Where Nests the Water Hen
Published 10 May 2017
The 21st century world is characterized by a highly materialistic and consumerist society where everything moves in a very fast pace. Just look at megacities like New York, Paris, or Tokyo and you will see people talk about the latest gadgets, their demanding jobs, high fashion, how to save for retirement, and how to make ends meet. This ultramodernized environment results in people taking for granted simple things in life. Today’s society is largely different from the one pictured in Gabrielle Roy’s novel, Where Nests the Water Hen (1950). Although similarities exist, the portrait of Manitoba in the novel is generally not a picture of today’s modern world.
Roy’s novel brings to life the Tousignant family on a remote setting in the wilderness of Manitoba. Here, the author shows how people struggle in their daily existence and how they how they rise above their problems. People in this rural place are portrayed as isolated but connected, ignorant but educated, and simple but face a lot of challenges. Manitoba is the setting for people whose lives are a fascinating dichotomy resulting from their isolation.
One of the major differences between the Manitoba in the novel and the 21st century modern society is that people in the remote village are living a simple life. But while their life is simple, it is far from easy. People take for granted nothing in the island. Almost all aspect of life is met with challenges that most people in the modern world never have to endure. For example, Luzina has an annual “holiday” in order to have all her children in the presence of a midwife. The woman must travel for many days over rough and jagged roads and through extreme weathers just to have another woman assist her in delivering her babies.
Another difference between the Manitoba society and the modern society is that, while the Manitoba people depicted in Roy’s novel have little access to such goods and services as medicine, food, and news, the needs of today’s people are available anytime, anywhere. Today, some of the most remotes places in the world have paved roads, and thanks to good road infrastructures, people have health centers. In addition, the emergence of the Internet and mobile devices make things a lot easier. The difficulties faced by the Manitoba people make the Tousignant family thankful for whatever they have, even little things such as postcards and crayons. In contrast, people in the fast-paced 21st century societies take for granted simple things in life.
Roy also describes the problem about the education of the children. The problem is that they cannot attend school because there is not one anywhere in the island. Instead, they have to build one and the teachers are having hard times getting to the remote place. In the novel, the government carries out its obligation to is people very well by providing education to everyone and everywhere. It does this by providing free education and providing excellent methods of education.
In the 21st century society, however, education is rapidly transforming from being basic human rights to being a privilege; more and more people in the world are becoming illiterate because poor families cannot afford the rising cost of education. It also seems that many governments place education at the bottom of priority least in favor of the military and other sectors. In addition, although schools sprout like mushroom nowadays, the quality of education is not that impressive as people undervalue education. On the other hand, in the novel, education seems to be the most important things for the development of a child. The government as represented in the novel is a responsible one; it makes sure that the basic needs of its people are met to achieve a cohesive society. Fundamental needs like education, food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, safety are all necessary to a society since they are the groundwork for a nation. This is clearly shown in Where Nests the Water Hen.
One major of characteristics attributed to the people in Roy’s novel but is not commonly seen among people in the modern society is the appreciation for new simple things. People in Manitoba greatly treasure anything foreign to them (material or intellectual). The first school teacher in the island introduces so many things they do not know and she leaves them with a hunger to know it all. Had Roy’s story taken place in a present day city, newfound knowledge would have held a lot less magic for the people. Instead of something stimulating that linked them to the outside world, school would be as expected and mundane. Today, there are some countries where school is considered as an amazing opportunity, but it is taken for granted in many countries.
Unlike the Manitoba in Where Nests the Water Hen, the modern society has fewer problems in terms of accessing everyday needs. Education would be a walk or bus away. Healthcare would be very accessible. One could order food by just pressing a button on their mobile devices. People could communicate through e-mails and voice calls in the Internet. News could be seen online. And one could transact business at the comfort of his or her own home. Everything else that people needed would be in their hands instantly. It is this manner of existence that fosters lack of appreciation for what one has; appreciation being something that characterizes the people of
Manitoba in Roy’s favorite novel. The city life in a highly modernized society is so complicated compared to the life on the island. The life in the 21st century society is very busy, multifaceted and fast-paced, unlike the relaxed and simple way of life of the instead of the Tousignants.
To summarize, the people in the wilderness of Manitoba in Roy’s story is different from the people in today’s society in that the former are so used to simple life that they appreciate and be grateful to what they have, while the latter are so consumed by the modern, materialistic life that they important things for granted. By comparing Roy’s Where Nests the Water Hen with today’s society, we can clearly see how people in a rural place in the middle of the 20th century live with simplicity and harmony and how people in today’s highly modern society live in complexity and complications and discord.