New Perspectives on Margaret Laurence: Poetic Narrative, Multiculturalism, and Feminism

By Greta M. K. McCormick Coger | Go to book overview

Chapter 8
Dividing The Diviners

Ken McLean

The general critical consensus is that in her last novel, The Diviners, Margaret Laurence portrays the traditional development of a protagonist from early uncertainty and insecurity to mature certainty and acceptance. 1 Helen Buss's recent summary is representative: " Laurence has structured her novel to show a movement toward personal, artistic, and spiritual wholeness that has involved a journey from loss, through shame, acceptance and growth, to transcendence" (Mother 75). While it cannot be denied that there are numerous centripetal impulses in the novel that propel it to such a totalized reading, I contend that there are also generally unacknowledged centrifugal tendencies which work against such a harmonizing, that dialogize any such certainty, and make of The Diviners a genuinely writerly text. An examination of Morag's voice and memories, and of the mythic tales embedded in the text, illustrates these decentering forces at work.

Laurence encodes the dialogizing impulses metaphorically in the first sentence of the novel: "The river flowed both ways" (11 NCL, 3UC). This image introduces a protagonist whose salient characteristic is her uncertainty, she repeatedly, in the opening section of the novel, states, then qualifies, and retracts, in a rhythm of subversion, of indeterminacy. So Pique is "Not dry behind the ears. Yes, she was, though" (11 NCL, 4UC); Pique would not leave again, "Morag was pretty sure [she] wouldn't. Not sure enough, probably" (12NCL, 4UC). Such examples could be multiplied. By the end of the first section, we've come to know a protagonist who is uncertain on all levels, emotional, perceptual, factual, even textual. For, as many commentators have noted, the voice of the third-person narrator is so closely interwoven with that of Morag that we experience the narration as if it were in the first person, or as if Morag were recounting her story in the third person, as she does in her "Memorybank Movies." Hence to destabilize Morag's certainty is to effectively destabilize that of the third-person narrator as well. Laurence further problematizes the status of her narrative by asserting that "of course the novel she [ Morag] is writing is The Diviners ( Fabre, Interview 205). 2 If this is so, what is

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