Character archetypes play a massive role in two particular pieces of literature I read this semester in my 12U English class. A short story, “On the Rainy River” by Tim O’Brien, and a novel, Three Day Road, by Joseph Boyden. I thought I’d compare the archetypal growth, between some of the characters, and just archetypes in general that makes these readings significant.
After considering some of the other options to compare Three Day Road with, I decided to settle with “On the Rainy River” because there is more similarities than I thought before really looking into each text. I’d like to start off by comparing Niska and the old man who takes O’Brien in, Elroy Berdahl. Both of these characters play significant roles as motherly figures in their texts. Both Xavier and Tim O’Brien rely heavily on these characters. While telling the story of being drafted into the war, O’Brien describes the Berdahl, “The man who opened the door that day is the hero of my life. How do I say this without sounding sappy? Blurt it out—the man saved me. He offered exactly what I needed, without questions, without any words at all. He took me in. He was there at the critical time—a silent, watchful presence” (O’Brien). Berdahl provides a place for O’Brien to stay, and also provided him a direct way out of the crisis O’Brien was in, boating directly to the coast of Canada. Berdahl shows maternal charateristics in how, “The man’s self-control was amazing. He never pried. He never put me in a position that required lies or denials (O’Brien), and even provides O’Brien with, “… four fifties and a two-word note that said EMERGENCY FUND. The man knew” (O’Brien). Much alike, Niska takes Xavier in, teaching him how to survive, which keeps him alive at war, heals him through stories, and saves his life. Niska purifies him in a ceremony around a fire with rocks, inside a matatosowin, seeing, “Nephew is chased by something horrible, even in here. …The pain that Nephew has carried inside of himself for so long is leaving his body and swirling around in this place. … with the squeal of stone splitting in half from the heat, the presence is gone” (Boyden 379-380). Both characters display similarities in how they provide immense care for the protagonists when they are in need.
Two other characters in these texts that can be contrasted are Xavier and Tim O’Brien. Both of these characters exhibit heroic qualities, but there is a difference.
Xavier stands behind his beliefs throughout the entire novel, even through adversity.
When Tim O’Brien is faced with the pressure society places on him he notes, “I was a coward. I went to the war (O’Brien). O’Brien would have fulfilled the hero archetype if he had followed his belief that he has a right to not fight in the war, but instead, he does what others expect of him. By always doing what is ethically right to him, I think Xavier completely fulfills the hero archetype. When his best friend, Elijah, turns windigo, Xavier knows to what he believes is right, and kills his lifelong friend, despite being very difficult. When Xavier is asked by the lieutenant to kill a bird, “Elijah reaches for a broom in the corner, hands it to me, points to the nest. I refuse to take the broom, glare back” (Boyden 258). To Elijah, killing the bird is easily done and not significant. Xavier will not kill the bird because it is ethically wrong. He always does what he believes is right, despite what others expect of him.
These two texts also share significant archetypal symbols. The river (water) in Three Day Road, and “On the rainy River” represents rebirth, and allows Xavier and Tim O’Brien to be resurrected. While paddling in the canoe with Niska, it is seen that, ““What happened over there has wrecked him. … [The needles] are a part of what is killing him. But something far worse is consuming Xavier from the inside. It’s this that I must figure out how to remove. …This is a sickness I’ve not had to face before”(Boyden 34). Xavier takes the three day road on the river before becoming purified in the matatosowin, getting forgiveness and understanding from Elijah for killing him. The river in “On the Rainy River” gives O’Brien the perfect chance to escape all of his issues by swimming for the Canadian border, “I did try. It just wasn’t possible (O’Brien). The river causes O’Brien to decide, “And right then I submitted. I would go to the war … That was the sad thing. And so I sat in the bow of the boat and cried. It was loud now. Loud, hard crying. Elroy Berdahl remained quiet. He kept fishing. He worked his line with the tips of his fingers, patiently, squinting out at his red and white bobber on the Rainy River” (O’Brien). O’Brien becomes reborn, as the river leads him to change his decision and fight in the war.
Comparing these two texts has helped me understand each of them deeper. Comparing things like the motherly figures, or the purpose of the rivers allowed me to find things in these texts I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. I discovered why the rivers are so remarkable in these texts, and some of the traits that make each character fall under a specific archetype. These texts have more in common than I originally thought.