Mademoiselle in Children of my Heart: Epitome of a Teacher’s Ambivalence by Gabrielle Arseneault

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51CEM33Z2YL._SL500_AA300_Gabrielle Roy is to many an outstanding Canadian novelist. Born in 1909 in St Boniface, this author gathered precious memories throughout her life that inspired her as a writer. One could say that her work as a novelist demonstrates that Roy was born to become a writer; even that it was her vocation. However, before she started her career as a novelist, Roy went to Normal school to become a teacher. Roy, “like many other gifted young women of the time Roy decided to become a teacher, a career that was both honourable and well paid.” (Ricard 2005)

In 1977, the novel Children of my Heart was published; this novel turned out to be her last work ever published before she passed away in 1983. Children of my Heart can be classified as a semi autobiographical fiction, as this novel was inspired on Roy’s experience as a young teacher. In regard to the term vocation, Roy’s protagonist in Children of my Heart demonstrates some ambivalence toward the teaching profession. Mademoiselle in Children of my Heart is a young teacher teaching in the prairies in the 1930’s. In that time, women did not have much job opportunities, thus they mainly became teachers, nannies and dressmakers. In regard to this limited amount of respectable jobs that were available to women in the early 20th century, it is possible that the protagonist became a teacher because she did not have much choice.

Although Mademoiselle seems to deeply care about her pupils, there are many occurrences in the novel where she expresses some doubts or despair toward teaching. Already in the first chapter, she says “my life as a teacher appeared to me in a devastating light”(p.16). Even if the situation that led her to feel that way about her life as a teacher was difficult, it demonstrates nonetheless some ambivalence. A few pages later in the novel, Mademoiselle expresses her doubts about ever being a good teacher as some of her pupils’ lessons where “so badly done”. Then again this statement demonstrates that the protagonist doubts that she is good at her task as a teacher and by the same token it shows her mixed feelings.

To further prove Mademoiselle’s ambivalence toward teaching, she says “I could see myself in twenty, thirty years, still in the same place, worn down by my task (…) my pity turned on myself.” The relevance of the latter claim is related to Mademoiselle’s perception of the teaching profession in the future. Throughout the novel, she expresses on many occasions a fear about the future, although she often takes back her words a few pages later. Now, this probably demonstrates to the reader that she likes being a teacher, but at the same times it suggests that she was not born to become a teacher. If it were her vocation to be a teacher, she would probably see light in the future as well as in the present. Nevertheless, Mademoiselle recognizes her doubts about being a teacher in the future as she says “a presentiment of a sadness still hidden in the future – a thing that has happened often in my life”(p.87). Once again, she demonstrates that she is not sure she wants to remain a teacher for a long period of time. In fact, with that kind of statements, it gives the impression to the reader that there is something else that Mademoiselle would rather do.

It is with her rhetorical question on page 124 that Mademoiselle further demonstrates to the reader of Children of my Heart that there is perhaps something else she would rather do. This interesting question she wonders is “what is really worth giving your talent to, and your life?”. However, Mademoiselle never clearly identifies what is exactly her talent nor what is worth giving your life to. The fact that she asks herself this question demonstrates once more that teaching is not her unequivocal vocation.

In the novel, the sexualized teacher-student relationship she had with Mederic is significant in Children of my Heart. Moreover, Mademoiselle had some interesting discussions with the latter, discussions that arose thoughts that further demonstrate her ambivalence toward teaching. As Mademoiselle notices that strong passion Mederic has toward nature, she says: “I myself dreamed only of going back beyond books to what had given birth to them and was not exhausted by them”(p.126). By reading this in the novel, the reader can easily assume that she wants more intellectual stimulation than what she receives from teaching. Also, it suggests that there is something melancholic in not accomplishing this dream.

The protagonist in Children of my Heart proves to be an exceptional young teacher, even if teaching is not her vocation. Mademoiselle is nonetheless a good teacher to the eyes of her pupils and their parents. One could even say that she is passionate about what she does, especially toward her pupils. As she is about to leave, she expresses her deep feeling in regard to her pupils by saying “these children whom I had held as close to my heart as if they had been my own. But what am I saying! They were mine…”(p.167) This suggests that she benefited from that special bond that relays a teacher and his pupils and that her experience as a teacher is an experience unique in her life. After all, they are the children of her heart.

Works Cited

Ricard, Francois. Gabrielle Roy. 2005. 29 March 2014 <http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/roy_gabrielle_21E.html >.