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This was a definite advantage Ingersoll The alternation of habitats created in Atwood a sense of leading two lives — that of a forest dweller in the bush, and that of a school girl in town. When the family returned every fall from the forest to the city, the young girl was particularly impressed by how, in the city, her mother put on "a whole other identity than the one she wore in the north woods".
Nor did it have anything particularly life-threatening to do with your essence. You could do several things, be several things, have several appearances and remain the same person" cited in Sullivan, One of the ways in which Atwood manifested her two identities was in her dual interest in the ways of nature and the arts of civilization. For example, for one school project, Margaret wrote a detailed essay on animal behaviour, for another Home Economics project, she wrote an operetta about synthetic fabrics Sullivan 49, As a result of her months in the bush, Atwood acquired an impressive knowledge of woodlore, which she supplemented by reading extensively on the subject.
While in the bush Margaret tried to apply the "wildwood wisdom" acquired from Jaeger, identifying animal tracks, making pots from river clay and eating puffballs and Indian cucumbers Sullivan This was not just a game for Atwood, for she knew that wilderness survival would be a real issue if she were to get lost in the bush, and the bush, she wrote, was "a place you could find yourself lost in as easy as pie" Atwood 7.
With the "wilderness wisdom" acquired from Jaeger and her own experience, however, the bush became for Atwood a place where "you can feel comfortable" Atwood 7. Surely, one might think, the vast Canadian forest would be the antithesis of a home. Yet the northern woods which seemed so foreign and inhospitable to most urban Canadians, was indeed for Margaret Atwood another kind of home, another way to belong. This is the overlapping of "homeground" and "foreign territory" experienced by the protagonist of Surfacing. When she became a writer Atwood would retain her "split personality" by using "Margaret" as a professional first name and keeping "Peggy" as her name for friends and family Cooke She would later write:.
I feared rejection as a lady writer, which everyone knew was about as bad as a lady painter; and I was convinced I would never get married. The biographies of women authors were very clear: you could write and be classified as neurotic or you could get married and be fulfilled cited by Sullivan Despite the social classification of "lady writers" as unstable and unfulfilled, this seemed a more attractive identity for Atwood than being married and fulfilled, which "sounded very dull" Sullivan After all if one were fulfilled, whole, how could one continue to lead a double life?
Another apparent contradiction in identities that Margaret Atwood would embody due to her vocation as writer was that of being a Canadian and a writer.
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While a student in English literature at the University of Toronto, Atwood was struck by the lack of Canadian literature on the agenda. There was Canadian literature, she discovered, but it was ignored, almost as an embarassing aberration, something which should not and could not really be. The difficulty stemmed from the fact that Canada apparently had no national culture, and without a national culture, how could one hope to have a national literature?
The result, if attempted, would surely be pitiful, like an attempt to create an integrated and dynamic Canadian identity out of spruce beer, beavers, mounties and snow see Ingersoll To choose to be a Canadian writer, therefore, to want to write a great Canadian novel — as Margaret Atwood did — was to commit oneself to a life of sad illusions and paradoxes. It was not just being a Canadian writer which seemed a contradiction of identities, it was being a Canadian. Atwood knew from her own childhood experiences in Quebec and in the bush that there were people in Canada who were not British or white.
Not much, in those days, about possible French-speaking malcontents or the fact that Indians might have come out the losers in a few forced land deals cited by Sullivan Atwood would disassemble such false and totalitarian images of unity and contentment in her collection of poems, You Are Happy. As Atwood reveals in that book, you are not happy at all, you are just denying your suffering. It had Mickey Mouse and Superman. True, there was a rumoured nasty underside to Americans, they were accused of being rude, crude and pushy.
Still, Canadian children wished they could be American in the way that girls wished they could be boys — to be part of the action. Margaret Atwood has said, speaking of her childhood, "Canada for us was not-America" Atwood Since Canada was defined by what was not here if one can even say here for such a marginal place , it did not really seem surprising that literature was one of those things that was not here. Her non-national identity was particularly impressed on Atwood when she went to graduate school in the United States.
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For Americans, it appeared, Canadians were "grey" and "faceless", cultural nobodies. One thing was for Canadians to tell themselves that, another thing was to have other people tell them that. These goads to the national pride had the beneficial effect of making Canadians think about their distinguishing traits. In self-defence Atwood and her fellow Canadian students began to tell Americans tall-tales about daring deeds in the wildly exciting Canadian backwoods. It seemed clear, therefore, that the wilderness was a crucial part of the Canadian self-identity even in the case of those Canadians who had little or no direct experience of it.
It was under these conditions that Atwood came up with the definition of the American national mania being megalomania while that of Canada was paranoia.
In another analogy she compared the cautious Canadian beaver, always shoring up its dams, with the imperious American eagle, soaring above it all, searching for prey Sullivan It was such explorations of the uneasy Canadian identity, Atwood concluded, which needed to be pursued in Canadian literature.
Canadian writers should offer the public reflections of and insights into the defining structures and experiences of the Canadian consciousness.
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Indeed Canadian writers, if they were representative of their culture, could hardly do other, for their imaginations would be shaped by the same structures and experiences. One should perhaps find the most similarities with L. Montgomery, who, like Atwood, had to struggle against popular prejudices which held that neither women nor Canadians could really be writers, and who, like Atwood, succeeded in her quest. Anne of Green Gables has as its heroine a favourite character type of Atwood — an imaginative girl who leads a double life of fact and fancy and who seeks a place to belong.
Hard times may come, but with a Protestant work ethic, good cheer and faith they can almost always be overcome. This was not the world to interest the bush-raised Atwood. In Wild Animals I Have Known, Seton explains that all of his accounts are tragic because "the life of a wild animal always has a tragic end" cited by Atwood b: Atwood herself, interestingly, feels that her work still offers a somewhat sweetened version of reality.
Furthermore, unlike the settlers and explorers who ventured into Canada; Grey Owl did not wish to conquer the North, but to learn from it. In her poem "Progressive Insanities of a Pioneer" Atwood says of a pioneer who goes mad when he finds himself unable to impose order on the wilderness:. This "stocking his log house with animals" is precisely what Grey Owl — the anti-settler — did, when he turned his cabin into a home for beavers.
Grey Owl, like Atwood, knew that with "wildwood wisdom" one did not have to be "swept away" by the immensity of the wilderness, but could live in harmony with it. She is, however, more sympathetic to the Grey Owl side of the argument than to, in her words "the anti-appropriationists [who] have argued that non-Native writers have no right to write as if they were Natives" Atwood With all due respect, this is not really the issue, as we saw in the chapter on Grey Owl. It is the dominant group within society which most effectually creates and controls cultural stereotypes.
Native writers can fill reams of paper writing about their perceptions of whites without having much effect on mainstream culture, because of their relatively marginal position within Canadian society. As a writer who cherishes her ability to explore alter egos, however, Margaret Atwood naturally does not want to be confined as to the other identities she may take on.
Grey Owl in this case, stands not only for "wilderness wisdom", but for the right to assume another identity, to cross cultural and psychological borders, and to explore the tantalizing paradox of how "homeground" may be "foreign territory". But England for him is foreign territory. Native Canada. But Native Canada for him is foreign territory. Atwood goes back in time to dwell on her own childhood favorite, Ernest Thompson Seton, a. Black Wolf, who emigrated to Canada from England as a child in His love of the Canadian wilderness and his idealization of native Canadians led Seton to extol the wood-wise Indian as a role model for English children.
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Along these lines, Seton would help found the Boy Scouts movement in the United States from which he was later expelled when he disagreed with what seemed to be a militarization of the Scouts. Atwood humorously remarks that "unlike Grey Owl, [Seton] did not attempt the rather modest feat of turning himself into an Indian, but pursued the greater ambition of turning everybody else into Indians, instead" Atwood Grey Owl, on the other hand, she comments, wants to obliterate boundaries — one might add — wants to create a new boundary between himself as Indian and others as "civilized" whites.
Let us turn now from Grey Owl and L. While Atwood has been much more concerned with issues of Canadian identity than was Gould, Gould did explore themes of Canadian culture and geography in his work. In the Woods person as landscape i. New Moon and double identities i.
Colville, like Atwood, is interested in mirror images, and this interest expreses itself in various ways in his work. A number of paintings show someone looking at a reflecting surface, for example, Looking Down , in which a woman leans over in a boat and looks down at the water, and Morning in which a woman stares into a mirror. Or is it the case that it is you, the viewer, who are looking at yourself in the mirror when you look at these images?
Colville, again like Atwood, is also interested in portraying facelessness in his paintings, which can be construed as expressing a lack of, or a hidden, identity in the figures so portrayed. Do they, like Marian in The Edible Woman , indeed find it "satisfying to be the only one who knew where I really was"? I take this picture of myself and with my sewing scissors cut out the face Now it is more accurate: where my eyes were, every- thing appears Atwood epigraph.
This identification is reinforced by the fact that the handle of the mirror is shaped like a woman, symbolically making it a woman-mirror. We walk separately along the hill… When you are this cold you can think about nothing but the cold, the images hitting into your eyes like needles, crystals, you are happy.
Atwood Are the couple really happy? Or are they just "happy" to have the pain of their alienation from each other anaesthetized by the cold? Is the long cold winter a way for Canadians to deaden themselves to their own alienation from each other?
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