In “Saturday”, the mother had dreamed a different kind of life for her daughters.
In “Up North”, Dennis’ mother is dreaming of a different kind of life for herself.
She’s on a train, north of Montreal, heading for Abitibi, Quebec. That’s where Dennis’ father is working in the bush.
A man on the train asks enough questions to figure where the boy’s father fits into the “social hierarchy of the north”.
Because Mavis Gallant does not edge away from the question of class. And the father is part of a lower one, a casual labourer. (In contrast, the man on the train works as an engineer in the camp.)
Which explains why the boy’s mother is so uncomfortable while travelling, the conditions are constrained.
It’s impossible not to sympathize with her, when she is weeping in the train compartment, straining to change her clothing while lying down in the cramped space.
But it’s also impossible not to sympathize with her son, Dennis, who could use a little patience on this long and uncomfortable journey.
It’s familiar by now, Mavis Gallant’s fair-mindedness in her stories, this sense that each character experiences the world (within story and without) in a unique and powerful way.
In fact, there are many familiar elements in this short story (just seven pages long).