Beyond St.-Henri : redefining the space of the "nation" in Gabrielle Roy's The Tin Flute

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Fakiolas, Georgia Simone
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This thesis maintains that, for Gabrielle Roy, a dialogical "space" of national identity can be achieved through the renegotiation of national and cultural pedagogies. Homi Bhabha's poststructuralist theory of the nation allows us to read the contradiction between escapist desire and language-based class-consciousness in The Tin Flute as a concealed gap between "pedagogical" narratives of origin and "performative" articulations of identity. Mikhail Bakhtin's concept of fiction's "surplus of humanness" also helps us to see how the characters' desires overleap the novel's socio-historical setting. Emmanuel's eventual rejection of war and nationalism can therefore be read as an anticipation of the dialogism I locate in Roy's semi-autobiographical prairie novels, a reading of which makes up my second chapter. In Tin, however, Florentine, Jean and Azarius do not attain this space of identity; their escapism presupposes an "organic" attachment to St-Henri, and to the rural French-Catholic homestead and imminent Quebec "nation-state" that constitute its purported geographical "origins". This reading of The Tin Flute contests readings that identify a "failure" of francophone collective identity in the novel. These readings assume a nineteenth-century, romantic view of national identity as the product of an organic language common to its geographical "point of origins". In doing so, they ignore the modern, dialogical model of identity that characterizes Roy's own artistic development. Because dialogue with cultural "others", as in the prairie novels, leads to new perspectives and greater perception, one learns to re-examine and reconstruct one's past. This ability to become "other" to oneself thus provides a dialogical alternative to the nationalist "fatherland", by creating what Bhabha calls a "Third Space" of enunciation, or identification.