Gabrielle Roy Long Fiction Analysis
One of Gabrielle Roy’s major achievements was her international readership. Prior to the development of CanLit (the Canadian literature “movement”), both French and English writers in Canada faced severely limited circulation of their works around the world. The vast publishing industries of France, England, and the United States largely ignored Canada’s finest writers. Roy was deserving of world attention with novels that reflected movements and trends in mainstream fiction while expressing the distinctive concerns of the Quebec milieu.
With novels set in both the Western wilderness of Canada and in Montreal, Canada’s largest city, Roy can be studied as both a local colorist and a fictional-realist surveying the pathology of a great city. Her harsh depictions of the lives of impoverished families enduring economic depression in a metropolitan environment inspired comparisons to the greatest of French naturalistic writers, Émile Zola. Roy’s fictional portrait of the middle-aged Montreal bank teller Alexandre Chenevert was praised for its psychological authenticity. Many of Roy’s shorter works, which are often poetic sketches more than short stories, convey the sights, sounds, and even the pungent flavor of the Canadian prairies that she remembered from her childhood. These reminiscences were well within the tradition of continental French impressionist writing.
The Tin Flute
This first novel is widely ranked as Roy’s best. The first of Roy’s urban novels, The Tin Flute certainly has been the most influential, with its detailed depiction of lower-class life in Montreal during the Great Depression. The shabbiness of household furnishings, the slush of winter snow, and the conversations of Montreal taxi drivers and waitresses are recorded in precise detail. Especially notable, even amusing, is the lively account of “moving day,” a springtime tradition of the city’s lower classes.
The narrative is sociologically significant in its demonstration of the ways in which World War II changed French Canada, providing opportunities for many to climb out of poverty. In the novel, World War II, which spreads carnage throughout Europe, actually comes as salvation to Canada’s urban poor. The men in families enlist in the Canadian army, earn money, and thus provide material benefits for those at home. As war industries emerge, they, too, offer economic opportunities to many laborers for the first time.
(The entire section is 1020 words.)