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Margaret Laurence

(by Noémi Bourdage)

Margaret Laurence and her Representation of the Other

 

Margaret LaurenceMargaret Laurence was one of the most beloved and renowned writers in the history of Canada. She was  born in Neepawa, Manitoba, on July18, 1926, to Robert Wemyss and Verna Simpson Wemyss, who died when Margaret was still very young. This affliction was intensified by a life with a strict grand-father. Left on her own, she found refuge in writing.

After she graduated  from Winnipeg’s United College, Margaret married Jack Laurence in 1947. She first went to live in England, and then after in Africa, in 1950, because her husband had to work on an engineering project in this country. Their two children, Jocelyn and David were born a little while later .

It is during that period when she lived in Somalia that her career as a writer really began, when she translated a book of Somalian poetry called A Tree for Poverty. In 1960, after the family had passed four and a half years in Africa, they returned to Canada where Margaret wrote several novels.

Living in Africa greatly influenced Laurence’s writings and the way she represented the Other. She was thrilled to be in contact with a new culture, in a place completely foreign to her and excited to learn about the people she met. As a writer, she was very pleased to hear all the stories and surprised by the grand imagination of this new culture. She was able to see their oral tradition as an important treasure. She also realised they were not illiterate as some people would want to pretend.

Being inspired, Laurence decided to put the tales and the poetry of this culture into a literary form with the help of local story-tellers. She also immersed herself in the writings of people who had lived in Somalia as she did. In fact, she wanted to really understand the attitudes and thoughts of this new culture she was in contact with.

Laurence deeply admired these people who had to live under conditions of poverty and severe climate. That is why she tried in her writings to explain, defend and represent the Others to the racist society of the mid-time. Experts affirmed: “while being completely aware of her limitations as a “colonial” white author representing African experiences, Laurence managed to recognise the cultural complexities that deal with current postcolonial debates”.( Angela Spreng, Evolutionary Visions)

Margaret Laurence had literally challenged the conventional representation of the Other among the society and among the postcolonial writings by subverting the concept of Other. In fact, her own interpretation of the Other showed the empowering, not exploitative, representations of the Other. She forced people to see the reality of the Others, struggling against stereotypes. She tried to show to the society how interesting  the Africans were.

 Barbara Pell, who studied Margaret Laurence’s works, said in her article that there was an interesting connection between her African and Canadian heroines. Pell said: “the cultural upheaval of the new Africa on the verge of independence — symbolised by an empowering image of the African heroine — leads to a dignified representation of the Canadian heroines in terms of gender and power conflicts”. ( Angela Spreng, Evolutionary Visions)

            After they had been in Somalia for a long period of time, Laurence and her husband went to the Gold Coast. At that time, the Gold Coast was to become an independent state of Ghana. Laurence tried to explore both sides of Whites and Others’ thinkings. She wrote This Side Jardan, in 1960,  in order to explore the attitudes and ways of thinking of Europeans and Africans toward the independance of Ghana. She was able to compare two different cultures, improving the image of the Other in a period of history when racist debates were highly present in white society.

At last, Laurence also made a clear and faithful portrait of the representation of the Other in the North American society. In 1970, she wrote the short story The Loons that was portraying the relations between Natives and Canadians. She described the stereotypes and the real situation of the colonized group in Canada. She represented the Other as he or she was known at the period of the time she wrote her story. She talked about a half-Indian girl, Piquette,  who grew up in a society that didn’t accept half-breeds.

The loons were present in the story to repesent Piquette’s life.  The human destroying of the loons’ natural habitat symbolized the invasion of the white people when they came on the Indians’ territory. In fact, Indians has been basically destroyed by the newcomers, and they had not been able to adapt to the white people’s life style. So, The Loons presented a good portrait of colonialism, as well as several other works of Laurence.

Margaret Laurence died of cancer in January 1987 and was burried  in her native town, Neepawa. But still people continue to say that she was one of our best authors in Canada.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

 

 

 

Laurence, Margaret. The Loons. Note pack:2005.143-151.

 

Sparrow, Fiona. Into Africa with Margaret Laurence City. Toronto: ECW Press. 1992

 

Spreng, Angela. “Evolutionary Visions.” Canadian Literature .      <http://www.canlit.ca/reviews/178/642_Spreng.html>

 

“Who is Margaret Laurence.” Archives and Special Collections. 1998. York University. 9  January 1998 <http://www.info.library.yorku.ca/depts/asc/Bios/mlwho.htm>