Characterisation of Billy in E. Annie Proulxâ€™s Postcards
Although Billy, as the first victim of the changing face of America in the opening of the novel, is a character who appears just momentarily, her impact on the course of the narrative is profound. Much of our reading of Billy comes from the scenes in which she is already dead, which highlights the sense of loss of a character so crucial to the story. On one level of course she is used as a tool to move the narrative forwards and her death is reason enough for Loyal to keep moving onwards, running from the guilt of her death.
On an aesthetic level Billyâ€™s appearance highlights the independent, forceful and intense aspects of her character. The descriptions of her â€œstinging kissesâ€, â€œpointed ...view middle of the document...
Thematically, Billy could be seen to represent the values of old world America: the values of individual liberty, limited state intervention and of a sense of community with the natural world that the early puritan settlers had helped to cultivate. With the death of Billy Proulx suggests that with it these values have gone. Americans of the late twentieth century, Proulx implies, are far more likely to be like the doctor Witkin than like Loyal, with his deep understanding of flora and fauna. The result of Billyâ€™s death then is the exploitation and vandalism of nature by some of the same people who romanticise it, as well as traditional ways of life. If the death of Billy at the opening of the novel is the beginning of the end for these values then the closing, with Loyalâ€™s death, represents their dying breath. The reader is left with a sense of loss, regretting the waste of his talents and the implications of his failure to pass on his knowledge and love of the land.
Throughout the novel the red-haired Billy is associated with red foxes and coyotes. At about the time Loyal decides to give up trapping, he finds a young female red coyote in one of his traps. As she looks at him with â€œher body language, mingling appeasement, fear, anger, threat, resignation, pain, horror, and more, the terrible and thrilling sense of her lifeâ€™s imminent endâ€, Loyal is reminded of Billy. Aware that the coyote, unlike Billy, is not too injured to survive on her own; Loyal releases her in a symbolic act of atonement, giving her the freedom to live the life that he once denied Billy. This is counter to the accident earlier in the book where the accidental death of Little Girl creates an ironic parallel to the death of Billy. Proulx uses these events to show how Billy and her death shape Loyalâ€™s life throughout the novel.