(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

In this collection of sixteen short stories written over an approximately twenty-five-year period, all deal with Canadians at home or abroad; all the stories are autobiographical. Mavis Gallant speaks through the voice of Linnet (also the name of a bird, like Mavis) Muir. Paralleling the author’s life, Linnet, on being graduated from high school in New York, returns to wartime Montreal, marries a Canadian, and eventually finds a job as a reporter. During her stint, Linnet overhears derogatory remarks about the need to hire women because the men are away.

Gallant’s alter ego is not above more direct criticism of Canadians. As Gallant had in an article she had written as a reporter in The Standard Magazine of Montreal of March 30, 1946, in this collection Linnet finds them cautious, dull, passive, noncommittal, given to conform in dress and mindset, and distrustful of the imagination. Commenting on her return to Montreal, Linnet narrates: “I was entering a poorer and a curiously empty country, where the faces of the people gave nothing away.” The target is primarily English-speaking Canadians, the group to which Gallant nominally belongs.

The three sections of the collection—“At Home,” “Canadians Abroad,” and “Linnet Muir”—elaborate on this theme of Canadian identity. For example, in “The Ice Wagon Going Down the Street,” Peter Frazier and Agnes Brusen discover that for different reasons, they do not belong...

(The entire section is 402 words.)