Constructing a Scots-Canadian Ground: Family History and Cultural Translation in Alice Munro

By Gittings, Christopher E. | Studies in Short Fiction, Winter 1997 | Go to article overview

Constructing a Scots-Canadian Ground: Family History and Cultural Translation in Alice Munro


Gittings, Christopher E., Studies in Short Fiction


It was not the individual names that were important, but the whole

solid intricate structure of lives supporting us from the past.

Alice Munro, Lives of Girls and Women

A Scottish element of Canada's diverse ethnographic history is uncovered a by transformative acts of remembering family history in Alice Munro's "Friend of My Youth," "Hold Me Fast, Don't Let Me Pass" and "A Wilderness Station." The speaking subjects of "Friend of My Youth" and "Hold Me Fast, Don't Let Me Pass", compose their narratives from Scottish-Canadian materials, thus grounding Scottish Reformation history, the kailyard genre, and the Scottish ballad in a Canadian context. These signs of Scottish culture enclosed in twentieth-century Canadian texts are attached to a variety of Canadian signifieds by their narratees; they are translated into a Canadian ground. Let me clarify what I mean by the rather slippery term of cultural translation: translation is a polyvalent process defined in part by the Oxford English Dictionary as "to bear, convey, or remove from one person, place or condition to another." This concept of movement from one locale to another lends insight into the signs of Scottish culture in Munro's stories. Scottish immigrants did not simply transpose their culture from one surface to another; they had to reshape or translate the New World into systems of meaning by bridging the gap between the Old World and the one in which they found themselves. Through this process they could begin to recognize the familiar in an alien space. The Old World signifying systems used to enact this transformation, however, are transformed themselves in a marrying of their cultural referents to new signifieds. The act of bridging a gap between two seemingly incommensurable systems, whether linguistic, temporal or cultural, necessarily creates a new entity.(1) Munro exploits the gap between Scottish cultural markers and their referents in her narratees' twinning of these signs with their own personal Canadian signs to construct a world.(2)

Scotland's is one of the many national pasts married to Canada's through immigration, and this hybridized Scottish-Canadian past must be negotiated by the narrator of "Friend of My Youth" and Hazel, the protagonist of "Hold Me Fast, Don't Let Me Pass," if they are to unravel their personal histories and discover who they are. As Homi Bhabha suggests, a nexus of personal and national narratives may be read as "a national allegory" where, he writes, quoting Fredric Jameson, "the telling of the individual story and the individual experience cannot but ultimately include the whole laborious process of the collectivity itself' (292). The Scots-Presbyterian elements of "Friend of My Youth," "Hold Me Fast, Don't Let Me Pass," and "A Wilderness Station" exemplify the textualization of nation Bhabha describes in his study:

The nation reveals in its ambivalent and vacillating representation, the

ethnography of its own historicity and opens up the possibility of

other narratives of the people and their difference. (300)

Both the narrator of "Friend of My Youth" and Hazel engage in a dialogic relationship with the past to establish personal and cultural identity in the present. The narrative voice in "Friend of My Youth" reaches out toward her late mother, a woman reduced to an aberration by the unfolding of time, and her daughter's own rigid image of her. To recover her mother the narrator delves into memory and retells her mother's story of the Scots-Cameronian(3) Grieves family, tethering her personal history to the Grieves narrative of immigration and the translation of their faith and culture to Canada.

A Canadian whose memories of a Scottish village and its people have been imaginatively reconstructed from the wartime experiences of her late husband Jack in "Hold Me Fast, Don't Let Me Pass," Hazel makes a journey of return to the Scottish community she has preserved in memory. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Constructing a Scots-Canadian Ground: Family History and Cultural Translation in Alice Munro
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.