The Trickster Symbolism in Joseph Boyden’s Three Day Road
Character is a major building block in life and is essential to the development of literature. Often the development of characters is seen using archetypes. When an author uses an archetype in their writing, they link it to many other stories that use that same archetype. This is often done to symbolize something that is important, or even just to make the story more interesting. One archetype that is often used by authors is the trickster. The trickster archetype is seen in many cultures and religions, each unique to its own culture however they are bound by certain characteristics no matter what their religion. Carl Jung discusses that the trickster is both subhuman and superhuman but is so unconscious of themself that their two hands fight each other. In the novel, ‘Three Day Road’, by Joseph Boyden, significant aspects of Elijah’s personality is revealed through the use of trickster symbolism. Elijah enjoys breaking the rules and using humour even in inappropriate situations. He often shows off and talks about the new people he has killed as well as his shooting skills. In Boyden’s ‘Three Day Road’, trickster symbolism is used to reveal significant aspects of Elijah’s personality such as how he enjoys breaking the rules. After joining the Canadian army, Elijah befriends a soldier known as Grey Eyes who is a shifty, untrustworthy person. Grey Eyes convinces Elijah to steal morphine from the army troup’s medical team so that they can have it for themselves. During the sail to Germany, Elijah tells Xavier, “That was the one and only time I experienced the morphine, it allowed me to leave my body and see what was around me. I see how it might be a very powerful tool for me in such a place as this” (128).
After experiencing the effects of morphine for the first time, Elijah feels more powerful and thinks of it as a tool to empower himself rather than a drug used only for medicine. While on the front lines Xavier says, “I know that Elijah spends time with Grey Eyes because he likes the pull of the medicine. He likes to test himself, to see how well he can fight trying it” (120). Elijah likes to rebel against the laws set out in order to see what lengths he can go to without getting caught by his commanding officers and will try to exude his strength and power by proving that he is better than everyone and that everyone is beneath him. Another aspect of Elijah’s personality that is revealed through trickster symbolism is that in which he enjoys using humour. Elijah often enjoys pulling pranks on others as well as using humour to cheer people up even in situations that are deemed inappropriate. Elijah wants nothing more than to be seen as a hero and will often tell stories to make it so that everyone will treat him as such. While back at the camp Xavier says, “I listen to Elijah carry on in English and laugh with Sean Patrick and Gilberto and Grey Eyes and Graves. Already Elijah is telling of his exploits.
I hear him making this story bigger, more dangerous, though he wasn’t even the one shot at,” (33). Elijah often lies about what truly happens while he is out on assignment so that it can make him seem more heroic and powerful as to have overcome such dangerous obstacles all on his own. Elijah also likes to pull pranks on people, which is shown when he introduces Xavier to Lisette. While in a pub in France, Xavier sees the daughter of the bar keeper, named Lisette, and Elijah notices Xavier’s interest in her so he pays to have her befriend and seduce Xavier causing him to develop feeling for her. After Xavier returns from going to see Lisette, Elijah says, “You went to find that girl, didn’t you. I could have saved you the trouble and told you she was a whore, but you would not have listened” (253), and after talking with McCaan and Breech he continues to say, “I paid a lot of money for her time with you. If I knew you were going to fall in love like a fool, I wouldn’t have done it”(257). Elijah paid for Lisette to seduce Xavier because he thought it would be funny to set his friend up with a harlot, however, Xavier became infatuated with her instead. Elijah also likes to be the talk of the crowd and likes the attention that comes with it. He lives in the spur of the moment just wanting to be deemed as important and be seen as a hero. Elijah became popular among the soldiers for his shooting skills but he never recognized that his success was partially because of Xavier’s spotting.
When they get back to the camp Xavier says “The others in the battalion have begun to treat Elijah like he is something more than them. I walk beside him or behind him along the trenches between stretches out hunting, and very few seem to notice me at all. When we are given our daily rum ration, Elijah likes nothing better than to sit and talk about the latest exploits to anyone who will listen. Elijah also likes to collect “trophies” from his kills to show how many he has. While looking for more ammunition for his gun, Xavier reaches into Elijah’s bag and feels something soft touch his hand, he explains, “I reach cautiously into it again and pull out the soft thing… When I raise it to my nose to sniff the hardening leather side of it, the familiar reek of rotting human flesh makes me snap my hand away in disgust. I realize just what it is that Elijah keeps” (228). The trophies that Elijah enjoys to keep are the scalps of those he kills, every kill he makes he takes the scalp of the dead as a prize. The use of trickster symbolism reveals significant aspects of Elijah’s personality. Elijah enjoys breaking the rules and using humour even in inappropriate situations. He often shows off and talks about the new people he has killed as well as his shooting skills.
Trickster symbolism is the archetype that gives a character the role of both bestial and divine as they are an archetypal boundary-crosser. Lewis Hyde says, “Trickster is the mythic embodiment of ambiguity and ambivalence, doubleness and duplicity, contradiction and paradox”, in this he means that the trickster plays equal parts of both the positive and negative aspects of the universe created by the gods and who give the stories to humans on earth told by the demi-gods or tricksters of the subhuman and superhuman distinction. The trickster remains a ubiquitous force in aboriginal literature, art, and culture. Trickster stories thrive among First Nations and Indigenous people, handed down from generation to generation. Archetypes such as the trickster are key to what makes a story compelling. The best storytellers draw on universal archetypes to tap into something elemental in the human mind in order to interest the reader and tie into what they already know. All archetypes develop the way literature is received by its readers and grabs the attention of each reader in a different way. The readers are often able to relate to a character in a novel or movie that can create different emotions attached to those characters in unimaginable ways. This attachment is why character is a major building block in life and is essential to the development of literature.
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