On the Island

Section B: Essay

As we approach the 21st century our lives are changing dramatically. With the aid of
computers and robots much of what used to be tedious labour is done automatically. Our
modern society now allows us to dedicate more of our time to our families and our friends.
Unfortunately many people do not realize the benefits of a closely connected family. Once
they have grown up, the love for their parents diminishes slowly until the relationship
becomes nothing more than an empty shell. They might go through the motions of affection,
but it has become an obligatory performance. Often this developement is prompted by the
integration of a stranger into the family through marriage, as would seem to be the case in
this short story. Doris' son John has in a subconscious way transferred his love to his wife
Annette. As children grow up, the need to free themselves from their parents grow stronger.
This is a perfectly normal process, but it does not have to mean that they should completely
ostracize their parents.
Doris has recognized that she is no longer very necessary in John's life and has accepted
this with quiet resignation. She still looks for signs of affection however, but they seem few
and far in between. She has virtually no relationship with Annette whom she sees as a
representative of the new, efficient generation. While Doris does not fear progress, she fails
to see the use for many of the modern products.
Annette on the other hand has adopted a somewhat colder attitude towards John's mother.
It is hard to accurately pinpoint the passages where this is expressed, as it is more of a
general feeling throughout the story. As his wife, she is constantly waging an unseen and
unfelt battle with Doris for his attention. Battle may be too strong a word for it, but there is
certainly a state of hidden rivalry between Doris and Annette.
John's attitude towards his mother has changed considerably since his childhood. The deep,
limitless love that can only exist between a boy and his affectionate mother (I have no
reason to think that she could have been anything less) has been replaced with an
indifferent love, if such a thing exists. In fact, both John and Annette talk to her as if she
was a child: He reminds her that she is a frail old lady, she corrects her at every turn and
so on. In short, their relationship is not in the best of health. The fact that her son and her
daughter-in-law are contemplating to sell her house without her knowledge embodies the
feelings they have towards her: They no longer see her as an individual, but as a helpless
puppy that needs to have all her decisions made for her.

Doris does not feel that she belongs in today's society. I have the impression that she
sometimes feels like a ghost; floating silently around, she is sometimes seen, but always
ignored, unable to exert any real influence on her surroundings. The trip to the island puts
her in touch with a side of life that she had almost forgotten: Nature. When she sits down
on the reef and begins singing, she leaves the chaotic world behind and enters a higher
state of awareness. She sees that the sea is eternal, that our amazingly complicated society
is dwarfed by the sheer simplicity of Nature. Our daily worries mean nothing; the waves will
keep breaking on the reef a thousand years after we have passed on. As if to confirm these
thoughts, many seals slowly emerge from the water, drawn to her by her song. At that
moment she becomes at peace with herself. She no longer cares for the ways of modern
times. She has found the strength to break free from the dull and meaningless routine of her
life.

I think that "On the Island" is a very moving story that touches upon essential facets of our
society. Respect for one's elders is a thing of the past. Now we institutionalize them at every
opportunity, we take away their selfrespect and we expect them to adapt to a completely
different environnement. My generation grew up with computers, they are as natural to us
as electricity was to our parents. It is important for us to be as tolerant and as patient as
possible when it comes to dealing with our parents and grandparents. However, this does
not mean that we should guide them every