Death by Landscape

by Margaret Atwood

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How does the protagonist's physical and social environment condition her in "Death by Landscape"?

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In "Death by Landscape," to a large extent, the protagonist, Lois, is conditioned not by her current physical and social environment but by an environment that she spent time in many years earlier, a summer camp in the wilderness at which her friend died.

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It is not her current physical and social environment that has conditioned our protagonist, Lois, but the environment of a camp she went to every year when she was much younger. An incident that happened many years earlier has made Lois, now an adult and a widowed mother, fearful of any view of the wilderness. She has been severely conditioned by this environment as a result of unresolved trauma.

When Lois got to camp, she soon made friends with Lucy, who she would see every year at camp and keep in touch with via letters during the year when they were at their respective homes. This friendship was hugely significant to Lois, and the friendship ends with Lucy's death, which takes place while she and Lois are alone in the wilderness together. It is due to this ongoing trauma that, for all the ensuing years, images of the great outdoors have been a trigger for Lois. To make matters worse, it is insinuated that Lois pushed Lucy to her death.

It is incredibly sad, but perhaps inevitable that going through such a horrific experience in the wilderness—especially seeing as though she went through it alone—would have conditioned Lois for much of the rest of her life. It is due to this lingering trauma that the art on the walls of her new apartment inspire fear rather than peace in Lois.

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