Book narrative structure and technique The book recounts John Franklin’s first expedition to the North who is traveling with his British officers and Canadian voyageurs. The land they are about to discover is inhabited by the Native Indians. Throughout the thirteen chapters, the reader can see the way both culture perceive each other given by the two different narrativetechniques.The first technique consists in using authentic historical sources such as excerpts from journals of Franklin, midshipmen Robert Hood, George Back and doctor John Richardson. Robert Hood and John Richardson journals excerpts are written in italics and enclosed at the end of each chapter. Wiebe also have recourse to Bellot’s Memoirs to recreate John Hepburn’s account of the events in the fifthchapter. The second technique is the invention of an external narrator focusing on the Yellowknifes Indians’ point of view. Moreover, men and women voices of the Indians are heard through characters such as Keskarrah, Broadface, Bigfoot, Birdseye, Greenstockings, Greywind and general women “protest”(p.297). Therefore, Wiebe’s narrative construction puts forward the intercultural dimension of theencounter between the Tetsot’ine and the British. The plurality of voices offers a more global vision of the encounter and the way it is felt by both sides. In this sense, Wiebe’s piece of work stands out since he gives voice to a people whose oral tradition do not enable direct testimonies of their living.
English use Wiebe has chosen to use english language to give life to Indians’ voice whichmakes the reading easier. Most of the scenes when British and Yellowknifes have to interact, the use of translators and the incomprehension which cannot be avoided by translation process reminds the reader of the language barrier between the two culture. The Indian characters’ names are all in English except for Keskarrah. The explanation could be that the British renamed them just as they didwith the land. At the end of the chapter entitled “Eating Starvation”, the omnipresence of the abbreviation “an” instead of the word “and” as a connective instantly indicates to the reader that it is a Native speaking. It makes the style
less fluent and it may explain why language difference is underlined by the names given to the British by the Natives such as “Thick English” or “Boy English”.Oral tradition versus written tradition In his acknowledgments, Wiebe mentions the works of persons who have lived with the Native Indians and on which he has based his recreation of their voice. Indeed, in the Natives culture, stories are passed on from a generation to another. Keskarrah is the wise man of the community that tells the stories he has been himself passed on by the elders wholived before him. This is the reason why even if the Yellowknifes throw all the commodities in their possession when they mourn, they still have the most important to keep on going. They know who they are and where they come from, a knowledge safely kept in their memory. On the contrary, the British are always taking notes or drawing everything on the surrounding environment which is what Keskarrahcriticizes: “They’re always making marks, marks on paper that any drop of water can destroy. As if they had no memory.” (p. 75) As for doctor John Richardson, his notebooks are “full of numbers, morning, noon, evening, including decimal points.”
Characters Native Indian characters are more open to interaction with the British even if they are aware they are not treated with much respect.George Back embodies the White man burden. He looks down on the Yellowknifes whom he describes as “primitive people”. Moreover, when he says “the idea of wealth is too much for their mind to grasp”, he expresses the scorn he feels for them. They are only slaves who “must work for them” as it is their “contracted duty”. His behavior is representative of the British imperialism towards the colonized...
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