Introduction: Isolation, Radio Drama, and Saskatchewan
Often in these plays a settler desires to reshape nature as he6 dreams of creating a private
Utopia for himself and his family. But his desire for a private, perfectly ordered piece of
the earth is unattainable. In Atwood’s view, the definition of order is at the heart of
conflicts between Man and Nature, “The order of Nature is labyrinthine, complex,
curved; the order of Western European Man tends to squares, straight lines, oblongs, and
similar shapes” (Survival 120). The fact that there is a resulting conflict is not the fault of
Nature, but that of the settler:
the Canadian pioneer is a square peg in a round hole; he faces the problem of trying to fit a straight line into a curved space. Of course, the necessity for the straight line is not in Nature but in his own head; he might have had a better time if he’d tried to fit himself into Nature, not the other way round (Atwood 120).
But the settler does not try to fit in, leading inevitably to human tragedy and to
destruction. As Atwood explains, the “settler theme in Canadian literature breaks down -
and again this is a guess -- into two motifs: -- straight line battles curve and wins, but
destroys human ‘life force’ in the process. -- straight line deteriorates and the curve takes
over again; that is, settlement fails” (Survival 122). This straight-line-versus-curve battle
is readily apparent in the plays discussed in this chapter.
The hero of these history-inspired Saskatchewan radio dramas tends to be a cold
and isolated figure engaged in a futile quest that takes him increasingly away from
anything resembling “a normal environment or context.” In Survival, Atwood contends
that “the traditional hero is defined by the purpose and quality of his death” (166).
American and British heroes fulfil these roles well, but differently: “The American way
of death, as demonstrated by both history and literature, is death by violence… The
English way of death, insofar as there is a single one, is death by history” (Atwood 166).
Very rarely is the nature-straightening settler a woman.