, Research Paper
Atwoods Theory of Canadian Short Stories
Margaret Atwood detects that in most Canadian stories there seems to be some sort of victim and their quest for survival. In the stories The Wedding Gift, The Butterfly Ward, and Skald, we find three of her four types of victims. First there are creative non-victims who are successful at not being victims, secondly, there are victims who acknowledge the fact that they are victims but who blame their situations on something they cannot control, like fate. Last of all there are those who know that they are victims and who try to better their situations whether they are victorious or not.
In the story The Wedding Gift by Thomas Raddall, we encounter a young woman named Kezia Barnes. She is portrayed, by Atwoods theory, as a creative non-victim. She cleverly uses her situations to her advantage. A “nor’easter”(15) snow storm allows her to ‘forget’ about “Mr. Barclays wedding gift for Mr. Hathaway.”(15) which just happens to be a tinderbox. She uses the storm as reason to bundle up with Mr. Mears so as to stay warm. Kezia never wants to marry Mr. Hathaway, so after the storm clears she proclaims to Mr. Mears that she’ll “have to say [she] bundled with [Mr. Mears] in a hut in the
woods.”(21), and of course “bundling was an invention of the devil.”(22). Therefore Kezia cannot declare her bundling with Mr. Mears to Mr. Barclay or Mr. Hathaway for fear of being punished. Kezia then offers herself as wife to Mr. Mears, thus getting her out of an undesired marriage and no longer being a victim to that arrangement. She demonstrates an incredible amount of intelligence in her situation.
The Butterfly Ward by Margaret Gibson introduces the reader to Kira, a patient of the Neurological Ward in a Toronto hospital. She is the type of victim who blames her mental illness on something else, “the amoeba”(104). She claims that “it is nourishing itself on what they call [her] brain.”(104), it “changes shape”(105) and this is the reason Kira gives for the doctors inability to locate the amoeba on the “bloated-brain scan”(105). It is like she is unable or unwilling to take responsibility into her own hands, “The amoeba. Yes, that is what it is.”(104). Kira does not understand her illness so she puts the weight of it all on the amoeba that is ‘eating’ her brain.
Alma, the protagonist, in Skald by W.D Valgardson, is considered a victim because of her lack of independence but she demontrates her willingness and capability to fight her situation. To overcome this child-like lack of independence, she decides to buy a “thick-bodied and sturdy”(61) puppy so as to have a responsibility of her own. Alma defies Junior Boys, her husband, when he “constantly [warns] her against talking to strangers and against wandering about the countryside by herself”(68). She ignores him and goes off on her excursions despite his warnings and protests. Alma decides to make decisions for herself instead of always relying on others. At the conclusion of this story, Alma takes responsibility for Skalds sickness, putting him down herself, as though in a way asking for his forgiveness, “Couldn’t you be bothered to get him his shots?’ Alma cringed at the accusation. ” I didn’t know “(72), and also because as she says “It was [her] dog.”(73).
Atwoods theory, so far, holds true in those three short stories in proving that most Canadian literature involves some sort of victim and their willingness or unwillingness to solve their situations. These three stories show three of her four types of victims and their quests for survival.