Gabrielle Roy Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Does the city of Montreal itself serve as a powerful character in Gabrielle Roy’s urban fiction? How or how not?

Since Roy never discusses feminism in her written work, why would some call her a feminist?

In what ways does the title of The Tin Flute symbolize Roy’s central themes in that novel?

Do you think Alexandre Chenevert can be considered a universal type? In what ways? How not?

Are Roy’s negative images of urban-industrial cities still valid? Why or why not?

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Gabrielle Roy was proficient in several literary forms. While never regarding herself as a major theorist, her essays on art, life, and the Canadian scene were thoughtful and well crafted. Especially noteworthy was her participation in Expo 67 in Montreal; her provocative essay “Terre des hommes” became the theme for the international expo: Man and His World.

Early in her career, Roy demonstrated her skills as a short-story writer. Several of her collections contain independent sketches, even mood pieces, united by central themes and characters. As a short-story writer she transmuted her own childhood, her early experiences as a teacher, and her reminiscences of family members into evocative fiction that celebrated the vast Canadian landscape and its diverse populations. Her themes are mainstays of Canadian literature: loneliness, the cold emptiness of vast spaces, the austere beauty of the landscape, and the endurance of a pioneering population. To this literature she added a compassion for animals and an awareness of their essential relationship to human beings.

Rue Deschambault (1955; Street of Riches, 1957) features a series of childhood memories, fictionalized sketches from Roy’s youth. La Route d’Altamont (1966; The Road Past Altamont, 1966) is a collection of four stories made cohesive by their common themes. Cet été qui chantait (1972; Enchanted Summer, 1976) employs as...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Gabrielle Roy is well established as one of Canada’s leading writers—some would give her the first place in Québécois literature—and is a significant figure in international French letters. Her first novel, The Tin Flute, is frequently credited as an influence on the Quiet Revolution, an enlightenment movement that brought the province of Quebec into the mainstream of twentieth century life. When it was published in English, the book won the 1947 Governor-General’s Award, the highest honor Canadians bestow on their writers. The book was then picked up by the Literary Guild in the United States, making Roy a figure on the international literary scene. The Royal Society of Canada followed with the Lorne Pierce Medal. Not to be outdone by the English-speaking establishment, Québécois critics bestowed the Prix Femina on the French edition of the novel.

A number of marks of recognition followed. In 1956, Roy was awarded the Prix Ludger-Duvernay of the Saint-Jean Baptiste Society of Quebec. The following year she won her second Governor-General’s Award, for Street of Riches. In 1967, she was made a Companion of the Order of Canada and won a Canada Council Medal the following year. The Prix David from the Quebec provincial government came in 1971. The year 1978 was especially important for Roy as well, as she earned a third Governor-General’s Award, this time for Children of My Heart, and the Canada Council’s Prize...

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Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Did the impact of The Tin Flute divert Gabrielle Roy for a number of years from her own native province, Manitoba, about which she ultimately had more to say than about eastern Canadian cities?

What experiences of childhood does Roy celebrate most successfully in Street of Riches?

To what extent is loneliness an incentive to the young characters in Roy’s fiction?

Explain the relationship between childhood and old age as seen by Roy’s character Christine.

Compare the depictions of Manitoba in the works of Roy and Margaret Laurence.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Babby, Ellen Reisman. The Play of Language and Spectacle: A Structural Reading of Selected Texts by Gabrielle Roy. Toronto: ECW Press, 1985. This work focuses principally on Windflower and The Cashier.

Calder, Allison. “Gabrielle Roy.” In Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada, edited by William H. New. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002. This article offers an introduction to the life and major works of Roy.

Hesse, M. G. Gabrielle Roy. Boston: Twayne, 1984. This work offers an overview of Roy’s life, an analysis of her major works, and a bibliography of primary and secondary works.

Marshall, Joyce. “Gabrielle Roy.” In The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature, edited by William Toye. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. This article presents a survey of the life and major works of Roy.

Meadwell, Kenneth W. “Gabrielle Roy.” In Magill’s Survey of World Literature, edited by Frank N. Magill. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1993. This article includes biographical information, an analysis of the major characteristics of Roy’s work, commentary on The Tin Flute and Street of Riches, and a short bibliography of books about Roy.