W. O. Mitchell W. H. New - Essay

W. H. New

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In 1953, W. O. Mitchell published in serial form a novel called The Alien. It told the story of a part-Blood Indian named Carlyle Sinclair, a teacher at the Paradise Valley Reserve, who after alienating himself from both white and Indian cultures finally accommodates himself to his mixed heritage. In the twenty years since, Mitchell has refashioned that novel into a larger canvas of Alberta society. The Carlyle Sinclair of The Vanishing Point is still a teacher at Paradise Valley, which is now a Stony reserve, but he is also white, a widower, the Indian agent, and more frustrated by his contacts with the people around him than alienated from them.

The result is often very funny. Mitchell's skill at recording speech, demonstrated before now in the Jake and the Kid scripts and in Who Has Seen The Wind, proves itself here again. Laconic, excited, and bawdy voices intertwine, landing the characters in bizarre situations to which laughter, as Carlyle himself reflects, provides the only logical response…. But along the way, life often proves more vicious. Disease, prejudice, ignorance, hypocrisy, narrow-mindedness, prostitution, double standards: these are what face the Indians under Carlyle's tutelage. Their efforts to keep self-respect and his own to find it assert an insistent moral dilemma in the book. However entertaining many of the episodes are, the overall effect is one of moral disarray, against which...

(The entire section is 494 words.)