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Crow Lake by Mary Lawson

The beginning of every person’s life is in a family. All the person’s values, behavioral patterns, morals and character are formed in families. Family is the greatest support one can have. But at the same time it is in families where people are the most vulnerable. The circumstances under which a person lives when a child are crucially important for his character development and for his outlook forming.

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In this term paper “Crow Lake” by M. Lawson is being analyzed. This novel is taken under consideration because many problems the Morrison family had are typical.

In the family there are four children – Bo, Kate, Matt and Luke. The tragic death of their parents in a car-crash almost lead to dispersal of the family. Their parents’ dream had always been the proper education for their children. But after the tragedy the oldest brother Luke had to give up a teaching college so to be able to look after the younger children. It was then an opportunity for Matthew to compete for university scholarship after finishing school. But this Luke’s sacrifices lead to friction between the brothers.

As for their neighbor’s family, the Pyes, they had always suffered from conflicts between fathers and sons. After winning his scholarship Matthew eventually finds out that he made Pye’s daughter, Marie, pregnant. The girl also learns that her father has killed her brother, who was considered to have run away from home. Finally Calvin Pye commits suicide, and Matthew resolves to give up his education in order to marry Marie. Kate is distressed because she considers Matthew’s sacrifice a terrible loss, and she cannot maintain family relationship with both Marie and Matthew. Eighteen years pass, and Kate returns to Crow Lake to find, that Matthew and Marie are quite happy with their son Daniel. She realized that she committed a terrible mistake refusing to find a compromise and to be with her brother’s family. In the end Kate struggles to come to terms with their present and past (Stovel, 2005, 2).

After reading the novel two most relevant categories were selected. These categories are Family Structure and Family Coping. Analyzing the family structure and he value system of family is highly important. They are general guides to the behavior of family members. In order to help families to clarify their values or to reaffirm them it is important to analyze a family’s central values. It is important to assure a family’s awareness of their value proprieties (Friedman, 2002, 68).

One of the most important values for the Morrisons is family unity. In the Morrisons’ family it is obvious that an older one should take care of a younger. That is why Luke implicitly leaves his studies in order to take care of the younger children of the family. As for this pattern, Morrison family cannot be considered pathological because their values do not deviate from the dominant cultural values and norms. Then we come across the Value Conflict, because Luke intended to continue his education, as his parents wanted, but had instead to stay at home and support his family.

As for family values, education has always remained a priority for the Morrisons. This value comes from Great Grandmother :”Education was her dream of dreams, a passion so strong it was almost a disease, and she infected not only her own children with it but generations of little Morrisons yet unborn” (Lawson, 2002, 56). This value remains crucial for the Morrisons for the rest of their lives. Both in Kate and Matthew it is very strong.

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Matthew has always been the hope of the family. Their teacher said that he was very intelligent indeed. As for Kate, after their parents’ death Matthew was her only hope. She dreamt of his becoming well-educated. She wanted that not only because of Matt himself, but was also eager to make their parents’ dream come true. So when Matthew becomes obsessed with his studies Kate is delighted:

Think of all that work. The dedication and determination. The hours and hours of study. Work carried out as a tribute to our parents, to wrest something good from the devastation of that year, to prove himself to himself and to Luke, for my sake, for his own sake, for its own sake, for the pure joy of it-perhaps that above all. Work so that he could in his turn support the rest of us, work for the future of the family. Work because he knew he could do it, knew his efforts would be rewarded (Lawson, 2002, 114).

The value of education is held unconsciously, otherwise Kate would understand that her brother’s friendship is more important to her then his status. She understands it only after many years.

As for role relationships in the family they shifted after the death of the parents. Children’s rights and obligations changed then. As for Luke a role conflict occurs to him. As a child he wanted to implement his parents’ dream, but as the oldest member of the family he had instead to support the younger.

As for communication some dysfunctional communication patterns can be traced in the Morrisons. One of them is lack of empathy. Morrison never share feelings and emotions with each other. They do not have an ability to by sympathetic. The children are taught to keep their feelings inside and to be always self-controlled and reserved. Emotions, even positive ones, are kept firmly under control: “ It was the Eleventh Commandment, carved on its very own table of stone and presented specifically to those of Presbyterian persuasion: Thou Shalt Not Emote”(Lawson, 2002, 45). They should always look unconcerned and unemotional. The children get used to hiding their emotions.

Of course when the children grow up it would not change. With Kate it is the same. Even with Daniel who he loved she couldn’t help being always self-controlled. Even when she was hurt she couldn’t show her feelings :”No, you swallow your feelings, force them down inside yourself, where they can feed and grow and swell and expand until you explode, unforgivably, to the utter bewilderment of whoever it was who upset you” (Lawson, 2002, 98). She understands that this behavior is no good to anybody, but this behavioral pattern becomes her second nature, and she can do nothing about it.

Also pseudomutuality can be traced in the family. The family seems to be one whole, but its members are unable to maintain close and affective relationships. Individual separateness is implicitly forbidden. The members of the family need closeness but are afraid of it. (Friedman, 2002, 214). When after being separated for long Kate meets Matt and hugs him, the feeling is unknown to her: “The feel of him is wonderful, but hugging seems such a symbolic gesture, in our case-physical attempt to close an emotional distance, to bridge a gap which should not be there” (Lawson, 2002, 216).

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Pseudomutuality is the stategy that is used for a very long term in the Morrison’s family.

One more dysfunctional communication pattern observed is self-centeredness. We can see it in Kate’s attitude to Mary Pye. She says repeatedly: “Marie Pye, I hate her. Matt and Marie Pye always looked at each other… I hate seeing Marie Pye talking to Matt” (Lawson, 2002, 91). Kate becomes hostile and defensive; she neglects Matt’s right to talk to who he wants. Being a self-centered person she is sure that she can make Matt do what she wants. Firstly it looks like she just doesn’t like Mary Pye. But what it leads to? When Mary becomes pregnant and Matthew resolves to stay with her in order to support his future family, Kate refuses to communicate with them. She considers his actions stupid and in this way sacrifices their friendship. She is sure that she is right, her brother’s love appears less important to her than her pride. Eventually they do not meet for many years.

As we see, the members of the family suffer from inability to express their feelings openly. Nevertheless, they use external family coping strategies. The children are not alone with their grief their relatives, teachers and neighbors help them a lot.

Family Coping strategies are essential for the members of the family to survive and grow. They help the members of the family to cope with stress and take control of the situation (Friedman, 2002, 132). As for Morisons’ children, they survived an event, which is considered the second of the seven most stressful life events – death of parents. What is more, they lost both parents at a moment and became orphans. Of course it is an event that extremely difficult to bare. Kate says: “Talcum powder and sweat, and the idea that up in Heaven they were rejoicing that my parents were dead” (Lawson, 2002, 59). After this event one of the relationship strategies, family group reliance, can be observed. Kate, Bo, Matt and Luke try to pull together in order to survive. Families usually make it by creating better organization in the home and family. When the Morrisons died, aunt Annie “restored order and gave Luke and Matt a chance to get their breath back. Laundry had been the biggest problem, so she started there ” (Lawson, 2002, 68).

Established routines are the source of strength when the family struggles to cope with stress.

So as Kate says, “We still go to the ponds. Me, Matt and Bo”. And that helps a lot.

One more strategy the family uses is Greater Sharing Together. Before the death of their parents cohesion between the children was quite low:

Up until the very day our parents died, I don’t remember him ever picking Bo up. Not once, Matt would pick her up, but not Luke. I also don’t remember ever having a proper conversation with him. Thousands with Matt, none with Luke. Apart from the occasional row or bit of bantering between him and Matt, I don’t recall Luke ever showing that he knew-or cared- that the rest of us existed (Lawson, 2002, 145).

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But after the tragedy the relationships changed. Luke doesn’t show any need to enjoy his autonomy. What is more, the plans for the future are completely changed. Firstly the younger children were supposed to live with some distant relatives. But Luke’s role shift lead to the change in family plans: “I am staying here. The four of us are staying here. I am looking after you guys. It is all legal. I am old enough and everything” (Lawson, 2002, 94). So the family cohesion changes from low to high and it reduces the family tension level. Here we have the example of Role Flexibility.

Different resources may be used in families to cope with difficult life circumstances. As for individual level, Luke’s decision to leave college gives us a good example. On the level of the whole family, we can observe how the children become closer to each other after their parents’ death. And on the level of community there also was great help:”I keep on writing to Aunt Annie telling her that the community never stops helping us. Some neighbors offer to clean the house”.

As for the role of religion in the family it would help a lot. If they believed in God it would help them greatly. They would think that God would help them through the situation.

From the point of view of the family power continuum I consider that the Morrisons belong to the autonomic form. The decisions are made independently by Luke. Though there is a kind of negotiating, he is the one to decide. Firstly the family resolves that both boys must obtain the proper education, but in such a way all the children were to be separated for a long time. And Luke became the one to take decision. From the point of view of family values he is right, because he struggles to keep the family together. But in such a way he imposed his decisions on the others. Matt both suffered and benefited from this. His benefit was an opportunity to study. But his loss was his brother’s friendship. “And always in the background there would have been guilt about the fact that Luke was giving up his chance while he, Matt was carrying on with his studies. The fact that he would soon be escaping from our problems must have made all of them seem worse” (Lawson, 2002, 87).

In conclusion I should like to say that it is crucially important to study a family values and its coping strategies. It can help a lot, because then a family it would be possible to find a solution to the problems. Then it is possible for a family to support friendly and open relationships.


Friedman, M. M., Bowden, V.R., Jones, E (2002). Family Nursing: Research, Theory, and Practice. USA : Prentice Hall.

Lawson, Mary (2002). Crow Lake. USA: Dial Press Trade Paperback; Today Show Book Club edition.

Stovel, N. F. (2005). Mary Lawson: Crow Lake. International Fiction Review 32.1-2.

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