Diction and storytelling in Death by Landscape by Margaret Atwood

Rather than an exaggerated hyperbole, “scarred for life” is a very accurate description of Lois from the short story “Death by Landscape’s” state of mind. Margaret Atwood depicts a character haunted by her childhood and solidifies that past experiences do a great deal in shaping the future of children into adulthood. Through diction by an older and younger Lois: symbolism, setting and characterization are distinguished. Firstly, strong symbolism is expressed through the landscape paintings that Lois collects while at the same time she avoids the wilderness altogether.
The readers are left wondering why Lois would collect these painting if she “does not find them peaceful in the least” but instead they “fill her with a world of unease” (2). It is revealed at the end of the short story that these paintings are representative of the tie Lois still has been unable to sever with her deceased best friend from childhood. A friend who in Lois’ mind completely vanished off the face of the earth; her body was never recovered. A young Lois recalled, “Lucy did not care about things she did not know, whereas Lois did”, from this it can assumed that Lois is a character of strong need for closure and she never got it.
In her mind there was no way Lucy could just disappear like this, she had to be somewhere. With this mindset taken into her adulthood an older Lois had rebirthed Lucy through these landscape paintings symbolic of her death. “A dead person is a body, a dead body occupies space it exists somewhere”(9), with this mindset Lois preserved Lucy’s existence through these landscape paintings. In this case symbolism is key in understanding Lois’ fear of the wild. Secondly, setting and imagery play a key role in shaping Lois’ views of the wilderness in adulthood and childhood.

As a child it’s made clear that Lois has hostility towards the camp and its atmosphere but then eventually she gets used to it. But Lois in adulthood is seen to have a traumatic fear of anything remotely to do with the wilderness. At first glance it just seems as though she just doesn’t care for gardening by her “[relief] not to have to worry about the lawn, or about the ivy pushing its muscular little suckers into the brickwork” (4). However after further insight it is seen that there is a reason behind her disdain for wildlife.
The only thing signifying wildlife present in Lois’ life is the landscape paintings in which she believes Lucy resides. With these she is able to not have to let go of Lucy at the comfort of her closed-off and artificial world. The imagery of the canoe trip in Lois’ childhood is also seen to be particularly frightening and provides understanding of her complete disdain for nature. While going canoeing Lois feels the “lake go down, deeper and colder than it was a minute before” (6), this exemplifies the sheer power, terror and unpredictability that comes with the association of the wilderness.
Lois’ diction in this passage also foreshadows the complete disappearance of Lucy in a matter of moments, after being swallowed up by nature. Thus, imagery and setting provide insight in Lois’ anxiety for the wilderness. Lastly, characterization is used to depict Lois’ disdain for wildlife and much is revealed about her through the narration of her private thoughts and feelings within her childhood and adulthood. Lois and Lucy grow to become best friends despite them having almost nothing in common.
At the age of 13 they live completely different lives and Lois recalls even feeling a bit, jealous of Lucy’s life. The reader is left to think why Lois would have such a central sense of guilt from this childhood experience and why “she felt terrible-guilty and dismayed, as if she had done something very bad, by mistake”(8). The way that Lois went about her life following this incident was that of a convicted criminal. With the amount and remorse Lois felt, could it be possible that maybe she did subconsciously wish that something would happen to Lucy?
After repeatedly having to feel inferior when listening to her stories. Lois ends up feeling so remorseful for Lucy’s death she is completely paralyzed of living her own life. When she marries and has children she finds herself unfocused in life and careless in social gatherings. Randy, her deceased husband’s face does not even resonate with her and neither do the memories of the birth and the raising of her children. . She feels drained and “as if she was living not one life but two: her own and another shadowy life that hovered”(8).
The intense feelings of guilt would only resurface themselves if she were ever to return to the camp in which Lucy had her tragic fall. Therefore Atwood’s use of diction through a young and older Lois provides strong insights for her fear of the wilderness. All in all Lois’ disdain for the wild can be distinguished through: symbolism, characterization, imagery and setting by using the diction of an older and younger Lois. Her complete inability to overcome this grief and loss goes to show to that past experiences play a key role in shaping children into adulthood.

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