Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Alistair MacLeod, Island (2000)

The Canadian writer Alistair MacLeod’s short story collection, Island (2000), presents a collection of his short works published between 1968 and 1999.  MacLeod is a chronicler in story form of the rugged landscape and people of Nova Scotia, a Canadian region settled predominantly by ethnic Scots.  While providing detailed descriptions of the harsh weather conditions and landscape, his stories feature accounts of ordinary life, the lives of families eking out a living, mostly in fishing, farming, mining and logging, or in related secondary industries. 

His stories express tensions between continuity and change, and between tradition and rebellion, especially regarding his exploration of the generation gap. 

While glorifying the hardiness of those who preserve family traditions and remain with their close-knit families and in traditional primary industries, he also appreciates how younger, better-educated family members can be tempted to leave home for what appears to be a better life in a big city.  Consequently, the sharpest social divide in his stories appears to be between the rural and urban. 

Meanwhile, the difficulty of older generations of ethnic Scots to effectively pass on an appreciation of traditional Scottish folk culture and the Gaelic language is shown to threaten the continuity of this ethnic community.  The community is also threatened by those who leave their Canadian homeland for other countries.

Eventually, if family homes are abandoned, these outposts of civilisation are lost, and therefore the meaning that these places acquired due to the experiences these people had there, would also be lost.  MacLeod’s collection of short stories appears to express a desire for the ethnic Scottish community of Nova Scotia to survive and continue. 

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

© Mark Lopez 2021 All RIGHTS RESERVED

The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: Island meaning, Island themes, Island analysis, Island notes