Analysis

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on April 28, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 770

First published in 2009, Marcel Theroux's Far North is often described as one of the first significant works in the genre known as eco-fiction. In eco-fiction, the environment, and the impact humans have had upon the natural world, typically plays a significant role, and themes of environmental destruction are prominent. In Far North, Theroux depicts a world some centuries in the future from our own, but a world which seems increasingly possible.

Illustration of PDF document

Download Far North Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Far North's frozen arctic landscapes represent the last outposts of humanity: the protagonist lives in a city which was established by her predecessors when the old world of the United States had already begun to feel uninhabitable, and a group of Quakers sought to return to their roots and connect again with the earth. However, the move came too late, and now even the new cities of the Far North, in Siberia and beyond, are desolate and empty, with plague and starvation having put an end to most of the inhabitants. Although the causes of this world's slow death are not stated explicitly, references to "poison," heat, and industry suffice to indicate that this is a world which has been devastated by climate change and nuclear disaster. The area now known as the Zone is the Chernobyl of this world, a place permeated by radiation and other toxins which are deadly to all who enter. Still, however, even under these circumstances, there are those who seek guns, batteries, alloys, fuel, and other trappings of the old world, even though they have caused so much destruction. Theroux's somewhat bleak suggestion is that there will always be those who disregard the impact of humanity on the environment, even at what is effectively the end of the world.

Despite this, however, Theroux's novel is not a hopeless one. On the contrary, it is filled with symbols of hope, regeneration, rebirth, and renewal, some of which come to nothing and some of which come to full fruition. There is an idea, too, that death is not the end of things and also that death does not invalidate the love and hope that a relationship between two people may have previously engendered. One of the major touchstones in Makepeace's life, for example, is her brief relationship with Ping, a runaway slave whose pregnancy mirrored the coming of spring and filled Makepeace with hope of better things to come. Ping's longed-for baby died, just as Makepeace's own child, a child of rape, had also died at birth. Unlike Makepeace's baby, however, Ping's did not symbolize the end of hope, but simply the deferral of it. Makepeace uses the memory of Ping to sustain her for many years, once her initial despair at losing her friend has passed.

At the end of the story, when Makepeace returns the reader to her "present" day, she has birthed her own second child, a child who lives. This child was born of Makepeace's loving but largely platonic relationship with Shamsudin and serves as a memory of him after his death, just as it serves as a reminder of its namesake, Ping. Makepeace knows that, by the time her child is almost eighteen, her own death will be very near, but this fills her with optimism rather than despair. She has given birth to her own baby, another Ping to honor the Ping she loved first, and she trusts that her daughter will go on to find her way "home" even in a shrinking world.

Makepeace's life is hard, and many of her hopes have to be dashed before they can be rewarded. The airplane is a clear example of this: when she first sees an airplane, she is filled with a conviction that the old world still survives somewhere, and this drags her out of an attempted suicide. However, when she does come to find the place where the airplane originates, it is a terrible place fueled by the Zone and the death of many workers—and, moreover, controlled by her old enemy, the man who raped her and changed the course of her already difficult life. When she discovers this, her optimism is dashed once again, and she becomes convinced that her life has been a cruel "joke." However, she is able to take revenge on Callard and free herself through her own endurance and commitment to the world around her. Makepeace’s homecoming, then, marks her final reward, a new beginning even as she enters the "autumn" of her life. The suggestion seems to be that it is never too late—and that, even in a world which is ending, there can still be love and promise.

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-hour free trial
Previous

Characters

Next

Critical Essays

Explore Study Guides