Paperback, 287 pages.
Read from May 9, 2017 to June 4, 2017.
“Literature is not only a mirror; it is also a map, a geography of the mind. Our literature is one such map, if we can learn to read it as our literature, as the product of who and where we have been. We need such a map desperately, we need to know about here, because here is where we live. For the members of a country or a culture, shared knowledge of their place, their here, is not a luxury but a necessity. Without that knowledge, we will not survive.”
You would think that as an English major and a Canadian that this book would have been included in my repertoire somewhere buuuuut it wasn’t. Having now read it, if I had the chance to talk to my Canadian Lit prof I would have asked him why the hell this book was not included in the curriculum. This book may have some dated references but its content is exceptional and still viable and relevant. This book is both a criticism and a manifesto of Canadian literature and even to this day, it is one of a kind.
This book was published in 1972 and it addresses a non-academic audience in attempts to define what makes Canadian literature specifically Canadian and different from other major publishing countries in the world.
“What have been the central preoccupations of our poetry and fiction?…survival and victims.”
Canada is a harsh place to live in terms of weather and this aspect of the country played a major factor in its history, shaping its people, and how they view nature. It’s not hard to surmise that survival and being that of a victim would play a part in Canadian literature. Atwood breaks down her theory into four victim types:
“Position One: To deny the fact that you are a victim. This is a position in which members of the “victim-group” will deny their identity as victims, accusing those members of the group who are less fortunate of being responsible for their own victimhood.
Position Two: To acknowledge the fact that you are a victim (but attribute it to a powerful force beyond human control such as fate, history, God, or biology.
In this position, victims are likely to resign themselves to their fate.
Position Three: To acknowledge the fact that you are a victim but to refuse to accept the assumption that the role is inevitable. This is a dynamic position in which the victim differentiates between the role of victim and the experience of the victim.
Position Four: To be a creative non-victim. A position for “ex-victims” when creativity of all kinds is fully possible.”
Atwood’s work is enticing, clear, funny and easy to agree with. Not only is this book an essential part of what defines Canadian literature, it can also be seen as the basis for the Canadian identity as a whole. While many who criticised this work found it lacking in historical evidence, the literary examples, while now dated, are excellent. I would love to see this theory put to the test with some more modern pieces of Canadian literature.
Survival is a great and short read that should be a part of every literary major’s reading list as well any Canadians.