Instructor: Dan Munteanu
February 2, 2015
A Reflection on the Use of Symbols in The Loons By Margaret Laurence
The short story The Loons by Margaret Laurence tells the haunting tale of Piquette Tonnerre, a Métis girl through the future narration of Vanessa MacLeod- a young woman who spent a summer as a child at the Macleod family cottage with Piquette. This story tracks the life and imminent destruction of Piquette through the memories of Vanessa. Margaret Laurence uses symbolism to express her insights and empathy towards the degradation of the Métis community. The loons are a fundamental symbol used by Lawrence, an extended metaphor to communicate perspective in this story.
Laurence ties Piquette and the loons symbolically by highlighting many physical parallels between the two. The first parallel is the lameness expressed in their walk, young Piquette, with tuberculosis in one of her legs has a hard time walking, like the loons who are also lame walkers due to the placement of their legs on their body. Lameness makes both the loons and Piquette awkward to behold, lacking grace, and vulnerable to predation. Another similarity was in the peculiar way that both the loons and Piquette sound to Vanessa- both distinct, unique and noticeable. Vanessa describes the loons as sad and strange sounding, “No one can describe that undulating sound, the crying of the loons. Plaintive, and yet with a quality of chilling mockery, those voices belonged to a world separated by aeons from our neat world of summer cottages” (Laurence 935). Piquette was described as sounding hoarse, distant and loud- a voice that would put people on edge.
A psychological similarity between Piquette and the loons was their solitary nature. Loons choose only to live in areas where there are few to no people or other families of loons (The Loon's Family and Social Life). During the summer that Piquette spent at the cottage, she infrequently spoke and was uninterested in spending time playing or interacting with other children as identified by Vanessa’s statement “She stayed most of the time in the cottage with my mother helping her with the dishes or with Roddie, but hardly ever talking.”(Laurence 935). This shows an uncomfortable disconnect between Piquette and other people- a total lack of community.
Laurence subtly uses the literal meanings of the word loon as parallels for Piquette character. Loon is defined as- a silly, foolish, strange or crazy person (Loon). The very first time Vanessa notices Piquette she is portrayed as a bit strange and spaced out, ”her broad coarse-featured face bore no expression- it was blank, as if she no longer dwelt in her own skull”(Laurence 933). She is seen as foolish and silly to Vanessa when they have their second encounter four years later, Piquette is a loud, drunk, and embarrassing presence, Vanessa admits, “she repelled and embarrassed me”(Laurence 936). Multiple times in the story Piquette is portrayed as a drunk and this can be connected to common phrase ‘’drunk as a loon’’. Another connection that could be made is to the phrase “lord and loon”, Piquette was seen as the loon, a person of low rank and value, Vanessa was taught to think this way by the overt prejudice and racism of both her mother and grandmother who said that the Tonnerres were ”neither flesh, fowl, nor good salt herring”(Laurence 930). As an adult Vanessa considered the Tonnerres to be unsuccessful and leeches to society “when their men were not working at odd jobs or as section hands on the C.P.R. they lived on relief.”(Laurence 931).
Laurence uses the paralleling storylines of Piquette and the loons of Diamond Lake as a personification and a symbolic storytelling of the imminent destruction of the Métis people through ignorance and neglect. The story begins with both the loons and Piquette going unnoticed by the narrator Vanessa. Her father Ewen MacLeod brings them both to the attention of Vanessa one summer while