Social realism and photographic detail characterize The Tin Flute, set in Montreal during World War II. This urban novel recounts the joys and sorrows of the Lacasse family: of Azarius, the negligent father and dreamer; of Rosa-Anna, the stoic maternal figure; and of their eight children. The thematic structure of the work is built on oppositions between past and present, dream and reality, as well as the roles and privileges that distinguish men and women during this period. It is, above all else, a poignant portrayal of the working class in Saint-Henri, an underprivileged francophone neighborhood at the foot of a mountain, at the top of which lies Westmount, the anglophone enclave of wealth and power.
Social history provides the foundation for this literary world. Unemployment and industrialization create the backdrop against which characters struggle to attain freedom—personal, spiritual, and material—while, in the case of female protagonists, for example, endeavoring unsuccessfully to extricate themselves from an implacable destiny. Florentine Lacasse, the eldest daughter of the family, works as a waitress in a working-class café in order to help support her family, since her father is not capable of holding down a job and since her mother must take care of the other sickly children at home.
From the opening line, one discerns Florentine’s desperate attempt to escape the reality of her employment, of her family situation, and of her future. Living in a world of unattainable dreams, this sickly, fragile-looking young woman imagines herself the elegant seductress who will be rescued...
(The entire section is 663 words.)