With particular reference to students studying The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro
What is the Imaginative Landscape?
One of the simplest ways to define an Imaginative Landscape is as our perception of the world around us. Such a perception might be figurative, intellectual, emotional or concrete. Each of us has our own ideas about the physical, social, conceptual and psychological worlds we inhabit, and we communicate these ideas, in a variety of ways. They might be conveyed as discussions or in art, or they might be implied through beliefs, values and moral or ethical views.
First of all, break down the terms of the Imaginative Landscape:
What does the literal word ‘landscape’ allude to?
- views, features, shapes, distinguishing features and characteristics of land
- scenery, terrain, geography, nature
- representations, directions and points of view
- processes and events which might shape physical landscapes (such as erosion)
What does the word ‘imaginative’ connote, broadening possible landscapes to include those which are less literal?
- creativity, illusions/alternative realities
- other aspects of the world
- emotions, memories, subjectivity
- metaphor, symbolism, artistic representation
Writing The Imaginative Landscape, Context in the Exam, Section B
This is a writing exercise not a text response, but students must use the text in some way. There is no rule about how much; this will depend on your writing style. You do NOT have to refer to the text in every paragraph — a key word or idea from the text need come up only once in the entire piece or the text may be a thread running right through the writing (for example the retelling of a story from The View from Castle Rock from the viewpoint of a another character).
The Exam says you may write in any style, imaginative, persuasive, expository (or a blend of these). In reality this means any style. No one style gives an advantage over the other and you should aim to write to your own strengths.
The bottom line is that the Assessors are looking for good writing:
- that incorporates the ideas of Imaginative Landscape
- has some relationship to the text The View from Castle Rock
- has a reference to all or part of the prompt
A prompt is not a question, it is a springboard for your own writing, so unlike a text question you do not have to deal with every part of the prompt, but you must incorporate some of the perspective on the Imaginative Landscape raised by the particular prompt.
For students studying The View from Castle Rock where is the Imaginative Landscape?
Munro herself noted that ‘landscape is so important’. In Castle Rock, landscapes are both literal [factual] and figurative [or metaphorical/symbolic]. The book’s framework is Munro’s imagining of one possible landscape, which she maps through time and space that is of her family history. It is not just the physical setting of the landscape but also the subjective experience and representation of the settings. This is important within the Context of The Imaginative Landscape because it is not just landscapes that deserve consideration, but an individual’s experience of landscapes, and the ways in which an individual represents and imaginatively conceives landscapes.
Therefore, literal landscapes are explicit [clear/open] in Castle Rock, while figurative landscapes are more implicit [hidden/unspoken]. This is shown when the characters and most notably the central narrator (who remains unnamed, but is closely aligned with Munro herself) encounters with various landscapes and the communication of those encounters through both speech and writing are significant.
A. Physical and Geographical Landscapes in Castle Rock
Since Castle Rock is about tracing family connections, recording memories, and committing history and experience to narrative record, the focus on geography in the early parts of the novel suggests that such physical landscapes are vitally important to our own understanding, not only of place, but also of culture, history and family.
- ‘No Advantages’, the first story firmly establishes the importance of physical/geographical landscapes, the historical context, meanings of the word ‘Hope’ and personal observations.
- The geographical locations are more than simply backdrops or settings for the stories they establish the tone, the intentions and themes of the entire narrative.
- The narrator introduces herself into the story, placing herself as a traveller in the geography of Ettrick.
B. Domestic Landscapes in Castle Rock
Houses are domestic landscapes with central importance in Castle Rock. Munro sets various stories and key incidents within these domestic landscapes so the houses become as important as the characters and explore insights into the characters and relationships. The domestic landscapes are often in harmony with their surroundings (the physical and environmental settings) and sometimes in contrast with what surrounds them.
C. Historical and Ancestral Landscapes
Castle Rock documents the geographical history of the Laidlaw family, but it is also an historical exploration of the narrator’s family history. She begins her story in the present, visiting the Ettrick Valley, then takes us back to the early 1700’s to introduce Will O’Phaup. His story is told in the present tense using a third-person subjective point of view so that we are closely aligned with the character. He is a vibrant character that Munro wants us to know and care about and he sets the scene for the other characters that will help us gain a sense of the narrator’s historical landscape.
D. Imagined Landscapes
While Castle Rock is grounded in physical landscapes inhabited by its characters, it also alludes to other landscapes that characters may never see but are able to imagine. These imagined landscapes contextualise the ‘real settings’, demonstrating the character’s awareness that their own surroundings are small elements of the global landscape.
Consider these imagined landscapes:
- America is both a real landscape and for James Laidlaw who dreams of going there, an imagined, wondrous land of opportunity (p.30)
- Mary Laidlaw shows curiosity about a fellow passenger’s accent, she wonders what part of the country or the world he could have come from, realising she has led a sheltered life in a small rural community (p.37)
- The narrator has a suitcase that smells of imagined landscapes of trains, coal fires and cities of travel (p.252)
- The narrator’s father has a fondness for and familiarity with, the world as represented in his Historical Atlas (p.299)
- The book’s final image is the narrator’s imagined landscape of the tremendous pounding of the sea (p.349) recalling the sea that the Laidlaws traversed at the beginning of the text
- The young narrator’s imagined world of exciting things (sexual things) which have not actually happened for her yet (p.251)
E. Written Landscapes
A central theme in the text is the idea of re-creating history and physical landscapes through written communications. ‘No Advantages’ introduces this theme, with Munro offering us a written description of Ettrick, but she also relies on historical documentation which describes the landscape. She also uses other sources of written landscapes, her father’s memoirs, Walter Laidlaw’s journal entries, Big Rob’s descriptions of Morris Township or oral descriptions of the characters.
F. Remembered Landscapes
There are times when characters recall landscapes of home of their past, and these can be private recollections not turned into stories or maps. Memory functions as a kind of informed, backward looking imagination. Examples of remembered landscapes in the text include:
- Edinburgh Castle which appears very different to Andrew Laidlaw on his return visit from his recollection of it (p.31)
- The country store in Grey county where the narrator once had an ice cream (p.140)
- The farmhouse where the narrator lived (p.288-289)
- The farmland near the house where the narrator grew up, in which many structures such as barns, and fences have been removed, making the countryside (paradoxically) appear smaller (p.343-344)
- Jamie Laidlaw’s home which the family had to leave, memories of which prompted his plan to hide his baby sister and blame Becky Johnson so that the whole family would return home (p.95-107)
Locating Ideas in the Imaginative Landscape
These are key points in the structure of any narrative text. When finding ideas in the text, ask yourself these questions:
- Crisis points– major dilemmas characters have to deal with.
- Does this crisis alter a character’s perception of the landscape?
- Does a crisis or turning point coincide with a change in the landscape?
- A personal crisis can bring about a change in an individual’s relationship with the landscape
- Turning points– points in the text where a character has to make a decision or when something occurs to cause a change of direction in the character’s life. The characters then look closely on events and reflect on them, as these give a real sense of the long term impact of crucial events.
- Do any reflections consider relationships with the landscape?
- Are any landscapes transformed in the character’s mind?
- Reflection on the significance of a landscape brings about a reassessment of its value.
- Forging and breaking relationships– revealing experiences revolve around the forcing and breaking of relationships. Consider more than relationships between individuals, but also between groups and even nations that have far reaching consequences.
- Does a new or broken relationship cause reconsideration of the value of the landscape?
- Do any new relationships introduce new ideas about the value of the landscape?
- Our perception of the landscape is often changed when our relationships begin or end.
- Journeys and Quests– journeys often represent growth. A physical journey usually parallels an inner journey from adolescence to maturity, from innocence to experience, from lack of self awareness to self awareness. Quests involve a search for something valuable and usually require many obstacles to be overcome. Journeys and quests can reveal and test the emotional and spiritual development of a character.
- Journeys to and through new landscapes are often used to represent an awareness of a new inner landscape
- Does this occur in View from Castle Rock? If so, are the changes beneficial?
- A journey to a new landscape can bring a sense of renewal.
- Settings and Contexts– settings can range from historical period in which the text is set to physical locations and social contexts, urban or rural landscapes, wealthy or poor social contexts.
- Is a landscape shown to have a significant impact on an individual’s responses to life?
- Is a connection to the landscape shown to be a major factor in a person or group’s belief system or sense of emotional well-being?
- Landscape is neutral, it only gains significance because of the ways in which people imagine it.
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