Thomas King, "Borders" (1991)

King introduction:

consider implications of title, "Borders" -- with specific reference to story; perhaps in relation to:

(and see liminality below)

Story follows two story lines, flipping between them:


-- the flipping between reflects King's belief that past and present are inseparable; helps us to get to know the characters, although not their inner world

-- contrasts modernity of Salt Lake City, Laetitia moving, etc., to preservation of Blackfoot, mother's stories about the stars, the broken down museum

-- each time feels like the present, as though we are there in that time (conflict of time vs. timeless)


-- narrator: told from child's viewpoint, shows lack of understanding of events and of the larger picture, hence mildly defamiliarizing; but leaving out the name of this character helps to generalize, a moment that could happen any day; Newscast demonstrates "realism" for western culture (vs. native)

-- note influence of media on characters: Laetitia's boyfriend has seen brochures that convince Laetitia of the wonders of Salt Lake City; in presence of media the border guard immediately folds and allows mother and son to cross the border

-- characters' back and forth conversations, but often not talking about the same things; son seems uninvolved in mother's battle to be recognized as Blackfoot; this seems to suggest that the son is losing his inheritance


-- induces a sense of interweaving of the proudly static (mother) and the proudly dynamic (Laetitia); but questions whether progress is a western illusion

-- identity: "I'd be proud of being a Blackfoot if I were Blackfoot .. . But you have to be American or Canadian"

-- not postmodern, rather its oral qualities make it a tale, out of native tradition; story can be told in one sitting; but also has a real historical context -- aboriginals' problem in being accepted as a "worthy" culture; lack of standard identity a problem in our modern world

Liminality -- some quotations:

The moment when something of importance happens to you, for the first or only time, may not be recognized at the time as a rite of passage or a ritual event. Only much later will you see its crucial moment in the scheme of things.

There is an exact word for this phenomenon: "liminality."

-- Cited from from Fulghum, Robert (1995). From Beginning to End. New York: Ballantine Books, at:

In the 1960s, Victor Turner posited that rituals which often hold central positions in all cultures have an element of liminality about them. These central rituals are often those which are transformative in function; during the course of the ritual, an individual or a group is altered from one state into another. He or she takes on a new status and new identity within the community. In order to do so, he or she must strip away, or have stripped from them, the old identity. The period in which the individual is naked of self -- neither fully in one category or another -- is the liminal state.

-- from:

We are obsessed with boundaries. Places are divided and sub-divided in a complex web of overlapping patterns of 'ownership', 'sacredness', 'historic interest', 'outstanding natural beauty' and much else. A simple car journey will take us past signs marking the entry and exit of each parish, less frequently past county boundary signs . . .

Among the clearest examples of liminality, in all its complexities, can be seen in ethnographical studies of the rites associated with the initiation of adolescent boys into manhood among traditional peoples. . . .

The liminal phase is often associated with protracted periods of seclusion. In ritual seclusion one day replicates another for many weeks. Then again, liminality may contain what may be called 'a time of marvels'. . . .

The concept of the 'betwixt and between' liminal state then becomes easy to recognise in contemporary western culture -- think, for instance, of the wedding ceremony where the 'threshold' ceremony is followed by a 'liminal' honeymoon. Think, too, of funerary ceremonies where the period from death to inhumation (or cremation) is equally 'liminal'.

-- from:

Thomas King: profile

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Document prepared November 4th 2002 / additions November 18th 2002