An Analytical Review of The Survival of the Bark Canoe by John McPhee

Last Updated: 28 Feb 2023
Essay type: Analytical
Pages: 4 Views: 135

I wish that I could say that I really enjoyed reading The Survival of the Bark Canoe by John McPhee. The book was well written and interesting, but I felt that I was taking up time that needed to be spent elsewhere. The Survival of the Bark Canoe was able to cover the four core area's, and I guess that is the important aspect of the book.

Core A, the first of the four core area's, is about society and self. I found myself thinking about this core when reading about the tensions building up between the members of the group taking the canoe trip. How do the group dynamics compare to the thoughts of the individuals? I found that it was through these group interactions that we learned more about Henri Vaillancourt. In the beginning of the book we see Henri as almost a God in that he knows so much about the birch-bark canoes. It is throughout the book that we see that his knowledge is limited to the building of the canoes. He is definitely lacking in social skills, as we see in his carrying of the canoe during the portages. He also lacks knowledge when it comes to steering a canoe. As readers, we would not learned of any of these aspects of Henri without the other characters for him to play off of.

The next core area is Core B--or the individual and the material world. This is the science area of the Hutchins program. I felt that this core was addressed in the discussions on the making of the birch- bark canoes. John McPhee described to us the process that Henri Vaillancourt went through to make the birch-bark canoes. Henri used an old form of "technology" when building the canoes, yet they were still seen as superior to canoes built with modern technology. I find this interesting. In today's world we are so focused on advancement, yet what does that word really mean? Is something more advanced because it takes less time to build or is cheaper? I think that is the way that we have been trained to think. What does this sense of science say about the values of the modern world? Henri, as well as a few others, is still focused on the quality, form, and beauty of his canoes. This is a rare quality in this day in age. I am afraid to think that what this modem society really values are things that are cheaper, simpler, and time savers.

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The arts and human experience are covered in core area C. Henri Vaillancourt is defiantly in tune with art. He spends his time in full pursuit after a creative activity. Why does he feel this need to create? I don't believe that the author ever addressed this issue. Why do any of us feel the need to create? For me, creativity allows me to free a part of myself that would otherwise stay trapped inside me. Art is a passion that some people possess so strongly that they can't do anything else. I feel that this is true for Henri Vaillancourt. He cannot conceive of doing anything else for a living, and as a reader, I can't see him as doing anything else either. There is a part of Henri that goes into, and comes out of, each of his canoes. He sees them as his creations that will always be connected to him. This is why he likes to be able to go visit them. He is in tune with his canoes. When the canoes get damaged on the trip, it is Henri that can find the way to fix them even though he has never before done the type of repair needed before.

Finally we get to core area D--consciousness and reality. I have to say that here I am getting stuck as to how this relates to The Survival of the Bark Canoe. This is an area that I find more personal. I find the book and this core area combine to make me think about what really is the meaning of life. I feel that the answer lies somewhere in the journey taken in the birch-bark canoes. Maybe Henri Vaillancourt has the answer. He seems to really know what he wants and go after it. He is not interested in being practical. But maybe the answer lies somewhere else, like in the relationships of the trip. In that case, Henri is way off base. He is only really interested in himself and his canoes. He takes some interest in others, but only when it seems to pertain to him in some way. I wish I knew the answer. I am just going to sit here thinking in circles until I feel like my head will explode.

I feel that I am so full of questions, and yet I have so few answers. I am starting to see more in The Survival of the Bark Canoe than I thought was there in the beginning. There are some points that I noticed I could write an entire paper on. The book now seems to connect to many more points of interest than I ever thought it would. I am interested to see what others have to say about the book. I know that my head is in such a mess right now that I could be completely off base in everything I have had to say. It is hard to dig deeper into a book when you are trying so hard not to think. How am I ever to find the right balance?

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An Analytical Review of The Survival of the Bark Canoe by John McPhee. (2023, Feb 22). Retrieved from

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