A Canadian Family Portrait: The Gares

In Canadian literature the family is handled quite differently. If in England the family is a mansion you live in, and if in America it’s a skin you shed, then in Canada it’s a trap in which you’re caught. The Canadian protagonist often feels just as trapped inside his family as his American counterpart; he feels the need for escape, but somehow he is unable to break away.

Families in Canadian fiction huddle together like sheep in a storm or chickens in a coop: miserable and crowded, but unwilling to leave because the alternative is seen as cold empty space.

Grandparents are not necessarily settlers, . . .instead of pitting their force of will against the land– that’s been done for them by their ancestors – they pit it against other people, most notably their descendants.

Parents lack the will, the attachment to the land and the metallic strength of their parents, but they have been unable to replace it by anything more positive and attractive.

Children try to escape both previous generations. They desire neither the Calvinism and commitment to the land of the Grandparents, nor the grey placelessness and undefined guilt of the parents. They want, somehow, to live, but they have trouble finding a way to do this. They sometimes feel a double pull – back to the tough values and the land, like the Grandparents, or away – farther away than the parents managed to get. –Margaret Atwood, Survival.

Atwood, in Survival, presents arguments on several thematic developments in Canadian literature. In this section of her book she discusses the Canadian author’s treatment of family relationships. Many authors are included in her analysis, including Margaret Laurence, Hugh MacLennan, Tom Wayman, Mavis Gallant, and George Bowering. However, Margaret Atwood makes no direct mention of Martha Ostenso in Survival.

Compare and contrast the themes developed in Martha Ostenso’s Wild Geese with the above statements by Margaret Atwood. Why should, or should not, Atwood’s chapter on family relationships include reference(s) to Wild Geese?

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