Timescape: History Plays and Isolation
machines of his prime. While the children represent a vision of friendship and
community akin to Frye’s archetypal images of the human world of comedy, Nelson’s
isolation fits Frye’s tragic archetypal image of the human world. Nelson is isolated
because his occupation is now history. When the old-time thresher was relegated to
history by the combination harvester, the thresher’s steam engineer became antiquated as
well. Compounding this isolation for Nelson is the fact that he was removed, or isolated,
from the threshing crews even before the threshing crews were antiquated. The thresher
took his hand. So painful is this loss to him that he can’t even tell the children that he
was the little boy who realized his dream of becoming an engineer on a threshing crew.
Mr. Peterson has to reveal this to the students after Nelson has left. Nonetheless, there is
a sense that Nelson’s loss was part of the evolution of technology – the great advance of
invention. Though Nelson’s personal loss is tragic, society progresses as a result of such
sacrifices by its pioneers.
The children commented on how far machinery has come since farmers used the
museum-retired threshers. The museum can be seen as both a celebration of past
technologies and as a graveyard full of out-of-date hulks of metal, once-animated and
vital machines that now sit silent and still. This mechanical graveyard evokes Frye’s
“tragic vision [of] the mineral world” which “is seen in terms of deserts, rocks and ruins”
(quoted in Bate 608 – italics added). The children, however, swing the cycle to a higher,
more comic point in Frye’s cycle. They are youth, the dawn, and hope for the future.
They feel more in awe of Nelson’s sacrifice than sorry for his loss. In this educational
drama of 1955, there is a sense of prairie histories being stories of necessary sacrifice and
loss. Optimism wins out over sorrow. Perhaps this optimism is a reflection of the post-