Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

End in Tears: Understanding Grief and Loss in D'Arcy McNickle's the Surrounded

Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

End in Tears: Understanding Grief and Loss in D'Arcy McNickle's the Surrounded

Article excerpt

Every single of these villages was constructed of families with relatives in other villages. Rivers of tears must have been shed. Death must have become so commonplace that we ceased to grieve. No, grief became so constant we ceased to want to live. We have never sopped grieving.

Lee Maracle

In 1978, MORE THAN FOUR DECADES AFTER IT FIRST APPEARED, D'Arcy McNickle's The Surrounded returned to print and began to gain critical currency. (1) What I hope to accomplish in this essay is to reconsider the complexity of the cultural and historical effects of Indian sufferings and to situate these effects as ways in which the Indian people negotiate sociality while surviving grief and loss. As a literary meditation on psychical and cumulative layers of racial sorrow, the novel tracks the etiology, and the totality, of female grief. McNickle reminds us of all that is incommensurable, all that is contradictory in a world of discipline and punishment, socio-political control, and sanctioned violence. I hope to offer a relevant, although by no means exhaustive, analysis of the women's sorrow and how their actions elucidate the cultural, historical, and land losses the Salish people endured.

While critical scholars have examined the construction of manhood and masculinity, less attention has been given to interlocking notions of gender and constructions of grief, loss, and resistance in the novel. (2) Consider, for example, the claim made by Louis Owens in "Maps of the Mind: John Joseph Mathews and D'Arcy McNickle": "In the resulting role reversal, those who act forcefully and attempt with disastrous results to control events are the women, Faithful Catharine and Elise La Rose, both of whom coerce an unwilling Archilde into the mountains and in the mountains commit murder in defense of their men" (70). Although apprehending the importance of the women's activism to the narrative, Charles R. Larson describes Catharine and Elise's confrontation with the law as an action "committed without forethought" (91). Robert Dale Parker's "Who Shot the Sheriff" cautions against "prescriptive realism" an interpretive approach which "dictates that characters must be 'positive role models,' strong sensitive women and strong (but not too strong) sensitive men" (926). Parker notes that although Elise "is the only major character that critics have mostly ignored" (923), she is characterized by reviewers as "profane and reckless, without morals or regard for the law of either race" (924). While Parker's article articulates many well-researched and insightful readings of gender identity and federal Indian policy, it ends by positing rational expression as the answer to the women's actions rather than addressing the broader historical and social context that constructs the women stricken in pain: " The Surrounded calls out not only for more agency and resistance from men, but also for more purposeful agency at large, as opposed to the impulsive, unmediated reflexes of Catharine's revenge, Elise's private quarrel, or Louis's greed" (923). We should not conflate gender and actions with nonspecificity; on the contrary, McNickle's text alerts us to the stakes and context in how gender is read.

The novel begins with Archilde Leon returning home from Portland to visit his Indian mother Catharine and Spanish father Max Leon, who live in separate dwellings in the valley of Sniel-emen. Archilde's brother, Louis, is alleged to have stolen horses and the law officers are "hunting him" (28). While on a ritual hunting trip, Archilde, Louis, and their mother meet the game warden Dan Smith, who shoots and kills Louis. At the sight of Louis's violent death, the grief-stricken Catharine kills the game warden. Later, Elise, Archilde, and his nephews, Mike and Narcisse, try to escape from the law officers by fleeing to the mountains with the sheriff in hot pursuit. When the sheriff comes up to their camp and pounces on them, Elise shoots him in an attempt to protect Archilde. …

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