Liceo Scientifico

Galileo Galilei - Siena


"Landscape as Metaphor"-  Meeting with the Author Jean Mcneil

Report by Marco Pandolfi, IV B


Before the conference, our teacher Mrs.Failli introduced us to the life and works of the writer, Jean McNeil. The topic of the conference is the “Landscape as Metaphor”, landscape meaning the background, the setting of story, where characters exist, synonym for it are environment and nature; but it can be much more, and take on the status of a full character in itself. Metaphors are the figures of speech, which join two ideas, often far apart. A common example of metaphor is: “I’m in your hands”, that means you leave the control of the situation to another person, who is not actually toughing you, though!. Metaphors such as this are so common in ordinary languagem that one every 25 words we say are figurative. Landscape with weather conditions could express an emotional state, personal feelings . Writers have to evoke an image with descriptions and to labour out a feeling of reality. 

The first bookanalysed by McNeil is "Ice Diaries”. The story is set in Antarctica. She had received an invitation to go there, she had to do the blood exams, she had a certificate from the government because to go there there were a lot of restrictions. She travelled for work, she was the writer on a ship that did scientific research about biology, genetic, chemistry, physics. She showed us some photos, taken by her during the travel, the landscape is fascinating, scary because the photos are all white with huge sheest of ice and the geology in the north pole changes because of the ice melting, in the south pole the lands are covered by ice. In one photo there is a mirror-like relationship between sky and water because we can’t see the difference between the two. The writer says that these landscapes are for her calming. 

She read us the description of the first iceberg that she saw and she reveals that the description was very difficult because she had to write about the different colours and shapes. The planned travel was supposed to last a week but they were stopped in ice for two weeks, on board there were about 100 people during the travel, they were emotionally unstable because they felt imprisoned, there were no other people beyond them. On the one hand it is fantastic, stunning, because they can relax and meditate, but on the other hand it is terrible, because they are alone. Voyages are very important occasions to restart your life because no-one knows you but also you are alone an you depend by the others. She spent there also Christmas Day. and she showed us a photo where there are three suns because there is the central sun that reflects on the ice and we see these effect. She looks for detail and information in depth to write because she has to know everything to use the information as a symbol or as a metaphor. The characters that she depicts in her story are different shapes of her, they are different positions who inhabit in her. 

The conference then came to an end speaking about other books set in a completely different environment, that of South Africa and Tanzania, where McNeil also travelled extensively and spent long periods of time.

The classes IV B and II L, which took part in the event as part of Ms Failli's project of Alternanza Scuola-Lavoro "On Translation", are very grateful to the Headmaster, Prof Alfredo Signorelli.

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