(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In “Death by Landscape” Lois, a widowed mother, displays her art collection on the walls of her new waterfront apartment. She spends time admiring the paintings, yet they do not fill her with peace. On the contrary, the paintings show landscapes that make her very uneasy. Lois fears the depiction of the wilderness.

She recalls her summers at Camp Manitou, which she experienced from the ages of nine to thirteen. She remembers the traditions associated with her camp experience. She can still sing the words to the songs and remember the spunky counselors. The head of the camp, Cappie, kept the camp running during the Depression and World War II, even when money was tight. The camp setting represents a domesticated wilderness, a human-made construction which hints at the true wilds.

At the beginning, Lois struggled to adapt to camp life. She did not like writing to her parents or sleeping in a room full of other girls. She then grew to enjoy herself, and she made a strong friendship with a camper named Lucy. The two maintained their friendship throughout the years and during the summers, but Lucy seemed to have changed by their last year at camp together. She grew disillusioned with her newly divorced parents and became involved in a relationship with a gardener’s assistant.

The climax of the story occurs when the girls participate in a week-long excursion in the wilderness. They set out by canoe after a ceremonious departure. On the second day of the trip, the two girls separate from the other campers to climb a trail to a lookout point; it is a sheer cliff that overlooks the lake. Lucy says she is going to go urinate, yet she does not return. Instead, Lois hears a scream, although she cannot identify it. The campers head back to camp without Lucy; even the police cannot find her. When they return, Cappie insinuates that Lois pushed Lucy.

In retrospect, Lois realizes that Cappie merely needed someone to blame for the unfortunate event, but Lois struggles to let go of her friend. She is also haunted by the wilderness. The protagonist cannot believe that Lucy has died, and for this reason she has been living two lives. At the end of the story, Lois can finally accept the wilderness as part of herself.

Death by Landscape Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Cooke, Nathalie. Margaret Atwood: A Biography. Toronto, Ontario: ECW Press, 1998.

Hengen, Shannon. Margaret Atwood’s Power: Mirrors, Reflections, and Images in Select Fiction and Poetry. Toronto, Ontario: Sumach Press, 1993.

Nischik, Reingard, ed. Margaret Atwood: Works and Impact. Rochester, N.Y.: Camden House, 2000.

Stein, Karen F. Margaret Atwood Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1999.

Wilson, Sharon, Thomas Friedman, and Shannon Hengen, eds. Approaches to Teaching Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and Other Works. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1996.