The Boat by Alistair Macleod is narrated by a boy who has experienced immense grief due to the loss of his dad during his childhood. As the prose is non-fictional, the narrator revolves around his emotions and feelings about the damage done to him in first person; this allows the reader to identify and sympathize with the character since he directly shares his feelings with the reader. The significance of death is clearly shown with the help of an active voice as it is used almost throughout the passage to show how receptive and thoughtful the character is while recovering from his dreadful loss.
The death of the character’s father is of high significance; words such as “terrible fear” exhibit the anxiety concerning the death of the character’s father. Just in order to take his mind off as “he’s afraid to be alone with death”, he indulges in activities that distract him from the idea of death. The narrator has used sound imagery as he makes “loud splashing ineffectual noises” to make himself feel better. Rhyming words such as “fumbling” and “mumbling” have been used to show the uneasiness the character’s going through. The narrator uses images like “grey corpses on the overflowing ashtray” which laden with connotations of death to depict his predicament, mirroring his emotional state. Grey, as a colour is considered to be negative. He spoke about everything that was depressing.
Every activity that the character did portrayed some form of negativity. The season during this phase was winter; this itself makes readers visualize gloominess, it sets a depressing mood for the whole passage. The author has used phrases like “cold walk” to portray indifference. The narrator gains sympathy as he agrees to the waitress by saying “it sure is; it really is”. The coffee he drinks is apparently “always bitter”, ‘bitter’ is a negative connotation. The phrases, “There were only echoes and shadows” and “morning’s darkness” makes readers draw bizarre melancholic images.
The narrator relates between the past and the present; intricate details are sketched in his mind. He imagined the various things his father used to do and all the activities connected to him such as the shore bound men “blowing their hands” and “stomping their feet”; detailed imagery has been used here for readers to have clear picture of what the narrator’s expressing. Sooner or later the narrator does “realize” that he’s “foolishly alone”. The word, ‘foolishly’ tells us that he has always been in his own fantastical world believing that his dad was probably still with him. Reality tells him the truth as he compares what he had: the “call”, “voices”, “shapes” and the “boat” to what he has now: “shadows and echoes”, “voices from the rain” and “cuttings from and old movie”. The past contrasts with the present, as readers notice more negativity in the latter.
There is clear evidence that narrator’s father is closely connected to the boat as he says, “no one waits at the base of the stairs and no boat rides restlessly in the waters”, in this phrase, he is associating the boat and presumably, his dad. The descriptions of the narrator’s father tells readers that he spent majority of his time in the sea as he “smelled of salt” and “tasted of salt”. One chief factor that reminded the narrator about his father was the “odour of salt”. The author has used sound imagery once again by inserting phrases like “sound of his rubber boots galumphing”, this allows the readers to picture a man who has a heavy, thunderous walk. Also, the rubber boots might have helped him to avoid the sand from entering considering he spent large amounts of time near the sea. The “shaggy whiteness” of his hair tells us that he was an elderly man.
After deep extensive reading of the passage do readers realize that the narrator is a teacher who has been low-spirited for ten wholesome years with a clear memory of intricate details regarding his father and his childhood activities. However, there are a few ambiguities. He mentions at the beginning of the second paragraph, “at such times”, it is slightly confusing about which ‘times’ is he talking about. At the beginning of the fifth paragraph he mentions, “Three or four of us”, were they just random people or similar people who he could relate to, is to some extent ambiguous.
The whole passage is in present tense; this allows readers to connect immediately with what the narrator’s saying as it gives a feeling of something that’s happening while the reader is reading. Macleod has used a wide range of imagery, figurative speech, as well as appropriate diction in order to bring out his purpose and meaning to the readers. The image of the boat tends to carry out literal and figurative significance in many parts of the passage. The narrator seems afraid of death only because of his father’s death; he seemed to have been extremely close to his father. He also appears to have a lack of freedom; he wants to let go of the past and move into the present however, the fear pulls him down. Overall, the narrator is extremely expressive which helps in being effective as his meaning and feelings are put across to the readers in the best way possible.