The short story “Death By Landscape” , by Margaret Atwood, follows the life of Lois. The story draws us into her past where she recalls her going to the Camp Manitou, which is set in wilderness. She initially dislikes camp and everything about it, but gradually settles in. She makes good friends with Lucy who disappears later. This tragic impact has a deep impact on Lois’s life and changes her whole life. The story follows a theme of loss and isolation. The writer focuses on Lois’s life to show that if tragic losses are not handled positively, they can alter lives leading to isolation.
The theme of loss is presented to us by the setting of the story. The mood is set by the introductory line which states that her kids have grown and Rob (her husband) is dead. She lives in a condominium apartment where “the only plant life is in the pots in the solarium.” The setting is devoid of any kind of connection to nature or human interaction. Text suggests that Lois was an only child of her parents and had no siblings. Loss of husband, siblings, kids and her best friend Lucy provides an ideal setting for her to be lonely and alone. Her apartment has a huge window that has a view of Lake Ontario. The text quotes the view from the window as “Lake Ontario with its skin of wrinkled blue-grey light and willows of Toronto Island shaken by a wind that is silent at this distance and on this side of the glass.” Lois’s life has a striking resemblance to the lake. Her life is as empty as the grey lake and her heart is like the glass which stands in the way of her enjoying the wind. Inside her apartment, she has put up her several paintings of wilderness. She is unsure why she bought them, but they fill her with “worldess unease” instead of peace. All her paintings are of trees, islands, more islands and rivers and lakes. After the incident, Lois had developed a fear of wilderness but she anyway buys art that is full of it. The paintings remind her of her loss, making her uneasy which is a very masochistic approach towards life. Set in the post-world war times, Lois’s love for art shows her affluent status. Implicitly, the author is trying to suggest that money cannot buy happiness or fill the gaps in human hearts, because even though Lois has money, she is alone and unhappy.
As in humans’ nature, Lois blames herself for the incident that had happened, which she consequently suffers for and comparing her thoughts before and after the incident show this. The sharp contrast in Lois’s life before and after the incident is evident in the statement from the text “she never felt she was paying full attention. She was tired a lot”, while earlier she thought her life to be “placid and satisfactory.” In her olden days, she considered herself to be particular about things, by being a “watch-minder” and such other things. The text says that Lucy didn’t care about things while Lois did, and now when she has grown old, her carelessness reflects in her not wanting a lawn or squirrels or going shopping. Her thoughts about her family are devoid of all emotion. Her not being able to distinctly remember her kids growing, or even Rob’s face makes us realize that later in life, she had lost interest in living her life. It is notable that the entire story is based on Lois’s thought about this particular incident and that even after so many years, she remembers every detail distinctly. Ironically, she does not remember her kids or family while she “regrets” remembering every single detail of her time spent with Lucy. This shows her fixture with the tragedy that had happened and that she never could achieve closure. Perhaps Lois’s life would have been very different if she ever would have had moved on.
The title of the story and the writing style bring out the central theme that Lois was hung up on the incident and hadn’t coped well with it. The title “Death by landscape” is ironic because the story never explicitly tells us about Lucy’s death. The author has left this on the readers to decide if the landscape had killed Lucy or Lois. Even though Lois continues to live she regrets it because she blames herself for it. As shown in the previous paragraphs we see her uninterested attitude towards life. The title of the story suggests that the author is reminding us that the wilderness is a dangerous place where lives can be lost by mere accident or misadventure. The writing style of the author of going from present to past shows Lois’s fixture. The story starts with her sitting in her apartment where she begins reminiscing her camp days. Just like Lois’s life, the Camp takes up a major portion of the story. We are not provided much details about her family or her life except for camp. Third person narration also adds to the mood and creates suspense when Cappie puts the blame on Lois and it is left up to the readers to decide whether she was fair in doing so or not. The text never clearly provides us with information regarding Lucy’s sudden vanishing. In this situation, third person narration adds to the suspense and evokes readers imagination.
The author has successfully communicated to us that Lois is to be sympathized with because she did not handle her loss very well. On this particular day though she fixes a childhood mistake and accepts the wilderness as a part of herself. All her life she had believed that Lucy had vanished due to her fault and she lived in guilt. On this day she realizes that her unease was because she was trying to live two lives at once. It is through Lois’s life decisions the readers learn that blaming themselves for a tragic loss is human nature but one must learn to move on. This is a negative way of coping with loss and only brings misery. Like Lois when one accepts their loss as a part of their life they find inner peace.