and Niska and their tales of war, home and ancient traditions, is surely of the most unique novels ever written, and should be considered an unsurpassed gem. The Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden is a compelling story due to its unique qualities of both aboriginal and Canadian perspective, its variation of distinct and raw settings, it’s stark realism and powerful description, and finally its tangled relationships between the 3 main protagonists.
Despite being one of countless world-war novels, Boyden’s use of the aboriginal perspective in Canada’s role during WWI makes the Three Day Road a refreshing and ultimately unparalleled read.
Unlike its plentiful counterparts, the Three Day Road is told from the point of view of aboriginal main characters (Xavier and Niska).
The following excerpt is a brief summary of the novel itself, which remarks on this unique and fascinating point of view: “Joseph Boyden tells a powerful and dramatic story of two Cree men from Moose Factory, Xavier and Elijah, who experience the horrors of trench warfare in World War I as snipers with the Canadian forces in Belgium and France. Through the perspective of Niska, Xavier’s aunt, Boyden presents a parallel story of an Aboriginal woman caught up in rapid cultural change and personal loss.
The story is told in flashbacks, alternating between Niska’s and Xavier’s perspective. ” (Bohr) Boyden specifically set-out to honor the numerous Canadian aboriginal combatants, who often volunteered more than any other race. In addition, Boyden meant to recognize the cultural trials and discrimination that aboriginal people’s faced in this period. The tales recounted by Xavier and Niska are completely exhilarating and unique experiences. We personally can empathize with the plights that Native Americans faced at the time, from the widespread-racism o the battle to retain culture and traditions all the way to the horrors of residential schools. Boyden uses many different techniques to maintain this point of view, from the use of native Cree language by Xavier, Niska and Elijah such as “Ashtum, (pg 53) Windago (pg 41), Askihkan (pg 38), Wemistikoshiw (pg 5) and numerous other words, to the unique view of the protagonists on western culture “They were North-West Mounted Police, and their uniform buttons shone brightly in the sun.
Their leather boots squeaked with each step, and their strange words broke harshly from thin, tight lips” (pg 47). Citations such as “Long past my father’s death I remember how they laughed at me, a woman living alone in the bush and trapping animals after all my relations had gone to the reserves”(pg48) and “Breech says that it is our Indian blood, that our blood is closer to that of an animal than that of a man”(pg101) truly acknowledge how aboriginals were treated at the time.
Second-class citizens both at home and at war, the natives were treated with such distaste that it is a shock to realize that this discrimination took place so frequently. These themes are for the most part alien and unfamiliar; however they are written with such care to detail and precision that one could be forgiven for believing that this is a work of non-fiction. Without this fascinating aspect, the novel itself would surely lose some of its luster.
To completely captivate and enchant his readers, Boyden masterfully flip-flops between the two haunting, eerie but beautiful settings of war-torn Europe and a newly developing Canada. These two heart-stirring settings are both extraordinarily well written and rich. Boyden sticks to his unique use of native perspective in this aspect as well, and we snap back and forth between Canada and World War One. As the bulk of the narrative takes place as flashbacks, Boyden is able to effortlessly switch between the present and past settings.
This interlocking writing method is remarked upon in the following passage: “The chapters describing Xavier’s and Elijah’s experiences are interwoven with sections of Niska telling her life story, illustrating the growing influence of the Hudson’s Bay Company, various levels of government, as well as missionaries, clergy and residential schools on Cree communities on Hudson Bay”. (Bohr) In the breadth of a couple chapters we are transported from the forest and rivers of outdoor Canada to the giant waves and swells of the English Channel all the way to the blasted trenches of France.
A perfect example is on page 110 where Boyden flawlessly transitions from a conversation between Niska and Xavier into the trenches of Ypres. Because of transitioning like this we see first-hand and begin to compare the cultural, physical and temporal settings of both the trench warfare and 20th century Canada. This allows Boyden to get across certain points by making the reader inadvertently draw conclusions and comparisons. An example of this would be that no matter where they go, the protagonists will always have their race hovering over their heads.
For example when Elijah and Xavier attempt to sit down on a train they are told “No Indians in this car, you belong four cars to the back”. Whether in Canada, Europe, trenches or wilderness we realize that the natives at this time were always treated with disrespect for no apparent reason. This ability is only accomplished due to the unique dual settings that Boyden has developed. Had Boyden chosen to only develop one of the two, the Three Day Road’s would lose its emphasis on setting which remains one of its greatest strengths.
While there are numerous novels of this type, it is Boyden’s stark realism in his imagery that truly separates The Three Day Road from any other. The majority of authors often shun away from telling explicit details. However, Boyden’s imagery is as brutal, intense and unflinching in its portrayal of both 1910’s Canada and the obliterated trenches of Europe. His writing style accurately and vividly portrays the chaos, fear, courage and addictions of both settings in which the story takes place. As remarked upon in this passage, we observe the horrors of this terrible time. Boyden paints a vivid picture of the horrors of war as they would have been experienced on a personal level: Xavier’s realization that one false move could be your last. The lice crawling over is body. The cold. The hunger. The mud”. (Petten) We can empathize with the desperation and hopelessness of the Canadian soldiers, who lived in horrible conditions and saw their best friends slaughtered daily. Through Xavier’s eyes we observe things such as: “The landscape is stranger than anything I’ve ever seen.
Pocked and pitted, little valleys of mud filled with water and corpses” (pg 71) along with the horrific scenes of death and destruction: “A whiz-bang catches one of the soldiers square in the middle of the torso and he disintegrates into a red spray of chunks. ” The phrases themselves like: “A bomb falling from under the plane screams in the cold air, then we hear the whomp of splintering roof as it pierces wood and the tiny breath of silence before the explosion” (pg 288) invoke the same fear of mortar rounds in its reader that the soldiers likely felt while cowering at the front lines.
Remaining truthful to his stark realism, Boyden explains the reasoning behind the plentiful morphine addictions, and why they become necessary to soldier’s survival. We begin to comprehend that they are: “deathly afraid of pain, of prolonged suffering even more than they are scared of death” (pg 113) and that is why so many of the soldiers carry and use it. We even see how certain men are “prisoners of the medicine they call morphine (pg65). After sacrificing life and limb for country, soldiers like Xavier who have come to rely upon morphine to endure the pains of their many injuries, are given a very little amount and almost left to die out.
However it is not just Boyden’s explicit imagery of battle that is so captivating. In addition, he does not shy away from starkly retelling of the discrimination that aboriginal peoples faced at the time. Parallel to the terrible conditions of the war, we are transported back to 20th century Canada. Niska’s tales compared to Xavier’s, although less violent, are just as profound and important. The Three Day Road doesn’t hold any punches when it comes to racism that the protagonists suffered.
Events like when Niska is told: “He says you are a dirty bush Indian and a sorceress to boot and he will not have you in his store even if you have a hundred relatives in their army” (pg 296) are as common in the novel as they were in 20th century Canada. It also accurately depicts the abuse faced by young native children at Canadian residential schools. Even today the atrocities that were committed at these “schools” are terrible to think of, and Boyden uses fictional examples such as when Sister Magdalene beats Xavier and Elijah for making a joke (pg 153).
It’s shocking to say the least, to see first-hand the kind of intolerance Canada used to have. It is a bit of a wake-up call, to read the Three Day Road and realize the horrors and pains suffered by our ancestors. As remarked upon in the following passage, the language used is one of the Three Day Road’s strongest points: “While the story is told with the dramatic flow of a page-turner, the language creates vivid images of the stark landscape of the Hudson Bay Lowlands and the boreal forest with its rivers, rocks and lakes, but also of the horrific fighting in moonscapes of craters, shell holes, dugouts and trenches on the western front”. Bohr) Had Boyden chosen to shy away from some of his more explicit parts, the novel itself would not be the powerful tale it is.
As with all things, if one truly wants to make an impact, they need to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. The Three Day Road is the epitome of this ability. It goes above and beyond what would be considered a “good” book, and leaves a profound impact on its readers. Joseph Boyden has truly created an “amazing work of fiction that belongs in every library”(Ristau) Nevertheless without the key aspects of the unparalleled aboriginal and Canadian perspective, variation of distinct and raw settings, stark realism and powerful description, and finally its tangled relationships between the 3 main protagonists, the Three Day Road would be just “another” read.
Cite this Three Day Road Essay
Three Day Road Essay. (2016, Oct 17). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/three-day-road-essay/