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

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

Chapter 17
Wordsmith and Woman: Morag Gunn's Triumph Through Language

Laurie Lindberg

Each of Margaret Laurence's Canadian-set novels features a female protagonist searching for her identity. Hagar in The Stone Angel, Rachel in A Jest of God, Stacey in The Fire-Dwellers, and Morag in The Diviners--each one, in her own style and with a different degree of success, attempts to discover exactly who she is and what her life means.

Like Laurence's other female heroes, Morag Gunn grows up in the stultifying atmosphere of the prairie town of Manawaka, Manitoba; like the others, she longs to escape. Morag, the adopted daughter of the town garbage collector and his wife, faces even more challenges than the others, for they are at least respectable, and she is only one step above the outcast Métis (half-breed Indians) in the eyes of the townspeople. Despite the odds against her, Morag somehow reaches a higher level of self-awareness and a greater measure of wisdom than any of the others. This major difference between the earlier characters and Morag is remarked by a number of critics, among them Barbara Hehner, who observes that Morag "is, for the first time, a woman who has already found a measure of fulfillment, whose present life is busy, and, by and large, satisfying" (48).

As The Diviners begins, Morag is already clearly self-aware and relatively contented with her life. The other protagonists must struggle at two levels, in their present lives and in the flashbacks that recreate their pasts, but Morag's struggles in the present are few. Leona Gom points out that Morag is "the most self-aware of any of Laurence's characters, and, in terms of character development, she changes little, if at all" (247). It is mainly from the flashbacks, called in this novel "Memorybank Movies," that the reader learns of Morag's difficult journey from frustration, fear, and ignorance to autonomy, fulfillment, and a kind of wisdom. Now, at the age of forty-seven, Morag writes to a friend, "I've worked out my major dilemmas as much as I'm likely to do in this life" ( The Diviners, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, New Canadian Library, 1995, 311; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993, 238-39). All parenthetical references are to these works.

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