Death by Landscape Characters
by Margaret Atwood

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Death by Landscape Characters

Lois

The short story's main character is a woman named Lois. She is a widow with two grown sons, and she has recently downsized, moving to a smaller condo from the house she once shared with her family. She has a large collection of paintings and is happy to have found a place big enough to hang them all. They fill her with "wordless unease," however, because these forest landscapes remind her of Camp Manitou, where she went each summer between ages nine and thirteen. In purchasing these paintings, she seems to be reliving and working through the disappearance of her friend, Lucy, during their final year at the camp. Decades later, Lois is still quite bothered by Lucy's disappearance, because Lucy was never found. Though Lois will never visit that kind of wilderness again, she buys paintings that represent it in what seems like an attempt to account for Lucy by placing her somewhere.

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Lucy

Lucy is Lois's best friend at camp. She is from Chicago and her family is rich, and she mostly looks down on everything they do at camp. Lucy is a good liar, and she and Lois get away with breaking camp rules as a result. Lois feels boring in comparison to Lucy. On a canoe trip, Lois gives Lucy some privacy to urinate in the woods, and Lucy is never seen again. Her disappearance has haunted Lois for her entire life, making her feel that she's actually living two lives: her real one and the other life she would have had if Lucy had lived.

Cappie

Cappie is the head of Camp Manitou, and Lois says that she desperately needs a reason for Lucy's disappearance, someone to blame for it. Cappie knows that the camp will close, that people will certainly stop sending their children there after the news breaks about a camper's disappearance, and she is right. She satisfies herself that Lois has actually pushed Lucy over a cliff, though Lois has not.