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THEMES OF ISOLATION IN SASKATCHEWAN RADIO DRAMA - page 51 / 185

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Timescape: History Plays and Isolation

45

“Machines change, people don't.”48 Nelson tells the children about a boy who was

infatuated with the huge steam engines that powered threshing machines. This boy

dreamed of growing up and running a threshing outfit of his own. The children learn

later that this boy was Nelson himself. Through Nelson’s stories, the children (and thus

the listener) learn about the daily routine of the threshing crew, and about the men who

worked the threshers. When Mr. Nelson leaves, Mr. Peterson tells the children that

Nelson was once a thresher-engineer, until he “tangled with a belt” and lost the use of his

hand. Mr. Nelson was the boy who dreamed of running a thresher. Nelson’s dream came

true, but it cost him his hand.

Nelson’s sacrifice fits well into Atwood’s first motif of Canadian literature’s

settler theme, i.e. “straight line battles curve and wins, but destroys human ‘life force’ in

the process” (Survival 122). Nelson dreams of using the triumph of western thought,

technology as represented by the thresher, to tame the prairies. He succeeds in doing so,

thus straightening “the curve,” but loses part of himself in the process. But Atwood’s

settler view cannot encompass the optimistic tone of the rest of the play. The children are

looking back from a position of the victory of the straight-line motif. The loss of

Nelson’s hand is only referred to; it is not dramatized. Moreover, the scenes from

Nelson’s childhood are optimistic. His parents succeed in settling and farming their

section. The farming society has prospered enough to have created a museum celebrating

itself. The victory of the straight-line is celebrated in this radio play of the mid-1950s.

Mr. Nelson is a character who has suffered isolation and loss on several levels.

The children discover him wandering alone through a museum displaying the outdated

48 This comment was especially jarring to a researcher listening to the play in 2004, when this play, about history, is also a kind of historical artifact.

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