Myth, memory, and narrative: (re)inventing the self in Canadian fiction
Selby, Sharon Dawn
In this dissertation, I examine how the themes of memory, storytelling, and the construction of narrative identity develop in the works of Canadian authors Alistair MacLeod, Michael Ondaatje, and Jane Urquhart. As a means of delving more deeply into these themes, I focus on the specific narrative strategies that all three writers employ in the expression of the relationship between the individual and his/her community, as well as between physical and psychological realities. For the narrative voices in these authors’ works—given the different ways they envision and encode communal identity as constitutive of subjectivity—the past is inextricably embedded in the present. As they construct and record unfolding experience, a wider cultural history is written over with personal connections and significance. In the works of each of these authors, the act of telling stories (re)shapes people and events for the audience: speakers reform and reconstitute their experiences, allowing them both to rewrite the past and be haunted by it. Storytelling becomes an existential act in which personal landscapes are invested with structures of feeling that transcend local significance yet are manifested in everyday connections between ordinary people, and in daily (often unrecognized) struggles and acts of heroism. This includes a study of the means through which psychological evolution and trauma can be depicted. I also discuss how stylistic techniques such as fragmentation, repetition, self-reflexivity, and literary allusion function within these narratives. This aspect of my investigation provides the opportunity to engage more fully with the body of literary research that has already been produced on these authors.