Three Day Road: Past and Present at War

 

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Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden

Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden is a historical fiction that changes narrative from Niska, an Oji-Cree woman, to Xavier, her niece, enabling a wide range of readers to relate to the characters. Not only does the narrator change, but the story is written in an unsorted manner, going back and forth in time. I found that from the start the reader is in a state of uncertainty.

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Foreshadowing or Just Background Information?

The small section at the beginning contains a lot of foreshadowing in my opinion. Xavier and Elijah, a boy who lives with Niska and Xavier, are children and hunting. On the second page, the children kill a marten, stuck in their trap. I believe Xavier’s feelings towards the killing and the pain of the animal, already familiarize the reader with his character. Elijah does not seem as phased, he mentions that Niska will be proud, again teaching the reader about who he is by showing he is able to justify an action his gut tells him is wrong. Since we know the boys will go to war later, their killing of the marten and their reactions to it could be directly related, foreshadowing perhaps, to their actions as soldiers. At the end of the section Elijah asks Xavier “We are great hunters and best friends, yes?” (Boyden 2) Elijah’s question seems to me like one of a small, insecure child. It could be telling the reader that Elijah is dependent on Xavier, that maybe he fears not being those two things: a great hunter and Xavier’s friend. It also may be foretelling of the events that the reader will discover later, possibly the boys’ friendship will fall apart because of circumstances.

 

As early as the first chapter, Boyden introduces themes such as isolation, due to colonization, and man-versus-man.

The reader understands the struggles of Niska, her inability to accept and be a part of the new society. After Xavier arrives, Niska sees just how broken he is, and once thinks “I want to cry, watching him from the corner of my eye as he bends and tries to pick up wood and then finally sits and pulls rocks to him slowly, making a fire circle” (8). I believe it must be even harder for her to see Xavier like this, than it would be for a white person to see their son or niece so damaged. A white person at that time would be fighting for a nation that fully embraced them, but that was not, and often still isn’t, the case with Aboriginals and other people of colour.

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Francis Pegahmagabow, a WWI sniper with a great record, who was never mentioned in Grade 10 history class where students learn about WWI

Being a soldier at war is already a difficult thing, but being a Native soldier, having to deal with the consequences of colonialism and its effects make it even harder to bear. Although it might be due to the reader never hearing Elijah’s thoughts unlike Xavier, as a soldier, Elijah seems to fit in easier. He seems more flexible when it comes to putting aside his culture and beliefs. Xavier on the other hand does not seem as ready to conform. I don’t believe it is simply the language barrier that prevents him from fitting in, but he acknowledges and puts more emphasis on his differences: race, culture, and personality. Although I DO believe he sees himself as a part of the society, or perhaps tries to, because he is physically fighting for that same society.

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Doubly Problematic WWI Propaganda Poster

I also find Xavier’s views on war interesting and thought provoking. “The ones who order us are as crafty as wolves. To have men cheer as they march off to the front is not an easy accomplishment” (16). He is observant and skeptical. Later he compares the men who fought in the battles the year before to “walking ghosts” (22). He understands the cost of being a soldier. People often refer to veterans as heroes, and only vaguely speak of the price they’ve paid in battles, and I am strongly against that. It needs to be acknowledged that war is never necessary, that people do not kill and die to spread peace and civilization.

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Anti-War Graffiti

There are still many gaps to fill. Why was Elijah living with Xavier and Niska, prior to the boys enlisting as soldiers? After so many years of colonization, why and how is Niska still so loyal to her culture? Why was Niska told that Xavier was dead, and Elijah would be coming home, when really it was the opposite? Why was Xavier told that Niska had passed away? What did truly happen to Elijah, and between him and Xavier? I can tell the novel has a lot more themes that will be introduced later, and perhaps many more sensitive subjects, like colonization and war, will form the plot. I look forward to reading it all.

 

Source:
Boyden, Joseph. Three Day Road. Penguin Group, 2008.

Pictures:
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The Necessity of Grade 12 English and Ways to Accommodate University Applicants

Time changes everything, everything except the fact that a set prerequisite for all programs in Ontario universities is the Grade 12 University Level English. Take the University of Guelph as an example, where Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Computing, and Bachelor of Landscape Architecture all have English as a requirement. It does not matter whether they’re applying to social sciences, or engineering, students will need to have that ENG4U credit. But why is this credit so important, and how can we accommodate those who struggle with it?

Ontario, along with most of Canada, is predominantly English speaking. Most schools and businesses operate in English, so if anyone plans to be a part of society in Canada, it would make sense that they were expected to have a good grasp on the language. No matter what program they want to get into or the career they want to have, communication will be necessary, and one of our most important tools for that is language! It could be writing reports, speeches, slogans, or programs, they WILL have to use English one way or another, and that is the reason Grade 12 English is of such importance.

Martin Luther King, "I Have a Dream"
Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream: an excellent example of using one’s knowledge of language effectively

English 4U focuses on students’ ability of comprehending written text and communicating effectively, through writing and spoken language. ENG4U is only the basics of what is about to come in post secondary, so it would make sense that every program has this specific course as a requirement. Business people, engineers, social workers, and teachers are a few of the many that need strong communication skills for success in the workplace.

Diverse Multiethnic People with Different Jobs
All occupations require an adequate level of communication skills

HOWEVER, that is not to say there are no issues with our current Grade 12 English being a prerequisite for all university programs.

As anyone would argue, people have different strengths. A student who is a math genius and wants to be an engineer might not be very interested in or good at writing a 10 page essay on the motives of a fictional character from a dystopian novel! I have always loved reading and analyzing literature, but I know many people who absolutely despise it. It would be unfair for a capable student to be rejected because their ENG4U average is not satisfactory despite excelling in other subjects. Although the point of writing all those essays is to practice effective communication, which includes backing up arguments and giving proof, the course could be more practical.

An alternative to changing ENG4U would be having another English course that focuses on work oriented communication. The new course could focus on things such as presentations and project reports, which are common in many workplaces. Taking into consideration the average of an engineering or business applicant in this new course would be more logical than looking at their average in our current Grade 12 English.

To conclude, the system is flawed. Yes, it is reasonable for English to be a prerequisite for all university programs because everyone needs to be capable of communicating effectively. However, the current Grade 12 English content is not necessarily suitable for students who plan on majoring in programs that have to do with mathematics and most sciences.

 

“Office of Registrarial Services Undergraduate Admission 2017.” Specific Subject Requirements – Ontario | Undergraduate Admission 2017 | University of Guelph. University of Guelph, n.d. Web. 18 September 2017. https://admission.uoguelph.ca/ontariosubreqs