Carol Shields American Literature Analysis
Shields wrote poetry, plays, biography, literary criticism, short stories, and novels but is probably best known for her novels. In all her work, Shields shows mastery in her attention to the minutiae of the human condition; her depictions of the quirky moments in her characters’ lives provide much of the humor in these works. However, her texts often examine the problems inherent in uncovering a life and the impossibilities of complete understanding between two persons, be they lovers, spouses, or family members. Shields counters these complex themes of identity and recognition by creating characters with a persevering, often comic look at the world they inhabit.
These themes can be found in her first novel, Small Ceremonies. Shields’s narrator, Judith Gill, a biographer and frustrated novelist, must examine the complexity of the literary life by uncovering the life of another writer. The follow-up to this novel, The Box Garden (1977), stays in the same family. Told from the perspective of Judith Gill’s younger sister Charleen Forrest, this novel looks at the benefits and frustrations of family life.
Shields’s third and fourth novels also work in tandem. Published first as Happenstance (1980) and A Fairly Conventional Woman (1982) in Canada, the two novels were joined together into one text, Happenstance, in 1993. They recount the same time period in the lives of a married couple, Jack and...
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