Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 445

I would identify two main themes, or groups of themes, in Louis Hémon's novel. The first can be seen as relating to the forces of nature and the persistent response of human beings to nature, and the second is the principle of human loyalty to one's people and background.

The...

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I would identify two main themes, or groups of themes, in Louis Hémon's novel. The first can be seen as relating to the forces of nature and the persistent response of human beings to nature, and the second is the principle of human loyalty to one's people and background.

The story is as much a description of farming life in Northern Quebec as it is the personal story of a young girl, Maria, coming of age in that environment. The bruising toil of the farmers in the harsh climate is told in detail. As everywhere, rural people are at the mercy of the elements, but in the far north the situation is worse given the length of winter, the severity of the cold and snow, and the brevity of summer in which even a mild drought can result in a poor harvest and near starvation for the animals. But people have the primal urge to deal with it, to persist in their struggle instead of just giving up or moving away and resettling in a less forbidding part of the world. It's this unending effort to go on living, against the odds, that forms the heart of the story.

This leads us to the second major theme, of loyalty to one's background. Maria's first love interest, François, is frozen to death in a snowstorm when coming on foot to visit her. Of the two other men interested in her, one of them, Lorenzo, has lived in the U.S. and asks Maria to marry him and go there with him, to the much easier kind of life made possible by both the less harsh climate and by new technology. In the early twentieth century, rural people in Northern Quebec lived much as their ancestors had done when the province was first settled. There is no electricity, no gaslight even, and no machine tools or appliances to make the labor of men or women less harsh. Lorenzo offers Maria a way out of this, and she's tempted at first. But after her mother's death, she realizes that her connection to the place of her upbringing and to her people is so great that joy and fulfillment are provided for her at home, and that uprooting herself and moving to the States would be impossible for her. She then accepts the proposal of a local young man, Eutrope, realizing that her loyalty is to her own people. It is the nationalistic feeling of French-speaking Canadians that animates Maria's thoughts and the entire novel. She says the world will look upon them and say, "These people are of a race that doesn't know how to die."

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Critical Essays