What is the conflict in the short story "Death by Landscape," by Margaret Atwood?

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The main character Lois, now a widow with two grown sons, still cannot resign herself to the loss of her dearest friend named Lucy.

On the walls of her condominium, Lois has numerous drawings and paintings of landscapes, all of which are similar in that they are purely depictions of nature; no animal or person is in any of them. Now grouped on different walls, Lois looks deeply into these landscapes; it is as though she searches for someone.

She does not find them peaceful in the least. Looking at them fills her with a wordless unease. Despite the fact that there are no people in them or even animals, it's as if there is something, or someone, looking back out....

Lois looks long at her paintings; she looks into them and finds that for her they all are pictures of the lost Lucy.

As a girl, Lois attended a summer camp named Camp Manitou in Canada. During the summer that she was ten years old, she met a girl from Chicago named Lucy. Lucy's mother had gone to camp in Canada, so she sent Lucy there. Lois and Lucy became fast friends, sharing secrets, laughter, and sadness. 

When she first meets Lois, Lucy does not seem to care about things that she does not know, whereas Lois does. Nevertheless, they grow closer, and they enjoy each other; each year they are elated to reunite. But one year Lucy is not the same; she speaks of her discontent. Her parents are divorced, and her mother has remarried, although she seems to be having an affair with someone else.

When the girls take canoes to the wilderness, Lois and Lucy sleep under the stars rather than in the tent. The next day the group stops for lunch under a place called Lookout Point. As they hike, the girls must stay in pairs, so Lois and Lucy climb together. "It would be quite a dive off here," Lucy remarks when they get to the point. Lois tells her someone would have to be crazy to do such a thing.

Not long after this conversation, Lucy tells Lois that she needs to urinate, so Lois goes a polite distance and waits. She looks at her watch and sees that it is noon; this is when she hears the shout.

Lucy is never found. Lois has gone over and over in her head what has happened, but she cannot understand. No one has found Lucy. Haunted by the loss of her dearest friend, Lois searches the landscapes, hoping to recapture her beloved friend and confidante: 

Every one of them is a picture of Lucy. You can't see her exactly, but she's there.

Lois is so haunted by the loss of her friend, whose body has never been recovered, that she looks at the paintings and sees inside each one "a tangle, a receding maze" in which a person can be lost as quickly as she steps off the path.

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kplhardison's profile pic

Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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In Death by Landscape, the protagonist, Lois, was with her friend Lucy on a summer camp boating excursion when her friend Lucy screamed and was never seen again. Now, as a grown woman, Lois is newly widowed. As she tries to reconcile herself to her husband's death, she finds strange revelation in her collect of wilderness paintings. The conflict Lois faces is to find the truth of life while trying to understand herself in the aftermath of two deaths. She is in her own wilderness. Can she find her way out and discover herself?

slazaro0328's profile picture

slazaro0328 | eNotes Newbie

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how is the personality of Lucy from Death by Landscape? Describe it 

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