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The Mountain and the Valley :

The Symbolic Mountain of David’s dreams and hopes.

“The mountain slopes were less than a mile high at their

top-most point but they shut the valley in completely.”

(Buckner , 7). Our first view of the Mountain in Buckner’s

classic The Mountain and the Valley prepares us for its

importance throughout the novel. Its presence haunts David

throughout his life ; it is symbolic of fulfilment and

David’s desire to leave the Annapolis Valley, but due to

circumstances remains unsurmountable. The mountain is a

symbol that deeply influences Buckler’s narrative and t

pervades the story, by representing both David’s dreams and

inability to leave : beginning in his childhood, continuing

through his adolescence, his young adulthood, and finally

following him into the grave.

In his youth the protagonist of the story, David Canaan ,

is a sensitive boy who becomes increasingly aware of the

difference that sets him apart from his family and his

neighbours. He views his first trip to the mountain as a

large step in his life, even at the age of eleven. Buckner

portrays David’s childish delight (at finally being big enough

to go fishing on the mountain ) as an adventure : ” As they

came close to the mountain , it was so exciting that David was

almost afraid.” (Buckner 22) This attempt to scale the

mountain fails, as do all David’s attempts to climb the

mountain except his final one, “they were crossing the bridge

to start to climb the mountain when they heard the

voices”(Buckner 23). David’s father ends their excursion

because of the death of valley farmers Pete and Spurge. The

tragedy and death in the valley makes David’s journey to the

mountain impossible. Before he faces the news that he knows is

bad from the other valley men approaching , he must “touch it

, [the mountain road] anyway , before he knew indisputably

that the day was over” (Buckler, 34) , symbolically searching

for what he missed. The mountain, in David’s mind, represents

something better, or grander, than his rural valley life. The

prevailing theme of David not quite getting beyond the

mountain begins here, in his youth. Later in the novel, when

David is twelve , on the trek up to find a Christmas tree ,

David asks his sister Anna “If anyone walked through the

mountain , weeks and weeks, I wonder where he’d come out

…”.( Buckler, 56) The mystical question of what was beyond

the mountain is lingering in his mind even during this happy

moment, in David’s innocent youth.

The mountain throws its influence into childhood of

Anna, David’s twin sister, in a different way. Anna sees “A

rainbow arched from mountain to mountain”. (Buckler, 29). This

symbolises Anna’s later flight from the Valley and ability to

mesh – although she never quite gets it right- both the city

life of Halifax and her country existence in the Annapolis

Valley. The rainbow appears “almost faded over the valley”

(Buckler 22). This shows how Anna will become detached from

her childhood home, as she makes the premonition that she

later fulfils of marrying a sailor.

In David’s adolescence,the mountain takes on a more

defined shape in his mind. At age 13 ,”The mountain across

the lake looked like a far-off furniture of a dream.” (Buckler

88). David’s thoughts of his future, while pondering death

and helping his family fix the old graves in the cemetery,

are very positive. He shudders to think of Anna in the

cemetery, but does not picture himself there. He believes he

will be something great, and his dreams are still attainable

in his mind, and “the mountain looked to him as if , with one

great leap, he could touch it.” (Buckler , 88) Just as, when

he’s 14, “the afternoon, in a steady hush seemed to bring the

mountains closer” (Buckler, 96). David begins to push the

mountains, and what they represent, to the back of his mind.

His dreams are attainable and fulfilment of them an

inevitability of the future. Toby – the city boy from Halifax

who visits David (and is also a character foil of David)- is

introduced when they both are nearly sixteen. Toby becomes

David’s only friend, and doesn’t understand when David tells

him that “you can see everything” (Buckler, 138) from the top

of the mountain. Anna, David and Toby turn back after starting

up the mountain, and once again David is unsuccessful at

climbing to the top of the symbolic mountain. He is frustrated

when Toby says that “It isn’t like it was a real mountain

…What makes it so wonderful?” (Buckler, 138). David is

looking for understanding from the outsider Toby, and doesn’t

receive it. The mountain, or misunderstanding of it shows how

different Toby and David are and how David’s ambitions and

dreams seem small, and are not understood by Toby. David’s

desire to leave the Annapolis Valley and dreams of fulfilment

seem to pale, or seem unrealistic – “the thought of the

mountain went as lint-gray as the toes of his larrigans in

November slush.” (Buckler, 139)- when the “wordily” boy from

Halifax comments on the mountain.

Dave enters the world of a young adult through

heartbreaking circumstances : his girlfriend dies and he feels

somehow responsible, sleeps with his girlfriend’s mother and

tries (unsuccessfully) to leave home . Yet, his “childish

excitement” (Buckler, 168) about the mountain remains.

Joeseph, David’s father, suggests he and his son, now 19, and

the rest of the family, go to the top of the mountain in

search of a large tree for a keel. The mountain is finally

resurfacing in David’s mind after the string of bad

circumstances, and the mountain shows us that David is

beginning to hope again. He wonders why, “though he was

nineteen he’d never been to the very top yet.” (Buckler, 168).

They begin their trek up the mountain, but are stopped again

by returning Toby and Anna, and it becomes another failed

attempt -in Toby’s new car – to reach the top of the mountain.

The mountain illuminates the separateness beginning in David.

David believed that if he ” had been going to the top of the

mountain with his family

alone , their bond would have been the trip” (Buckler, 172),

and that with Toby “that he could have shared toby’s

excitement : not because of the mountain…but the car”

(Buckler, 172). David is left unfulfilled and wanting

more.Climbing the mountain alone never enters his mind at this

point. He feels separate and cut off from his family, as

though he “had to keep up a balancing act ” (Buckler 178) to

keep everyone happy. The mountain therefore shows david’s

inability to be content or fulfilled, as he has to act or

“balance” in the presence of his family , but David is still

clinging to the hopes that the mountain represent.

In the final stages of David’s short life, his adulthood,

he recognises the dual nature of the mountain. His Illness and

his father’s death trap him into the monotonous life of a

farmer, where “his thoughts clung low to his brain, like the

clouds that curled above the mountain.” (Buckler, 221) His

inability to act, and his beliefs that he can still attain his

dreams are shattered. David sets out, determined to climb his

mountain, and his “tendrils of thought begin to curl outward”

(Buckler 280). David begins his final trek to the top of the

mountain, this time “absolutely alone “(Buckler, 281). He

experiences a mental breakthrough of sorts, and recognises his

dreams and inability to attain them for what they are. He is

seized with a new positive outlook, and believes that he can

“live again … and begin again” (Buckler 182). “The Shape

and colour reach out to him like voices” (Buckler , 281) and

David sees the faces of everyone he knows on his journey up

the mountain, forgiving each one :”all the faces there were

everywhere else in the world, at every time waited for him”

(Buckler, 289). The mountain, as a symbol of his, is no

longer unsurmountable, in David’s mind. This new awakening is

ironic and “as he raised his head and saw that he was at the

very top of the mountain”(Buckler 291), simultaneously telling

himself he will “tell them just as they are, but people will

see there is more to them than the side that shows” (Buckler,

294), David drops dead. David’s old ideals about his dreams,

represented by the mountain, are back just before his death.

The book ends with David as a “grey body falling swiftly

….exactally down over the far side of the

mountain.”(Buckler, 296).

David, ironically, reaches his goal in death. He sees

everything, as he Told toby he would in his childhood, at the

top of the mountain. The mountain followed David throughout

his short life, as a symbol for his dreams and desire to

become-or be-somewhere beter as a child , as his desire to

leave as an adolescent, and as the realization that he is

trapped – inable to leave – in his adult life. Each of

David’s dreams were realized in his death, through the

influence of the mountian.The book David longed to write down

when he finally reached the top can also be read – the

portrait of the people that he yearned to write is the novel

itself, The Mountian and the Valley.

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