Category Archives: English 20-2

Themes within Canadian literature

There are four major themes that can be found within Canadian literature:

1) Nature:
-desolate/empty landscape (prairies, ocean, harsh mountains/forests, etc.)

2) Frontier life
-historic (settlers)
-contemporary fascination with rural life (urban/rural divide)

3) Our position within the world
-multiculturalism (which should be its own theme, but for our purposes right now…)
-influence of U.S. / mild anti-Americanism
-isolation of small towns, even cities from each other

All three lead to what Northrop Frye (and, later, Margaret Atwood) term

4) The garrison mentality
-characters tend to look outwards, outside of themselves
-characters tend to build walls (metaphorically) against the outside world, shutting out friends, family, others

John Donne said “No man is an island”, but Canadian literature tends to write about the opposite.

SO, how do you read a Canadian short story?

1) Read the story & annotate: what do you get? What don’t you get?
2) Read the story again and look for these themes. At this point, just identify.
3) Then, ask the “Why? So what?” questions: what do these themes mean? How do they change our interpretation of the characters’ actions? How does the weather, frontier life, our isolationism, and/or the garrison mentality mirror the characters’ thoughts or actions? THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP, so make sure you leave yourself enough time to get here!