"Walking on Water" Observation Assessment

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LESSON 5: THE EDUCATIVE MOMENT- Narrative Point of View

Learning Goals:

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

create meaning;

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.

Success Criteria:

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.


➢ 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

and out?

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

the narrator.

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

Activity Two

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

keep moving.

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-

traffic controllers?

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.

You’re drunk.”

“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

the snow...

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.”


“Stuart Anderson.”

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