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The Glace Bay Miners Museum Compare and Contrast Essay

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The Glace Bay Miners’ Museum – Compare and Contrast Essay

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The debut publication of Sheldon Currie’s, “The Glace Bay Miners’ Museum (1979)” is an eccentric collection of different stories that consistently drawn elements of surreal realism. The novel is primarily known for its title story, which later turned into a play by Wendy Lil. Fellow and screenplay, Wendy Lill adapted it into stage and radio play. The Glace Bay Miners’ Museum gazes on the distressed, yet often amusing aspects of real life. The story highlights the life of MacNeil family and the way jobs of their family’s men influenced their life. The novel is based on two women and three men. Margaret, the leading player lost her father and elder brother in coalmine accidents where they used to work. Yet, her younger brother Ian, and love of life Neil intend to do the same job. The novel explains how grief and misery can often lead to severe disruptions in families. Despite of that, these characters pose the ability of overcoming their determined circumstances and exhibit certain enthusiasm in a face of challenge. This paper aims to compare and contrast two versions of ‘Glace Bay Miners’ Museum’. Brief structures of both the versions have been mentioned followed by analysis of characters in the story. The two versions revolve around a grim reality that misery is merely an individual’s destiny and it does not have to do anything with family’s decision-making, i.e. if it is written in fate then it has to appear in life one way or another.

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Plot of Sheldon Currie ‘Glace Bay Miners’ Museum’

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The story written by Sheldon Currie is an unfortunate romance between coal miner’s daughter and wandering social-musician-idealist. The play of ‘Glace Bay Miners Museum’ is the one in which all the brightness of memory and drams are overshadowed by callousness, absentee greed, and exploitation. It is that tragedy which is completely unsentimental and as hard as nails, yet nevertheless full of humor and love. The cast involves 3 men and 2 women.

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Story of Sheldon Currie “The Glace Bay Miners’ Museum” explored the tragic nature of coalmining legacy of Glace Bay. The story traces its devastating impact on the relationship between two lead characters that are Neil Currie and Margaret MacNeil. Neil is known for his stubborn persistence and enormous size whereas Margaret is known for her questionable reputation and runny nose. Both these characters meet coincidentally near a restaurant of Sydney Mines. Margaret and Neil embark on the relationship of courtship before getting married. Margaret is determined young girl who has deep roots with the Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. She lives with her brother Ian, mother Catherine, and grandfather. Margaret recently lost her elder brother Charlie and father in mining accident that left the family with earnings of Ian only. Grandfather of Margaret is also diagnosed with lung cancer for which Neil says to Margaret, “He can’t breathe, he can’t talk, and he can’t walk. You know the only thing he’s got? Some old songs in his head that he can hardly remember, that your father hardly even knew and you don’t know at all. Came here and lost their tongues, their music, and their songs. Everything but their shovels.” When Margaret first meets the curious Neil Currie, she was taken aback by his self-confidence and assurance. She, then gradually comes to appreciate and love his principles, individualism, and ability to bring joy back to the household of MacNeil. Over the period of their emerging relationship, readers may become aware of the extent to which work and mining permeate the psyche of Cape Breton. For instance, Neil at first is defined as having ‘pan shovel hands’ by Margaret. In addition, the seemingly apathetic approach of deaths in coalmine also revealed a comprehensive acknowledgement of realities behind the work of mining.

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Plot of Wendy Lil ‘Glace Bay Miners’ Museum’

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They play of Glace Bay Miners Museum was composed by Wendy Lil in 1995 in a theatre of Nova Scotia named as Ship’s Company Theatre. Play of Wendy Lil revolves around an unusual museum that is perceived by Margaret to commemorate the influence of mining industry had on her family. The important feature of this play is memories. We see the mutilation Margaret’s family as a consequence of workplace related injuries and mining accidents such as death of her father, brother and lung disease of her grandfather. Lil composed the play in a tragic manner with careful touch. Desperation of MacNeil’s family is mitigated by humor of Margaret. Jovial of Neil and his determination to build a farm for Margaret is another crucial element of Wendy’s play. The play demonstrates that in today’s world the dreams of people cannot be realized that does not recognize the importance of lives of little people who have big dreams.

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The location upon which the story is based is Glace Bay that is located on east coast of Nova Scotia. After the years proceeding to Second World War, this small town was then supported by coal mining with some of devastating realities attached to it. The coal mining has dangerous working conditions, early struggle towards unionization, and lung disease. The family of MacNeil is trapped in persistent problems that seem not to end. These problems are primarily caused by coalmine. The anxiety of Margaret spoils hers dreams and life. In response to having five sons, she says, ““You’ll lose two sons to a shoe factory in Boston and three to the pit — one will die with the lungs, one from a fall of stone, and one will get shot in the face making a speech during a strike.” A routine of toil and squabbles attack young Margaret. When she meets Neil, there are no prospects of his job but his love of life and music as well as love for Margaret played the role of catalyst in changing the dynamics of MacNeil family. Falling in love with Neil makes Margaret feels that there is more in life than deaths and mines, “heart can block four spades.”

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Structure

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Version of Sheldon Currie

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The story “The Glace Bay Miner’s Museum” is narrated by Sheldon Currie. The tragedy of coalmine, the circumstances and memories of Margaret MacNeil related to that tragedy dominated the story. She also shares memories related to Neil and states that she first saw him in the Café named as White Rose. From this stage, the story progresses further. Sheldon Currie in her novel did not intervene the flow of story which ultimately reduced the importance of memory device. Charlie Dave is Margaret’s deceased older brother and his memory remains a fundamental element in both versions. Neil asked Margaret that he is willing to create a song exclusively for Margaret therefore, asked about the happiest and saddest thing in Margaret’s life. She says that both are same by stating that her brother, not Ian but Charlie, the older one. Neil asks, “what’s the happiest thing in your life or the saddest?” She answers, “They’re both the same. My brother. Not the one living here but my older brother, Charlie” (Currie 102). Therefore, Neil composed a song for her named as ‘The Ballad of Charlie Dave’ and then sings it. This song moved Margaret regarding her deceased brother and she gets agreed to marrying Neil. The juxtaposition of two extremes i.e. death and marriage are emphasized in a different manner in the two versions. In Sheldon Currie’s story, Neil and Margaret got married but with a ferocious refusal of working in the coalmine. Both of them suffer from lack of earnings and income and find it difficult to earn their own income. In Sheldon’s story, Ian and Neil’s discussion about whether the union of miners can be successful or not in bringing about change in the community and mine is not slow paced.

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They further argue whether the union is capable of enhancing the working conditions of workers. Neil argues that workers will remain to be exploited and nothing will change whereas Ian argues and believes wholeheartedly that union will bring about a change and there is a tremendous need of union. In the novel of Currie, soon after discussion it is decided that Neil and Margaret would not be able to spend life together on their own land. It led Neil to decide reluctantly to go for a job in coalmine and therefore, he supported the decision of union. Ian along with Neil takes part in a strike that ultimately goes unsuccessful.

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Version of Wendy Lil

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Wendy Lill’s style of “The Glace Bay Miners Museum” also narrated Margaret MacNeil as the narrative voice of recalling the past. The choice of Lill of preserving the memorial device is not astonishing, as it has been seen in the previous works of Lill as well. Margaret introduces the stage version by singing a song and then directed the audience to the present state of the play by defining several objects of her museum. When it comes to Neil, she introduced him as someone from the past. It led her to direct the audience to the time when she first met him in the café. From this point, the events of the past dominated the actions and filtered through the memory of Margaret. In order to remind the audience about witnessing the previous memories, Lill flip to the present of play where Margaret waits for people to look around. When it comes to the dialogue of café, Lill did not reflect them and kept majority of the action within the present of the play and memories. In the play of Lill, Margaret lives in the past and present simultaneously, thereby creating omnipresence, which becomes multifaceted because the same person plays the spilt characters. The choice of Lil of maintaining the memory structure of Neil and returning the audience to present disrupts the realistic style of play. Lil segregates the audience by reminding through the living museum of Margaret. It further reveals how even today mining communities suffer from the domination of capitalist organization. Lil chose to slow down the pace during the discussions between Ian and Neil. Both men argue with each other about the benefits of memory of one’s heritage and union. The heated discussion between Neil and Ian slows the pace of the play as well as the underlying significance of these arguments. The slower tempo and duration of such scene in Lil’s play represents the desire of Lil to show that debates regarding yielding a change take hefty amount of time and criticize a built-in structure that apprise the significance of the play. Margaret says, “I remember . . . watching my own grandfather and my father and my husband and 3000 miners take a strike vote in front of a bonfire. They were so full of themselves, so sure they were right, that they would win. But they didn’t” (Lill 118).

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Characters

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Version of Sheldon Currie

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The representation of Ian, Margaret’s younger brother reveals some of the distinct approaches of politics in two versions. The similarity is that in both versions, Ian works in mine and is involved in the loving romantic relationship with one of the daughter of mine-manager named as Marilyn. In the novel of Sheldon, Ian’s involvement is more inclined towards coalmine. The conviction of Ian leads to a strike and at that point he sacrifices the feasibility of working on the coalmine and loses his romantic partner, Marilyn for the greater benefit of community. Like his grandfather and his ancestor Morag, Ian attempted to change what seems unchangeable. He does not care even if he is asked to die for this cause because “if you don’t work at it, if you don’t fight for it, it ain’t gonna happen” (Currie, 102). Another integral way in which the novel differs from the stage play is their representation of Ian stems from his association with Margaret. Sheldon Currie does not flourish the relationship of sibling in his story. In Currie story, Margaret guides Ian in getting through some distressed moments and shows a role of supportive sister. For instance, when Neil finds love letter of Ian and attempted to read it publicly, Margaret attempts to protect her brother against this teasing. In Currie’s novel, Margaret attempted to assist his brother, but instead of assisting to organize strike, she along with Neil, invite Ian to seashore for an evening entertainment.

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In the story of Lil, involvement of Ian is more inclined towards romantic interest. In Lil’s story, Ian has true dedication with Marilyn. In Lil’s version, Ian discusses with Neil regarding miner’s rights, benefits of union, and politics. His devotion remains with his romantic partner. In Lil’s play, Margaret treats Ian with utter disrespect for no seeming reason except that he was not able to fill the shoes of Charlie that she deeply misses and admired. Story of Lil showed distinct dynamics between Ian and Margaret. However, in the second half of both versions, a telling event between Ian and Margaret takes place. In Lil’s play, Margaret warms up Ian but decides to help him and Neil with strike. In both versions, assistance of Margaret is of no use because both endeavors fail: Ian’s girlfriend’s father cut the evening short and strike results only in few benefits. In Lil’s story, Margaret continually disparages Ian. She remarked him about how mediocre he is in contrast to her idealized, dead brother Charlie. “Charlie Dave loved it when someone stole my mitts. Then he’d wade in and beat the shit right out of them. But not our Ian. He’s a mouse kissing mama’s boy” (Lill 46). In both the versions, Charlie Dave is left off the stage because he becomes frustration for his younger brother Ian. Margaret admires the charisma and physical strength of Charlie in Lil’s version and most of the part of play compares the two brothers. The tragedy of Charlie is shown through Ian, by highlighting the oppression that young men endure in coalmines.

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Conclusion

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Both versions used the word museum in the title. Creators of Margaret’s museum chose to detach themselves from the locality of Glace Bay, in order to reach for an international and broader audience. At the end of the story when Neil and Ian die in coalmine accident, an unpredictable action is taken by Margaret. The coalmine snatched the life of all the men of McNeil’s family. Only Catherine, mother of Margaret and Margaret remain alive in the family. When Margaret listens the signaling of the accident, she leaves her grandfather at home. Her grandfather dies from black lung due to his years that he spent as a miner. Margaret and Catherine remain alone. The bodies of men were turned over to Margaret. Margaret finds a unique way of remembering and honoring them. She harvested their body parts ad preserved them as a means of conserving their memory. She surrendered herself to the police. The police took her to the nearby psychiatric hospital at Sydney River. Two years later, she was discharged from the hospital. She then opens her museum where she exhibited the body parts of her family’s men that were died in the coalmine in order to attempt to reveal the story of miners to everyone from her perspective.

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