In a world of abbreviated text messages and poor vocabulary, Alistair MacLeod is a beacon of hope for the English language. His break-out novel No Great Mischief brings the idea of art back to writing. Through many subtle but powerfully penetrating themes, meticulously chosen poetic language and an oral form of writing that is unsurpassed in literature, he resurrects the written word to its once prominent place as the highest medium of expression. It is through this author's expression that we are led to appreciate the true beauty and art of his craft.
In the first chapter of No Great Mischief the reader is subject to a plethora of expression by way of subtle hints at many of the themes to come. The most obvious of which is family. From his reference to the families who are at the road side farms to pick their own, to the families of the imported workers in the fields of the much larger farms, MacLeod foreshadows the significant role family will play throughout the novel. This is further emphasized one paragraph later when the narrator reminisces about an occasion when one of his own family members, his grandmother, who had been visiting at the time, was brought to tears by the farmers ploughing the rejected and over-ripe tomatoes under. Her crying at the waste is inconsequential to the theme of family, but it does show the reader that not only is the narrator aware of other families, he is constantly thinking of his own as well.
Possibly the most important sub-section of the family theme is family loyalty. This is shown through the constant repetition of one of Grandma's most notable quote which is, “Always look after your blood”(MacLeod 38). The importance of family loyalty is illustrated in the narrator’s oldest brother Calum, agreeing to allow their cousin from San Francisco, who is trying to dodge the Vietnam draft, to join the Clann Chalum Ruaidh in the uranium mine deep in the Canadian Shield, as Grandma and Grandpa had requested. The conversation leading up to Calum's acceptance of the relative from San Francisco begins with Calum saying; “Is this important to you, 'ille bhig ruaidh?” Alexander responds with; “Yes, it is. It's just that Grandma and Grandpa...” At this point Calum cuts him off, having already accepted the decision, and says; “Okay, it's important to me too. Grandma used to say, 'Always look after your own blood'...”(MacLeod 204) this shows that they all respect the wishes of family members, however they might justify it to themselves.
The aforementioned scene of the narrator’s grandmother weeping at the wasted tomatoes is also used to foreshadow the cliched theme of “be thankful for what you have” or as Grandma says, “Waste not, want not”(MacLeod 38) as, in the following sentences, he describes how his grandmother would save even the green tomatoes out of her own meagre garden of rocky soil and set them on the windowsills in the dead of winter hoping they might ripen and be useful. He goes on to say, “To her they were precious and rare and hard to come by. The lost and wasted tomatoes which she saw outside of Leamington depressed my grandmother for days.”(MacLeod 2). Yet another theme that is addressed in the first chapter is lament. This theme starts with lament for a slower almost country way of life, which the narrator eludes to by saying; “ ...there is something almost comforting in passing houses where the dogs still run down to the roadside to bark at the wheels of the passing cars – as if, for them, it were a real event.”(MacLeod 2-3). Later in the novel the theme of lament is extended to cover many other major topics that are close to the main character and narrator, Alexander, as well as the author himself. The most emphasized of these laments, is the mourning for lost language and culture, which is why the narrator makes constant references to Gaelic traditions and languages. In an interview with Shelagh Rogers, Mr. MacLeod makes note of a…