Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The Fire-Dwellers is the third in a loosely connected sequence of five books (four novels and a collection of stories) involving the fictional prairie town of Manawaka. A Jest of God (1966) is the novel in this series most closely related to The Fire-Dwellers. Stacey’s story can be seen as a sequel to A Jest of God, which is narrated by her younger sister, Rachel Cameron. Stacey is first introduced to readers in Rachel’s narrative. A Jest of God ends with Rachel and her mother planning to move from Manawaka to Vancouver, where Rachel believes that Stacey lives an idyllic life. Rachel, a withdrawn spinster, has always been envious of Stacey, who always seemed so sure of herself. Rachel seems to believe that, by leaving Manawaka, Stacey has set herself free of the place. Manawaka is a state of mind, however, and the root of Stacey’s turmoil lies in her inability to break away from the conditioning that she received in Manawaka.

The Fire-Dwellers is well regarded by feminist critics. Stacey exists in a male-oriented, chauvinistic society, but she is not aware that she is oppressed because she is a female. Stacey never considers getting a job and letting someone else care for her children or her house. She is conditioned to believe that every woman wants to be married and to have a family and that all it takes for a woman to be happy is to be a member of a family that loves and communicates with one another. Mac shares Stacey’s conditioning about what a woman needs to be fulfilled. Mac remarks while viewing a very nervous girl speaking at a rally that all the girl needs is the love of a good man, and Stacey agrees. Laurence in no way, however, presents Stacey’s narrative in the shrill manner of some feminist writing of the time.