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Man and the Natural World
Somewhere in this cosmos was Miyax; and the very life in her body, its spark and warmth, depended upon these wolves for survival. And she was not so sure they would help. (1.2)
The tundra is filled with danger, and with hope. It's without a doubt a threat to Miyax's life, just by its sheer enormity, but it also provides her with her one chance to survive – the wolves.
Patience with the ways of nature had been instilled in her by her father. (1.7)
Ah, so an understanding of nature runs in the family. Or at least the Kapugen family.
Miyax knew when to stop dreaming and be practical. She slid down the heave, brushed off her parka, and faced the tundra. The plants around the pond had edible seeds, as did all of the many grasses. There were thousands of crane fly and mosquito larvae in the water, and the wildflowers were filling if not very nourishing. But they were all small and took time to gather. She looked around for something bigger. (1.97)
Talk about the bounty of nature. Seeds! Larvae! Wildflowers! You'll forgive us if this isn't sounding all that delicious. But still, Miyax does what she has to, and you have to admire her strength (and her stomach).
She awoke with a start a short time later and looked about in puzzlement. The sky vaulted above her. A grass blade tickled her face, and she remembered where she was – up on the frost heave with the wolf pack! Breathing deeply to quell a sense of uneasiness, she finally relaxed, unrolled, and sat up. (1.189)
No matter how beautiful the tundra is, it's still pretty darn terrifying. Just imagine how you would feel if you slept peacefully, forgetting your situation, only to wake up and find yourself lost in an endless expanse of grass. Talk about a nightmare.
Walking the tundra with Kapugen was all laughter and fun. He would hail the blue sky and shout his praise for the grasses and bushes. (2.20)
It's clear that most of Miyax's love and respect for nature comes from being raised by Kapugen, which makes her disappointing reunion with him at the end of the novel all the more shocking.
"Yes, you are Eskimo," he had said. "And never forget it. We live as no other people can, for we truly understand the earth." (2.25)
Time and time again, we get the idea that Eskimos are somehow more dialed into the planet than other people. If we're using Miyax as evidence in support of that theory, then Shmoop would have to agree.
Slowly the life-giving star arose until it was round and burning red in the sky. […] For an hour and a half the sun moved above the horizon, reminding the Eskimos that the birds and mammals would come back, that the snow would melt, and that the great ice pack that pressed against the shore would begin to retreat and set them free to hunt and fish. (2.109-10)
Never is the relationship between man and nature more clear in the novel than when it talks about the sun. The sun is the very reason that human life is possible in the Arctic, and that's a hard thing to forget during those long, dark winters.
The old Eskimos were scientists too. By using the plants, animals, and temperature, they had changed the harsh Arctic into a home, a feat as incredible as sending rockets to the moon. […] They had been wise. They had adjusted to nature instead of to man-made gadgets. (3.46)
Miyax thinks it's wiser to adjust to nature, rather than to try to make nature adjust to man. It's this philosophy that gets her through her tough time on the tundra, with minimal supplies and virtually no food.
Kapugen considered the bounty the <em>gussaks'</em> way of deciding that the amaroqs could not live on this earth anymore. "And no men have that right, [… The wolves'] passing will end smaller lives upon which even man depends, whether he knows it or not, and the top of the world will pass into silence." (3.101)
The irony of this line is downright tragic. If Kapugen is so convinced that humans don't have a right to end wolves' lives, then why does he hunt them from an airplane at the end of the novel? What's up with that?
The air exploded and she stared up into the belly of the plane. Bolts, doors, wheels, red, white, silver, and black, the plane flashed before her eyes. In that instant she saw great cities, bridges, radios, school books. She saw the pink room, long highways, TV sets, telephones, and electric lights. Black exhaust enveloped her, and civilization became this monster that snarled across the sky. (3.138)
The plane is man's ultimate intrusion on the natural world, and it becomes a symbol for everything horrible about civilization. Miyax calls it a "monster," which is a strong word, but hey, if the shoe fits… well, you know what they say.
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