Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Water Has No "Borders"

In his short story, “Borders,” Thomas King describes the difficulty his mother and he faced while trying to cross the U.S.- Canadian border as a result of his mother’s unwillingness to be confined to a culture and territory. Although his story has a light, humorous tone, King maintains a poignant message about identity and the restrictions of borders.

One of the elements King incorporates into his story is the idea of water. Throughout the story, King makes consistent references to water and its roles in everyday life. When he and his mother stop at a restaurant before dropping off Laetitia, his mother complains the coffee is bad because “they got lousy water” and warns Laetitia she will have to buy bottles water (134). Water is essential to life; it has no restrictions, no boundaries--it does not discriminate. Here, King’s mother is erecting her own borders between Canada and the United States. The water south of the border is lacking and therefore one cannot survive. By holding this idea, King’s mother is isolating herself and closing herself off from others. The mother even brings a big jar of water when she and her son travel to visit Laetitia, which implies that she has not changed in her views and assumptions. During the exchange between the border patrol guards, however, the readers see a change in the mother’s thinking.

When the guards ask whether King’s mother is Canadian or American, she refuses to be confined to only those two options; she is neither. She is Blackfoot. Unfortunately, this answer causes mother and son to be restricted between borders, just as the mother places a restriction on the quality of water. We start to see a change in these beliefs and assumptions when they are forced to stay overnight for the second time in between the country borders. King notes they has run low on food by the second night which was a problem, but “we had lots of water as there was a faucet at the side of the duty-free shop” (143). Instead of being restricted to a jar or a bottle, King and his mother could drink water that was free flowing, and it did not matter that the water came from the American side because they needed water for survival. The following day, maintaining their Blackfoot identity, King and his mother are able to flow freely across the border. The borders, which at one time unjustly restricted them, disappeared.

King uses the water imagery to show natural things, whether it is water or human beings, are not meant to be and cannot be confined. Similarly, Anzaldua uses blood imagery to show that although borders separate the Mexicans from Americans, it does not separate us as humans. Blood is the water of life. Both King and Anzaldua use these images to show how we are all connected as people and borders sever those connections, but once we break through the barriers the connections can be restored and we as people can flow freely just like the blood that runs through our bodies and the water that runs through our lands.

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