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Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden. Effects of War on Elijah Transformation

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Three Day Road: Elijah’s Transformation

Transformation is an action that happens naturally in the lives of human beings. There are certain factors that influence the directions in which people take. Such factors include their family, relations, social class, technology and even war. There are many factors and each one can change an individual’s view for the better or for the worst. In Elijah’s case, war is what affects him in the novel “Three Day Road”. “Three Day Road”, written by Joseph Boyden, is the story of Elijah Wiskeyjack and the transformation that he undergoes as the novel progresses. Elijah is fighting in World War One, which had a significant impact on who he is as a person. As the war progresses, Elijah’s personal direction changes drastically. The transformation of Elijah is proven in the story as his external behavior changes, he begins to find comfort in killing, and his humanity deteriorates.

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The environment can be a huge factor to why people decide to change themselves externally. At the start of the war, Elijah is very nervous and a bit more reserved than how he is portrayed later on in the story. This is shown when Xavier states, “Elijah stands next to me, moving his feet about so Sergeant McCaan shouts at him to be still” (Boyden, 15). That simple act of shuffling around shows the readers just how nervous that he is about being in the war. Not only that, but it also shows that he is not sure about himself, whether he should be there or not. Elijah is in a place where he and his best friend are outcasts in a new world full of white men. Xavier does not really mind being left out of the group of men in their battalion, but Elijah on the other hand does not like the feeling of not belonging and slowly changes himself to fit in with the others. This is seen when Xavier states, “Elijah’s taken to talking in an English accent in the last days. This makes the other soldiers laugh, but I wonder why he really does it. It’s like he wants to become something that he’s not” (Boyden, 77). Elijah wants not only to get along with the white men, but to be a part of them. He does not want to be looked down by the other soldiers because of his Indian heritage. Elijah would rather push aside his heritage just to fit in with the rest of the soldiers. He cannot accept the fact, like Xavier has, that he will never be a part of them. Elijah does whatever he possibly can even going as far as to speak in a British accent, imitating the white men. As soon as Elijah believes that he is in their world completely, he begins to start bragging about the number of kills that he has, trying to further impress them. This is evident when Elijah states, “’One hundred and ninety – four, to date,’ Elijah answers. The Corporal’s eyes open wide in astonishment. ‘It’s true!’ Elijah shouts” (Boyden, 287). Elijah shouting the number of Germans that he has killed just shows how much his behavior has changed. In the beginning he was nervous of being where he was that he only stuck with Xavier, but things are not that way anymore. Elijah is becoming more brazen in his actions and does not care about his concerns and worries from before.

War was all about the carnage found on the battlefield. Soldiers were forced to kill one another. During the war Xavier hated the fact that he was forced to kill people to the point that he would vomit right on the battlefield. On the other hand Elijah was able to kill people and did not feel regret about it at all. It gave him a sense of comfort and peace when he saw his enemies gunned down. In retrospect, Elijah was not always someone who has an insatiable thirst for killing other people. Before the war started Elijah could not bring himself to kill anything, not even an animal that was meant to sustain him. This is evident in novel when it states, “Elijah finds a stick and approaches the animal. He looks back at me. ‘Do it.’ He hesitates, then swings the stick” (Boyden, 2). Elijah’s hesitation speaks more loudly than his words. The fact that he hesitated to kill the animal that he had found with Xavier shows just how much he respected the life of living creatures. Not only that, but it also shows that he did not have it in him to end the life of another. He needed confirmation from Xavier in order for him to bring himself to hit the animal. This shows that he is not strong enough to handle the death of a creature caused by his own hands. However, as the war continues forward Elijah’s attitude towards killing changes. This is indisputable when it states, “I remember him learning to love killing rather than simply killing to survive” (Boyden, 269). Elijah has changed from that little boy who could not kill an animal to a person who is content with killing humans. Elijah does not just kill to survive anymore; he kills because he wants to. His transformation from the person who he was to the person who he is now is drastic when it states, “I can see that Elijah knows exactly what Thompson’s asking. Thompson is asking if Elijah likes killing. Elijah considers it for a moment. ‘It’s in my blood,’ he finally says” (Boyden, 75). Elijah has gotten so used to killing people that he believes that it is a part of him. In that quote he admits not only to himself, but to the others, that he does not mind what he is doing. Additionally, based on that quote people would have never known that Elijah did not like the idea of killing, but that has changed. Killing is who he is now.

Elijah does not only transform in the novel through his comfort in killing, but also because of his deterioration in his humanity. Elijah and Xavier have a bond that is unbreakable and they would do anything for each other. Elijah had his back throughout most of the novel. This is indisputable in the novel when it reads:

Elijah turns to the lieutenant, and in his funny accent begins to speak, ‘The private says that he went out in search of fresh game for the men. He became lost in this foreign environment and was only able to make it back late last night. He’d planned on reporting to Sergeant McCaan directly, but had not been afforded the chance to before roll call this morning. By then, it was too late’ (Boyden, 255).

Elijah does not want Xavier to get into trouble with Lieutenant Breech, which is why he decides to protect him by lying to Lieutenant Breech directly. This act of compassion shows that Elijah still has his humanity with him. By helping out Elijah he shows some shred of goodness. However, his humanity begins to deteriorate as he loses that shred of goodness within him. This is shown when it states, “’I didn’t know it was a child,’ he says, staring at her. ‘I am trained not to hesitate in situations of danger,’ he answers coldly” (Boyden, 306). Elijah did not care that he had just shot a child in cold blood. He tries to justify that he only did it because he was ‘obligated to by his training’. He does not lose his composure once he finds out that he has dragged innocent people into the war. As a human being he should have found some sort of remorse about the act that he has just committed, but he does not. This only proves that his humanity was quickly leaving him, replacing him with a monster. This is shown in the novel when they state,” He turns the dead man on his stomach and removes his sharpened skinning knife from its sheath and pulls the man’s hair back and removes his scalp with careful motions as simply as he would remove the skin from a pike” (Boyden, 210). Someone who has not lost their humanity would not be scalping people’s heads and keeping it for themselves as souvenirs of their kills. At this point in the book Elijah has completely transformed from a normal human being, who was considerate of others to a cold blooded monster. By Elijah doing this, it just shows that he has lost everything that makes him human, including his compassion for others.

As the war continues, Elijah begins to transform into someone unrecognizable. During the war, Elijah’s external behavior changes. His actions became more brazen when he decided to gain the attention of the white soldiers and be a part of their world. His transformation also takes place in the novel as he begins to feel comfort in killing other humans. Before Elijah did not have the capability within him to kill an animal, let alone another human being. Lastly, his transformation takes place as his humanity deteriorates. The shred of goodness that he used to have completely evaporated as the war continued onwards. Ultimately, throughout the novel Elijah’s transformations has changed him for the worst.

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