Timescape: History Plays and Isolation
to come to terms with the advancing hordes of white men, the railroad, and the
disappearance of the buffalo. When giving advice to Harry on religion, he is pragmatic,
if somewhat tongue in cheek, advising the young man to try to live as “half Christian and
half Indian, so when you die, you'll only be half wrong.” It is unclear at the end of the
play if Harry has found comfort in his grandfather's story, but he does leave with a
stronger link to his past.
The straight-line versus curve battle must be turned around when applying
Atwood’s settler motif to this play. Piapot is fighting the advancing straight-line
mentality of European settlers. While this does smack of a limited, over-romanticized
“Indian as Force of Nature” theme, the model, thus adapted, has an effective ironic edge
meant to challenge the complacency of a largely white Saskatchewan audience, many of
whom see themselves as being of straight-line, or “settler stock”. The line versus curve
struggle is most graphically shown as Piapot fights to keep the railway from bisecting his
band’s town. They built a lodge directly in the proposed path of the rails – the rails being
a straight, iron line through the natural prairie. The straight line wins out, and Piapot’s
people are moved and starved. The victory of the straight line destroys the human “life
force” in its wake.
While History plays tell the stories of people who make history, history plays tell
the stories of people to whom history happens. Saskatchewan’s history is often used as a
background against which playwrights create their stories.