No Great Mischief Analysis

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Introduction In novels, characters’ values may be conveyed through their environment. The surrounding environment in Alistair MacLeod’s No Great Mischief is rural Cape Breton, a rocky island that is unsuitable for agriculture, thus work revolves around fishing and logging. However, during Canada’s industrialization, these traditional professions could no longer sustain people’s welfare, thus forcing them to emigrate in search of employment. MacLeod’s No Great Mischief underlines this migration with the MacDonald clan, as they are compelled to leave Cape Breton, much as their Scottish ancestors left Moidart in search of economic stability. This forced emigration is evident in MacLeod’s No Great Mischief: the sister marries an engineer and moves…show more content…
Alexander MacDonald is driving along the 401, a famous Ontario highway, to visit his older brother, Calum, in Toronto. As his car passes a farm, he sees tractors plowing down old crops, and immediately thinks of his grandmother. He reflects on a moment when once, outside Leamington, his grandmother had been visiting and “burst into tears”(2) at the sight of the rejected and overripe tomatoes being ploughed under. She called it an “awful waste” (2) and had to be restrained from running into the fields to “save”(2) the tomatoes. The fertile lands of Ontario are in sharp contrast to the harsh and barren landscape of Cape Breton where the people value the scarce produce the land provides. While the industrial world simply ploughs under the excess tomatoes, Alexander reflects how his traditional grandmother had spent decades “nurturing” her “few precious plants” in “rocky soil”(2). Thus, from the opening scene, the juxtaposition of the fertile lands of Ontario and the rocky soil of Cape Breton highlights how Cape Bretoners must work hard to obtain produce from their land. The traditional values of hard work and frugality of the MacDonald come from the land in which they are surrounded. Macleod’s opening paragraph shapes the remainder of the novel: the tomatoes are overripe much as the traditional Cape Breton industries of timber and fishing have lost the ability to sustain their inhabitants. Though the traditional generation grasps onto these dying industries, they are discarded in the upcoming industrial age, as a means to make room for something

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