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The Land of the Lost
“As long as she’d waited for this moment, she didn’t want to see what was inside.” (P. 11, l. 139). This is a quote from the short story The land of the Lost. The real meaning of the story is never revealed, and thus makes the reader interpret the meaning and theme by themselves. The story is written by Stewart O’Nan, and is about a woman who in her search for a little girl’s body refuses to realize that her life is without meaning nor purpose. The paper will comment on the main character and her life, the point of view of the story and interpret the title and the ending of the story.
The main character of the story is a woman whose name is never revealed. She has been divorced for many years, and is currently living by herself and her German shepherd, Ollie. Her grown up sons moved out not too long ago, giving the main character the age of approximately forty to sixty. Towards the beginning of the story, the reader gets the feeling that she is an ordinary middle-aged woman who’s just living a simple and peaceful life. However, soon after the beginning, the main character learns about the case of a missing girl. It doesn’t take more than a couple of lines before the main character is more interested in this case than anybody else, maybe expect for the girl’s parents. “At night when she couldn’t sleep she sat up in her bed and went over the transcripts and the mother’s map, convincing herself it was possible.” (P.8, l. 8-9). At this point, the main character is already starting to become obsessed with the case. Throughout the story, the main character’s obsession with the case gradually grows. She then starts to dig around, hoping to find the girl. She treats the website (which is source for new information in the case) as a bible, she documents everything she does and she even rearranged her shifts, working nights so she could take advantage of the daylight. (P. 8, l. 26-27). All of this is kept a secret until one day, when the main character complains to her son about the FBI who didn’t show up immediately when the main character called them. At one point, the main character admits to herself why she is actually searching for the girl: “She could admit that at least part of the reason she was searching for a stranger’s daughter was that no one else needed her. Just Ollie.” (P. 9, l. 61-62). Nevertheless, this does not provoke her enough to stop the hunt: She continues and enrolls Ollie in an online course for sniffer dogs, still loosing herself more and more in the case. Her sons are getting worried for her and ask her to stop her search, but she refuses. The main character obsession with the case has reached a level where she cannot handle it anymore.
The Land of the Lost is told in past tense through a third person narrator and it is told chronologically with no flashbacks or flash-forwards. The author makes the reader think and interpret a lot more by holding back information, for example, the reader cannot read the main character’s thoughts directly, but only as told by the narrator. Therefore, it is up to the reader to figure out what the main character’s mental condition is, and why she is doing so much work without any clear reason.
The title, The Land of the Lost, could refer to two things: 1) Her state of mind or 2) the physical location. The reason why she never gives up is that it is everything she has. Before the case, she was lost: She did not know what to do with her life, nobody needed her, but now, the case gives her a reason to live. However, she loses herself in the case. Her life is gradually turned upside down when searching for the little girl and she does not want help from anybody, including her sons.
The title could refer to something completely different, like the physical location which is the different places that she digs for the girl throughout the story.
In the final lines of the story, the main character finally finds something: a sleeping bag. One would think that the main character would explode of excitement and open the bag immediately, but that isn’t the case. The main character is in fact in doubt whether she should open it or not: “As long as she’d waited for the moment, she didn’t want to see what was inside.” (P.11, l.139).
She is having an inner fight with herself: On one side, she wants to open it, reveal to the world that she found the dead corpse, proving to everybody that she is not insane. On the other hand, if she in fact did find the corpse, what would happen afterwards? Finding the girl would make her life meaningless again. So far, finding the girl and solving the case has been her life, she does not know if she is ready to give that up. When the story ends, it is not revealed whether she finds the body or not, however, in the final lines, the main character has made her decision: “She knelt beside the hole, digging it free with her bare hands. This time she would make sure. Then everyone would know she wasn’t crazy.” (P. 11, l. 140-141) She has chosen the non-selfish solution, she will open the bag. Nevertheless, there is still a chance that the girl is not there, and the main character can go back to her daily routines. However, as a mother, she believes it is worth to lose her purpose in order to solve a national case and give the parents of the girl peace. After all, the main character can always find another case to solve.