Last Updated on September 11, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 480
The district of Saint-Henri is riddled with poverty and stands in stark contrast to the wealthy district of Westmount. The Lacasse family struggles to make ends meet, and Rose-Anna must search for new housing, as they are facing eviction. The book’s English title refers to this theme: the eponymous tin flute is a toy that Daniel Lacasse, Florentine’s youngest brother, desires but that Rose-Anna can’t afford to purchase for him. One of the causes of the Lacasse family’s poverty is the father’s inability to hold a job; he eventually joins the military out of desperation. All the characters of the book are eager to avoid or escape poverty, and for characters like Florentine, escaping it is a central desire in life. She eventually marries Emmanuel not out of love, but out of a need for economic security after discovering she is pregnant with Jean’s child.
The Hope and Hopelessness of Social Mobility
The divide between the upper and lower classes is evident in the rich Westmount district in the story, which is situated at the top of a hill, symbolizing the economic and social climb that is necessary to live there. For characters like Jean, Westmount serves as a symbol for the life they wish to obtain. Jean hopes to live in Westmount and arrive at the lifestyle it represents through education. For characters like Rose-Anna, Westmount serves as a reminder of the impossibility of social mobility: Daniel, her son, is able to live out the rest of his life in Westmount, but only because he is dying of leukemia. It is not until he is hospitalized that he is able to play with lots of toys, such as the tin flute he always desired.
The Economic Impact of War on the Home Front
While social mobility is proven impossible for Rose-Anna and, eventually, Florentine, several characters attempt to climb the social ladder by enlisting in the military. The war offers many of them a way out of the slums and the chance at a better life: even Jean, who does not enlist, benefits from the war by working as a machinist at a factory. However, the war doesn’t always translate into a better life for the entire family. Eugene Lacasse, for example, joins with the promise to send money home, but he never does. The war itself is debated several times in the story, and characters argue whether Canada should help countries like Poland that are directly affected by it. But as Eugene demonstrates, it isn’t out of devotion to one’s country or moral duties that many characters enlist, but out of financial desperation and hope for a better life. It is ironic that the only way to gain a better life for oneself or one’s family is to sign over one’s life to the military.