In Margaret Atwood's "Death by Landscape," why and how is Lois isolated from the world and the people around her?

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To answer this question, it’s worth first considering whether isolated is actually the most appropriate word to describe Lois in Margaret Atwood 's short story "Death By Landscape." To some extent the opposite could be argued of the adult Lois: she is haunted, constantly accompanied by the presence of her...

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To answer this question, it’s worth first considering whether isolated is actually the most appropriate word to describe Lois in Margaret Atwood's short story "Death By Landscape." To some extent the opposite could be argued of the adult Lois: she is haunted, constantly accompanied by the presence of her dead friend, Lucy. She doesn’t get out as much as her sons would like, we learn, and her husband died, but she mentions friends, and doesn’t necessarily seem completely lonely or isolated, rather her life is shaped by the company of her memories.

Lois lives surrounded by paintings and we learn she "is glad she's been able to find an apartment big enough for her pictures. They are more crowded together than they were in the house." Each of these paintings, to Lois, holds her dead friend Lucy:

Everyone has to be somewhere, and this is where Lucy is. She is in Lois's apartment, in the holes that open inward on the wall, not like windows but like doors.

Lucy, her friend that died while they were at summer camp, stays with her throughout her life, a constant presence. Lois remembers her own life and how she

was tired a lot, as if she was living not one life but two: her own, and another, shadowy life that hovered around her and would not let itself be realized.

It's worth, then, thinking about the concepts of isolation and hauntings and deciding whether there is a better way to think of Lois than "isolated." Words like "separate" or "apart" might work slightly better.

It’s certainly obvious that her interactions with life, and indeed the whole path of her life, was impacted enormously by the death of her friend and its circumstances and aftermath. She didn’t naturally fit into the summer camps and felt somewhat separate from the activities and interactions at first but we learn that she grew to enjoy it despite feeling different to the others. Even as an adult "Lois thinks she can recognize women who went to these camps and were good at it."

The main reason for suggesting that she is not fully part of the world is because of the separation or division caused by the suspicions that she was responsible for Lucy's death:

She felt the other girls in the cabin watching her with speculation in their eyes. Could she have done it! She must have done it. For the rest of her life, she has caught people watching her in this way. Maybe they weren't thinking this. Maybe they were merely sorry for her. But she felt she had been tried and sentenced; and this is what has stayed with her: the knowledge that she has been singled out, condemned for something that was not her fault.

Likewise, a main theme is her reluctance to be part of the wilderness, but while she chooses to live in a safe apartment where the wild is ostensibly outside, the outdoors creeps in in various ways and is a major part of her because of Lucy and the events of her death. She may try to isolate herself to some extent, for example by not going out much or not visiting her late husband's family, but by the end it is clear that it's impossible for her to be totally separate and alone. Perhaps it would be best to think about how the death of her friend resulted in her feeling somehow both present and absent throughout her whole life, accompanied by ghosts and shadows.

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In "Death by Landscape," Lois is isolated from the world and the people around her because her husband, Rob, is dead, and her two boys are grown up. She lives in an antiseptic condominium with her art collection. Her apartment complex is devoid of nature; the only element of nature in the complex are the potted plants in the solarium. Lois is often tired and doesn't go out very often.

Lois is isolated from the world because of an incident that happened when she was young and attended a camp with her friend Lucy. One summer, they set off on a canoe trip, and, climbing down from a sheer cliff, Lucy went off to relieve herself. Lucy had expressed discontentment about her parents' marriages and their attempt to break up her relationship with her boyfriend, a gardener's assistant. Suddenly, Lois hears a scream, and Lucy is never found again. Lois is haunted by this incident for the rest of her life. Years later, as a widow, she thinks about the "shadowy life that hovered around her and would not let itself be realized, the life of what would have happened if Lucy had not stepped sideways and disappeared from time." Lucy's disappearance forever haunts Lois, and, feeling guilty and confused over her friend's disappearance, Lois lives a kind of shadowy existence in which she doesn't connect to anything or anyone. 

 

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In Death by Landscape Margaret Atwood's character development of Lois follows a pattern found in many of her stories, the wilderness vs human existence. Lois is isolated by choice. Right at the beginning we learn that her children are grown and her husband has died.  The story tells us about Lois and her going to a camp as a child. She didn't really want to go but eventually she makes friends with Lucy.  One day when Lois and Lucy separate from the group Lucy disappears in the woods never to be found again. 

The losses in her life seem to have created a self impose isolation.  Lois chooses to move into a condominium so she will not have to take care of the yard, or deal with nature in any way.  She is frightened by the concept of the wilderness and the fact that they never found her friend.  She is afraid of the world.  She is even made to feel uneasy by her own paintings. 

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