Gabrielle Roy, the author of Windflower, shows us through her main character, Elsa Kumachuck, that isolation can have unfortunate effects on an individual and the people around them.
We, as readers, are at the beginning given the impression that Elsa is a fit mother who is responsible and knows how to raise her child properly. Later on, we realize that it’s the influence of other people in her life and the experience of isolation later on that leads her to make the decisions that she does.
Elsa Kumachuck was at one time just a carefree teenager, going to the theater to watch movies, laughing with her friends, and discussing sex.
Her whole life changes in one night though, when Elsa is raped by a GI soldier, and as a result, gets pregnant. Elsa experiences a very dramatic change in herself, both physically and emotionally, and seems to lose all interest in the things that she used to enjoy. When her baby, Jimmy, is born however, she appears to be herself again.
She snaps out of her depression as she observes the little boy she has given birth to. The unique little boy with blond hair and blue eyes takes her breath away. It seemed that in giving life to her child she had restored her own life to herself.
Although Jimmy is a joy and a blessing to Elsa, he also creates a conflict for her. She does not know whether she should raise him as an Eskimo like herself, or white like the father.
Elsa takes advice from a lady she once worked for, named Madame Beaulieu, the only white woman she knew. Elsa is soon dressing Jimmy as the whites do, and is keeping her hut clean and tidy. The people from the Eskimo society are in awe at the beautiful baby with blond, curly hair, and the ways in which Elsa is raising him. They always want to borrow Jimmy and they even start to bathe their children as Elsa does, at the same time every day. Elsa is proud to be the mother of the baby whom everybody seems to want, and she tries to make decisions that are in the best interest of her child.
These decisions, however, anger her mother, Winnie. Winnie believes that Jimmy should be raised according to the ways of the Intuit only. So when Elsa decided to go back to work for Madame Beaulieu to support her child, Winnie breaks all of the habits that Elsa has set for Jimmy. Winnie felt it was wrong to discipline a child or restrict him from doing certain things. Soon Jimmy gets too attached to his grandmother and Elsa decides to take him and leave her village and go to Old Fort Chimo.
Moving to Old Fort Chimo, Jimmy becomes attached to his Inuit culture. Uncle Ian, a great grand-father of Jimmy, is a traditional Inuit that did not believe in following the western ways. Ian teaches Jimmy his ways and they started to bond. Jimmy becomes sick and is in need of penicillin and so Elsa brings him to the white hospital to get a shot.
After this, Jimmy is brought back to Fort Chimo and becomes even more spoilt than before, with all the materialistic goods that Elsa gives him. Jimmy, being the proud, egoistic ‘caucasian, finds out that he is a rape child. From that, Jimmy becomes enraged and leaves Elsa to work at the American Airbase for the westerners.
Elsa is now left in solitary, having a bad vision and smoking so much she was finding difficulty seeing. She noted that she was becoming more and more similar to her mother, who she wanted to reject so badly. Missing Jimmy, she constantly harassed the people of the town for information about Jimmy. She soon found out that Jimmy had joined the Vietnam war and was raping the locals, just like his father. Instead of being enraged, she became happy and stated that ‘he was laying the seeds of his roots’.
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