French artist Paul Cezanne once said, “If isolation tempers the strong, it is the stumbling-block of the uncertain” (BrainyQuote). The topic of “the other” recurs so often in Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden, that it can be considered a motif. “The other” is a being who is isolated, separated, or segregated from their surroundings. It can be from their family, friends, co workers, anywhere someone can push them out of a circle. An other is usually considered to be a weak individual, one who doesn’t know what to do with themselves, someone who is lost.
But what happens if a stronger, more focused protagonist becomes the other? Boyden decided to create his book around the idea of strong others, and didn’t write about weak or secondary characters. He made all 3 main characters others in their own unique ways. One segregated from society, one with glory and a celebrity status, and a quiet individual caught up in a fight that’s not his own. The author inquires that “the other” can be portrayed in different ways than just an outsider, and explains how people can be “othered” in a group, by themselves, or at the top of the food chain.
Yet what people share is the isolation felt, which has a negative impact on the individual’s mentality. The character in the novel that most resembles the average “other” stereotype is Niska. She was separated from her people at a young age due to her family’s mystical bloodline, and by the age of 12 the village children hated her. “Except for Rabbit (Xavier’s mother), the other children avoided me. Damaged is what I was to them, but they wouldn’t say this to my face…. If they thought I was crazy, I let them. Laughed at them. ” (Boyden 35).
Being an other came easy to her, almost as if she accepted the fact that no one liked to be around her. On a psychological level this kind of abuse at such a young age can be very harmful to a human being. According to www. stopabully. ca, “64% of 490 students interviewed have been bullied at school” and “Adults who were bullied as a child are more likely to be depressed in adulthood,” which is what happened to Niska. By the time she was old enough, she lived on her own in complete isolation. Pushed away by society, and driven away from her own family and friends.
No one knows what it’s like to spend everyday alone, but it can change the way a person views their life, and resulting in them continuing down the path of being the social other. Niska never stopped living alone, only when Elijah and Xavier were there was when she wasn’t the other. But the fact that she became an other at a young age, she never went back to living a normal life in a village or town, she just became depressed and antisocial. “I hide well during the day (from people), but when the sound (train) reaches my ears I have no choice but to come out and walk among them.
They stare and point and talk about me as if they’ve not seen one of me” (Boyden 3). The passage shows her hate for people in society, as well as their disgust towards her, which is what happens when someone no longer lives among the many social norms and constructs in life. An argument could be made that being an other helped Niska develop her personality, but it took a very hard toll on her. Almost dying, constant seizures, hatred directed her way any time she went anywhere, revealing that being an other in society does not enhance a life in a positive way.
An other can break free from the bonds of the stereotype of being totally isolated, or living alone. What happens if an other is surrounded by comrades or companions, but still feels like they are an outsider? This is what occurred during Xavier’s time in the army. Despite being possibly the greatest shot in all of the allied forces, a simple downfall of not being able to speak English and having darker skin really held Xavier back and hurt him during his deployment. He observes his fellow soldiers exchange jokes and laughs while he struggles to understand what’s going on. I am forced by my poor english to sit back and watch it all happen… while I become more invisible. A brown ghost” (Boyden 65). Back then, a life of an Indian was a hard one, especially being in the army. Surrounded by all white males who aren’t used to seeing or talking to an Aboriginal, adding even more pressure to perform well on top of just being in the army.
He’s always on the outside of the circle, which a lot of people have experienced in their life, trying to listen to conversations, but constantly being blocked out and not being able to hear anyone talking. Elijah begins to speak softly, so that the others around him must lean toward him (leaving X out)” (Boyden 242). To put it bluntly, it sucks to be excluded by people you work with, go to school with, or hang out with. Not a single person likes to be left out (except Niska) because it’s damaging to someone’s confidence and feelings. In the army your feelings are damaged beyond belief, of 2. 7 million Iraq and Afghanistan US army veterans, 20% reported having PTSD (www. veteransandptsd. com). So why add on to someone’s stress and isolate them?
Instead of pushing someone towards a depressive state, why not help them out? Lastly, Elijah’s “otherness” was difficult to pick up on in the novel, and can only be explained as a ‘hybrid other. Unlike Xavier and Niska, Elijah is not to be considered isolated. His reputation in the army grew exponentially since he was recruited, and was regarded as a skillful predator in the field, like he was at the top of the food chain. As he became more known, his comrades began to admire and revere him, always giving him praise.
Kind of like an other, but one that you look up to or strive to be like, not someone going through a depressing time on the outside of a friend group. But the stress of being a role model and a leader got to him. He slowly started losing himself; using morphine, disobeying orders, solo missions, more ruthless killing techniques, all for the purpose maintaining his position. He even resorted to cannibalism, when asked “Is it horse? ” he responded with “No, it is human, German to be exact” (Boyden 310).
As one can imagine when someone starts to eat flesh, his comrades start to fear him. They become angry and confused, much like Xavier did, which can lead them to turning on the other. Every terrible thing that Elijah did led Xavier to kill him, which proves that this unorthodox other is the most dangerous to type of all, because it can lead to a subjects destruction. Elijah can also be called a ‘dynamic other’ due to the fact that he didn’t stay the same and seemed to transcend into something else, something that Xavier did not like at all. Sometimes, change is not beneficial.
In conclusion, Niska, Xavier, and Elijah prove that there are different varieties of “others” and it is not pleasant to live a life as any of them. From depression to cannibalism to addiction, the effects of being isolated on a human’s mind are endless and dangerous. After taking in this information you might notice that you may feel like the ‘other’ yourself, hopefully not to the extreme Elijah went to, but you might possibly feel a little alone. The characters are perfect examples why you should never fall into that cycle. If you ever find yourself feeling more and more alone, would you change that? Or just let it happen?