What is one major theme in Marie Chapdelaine?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What strikes me as the principal theme of Maria Chapdelaineis the importance of ethnic identity. To understand Louis Hemon's novel, one has to have some knowledge of the history of Canada and the way it has shaped the mindset of the French-speaking people of Quebec.

With the defeat of...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

What strikes me as the principal theme of Maria Chapdelaine is the importance of ethnic identity. To understand Louis Hemon's novel, one has to have some knowledge of the history of Canada and the way it has shaped the mindset of the French-speaking people of Quebec.

With the defeat of France in the Seven Years' War, control of Canada passed from the French to the British in 1763. The colonial population of Canada had two main features that reinforced its ethnic self-determination: the French language, and the adherence to the Roman Catholic Church. Often throughout history when a people are defeated, their identity as a group is paradoxically strengthened and they feel themselves greater in defeat than the enemy who triumphed over them. In Maria Chapdelaine, the title character turns down a chance to marry a man who loves her and to move to the U.S. with him. Despite the hardships of life in rural northern Quebec, she prefers to remain there because of the indissoluble link she feels between herself and her fellow Quebecois. Hemon expresses the spirit of French Canada in his description of its people: Ces gens sont d'un race qui ne sait pas mourir. "These people are of a race that does not know how to die."

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In her seminal 1972 book of literary criticism, Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature, distinguished Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood argues that the main themes of Canadian literature are victimhood and survival. Louis Hémon's 1913 novel, Maria Chapdelaine, conforms to Atwood's model, with its main characters being victims of the Canadian winter, who either endure and survive or who die in their efforts to carve a homeland out of the unforgiving environment of the Canadian Shield.

The theme of survival is particularly apparent in the choices of the protagonist Maria Chapdelaine. She and her family struggle to clear the land for their farm and accumulate enough supplies to survive the long winter. Although this means that Maria is well acquainted with the hardships of pioneer life, she falls in love with a frontiersman, Francois Paradis. Before they can marry, he dies in a winter storm. She has two other suitors, one who promises an easier life south of the border, in the urban United States, and one who will farm in Quebec like her parents. After recovering from a depression occasioned by the death of Francois, and suffering the loss of her mother, Maria chooses Eutrope Gagnon, the farmer, as her future husband, in the knowledge that her own strength and ability to survive are in a sense her destiny, and that with Eutrope she can best fulfill her potential. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team