ANG 160 Fall 2005
(by Noémi Bourdage)
Laurence and her Representation of the Other
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 .
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.
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.
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.
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)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Margaret. The Loons. Note pack:2005.143-151.
Fiona. Into Africa with Margaret Laurence City. Toronto: ECW Press. 1992
Angela. “Evolutionary Visions.” Canadian Literature .
is Margaret Laurence.” Archives and Special Collections. 1998. York
University. 9 January 1998 <http://www.info.library.yorku.ca/depts/asc/Bios/mlwho.htm>