Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Breaking Down Borders

In Thomas King’s short story “Borders,” the twelve-year-old narrator witnesses his mother’s staunch commitment to maintaining her identity as a Blackfoot. The narrator and his mother end up spending a few days in limbo between the American and Canadian borders, which is symbolic of the discrepancy between their cultural identities and the bureaucratic standards that are being forced upon them. King is trying to point out that there is little to no space left for those who hold their connection to their heritage as something more important than an (arbitrary) political boundary. 

As we have often talked about in class, humor is a tool that can be used to broach a subject or issue that may otherwise be uncomfortable to discuss in a straightforward manner. There is certainly nothing funny about the border guards’ displaying their dwindling respect for the narrator and his mother’s Blackfoot heritage. Even then, it is evident that the guards’ sudden “mercy” towards the mother is only for show after the television crews show up.

This story is not laugh out loud funny, but there is still a comic element to it that falls in line with incongruity theory of humor. There is something absurd about the mother’s interaction with the first border guard. After the mother asserts that her citizenship is truly Blackfoot, the guard turns away and then back again in an attempt to erase the previous conversation and start anew, even saying “Morning, ma’am” all over again.

Although the mother’s motivation is a serious one that leaves the story tinged with a slight sadness, there is also something genuinely absurd about the idea of a person infinitely driving back and forth between two border stops. It could convincingly have been the plot to an episode of Seinfeld or a deleted scene from National Lampoon’s European Vacation, but because of the cultural and political conflict bubbling under the surface, the takeaway of “Borders” becomes something different. It forces the audience to pause and reflect instead of just chuckling and moving on. Whether the effects of “Borders” and other stories like it are the indicators of a burgeoning shift towards social change is something that remains to be seen, but at least it encourages the beginning of a conversation.

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