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ALICE RIDOUT Temporality and Margaret Atwood Margaret Atwood's attempt to define 'What's Canadian about Canadian Literature' in Survival is a helpful starting point for considering the way the stories in Dancing Girls (1977), Bluebeard's Egg (1983), and Wilderness Tips (1992) relate to the short story genre and Canadianliterature as broad, limiting categories. Atwood herself recognizes the personal nature of Survival, defining it as 'a cross between a personal manifesto' and 'a political manifesto' (Survival, 13). She also acknowledges that 'several though by no means all of the patterns I've found myself dealing with here were first brought to my attention by my own work' (14). As the title suggests, Atwood's main thesis is that the recurring theme of Canadian literature is survival. Although Atwood identifies different types of survival (such as Canada's cultural survival despite the influence of the United States), she believes that the most prevalent type of survival in 'Canlit' is simply that of 'hanging on, staying alive' (33). Survival was a difficult challenge for early settlers, and Atwood certainly seems correct in identifying it as a formative experience for early writers: Bare Survival isn't a central theme by accident, and neither is the victim motif; the land was hard, and we have been (and are) an exploited colony; our literature is rooted in those facts. (41) However, Atwood is not at the 'root' of Canadian literature, and her 'Canadian experience' has not been that of the early pioneer encountering the hostile wilderness. Atwood's rewriting of that early Canadian experience in 'The Journals of Susanna Moodie' implies a certain nostalgia for the pioneering experience and a desire to write in that tradition of Canadian literature. Although Linda Hutcheon's labelling of Atwood as 'postmodem' has been challenged/ it does point to the important fact of Atwood's belatedness in the Canadian tradition. Atwood notes in Survival that the replacement of wilderness with cities alters and complicates the theme of bare survival in the face of "hostile" 1 In an essay entitled 'Gender and Narrative Perspective in_ Margaret Atwood's Stories,' Dieter Meindl describes the application of the term postmodern to Atwood as 'problematic .' UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 69, NUMBER 4, FALL 2000 8so ALlCE RIDOUT elements and/or natives: carving out a place and a way of keeping alive' (32). Toronto, with its maze of underground shopping malls, is an image of how late twentieth-century Canadians already have carved'out a place and a way of keeping alive.' It is important to note the prevalence of Toronto as the setting for the stories in Dancing Girls and Bluebeard's Egg. Even when the story is set in the countryside north of Toronto, Toronto's presence is closely felt. In 'Betty,' which appears in both books, for example, Fred 'was just coming back from the city' (Dancing Girls, 43) when he says or does something to the store owner's daughter to make her stare at him 'as ifshe wanted to kill him' (43). Fred's womanizing is linked, therefore, to the city. Furthermore, the girl Fred leaves Betty for is described as 'some girl from town' (45), again indicating a mistrust of the urban. This distrust of the urban conflicts with the safety which cities provide from JJlhostile" elements'. Cities certainly represent the survival, even the conquering, of the wilderness. It is difficult to view the 'Canadian experience' as one of overcoming the hardships of a wild land when you are selecting tomatoes imported from Florida in a temperature-controlled shopping mall in January. A brief comparison of the dangerous accident in 'The Salt Garden' (Bluebeard's Egg) with the one in 'Deathby Landscape' (Wilderness Tips) makes these different urban and rural threats clear. When the girl gets trapped in the streetcar in 'The Salt Garden' an ambulance quickly takes her away: Luckily there's an ambulance right beside them, so the girl is put into it. Alma can't see her face or how badly injured she is, though she cranes her neck, but she can hear the noises she's making. (Bluebeard's Egg, 234) The word 'luckily' implies that the ambulance will ensure the girl...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 849-870
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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