Crow Lake

by Mary Lawson

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How does the theme of the past influencing adulthood manifest in Mary Lawson's "Crow Lake"?

Quick answer:

Crow Lake demonstrates the way that the past trauma can shape whom people become as adults by juxtaposing Matt and Kate's reactions to the sudden death of their parents with their present-day lives. The reader sees how Kate feels guilty for supposedly burdening her older brother, whereas Matt is content with his history but feels he has disappointed his sister.

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In the novel Crow Lake, author Mary Lawson's narrative alternates between the present-day life of her characters and their traumatic childhood twenty years ago. This juxtaposition highlights the formative effect that past events can have on adult personalities.

The reader sees this most clearly through the story of the protagonist Kate. When Kate was seven years old, her parents were killed in a car accident and her older brothers assumed responsibility of her upbringing. She remembers how, even in the immediate aftermath of the incident, she was worried about the burden on her brother Matt: "His voice was shaking, and he was struggling very hard with himself, and I remember being rigid with fear ... as if for Matt to cry was the one unthinkable thing" (19).

This quote foreshadows the way that the accident shapes Kate's adult personality. Although she works as a zoology professor, she is plagued by guilt at the idea that Matt—had he gone to university instead of caring for the family—would have been a much better teacher than her.

Lawson also demonstrates the way that this same trauma informs Matt's adult personality. Kate recalls a conversation with her brother about fish: "Matt had told me ... that the male sticklebacks did all the work. They made the nests and courted the females and fanned the nests to keep the eggs supplied with oxygen" (47). This foreshadows the way in which Matt feels that it is natural for him to assume a caretaker role in the life of his sister and, later on, his own family. In the present day, Matt's wife Marie tells Kate that he is very happy with his path in life—in fact, his only regret is that he believes Kate never forgave him for not going to university.

Through these juxtapositions, the reader sees how the reshaping of their family structure in the past caused both Matt and Kate to feel guilt and shame in adulthood.

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