Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

One of Margaret Laurence’s constant themes in her Canadian work (there are four major novels and a collection of short stories about Manawaka and its people) is the pain and conflict out of which a multicultural community is born. The limitations of contact and understanding in such a settlement, its tendency to stratify socially along ethnic lines, are always evident in her portrayal of Manawaka and are part of the point of this story. In “The Loons,” the respectable Scots and the far-from-respectable Tonnerres convey the message. Laurence often stresses the need for an immigrant tradition to come to terms with the genius of its new place. Here, however, she concentrates more on the disastrous effect of the dominant society on the prior inhabitants of the land. They wish merely to exist undisturbed, but in the eyes of the new majority, they are peripheral and dispensable.

However, the invading culture is not monolithic. The MacLeods are genteel and superior (Grandmother will not tolerate a part-Indian girl in the house), but the doctor and his wife are genuinely compassionate, and Vanessa gains a belated understanding of Piquette. Rapprochement, Laurence suggests, is a slow process: Acceptance takes generations.

As always in this author’s work, the narrator is preoccupied with making sense of the past. If it is to be nourishing, not stultifying, it has to be comprehended and shaped into coherence. The content of the past is thus not static because its meaning changes as a character’s understanding of her experience grows. In this story, the violation of Diamond Lake and the disappearance of the loons illuminate, for Vanessa, Piquette’s refusal to accompany her to the lake in their childhood. With Vanessa, the reader finally comprehends the likeness between the Metis and the loons.