Alistair macleod

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ALISTAIR MACLEOD The Lost Salt of Blood



  • This story is told in present tense. It begins with the word “Now” and continues with description of “blunt grey rocks” and “ganglia-rooted moss”. He story’s traditional base is established as Ireland; Dublin “far away but still the nearest land, and closer now that Toronto or Detroit.” The tide is described vividly as “entering again now, forcing itself, gently but inevitably through the tightness of the opening and laving the rocky walls and rising and rolling into the harbour’s inner cove.” There is sexual allusion here. A hint to what may have happened here?

  • Gulls feature in this story; at the beginning they wheel and cry. The boys seek another gull to tame. Because they are scavengers they cannot be killed.

  • The activities of the young boys is described; fishing, enthusiasm inquisitive. John addresses him as “Sir”. John finds fishing easy. The persona hints that he does not fit here; “Perhaps no place for me at all.” Tentative connection.

  • There is talk of grave digging; solid rock makes this difficult.

  • The man appears with the dog. The man’s hands are gnarled and misshapen. His age is uncertain. He talks of the weather and fishing with “weather knowledge.”

  • The dog swims for the stick. Simple pleasures. This sets the dog up as being reasonable in the light of the way we are told he behaved on the night of the storm two years before.

  • The man is asked for supper; we realize that the trip and the meeting have not been planned but he is obviously not a stranger. The plot is driven by the words “There are JUST three of us now.” Creation of suspense.
  • The humble home is depicted in detail; whitewashed, homely path, flowers. The worn out rockers on the rocking chair suggest time which has passed and a link to a long time ago. Attention is drawn to the barometer. The photograph depicts a jaunty, rakish accordion player.


  • We are now introduced to the woman; her eyes are stormy grey and we realise there is tension in the meeting with the man because her mild surprise changes to open hostility and then to self control.

  • John chats about his many interests; mainly fishing and lobster traps etc. He wants to buy an outboard motor; he only has oars now.

  • John speaks; syntax = Celtic / Irish. It was wonderful sad when people did not get up until seven. Implies he feels they were wasting life. He gets up early and engages with the sea.

  • Singing of folk songs of lost love through desertion and death. They sing and play the traditional tunes across the generations. The man feels uncomfortable/ misplaced.

  • Photograph of five daughters. The man plays checkers with the grandfather; set made by John. They cannot speak much; need rum. The wind blows outside. It is difficult to achieve the actual act of saying. Lots of listening. Personal struggle.

  • First hint; John should be with her and her husband. The grandparents missed him dreadfully as much as he missed them. Lost in the fog. No son. We learn that that the John’s mother is married to a housepainter and there is a last letter. The grandfather then describes the night of the storm and the behaviour of the dog. This all points to superstition; signs, foreboding. The grandfather chooses to disregard the signs and travel to meet the plane to retrieve his grandson. There is a “gap” that that leaves us realizing that the mother could not cope with John. The grandfather then reveals that Jennifer and her husband have died.

  • The grandfather reveals that John is their replacement son – is there something traditionally wrong with daughters?
  • The father is sleepless; he gazes upon John, who is now revealed as being his son. The songs and references to faithless lovers now make sense as does the grandmother’s hostility.


  • Allusions to other texts

  • Superstition – boiled eggs.

  • Collectors of folklore do not understand that this is the real thing – to be lived, not merely academically collected as relics of the past.

  • Excellent juxtaposition; past and present. Hills and glens / Virginia. Standing stones / Tennessee. Alludes to the migrations and can be followed in the language. Firstly from Scotland to Ireland to Virginia and the Appalachians. The twang comes from there.

  • The man reveals the love of his loins; the boy. He cannot remove him from this place and connected life. He cannot take him to his city life. Ponderous line; Shall I wait to meet you in some known or unknown bitterness… He refers to lost and misplaced love.

  • The wind has died down. He leaves. The boy offers him the stone; the symbol of perfection; smoothed over by the world of nature; the sea. Inadequacies have been removed. The boy gives his father the gift of understanding.

  • The parents reject his offer to keep in touch; they have no phone and they can’t read. They reveal that is why they did not tell him that his son’s mother was dead. Really, we suspect that they just preferred to keep him for themselves.

  • The boys are heard in the “sun washed air”. They have found a gull.

  • The airport is a symbol of the new world as opposed to the traditional sea-side existence. He sits with a developer of traditional areas. His children meet him; a real family, however, the children ask for the father to give them a present. he has the extra knowledge of knowing that he has let his son go but his son has, in fact given him the gift; an understanding of values.




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