Brian's Search for the Meaning of Life in W.O. Mitchell's Who Has Seen the Wind
By Rodrigo Goller
Through the brilliantly written book Who Has Seen the Wind, Mitchell is
able to very effectively describe the tale of one boy and his growth on the
Saskatchewan prairie. Brian's childhood revolves around aspects of everyday
life, and in it he attempts to explain that which has evaded and mystified even
the great minds of our times: the meaning of life. He is able to somewhat
understand the meaning of life though his experiences with birth, particularly
that of a pigeon, and a rabbit. His up-close-in-your-face learning of death,
at an early age, when his dog, and subsequently his father dies. Lastly Brian's
realization that it's all just sensations, and feelings complete his search for
the meaning of life.
Early in his life, Brian has many experiences with birth. The first of
these comes to him at an early age when he sees newborn pigeons. When his
father explains how these pigeons were made, Brian understands that birth is the
beginning of life. Four years later, a similar conversation comes up when
Brian asks his father how rabbits are born. With this new found knowledge,
Brian also sees another newborn. But this time it was a two-headed calf, who
dies at birth. Because of this, Brian comes to the realization that "God isn't
very considerate"(166), for sometimes he lets things like the two headed cow
come into this world, only to suffer and then die.
The Second instance in which Brian is confronted with the meaning of
life, comes to him when he sees death, and asks himself why. When Brian's
pigeon died, he asked his father why it had happened.
"Why?" said Brian.
"It happens to things," his father said.
"Why does it happen to things?" He turned up his face to his
father, cheeks stained with drying tears.
"That's the way they end up."
Brian looked down at the baby pigeon in his hand.
"It was an egg. Now it's stopped."
"Yes Spalpeen, it's stopped." (56)
Although this was hard for Brian to face, he was once again
confronted with death. This second time, his dog Jappy dies crushed by a
carriage of horses as "the front wheels of the dray missed Jappy. The hind ones
did not. A shrill and agonized cry arose." (175) As Brian stood by, not able to
help his dog, Brian "knew that this lifeless thing [ once had lived, but now ]
his dog was dead,"(176) and that there was nothing he could ever do to bring
Jappy back. One final event, his father's death, was an untimely and unexpected
happening that made Brian realize that death was an eminent part of all lives;
however, as many other things in life, death is not always foreseen. "He was
sad. He was sad that his father had died. He was very sad."(238)
Once Brian had realized that birth and death were crucial parts of life,
he learns that all else is but a "set of sensations-nothing else."(286) He can
feel things, see them, taste them, but that is all they are. A person is but an
idea. "Whose? ... God's."(285) With this, the question comes, as to what is
real, and what is not. "The beginnin'-that's being born; the end-that's gittin'
dead . . . Both of them is real-good an' real."(134) And to fill in this gap,
"there's hunger an' there's sleepin' an' there's wakin' . . . Them things is
real." (134) With these explanations provided by Mr.Palmer, Brian understands
that not everything is as it seems, and that someday he will understand it all.
Ultimately Brian discovers that the meaning of life is not simple but
rather intricate and perplexing. The meaning of life, as Brian comes to
understand it "has to do with dying; it had something to do with being born.
Loving something and being hungry were with it too."(292) All this time the boy
had grown, and though the years, there had been the prairie. There had also
been "a baby pigeon, and a calf with two heads"(292). There was his father
"who had died and his father, and his father, and his father before him."(291)
Although Brian did not have all the answers, he knew that someday "perhaps when
he was older than he was now, he would know; he would find out completely and
for good. He would be satisfied." Someday he would finally understand what was
not clear to him now, for "the thing could not hide from him forever."
Somewhere in the prairie a pigeon is born, as God breathes life into it.
Somewhere in the dust there are the bones of a dog, and those of a man. -
Somewhere in the vast field of God's infinite imagination, a new being is made.
Somewhere in the land there is a boy who is perplexed by life. A boy who tries
to understand. -