Crow Lake – Thematic Development of Setting

CROW LAKE ESSAY Every story, every novel and, in fact, every great literary work, shares one thing in common: a setting. These vivid compositions are exquisitely weaved around a place, time and social circumstance. The element of setting is used to create a specific atmosphere, and thus, helping to establish a desired mood. It provides valuable insight into the fundamental background of any storyline. In addition, the setting acts as a profound influence on plot progression and character development by compelling actions, internal and external conflicts, as well as the themes of a novel.

Mary Lawson’s Crow Lake, a moving story of family, love and tragedy, is no exception. Lawson effectively develops the themes of isolation, familial bonds and educational ambitions through brilliant usage of the settings: Crow Lake, the ponds, and the university, respectively. First of all, the theme of isolation is introduced and developed through the setting of Crow Lake. Set against the desolate terrain of northern Ontario, Crow Lake is a modest farming settlement that is “… linked to the outside world by one dusty road and the railroad tracks” (Lawson 9).

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Lawson’s deceivingly simple depiction portrays Crow Lake’s only connection to the rest of the world as meager and dysfunctional; therefore illustrating the undeniable isolation and confinement instilled on the entire community. It is also described as having merely “… a dozen or so farms, a general store, and a few modest houses… ”(Lawson 9) in addition to the church and the school. The lack of businesses and amenities reflect an absence of urbanization, commercialization, industrialization, and technological realization. All of these reinforce Crow Lake to be segregated and disconnected from the rest of society.

The theme of isolation is also developed through the individual seclusion of every family in Crow Lake. For example, the Morrisons’ closest neighbours were the Pyes, who lived on a farm a mile away. This demonstrates the further isolation of each household within the grand-scale community. Hence, Lawson employs the setting of Crow Lake to effectively develop the theme of isolation. Secondly, the theme of familial relationships, specifically between Matt and Kate, is kindered and developed at the pond settings. Described as her most treasured childhood memories, Kate’s trips to the ponds with Matt started before she could even walk.

She carries the images of “… a boy… beside him a little girl… They are both lying perfectly still, chins resting on the backs of their hands. He is showing her things… he is telling her about them” (Lawson 5). Soon, the ponds become symbolic of the special bond shared by Matt and Kate. These visits ultimately survive the death of Matt and Kate’s parents, and provide a place of sanctuary to escape the pains of reality. Furthermore, the ponds it is where Matt teaches Kate about the water and the organisms: “The little girl nods, and the ends of her braids bob up and down…

She is completely absorbed” (Lawson 5). This is significant in strengthening their relationship because Matt is establishing the roots of knowledge in Kate, and planting the seeds of a career in biology. However, as the novel progresses, the tide turns, and the ponds evolve into a burden on Matt and Kate’s relationship. After Matt’s “betrayal”, Kate seemingly deemed the ponds as the scene of the crime. She painfully reminisces, “By the following September the ponds themselves would have been desecrated twice over, as far as I was concerned, and for some years after that I did not visit them at all” (Lawson 218).

For Kate, they serve as a constant reminder of the destruction of Matt’s future, and his happiness. Whereas the ponds were representative of Matt and Kate’s extraordinary relationship, now it has torn them apart. Therefore, the theme of familial bonds is established and intricately developed through the exceptional setting of the ponds. Lastly, Lawson uses the setting of a university to elaborate on the theme of educational pursuits.

Kate abides by Great-Grandmother Morrison’s quest for education and “passed [her] first-year exams at the top of the class, and had been told that if [she] continued in the same vein, [she] would be funded to do [her] Ph. D” (Lawson 187) The setting of the University of Toronto is effective in that it adds prestige and grandeur to Kate’s environment, and places further emphasis on her accomplishments. The vastly contrasting backdrops of the large city university and the remote community of Crow Lake provide distinctive and insightful discrepancies on the perspective of education.

As an assistant professor, Kate is shocked and appalled by the behaviour and manner of her students: “Why do kids come to university if they aren’t interested in learning?… they think it’s an easy option. They come for the beer and the parties… ” (Lawson, 82). This attitude is colossally opposite to everything she was ever taught in Crow Lake: knowledge is power, and education is sacred. As a result, Kate is able to experience the widely contrasted approaches from each setting, which acts as a reflective learning opportunity for her.

Furthermore, the university setting leads Kate to meet Daniel Crane who surprises her by gaining her admiration, and ultimately, love. This contributes to the theme of educational ambitions, as Kate is constantly learning from Daniel, not about academia, but about emotional and social intelligence: love, life, and open communication. He helps Kate reach the epiphany that she has been unfairly condemning Matt for 20 years, and Daniel will undoubtedly be instrumental in Kate’s on-going emotional development and growth.

Therefore, through the setting of the University of Toronto, Lawson cleverly develops the theme of educational aspirations. In conclusion, Lawson uses various settings to effectively develop the themes of the novel: isolation from Crow Lake, familial ties from the ponds, and the educational aspirations from the university. The remote farming settlement of Crow Lake established the theme of isolation, the ponds nurtured the theme of Matt and Kate’s sibling relationship, and the university developed the theme of on-going educational pursuits.

Mary Lawson’s Crow Lake is an effortless tale of hopes and failures, told with a narrative gift, voiced in soft prose that never diverts from the story. Ranging from a room to a community, from a planet to a galaxy – every story told in the history of the world has had a setting. The setting provides context for the story, establishes a required mood, and greatly influences all facets of a novel. Remembering the famous line: “In A Galaxy Far, Far Away… ”, the setting should most importantly, be an experience.

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