Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Rudy Wiebe explores the implications of humanity’s words and deeds in a larger, historical context. He uses actual historical incidents to consider whether history is linear or cyclical, whether what happens is man-made or fated, and where religion and myth (themselves kinds of history) fit into the picture. The Metis and Riel in particular are highly aware of their cultural past: Wiebe dramatizes the fact that what they face is the destruction of this past and, thus, of themselves. Humanity is defined by its history: Bereft of this, it has no future to look forward to either. Riel is a special case because he also belongs to another, perhaps even longer, tradition. Not only is he Metis, but he also believes himself a prophet in the Christian tradition and thus takes his place in a lineage which includes Moses, David, and Jesus. Like these soldiers of God, Riel holds that action, even to the point of violence, is both necessary and justified in order to achieve independence for the Metis. Riel struggles throughout his life, however, to reconcile the conflicting claims of European culture and aboriginal mythology, to which his dual heritage lays claim. Ironically enough, history—in the form of this novel, for example—ends up kinder to Riel than life was.

Wiebe also considers the notion of history as fate: Is Riel simply fulfilling a preordained destiny? Falcon intimates that Riel himself comes to believe so after his return to Canada in 1884. Before...

(The entire section is 475 words.)