Canadian Identity: “A Violent Duality”

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CANADIAN IDENTITY: “A VIOLENT DUALITY” Ian Brown, who once hosted the CBC’s Sunday Morning, said of “Canadian-ness”: “For years…many Canadians have defined themselves as being Canadian, we’re Canadian because we’re not American” (“Who’s Canadian?”). This quotation highlights one of the issues of defining Canadian identity – that it often comes from what one is not, rather than what one is. And nowhere is this reflected more clearly than in the “collage” works of contemporary Canadian authors, such as Margaret Atwood, Anne Carson, and Michael Ondaatje, whose works might be defined as “verse novels” or “biographical verse…journals” or…well, there-in lies the problem. While Atwood’s Journals of Susanna Moodie, Carson’s Autobiography of Red, and Ondaatje’s Collected Works of Billy the Kid are certainly unique artforms unto themselves, it is easiest to define each by what it is not. By examining these Canadian cultural mosaic pieces more closely, I hope to uncover what makes each unique, what they all have in common, and what makes them distinctly Canadian in form. Atwood’s Journals of Susanna Moodie are written concerning and from the perspective of the title character, who was among the first women to write about the Canadian wilderness in the early-to-mid-1800’s in her books Roughing It in the Bush and Life in the Clearings. Atwood writes, in her afterword to the text, that when she read Moodie’s books, she was “disappointed. The prose was discursive and ornamental and the books had little shape: they were collections of disconnected anecdotes. The only thing that held them together was the personality of Mrs. Moodie” (Atwood, 62). However, Atwood channeled these disconnected anecdotes into a series of poems which adds the author’s voice into the mix, while still maintaining Moodie’s unique identity. And Atwood’s treatment of Canadian identity – and the
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