Characterisation of Billy in E. Annie Proulx’s Postcards
Although Billy, as the first victim of the changing face of America in the opening of the novel, is a character who appears just momentarily, her impact on the course of the narrative is profound. Much of our reading of Billy comes from the scenes in which she is already dead, which highlights the sense of loss of a character so crucial to the story. On one level of course she is used as a tool to move the narrative forwards and her death is reason enough for Loyal to keep moving onwards, running from the guilt of her death.
On an aesthetic level Billy’s appearance highlights the independent, forceful and intense aspects of her character. The descriptions of her “stinging kisses”, “pointed fingernails” and “elbows” as well as her fiery hair are all an indication of this. Her independent side is apparent in her rhetorical dialogue and exotic dress: “gold lame turban”. This independent streak is one that is unique among the women in Postcards and sets her apart from the other women, like Jewel and Mernelle, who are trapped by their male partners, even in their death. For this independence, however, Billy pays the ultimate price at the hands of Loyal.
Thematically, Billy could be seen to represent the values of old world America: the values of individual liberty, limited state intervention and of a sense of community with the natural world that the early puritan settlers had helped to cultivate. With the death of Billy Proulx suggests that with it these values have gone. Americans of the late twentieth century, Proulx implies, are far more likely to be like the doctor Witkin than like Loyal, with his deep understanding of flora and fauna. The result of Billy’s death then is the exploitation and vandalism of nature by some of the same people who romanticise it, as well as traditional ways of life. If the death of Billy at the opening of the novel is the beginning of the end for these values then the...