"Walking on Water" Observation AssessmentJeremy P
LESSON 5: THE EDUCATIVE MOMENT- Narrative Point of View
R1. read and demonstrate an understanding of a variety of literary, informational, and graphic texts, using a range of
strategies to construct meaning;
R3. use knowledge of words and cueing systems to read fluently;
R4. reflect on and identify their strengths as readers, areas for improvement, and the strategies they found most
helpful before, during, and after reading.
W1. generate, gather, and organize ideas and information to write for an intended purpose and audience;
W2. draft and revise their writing, using a variety of literary, informational, and graphic forms and stylistic elements
appropriate for the purpose and audience;
W3. use editing, proofreading, and publishing skills and strategies, and knowledge of language conventions, to
correct errors, refine expression, and present their work effectively;
W4. reflect on and identify their strengths as writers, areas for improvement, and the strategies they found most
helpful at different stages in the writing process.
M1. demonstrate an understanding of a variety of media texts;
M2. identify some media forms and explain how the conventions and techniques associated with them are used to
M4. reflect on and identify their strengths as media interpreters and creators, areas for improvement, and the
strategies they found most helpful in understanding and creating media texts.
Successfully answer the questions after reading the Short story, “Walking on Water”
Narrative Focus & Voice
➢ Someone is always between the events of the story & ‘us’—a viewer, a speaker, ➢ Someone is telling the reader what is happening: this ‘someone’ is different from
➢ This ‘relationship’ between narrator & audience involves an ‘angle of vision’ & perspective
acts much like a movie camera does, choosing what we can look at and the angle at
which we can view it, framing, proportioning, emphasizing—even distorting.
READER MUST ASK:
➢ Who is telling us the story?? ➢ Whose words are we reading? ➢ Where does the person stand in relation to what is going on in the story? ➢ HOW IS IT APPROPRIATE FOR the STORY’S PURPOSE?
We must pay careful attention to the focus at any given point
➢ is it fixed or mobile? ➢ Does it stay the same angle/distance for all the characters or does it move around or in
This literary element is called narrative focus / the point of view,
and the words of the story are called the “voice”
Narrative Point of View
Point of View Advantages Disadvantages
1. First person
(a) Major character
(b) Minor character
Most intimate and involving point of view
because reader “hears” story from person
directly involved in the experience.
Also, reader must carefully weigh what
character says to determine reliability of
her or his information.
Writer can only include information
that this character would know and
cannot include details about events
happening elsewhere or do not include
2. Omniscient Perspective offers reader chance to see
situation from every possible point of
Because writer can tell us what any
character thinks or feels, reader has
little need to interpret motives of
characters, which can lessen
opportunity for discovery and
eliminate the element of surprise.
3. Limited omniscient
(a) Major character
(b) Minor character
Reader has just enough information to
become acquainted with characters, but
not so much information as to miss out on
element of surprise.
Limited information may prevent
reader from becoming intimately
connected to characters and
emotionally involved in story.
Also, perspective of only one character
may restrict reader to one point of
4. Detached or Objective By not getting into minds of characters,
reader has more realistic perspective
because events in story experienced much
as they would be in life, according to
what is seen and heard.
Writer can only include details seen or
heard, not details about what characters
think and feel, unless they speak about
This may distance reader from
characters, making it difficult for
reader to become involved in their
“Walking on Water” By Janet Turner Hospital
Establishing a Context In this short story, a family "ritual" of walking on the frozen ice of Lake Ontario provides the context for
an examination of the son's motives for leaving home, and of the mother's response to it. Her values of
family solidarity and tradition are threatened by his desire to live in California with his uncle's family.
Structurally the story focuses first on the walk, the climate and the family's response to the tradition
(especially the mother's feelings); it then shifts to James' response to an incident that results in the death
of a school mate; and the finally it turns to the mother's view of her son's leaving.
Reflecting Upon Personal Experience Write quietly for ten minutes on the following: In a journal, write about what you value. Proceed by reflecting on one or more of the following questions: Who are the people that are most important in my
life? Why are they so important to me? What are the places and objects that are very important to me?
What makes them important? By what values and principles do I try to live? Why do I hold these values?
Responding to the Reading Read (ANNOTATE) the story and reflect about it in the context of the following questions:
• What conflicts do these characters experience?
• How do these conflicts relate to the ways that James and Gillian feel about their lives?
• Do they experience any moments of insight?
• Explore the connections between their feelings and their values. After reading:
Exploring Content and Form in “Walking on Water” Submit your answers to the following questions: 1. Were you confused about the time sequence and the relationship among events when you
initially read the story? Why or why not? How has the story’s narrative been organized? What effect results from this?
2. Identify the value behind the participation of each family member in the year's lake-crossing. 3. Explain Gillian's feelings about James' leaving home. Also, explain why she feels this way. 4. Explain James' feelings about Stuart Anderson's death. Explain why he feels this way. 5. What has James learned? What has his mother learned? 6. The focus of much of the early part of the story is on descriptions of the lake and the climate.
What effect does this create? 7. What does the last line mean? How do the last line and the title relate to James' situation as
well as his mother's? 8. What associations do you have with the words of the title, "Walking on Water"? Do you think
it is an effective title? Why or why not? 9. How does this story relate to the following statement surrounding a learning moment as a
series of connections:
The focus of any learning moment is a relationship: the relationship between linear thinking and intuition, the relationship between mind and body, the relationship between various types of knowledge, the relationship between the individual and the community, and the relationship between self and soul. Any student who can examine these relationships can gain both awareness and the ability to transform these relationships where it is appropriate. -John P. Miller (1993)
Forum Questions: Connecting with the Arts If you have an interest in music, dance, theatre/visual arts, or media arts, relate the form and content of
“Walking on Water” to current work in your area of interest. Would "Walking on Water" provide a
springboard for a composition in the art form you are interested in? Why or why not?
Connect this moment to another story you have read in the past, and write about similarities between both
“Walking on Water” By Janette Turner Hospital
In places where the wind had flayed the snow into fantastic waves, they would come upon barrens of
black ice, smooth as agate. Earth’s vital fluids, seen through a glass darkly. And sometimes fish with
startled gills, who had surfaced too close to the edge of winter, would stare at them out of the clear ebony.
Poor things, Gillian would think, cupping her leather mitts and calling to the others. “Another one!
Here’s another frozen fish!”
Only the suggestion of her shouting would reach them, an intimation of being hailed, her voice
flaking and blowing in a thousand directions. Her husband and children would pause and turn, stamping
feet laced into heavy mukluks, pounding out on the frozen lake a weird basso counterpoint to the
coloratura shrieks of wind. They were anxious to keep moving, to get it over with, but she refused to let
them treat the crossing in this grimly dutiful way. She insisted it be memorable, an occasion: enjoy
yourselves! Savour these extraordinary and freakish sights!
On the line of her will, she reeled them in, and reluctantly they turned back, sighing into their scarves
but obedient, crouching beside her on the ice and feigning an interest in snap-frozen smelts.
“See!” She had to shout above the wind. “It’s mouth is open. It was so sudden.”
“His death of cold!” Allison’s words came to them in a blather of snow so that the sound stung their
cheeks. “You could say!” She gasped as the air scoured her lungs. “He caught his death of cold.”
Gillian laughed and hugged her younger child for the act of cooperation, for the conscientious effort
to wring pleasure from February. She glanced at her son, but James merely frowned and cradled his
mittened hands under his armpits. Gillian averted her eyes quickly in case he saw the begging in them.
Of course it was no laughing matter, this instant glaciation. It happened, they knew only too well, to
people too. There were local faces cratered into braille records of unplanned exposures (the car stalled in
a blizzard; the cross-country skier stranded with a broken ski); a nose, an ear, even lips lost to frostbite.
And the boy in a snowbank just a few weeks ago, found smiling in a sleep from which he would never
It was not a climate that made allowances for human error. James was staring back at the fish with
spooked and sombre eyes. Suddenly, scooping up handfuls of snow from a baroquely curlicued drift, he
brushed a shroud over the tiny death suspended like an air bubble between winter and spring. His
movements were quick and unconscious, small acts of instinctive decency.
His father intimated, though not by squandering breath and body heat on words, that they should
Cats, Gillian knew, forgot their progenitors entirely and mated with them. Birds left the nest to find
private slipstreams. Every parent knew that high school was a country of aliens, but James was not quite
15 and how could it be happening already? And if he had to leave, why the rush? Why in the dead of
winter, when planes skewed themselves on icy runways and fell out of the sky with a full cargo of deaths,
splattering across the front pages of newspapers? Why now? California would keep until summer. Or at
least until spring.
All this had been said, of course.
“I’ll be back by spring,” James would point out. “And you can phone me any day of the week.”
What objection could possibly be made to his spending half a term in a California high school, living
with her own brother and his family?
She could not say: There is something about the suddenness of this arrangement that makes me
She could not say: The driving is bad; you might be killed between here and Toronto. There will be
ice on the wings of your plane; you might not survive takeoff. Or landing: there is nearly always fog over
Los Angeles, and the flight patterns are too heavy, and what confidence can one place in substitute air-
She could not say: I am overwhelmed by the fragility of human life, my children’s in particular. I
fear this first separation as I would fear amputation. What if you never come back? What if you come
back a stranger?
“Why do you want to leave home?”
“Leave home?” He would echo the words with a lift of the eyebrows. As if he were an exasperated
language teacher who found her misuse of idiom shoddily unacceptable. “Six weeks is leaving home?”
Well then. At least they would keep this family rite before he went. She had insisted, although they
all thought it slightly foolish of her. One of her eccentricities, the annual lake-hike.
“My wife has a thing about ritual,” Bill would tease at parties. “She thinks it will work like a witch
doctor’s charm. The family that performs secret ceremonies together stays together.”
“Very funny,” she would say, flushing.
But were not these the events that glued their years together? When, inevitably, they moved on
again, when the time came for them to ask, “How many years did we live in that place, that cold place on
the lake?” then an answer would come: “For three winter crossings.” Or four. Or whatever it turned out to
be. Remember how the wind...? they would ask. And the way the fish... ? Nostalgia would warm them
like an old blanket smelling of past happiness.
It was not even seriously cold, given the month and place: only 5 below, no more than 20 below with
the windchill factor. Choosing the right day was an art: far enough into winter for the ice to be safely
thick, yet not so bitter a day that exposure was deadly. She thought of the crossing as interestingly
And so would the others by tomorrow. Walked across Lake Ontario, they would say casually at
office coffee-break and in the school cafeteria. As far as Wolfe Island anyway--sheepishly, self-
deprecatingly, as if admitting to reading comic books or watching Lassie reruns. Walked to the U.S.A.
They would bask in the murmur of tribute, yet next winter would demand again: “Do we really need...”
“Please,” she would cajole.
And annually they would humour her, enjoying mainly the feat accomplished.
She, drunk perhaps on the profligacy of oxygen that barreled along the Great Lakes from prairies to
ocean, had always felt a taut hum of exultation above the pained protest of her body.
Below us, she would think, where the sluggish lower currents buffet the lake silt, there is French
gold stamped with the image of Bourbon kings and lost since the days of Cartier and Frontenac. Below us
are greedy fathoms that have swallowed ships and men and centuries. Here and there, stirring like
sleepers far below our padded boots, lie American and British gunboats that foundered in 1812, and
Iroquois canoes slicked with algae, and snowmobiles that skated on the margins of last year’s thaw.
The thrill of the anomalous had become an annual addiction.
Walking on water.
Walking on history.
And walking south, toward the sun and the countries of their past.
She turned to look at the town they had left. Domed and spired and provincial, a huddle of
pretentious limestone, it leaned back from the lakeshore as prissily as a society matron testing the waters
with a well-manicured toe. Smugness rose from its streets in a fug of steam.
It seemed very distant now. It had nothing to do with them.
This defines us, she thought. This no-man’s-land, this mere crust of hardened water temporary as a
few weeks of winter, this dissolving border between nations--in both of which we have lived, and on three
other continents besides. This is where, if anywhere, we belongCtrekking over the bones of other wanderers, French explorers and Indian scouts, the flotsam of history. We are of that new tribe, the 20th-
century nomads, who live where rarefied specializations and high technologies demand, transitory as the
glaze on the lake. We have passports, but where is home?
The symbols of our culture are airports and transit lounges. Our independence is so stunning that we
dream of trees doing headstands on water, their roots trailing into the sky like seaweed. And therefore this
walk across the lake is our Christmas and our Hanukkah and our Thanksgiving and our Fourth of July.
She would have liked to join hands with her husband and children, to form a magic circle and offer
incantations: Here we four are, solitary between border posts, held by a wafer of ice between the empty
sky and the unstable bowels of earth. We have each other and the memories we have told and retold,
meting them out to ourselves like a lifeline.
If she could have said that, they would all be safe. Then James would change his mind, postponing
experiments and adulthood.
James had invented a private term for the way things were: penalty-shot time. There were only
seconds of play left, packed stands, a tied score, and he in the hot spot with the ball in his hands.
Everything depended on his getting a basket.
Each morning when he woke he thought: this could be it, and the end of the game. And he would
pull the sheet up over his eyes to block out Stuart’s face smiling blue and mournful from its snowdrift.
It’s so unfair, so crazy, he would rage silently to his ceiling. Why me? I scarcely knew the guy. Why
should I have to be one of the last to see him alive? And by such a fluke, by such bizarre chance.
James had discovered randomness and found it totally, obscenely unacceptable.
Benched for five minutes, he had made for the water fountain in the lobby. Just for a sip, to moisten
his salty mouth, to recharge himself for the last quarter of a hard night’s game against their archrivals.
And that was where he and Stuart--a kid he knew only from his science class--had had their last
“You can’t come in,” two senior girls were saying. “School rule, and you know it perfectly well.
“Am not!” Stuart protested angrily. “Am shertainly not! Hey James! Tell th’ ladies here I’m poziv-
itely not ... ?” He leaned over the desk in front of the girls and laid his head gently on the small metal box
full of dollar bills and closed his eyes.
“We’ll get the bouncers,” one girl said.
“He’ll be okay.” James knew him only as the quiet kid four desks away in science, an A student,
diligent and shy. Not the athletic type at all. “You won’t need a bouncer. He’s not the type. I know him.”
“Oh man,” Stuart groaned, sliding onto the floor. “Not my day, James. Definitely not my day. C’mon
ladies, lemme into the warm. ‘Sbeen a rotten day.”
He was groping for something by which to pull himself up and clasped the leg of one of the girls.
She gave a shriek of shock and anger and signaled the bouncer, who hailed one of the taxis outside the
gym. When the doors opened, the icy air rushed in like a brace of linebackers. Stuart glanced back at them
all and laughed and made a defiant sign with his finger. Disturbed, James hesitated, entertained fleetingly
the thought of pulling team player’s rank, of insisting Stuart be allowed in. Then he went back inside to
the game and instantly forgot about the boy in the lobby. Which was like forgetting the ball in your hands
during a penalty shot in the last second of play.
Afterward he thought: If I had insisted they let him in ... If I had been there when he told the driver:
“This will be okay, I’ll walk from here. Cold air will sober me up. Wouldn’t want my mom to see me like
this.” If I had walked with him by the lake...If I had been there to shake him when he lay down drowsy in
Hypothermia. It was a word that had fastened itself onto his consciousness like excess baggage. He
dragged it through waking and sleeping.
And at night in the dark, after all the other questions, shameful thoughts would surface. If I had gone
to the water fountain just five minutes earlier. Or five minutes later. If I had been in a different science
section this year. Then it would have nothing to do with me at all. Nothing at all.
And then he would begin to get angry. (But at whom?) Why me? he would demand. Why should I
feel so guilty? Where were Stuart’s friends, why didn’t they ... How could he, James, possibly be held
responsible? How could he not be responsible?
He knew now that death was not just something that happened to other people in newspapers. It
waited like a spider on the wall of his 14 years, velvetly watching, malevolent. Every day, every waking
moment bristled with dangers, anything was possible. In another second, perhaps, the lake ice would
yawn open beneath their feet and they would sway rigid in their deaths till spring, gaping like the fish. On
any day his parents might say: we are getting divorced; we are moving to China; you will have to change
schools; you will have to change languages; your father has been transferred to Germany. Tomorrow a
policeman might knock on his door: an accident, your parents and sister, you are all alone.
What would he do if he were suddenly all alone? He had lived in five countries. Which was home?
Who would take him in? He hardly knew the grandparents who lived beyond an ocean, or the uncle and
aunt and cousins in California.
In sleep he stumbled over Stuart, lost his hold on the certainties of each day, careened through
unknown places, down, down. Free-falling through Himalayan abysses, past the tundra layers, past the
steaming tropical strata of other years of his life, past empty spaces into a dark nothingness. But then. He
had pulled a cord at his chest, and a silken parachute had bellied into the wind and snagged itself on a way
station, an explorer’s cabin.
Yes, he thought waking. I need safety devices, I need way stations. And he had written to his uncle
and aunt in California, ports in a storm. He would establish a chain of defences, he would be prepared.
He applied himself with a sort of pleasurable savagery to the walk across the lake. If the ice held
them up this time, if the wind did not shroud their still bodies with snow on this crossing, it would be like
an immunization. A small and salvific draft of risk that might ward off greater dangers.
In the restaurant on the island, they drank hot chocolate and decided to go back by ferry from the
dock two kilometres farther down. Enough was enough. A point had been made, their eyes were
bloodshot, their hands and feet white with pain.
Watching the under-ice cables and pressurized air smash open a channel for the ferry, Gillian said
with awe: “When you see how easily it breaks...”
“You know that the fishermen can make holes with only a handsaw,” James accused. “We could
have dropped through like winter bait!” Gillian was stung. “It’s not nearly as dangerous as flying at this
time of year. Why can’t you wait until...”
“It’s not safe to wait.”
“Not safe to wait?”
“No one can ever tell when. Don’t you see? I have to get used to living without you. We don’t even
know our own relatives. What if you and dad were killed? What if you split up...?”
“James, what on earth are you talking about? If we split up?! We have no intention...”
“Yeah. Everyone’s parents said that before the divorce.”
She was shocked, dumbfounded.
“Is this what you ... ? Are you actually afraid that we...?”
But now he was red-faced.
“No, no. Sorry, Mom, I’m raving. It’s just ... I have to feel safer. I’m sorry, I’m just ... lately I’m not
... It’s Stuart’s death.”
She squeezed her eyes shut in concentration, and the name surfaced from a newspaper headline.
“That boy who died from exposure! You never said anything. I didn’t realize you knew him.”
“Only slightly. He was in my science class. I guess it shook me up badly, that’s all. I just want to ...
hedge my bets. I want to know my relatives better. I have to feel safer.”
“But James...” She was going to protest that his plane might fall out of the sky. That California was
so very far away, that the Los Angeles freeways coiled lethal as snakes through her imagination, that he
would be beyond her protective reach. Instead she laid her cheek momentarily against his because it came
to her that all four of them, tentative as waifs, must walk their own stretches of water.
Janet Turner Hospital. (November 1982). “Walking on Water.”Toronto: Chatelaine.
- Narrative Focus & Voice