Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 344
The characters of Island are residents of eastern Canada, specifically Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Alistair MacLeod focuses on people who range in age from small children to the elderly. Animals are also significant in his stories. MacLeod's themes focus on the nature of work (and the changes it undergoes over time and because of technology) and, one might say, the work of nature, in a harsh climate. His characters struggle and win and lose, chiefly in this battle against the elements and the inevitable decline and death we all face. I would select the following as some of the most representative characters in the stories of Island:
The grandfather in the story "The Return." At the age of seventy-six he's still working in the mines, and the little boy who is brought by his parents from Montreal to the ancestral home in Cape Breton sees a different kind of life, which is passing away, revealed by the elderly man.
Agnes in the story "Island." She is a woman who grows up and lives in extreme isolation, taking over the job of lighthouse keeper on a remote island after her father dies. As a result of a one-night encounter with a visiting fisherman she has a daughter who becomes estranged from her, though years later in the closing pages of the story Agnes's grandson comes to see her.
James, the eighteen-year-old in "The Vastness of the Dark" who decides to leave his Nova Scotia home amid predictably mixed feelings.
The narrator of "Clearances," an elderly man who looks back on his life, the changes on Cape Breton, and his connection to his Scottish roots.
Scott, the horse in the story "In the Fall." Scott is aged, the family can't afford to feed him and must sell him to a knacker (one who disposes of animals who have outlived their usefulness).
The title character of "Winter Dog," a collie-German Shepherd who saves the narrator from drowning after an ice break.
And last, all the exploratory miners who are the protagonists of "The Closing Down of Summer."
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