Woman as a Subaltern in Canadian Literature


The article takes as its subject the possibility of perceiving women as constituting a distinct subgroup of the subaltern. Following a theoretical introduction to this concept, the article focuses on the practical application of the notion in Canadian literature, discussing the two major female-authored Canadian novels published in the 1970s, that is Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing and Margaret Laurence’s The Diviners. Although Atwood’s and Laurence’s novels highlight the influences of the opposite colonial centres, the postcolonial situations and reflections of the main female characters appear quite similar. Indeed, both Atwood’s narrator and Laurence’s Morag Gunn seem to be depicted as doubly colonised: as women, and as Canadians. However, there exists a possibility of reading the protagonists as occasionally acting from a position of superiority towards those subaltern to them, namely the Native population.

Key words: Canadian literature, feminism, postcolonialism, subalternity.

Ashcroft, Bill, Grifiths, Gareth, Tiffin, Helen, 2007: Post-Colonial Studies: The Key Concepts. London: Routledge.

Atwood, Margaret, 1993: “Afterword.” In: Margaret Laurence: The Diviners. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Atwood, Margaret, 1994: Surfacing. Toronto: M&S.

Beeler, Karin E., 1998: “Ethnic Dominance and Difference: The Post-colonial Condition in Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel, A Jest of God, and The Diviners.” In: Cultural Identities in Canadian Literature = Identités culturelles dans la littérature canadienne. Ed. Bénédicte Mauguiere. New York, Peter Lang.

Bennett, Donna, 2007: “English Canada’s Postcolonial Complexities.” In: (De)constructing Canadianness: Myth of the Nation and Its Discontents. Ed. Eugenia Sojka. Katowice Śląsk.

Fiamengo, Janice: “Postcolonial Guilt in Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing.” In: American Review of Canadian Studies, Spring 1999. Available HTTP: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb009/is_1_29/ai_n28724699 (accessed 23 January 2011).

Filipczak, Dorota, 2007: Unheroic Heroines: The Portrayal of Women in the Writings of Margaret Laurence. Łódź: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Łódzkiego.

Fraser, Wayne, 1991: The Dominion of Women: The Personal and the Political in Canadian Women’s literature. New York, Westport, London: Greenwood Press.

Gault, Cinda: “Grooving the Nation: 1965—1980 as a Literary Era in Canada.” In: American Review of Canadian Studies 2008, 38: 3 Available HTTP: http://www.questia.com/read/5030121303 (accessed 23 Jnuary 2010)

Grace, Sherrill, 1980: Violent Duality: A Study of Margaret Atwood. Montreal, Véhicule Press.

Harrison, Dick, 1997: “Orphan and Amputee: The Search for Ancestors in The Diviners and Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose.” In: Challenging Territory: The Writing of Margaret Laurence. Ed. Christian Riegel. Edmonton, Alberta, University of Alberta Press.

Hutcheon, Linda, 1991: Splitting Images: Contemporary Canadian Ironies. Toronto, Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

Kortenaar, Neil ten: “The Trick of Divining a Postcolonial Canadian Identity: Margaret Laurence between Race and Nation.” In: Canadian literature: A Quarterly of Criticism and Review 149, 1996: 11—33.

Laurence, Margaret, 1993: The Diviners. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lindberg, Laurie, 1996: “Wordsmith and Woman: Morag Gunn’s Triumph Through Language.” In: New perspectives on Margaret Laurence: Poetic Narrative, Multiculturalism, and Feminism. Ed. Greta M. Coger. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Morton, Stephen, 2003: Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. London: Routledge.

Pratt, Annis, 1981: “Surfacing and the Rebirth Journey.” In: The Art of Margaret Atwood: Essays in Criticism. Eds. Arnold E. Davidson, Cathy N. Davidson. Toronto: Anansi.

Rigney, Barbara Hill, 1987: Women Writers: Margaret Atwood. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire and London: MacMillan Education.

Somacarrera, Pilar, 2006: “Power Politics: Power and Identity.” In: The Cambridge Companion to Margaret Atwood. Ed. Coral Annn Howells. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Spivak, Gayatri, 2003: “Can the Subaltern Speak?” In: The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. Eds. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, Helen Tiffin. London: Routledge.

Staines, David, 1995: Beyond the Provinces: Literary Canada at Century’s End. Toronto, Buffalo, London, University of Toronto Press.

Thomas, Clara, 1976: The Manawaka World of Margaret Laurence. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited.

Thomas, Clara, 1994: All my Sisters: Essays on the Work of Canadian Women Writers. Ottawa: Tecumseh Press Limited.

Woodcock, George, 1978: “The Human Elements: Margaret Laurence’s Fiction.” In: The Human Elements: Critical Essays. Ed. David Helwig. Toronto: Oberon Press.

Woodcock, George, 1990: Introducing Margaret Atwood’s ‘Surfacing’: A Reader’s Guide. Toronto: General Paperbacks.

Ewa Bodal  ewambodal@yahoo.com
Nicolaus Copernicus University 
Ewa Bodal received her M.A. in English philology at Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań in 2010. Currently, she is a doctoral student of literature at the Department of English, Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń. Her research interests focus on Canadian literature in English,
and particularly on prose written by female authors.