Alistair Macleod's No Great Mischief

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Is Calum a hero or villain? In Alistair MacLeod’s No Great Mischief, Alexander’s oldest brother commits violent crimes and by all accounts could be considered an antagonist. However, this is not the case. To outsiders Calum appears violent and rough, but within his clan he is their guiding compass. An intrepid leader who falls victim to his own history, Calum lacked guidance as a young man and this contributes to his later struggles with the law. Through anecdotes and flashbacks Calum is revealed to be a sympathetic and multifaceted character whose downfall comes from being too trusting of a stranger who would ultimately betray him. In a novel where bloodlines are revered and respected and devotion to clan is crucial, goodness is defined not …show more content…

Despite the uncomfortable circumstances, Alexander is hardly phased and shows his brother tender affection. Because he is loved by Alexander, Calum is portrayed as better person than say, Fern Picard, who is given no allowances under the critical eye of our narrator. Calum’s back story is tragic and develops Calum as a sympathetic character. He was a boy thrust into adulthood too soon by the shocking death of his parents, an orphan forced to live in poverty and quickly hardened by the cruel realities of life and loss. Due to this, Calum is generally detached from other people, and his deepest connections are with animals: first with Christie the horse and later with Piseag the stray kitten. Like a puzzle, Calum is not pieced together until later in the novel when he and Alexander begin working together. The many sad fragments of his past come together to form an image of a man who is unable to let go of all that has happened to him. While the two are driving to Sudbury, Calum reveals his regret over not being there when his parents died, and that he is still struggling to come to terms with the death of their cousin. Alexander later describes Calum as “...the man who, in his youthful despair, went looking for a rainbow, while others thought he was just wasting gas” (MacLeod 282-283). This image of Calum as a hopeless dreamer searching for closure and a meaning for his parent’s death humanizes …show more content…

Calum’s fate has been crossed with that of the great-great-great grandfather from whom his name originates, the intrepid clan leader Calum Ruadh. Much like his ancestor who bravely led his family into the unknown, Calum acts as the modern day clan leader, guiding his family through negotiations and contracts with mining companies and essentially leading their mass exodus from Cape Breton. Grandfather describes Calum Ruadh as “... responsible for all the people clustered around him. He was… like the goose who points the V, and he temporarily wavered and lost courage” (MacLeod 25), and Alexander later uses this same analogy to describe Calum’s position as leader within their family unit. “When the Canada geese fly north in the spring,” he states “there is a leader at the apex of the V as the formation moves across the land. Those who follow must believe that the leader is doing the best he can, but there is no guarantee that all journeys will end in salvation for everyone involved” (MacLeod 260). This idea of salvation is also related to the difficulties and hardship experienced by both Calums in their respective new environments. At the end of the novel, Alexander makes the most profound connection between the two Calums. When his brother dies, Alexander echoes the carving on Calum Ruadh’s gravestone “Fois do t’anam. Peace to his soul” (Macleod 283) This symbolic act elevates Calum to a status equally

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